Gaming your data

Preface

It goes without saying that everyone is different. However, over the years, I’ve discovered many common data-related problems that present challenges for a lot of singles. What follows are my analyses of trends and some constructive solutions.

Online dating profiles shouldn’t be used as confessionals. Famous sex advice columnist Dan Savage often says that a relationship is not a deposition. (This usually happens when someone jealously presses their partner for info about their sexual or romantic past.) Well, folks, an online dating profile isn’t a deposition either! However, someone forgot to tell the site designers. Most profiles solicit information about subjects that are simply not pre-first-date material. I don’t care how important it is to you that someone love dogs, or not have children from a prior marriage: the bar should be equivalent to what you’d know about them if they asked you out in line for coffees. You have enough time to know your initial “could there be an attraction here?” response, and you can check to see if they have a wedding ring or an enormously inappropriate erection or no shoes or deodorant. Basic “are you a reasonable human to go on one date with” metrics. In that coffee-purchasing time increment, you don’t get to ask if they cheated on their last spouse, or if they have kids in another state, or if they only eat the lamest possible flavor of pizza, or if they’ve ever made another person experience an orgasm. All you can do is say to yourself, “shall I go out with this person?”

The complicated data points come later, in a more natural discovery process. You might find out that the charming and attractive woman you’re dining with is ten years older than you expected, or that the guy you’re really into actually had a first marriage in his very early 20s that didn’t go so well. You might find yourself having such a great time that you don’t want to rule them out, even though you in theory were against being with anyone “older” or “divorced” or what have you. People simply don’t fit into boxes as elegantly as any survey or profile would have you believe, and in real life, it would be *incredibly* awkward if they disclosed the full spectrum of detail on a real-life date that you normally have access to in a Match.com profile. So I encourage you all to think a little differently about data. Don’t be afraid of going out with someone who doesn’t perfectly match your advanced search input. Be a little cavalier about how you answer questions. Assume that data is boring, that *people* are what’s interesting, and start approaching online dating as a database full of potential opportunities, instead of a giant sieve with which you can filter out the undesirables. If you can’t mentally commit to this approach, fake it.

I’m not a wizard, and I can’t make you taller or saner or less divorced. But I can teach you how to express a total picture of yourself that’s more human, and less a collection of data points. I can teach you to go on dates with more people, who are more likely to really connect with you, and I can teach you to make those dates more enjoyable and transition them into relationships more naturally. I guarantee you that you’ll have a lot more fun if you do things my way, and you’re more likely to make real worthwhile human connections that can actually lead you to falling in love. Give The Heartographer’s approach a try! So onward: to the data gaming.

On Age

People sometimes tell little white lies in the dating game, both online and offline. However, age is an unwise item to lie about, even as you start to get older and more conscious of your years. This comic from The Oatmeal illustrates the point well!

When you fail to disclose your actual age, by demurring something like “older than you,” you highlight your own discomfort, you make people even more curious, and you start to sound a little batty. Realistically, most people sort of look their age, and hemming and hawing about it just makes people guess up the number even higher AND think you’re a weirdo and/or a wuss for not sharing.

Granted, age is an issue in our society, much like weight. Online dating sites were smart enough to realize that asking for a specific weight number was unwise; they’ve since shifted to a “body type” metric. But they haven’t wised up to the fact that many users put entirely too much, er, weight, on the number of years we’ve lived on this earth; a better system would be a range like when you answer marketing surveys, but even that would give misleading results sometimes. Many singles are weirdly limiting in their age searches, but you know what? Sites don’t even respect your age preferences in their algorithmic matching. That’s right; you can state you’re looking for women ate 25-35, but Match.com will still send you 23-year-olds and 41-year-olds if they determine those individuals to be a good match with the rest of your explicit (user specified) and implicit (Match scraped) data. (Of course, these algorithms are always shifting, so that may be untrue tomorrow and true again next Tuesday. My point is that even the system designed to help you find love thinks you’re being too narrow minded when it comes to age.)

