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10 Online Dating ‘Don’ts’ for Men and Women

girl holding phone with picture of guy on it
When assessing your online dating prowess, it is good to get feedback from the opposite sex. Here are our top 10 online dating "don'ts."

I’ve done my share of online dating and lived my share of online horror stories. I’ve also heard friends’ stories and could probably write a book chronicling the aggregate of our experience.

The bad news is I’ve learned some hard lessons in my online dating journey; the good news is you’re going to benefit from that fact right here, right now. This post will help you avoid the most common online dating mistakes and save yourself time, money, energy and perhaps a few personal counseling sessions. You can thank me later.

One of the best ways to assess your online dating prowess is to get feedback from the opposite sex, so that’s what we’ll do here. I’m going to lay down my top 10 online dating “don’ts” for the men (and thanks to my girlfriends who helped ensure I hit the most important and aggravating ones), and the illustrious Travis Williams, who met his wife online, will do the same for us ladies.

Naturally, we’ll want your take on the lists. If you feel we’ve missed anything, let us know. If something resonates with you or you have an anecdote to share, do so. And finally, if you disagree, tell us that, too. Our goal is to give everyone the tools they need to do online dating well and maybe give those who’ve never jumped into the online fray the confidence to do so. So here we go (the items on these lists are in no particular order):

Ten Online Dating “Don’ts” for Men

1) Don’t be lazy. An incomplete profile, bad spelling or grammar, trolling the site once a year, or an initial message to a girl that reads, “I like your profile; tell me more about yourself” is lazy. Women don’t like lazy. Are you in it to win it? Prove it.

2) Don’t post stupid photos. Photos that fall into this category include webcam photos, bathroom mirror self-portraits (or any self-portrait don’t you have friends?), photos of your bare chest and photos with your ex cropped out. Likewise, don’t post photos that are misleading. If you’re a classical pianist who loves to cook, a photo of you in leather on a Harley may be funny to you and your friends, but we girls won’t get it. No, really we won’t.

3) Don’t broadcast unrealistic expectations. Guys’ lists of “must haves” can be pretty long, and I’ve seen it all: Must be a virgin, must be younger than I, must love to work out. Seriously? Are you prepared to meet the same standards? Expectations like this run the risk of being unhealthy, ungodly and extremely limiting. I know very few women who “love” to work out; I know many (like me) who do because we know it’s a good thing. If you want someone with a hot body, just say so; that’s at least honest. Then we women can in good conscience reject you for being too shallow.

4) Don’t be vague. I’ve seen very few guys online who really stand out. Most say some variation of the following: “I like to hang out with friends, snowboard and drink microbrews. My best buddy is my dog, and I can’t live without my truck.” Oh, and every guy online is “laid back.” Where the vaguery really gets irritating is when it’s in the area of faith. I should be able to differentiate your profile from a non-Christian’s or even a nominal Christian’s. Say something substantive, guys. Tell me about your church, your accountability group or what you’re studying in your quiet time. That’s hot. However

5) Don’t preach, judge, share doctrinal treatises or brag about your perceived spiritual maturity. One guy I met online sent me 46 Scripture references (including some from Ephesians 5, naturally) telling me to read them and let him know when I had completed the task. He also said, “Please read them only in the King James Version.” He’s probably still waiting for me to get back to him.

6)  Don’t be a downer. I’m sorry about your past breakups and divorces; I really am. But I don’t want to walk through the details of them with you in our first conversation. Nor do I want to read about them in your profile. Just list the important facts and leave it at that. (Like the fact you are divorced; that I want to know.) Similarly, I don’t want to hear how discouraging your dating life has been or your musings on why women aren’t attracted to you. I don’t want to hear that girls only like “bad boys,” and if there weren’t algorithms for attractiveness then you would have every woman in the world falling at your feet because you’re so amazing in every other respect. You know what’s attractive? Confidence and self-respect. Get some.

7) Don’t ask her for more pictures. This is an immediate “creeper” alert. If I’ve got eight good-quality photos up on the site and he emails me saying, “Can you send me more pictures?” my first thought is, Why? My second thought is, Is this guy in prison, and if not, should he be?

8) Don’t “wink.” This is the dumbest online feature ever. If you’re in it to win it (see No. 1), then why are you wasting time and money by doing the online equivalent of the cheesy pickup line? I never respond to winks. Don’t do it, guys. Ever. EVER. Send her a message and formally introduce her to your charming self.

9) Don’t be impatient. Has it been a couple days since you first emailed her, and she has yet to respond? Don’t sweat it. She may be busy, or traveling, or taking time to craft an answer, or ignoring you altogether. Remember, you don’t have to contact us, and we don’t have to answer you. Don’t worry about it, just continue looking; there are plenty more fish in the online sea. And if she gets back to you in two weeks, you can determine if her reason for the lag is legit.

10) Don’t make a lame exit. The most common example of this is what I call “the fade.” You want to stop communicating, so you do. But you do it by disappearing with no explanation. If you’ve only talked briefly and superficially, no biggie. But if you’ve been in communication for a few weeks and you’ve decided to let go, be a man and tell her so. On the flip side, if you want to move the online relationship to the next level (e.g. to the phone or meeting in person), do it. Don’t languish online forever as a goofy, going-nowhere penpal. Have a plan and put it in motion. She’ll let you know if you’re moving too fast.

