20 online dating cliches - and what they really mean
- 7 January 2014
- From the section Magazine
January is a boom month for the online dating industry as millions turn to the internet to find love. But composing a profile that makes you sound fascinating and unique is harder than it sounds.
Post-Christmas to the Wednesday after Valentine's Day is the peak season for dating websites, according to Plenty of Fish's Sarah Gooding.
In the process, millions of people will try to summarise their characters in just a few paragraphs. But anyone who browses a few profiles will quickly become very familiar with a handful of phrases.
I'm new to this, so here goes...
This betrays its author's discomfort about using an internet dating site, says William Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.
For him, it shows that there is still a stigma to online dating.
"When people are in a setting where they feel there's some stigma, they like to talk as if they are unfamiliar with it," he says.
I love laughing
Dating coach Laurie Davis loves laughing at this generic assertion. She is paid to rewrite people's dating profiles and this is one of the phrases she sees - and urges her clients to ditch - time and time again.
"Doesn't everyone love laughing?" she says. "They are trying to show that they are fun and that they have a light-hearted side, but it means nothing."
Other meaningless phrases, she says, include: "I'm a glass half-full kind of person." Then there's: "I try to see the best in every situation." But it's highly unlikely that someone looking to attract a mate would ever say: "I try to see the worst in every situation."
Davis says the problem with phrases like these is that they don't help with the main purpose of the profile - they're not "prompts" that act as conversation-starters.
"You can't start a conversation by saying, 'I see you love laughing. I love laughing too.' If you love comedy shows, though, that's a conversation-starter," she says.
I like going out and staying in
"In other words, you like existing," jokes serial online dater Willard Foxton.
The anonymous "single mother on the edge", who writes Gappy Tales, writes in her blog that she would "take a vow of celibacy" if she saw this phrase one more time. "Why do perfectly intelligent people write that?" she asks.
Covering too many bases is a particular bugbear of Ben England. The 28-year-old marketing director was only on Guardian Soulmates for one month before he found his girlfriend. But he had enough time to be irked by descriptions in profiles that were consciously trying to please everyone.
In his blog, Everyday Heartbreak, he takes particular displeasure at someone who lists liking going to public lectures at the London School of Economics - along with stripy tops.
Looking for my partner in crime
Some people may even go as far as to specify they are after a Bonnie to their Clyde - or vice versa.
This is an attempt to be light-hearted, says Doherty. "It's not heavy, it's saying 'I'm a normal person, I'm interesting, I'm low-key - I don't have all these deep needs that are going to bother you.' It's a way of saying, 'Hey, I'm a jolly fellow' but there aren't a lot of ways of saying that."
It keeps popping up because most people have a limited vocabulary for expressing what they want romantically, he adds.
I'm here for some good banter
"They are saying, 'I don't need anything deep,'" says Doherty. "I'm having fun - so to say 'I'm not desperate, I'm low-key, I'm safe.'"
"It's all a way to say I'm not going to be a burden to you, to push too hard to get serious too fast."
My friends say I'm… (plus list of adjectives)
Lists of descriptors such as smart, attractive, romantic, thoughtful, trustworthy, sexy, passionate, fearless, honest or friendly are labelled "empty adjectives" by dating coach Erika Ettin.
She says on the advice blog for the dating site Plenty of Fish that the problem is that these words "can't be proven until someone gets to know you".
"This is where the concept of 'show, don't tell' really comes into play. For example, rather than saying that you're funny, say something that you find funny."
"A list of adjectives doesn't mean very much," says Davis. People may say they're funny, but how? Is that humour going to resonate with a potential partner? People say they're kind but unless they demonstrate that, it's meaningless. "It's better to show it in actions," Davis explains.
Davis also takes issue with starting sentences with "My friends say..."
"That doesn't speak very confidently of you," she says. "It seems like you're not comfortable about yourself."
I like walks in the park, watching movies and going to the pub on Sunday for roast dinner
Along with its cousin - "I like Sunday brunch in the pub with the papers and trawling round bric-a-brac markets" - this is a potentially bland description of weekend leisure time.
Doherty thinks this kind of stuff is appropriated from romantic comedies, novels and reading other people's profiles. "It's all saying, 'I'm a regular person.'"
My friends (and family) are really important to me
England highlights this as one of his top meaningless phrases. "It tells you absolutely nothing about someone. Find me someone that doesn't think their friends are important to them," he says.
His point is that far too many people put their likes as things that it's very rare to dislike. "One put that she likes sunshine. Really?"
My life is fab. I just need someone to share it with
Usually accompanied by a fulsome description of a high-powered, achievement-filled and cosmopolitan life.
Doherty says this is signalling that "I'm not desperate, I'm not needy, I'm not lonely. I'm a very happy, full person. My already rich life would be enhanced".
He says people who say phrases like this are trying to say "being on here does not mean that I have deficits as a person". The reason people feel the need to state how good their life is is because they still feel uncomfortable being involved in online dating, Doherty suggests.
Variations on this are "I'm laid back" and "I'm down to earth." In his list of 10 things he hates about Plenty of Fish profiles, Greg Hendricks writes that these are so common that he ignores profiles that include them.
"What are any of these even supposed to mean? These stock traits are in so many profiles, I practically skip right over them."