Even though embracing your age may be uncomfortable, it’s a better strategy than hiding it, for entirely pragmatic reasons. In addition to seeming far more insecure, you’re also just bound to get caught. Maybe not with someone you only go on one date with, but definitely with someone you wind up dating for a year. Then, not only is the foundation of your relationship based on a non-teensy lie, but it gets way more awkward the longer you keep up pretenses. Seemingly tiny deceptions like this can make your potential mate wonder what else you’ve been dishonest about! Most people are a little guarded nd nervous about online dating; discovering a deliberate deception is likely to upset them way more than the actual age discrepancy you were trying to cover up.

If you ask me, it’s in your best interest to date people who want to date you back just as you are. That means people who like how you look in a recent, realistic photo; who like how you seem based on a thoughtful, well-crafted profile; and who feel that whatever life metadata you’ve chosen to disclose matches up with whatever they’ve chosen to seek out. If you make the rest of your online presence absolutely shine, with a great hook of a username, a fantastically witty profile, flattering yet natural photos, and a great messaging strategy, you’re likely to seem just as attractive as someone with the mystical Dream Age you wanted to fib about. Work on sprucing up the stuff you can be honest yet awesome about!

On Height

Height is an oddly polarizing metric in online dating, mostly because it’s something we have no control over. Someone fat can theoretically become skinny and vice versa, but it’s an awful lot harder for a short guy to become taller. A disproportionate number of men and women take height metrics too seriously—and I fully include my single self in this group. I had terrible height-related dating behavior back in the day. Here are some generalizations and strategies:

Most straight women irrationally and disproportionately prefer tall men. Usually that’s defined as “six feet or taller.” That’s a magic number that suddenly signifies “masculine” in our modern rom-com-consuming society; maybe it’s also tied to the Tall Dark and Handsome trope. Because of this, guys who are slightly shorter than six feet have come to learn that it behooves them to lie about their height in their profile. Because of THIS, women get reactive and start seeking even taller suitors, say 6’2″ and up. The cycle continues until we’re all insane giants. (OK, not really, but do you see how this quickly gets ridiculous?) Many straight women would happily marry the right guy who happened to be 5’7″ but exceeded their expectations in every other facet, or even in most or many other facets. But that’s not a reality you’ll see reflected in their online dating approach.

The average American male is 5’10” tall. If you’re this height or taller, list your height. If you’re shorter than this height in all brutal honesty; game the data—strategically leave the height field blank, but also leave other elements in that sidebar o’ metadata blank. (You know; the box on the upper right of most profiles, usually light blue, containing traits like your western Zodiac sign and your income and whether you smoke or like dogs or what have you.) You heard me: leave it ALL BLANK. This sends a subconscious message that you either deliberately or unknowingly skipped that entire section; perhaps even that you’re too cool for that section. Fill out the rest of your profile in a way that also breaks some rules—indicate what you do for a living in a field about your favorite activities; confess your food preference in the section about what you’re looking for in a partner. Mix it up and trick the system. You’ll still seem candid, because you’re answering important questions (and doing so in a witty and personality-filled tone that forges a connection despite any core data that appears to be missing). Trust me. Give this a try before you input any height data, and let the conversation evolve naturally. (Be honest if you’re directly asked, but also be damn charming in the rest of that message.) When it comes to searches, consider doing advanced searches for women your height and shorter. Unless you have a fetish for taller women, it’s more logical to target a range that is likely to be receptive to your height.

The average American female is 5’4″ tall. Straight women tend to have a preference toward men who are taller than them. Tall-ish straight women tend to run into problems with that preference. However, expressly stating such a preference almost always works against you—often men who are within your acceptable desired height parameters are put off by your insistence about this seemingly superficial trait, and they will extrapolate that your values are superficial. It breeds an inherent mistrust and even anger, even from the tall and otherwise secure guys. (The shorter and/or insecure guys may become downright nasty.) Furthermore, while I don’t support every aspect of Amy Webb’s data-gaming strategies, she found in her book that women who are shorter tend to appeal more to men. So I think there are two paths for women: one is listing your height honestly and not making any mention whatsoever of your preferred height in a mate; keep in mind that practice dates are useful and you can always decide to cut things off if height is truly a physical attraction deal-breaker. A second path is to try not listing height at all, and strategically avoiding answering the other sidebar data questions, just like I advise shorter guys to do. See what works best for you.

