Online dating is a numbers game, so help me improve my numbers
December 18, 2013 11:31 PM   Subscribe

Like most straight guys on OKCupid, I'm lucky if I get a response to one in ten messages I send. This would be fine if I could fire off several messages every day, but I'm running into writer's block. One-liners and templates don't work, and I rarely know how to compose a longer message to someone I know next to nothing about. (I'm a mumchance kind of guy; I'm terrible at small talk even with friends I've known for years.) Help stir my creative juices, tell me what kinds of messages have got your attention in the past, oh and why not critique my profile while you're at it.

So I've been using the OKC stars system to keep track of women whose profiles I've found intriguing. I have a couple dozen by now, so if I actually messaged them all, I might even get a reply or two. But I don't know what to say. "Well, what attracted you about her profile?" you say. It's usually a combination of (a) I like her face and (b) she seems to read a lot. Now I know enough to know that any mention of physical appearance is a no-no (even though it's not conventional hawtness that usually attracts me but a certain type of face, expression or smile). As for (b), if we happen to have any favorite writers or books in common, great, Bob's my uncle, but if not, I'm at a loss. (If there's something else we have in common, that's good too, but that seems to happen less frequently. Everyone in my region is into either rock climbing or social justice; my life, in contrast, revolves around grad school, and for that very reason grad school is the last thing I want to talk to anyone about in my free time.) So I'm usually reduced to picking some random fact out of her profile and trying to build a message around it that's longer than one line. Is that what people do? If so, does it work? And is there an algorithm for it that I could learn? I'm basically a borderline Aspie when it comes to making conversation with strangers. I need rules for this stuff. And I'm slow at writing anything (I've been composing this question for the last half hour) so at this rate it would be a full-time job to message even half the women I'm interested in. I'm not asking for a template, I know those are obvious, but for a method.

Also for examples. Women of MeFi, what messages have you received that made you click over to the guy's profile or even (gasp) message him back? Quotes please. Oh and while we're at it, care to glance at my profile and tell me if there's anything about it that says I WILL MURDER YOU WITH AN AXE? My username is the words "swift" and "slow" smooshed together.
posted by zeri to Human Relations (45 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Like most straight guys on OKCupid, I'm lucky if I get a response to one in ten messages I send.

Demographics are probably wildly different where you are, but I get about one in two - and I don't think it's my winsome personality and charming good looks: I just don't message unless I see something I like besides the photo AND I have a good idea for a message - two things that usually go together.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:40 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Are you sure it's the messages and not your profile that are causing the low response rate?
posted by NoraReed at 11:43 PM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was ready to look at your profile and help, but if you want non-okcupid members to look at your profile, you might want to change your privacy settings so non-members can see you; people (including me) are unlikely to create a profile so they can look at yours.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:44 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I'm on okcupid, I'm looking for a profile that has a combination of authenticity (in other words, actually tells me something appealing about the guy) and levity. Obviously things get more complicated than that, but those are starting points.

I looked at your profile. Honestly, I'm a pretty big introvert myself, I'm reasonably well-read and was not familiar with the quotes at the beginning. As a result, I found them sort of off-putting. Unless you only want to date people in on the reference, I would nix them. I think your profile improves a lot the further down you go - you're funny and self aware, and girls love quiet guys. Revise the first section, that's my two cents.

Oh, and to address some of your other comments, maybe talk more about what you would rather do with this great girl you're going to meet. Part of the reason I've subjected myself to online dating is I have a job that tends to take over my life. So I mention that I would love to meet someone that wants to introduce me to new things and help balance things out. Where you want to travel next, this hobby you want to pick up, this great tandem bicycle you saw...

As for a message, I don't like messages that mention my physical appearance and could be form letters. So yeah, building a message around several random facts is one approach. Another is to address something in the photos without it being her smile or something. Oh, and a joke can fix almost any level of awkward, seriously. I love when I'm on a date and we can acknowledge the inherent awkwardness of the situation.
posted by emmatrotsky at 12:12 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was using OKCupid, the things that I liked were

a) being asked interesting questions and
b) people who had something engaging to say about my profile.

(In particular, during my phase of internet dating I was sincerely worried about the "mind-body problem" and where human identity is located, and I had something about that in my "things I think a lot about" section, and most of the folks I engaged much with on OKCupid gravitated to that and had long conversations with me on that topic. Which was a ton more interesting than trying to make normal small talk with strangers. Maybe it would help you to have a question in that section that you'd like to discuss?)

That said, I'd respond to folks based on how much I liked their profiles, not just whether they were able to generate some brilliant initial email. If you're getting a ten percent response rate, you might just figure that's the economy of being a heterosexual guy doing online dating, and keep your initial outgoing emails to something very simple, like "Hey, I really like your profile. I love Borges too. Do you like Calvino?" And then let the lady click over to your profile and see if she wants to talk to you about Calvino or whether she doesn't really want to talk at all (because she hates graduate students, or she objects to your haircut, or she just got married, or whatever, and she never would have written back to you no matter how great your email was).

Re: Your actual profile, I think it is great. You're smart, you're funny, you're a good writer, you have an interesting mini-bio, you seem kind-hearted, and you're cute. (The second two pictures are a little dark and grumpy, but you won me over with that smiling one.) I'm not sure what women might find to object to in your profile.

What kinds of things are you writing in these initial emails?
posted by feets at 12:15 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Start rock-climbing?

