10 Online Dating 'Don'ts' for Men and Women

10 Online Dating 'Don'ts' for Men and Women

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I've done my share of online dating and lived my share of online horror stories. I've also heard friends' stories and could probably write a book chronicling the aggregate of our experience.

The bad news is I've learned some hard lessons in my online dating journey; the good news is you're going to benefit from that fact right here, right now. This post will help you avoid the most common online dating mistakes and save yourself time, money, energy and perhaps a few personal counseling sessions. You can thank me later.

One of the best ways to assess your online dating prowess is to get feedback from the opposite sex, so that's what we'll do here. I'm going to lay down my top 10 online dating "don'ts" for the men (and thanks to my girlfriends who helped ensure I hit the most important and aggravating ones), and the illustrious Travis Williams, who met his wife online, will do the same for us ladies.

Naturally, we'll want your take on the lists. If you feel we've missed anything, comment below. If something resonates with you or you have an anecdote to share, do so. And finally, if you disagree, tell us that, too. Our goal is to give everyone the tools they need to do online dating well and maybe give those who've never jumped into the online fray the confidence to do so. So here we go (the items on these lists are in no particular order):

Ten Online Dating "Don'ts" for Men

1) Don't be lazy. An incomplete profile, bad spelling or grammar, trolling the site once a year, or an initial message to a girl that reads, "I like your profile; tell me more about yourself" is lazy. Women don't like lazy. Are you in it to win it? Prove it.

2) Don't post stupid photos. Photos that fall into this category include webcam photos, bathroom mirror self-portraits (or any self-portrait don't you have friends?), photos of your bare chest and photos with your ex cropped out. Likewise, don't post photos that are misleading. If you're a classical pianist who loves to cook, a photo of you in leather on a Harley may be funny to you and your friends, but we girls won't get it. No, really we won't. 

3) Don't broadcast unrealistic expectations. Guys' lists of "must haves" can be pretty long, and I've seen it all: Must be a virgin, must be younger than I, must love to work out. Seriously? Are you prepared to meet the same standards? Expectations like this run the risk of being unhealthy, ungodly and extremely limiting. I know very few women who "love" to work out; I know many (like me) who do because we know it's a good thing. If you want someone with a hot body, just say so; that's at least honest. Then we women can in good conscience reject you for being too shallow.

4) Don't be vague. I've seen very few guys online who really stand out. Most say some variation of the following: "I like to hang out with friends, snowboard and drink microbrews. My best buddy is my dog, and I can't live without my truck." Oh, and every guy online is "laid back." Where the vaguery really gets irritating is when it's in the area of faith. I should be able to differentiate your profile from a non-Christian's or even a nominal Christian's. Say something substantive, guys. Tell me about your church, your accountability group or what you're studying in your quiet time. That's hot. However...

5) Don't preach, judge, share doctrinal treatises or brag about your perceived spiritual maturity. One guy I met online sent me 46 Scripture references (including some from Ephesians 5, naturally) telling me to read them and let him know when I had completed the task. He also said, "Please read them only in the King James Version." He's probably still waiting for me to get back to him.

6)  Don't be a downer. I'm sorry about your past breakups and divorces; I really am. But I don't want to walk through the details of them with you in our first conversation. Nor do I want to read about them in your profile. Just list the important facts and leave it at that. (Like the fact you are divorced; that I want to know.) Similarly, I don't want to hear how discouraging your dating life has been or your musings on why women aren't attracted to you. I don't want to hear that girls only like "bad boys," and if there weren't algorithms for attractiveness then you would have every woman in the world falling at your feet because you're so amazing in every other respect. You know what's attractive? Confidence and self-respect. Get some.

7) Don't ask her for more pictures. This is an immediate "creeper" alert. If I've got eight good-quality photos up on the site and he emails me saying, "Can you send me more pictures?" my first thought is, Why? My second thought is, Is this guy in prison, and if not, should he be?

8) Don't "wink." This is the dumbest online feature ever. If you're in it to win it (see No. 1), then why are you wasting time and money by doing the online equivalent of the cheesy pickup line? I never respond to winks. Don't do it, guys. Ever. EVER. Send her a message and formally introduce her to your charming self.

9) Don't be impatient. Has it been a couple days since you first emailed her, and she has yet to respond? Don't sweat it. She may be busy, or traveling, or taking time to craft an answer, or ignoring you altogether. Remember, you don't have to contact us, and we don't have to answer you. Don't worry about it, just continue looking; there are plenty more fish in the online sea. And if she gets back to you in two weeks, you can determine if her reason for the lag is legit.