Lesbian and gay singles have more complicated height metrics to sort out; many gay guys prioritize height extremes, such as supertall guys for more masculine types and supershort guys for more effeminate types. Guys who fall in the middle make up the bulk of the gay community, yet can come off seeming like less of a commodity because of this normalcy. As a woman who’s dated mostly men, I don’t have as much visibility into the gay dating scene as I’d like for my clients, haha. But much like above, I recommend experimenting with not disclosing height metrics (or body type, etc.) and waiting to see how in-person meetings go to figure that stuff out. As for the lesbian scene, I’ve always found it confusing, haha. The women I’ve dated were always frustrated by my height, yet I’ve known plenty of women who fetishized tall femme women. (For some reason, tall butch women don’t seem to be as clearly fetishized; women can often be quite petite and still get away with being a sought-after butch gal.) The subtleties of the lesbian height preference trends escape me, but the strategies remain the same—don’t feel obligated to disclose your biometrics if you suspect they may be working against you. If you’re careful in how you avoid answering questions, and you answer robustly elsewhere, you can still convert interest into in-person dates, which will give anyone you meet a better feel for what you’re actually like without constantly checking against a yardstick. (It helps that most dates happen while you’re both sitting down, thinking more about each others’ faces and body language than height and body types.)

Ask me if I’ve failed to address your height-related question; I’m always happy to weigh in and/or broaden my knowledge!

On Body Type

Thank goodness they stopped making us list our weight in numbers, right? Phew. I did not enjoy those dark days. Body stuff is weird to discuss in this weird fat-yet-anorexic country. But in a nutshell, there is ALWAYS someone out there who will find your specific type super hot. Learn to find and date these people. Don’t chase after guys who like skinny girls if you’re not a skinny girl. Don’t chase after women who like buff guys if you’re not a buff guy. If you’re a fat slobby dude, consider that exclusively seeking tiny polished women is a poor strategy unless you have a hell of a lot of patience, and a hell of a lot to offer outside the looks department.

Basic disclaimers aside, be honest with your body type, but not insane. Most people can get away with marking “average.” Most of us think we could stand to lose a few extra pounds, but would classify our peers who also identify as a tad chubby as “average.” We have all these silly euphemisms for body type that vary based on gender, but basically, “curvy” is what we call any woman who is large but not morbidly obese. “Athletic” only works if more parts are hard than soft. “Fit” is fair for people who look “average” with clothes on, yet go to gyms like ever. These are all so subjective. Don’t use “overweight” unless you’re truly overweight; I can’t tell you how many analytical engineer-types will put that because technically according to some chart in a doctor’s office that’s the accurate calculation. This is not about technicalities; this is about picking the awkward adjective from the drop-down menu that is the right combination of the least offensive and the most accurate.

Show your body in your photos, whatever type it is. Make sure at least one image has at least your torso showing, if not your whole shebang. Usually it’s most elegant to combine this with some kind of activity or action shot. The only acceptable shirtless pictures are ones where you’re doing something that requires you to be shirtless, like water-skiing. But if you’re cut and you water-ski ever, go for it, bro. Basically, your images can serve to reassure users that the adjective you picked from the drop-down body type menu wasn’t utterly outlandish. When in doubt, data-duck: don’t fill out that sidebar data at all if you’re freaked out. Or just call me and let me help talk you through the right choice.

On Prior Marriages and Kids

No one needs to know that you used to be married, or that you have kids. Even if you’re a single mom who spends 95% of her time with those kids. I know this is a controversial statement, so please read on for an analysis.

I swear it’s coming soon. :)

On Physical and Mental Health Issues

Coming soon.

On Bisexuality, Kinks, Polyamory, Etc.

Coming soon.

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