No, seriously, you might end up meeting someone while climbing, it's fantastic exercise, and you'd be able to chat about it on OkCupid if nothing else.

I would have said "start social-justicing," but that's even more glib and probably something you have to have an interest in to begin with. But starting to volunteer at low-bandwidth (you're busy! grad school!) social-justice type things might have the same welcome effect. Think homeless shelters, tutoring, domestic violence programs, etc. Side benefit: good karma.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:17 AM on December 19, 2013

In many places there's a gigantic overlap between grad students and rock climbers, by the way, so you might have more in common with those climbers than you think.

I actually think a shortish message is fine, as long as you've clearly read the profile. Back in my okcupid days, I definitely wrote back to dudes who asked a quick short question about something in my profile. (Well, except the dude who wanted to know if I was one of those rock climber chicks who couldn't possibly date a guy who wasn't as good a climber as me. I did not write back to that one. I am in fact now dating a guy who isn't as good a climber as me.)

What definitely doesn't work is any sort of message that indicates you haven't read the profile. I think I also had issues responding to really long messages; I didn't feel like I could respond myself with something short, and I didn't always have time for long.

The okcupid trend blog seems to agree. (And also includes the surprising revelation that "physics" is a *good* word to include in a message.)
posted by nat at 12:50 AM on December 19, 2013


First, I definitely agree that a woman you message is also going to read your profile before deciding to message you back.

And I definitely laughed out loud several times when I read yours. (In a good way!) So you've got some good material to work with.

But (and I have a hard time saying this because I would definitely hit the ceiling if someone ever said this to me about my profile, but you did ask about the 'numbers game'.) You lost me at the second paragraph. I wouldn't message you back because I would be pretty sure that I wouldn't qualify past the first in person meet up. My poor little passport has but one stamp! I have to laugh at the idea of me hobnobbing with anyone, ever! :)

Now you could be after a very specific type of person, and that's totally understandable and a legitimate way to use online dating. But you're going to need some patience, cause you're looking for the rara avis. I would also recommend Amy Webb's Ted talk: figure out what the type of person you are interested in is attracted to in a profile, and then use that information to present your info in the light best suited to attract what you want.

If you actually want the numbers game though, maybe tone down the intro a little bit?

As for the messages, I agree with keeping it short and clearly indicating you read her profile/got something about her.
posted by susiswimmer at 1:19 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just checked out your profile and thought it was great (and we have high match/friend percentages, so there's a data point for you). I don't mind if I don't recognize quotes (tho' the first must be from Alice in Wonderland, no?) because if the quote is provocative enough it says something about the person and then I go look up the quote for context, which tells me even more about you. So informative either way.

Anyway - As a female on OKC the messages that get my attention have the following in common. They are...
- More than one complete sentence
- 90% grammatically correct
- Respectful (polite -- can be funny & irreverent but never at my expense)
- Specific to me
- Only obliquely mentioning my looks if at all (I get a lot of "Your no-makeup photo is great, by the way." which is nice to hear and not the full court press.)
- Asking me out on a date (either an actual night-time date or coffee/tea midday chat)

I may be odd in that last one, but honestly?: the amount of stuff in my/our profiles is probably more than you'd get if you met me once or twice in real life, so I feel like the request for a date is not only not out of line, it shows a confidence level and appropriateness to the situation. [As an experienced person of life, I make sure I've got basic safety practices in place and I don't have any qualms bowing out of a date that's going nowhere. And if someone describes themselves as articulately and humorously as you have, my concern is not axe murderer, it's just chemistry and clicking.]

Once you have my attention with a message, however, is where things get a bit cutthroat. You may send me a great message and have a profile that seems like we'd have more than a couple of good conversations, but the very-close-second thing I ask myself is: could I kiss this guy? Would I kiss him? Would I look forward to kissing him? And if the answer is no, I move on. Sometimes I move on without answering, depending on how many messages I've received or depending how far outside my stated preferences someone is. (E.g., I get some nice messages from 65+ year olds. They can see my age range preference and are WELL outside of it.) Sometimes I respond with something like, "I don't think we're a romantic fit but you sound like an awesome person. Rock on!" So don't underestimate the power of photos but really just don't underestimate the vagaries and nuances of attraction. I've messaged and met lots of good-looking guys who just weren't my cup of tea romantically. There's nothing you can do about it, nor would you want to because in the end it's one of the things that draws someone to you in particular.

So just a few pieces of advice about your messages (which actually sound fine from your description).
- Don't think you have to craft great/perfect messages. Think of messages like a short hello to someone you see once or twice on the bus or in class. It's just an opening. If the other person is interested, they'll find a way/reason to respond.
- Do send lots of messages. If you really want to run the numbers, spend a few hours picking out a thing or two about each person you've favorited and write a two-three liner message. Then send them all. If you don't get a response, take them off the list (you'll still be able to see on their profile that you "last contacted them on December 19" so you can check that to avoid re-messaging.)
- Try writing people who are online now. It can make for a lighter conversation and it's just good to get some facility with, I think (and translates well to IRL conversational skills)
- Ditto to chatting with people who are available. It can be interesting, lead to things, and just give you some social ease for very low stakes.
- This next one I've learned the hard way, but I think it has done me well: keep your messages the approximate length of the other person's. I've entered into a couple of exchanges where the guy's messages were, like, 700 words and I was trying to keep things light and feel things out. The wall was overwhelming and made me feel like my boundaries were being tested. Conversely, if you kick off with a light paragraph and get a response, definitely don't revert to one-word answers.
- Lastly, don't write off any conversation topic ("grad school is the last thing I want to talk about" "everyone's into social-justice" etc.). Because I bet if the right person asked you about Plato and Herodotus's verb placement and why that was interesting to you and what you hope to learn through your dissertation, I bet you'd be flattered and willing to spend 12 hours talking about it.

