Ask Dr Nerdlove: How To Do Online Dating Right

Ask Dr Nerdlove: How To Do Online Dating Right

What’s going on, Kotaku? Hello and welcome to the first instalment of Ask Dr NerdLove, an advice column specifically for your geeky relationship issues. To kick things off, this week we’re going to talk a little about getting the results you want from online dating.

Hey Doc,

I’m a video game programmer, and general nerd, and I’ve come to the age where I would like to get a girlfriend. My industry and social circles are not very abundant with potential dates, so I’ve turned to Match. However, after using it for six months (Paid), I’ve heard nothing from anyone, and every message I’ve sent has been ignored.

I think my profile is fine, as I don’t go out of my way to geek out about any one thing, and I don’t try to paint myself as someone I’m not either. I have some trouble trying to figure out what to put in the messages I’ve sent, so I’ve tried everything from long and specific messages to simple “Hey, how was your day?” messages, none of which get responses.

I’m not overweight (I’m actually skinny) and I’m not ugly, so I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing wrong. Can you give me any idea as to some things I might be doing wrong, or some idea of how to write a profile/message that won’t get ignored?

Online Dating Newbie

Hey ODN,

There are a metric ton of reasons why women don’t respond to a dating site email, but the most common is that your message – or your profile – didn’t intrigue her enough to want to reply…

Craft the Perfect Online Dating Email

Let’s start with messages. Women get deluged with messages – often rife with “creative” approaches to spelling and creepy sexual come-ons – which means that you need to make yours shine. If you can’t catch and hold her attention right off the bat, then you’re going to get passed over like Brussels sprouts at a Golden Corral buffet.

Most emails either go too long and ramble or are just “hi i like ur face.” I have a template that I recommend for first contact emails. It’s very simple, with no more than two lines per section. This makes it lean, mean and – critically – more interesting than the usual “‘sup biznatch?” that’s so common.

You start with a greeting. Personally, I like “Hey, you seem like you’re cool, and I wanted to say ‘hi,'” but you should have one that matches your personality.

Next, bring up something from her profile that caught your attention: “I noticed that you’re a fan of retro video games and built your own MAME cabinet… that’s awesome!” Then ask a question, preferably related to that part of her profile. Make sure it’s something that can actually spur a conversation, not a question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Finally, write a couple lines about yourself, followed by “hope to talk to you soon,” and your name.

Tip: Don’t challenge her to prove something, especially if she’s into geeky stuff and definitely don’t try to neg her with a left-handed compliment. It’s a stupid PUA trick that not only doesn’t work but will actively piss women off. At best, you’ll get your email tossed in the trash. At worst, you end up as a new post on a “Creepy Guys of Online Dating” tumblr.

Build a Profile That Gets Noticed

With all that said, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got Cyrano De Bergerac writing your messages if your profile is a mess.

First: Audit your photos. Most dating sites will send a thumbnail of your primary photo with your message. This can make the difference between her clicking through to check your profile or skipping to the next bachelor on the list. It’s vitally important that you use a photo that makes the right impression.

“Artsy” Instagrams, badly cropped vacation photos and group shots are all horrible primary photos. Your main profile photo should be a clear shot of you by yourself — preferably a headshot — on a clean or solid background. It also helps to be wearing something with a bright splash of colour to make your thumbnail stand out from the crowd.

Your other photos should be the ones that make you look like you’re fun to be with. Include at least one full body shot. And absolutely no “check these abs” selfies. Seriously, they make you look like a douchebag.

Second: You want to purge your profile of anything that will turn women away. Imagine you work for an advertising firm. You don’t sell chips by saying “They’re decent enough, I guess.” You aren’t going to sell a car by telling prospective buyers that they shouldn’t even think about buying it unless they meet a 20 point checklist of prerequisites. You sell it by making people think about how awesome their life would be if they had it.

When you’re writing an online dating profile, you’re advertising yourself, and nobody is going to buy a product that can barely tolerate its own existence.

If you’re full of negativity, bitterness or an entitled attitude, women will hit the back button so fast that time will warp. Even self-deprecating humour is going to read as “thanks for noticing a loser like me,” so toss it. And there should never be any references to your sexin’ skills, cunnilingus, cock size, or your skill at full-body rubdowns. Not only will nobody believe you (or want to find out if it’s true), but it’s goddamn creepy. There is nothing that will make the possibility of sex disappear in a cloud of sulfur and loneliness faster than talking about how much you love going down in your profile.

(When in doubt, check this handy list of common online dating mistakes. If you’re doing anything on that list, you need to change it immediately.)

