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Online Dating Photos & Self Identity

This photo was the lead photo on my OK Cupid account.

This photo was the lead photo on my OK Cupid account.

It’s been three years since I had, and took down, my OK Cupid profile. I can only imagine how strange it would have looked there, amongst all the sexualized party-girl shots. The women made up and looking their best. My “cover photo” was a photo of my dirty feet. Filthy feet. Hadn’t-been-washed-in-a-week-and-somewhat-covered-in-blood-feet. But I was trying to catch a very particular match. A guy who would look at those feet and think, “I want to do whatever she’s doing.”

Not, “I want to do her.”

I wanted my profile to be an invitation, not a lure. I wasn’t setting a trap to catch prey, after all, I was asking a very important question: Will spending time together make us both happier than we are now?

I’ve seen a lot of online dating profiles, and while I don’t know what people are looking for when they create them, I have talked to an awful lot of people who are dismayed that the people they are attracting with their profiles aren’t a good fit into their lives. Like, terrible fits. And they can’t understand why.

Here’s why. The photos. People use photos that they think make them look “pretty” or “hot” or “sexy” to other people. Not photos that illustrate how they live their lives. So people see the photos, the photos stir the “I’d totally schtup that” response, and people go into their blind date thingie hoping to “turn-on” the other person.

By the time I put up this profile, I’d had enough hot sex to last me through a pretty serious sexual ice-age. It was, honestly, getting boring. While sometimes a serving of hot-n-sweaty is the perfect palate cleanser while you figure out what you want for your next main course, I was all filled up on sexual sorbet. I was ready for meat. The last thing in the world I needed was another guy who wanted to have sex. (Yes, I know that’s a privilege. It is totally unfair how easy it is for some women to have sex whenever they want. Got it. Not much I can do about that.)

I wanted a guy who would want to live his life in the same way I want to live mine. Who would ask questions about my mind and my heart and my happiness. Who would have some idea what his own mind and heart and happiness looked like. To me, that photo of my feet pretty well summed it up. Every metaphor and contradiction that I am is in that photo. I wanted a man who could find the metaphor in pedicured toes covered in dust in a clearly parched landscape.

Yesterday, I ran across this piece about a guy who recreated Tinder profile photos of women. Yes, I laughed, because they’re hysterical. (And yes, I would TOTALLY go out with that guy, because he’s clearly smart – and hysterical.) But it also made me really sad. It was just an awfully bleak summary of the extent to which women are taught that our job is to look a certain way to attract men. And it’s really all about “those looks.” The fish face (which is, I guess, supposed to be indicative of kissing, maybe? Or the ability to suck cock with solid suction and conviction?) The vapid stare with head tilted back, (evocative of pliability, maybe? That you’ll get no fight here?) The side-boob, (yet more proof that breasts are lures, not body-parts, and their job is to attract and distract mates.) The off-the-shoulder shirt and casually spread legs, (ravage me, you towering tower of testosterone- mortared towerness.)

Just, sad. The kind of desperate conformation to tropes to win the prize.

But what also struck me is that all the photos are focused on adjectives, not verbs. “Hot,” “sexy,” “attractive,” “seductive.” “Conforming.”

Why are they not focused on verbs? Run. Climb. Read. Lift. Play. Think. Dance. Create.

“Join me.” “Explore with me.”

I thought back to my OK Cupid profile. The one that brought me my husband. A man who is so perfectly matched for me it is mind-boggling. And I thought about the 3 photos that were on my profile. None of which clearly showed my face.

This photo was the lead photo on my OK Cupid account.

This photo was the lead photo on my OK Cupid account.

I wanted a man who didn’t need a woman to look clean and made-up and predictably “feminine.” A guy who would look at these feet and see adventure, grit, hiking, playing,  fearlessness, ferocity.

I felt like this photo would fairly accurately be indicative of the fact that sometimes I go a couple of days without taking a shower. And leave piles of laundry around. And really can’t usually be bothered to look how other people expect me to. It would hint at the fact that I am not a woman who wants fancy and expensive things. That I’d rather do things than own things.

