Online dating is a tool, but like all tools, it has to be used correctly to get the results you want. You might have a fancy, expensive screwdriver, but it still won’t help you chop wood. 

If dating apps and websites aren’t quite working for you, make sure you’re utilizing every item in your toolbox correctly.

Mistake #1: Messaging “Hey,” “Hi,” or “How are you?” to kick off a conversation. Seems innocuous, right? Sure… but, for lack of better words, it’s boring. In fact, almost anything is better than “Hey.”

The Fix: Asking a question. It could be as short and sweet as “Pizza or sushi?” But even better would be asking a question specific to that person’s profile. If they mentioned being someone who loves travel, pick their brain about that topic: “Nice to see someone who spends as much time in the airport as I do. Any favorite travel activities? For me, no vacation is complete without a cooking class.” Any question is much more engaging — plus, it’s more likely to get a reply.

Mistake #2: Not having clear photos. People want to know what you look like. You might have incredible photos of yourself standing on a mountain, but that won’t cut it if people can’t see you.

The Fix: I recommend picking five to six photos, including a clear profile shot that shows your face (no sunglasses, hats, masks, or anything else that might seem like you’re hiding something) and a full-body image. For the rest, choose ones that show you looking your best or doing something you love, which can be a great conversation starter. No group shots, bathroom selfies (I’m begging!) or heavy filters. People want to know who to expect on a first date, and misrepresenting yourself in your pictures is a huge turnoff.

Mistake #3: Having no bio. Even if you have the most interesting five photos in the world, people want to know what you have to say.

The Fix: Write something. Anything is better than nothing… well, almost anything (I’ve seen some mind-bogglers). Keep it short and sweet — attention spans are small — and say a few things about yourself (what you like to do, where you’re from, the show you last binge-watched) and provide some message bait, or things that might intrigue someone to send you a message or ask a question.

Mistake #4: Becoming pen pals. Even if a conversation is going well, it shouldn’t turn into weeks of texting without plans to meet in person.

The Fix: Make a date! Whether it’s meeting for coffee, a walk or drinks, you won’t truly know if there’s a connection until you’re face-to-face. You’re on dating apps to find a relationship, not a chat buddy, so meeting sooner rather than later is the best way to see if the potential is there. (And if you don’t live nearby, a video chat is a great second option.)

Mistake #5: Being negative. No one wants to know what you’re not looking for in a partner (see what I did there?) and what you dislike doing. It’s an immediate turnoff for most.

The Fix: Keep your profile upbeat. Share what you are looking for in a partner and hobbies you enjoy. Dealbreakers, disapprovals and pessimism have no place in your dating bio.

Mistake #6: Having a one-sided conversation — on either side. You don’t want to be the one to ask all the questions or never find out more about the other person.

The Fix: If you find that the other person is asking all the questions, make sure you’re also giving them the spotlight. You could say something like, “I want to know more about you too. Since you mentioned cooking in your profile, have you tried any new recipes lately… successful or otherwise?” And if you find that you’re the one doing all the heavy lifting by asking all the questions, give them a chance to take the hint… and if they don’t (even in person), it might be time to move on. They should be interested in learning about you as well.

Mistake #7: Not keeping your profile updated. If you are still referencing the "Game of Thrones" finale (from 2019) or early COVID days, you’re in desperate need of a refresh.

The Fix: Every few months, give your profile a look and make sure you’re not making any outdated references. These can make it seem like you’re not active on the dating app or that you’re not invested in meeting someone, which can be the difference between someone sending you a message and swiping left.

Mistake #8: Lying in any way, shape or form on your profile.

The Fix: Just don’t do it. Whether you’re exaggerating your job, using old photos or adding an inch to your height, it really hurts your chances of having a strong connection with someone when you’re hiding something. And should your connection blossom, they’re probably going to find out, leaving you with some explaining to do.

(Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter, for updates and tips.)

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