Online dating can sometimes feel, to paraphrase Newton Minow, like a vast wasteland. Sure, there’s that friend of a friend who met her live-in boyfriend on Tinder, or maybe a cousin who got married to her OKCupid match, but signing on to one of those sites or apps can lead to a whole lot of nothing: girls in pucker-faced selfies, dudes whose photos are taken in the gym mirror and list “fitness ;)” as their interest. But Lisa Hoehn, the founder and brains behind Profile Polish, is here to make your online dating experience less terrible. She works as, essentially, a ghostwriter for online dating profiles, helping shape up Match accounts and OKCupid personal essays. With better profiles, Hoehn has found, you tend to get better dates. So we chatted with Hoehn about the weird, wild landscape of online dating profiles, the most common mistakes people make in their OKCupid profile, and how to land a lady or dude on Tinder.
How did you get into the dating profile ghostwriting business?
So, I moved to New York to work at a magazine and later became a freelance writer. It was around then when I started online dating. My first profile, my younger sister made for me. She got me drunk and said “You are getting online; I am sick of hearing you complain about being single.” In any case, I went on some bad dates that culminated in this man trying to seduce me with nose spray.
Wait, what? Nose spray?
We were out, getting the check and he was like “I can’t get another drink because I’m really stuffy. But I have nose spray and a bottle of wine at home if you want to come back there.” That’s your move? Nasal decongestant?
Anyway, I went back to my online profile, and I did a bunch of research. I put in hours and hours of reading profiles, adjusting mine, and my dates started getting way better. Right around then, my friends started asking for help. So I changed their photos and tweaked their text, and suddenly they had less to complain about. And I thought, it’s probably not just my friends who need help. I had seen all the terrible profiles out there. That’s when I started to start the company, about a year and a half a ago.
So what’s business like?
It’s a weirdly seasonal business. Right now, it’s winter and everyone is lonely and cold. From January 1 through February is a pretty busy season. I have something like 25 clients that are somewhere along in the process. I have anywhere from 20 to 25 clients a month. One month, I had as many as 50. It balances out.
How does your client base break down along gender lines?
I definitely get more men than women. It’s about a 70 to 30 ratio of men to women. I was surprised at first, but I think guys are the ones who don’t want to help from friends or families. I get a lot of engineers and tech people who need help writing.
So, what’s the most common mistake people make? What are you fixing?
The biggest mistake is that people end up not saying anything. They’ll write a whole profile, but at the end of it you still don’t have any sense of who they are. They’ll use a bunch of adjectives: I’m funky and fun and outgoing and spontaneous! And after that, say, “On a Friday I’m either out with my friends or sitting at home watching Netflix.” People load up their profiles with these clichés; they just don’t stand out at all. And then you end up looking so generic. That’s the most common mistake. You need to give people something to hang on to.
Why do you think that is? Do people just rely on their photos?
Well, sometimes. Especially, with younger women, sometimes they’ll rely on their photos and know that they’re going to get a million and one messages no matter what, and they’ll half-ass their profile. But I don’t think people realize that they have generic profiles. I think, honestly, writing about yourself is really hard. It’s difficult to be objective; you’re advertising yourself. It’s hard to step back and think, “What are my most attractive qualities.”
On a place like OKCupid, some of the prompts are so open-ended. It’s like when you go to the drugstore and you’re trying to pick out toothpaste from an aisle of choices and you’re just like, “I don’t know.”You blank out because you have too many options. That is just paralyzing. And people struggle with the prompts because they take them too literally. Like the OKCupid prompt, “What are five things you couldn’t do without?” So many people say “air, water, fire, shelter, and food,” and I want to smack them. You’re not being clever! It’s better if you let yourself have fun with them, rather than let the prompts crush you.
So does the way you edit profiles change with the platform? OKCupid versus Tinder versus, like, Christian Mingle?
