I’m smart, funny, and attractive.

I’m humble, successful, and kind.

I’m romantic, thoughtful, and trustworthy.

I’m sexy, passionate, and fearless.

I’m compassionate, honest, and friendly.

How many times have we seen lines like these in online dating profiles? If I had a nickel for every time I saw what I call an “empty adjective,” I’d be a very rich lady. What is an empty adjective? It’s a word you use to describe yourself that can’t be proven until someone gets to know you. For example, I might say I’m funny, but how would you know if that’s the truth? Maybe I’m funny to some people (the ones who love puns and wordplay), but not to others.  Or maybe my definition of “honest” is telling someone she has spinach in her teeth, but your definition is giving back the extra penny if they accidentally give it to you at Trader Joe’s. I used to date someone who said in his JDate profile, “I’m really romantic.” Was he? Not in the least. The curse of the empty adjective strikes again.

This is where the concept of “show, don’t tell” really comes into play. For example, rather than saying you’re funny, say something you find funny. That way, you’re not only getting your point across, but you’re differentiating yourself from everyone who simply states, “I’m funny,” or worse, “My friends tell me I’m funny.” The latter is just a way to say the same thing while attempting to be humble. Sadly, it doesn’t work.

Let’s think of a story for some of the adjectives above:

  • Friendly

I tend to walk into a room and immediately ask people’s names – the cashier at The Container Store, the doorman/woman at my building, the parking attendant at school, the baker at Safeway. I may not remember them all, but I always ask!

  • Fearless

Despite my fear of flying, I knew I had to go to India as my culminating trip for business school. I may or may not have hyperventilated a bit. And then I realized, “I can do this!”  Since then, I’ve been to 12 countries in the last four years.

  • Trustworthy

It wasn’t until many years after college that I realized everyone on my dorm floor had put me down as their emergency contact. They must have really trusted me… or knew I’d have nothing else going on. 😉

  • Funny

I’m a dog lover, especially when it comes to my wise old dachshund. Unfortunately, he doesn’t enjoy dining out quite as much as I do (he likes the leftovers, though), he can’t read the subtitles of the documentaries I watch, he can’t help me with that pesky last letter of the crossword puzzle, and when it comes to dancing, well, he has two left feet… literally.

Words like attractive, sexy, young-looking, and fit don’t need to be stated at all because someone can decide that for him or herself simply from looking at your photos.

These empty adjectives will get glossed over and end up having the opposite effect of what you want – they’ll become meaningless. Remember: Be sure to set yourself apart and not get caught in the… dun dun dun… curse of the empty adjective.

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people navigate the world of online dating. Her services include: writing unique profiles to get you noticed, helping to choose your best profile pictures, writing one-of-a-kind emails to get someone’s attention, and planning dates. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter for updates and tips.
  1. This article gives great pointers on how to be descriptive in an online dating profile.

  2. A few more….maybe not adjectives

    (1) “My friends tell me I’m….”

    YOU tell us who you think you are in your profile. If it’s true, we’ll love you for your honesty. If it’s fantasy, that’s a helpful early clue, too.

    (2) “Willing to convert.”
    Come back to JDates after you’ve converted. That decision should come from within you and not because you are in a relationship with one of us.

    (3) “Moonlit walks….”
    Who doesn’t entertain that fantasy? Agoraphobics, that’s who.

    (4) “Love to travel….”
    Who doesn’t want to do that? Again, Agoraphobics.

    (5) Lastly….please, please, please…no pictures of you five or 10 years ago. First or last in the photo parade, neither one of us is capable of time travel. It’s a big negative:

    (a) it’s kind of insulting that you think that your youth is what is going to bring us to you.
    If you lead off with a photo like that, it’s a clear indicator of your vanity…which for us is not a plus.

    (3) Pet pictures
    Tell us you have a pet but we really don’t care to look at a picture of it? We’re not interested in dating your dog, cat or iguana. We’re interested in you.

    (4) Pictures of your kids
    Any responsible woman will delay our meeting the kids until she is absolutely sure we have some potential to be long term.

  3. A few more…what follows is about all of us–men and women.

    (1) “My friends tell me I’m….”

    We won’t be dating your friends unless we are real dogs. YOU tell us who you think you are in your profile. If it’s true, we’ll love you for your honesty. If it’s fantasy, that’s a helpful early clue.