10) Don't make a lame exit. The most common example of this is what I call "the fade." You want to stop communicating, so you do. But you do it by disappearing with no explanation. If you've only talked briefly and superficially, no biggie. But if you've been in communication for a few weeks and you've decided to let go, be a man and tell her so. On the flip side, if you want to move the online relationship to the next level (e.g. to the phone or meeting in person), do it. Don't languish online forever as a goofy, going-nowhere penpal. Have a plan and put it in motion. She'll let you know if you're moving too fast. 

That's what I've got for you, guys. What do you think? And now, ladies, lest you think you're off the hook, here's what Travis has to say to you:

Ten Online Dating "Don'ts" for Women   

1) Don’t use misleading photos. I know I’ll catch flak for this one but will step out in faith that some guys will agree with me. Ladies, your photos can be important for guys. It’s so important that I have to break it down into four parts:

  • The Yearbook: You may have looked great in your senior photos, but you’re 27 now – show who you are today.
  • The I’m in here somewhere: Be careful about group shots. Yes, I’m talking about the pictures of you and your friends standing together in bridesmaid dresses.
  • The it’s not my baby: Avoid the urge to put the photo of you and your newborn nephew. You think it communicates that you love kids, but a guy will think it is your kid.
  • The my hair is the background: Use Glamour Shots for your Facebook profile, but refrain from using them in your dating profile. Be real. Be who you are. Be glamorous if that’s who you are — without the airbrush.
  • The I’m just not into me or the I’m way too into me. Both can backfire. If you’re going for sweats and a fuzzy webcam shot, you’ll get overlooked. Likewise, if you’re going for the bronzed bikini photo – you’ll get noticed, but you won’t be taken seriously.

2) Don’t be afraid to talk about something other than coffee, Diet Coke, flip-flops and how you love to travel. Nearly all women love those things. What makes you distinct?

3) Don’t be pushy or badger. Being overly aggressive online works as well as it does in any other environment – it doesn’t. What do I mean by overly aggressive? Well, it could mean the poke, the prod, the push, the nasty email on why I haven’t responded, the nagging to respond, the desperate call to communicate. As hard as it may be, let your profile do a lot of the initial talking by making it easy and appealing for a guy to lead.

4) Don’t act like you’re doing the world a favor. You may have been a pageant queen, but it’s not going to translate well online. Being smug or pretentious is not attractive, and it comes across louder online than it does in real life. For example, if your laundry list of requirements for a guy who can date you is longer than your actual profile, you probably fit the bill of what I’m talking about. Finding a mate is just as much about the person on the other end of the line as it is about you. If it’s just about you, why do you need a guy?

5) Don’t be unrealistic. Just because you have a match and received an email does not mean that you will be walking down the aisle soon. In fact, take that mental picture from your mind right now. Relax. Just because you connect online does not mean you’ll connect face to face. In fact, I believe most guys won’t lock in on relationship status until after they meet you face to face.

But if you want to scare a guy away on your first face-to-face meeting, picture him in a tuxedo. You may think it doesn’t show, but trust me a guy can read it. Guys may not be good at reading too many signals, but knowing that you see him walking you down the aisle soon – guys can read that one! The point is that online dating is a tool that helps you meet someone. Be realistic and realize that relationships still take time and work, and there is no magic formula to bypass that process.

6) Don’t be afraid to try new things. You make small changes every day. Why not change up your profile and try new things that express your personality? A page cannot contain who you are. Understand that your page is you at that moment in time. Feel free to reference current happenings from time to time as these may help you find a connection. Your goal should be to find as much common ground online as possible.

Mature people have discussions about the stuff they do not share in common and decide if those things are a deal breaker. I’ve found that most people think that they have all sorts of deal breakers until they actually meet someone with whom they want to have a relationship.

7) Don’t focus on all the little things when the big things are there. Not all guys are great writers. Creating a profile is just as daunting for a guy as it is for a girl. Recognize that some guys are truly doing their best. Try to discern who is a good guy by what they are trying to say, not what they actually say. Most guys online are not doing it with their buddies like many of the ladies are. They are flying solo and have little feedback. Grant a little grace and see the big picture. A misplaced comma or misused word does not mean they won’t be a good guy and that they are not smart.

8) Don’t forget to trust God. God can work through online dating sites. It’s true. But online dating sites can create all kinds of weird emotions that distract us from what God is doing. Put your attempts at meeting someone online in God’s hands. Trust Him when you accept an invitation to have a conversation. Trust Him when you close people out. Trust Him when the guy you thought liked you doesn’t call you back. Do what you can do, and allow God to do what only He can do.