Plus, who would ever describe themselves otherwise, says Foxton. "No-one thinks, 'I'm really uptight.'"
I like to stay in with a glass of wine and a DVD
A variant on this is "I like cosying up in front of the fire". It's a phrase that irks Match.com's chief scientist Helen Fisher. She says people should avoid it.
"These are things that we see in the movies. It seems to be linked with intimacy and they don't have the imagination to come up with what is meaningful to them. It's boring and shows no creativity."
The key lies always in being specific, according to Gooding.
"One thing I see a lot of in profile descriptions are really generic descriptions. So a typical description would be 'I'm a fun active girl who likes to hang out with her friends and watch movies'. So you've pretty much described everyone on the website."
Genuine guy seeking genuine girl/guy
"Western culture values authenticity," says Doherty. But trying to demonstrate one's sincerity very often appears contrived.
"It's saying 'I'm in this fake setting, but I'm telling you I'm genuine even though I'm doing this thing that feels weird.'" But he warns against "over-asserting". Normal people don't feel the need to prove themselves.
"No-one is saying, 'I'm running out of people to date, I just want to find someone to marry, have children with and grow old with - that is my deep need,'" says Doherty.
I enjoy long walks on the beach at sunset
As an anthropologist, Fisher says she understands that people are trying to express their love of nature, downtime and intimacy.
But it doesn't help them stand out from the crowd. "The bottom line is, who wouldn't want both of those scenarios?"
Dating coach Julie Spira concurs. She suggests on dating website Your Tango that it makes people look unoriginal. "Putting it on your profile just makes it look like you've copied and read every other profile on the internet."
I like travelling
England isn't a fan of profiles where all the photos show the dater in an impoverished country doing something mildly dangerous. According to him, "we've seen it all before".
Greg Hendricks echoes this complaint. "People who put this in their profile are trying to sound adventurous and diverse, but in actuality they sound just like every other profile."
The Muddy Matches blog suggests people bring this up time and again because talking about travel is also a good way to establish common interests, but it warns "don't jabber on about your trip for ages without drawing breath. Try to find out where you've both been and where you'd both love to go".
The 6ft conundrum
Attitude towards height is one of the most curious aspects about straight dating sites. Women looking for men often demand someone over 6ft and men often lie about how tall they are.
Foxton says that when he was on his mission to date 28 women, what seemed to surprise them most was that he was exactly the height he had said he was. Dating website OK Cupid notes that this is the most lied about aspect on online dating. On average, it suggests, people are two inches shorter than they say they are.
Fisher says men lie about two things - their height and their salary. Women lie about their weight and their age to emphasise their child-bearing potential.
Don't get in contact if you don't know the difference between "your" and "you're"
Grammar fanatics are over-represented on some online dating sites. But it's not always advisable to advertise just how important apostrophe usage is to you.
"Your profile isn't a place to vent. It's somewhere you're trying to find someone fabulous," says Davis.
But the problem is deeper than that for her. "People are trying to attract someone who is educated, someone who has a distaste for bad grammar, but there are many people who are not educated who know the difference between your and you're."
I'm a 42-year-old man looking for a 27-year-old woman
Christian Rudder argues on the OK Cupid blog that while the ratio of men to women on straight dating sites stays stable as people get older, the male fixation on youth distorts the dating pool.
He says data from the website suggests that as men get older, the age gap they might countenance beneath them widens.
So a 31-year-old man might look for someone between 22 to 35 - up to nine years younger than him. A 42-year-old might look for a woman up to 15 years younger than him, Rudder suggests.
But the men's stated age range doesn't tell the full story. When Rudder looked at men's messaging habits, he found they were pursuing women even younger than their stated age range.
"I'm not going to stalk you," is the subtext behind a range of commonly seen phrases, suggests Doherty.
"It's the ultimate stranger dating so it's not surprising that there is this emphasis on safety and normality."
It's not a phrase to take at face value, he says. It's a good idea to be suspicious of anyone who has to assert that they are normal.
I don't watch television
An increasingly common statement on some dating sites. It's often a prelude to a list of varied and often esoteric interests from someone who is "achingly hip, unflinchingly bright and invariably bearded", as Guardian Soulmates daters are described on Bella Battle's blog.
"With any other dating site, I can peddle out a profile with the usual likes and dislikes and some junk about country pubs and DVDs," she writes.
It's not enough to be average. "You have to have hobbies too - hobbies so boldly idiosyncratic they make you unlike any other person on the planet. The first guy I went on a date with from Soulmates was into astronomy and 17th century harpsichord music."
We'll tell people we met in a bar
This is dishonest and off-putting, says England.
"It's not accepting the truth. Why are you lying about something? It doesn't matter whether you met them in Waitrose in a club or on the internet. What matters is that you have met each other."
Again, for Doherty, it indicates that people are still uncomfortable about looking for love on the internet. This is changing, Davis notes in the Huffington Post. She cites Pew research to mark "the official demise of the online dating stigma". Some 59% of internet users agree that "online dating is a good way to meet people" and 42% of Americans know an online dater.
Plenty of Fish also gives a sense of the scale of online dating. It says its own data from Comscore from 2012 in the US shows they have 55 million members, 24 million messages sent per day, 50,000 new signups per day, and 10 billion page views every month.
Find out which online dating cliches our readers find most irritating