I don’t think it changes so much with the platform. It’s based on the client, and also based on their age. For instance, there’s a 23 year old profile I’m working on. And he’s this goofball kid who’s hilarious. He’s on OKCupid, which makes sense for someone that age, just to be social and see what dating is all about. His profile will be fun and light-hearted and goofy. But I did a 45-year-old woman’s profile for Match.com that was a tad more serious. She know more what she wanted. And she was looking for a partner. It’s not so much about what platform you’re on, it’s more what you’re looking for.
What are the steps you go through when you get a profile?
First, I’ll connect with that person and look at their existing profile. And then I send them an in-depth interview. If they say, “I like food,” I say, “OK. Are you an adventurous eater, do you like to cook? What kind of food is your favorite?” One of the things I ask is if they want to go on a lot of dates or the right dates. Say for instance you spend eight hours a day playing World of Warcraft. If you just want to go on bunch a dates, maybe don’t mention you spend eight hours a day in front of your computer. You aren’t looking for someone who perfectly matches you. But if you’re looking for a partner and World of Warcraft is important to you, and it’s something that you want to do together, then it should be in your profile. It may be that you don’t see the response immediately. But by shrinking the pool, you’re actually opening up to a wider range of people who share your interests. Those people will be better suited to you. The changes are subtle, but they’re there.
What’s your general advice for people trying to make an online dating match?
Read your profile out loud. When you’re writing, in order for it to feel genuine, you sort of need to write the way you speak. It’s easier than crafting a weird voice. Another thing is to avoid trying to create an attractive profile. People write me saying, “I love Taylor Swift but I don’t think that’s attractive.” No, stop it. Don’t worry about whether or not your interests are attractive. To the right person, they will be. You need to be very true to yourself if you’re looking for love. You have to be very clear. It’s easier to be yourself and know that not everyone is right for you.
Also, use spellcheck. I can’ t tell you why, but when it comes to these profiles, common sense flies straight out the window. You shouldn’t let bad grammar or stupid punctuation be the reason someone doesn’t reply to you. And don’t put too much pressure on your essay questions. You can always change what you’ve written. You end up self-sabotaging just because you’re so stressed.
What about photos?
Smile in your photo. That goes out particularly to the men in the world. Men won’t smile. In all their photos, they try to look tough or serious.. People like you to look happy. It doesn’t help anyone if you look unwelcoming. You want someone another person who you would want to spend time with.
In terms of Match or OKCupid, I usually tell people to use no more than six photos at a time. After that, it starts to get redundant. Six gives people peace of mind but also doesn’t hit them over the head. Photos should reinforce the image you’ve created for yourself. If you love to travel, have photos of yourself other than home. If you write that you’re a runner, put up a photo of your last race. And in terms of posing, it’s a weird trend. People pose with guns or giant fish. I feel like it’s a little trite. It’s overdone. If that’s a great photo of you, by all means. But know that’s not probably your money shot.
What about on Tinder?
With Tinder, if you have a photo and it’s not just yourself, you’re doing it wrong. Your Tinder main photo has to be just you. For so many reasons! You never know which one the person is in the photo in a group shot. If you’re straight and posing with someone of the opposite sex, you never know who that person is. For other photos, group shots are OK if you have four or fewer people. But you should be the main focus of the photo, not the tall one off to the side. There’s no point in making someone wonder.
So, you’ve fixed someone’s profile. Do you help them with their messages?
Message coaching is something I’m looking to expand into. Right now I just send some basic advice. First, read the profile. Don’t skim it, actually read it. Second, find something you identify with. Third, skip the introduction. Just jump right in and talk about what you found intriguing. Say something interesting about it and ask a question. Sign your name and send it off.
Are you online dating now?
I’m actually working on a book right now, so I’ve taken an online dating hiatus. That’s another thing that people don’t realize: Online dating is a lot of dating. You rarely get good results from half-assing it. So I don’t have the time right now. But once my manuscript is done, I’ll be back out there.