Third: You want to practice good dating search optimization. Most dating sites let you narrow your searches to more than just height, weight, body type and location. They’re in the business of helping you find the red-headed Pastafarian opera singer of your dreams, so it’s in their interest to let you be as specific as possible. As a result, most sites will let you search for keywords. This is where the dating search optimization comes in: You want to make sure that those desirable keywords appear prominently in your dating profile. If, for example, you’re hoping to date a fellow gamer, you want them to be able to find you, right?

Think about the sort of people you want to date. What are they going to be looking for? What search terms are they likely to be using? Those are your keywords. If you’re not sure which ones to use, do your research: Check out the profiles of people you’re attracted to. See where their interests lie and make sure that you have an easily identifiable reference in your profile too. Just remember: these are examples. You want to make sure that you’re listing interests you actually have, not laying bait for one specific person. If you lie about your mutual interest in manatee breeding, she’s going to be pretty pissed when she starts talking shop on the first date and you can’t follow along.

(True story, by the way.)

Last but not least: you need to remember to show, not tell. Anyone can say that they’re $USDESIRABLE_QUALITY; you want to demonstrate that quality. If you’re funny, don’t just say “I’m funny,” let your wit shine through your profile. If you’re athletic or adventurous, have profile photos that show you playing soccer or visiting Praya Kahn. If you’re a geek and looking to date other geeks, drop a few geek references in. Mention your love of Assassin’s Creed or your zombie apocalypse plan.

When in doubt, just remember: You’re selling a product to others. Make sure that you’re making your advertising as clear and as enticing as possible and you’ll have much more success.

If you have online dating stories of your own to share, let’s hear about them in the comments. And we’ll see you in two weeks with more of your dating questions!

Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write and put “Kotaku” in the subject line. Man, woman, single, married, he’s got advice for everyone.

Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.

Images via Shutterstock


  • Four days ago I signed up to an internet dating site. Two days ago I deleted it. I’ll never, ever go back. XD

    • Yep, back in 2012 I used it for months too – the matches and the people on there are horrible

      A few days later, I met my wife at a birthday party (got married last week)

      Even us shy “geek” “nerd” types can find the right person “IRL”

  • I owe my relationship status to Myspace of all things. I was randomly on some metal forum commenting, my missus commented and one of my friends said we had a similar looking profile pic (do NOT read that we looked the same :P) and I added her on a whim. After a couple of years of just chatting online and getting to being really good friends we decided that it’d be worth a shot if I moved over here and see what happened. If nothing came of it I’d have a year of travelling round Australia. Over 5 years later, we’re still together

    Never tried internet dating, but to me it seems a little too forced and that’s why it doesn’t work for a lot of people. Maybe if you do find someone on there, just try becoming good friends first rather trying to dive into a relationship straight away

    • Good story!

      Good old Myspace. It was a great platform for delving into music. Kind of like a primitive Spotify ‘Discover/related artists’…You would find a band you liked, see other bands they were friends with and click-through and check them out. And yes, a great place to trawl potentially hot metal chick fans. 🙂

  • You should check out that Cracked article on women getting hit on, even if the girl is a terrible person. Shows how desperate some guys are.

    As for me, I forget that I signed up to sites like that. I think I created my OKCupid profile back in like, 2005 or something.

    The only time it worked was sometime last year and I was refered to as a “product” that exceeded expectations. Then she got a boyfriend. So, eh.

  • I met my love on Internet Dating but I had to slog through a lot of mud to find her.

    The problem for men is that they seem to vastly outnumber the women on the sites, so girls get bombarded with messages from creeps looking for sex which overwhelm the messages from people genuinely wanting to connect.

    So you have to just keep on trying. I have found the best luck in messaging people with an interesting profile but no photo because they receive less messages. Just gotta roll the dice that you’ll find each other physically attractive lol.

  • Really? This article has absolutely no relevance being here on this site. Move it over to lifehacker, but just because it’s “online” doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to put on kotaku. I’ll accept the media articles that report “crime-involving-video-games-but-not-really”, I’ll accept the pieces on Japanese culture that most people wouldn’t give two shits about (because if you like video games that must automatically mean you love Japan too right? I guess with a name like kotaku, it can’t be helped). But really? Fucking dating advice? Online dating advice at that? One cannot help but infer certain stereotypes. And posting this just reinforces those stereotypes.

