Even though so many people are meeting each other and forming relationships online that your grandma can't even really look at you funny for it (maybe she's doing it herself), a lot of us are doing it wrong. That's where Christine Hooker, professional online dating consultant, comes in. Hooker, 30, makes no secret of her love for online dating; she says it, right off the bat: "I'm so in love with online dating. I think it's one of the best tools out there!" This feeling isn't exactly impartial: Hooker met her own significant other on the Internet almost four years ago and is now the creator of a website and aspiring business that offers to help you do the same, Artful Online Dating.
Of course, there's tons of advice across the Internet about how to perfect your profile. And for the last few years, Hooker, who has worked in marketing and communications, has been helping her friends pro bono, doling out advice -- there's at least one 6-month relationship she takes some pride over. She was doing it often enough that she launched a website offering consultations at levels ranging from "The Quick Fix" (for $20, this includes recommendations for three problem areas) to "The Profile Reboot" (for $49, you'll get a consultation and full profile make-over, along with two weeks of follow-ups) to "The Wingman Supreme" ($79 covers two consultations and a month of follow-ups). She's still in the early stages of building a client base, with 9 people so far paying for Quick Fixes. Her recent Profile Reboot, who's just launched her profile on OKcupid, says she's "gotten a ton of emails." Hooker says, based on her unpaid work for friends, "on average clients see a 75 percent increase in messages."
The business of an online dating consultant sounds like a mix between a therapist, life coach, resume-editor, and marketing guru. For her one-on-one consultations, Hooker sits down with her clients, walking through their profiles step-by-step and brainstorming each answer. "People don't know how to say who they are in the most effective way," she says. "By talking through the ideas, I find that people will feel more comfortable showing their personalities and unique insights. I love helping people to use their own words to express themselves in vivid descriptions that really set them apart from the crowd."
Hooker says a profile revamp really should be done on an individual basis for best results. The free advice she gave us as to where we go wrong is pretty solid, though:
- We aren't confident about online dating. Hooker says there's one big initial hurdle for a lot of people, and that's not being sure about online dating in the first place (this is often followed by not being sure what to write). "You feel exposed or silly, but this isn't your essay to get into grad school, and you can change it," she says, reminding aspiring daters that "People want to meet people who are fun," generally. "When I sit down with someone [for a profile revamp], I'll talk to them a bit and have them tell me about themselves, and help them understand that we're all doing this. You have to take the plunge, and look at it like an adventure."
- We describe ourselves generically rather than specifically. A lot of the mistakes people make are those that "would elicit crickets rather than a response," says Hooker. "When you're answering these questions, you have to ask, what is your goal; who's the kind of girl or guy you're looking for? How do we reach out to them through this profile?" Hence, no generic statements like "I like to go out and have fun on the weekends." Instead, make sure each answer reveals who you are, and is engaging. Generic answers are one of the worst things people can do, she says. "So you say, 'I like to go to the movies' -- OK, are you really into film, and if so, what kind? Or is Pee Wee's Big Adventure your favorite movie?" Similarly, don't say, "I like to read" -- use an example. "It's that show, don't tell kind of thing," says Hooker.
- We don't proofread. Avoid sloppy grammar and punctuation, says Hooker. "If it looks like you wrote your profile in 8th grade study hall, it looks like you didn't put time in it. You want it to be the best representation of you. Spellcheck it!" What about acronyms? "It's really not the place for them: "i like u" is just terrible," she says.
- We don't know how to skip to the good parts. This is the profile that begins "I've never done this before / I don't know what to say here / I can't really write about myself / I don't know where to start...." Hooker asks, "Can you not write about yourself, or are you just being lazy? Delete that part after you write it and move on. The first things that come to mind are not necessarily the best answers. "
- We choose bad photos. "In reality, the photos are what people see first," says Hooker. "There are so many great resources online about this, but, essentially, don't do a cheesy MySpace angle circa 2003. Another thing I've seen that works so well is to vary your photos. You should have a shot that shows your face; a funny or unique shot; and a full-body shot -- it doesn't have to be a picture of you in a bikini." For the facial shot at least, Hooker says to use a really good camera -- "the better quality photo the better you look." The unique shot is the one that gets someone to email you, so make it indeed unique -- for example, "you are on a mechanical bull, or wearing something crazy; I like humor," says Hooker. "The biggest cliche is travel photos. Include a photo that is representative of you and your interest."
- We forget to engage. One more big thing, says Hooker, "Put engagement points in your profile to elicit responses. If you put the 10 bands you like, ask for suggestions of new music. Say something and then ask a question; instead of a closed profile, it becomes open and actionable."
- We write what we think people expect. "I think there are some people, especially guys, who do this 'I'll be in your knight in shining armor' thing," says Hooker. "It's not so much a bogus profile but what they think they should be writing. Like, 'I'll open the car door for you.' If you live in the city, you probably don't have a car." Maximize each word in your profile, says Hooker, and don't waste time on things that you think you're supposed to say.
- We don't think of our audience. "Unless you want a girl who loves cars, don't use a picture of yourself and your car," Hooker instructs. "Women, don't write, 'I like to sit around and read magazines and go to sample sales.' Save that for another time. Share your personality but hold back on those details that aren't likely to interest a date." In other words, save the sample sales and car obsessions for once he or she is entranced by you otherwise.
If you want to go beyond the general advice, Hooker promises that you "can really take your profile and make the most of it, and you can change your life." She's not the first person to spin knowledge of marketing and the online dating field into a money-making idea, and the fact that there are businesses based on helping people online date better seems to imply that online dating is as much a part of our modern lives as going to the therapist. But, as one might ask of the therapist: Do we, in fact, need this? That's up to you to decide. All's fair in love and online dating -- and sometimes we just want someone to hold our hand during the scary parts.
Image via Shutterstock by badahos.