Can Anonymous Internet Critics Fix Your Online Dating Profile?

Luckless online daters are turning to Reddit for help, and it might be working

June 29, 2021 6:03 am
Image shows a series of cropped Reddit threads in which users request online dating advice
You may not know what's wrong with your dating app profile, but a stranger on the internet might.

When you’re single and “wildly unsuccessful” at online dating, you might attempt the same dicey maneuver that Peter and many others have: post your profile on Reddit so that hundreds of strangers can critique it.

“I really wanted to know, How am I perceived?” says Peter, a scientist in his late forties who lives in the Southeast and, like the other Reddit users quoted in this article, spoke to me pseudonymously. “To me that seemed to be important to doing online dating: I need to figure out how I’m perceived and how I project what I want to sell, for lack of a better term.”

He likens the act of desperation he took on Reddit to “market research,” and says part of what prompted the decision was that, after putting a good deal of effort into something, he’s not used to such poor results. A decade-long divorcée who began online dating — a phrase often shortened to “OLD” on Reddit and similar internet environs — four years ago, Peter says that despite “trying hard,” he only goes on dates roughly once per financial quarter. Typically, a match doesn’t remain in his life far beyond a first encounter, either. 

He discloses that he’s a big, beefy guy, but along with having a career that pays him more money than he ever thought he’d make, he’s undeniably healthy and leads an active lifestyle. If you’re a single lady seeking “adventure,” like so many OLD profiles indicate, Peter’s an ideal candidate. He didn’t want to get into specifics, but says he plays team sports at a high level and has a few “daredevil hobbies” — activities that are “more dangerous than skydiving.”

Yet, like so many others out there, Peter’s quest to find love via OLD has only led to frustration. He’s wondered about his looks, but also sees men he believes less attractive post their OLD profiles to Reddit, and somehow they get the “electronic version of catcalls” from women. 

When Peter first offered up his OLD profile to the subreddit r/Bumble for review, it was skewered — and rightfully so, he says.

“I did one thing wrong,” Peter admits. “I just had some pictures and my height.”

The Reddit “chorus,” he says, chimed in to remind him that nobody can have a “blank profile.” So with what he believed to be surgical precision, Peter reconstructed it, adding details about those daredevil hobbies he takes part in, some stuff about his job and his taste in movies, as well as upgrades to his photos

“When I put that up, it received what I would call a very ‘neutral’ reaction,” Peter says. Redditors in r/datingoverforty, another hotbed for OLD profile critiques, and where Peter published his second try, simply said things like “it looks good.” They also issued some other tips that might help Peter out, but only along the margins. The lukewarm response to the update, he says, “sort of stung,” adding that it also surprised him, since the Reddit community around these OLD profile critiques typically conducts “yeoman’s work.” Commenters often parse through the profile pictures and prompt responses with the intensity of a veteran baseball beat writer dissecting late-game managerial moves. 

“You look the best in pic 1 obv can see why you lead with it but your hair is straight here and naturally curly in your other pics [sic],” commented one user underneath an OLD profile critique request from “Jessica,” a 28-year-old digital designer who works in marketing. “If you usually keep your hair curly I would lead with your 4th pic,” the Redditor also advised, before observing that only Jessica’s bottom photo revealed some blemishes on her face. “You’ll have to decide if they are just super obvious in this pic or if it’s a realistic picture (which you should keep then),” the commenter added. 

“Thanks for your feedback!” responded Jessica. “The last pic is me without makeup. I guess it’s more that I want to show natural looking photos of me with all the flaws.” 

To the surprise of no one who knows anything about Reddit — or social media in general — exchanges below OLD profile critique requests are often not so civil. A moderator for r/hingeapp, where the majority of user posts are requests for Hinge profile critiques, says in an email that, prior to posting new rules of engagement, reviews were “certainly harsher.” When readers report commenters who break the rules — such as “calling people overweight” or “making stereotypical remarks about race,” the moderator says — there’s a motion among the moderators to ban the offending user.

Jane, a 58-year-old online entrepreneur in Florida who says she’s critiqued about 50 OLD profiles on Reddit, remembers one barbed comment that read: “Dude, just go back into your basement.” But Jane sees her amateur dating coach duties as half cheerleader and half someone who will “kick you in the seat of your pants.” In other words, Jane showers her subjects with focused compliments — saying their eyes are beautiful or congratulating them on a well-kept beard, for example — before also offering a dose of tough love. (Men, if they’re specific in their profiles at all, she says, often go overboard describing themselves. She advises them to instead mix in details about what they and their prospective date might look like together.)

It was her motherly instinct that partly motivated Jane to help out. Most of the people she sees posting their OLD profiles for critiques are men in their early twenties, which is about her son’s age. Jane also felt qualified because, since launching OLD campaigns of her own three months ago, after a 32-year marriage burned out, she’s already been on more than a dozen in-real-life dates — plus at least 20 phone calls with matches and some video-conference dates, all during a pandemic.  