    If I wanted fucking dating advice, online dating advice too, I would fucking google it. I don’t come to Kotaku looking for or expecting to receive online fuckin dating advice. I do not need fucking online dating advice. “Ask Dr Nerdlove”, how fucking incredibly demeaning and patronising. Just because the guy who wrote in just happens to be a video game programmer and a “general nerd” doesn’t mean we need to see this shit. Would a lonely theoretical physicist be asking Stephen Hawking tips on what to do on a first date? Would a single Baker be posting to about how they can’t seem to find “the one”? No. because that’s not where those fucking articles belong. Keep this shit to Cosmopolitan and Dolly doctor for fuck’s sake.

  • This could be summed up as “Don’t be a nerd/geek”. Girls on those sites prefer the douchebag, not the nerd. It’s all about looks o. Dating sites. That’s the honest truth.

  • I’m getting married next month to my love, who I met through online dating (RSVP) a couple of years ago. So it can and does work! Mind you, I had an online profile up for years before I met the-one, so there was still a lot of patience and luck involved.

    I think it’s best to be very true to yourself, honest about who you are (with yourself and on your profile) and what you’re looking for, and be selective with who would actually fit well with you in your life. It’s tempting to try to appeal to everyone, to increase your chances of dates, but that’s not likely to make you happy in the long term. So, be yourself and have fun with it.

    Also, from all anecdotes I’ve heard, just being polite, respectful and using proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc., will put you above most of the contacts that women receive online!

  • I set up a profile on OKCupid about six months back, messaged a few people but got bored. Couple of months in a girl messaged me, we hit it off, and have been dating for a few months now. I got pretty lucky – minimal effort on my behalf!

    • You’re definitely lucky. I set up a profile on OKCupid a few years back. Messaged a bunch of people that looked interesting. IF I actually got a reply back, it was brief, and generally of the “not my type” type. Typed, of course. I pointed out to some that it would help me tremendously if I could get more than a curt reply. Not one response.

      My conclusion was that women who join dating sites generally aren’t interested in meeting people. (My cynical conclusion; I don’t entirely believe it. Just mostly. 😉

      Actually, I almost got lucky once. Messaged one girl, who replied back with a well written response. We bounced messages back and forth, moving to email. After a few weeks, I thought we were communicating so well, I asked if she was interested in a date. She sent back a reply back, essentially declining the proposal, and describing me as “caramel”: sweet, but not to her taste.

      I think I gave up at that point. Certainly gave up on any girl giving me a straight answer. If they want to refuse you, then their reasons are their own, and they will not divulge them. Doesn’t help me improve my profile, but that’s life for ya. Can’t expect everyone to be helpful and honest.

      • I’m sorry to hear man. Have you thought about trying again these days? You may have better luck.

        I also can’t recommend enough – I spent a bit of time chatting to people there, and having a read about what to do and what not to do. It’s entertaining and educational. They’re quite supportive with giving ‘profile critiques’ if you can take it. Interestingly, some of the girls there DO attempt to respond to OKC messages with polite declines and give some advice – but get some pretty nasty responses from some guys – so most don’t bother, and I can’t blame them.

        I know it can be a bit crushing and disheartening – and I know I got super lucky, because I gave up pretty quickly but got pulled back in – but I think you should get back in the game and see how you go 🙂

        • Hey, I’m all for honesty, brutal or otherwise. May give that reddit link a shot, thanks. It’ll be good to get some feedback on my profile. I am quite happy with it; I think it’s a brief, accurate, and honest reflection of who I am. Still, never know if there’s a way in which I could rephrase something, or avoid misunderstanding somewhere.

          I’m not out of the dating game entirely. Just relying on other avenues. I’m currently being setup by a friend with one of her workmates. So, hope that goes well, but I’ll be OK if it doesn’t.

          Still not sure about the online dating thing. As has been mentioned, women get inundated with crappy requests, so it’s understandable if they dismiss a decent one. Not sure of the solution to that, but current dating sites do not seem to answer this. Hence, the only valid way of using them properly, as a guy, seems to be to put your profile up, and wait for someone to contact you.

      • Btw, using what you said there – one thing that I noted is it took weeks before you asked her out. I’m confident you’d have much, much more luck if you ask as soon as you’ve exchanged a couple of messages.

        As Transientmind said before, arrange a meet-up as soon as possible if you even have an inkling that you might get along with them. The more you get to know each other over email, no matter how well you talk – in most cases, interest and excitement will fade.

        If you’re like me, that’s challenging because you want to minimise your risk, make sure you can talk to this person before you meet up and potentially embarrass yourself or be disappointed. But it just doesn’t work like that. You’ve gotta take the risk – it’s a terrifying one – but it’s terrifying for everyone, I promise you. You will say silly things, and you will act awkward at times, but it’s all part of the beautiful mess that is dating 🙂 What matters is putting yourself out there.