Good luck and feel free to MeMail me if you want to send me actual samples :-)

*OMG, speaking of wall of text. Advisory: More than 30 minutes was spent in the execution of this response.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:26 AM on December 19, 2013 [12 favorites]

Your profile seems really, really specific. It does not match up with the "dating is a numbers game" thing - I get the sense that you've crafted a profile so that one highly literate woman with a very, very specific background will respond to when she gets around to reading it.

There's also a weird split, to me, between the first bits and the books and movies - I assume what you actually read is more complex than what you list. When I read the first bits (except for the Snark) I thought "oh wow, I would bore this guy sick" and then I realized that I'd read almost everything you list. I'm not sure whether you're looking for someone much more intellectually sophisticated than your book list suggests, or much less than the first part suggests - but I can see why you're maybe not getting responses. Yes, it's all very self-deprecating, but it's the kind of self-deprecating that gives the impression that you feel you have a lot to deprecate.

On a personal level, I don't care for the "trying to understand Americans" bit - I would never put "trying to understand [the people I live among and among whom I did not grow up] in my profile, because it creates (to me) an anthropological feeling. Not only does this make it seem like I'm an amused/detached observer of the local tribe, but my gut response is that if I were to date you, I'd either need not to be a "typical American" or you'd be taxonomizing me in your head.

I don't think you have to change any of these things. I doubt you'd really have written this profile if you didn't have an exact kind of girl in mind (my immediate read "rich, well-traveled, consciously non-provincial,very straight, expensively educated, cultured-conservative"). And I think that if you really want an intellectual match, you should hold out for that. (I put a bit of snob book stuff in my profile for that reason, although I dialed down the class signifiers as much as I possibly could.) I do think that this isn't a profile for the numbers game, because the very place where vast numbers of girls who might respond to this profile can be found is already graduate school.

If you want a numbers game, drop out some of the specifics. I get the sense from your profile that of course one knows who Herodotus is (I mean, I do, but my background is eccentric by US standards) and one is familiar enough with Weltschmertz and l'esprit d'escalier to make jokes about people who reference those things. And "hobnobbling with shamans" - well, that's what the interesting people do; the boring people just pursue humanities PhDs, even though both of these are expensive and elite-class pursuits (at least in the US).

If you're really interested in meeting lots of girls, why not say somewhere in the profile that what you're really interested in is meeting a charming girl who reads a lot?
posted by Frowner at 4:51 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

send LOTS of messages. your profile should be a blend of things that are generally relatable with a few specific things thrown in that are unique to you or central to your worldview/personality. i am also a fan of transparency in the last section - if you want to meet a smart, charming woman who reads a lot, just say so. if you come off as too picky or hyperspecific you risk alienating woman who see your page & think 'oh i can't possibly be good enough for this guy, although he is attractive.' everyone is a little shy.

basically, i'll write back to someone on okcupid & even meet if they have a high match percentage with me (i have answered many MANY questions, this is also a good thing to do) and their photos are attractive to me. as for our taste in books and movies and food and things like that, we can talk about that when we meet. for you reading is more central so you should emphasize it as you have.

how to write messages: short, polite, positive, mention meeting early on. if you want to give a compliment about her looks, do that in a nuanced way; "photo #2 is gorgeous - you look so excited! where was it taken?" is way better than "you're hot."

you don't have to write the perfect most witty thing, just indicate your interest in a polite and properly spelled way, and if she sees your page and thinks "yes, i could possibly make out with this person," you're good.
posted by zdravo at 5:03 AM on December 19, 2013

When I was a lady on OKCupid I would get messages from men. Most I would not reply to because:
1. They used poor grammar, spelling, or punctuation. I am not the only person who weeds people out in this way.
2. They made lewd sexual comments
3. The message was little more than "Hi. How are you?"
4. It reeked of a copy paste message they sent to every woman.
5. We had absolutely nothing in common
6. No picture posted. (I also would cross people off if their house in the background of their photo looked really messy or trashy.... call me shallow, but cleanliness and taking pride in your home matter to me)
7. They attempted to schedule a time to meet in their first message to me. Um, seriously?! Pushy and rushing things much?!
8. The bitched about or complained or badmouthed exes. Any mention of "I don't want a woman who plays games" usually made me roll my eyes because it is usually the gameplayers that wrote that.

Messages I usually DID reply to were:
1. Well written, good spelling, proper grammar and punctuation.
2. Mentioned something from my profile that indicated they actually READ my profile.
3. They offered up some sort of opener for conversation. ("I saw you like classic rock and the band Bad Company. How do you think their early albums compared to their later stuff?", "I saw on your profile that you like to read. Who are some of your favourite authors? I love Neil Gaiman.")
4. When reading THEIR profile there seemed to be at least some things we had in common
5. They had at least one picture that showed their face. Looks were less the concern, it was more a litmus test for their confidence. I always think that if they aren't posting a photo on a dating site they are probably pretty darned insecure, and ain't nobody got time for that.
6. Their profile read positively, referencing things they liked, things they enjoyed, positive experiences in their life. Beware of arrogance though.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:23 AM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

Online dating is a numbers game, so help me improve my numbers

I think I see your problem.