I wanted a guy who would look at these feet, wherever we were together, and think, “yup, I want the woman who has those feet.”

I wonder what we'll find up here....

I wonder what we’ll find up here….

I chose this photo because it is active. It is climbing, exploring. It asks questions. “What is she doing?” “What’s up there?” Because it shows my “look a squirrel” nature pretty perfectly. I like to climb things, do things, explore things. I like to play. I do not like to sit still, or “behave” or be quiet and polite. (Even though I am, in fact, both very quiet and very polite.) But when I was growing up, in times that were more gender-rigid than these, I was called a “tom-boy.” Any guy who wanted a doll for a girlfriend was not going to want me, so we may as well make that clear at the outset.

Yes, there's butt-cheek here. But way more metaphor.

Yes, there’s butt-cheek here. But way more metaphor.

This last one was the trick one. Yes, it has butt-cheek. I did that for a reason. Lots of them. And yes, the astute would, by now, know these were all taken at Burning Man, which was my intent. I wanted to make clear that my mind and heart are wide open, and if I have to justify my “weird friends” to you, we aren’t going to get along. But also, this is so me. I am almost always standing back and watching people do things. I don’t like crowds, I don’t enjoy being in the throes of wild and crazy. But I love watching it and supporting it.

I, very intentionally did not mention Burning Man. It was a test. Do you know what it is? Are you so wrapped up in it that you will use an inane phrase like “Burner” to describe me or yourself?

I posted photos of verbs. And questions.

I got a man who asked questions, and likes to do things. A man who likes a woman with dirty feet.

People have often asked me how to write an online dating profile that attracts people they actually want to be with. And I tell them the same things.

1. Have faith in who you are and what you do, and post photos that reflect that. Avoid the photos that make you look like bait, or like “just another” person posting the same old photos. You are more than just a pretty picture. Find a picture that makes that clear.

2. Post photos of verbs. And questions. Be DOING something in all your photos. I said that to someone once, and she said, “but the only pictures of me doing stuff is me hiking, what if some guy sees that and doesn’t like hiking?” Um, then he’s not the guy for you.

3. Do NOT lead with photos of sex and sexual sexiness, unless that’s all you want. (And by all means, if that’s what you’re looking for, go for it with joy and gusto.) You want a partner that wants to have sex with you because he wants to devour the very essence of who you are with a maddening hunger. Not because you have nipples. Pro-tip, everyone has nipples. To say that I am all for hot sex is an understatement of epic proportions. But if what you’re looking for is a deeper relationship, the hot-sex will come (often, really) from a connections based on being fucking wild about (fucking) each other.

4. Be brutally honest. The glory of online dating is that you can dispense with the small-talk from the comfort of your own screen. I was BRUTAL about what I wanted and didn’t want. If people didn’t read it and emailed me anyway, I didn’t respond. If people actually responded to the information that I gave them, I responded back.

5. Learn something from every “date” you go on. I went out with a lot of people who were perfectly lovely, and not at all a fit. None of them were a waste of time. Each one showed me something else that I did or didn’t want. It made my “Criteria” much more clear. I became very good at listening to my gut and being true to myself. A lot of which referred back to that question that I asked in the very beginning of this piece: Will spending time together make us both happier than we are now?  I love being alone, or with my friends and family. If I didn’t want him more than I wanted that, then it was a no-go.

Eventually, I met a shy guy. He said he thought he recognized the dirt on my feet, and asked what I was climbing. He asked what I was thinking about in the photo that showed me standing back and watching.

He asked me to coffee.

He asked me to marry him.

He now brings me coffee in bed.

He knows that I sometimes don’t shower for maybe a little longer than I should, he steps over my piles of laundry, he has never bought me blingy crap, but routinely plans fun adventures. He is exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t need to attract a lot of guys with pictures of my filthy feet. Just the one.


I feel like I should add that when Brady and I met for the first time, I warned him that I’d be coming straight from the gym, unshowered. His response was, “I will find that very attractive.” He met the realest me I could be. That’s who he decided he wanted to see more of. And that pretty much says it all.


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