  • I met a girl in an IRC chatroom (do they still have IRC these days?) back in the late 90s. After chatting there occasionally for months / years, we ended up meeting in real life (there was an exhibit at the museum we both wanted to see) in early 1999. So we’ve now been together for 15 years, married for nearly 8 🙂

  • Been dating a girl I met on POF now for 9 months. As soon as I put my profile up I started getting messages from girls. Reading through the article I think i was subconsciously doing all those things you suggest. (It also helps that I am amazingly good looking!)

  • This seems like a paraphrasing of the “How to be effective” sections dating sites put up and IMO doesn’t actually offer any useful advice other than don’t be a jerk, and be yourself. My advice, based on solid personal experience, is to avoid dating sites if you want anything serious. There are many motivations for people to be on them (one night stands, friendship, fun, etc.) so it’s really hard to pick anyone who has the same intentions as you. It also seems to often be the case that unless you fit the societal norm, you aren’t going to get any genuine responses. People are also inclined to stretch the truth and don’t always mean it when they say they are looking for someone who fits your description. It’s too much of a mix bag to ever be sure the other person is what you’re looking for.

    Yes, dating sites do work for some people, but no one ever tells you about the people who have been on them for years and had hundreds of rejections. My recommendation would be to instead look for local groups that have interests similar to yours and find one with a nice mix of people. Just don’t go joining up if you’re just looking to hook up. Let it happen naturally.

    • I think one of the biggest problems is that with the invention of hook-up apps and websites about hooking up for ONS etc, its hard to take these online dating sites seriously anymore, and regardless of how different they try to make themselves from the other, they all still tend to feel and look the same (even down to the same people across multiple sites)

      Your recommendation makes much more sense, +1 for that!

      • I agree. After a while, all the profiles start looking the same, even down to the jokes and things they say to distinguish themselves from other people… I think my issue is also partially the fact that the kind of person I’m looking for isn’t the kind of person that would join a dating site. ^_^’

  • I’m too retarded for dating sites. I wouldn’t be able to turn off the part of my brain that insists that “Used Couch: Slightly worn, tear on left arm, otherwise in fine order. $50 ono” is the right dating profile for me. =P

    • At least its funny

      When my female friend and I used her OasisActive account one night to see what it was like for her, the profiles ranged from:

      I go to the gym, bench 150, drive a sik Monaro, wear CK and go clubbing every sat night

      – to –

      I like walks on the beach, eating fine food, taking my dog for a walk three times a day, drive a nice car and own three houses

      The top one is an honest idiot who doesnt realise how dumb he sounds, the second on is a lying jerk who stuffs it up for the real genuine guys

    • Not really. I had a profile up on eharmony for a little while, purely to fulfil a promise I made to my girl when we split up in one of our ‘off again’ phases, years ago.
      I went on a few dates, never really had that ‘spark’. I cancelled the profile after a few months of use. I learned a LOT about the online dating scene, and decided it’s definitely not for me.

      Which isn’t to say it doesn’t work.
      I know it worked for my brother and his boyfriend who have been together for damn near a decade or so, but they reckon the gay dating ‘relationship’ scene (not nightclub hookups) is notoriously small, and the odds of being able to just casually ask an attractive stranger out are reallly bad compared to what straight folks enjoy.

      Hm, anecdote related to that, though…
      Not long ago I was grabbing a post-midnight snack at the McDonalds in the Valley. While standing at the counter, waiting to be served, one young guy – kinda twinkish – approached me and said, “Hey, you have amazing eyes, you know?” I smiled and said thanks, and went back to waiting. A few moments later, the guy pipes up again and asks, “Are you a homo?” hopefully.
      I arched an eyebrow at that – not at being asked, but at the word usage. I thought that was a perjorative term… way to ‘take it back’ I guess. You go guys/girls. Either way, I smiled and shook my head saying, “No, sorry.”
      He looked a little disappointed and said, “Ah… yeah, sorry. We have that problem.”
      I replied sympathetically, “Yeah, my brother used to complain about that when he was into the scene, before he settled down.” That seemed to set the young guy at ease a bit, thankfully.

    • Oh, as for actual advice?
      Most of the advice in the article seems pretty much right.
      But yeah, you do need to have some flattering photos. 99.99% of the time no photo = no response. Ignore what women SAY about dating profiles, look at what they actually respond to. There are some studies done on this, but I can’t look ’em up easily at work. One example I did find, a guy who cooked up a bunch of fake profiles of varying degrees of male/female attractiveness but identical profile answers to see how they’d perform over 4 months:
      I think OKCupid and eHarmony have published their own more in-depth stats studies on what generates responses as well.