Replace "dating" with "marketing" in your question, and see if that changes your perspective. Because right now you're more or less asking us how to send more effective spam.

This thinking is precisely why you're only getting a response out of every ten tries. Your impulse to just raise your numbers is what most men end up doing. (Back when OCKCupid didn't belong to Match and they used to do that fantastic deep data mining blog of theirs, they explained this all in loving detail, but I don't think those posts are available anymore.) They sacrifice any attempt at direct connection with someone for large numbers and a low investment of time and energy into any single contact. (Again, this is exactly how spam works. Vanishingly low response rate but that's okay because it's cheap to pump the numbers up so high that a .001 response rate is still great.) And that just makes the problem worse. Women on online dating sites are overwhelmed with low value incoming messages and they end up responding to even fewer, and the circle just keeps on getting viciouser.

Granted, you can't tell from a profile, or even from online communication, whether you're going to hit it off with someone. I eventually learned not to flirt and chat up people for weeks. Just a few quick messages to confirm that they don't give off an axe murderer vibe and then a quick, low-intensity meeting to see if you actually like each other in person. But even then, you want to at least have some indication that there's some reason why you'd maybe be able to connect with this one instead of all those others.

FWIW, I met my wife on Match. And it's not like there weren't plenty of other women with profiles out there that looked interesting. But I eventually figured out I just had to go through them a couple at a time until something clicked. (And thank God it did. Because I don't think I could handle still being out there where you are. You've got my sympathy. But it's NOT a numbers game. In the end, you can only have one.)
posted by Naberius at 5:58 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Take an improv class.
posted by 3FLryan at 6:36 AM on December 19, 2013

I actually think that your profile is very strong because 1) my guess is that you are looking for a certain type of person (interested in literature and/or languages), and as it is now it is very effective for those domains and 2) the sense of humor embedded in that profile is very good.

If your goal is to widen the net, so to speak, here are some things that I see:

Modify how you present the "You should message me if." I usually look at that section to see if I would/would not be a match for the person. Right now it is a giant paragraph. Do you want someone to meet most of those criteria or just one of those things? But as it s now it could be perceived that the person needs to teach you an instrument, cuss, listen to Dan Savage, plus describe herself with an arbitrary personality trait.

The other thing that I see is that you could do something to present your other interests a bit stronger. I read your profile and see someone who lives the world of literature and languages, but are there other strong interests that you could use to connect to other people? Beef those things up. I have some ideas. I will probably memail your metafilter account because in this format (publically critique a profile), it may feel like an attack, and I don't want it to be that way.
posted by Wolfster at 6:41 AM on December 19, 2013

Just as a data point, I think it's okay to mention that the person is pretty/has cool eyes/ is beautiful/has a nice face in messages so long as that's not the only content of the message. It's a fine line between flirt and creep, but I've gotten a few messages/ongoing message chains that seemed almost too polite crossing into the asexual. The messages I respond to the most are short (two or three lines) that make some passing reference to something in my profile, has some kind of outright or implied compliment and, most importantly, gives me something to work for my response back. The guy I'm seeing now just wrote, "I like your music" because I had my soundcloud on my profile. Not that the message itself blew me away, but I was flattered that he listened and I didn't feel like he was trying to "sell" himself to me. It made me check out his profile and voila. Sometimes you just gotta get the ball rolling.

Good luck out there. OKcupid is a notorious flaketown, but I've had a couple nice romances come out of it. Just don't sweat it too much.
posted by Katine at 6:50 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) Your photos aren't great. The first and last are fine, but the ones in the middle are all kind of samey. I'd advise deleting those, and replacing them with at least one group shot, just to show that you sometimes interact with people.

2) Think very carefully about your answers. You say that you're not happy with your life, for example; this would be kind of a red flag for me.

3) Why are you willing to date women ten years younger than you, but only five years older? If this is because you really want children, make that clear. If it's not because you really want children but you just don't want to date a 45-year-old woman, then fine, but keep in mind that lots of women (including younger women, of which I am one) might raise an eyebrow at this.

4) You're right that you shouldn't mention looks in a first message. You also shouldn't be writing super-long first messages, though. (When I was active on OKC, I'd appreciate the 5-paragraph-long messages I received, but ultimately not answer most of them because it seemed like too much effort.) A good rule of thumb is a three-sentence message about the person's profile (funny statement -> related question -> unrelated question). It shows that you're paying attention, but it's not too much effort to answer.

Good luck!
posted by littlegreen at 6:55 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I looked at your profile -- I am a female person new to OKcupid and we had a pretty high match/friend percentage (but I am older).

You seemed charming...but what other people said about the list of authors and literary references is on the money. It overwhelmed me, and I am a PhD student myself. Yet I felt like I'm not quite educated enough to have a coffee chat with you. Maybe cull that list a bit? Unless you want to weed out people like me. (Though I agree that Wolf Hall was fucking brilliant.)

I would also add a few more interests - if you really want to do and talk about things outside of your study, you should foreground those.

Also, this may be just me, but the "GGG" reference in the Contact Me If section is a little bit of a red flag. Nothing against the principle of GGG, but Dan Savage....that was the second reference to him in your profile. A lot of smart women (at least in my circle) find him to be kind of a tool.

