A few months after a breakup, after moving to LA, I decided to get back in the game by downloading Tinder. My online dating game was admittedly a little rusty, having just gotten out of a three-year relationship. Given that, I had a surprising amount of success — I went on five dates, two of which went somewhere, during my first two weeks in LA,— but I wanted to get more matches and more responses to my messages

Plus, I wasn’t sure if my photos and bio best represented me. It often felt like my matches hadn’t really read my profile. For guidance, I turned to Steve Dean, a matchmaker and online dating consultant, who reviews and makes over people’s dating profiles for a living. 

Dean and I met at a cafe while I was visiting New York, where he scrolled through my Tinder profile. The first thing he told me was that I had too many selfies. Six of my nine photos were basically just pictures of my face. My thinking was simply that these were the photos where I looked the best. 

According to Dean, I needed to think about much more than how I looked. Those nine photos, he said, should tell a story of who I am. Each one should provide new information. So, what was once a bunch of selfies became the following. 

If all your photos disappeared from your profile and you showed it to your friends/family, they should be able to instantly recognize it as your profile.

I kept one selfie, a photo of me with my cat (which Dean said worked because it showed I loved animals), and one of my Schrodinger’s cat tattoo (a conversation starter). The rest, I substituted for: A picture of me and my ex acting silly (Dean said the ex was OK as long as the photo wasn’t overtly romantic, and it showed I was someone you could get goofy with), one of me speaking at South by Southwest (to show off my professional accomplishments), one of me in a ceremonial bath (which shows my spiritual side — it may come off sexual, but Dean said that may actually help weed out people eager to sexualize everything I do), one of me at a Halloween party (Dean said my expression showed off my sweet side), one of me at an iboga ceremony (another of my main interests), and one of me on a TV show (another conversation-starter). 

My bio was in better shape than my photos, but Dean said it could use some additions. The questions he generally recommends answering in your profile are, “What makes you you?”, “Where do you see yourself in 2+ years?”, and “What are you up for doing this week?” That way, someone not only can see if they picture themselves with you but can also  start to plan a date to ask you out on. My old bio had some of that, but it was pretty minimal. 

 

Dean also recommends you mention what you’re looking for, which I didn’t really have. To indicate that I wanted something substantive but not necessarily serious and definitely not exclusive, I settled on, “looking for someone to talk about Derrida with” (to show I needed intellectual conversation) and “ethical slut” (to hint that I was nonmonogamous). 

I also added that I was training as a sexological bodyworker, sex educator, cocao ceremony leader, and psychic and that I was working on several books in order to provide jumping-off points for conversation. And though I’d had “feminist writer,” I hadn’t spelled out that clearly what I did for a living, so I added, “I write articles about sex and drugs.” At that point, if people couldn’t find an opener beyond “hey, what’s up,” that was on them. Lastly, a few of my top descriptors (“psychedelic advocate” and “rainbow warrior”) were kind of vague, Dean pointed out, so I substituted them for “psychonaut” and “friend of animals and plants.”

The idea behind the advice Dean gave me was, “Make your Tinder profile a love letter to exactly the right person for you,” he says. “Always think: if my ideal person were to stumble upon my profile and have only one to five seconds to deliberate about whether they want to meet me, what MUST my profile include?”

The week after my Tinder makeover, a guy who had caught my interest sent me a message: “Hey, you’re cute, want to be in a music video?” Interestingly, though it was my looks that allowed him to picture me in this video, it was also the personality I showed off. He said I fit the bill because the theme of the video was women’s empowerment. When we met up before the shoot, he told me my profile was “many standard deviations away from your average girl on Tinder” and depicted me as “a badass feminist.” He and I are still seeing each other. I also made a platonic friend that week, who said I seemed “radically interesting” based on my profile — and to this day, we talk about Derrida.

The other messages my new-and-improved profile inspired included several people eager to understand the meaning of my tattoo and a few others interested in intellectual discussions. The opening lines included “fly bio” and “you definitely seem much more interesting than the average person on here.” And I still got “you’re gorgeous” and a few comments of the like — I didn’t have to sacrifice those by showing off my personality. A couple matches “clapped” for my SXSW photo. Overall, I wouldn’t say I got more matches or messages, but they were higher quality. 

The mistakes I had made previously are among the most common, according to Dean. “Most people are helplessly generic in their self-descriptions, usually due to their general lack of effort, but also for lack of exposure to genuinely creative profiles as inspirational content,” he says. “I made up a rule of thumb that if all your photos disappeared from your profile and you showed it to your friends/family, they should be able to instantly recognize it as your profile. If someone who actually knows you can’t identify you in your own profile, you’re probably not doing the best job capturing who you are.”

With people on Tinder judging your personality and scrutinizing your looks so thoroughly, it can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on perfectly angled selfies and generic, uncontroversial descriptions. But my results prove Dean’s theory right: When you show the sides of yourself that others might not like, you’ll match with the people you’re actually most interested in.