9) Don’t let your past define you. If you’ve dealt seriously with sins and mistakes you’ve made in the past, leave them off your profile. If you’ve sought God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others, then live as if you are forgiven. I’m not saying to be dishonest about your past, but allow a guy to know you for who you are today not as you were. Your conversations about your past should happen face to face. That takes courage, but in my view it’s better than allowing a guy or yourself to define who you are by who you were.

10) Don’t over-do anything on your profile. Remember you have limited space to communicate you. Everything you do or don’t do in that space communicates something. A colleague of mine asked me to review her profile, and the only thing I learned about her was that she liked food. She liked food so much that she mentioned food or a variation of food five times in her profile. Five times.

If there was a guy looking for a cardiac arrest, he could have found her, but the truth is that she had much more to offer. Food was just the tip of the iceberg and a boring tip at that.

My point is that I want you to tell your best story. If you are only about one thing and one thing only, go for it; you’ve just limited your matches. What I’ve found is that most people are more diverse than they communicate. The more you can show that diversity of who you are, the more you will have in common with guys. The more common ground you have on paper, the more likely you’ll meet in person. That, in my opinion, is your goal. Staying online and not moving into face-to-face conversation will not help you in building a relationship that leads to marriage.


Want to try online dating? Meet thousands of other Christian singles at ChristianCafe. Boundless readers can receive four extra days to the free trial. Learn more at ChristianCafe.com.

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  • Comment by  lauragrace:

    I basically chuckled continuously throughout this article (the KJV-only guy especially cracked me up. Classic!). Great stuff, really witty, and super-practical.

    Couple jaw-droppers, though. Are there still Christians who refuse to date non-virgins? Good grief, on what grounds? Shouldn't a "must-have" list include basically three things -- a believer, not married, opposite sex?

    Anyway, thanks for this! :)

  • Comment by  ruthrutherford:

    LOVE THIS!  Hilarious... but way too true!  My favs have to do with photos. WAY too many bathroom mirror photos. I just don't get it. And men who post photos with their exes... and then blur out their faces. It's so harsh! But my fav line for sure... "...my hair IS the background" glamour shots. LOL!

    Thanks for this post. Some good reminders here.

  • Comment by  marykate:

    FABULOUS list, lisa!!! for the men and the women.

    thanks for putting this out there :)

    i would add:

    -get a team together of people you trust who really know you. show them your profile. guys, show your friend girls. girls, show your guy friends--get their input and consider making edits. and SPELLCHECK, SPELLCHECK, SPELLCHECK

    -stay on there longer than a week. online dating hasn't worked for me yet, and might not ever, but i can say i've given and continue to give it a good shot. i know so many people who sign up, stay on a for a week or two, and then decide 'there are no good ones on here' and give up on all internet dating forever. lighten up; try different sites, and spend more than a week or two on there.

    and here's a random horror story... recently i had a guy email me on match.com. i read his email, and clicked through to his profile and discovered that he had copied and pasted my entire 'about me' section in his about me section, and changed the key nouns/adverbs/etc. i was shocked, and annoyed, and surprised that he thought this would make me like him and want to contact him. he changed it more at my request, but it's still very close to what i wrote. how weird is that!?

  • Comment by  lauragrace:

    "men who post photos with their exes... and then blur out their faces""

    NOT. REAL. *head explodes*

    On a DATING website??? I just laughed SO HARD.

  • Comment by  Ashleytheoriginalflavor:

    Lisa, I probably giggled more at this any any recent boundless line post. Legit!

    FWIW, men would do well to read the tips for women and women would do well to read the tips for men, too!

    I certainly met the fuzzy webcame photo when I was 50 pounds lighter guy! and I skipped over my fair share of guys-with-kids-in-their photos too!

    My advice would be to *slightly* undersell yourself. That is, however awesome you think you are, dial it back a notch. You only get one chance to make a *real* first impression. I'd rather blow someone away with my awesome, than leave them feeling underwhelmed

  • Comment by  Read:

    The only time I've ever asked a girl for additional pictures is because I felt the pictures she posted were potentially misleading.  I've seen it far to often.  Three or four pictures all taken from what we used to call the "myspace angle". You'd see a lovely smiling face but hidden away from view was an unhealthy 300lbs frame.  Thank you to Lisa for posting this.  It was both hilarious and good advice.

  • Comment by  Kelly1:

    "But if you want to scare a guy away on your first face-to-face meeting, picture him in a tuxedo. You may think it doesn’t show, but trust me a guy can read it."

    I am horribly guilty of doing this but I don't know how to stop.  Even if it's not a conscious thought, it still shows up in my dreams!  Any tips, girls?  Or should I just be firmly shoving that thought out of my head the moment it creeps in?