I've responded to all of one message so far, and it was because the guy made a funny response to to my "contact me" note and we had a lot in common when I looked at his profile. I'm not sure what "works" with responses yet, being new at this, but I think it being the holidays, things like online dating are slow for many people.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:56 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Why are you willing to date women ten years younger than you, but only five years older?

...keep in mind that lots of women (including younger women, of which I am one) might raise an eyebrow at this.

OP, this is silly and best to ignore. Your profile should be created detailing real, honest partner qualities you seek , not an attempt to avoid offending some OKC women. Time is precious, you want matches with potential.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:14 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was thinking about this profile on the way to work this morning because I couldn't put my finger on why it didn't work for me. On reflection, it seems like a very distant profile - it's all about your intellectual interests, jokes about your intellectual interests, jokes about the kind of cultural background that people like you might have. It says very little about you as a person, except to give the impression that you evaluate things and people in terms of your existing intellectual projects. It doesn't say anything about your ethical commitments, your politics, what kinds of feelings you have about the world (or even feelings that you have about books - "fucking brilliant" isn't a feeling.)

I get the impression from the profile that a date with you would be a performance - I (actually not me, I only date girls and I live in the Midwest) would sit there at the table and try to prove that I was smart enough and had enough of the correct cultural background to be interesting to you, while you watched and took notes in your head, knocking off points here and there.

And yet that seems like it's misleading based on your other questions! I don't think that's in fact what you're looking for.

You don't have a lot of women friends, right? (I base this on your other questions.) I think spending time with women you don't want to date might be good for you. This is just off-the-cuff, but it seems like you have both too wide and too narrow a net - on the one hand, you want to meet lots of girls and all your pursuits are potential pick-up sites (I mean, not in a creepy way, but it seems like you're always looking to meet girls, any girls) and on the other, you've got this profile where it seems like there are maybe ten or fifteen women in the entire continental US who would be good matches. This suggests to me that you might be able to clarify who you really do want to meet - not just randos from yoga selected on the grounds that they're pretty, right? But also not just women who can quote the classics, went to Miss Porter's and had a gap year in Patagonia. It seems like the more actually-existing women you know, the easier it will be to refine what you're looking for.
posted by Frowner at 7:20 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

OP, this is silly and best to ignore. Your profile should be created detailing real, honest partner qualities you seek , not an attempt to avoid offending some OKC women. Time is precious, you want matches with potential.

I'm really not trying to get into an argument here, but my point was really that the OP should think carefully about why he's limiting his audience in this way; apologies if that didn't come across fully. Lots of older women on OKC get ignored by potential matches, and if the OP really truly feels that he couldn't bear to date somebody more than five years older, then fine, but it is limiting his options, particularly when those younger women already get a ton of messages from older men.
posted by littlegreen at 7:23 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

mmmmm idk...just to keep the survey going - the last time I was on okcupid (when I was all of 27) a skewed older-younger target age range was in one of my top 10 red flags, regardless of whether I fell within it. You have the right to keep it there if it's really important to you, of course (same with everything) but if it's something you threw on there casually, you should at least be aware that it might drive some people away. I always read it less as "I'm looking for someone to have my babies" and more like "I'm using this site to have sex withthe hottest girl I can find." It just seems shallow. I'm sure that's not fair in a million instances, but online dating itself isn't a very fair enterprise, so.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:25 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a dude, but I had some simple rules for writing messages on OKC, and they worked pretty well. They were:

1) The message must include either a question or an observation about the person's profile, and, if at all possible, both. The corollary to this is, if you can't come up with at least one of these things, don't send the message, no matter how cute she looks in her photos.

2) No mentions of physical characteristics.

3) Keep it brief, but no so brief that you can't say something interesting. Generally, this means two to five sentences.

4) Don't say "you seem cool." Don't say "what's up?" Don't even say "hi." Get straight to the point.

I don't remember exactly what my reply rate was, but I'd guess it was something like one in every four or five - which is pretty good, from what I hear.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:39 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Weirdly, I think one of the things I liked most was when someone said something like "That's a great photo!" It was a way of saying I looked good without exactly directly commenting on my appearance. Of course, this works best if there is actually a great photo on the woman's profile. But you can make other kinds of comments on photos, too.

And a skewed age range was a red flag for me too, even if I was within the range. So, at the risk of sounding Machiavellian and manipulative, you might want to extend your range a bit, even if you have no intention of contacting women more than 5 years older than yourself.

Also, maybe online dating/OKCupid is just not the right platform for you. It wasn't for me. Fun story: I saw my current boyfriend's OKC profile (I forget if he messaged me or if OKC just recommended him to me) and dismissed it as the ravings of a pretentious asshole. A year or so later we ended up moving to the same city and meeting in real life and hit it off famously (I only figured out he was the same guy when I saw his OKC profile photo on his facebook). So seriously, consider rock-climbing or social justice or whatever. You'll meet a lot of the same people you would meet online, but you'll see each other in a different way.

I can't actually see your profile because I've forgotten my OKC password.
posted by mskyle at 7:57 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

(I can't see your profile due to it being private, just fyi)

I think the reason most stats say it's 1 out of 10 messages getting a reply is because women only get 1 out of 10 messages that aren't really bad or gross. There is a very large number of adult men who should know better that just fire off "hi you sexy" messages. Sometimes I wanted to ask them what on earth they were thinking, but they'd probably just take that as interest.