      My personal ‘internet dating’ tips:

      1) Arrange a meet-up as soon as possible.
      The dating site only exists to put you in touch with each other, not to be a surrogate for actual dating itself. Don’t get into any long, philosophical conversations via email/messaging until AFTER you’ve met face-to-face. It’ll only lead to disappointment for one or both parties, as you or they idealize this witty wordsmith is a complete turn-off in person. Disappointment isn’t a great aphrodisiac.
      If you’re worried about meet-anxiety, don’t be. Meeting face-to-face for the first time is pretty much always going to be anxiety-inducing, even if you have years of history with someone online. Best get it out of the way ASAP. You’re going to have to do it at some point unless you plan on an entirely online-only relationship complete with cybering instead of actual physical intimacy.

      2) Set expectations low.
      A lot of sites will advertise the ‘perfect match’, but this is no better than asking a stranger on the street for their number. Dating-site advertising is the worst. Expect numerous rejections/ignores, and the majority of attention you receive to be from those who don’t meet your standards. It’s not a replacement for standard dating tools, it’s just an extra tool in the kit. Whether it’s worth the effort is up to you. Even women who you’re better looking than are going to have an inflated sense of self-worth owing to the fact that their inboxes are going to be chock-full of mails from guys who’ve been following the ‘shotgun scatter’ approach on anything that has a digital pulse. No shit, I actually know some girls who have set up profiles exclusively for the ego-stroking of being approached by literally hundreds of lonely nerds, with absoutely zero intention of responding to any of them. That’s what you’re up against. Don’t let it defeat you, just set expectations appropriately.

      3) Don’t invest anything in it.
      Similar to point 2, but it’s about approach: just log in every now and then, fire off some cheeky a-typical messages to get their interest, then log off and forget them forever. Be pleasantly surprised when in the next few days you log in and have some messages. DON’T set email reminders for daily or notifications-on-message or whatever, the site’s just going to pester you with pointlessness. And women LOVE/hate (the kind of hate they love doing, which is the flip-side of love and infinitely better than apathy) when you don’t respond for a while. By the way, they don’t do that themselves – if you don’t get a response, that’s a rejection. You’re not ever actually going to get a hard-coded rejection, the sites don’t work like that. Move on.

      Mostly just remember internet dating isn’t a substitute for asking out strangers. It’s actually much less effective than that, because at least you’ve actually MET someone you ask out face-to-face. It’s just an extra place to look, because all the pretty girls might not be on the exact street you’re on at the exact time you’re walking along it.

  • Broke up with my OKCupid Account over a year ago, and happy with my relationship with the Internet & videogames.

  • I’m on both Oasis Active and POF (Plenty Of Fish) for a few of years (my profile has been but I have been actively on and off during that time).

    The thing is that a guy (or a girl for that matter) can write the most honest and truthful description of themselves, have a nice tasteful photo of themselves and still be rejected..girls on these sites have to wade through the hundreds of requests from guys where as the guys pretty much hit and hope…

    Plus on online dating sites, girls will judge off the photo…I know this because of a experience I had.

    I saw a girl on Oasis Active who caught my eye, the profile was good, sounded like a friendly girl…go to make contact only to get a rejection of “Sorry, but I don’t think you’re my type” (which I usually say in my head “what is your type then?”) A month later, I had met the same girl at a random bar in the city and chatted and got her number…She didn’t realise that I was the same person she rejected until the subject of online dating came up…she said that she looked at the photo and judged straight away and rejected, the only thing I could say to her was “Never judge a book by its cover”

    while yes there are a lot of douchebag guys on there mainly looking for One Night Stands, the genuine guys get lost in the shuffle and some guys wonder if girls are just looking for the hottest guy on there only for them to get played and then be disillusioned with a dating site

    • But, as Jerry Seinfeld said, how many job interviews are there where there’s a chance you’ll end up naked at the end of it?

      “Well, congratulations, Bob – we think you’re the man for the job. Why don’t you strip down and come meet some of the people you’ll be working with?”

    • I spent a while reading through the Dr Nerdlove website. I does quite an admirable job of portraying the act of finding a mate as both mindbogglingly complex and utterly, utterly terrifying.

  • Guys (and girls!) – note that no matter WHAT you look like, photos make a helluva difference. You might think you’re ugly, you might think you’re not photogenic, but good photography makes all of the difference – everybody can look good if they know what to do. Show some photos to friends, get some other opinions – getting a good photo of yourself is like the ‘upgrading to ssd’ of online dating – it’s the single best upgrade you can make.

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