    "photos of your bare chest"

    I don't get this.  Really, I don't.  Especially on a Christian dating site.  (I mean, it's okay if it's a beach photo, but a standing-in-front-of-the-bathroom-mirror photo?  Completely unnerving!)  

    laura grace said:  "Are there still Christians who refuse to date non-virgins? "

    Yes, a few of them have posted on Boundless before.  

  • Comment by  Tami:

    laura grace (4) - I don't get it either! Posting a photo of yourself with someone of the opposite sex seems more prevalent among guys, and I'm not sure what drives it.

    Guys, on first inspection, we can't tell the difference between a picture of you and your sister, and you and some girl you REALLY want to get together with, but can't for some reason. I think I speak for a lot of women when I say photos of you with another woman (save, perhaps, your mom or grandma) are not giving off any kind of impression you hope would be positive. So please, STOP.

    As for the whole "find me in this group photo" thing, I see that more among girls. Don't see that going great places, either.

    What if the guy is all, "I'm not sure about her, but perhaps she can hook me up with the girl to the right of her?" Yeah.

  • Comment by  CraigM:

    "If you want someone with a hot body, just say so; that's at least honest. Then we women can in good conscience reject you for being too shallow."

    Is that shallow?  Pretty much every man would like to have a woman with a hot body.  It's impolite to say so, but it's true.  Why is this a problem?  It seems to me that women have the same preference (for men with hot bodies).

  • Comment by  James:

    Very timely, as I've been planning to make the jump to online dating...perhaps even this wknd!  I think I would've avoided most of the mistakes listed, but good tips nonetheless.

  • Comment by  lauragrace:

    "Is that shallow? Pretty much every man would like to have a woman with a hot body. It's impolite to say so, but it's true. Why is this a problem? It seems to me that women have the same preference (for men with hot bodies)."

    Yeah, but what is a "hot body" to you isn't a "hot body" to everyone. What I took this to mean was, if you want a particular body type or if stereotypical "hotness" matters to you, make that clear. And yes, demanding that a girl conform to a societal idea of "hotness" is shallow. Having preferences is not, necessarily, as long as they stay in the realm of preference, not demand.

  • Comment by  BettyV:

    It doesn't sound like the writer has been successful in finding a mate on these sites.  I think it would have been better to have a writer do this who has been successful.

    The writer talks about trusting God, but then she writes a page and a half on how to write your profile, what pics to use, etc.  Where is the trust in God?  Then there is basic Christian ethics and basic Christian kindness--so a guy asks you to read some verses in the KJV and he is STILL waiting for you to contact him back?  Why not just be kind and socially pleasant, and at least write back that you don't have time to do so or think the request is a bit intense?  You talk about being real, but you don't care to be socially kind to those who write to you.

    I would say the writer sounds very judgmental (the wink thing comes to mind along with the photo choices) and that truly, she may not be successful because she perhaps needs to take her own advice, trust God, and be kind to strangers, for the Bible does say, sometimes we are entertaining angels though we are not aware of it!

    I say all this as someone who HAS been successful in finding a mate on a Christian dating site...and who is very GLAD she let God work.  This is how someone who won't entertain LDR's ended up married to someone from another state...

  • Comment by  megan:

    When I first read this post, I thought, "I wonder if Craig M is going to chime in?"  And, he did, with exactly the response I thought.  

    Actually, this time I would agree with Craig, that probably most guys want a female with a hot body.  And, probably women do too.  But in contrast to what Craig M said, I would add that "hot" often means different things to different people.

  • Comment by  lauragrace:


    Oh girl. I have had this internal conversation so many times. Three step process, developed from many years of success and failure in this area:

    1. Pray for right thinking and, yes, even "right dreaming" about men.

    2. Don't feed your fantasy life (for me, this means being careful about books, movies, and shows that center around romance).

    3. When those thoughts or dreams pop up, call them what they are, reject the lie in them if there is one, replace it with truth, and rest in Christ. So, in practice, say you have an emotionally intense dream about marrying some guy you met online. You call it what it is -- an idle fantasy; you reject the lie that marriage brings emotional fulfillment; you say to yourself, "He's a good guy, and right now he is my brother and nothing more. I choose to dwell on the gifts God has already given me instead of what I don't have"; and you rest knowing that your identity is in Christ. In my experience, all that happens in like 30 second. It's been so helpful for me to quickly put dreams behind me, otherwise they can really mess up my head all day!

  • Comment by  CraigM:

    Hi Megan.  I agree that tastes differ.  I just think some tastes are more common than others, and I don't think it's shallow to desire to marry a person that suits your taste.  

    I agree that saying so explicitly is impolite though.  And unnecessary.  You should be able to tell from the photos whether the person might be someone you're interested in meeting.  

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