I agree with Frowner that it may work better for you to start initiating friendships with women without any thought of sex or romance. Your yoga ladies question especially said to me that you don't see attractive women as people first, and as a woman with a lot of good male friends I can spot a guy that just sees my gender and not my humanity a mile away. All the men I've dated have had solid non-romantic relationships with women.

And, yah, I took the skewed age range on OKC as a big red flag, and would ignore otherwise interesting messages if they were apparently not interested in dating women their own age. There are a LOT of 35 year old men on there that are only interested in dating 18 to 34 year olds.
posted by Dynex at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a straight woman on okcupid on the low end of your age range, your profile is a very high match with mine, and your pictures are cute. That said, if you messaged me right now and followed some of the good guidelines listed here (multiple grammatically correct sentences, including a question, referencing specifics from my profile), I'd give it some thought but probably not respond.

Here are the two biggest alarm bells for me personally.

1) Your references to 'trying to understand Americans' and your needing to point out that almost all of your favorite authors are British. Honestly, if you hadn't mentioned how Brit-heavy it was I would have just looked at that list and thought 'oh, cool, some good authors there.' Specifically mentioning that you never got into literature on 'this side of the pond' feels like you're signalling that the stuff you like is somehow superior. Combined with 'trying to understand Americans,' it makes me think that if I dated you I'd be under enormous pressure not to be 'typically' American.

2) You say this here and not on your profile, but mentioning 'social justice' as a thing that you do not like is a massive massive red flag to me. Much as you say you don't want to be talking about grad school all the time, your profile reads as if you really do; maybe not about your dissertation topic specifically, but I get the sense that you are all about novels and philosophy and BIG IDEAS all the time. You know who else is into big intellectual theoretical ideas? A bunch of those 'social justice' people. Dismissing social justice as a thing says to me that you don't expect activists or people with social justice interests to be your intellectual peers, or you think that activist and academic are mutually exclusive categories. Not necessarily so, on both counts.

You sound simultaneously super intense and picky, and absolutely desperate to meet any women at all. (Judging by, say, the aforementioned yoga question.) It's okay to want to date intellectual peers, but you may be unintentionally intimidating or screening out a bunch of them. Try cutting out some of the quotes and the "hobnobbing with shamans" bit for starters and see what happens.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:48 AM on December 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

Women of MeFi, what messages have you received that made you click over to the guy's profile or even (gasp) message him back?

There is literally no message that will make me message someone if I'm not interested in the profile.

There are a few messages that will prevent me from messaging back if I am interested in the profile: "hi how are you" and similar spam, something offensive, etc. Beyond that, it really doesn't matter. The vast majority of messages I've replied to have been really really simple:"hi! (statement or question relating to profile) (sometimes also a second question) (Name)"

Don't overthink the messages. Just show you've read the profile by asking about a mutual interest or something else that interested you, and don't say anything stupid. The rest depends on whether she likes your profile, and that's not really something you can control (beyond making your profile as good as it can be).
posted by randomnity at 8:50 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

What always worked for me was a simple & sincere: "Hi I saw your profile and thought we might be good together. I like XYZ too! What do you think about ABC? Have a great day!"

Also just based on your wording of questions alone, you do sound very particular. You want to be particular when dating, but be particular about the right things. Be particular about the qualities of a person's character (are they kind, forgiving, communicate well....) but not so much about their interests (you like to needle point? that is in no way a deal-breaker). I hope you get what I mean.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:54 AM on December 19, 2013

Find one thing in the woman's profile that differentiates her from the pack -- something that she mentions that is unique -- and come up with a message that has:

1. A catchy subject header related to that unique thing of hers that will pique her curiosity. Don't underestimate the value of the subject line -- many women receive tons of email, so make yours "pop" in the list in her inbox.

2. A question related to that unique quality, or another hook wherein you link your own experience to her unique quality. But stay away from bland "Me, too!" comments. "Oh, you like hillbilly jazz? Me, too!" It's ho-hum.

3. As another poster up-thread intimated, Dan Savage might be cock-blocking you. Plenty of women who are in fact GGG are NOT fans of his; don't give those women an easy excuse to dismiss your message to the slush pile.

4. Use an amusing sign-off, ideally based upon her unique quality that you commented on. Nothing snarky or sarcastic...tread carefully with humor. And importantly, sign off with your real first name.

5. Keep it short; leave 'em wanting more. Catchy subject line; 3-4 sentences max with one "hook"; amusing sign off. That's it.
posted by nacho fries at 10:08 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

And a skewed age range was a red flag for me too, even if I was within the range.

Me too, to the point of it being a potential dealbreaker, though it's far worse then the dude specifies that he won't even date women his own age. I think it's generally a good idea to have the range equal on either side, so if that's scootching the top end down or the lower end up, that's your call.

I actually don't think your profile is bad at ALL. Very charming, and I totally get a sense of who you are. But it isn't a profile that's going to appeal to a wide array of ladies. (Weirdly, I know a woman whom you appear to be the male version of -- I love her and you'd either get along smashingly OR kill each other, but she doesn't live near you, sadly. You are like the same person.) You're going to appeal to a very very specific woman, which is actually probably good, it just means you're not going to get as many responses. I would kill the quote at the top, as much as I like it. It's kind of a high barrier to entry. I'd also kill the GGG bit. I always hate it when a dude is already talking about sex in his profile. It gives the whole thing a bit of a pervy air.

Finally, I actually don't mind when someone mentions my looks in a message as long as it's not the only thing he says and it's not crass. "I like your smile," works on me. I actually also find it effective when someone writes a clever, short, engaging email about other stuff and then closes it with, "PS: You're very cute."