That’s what I’ve got for you, guys. What do you think? And now, ladies, lest you think you’re off the hook, here’s what Travis has to say to you:

Ten Online Dating “Don’ts” for Women

1) Don’t use misleading photos. I know I’ll catch flak for this one but will step out in faith that some guys will agree with me. Ladies, your photos can be important for guys. It’s so important that I have to break it down into four parts:

  • The Yearbook: You may have looked great in your senior photos, but you’re 27 now – show who you are today.
  • The I’m in here somewhere: Be careful about group shots. Yes, I’m talking about the pictures of you and your friends standing together in bridesmaid dresses.
  • The it’s not my baby: Avoid the urge to put the photo of you and your newborn nephew. You think it communicates that you love kids, but a guy will think it is your kid.
  • The my hair is the background: Use Glamour Shots for your Facebook profile, but refrain from using them in your dating profile. Be real. Be who you are. Be glamorous if that’s who you are — without the airbrush.
  • The I’m just not into me or the I’m way too into me. Both can backfire. If you’re going for sweats and a fuzzy webcam shot, you’ll get overlooked. Likewise, if you’re going for the bronzed bikini photo – you’ll get noticed, but you won’t be taken seriously.

2) Don’t be afraid to talk about something other than coffee, Diet Coke, flip-flops and how you love to travel. Nearly all women love those things. What makes you distinct?

3) Don’t be pushy or badger. Being overly aggressive online works as well as it does in any other environment – it doesn’t. What do I mean by overly aggressive? Well, it could mean the poke, the prod, the push, the nasty email on why I haven’t responded, the nagging to respond, the desperate call to communicate. As hard as it may be, let your profile do a lot of the initial talking by making it easy and appealing for a guy to lead.

4) Don’t act like you’re doing the world a favor. You may have been a pageant queen, but it’s not going to translate well online. Being smug or pretentious is not attractive, and it comes across louder online than it does in real life. For example, if your laundry list of requirements for a guy who can date you is longer than your actual profile, you probably fit the bill of what I’m talking about. Finding a mate is just as much about the person on the other end of the line as it is about you. If it’s just about you, why do you need a guy?

5) Don’t be unrealistic. Just because you have a match and received an email does not mean that you will be walking down the aisle soon. In fact, take that mental picture from your mind right now. Relax. Just because you connect online does not mean you’ll connect face to face. In fact, I believe most guys won’t lock in on relationship status until after they meet you face to face.

But if you want to scare a guy away on your first face-to-face meeting, picture him in a tuxedo. You may think it doesn’t show, but trust me a guy can read it. Guys may not be good at reading too many signals, but knowing that you see him walking you down the aisle soon – guys can read that one! The point is that online dating is a tool that helps you meet someone. Be realistic and realize that relationships still take time and work, and there is no magic formula to bypass that process.

6) Don’t be afraid to try new things. You make small changes every day. Why not change up your profile and try new things that express your personality? A page cannot contain who you are. Understand that your page is you at that moment in time. Feel free to reference current happenings from time to time as these may help you find a connection. Your goal should be to find as much common ground online as possible.

Mature people have discussions about the stuff they do not share in common and decide if those things are a deal breaker. I’ve found that most people think that they have all sorts of deal breakers until they actually meet someone with whom they want to have a relationship.

7) Don’t focus on all the little things when the big things are there. Not all guys are great writers. Creating a profile is just as daunting for a guy as it is for a girl. Recognize that some guys are truly doing their best. Try to discern who is a good guy by what they are trying to say, not what they actually say. Most guys online are not doing it with their buddies like many of the ladies are. They are flying solo and have little feedback. Grant a little grace and see the big picture. A misplaced comma or misused word does not mean they won’t be a good guy and that they are not smart.

8) Don’t forget to trust God. God can work through online dating sites. It’s true. But online dating sites can create all kinds of weird emotions that distract us from what God is doing. Put your attempts at meeting someone online in God’s hands. Trust Him when you accept an invitation to have a conversation. Trust Him when you close people out. Trust Him when the guy you thought liked you doesn’t call you back. Do what you can do, and allow God to do what only He can do.

9) Don’t let your past define you. If you’ve dealt seriously with sins and mistakes you’ve made in the past, leave them off your profile. If you’ve sought God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others, then live as if you are forgiven. I’m not saying to be dishonest about your past, but allow a guy to know you for who you are today not as you were. Your conversations about your past should happen face to face. That takes courage, but in my view it’s better than allowing a guy or yourself to define who you are by who you were.

10) Don’t over-do anything on your profile. Remember you have limited space to communicate you. Everything you do or don’t do in that space communicates something. A colleague of mine asked me to review her profile, and the only thing I learned about her was that she liked food. She liked food so much that she mentioned food or a variation of food five times in her profile. Five times.

If there was a guy looking for a cardiac arrest, he could have found her, but the truth is that she had much more to offer. Food was just the tip of the iceberg and a boring tip at that.

My point is that I want you to tell your best story. If you are only about one thing and one thing only, go for it; you’ve just limited your matches. What I’ve found is that most people are more diverse than they communicate. The more you can show that diversity of who you are, the more you will have in common with guys. The more common ground you have on paper, the more likely you’ll meet in person. That, in my opinion, is your goal. Staying online and not moving into face-to-face conversation will not help you in building a relationship that leads to marriage.

Copyright 2012 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Lisa Anderson

Lisa Anderson is the director of Boundless and young adults at Focus on the Family and hosts The Boundless Show, a national radio program and podcast. She loves connecting with single young adults and strategizing how to better equip them for life, relationships and a faith that goes the distance; she does not love managing budgets or signing contracts, but realizes that’s part of her job, too. Lisa can often be heard at conferences and on radio and TV, getting worked up about dating, relationships, faith and hip-hop. She grew up in San Jose, California, is a graduate of Trinity International University in Chicago, and spent a good chunk of her life in media relations before joining Boundless. She runs to counterbalance her love of pastries and chicken tikka masala, and often quotes her mom, who’s known to say outrageous things. She’s the author of The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose (David C. Cook). Follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaCAnderson.


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