Be really, really honest – but don’t tip your hand too much.
This is the tough one because, again, we’re back to finding a careful balance. If you think you’re going to enjoy the company of those who really get into naked jello knitting, state that clearly. If you don’t want a permanent relationship or you are looking for the One and Only – say that. Yes, either way, you’re going to scare some people off – and that’s the idea.
You’re not on a dating site to appeal to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet out there – you’re on a dating site to find someone with whom you have a lot in common, someone to whom you can really relate.
Going back to our previous points, remember to use your section cues to get the point across. Your “Self-Summary” tells people who you are and the first brief overview of who you are looking for – and why. Your “What You’re Looking For” (also known as “Message Me If You…”) is where you really discuss that kind of person that you’re looking for.
Now, here is where it gets tricky: The key to knowing what to be the most up-front about is to prioritize your interests. This means that if you’ve water-skied a couple of times, but it’s not the main overwhelming passion of your life, you’d probably not want to mention it. However, if lake scubaing for pirate treasure takes up a significant portion of your free-time, that is definitely something to mention. Going to a single science fiction convention thirty years ago does not make you a con-rat, but you can mention that you’d go to many more if you had someone fun to accompany you.
Don’t worry about whether or not the non-geeks or non-gamers or non-jocks or non-crafters or non-whatevers don’t understand the references that you make – they are not your target audience. The people who do know all about those things are going to read your words and find that commonality! Those are the people you’re talking to!
The same also goes for describing your past and current relationships as well as your family structure. If you’re a perpetual bachelor with no children and no intention of marriage, this is something to state right up front. If someone contacts you and starts making with the googly-eyes over the idea of settling down, you can refer them back to your profile where it says “Permanent Fixtures Need Not Apply”. On the flip-side, if you’re looking for the One-and-Only, you can state that, too – and that should filter out the yahoos going for the longest consecutive string of one-night stands.
There is a caveat to this. It is a red flag that can be seen from miles and miles away to discuss your previous marriage or long-term relationship in any detail in your profile. The red flag that it sends up is that you are definitely not past that experience and that you’re still lugging all that baggage around. I have seen profiles that read like a divorce journal, complete with broken hearts and bared souls, and while I sometimes do want to message them, I also know that that’s going to open a Pandora’s box. Yes, it’s normal to start dating again as part of the recovery process, especially if the proceedings were gruesome, but you may be taking yourself out of the running for anything serious. Likewise, if you’re really only looking for the temporary – and knowingly getting into a “rebound” – you’re still not going to appear appealing to anyone because your potential partner will parse your partiality to the previous partner as preferential.
And we all know, that’s never good. I call it “living with a ghost”, and it sucks.
Finally, I feel that I need to mention something here about making sure that the level of honesty in your profile fits the dating site you’re on. If you’re on OkCupid, you can generally be pretty open about almost everything, but the general population is fairly vanilla, so you might want to tone down (or code) your mad passion for getting beaten with strawberry Twizzlers while cross-dressing. Of course, if you want to find a place where someone will beat you with strawberry Twizzlers (and just about anything else you can think of), I highly recommend FetLife. If you are pretty pedestrian and vanilla, and/or you have the cash to devote to dating sites, you can try eHarmony or Match.Com. There are also even more specialized sites such as EsoDates for the psychically/spiritually inclined, and then there’s PunkMatch for the other fringier crowd. In any of these cases, write your profile to match the community and feel, and express the part of yourself that is appropriate to each of them.
Here’s the thing: You can’t express yourself as a whole person in only 500 words (give or take). Most people could have a different profile on each of the sites I’ve listed above, each one saying something completely different, and none of them would be dishonest. We humans are complex, strange creatures, and summarizing us in a single paragraph is completely impossible.
So don’t do it. Tell enough about yourself to create a “hook”, to start some interest, to click with someone who likes the same things. Yes, talk about your nightly strolls with your dog while you count stars through the light pollution, but getting into the mathematical significance of such things is a conversation best had in person. Show off your funny, prepare a list of your top ten favorite books/authors/musicians/movies/political heroes, and then step back. Leave yourself something to talk about when someone winks at you because they think you’re cute.
The self-summary essay is not an English assignment, it’s the beginning of a conversation. That’s why it’s important to make sure that what you say is true.