Good luck out there!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2013

Your profile is pretty good. (Fuck yeah, rot13. I'm totally going to use that in my profile somewhere now.)

I've had pretty good luck on okc the past few months after years of horrible horribleness from the horribleness hole of horrible. What changed for me was my general attitude toward the site and how I interact with the site. I just do not take the site seriously in any way at this point. That sounds bad but it's seriously been a game changer for me. YMMV.

I pretty much try to respond to all messages I get other than the, "hi, how are you" and "I love your ass" messages. Sometimes I outright say, "no thanks" or "nope" to messages but I do try to reply. The guy I'm dating now that I met on okc sent me a message being a complete smart ass to me about how much of a smart ass I was. He also asked me a question specific to my profile. It was a really short message but it was effective in showing me that he'd read my profile and had looked at my answers to the okc questions.

Keep your messages sincere + short & sweet. Don't treat people on the site like they're a number - even though it seems like a numbers game.

It might also help you to be upfront about your aspie tendencies. I outright say in my profile that I'm awkward. I also cop to it in several of my explanations in my answers to the okc questions.

Also, I would recommend answering more of the damn okc questions. Answer them until you are blue in the face. Download the app or use the mobile website and anytime you've got a spare five minutes answer more damn questions. Add explanations to your answers. The questions do not require heavy thinking but can provide insight into how a person thinks.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 10:26 AM on December 19, 2013

Your profile is too blatant. Tone down the pretension, several degrees. Because:

a) women who don't get it are going to be turned off by not getting it.
b) I guarantee that women who get it--fellow grad students, etc.--are going to be turned off because, well, guys like you (or at least the you you are presenting) are a dime a dozen in academia.

Be more approachable in your profile. Be more balanced. You really don't like anything low-or-middle brow? No Beavis and Butthead marathons or Stephen King novels or pizza and beer nights?

Also, cribbing quotations from "good" messages women have received on dating sites isn't really going to work, because the really good messages that actually score dates are going to be personal and personalized.
posted by tippy at 12:58 PM on December 19, 2013

Lots of good tips in this thread. Here's mine: always give a conversation hook. There should be at least one question in your message to give your interlocutor something to work from. "How are you?" or "When should we meet?" don't count.

I can't tell you how many potential soulmates I never replied to because their message was... I don't know, too statement driven? They'd just be like "You look fun, we appear to like the same things." and that's it. Like it was a cover letter for a CV. Nothing for me to respond to.

Even if I was interested in their profile, those would usually get stuck in my inbox until I figured out a clever thing to say, which is to say never. In contrast, guys who asked me really specific questions about something in my profile almost always got an answer, even if I was less interested in them, just because they made the contact easier for me.
posted by Freyja at 1:28 PM on December 19, 2013

And a skewed age range was a red flag for me too, even if I was within the range.

Seconding this. It always made me think that I would be dropped once I aged out, which if you're looking for a solid partner? Not a good quality. It makes me feel like all that matters is my looks, and frankly signals superficiality or a certain degree of immaturity. If you really don't want to date anyone more than five years older, move your bottom range up to match.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:30 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

First of all, profile now deprivatized (I'd forgotten about that option).

Thanks all, this is seriously helpful. I'm very surprised at how differently I come across in my profile than I intended. It didn't even occur to me that anyone could read it and see it as some kind of "Are you smart enough to date me" test. And "rich, well-traveled, consciously non-provincial, very straight, expensively educated, cultured-conservative" is more or less the opposite of what I'm looking for, so obviously that needs some work.

The "hobnobbed with shamans" stuff was added very recently; my thinking was that, since I'm a very quiet and reserved person, you could literally know me for years and never hear about some of the interesting stuff I've done in my life, and I was consciously trying to work against that habit. That seems to have backfired. So what's a good way to mention this kind of thing without giving off a cooler-than-thou vibe?

(Btw I like social justice, it's just not an active part of my life like it is for many people in these parts.)
posted by zeri at 2:23 PM on December 19, 2013

my thinking was that, since I'm a very quiet and reserved person, you could literally know me for years and never hear about some of the interesting stuff I've done in my life

You could try to have a small part of your profile about travel. The goal would be to have another hook or hobby or way to connect with another person. You could mention a place taht you went and what it meant to you.

I really think the goal is to list your general interests, and your prospective dates will (hopefully) ask questions about the interests in common.So if the person has traveled/is curious about other parts of the world, the person will ask.

You may want to consider putting that you are quiet/reserved on your profile. A) People will realize that when they meet you, and B) some people will consider that a plus.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 2:40 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, for one, did you actually hobnob with shamans, or did you take a tour into the rainforest with a bunch of other white tourists, take a few photos of a village, and then go back to camp and get drunk? I've done a lot of travelling and the majority of time when someone drops information like that what they mean is the latter. I've actually started eyeing people when they go on about travelling, especially after spending time in Thailand (from the sex trade as well as all the drunken people riding scooters into ditches). Talk more about what you enjoy about travelling, and not just the fact that you have travelled. Some people will enjoy all the same places you did for all the wrong reasons!
posted by Dynex at 2:46 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just to be a bit contrary, if you were appropriately gendered for me I would have dropped you a line myself, although maybe you've changed some stuff already? But I like a lot of the stuff you like and I can see how, like... if you're the sort of person who likes QI, you think you're a dork, and everybody else thinks you're holier-than-thou when you tell them that one of your favorite TV shows is a bunch of British people talking about trivia.