The secrets to Jane’s OLD success? She’s specific in her profiles, providing, she says, at least 10 different information nuggets from which matches can generate questions to ask her. All her content is positive; she never mentions deal breakers, and she’s sure to include the all-important full-body shot, alongside close-ups and action pics.

It probably doesn’t hurt that she keeps in great shape by practicing martial arts, or that she’s active on platforms that more strictly serve her demographic, like Fitness Singles and Single Seniors. But she’s also been on Hinge, which she “loved,” and refuses to buy completely into the “looks mean everything” narrative. 

“I’m a female who’s 58,” Jane says. “You would think at my age it would be over.” (She’s not interested in much younger men, but says they holler at her frequently.)

Jane got so good at commenting on OLD profiles publicly that many have reached out to her via direct messaging for privatized guidance as well. Andrew, a 33-year-old Portland, Oregon, resident who works in fundraising, reports garnering similar attention. He says he’s critiqued more than a hundred OLD profiles after finding success of his own on the platforms — particularly Hinge. He considers himself “pretty good looking, but not a model.” However, he’s “a super-confident dater” who has also conducted “heavy research” into what generally works well in profiles, giving him an advantage in the field. 

Redditors so frequently turn to Andrew for advice, he says, because he tactfully frames his criticisms in ways that others might more readily consider. Like Jane, he applauds them for what they’re doing well on the platforms, and gently rolls out observations about elements of the profiles that he thinks could be altered for better results, all based on best practices he’s executed himself and read about. 

Still, Andrew says any OLD user who asks for profile critiques on Reddit should ultimately “take everything with a grain of salt, and at the end of the day still kind of go with whatever [they] think is best.” 

“It’s always a little difficult to put yourself out there, knowing that you might hear some things that maybe you don’t fully agree with or make you question why you have something or don’t have something in your profile,” he says. “It’s important to go in knowing that people are going to offer you a range of feedback.”

Often that feedback will be brutal, as previously noted, which can have an outsized effect on a person’s confidence. 

“We tend to attach ourselves to a lot of the negative feedback,” says Alisha Fisher, who’s been an international relationship coach for 10 years and is now a human sexuality Ph.D. candidate. The reason for our brain’s “negative bias” is evolutionary: it helps keep us out of harm’s way. Given that fact, Fisher says seeking such help online, where so many users view anonymity as a license to belittle others, puts people in a naturally vulnerable position. She also says an even more effective outlet for this kind of assistance can come in the form of friends, family and other trusted loved ones — people who just know you better and more intimately. 

However, Fisher also recognizes that having “a random stranger praise you” can have “very positive effects on your sense of self.” So she understands the allure of Reddit OLD profile critiques on some level. But to mitigate the vulnerability that comes with these posts, she says people should establish boundaries by carving out a certain time of day to read the responses, and be sure that period is a stretch where they’re in a good headspace. 

If “you’re already in this crappy mindframe,” Fisher says, “and then you go online and read these crappy comments, it just makes everything worse.”

But for one reason or another — perhaps because they posted their profiles in age-focused groups like “Dating Over Thirty” (or “Forty” or “Fifty”) instead of more open-ended forums, as one source speculated — the people I interviewed overwhelmingly fielded insightful comments in response to their critique requests. Few if any of the remarks were glazed with malice. 

A 43-year-old woman who lives close to London and goes by the Reddit handle u/ComeDanceWithMe2nite, tells me in an email that she received “very helpful” comments after posting her OLD profile for review a year ago. 

“I didn’t know that a close-up of my face was creepy as hell,” she says. “One person posted a gif to illustrate how the same person looks very different with a photo taken with lenses at different lengths. It may have been slightly more technical than that, but the bottom line is no one wants to see face close-ups.” 

She changed her photography approach and — to stress the importance of this once again — wrote in some more specific details about herself. The commentary also informed her that in her profile she was unwittingly presenting herself in one very unsavory way.

“It was brought to my attention that I may come across as a gold digger due to my willingness to pursue romance globally and by the fact I had stated I would be happy to relocate,” she says. “This was very interesting to me and something that had not crossed my mind, so that had to be revised.”

She says the alterations she made on the advice of her fellow Redditors led to “a much more positive response,” in the form of increased profile views and “quality messages received,” when she unleashed the updated profile on the OLD universe.

As far as our brawny, Southeastern scientist Peter is concerned, he says that since that disappointing Reddit response to his last profile, he’s put himself in a better mindset. He noticed that many of the same users turn up underneath OLD profile critique requests across many different subreddits. He concluded that the observances, positive and negative, shouldn’t hit him so hard, since they’re stemming from only “a very narrow slice of humanity.” 

“And frankly,” he adds, “some of those people are nuts.”

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!