I'm kind of curious what your standards are presently looking like in women, because to be honest, one of the first things that struck me is that a lot of the "dork" end of the range in the US runs curvy, and I've run into guys especially from overseas before who did not find that particularly attractive. Which is fine, but could be limiting. Also, you might want to specify if, like, it's okay if your future girlfriend does not have your same views about losing internet access.

Because this may be a bit twee, but somehow I suspect that the sort of girl who is really going to go for you is probably hanging around on Tumblr or somewhere like it. And actually, that made me think that if you can legitimately add something like Dr. Who or Sherlock or Supernatural to your list of favored TV shows, there is a not-insignificant number of young women who go totally squee over those things with interests that otherwise line up well with yours. Something to really connect over with a broader fandom than QI, because somehow a large portion of the population has not learned the wonders of QI and that it's all on Youtube. Basically, either you can try to come off more "normal", or you can just embrace the dork and look for the sorts of girls who go for that.
posted by Sequence at 7:01 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am massively overeducated, a nasty intellectual elitist, and when I was single, I wanted only the very smartest. So it takes one to know one. And -I- find your profile way over the top, off the charts. One namecheck is enough. More and you sound like an Asshole.
posted by skbw at 8:54 PM on December 19, 2013

Think about the kind of women you are open to meeting. If you truly only want someone who recognizes and responds to the cultural references in your profile, leave it as is.

Otherwise add some more mainstream references - a lot more people can find something to say about How I Met Your Mother or Beyonce. Most people want to be part of a conversation they can contribute to, not a conversation they don't understand.
posted by bunderful at 9:23 PM on December 19, 2013

Ah yes. Messages.

Examples of bad messages:

1) u r cute how r u?
2) hey beautiful wanna meet
3) hey gorgeous i like your body, let's go shopping at victoria's secret
4) Hi, I like your profile, you seem like a nice girl. I am a guy who is looking for someone special. I grew up in Michigan but I've lived in Virginia for 5 years now. Hope to hear from you!

A good message:
1) has mostly correct spelling
2) doesn't have inappropriate comments about me body
3) does not call me darling or beautiful
4) shows that the sender read my profile - or at least skimmed it
5) invites response by asking me a question
6) not too short and not too long. 3-5 sentences should do it.
posted by bunderful at 9:36 PM on December 19, 2013

If you play sax, get a picture of that happening!
posted by bunderful at 9:38 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

"The obligatory Exotic Locale photo. That's a jaguar. Do I win?" Low self confidence indicator. You are imagining a person who is like "What, another exotic locale photo, what a bunch of cliche bullshit" but that person doesn't exist and if they did you wouldn't want to date them.
"(I know, those are all Brits. I do like American writers, I just haven't read as many. Recommendations will be welcomed!)" Low self confidence indicator. You are imagining a person who is like "What, all british authors, what a bunch of cliche bullshit" but that person doesn't exist and if they did you wouldn't want to date them.

"You should message me if
You want to practice two-person pass juggling, teach me the ukulele, or learn some Spanish guitar. You're sweet, but you cuss like a stevedore. You can teach me a new word or how to identify trees. You're a lucid dreamer, an illustrator, or a gifted kisser. You're warm and kind-hearted."

Fucking nobody anywhere is going to read that and be like, yup, sounds like me. Everybody is feeling inadequate before they even start to reply, even those few who might match the description.

Also my wife was looking over my shoulder when I was looking at your profile and was like "Whoop Whoop Danger Danger Nope" at the following:

"Being in love is like discovering a concealed ballroom in a house you've long inhabited."
posted by Kwine at 10:48 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like the concealed ballroom! I read the whole profile out loud to my spouse who liked it too (and who laughed loudly at the "what people first notice about me" segment). Also, I was sad to see weltzschmertz and "pretentious foreignisms" edited out. The first time I read your profile I had to google all those goddamn foreignisms and then when I got to the "pretentious foreignisms" part I laughed out loud.

I guess this goes to show that different people have different tastes. I was interested in the hobnobbing with shamans part too, and wasn't off-put by the Lewis Carroll.

Wanted to join the chorus of women though who object to asymmetrical age ranges. The one you've got right now is not so bad, but in general, an asymmetrical age range makes me wonder if the seeker is emotionally mature, if they are more interested in the physical than the mental, if they are harshly critical about female beauty, and if they are not kind. Which is a lot of negative imaginings attached to a little number range. Agree with the Machiavellian thinker above who says you might just equal out the ranges so it doesn't red-flag people who think like I do.
posted by feets at 11:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your profile seems really, really specific. It does not match up with the "dating is a numbers game" thing - I get the sense that you've crafted a profile so that one highly literate woman with a very, very specific background will respond to when she gets around to reading it.

While this is true, I have to say that the people of my personal acquaintance who have had the best luck with OKC did precisely this. I mean, honestly, one friend's profile was so excruciatingly specific that it was many hundreds of words long and came down to the level of preferred cacao percentages in chocolate. He found his girlfriend in exactly two dates and she is not only gorgeous, brilliant, and wealthy, but also exactly his match in pretty much every relevant respect.

So I mean, hell. If you know what you want, why not ask for it? Even if it seems a little crazy--maybe especially if it seems crazy, because lord knows those weird quirky things aren't likely to turn up by random chance.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:21 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

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