    (2) Speaking of pets, “Must love dogs….”

    …and must love cliches. We’re really not interested in dating your pets. We’re interested in the varying images of you because no single photo can capture all of facets of who you are. If you want to load up on the photos, make it real.

    And on the subject of real photos…can we agree to no pictures of us five or 10 years ago?

    First or last in the photo parade, neither one of us is capable of time travel. It’s a big negative: and it’s not at all flattering that you think you’ll reel us in with the false promise of your lost youth.

    (3) “Moonlit walks….”
    Who doesn’t entertain that fantasy? Agoraphobics, that’s who.

    (4) “Love to travel….”
    Who doesn’t want to do that? Again, Agoraphobics.

    (5) “Willing to convert.”
    Can’t paste the agoraphobics with this one.

    But you should really come back to JDates after you’ve converted. That decision should come from within you and not because you are in a relationship with one of us.

    It’s kinda like being a surrogate parent. Initially, it can sound like a good idea, but experience has shown us that on the eve of the act, lots and lots of folks discover all kinds of connections they never thought they’d have.

    So, what do you think? How about some good, old-fashioned detente on all of this stuff?

    Peace, LOVE.


  4. The “lost youth” comment is the funniest remark I have ever read!!! Also, regarding photos: please leave us images that meet the following requirements:

    1) were not taken by you, shirtless, on your cell phone, in your bathroom mirror
    2) are well-lit, and if outdoors, without sunglasses–we’d like to SEE your face
    3) in which you are not holding babies/children. This screams “look how lovable and trustworthy I am” especially if you are male. We just want to see what you look like. Ditto, pets.
    4)are not in a group of 30 other people. Hello, which one are YOU???
    5) Please. Get a decent haircut. There is just NO excuse, people. NONE.
    6) internet pictures can be very small, please post a photo in which we do not ask ourselves to rate the tiny person in front of the Grand Canyon!!!

    Hopefully this helps some people, or at least gives you a chuckle. —Sara:)

  5. Erika,

    What a GREAT article. You are absolutely right (we agree!). I always suggest that singles read the profiles of their competition and then try to stand out – be different. Everyone uses “empty” adjectives. I suggest that they share stories that SHOW not tell about themselves. I love your examples – especially the dog with “two left feet”. That made me laugh. Thanks for sharing such wonderful advice! I will share it!

    Michelle Jacoby
    DC Matchmaking & Coaching

  6. YES, update that picture. I’ve had two shocks when I met the guy.

    Don’t tell me that you want my personal e’mail address so you can send me some better pictures. You’re not going to get it. If you’re not capable of putting them on the net how will you ever send them to me?

    I’m sorry your wife passed away but I don’t need to hear that you took care of her for three years after being married for x amount of years. I’m happy you had a good marriage. Now you want to meet me so you have to leave the past where it is, in the past.


  7. This is but the second article which I have read since recently joining and in truth, I am, Baffled!

    Everything in life is relative and I find it somewhat odd that you would suggest a “new” plan of attack on the basis that in your past, people haven’t lived up to how they described themselves as being. (I sense tears building…..really…)

    They may not have lived up to “your” expectations, but may very well have lived up to someone else’s.

    Please people, don’t follow the advice of someone who would have you buy into the notion of representing yourself as a cookie-cutter; generic; lifeless and deceitful version of yourself….that is, unless you are, of course! The only and best thing that you can and should do, is be honest about who you believe you are in your profile. If you waste your time writing descriptions on the basis of what you believe others want to read, then you are catering to the common as opposed to the exceptional; which is what we all, are. We will never be all things to all people (evidently), so focus on those that will appreciate and not, berate. Life is hard enough as it is. xo

  8. WEll, well. The problem with people using hackneyed language is perhaps because of the templates that dating sites use. Instead of people being encouraged to find common VALUES, what seems to be important is INTERESTS. As matchmaker Elsa Malinsky says, “Values are more important, because interests can change”. I think it is much more important for someone to know, for example, that I am a good money manager, than it is for another to know I like foreign films.

  9. an 80 to 90 year old is greatful just to hear from you.

    never mind your profile …those are just words.

    as long as you pulse is still working.

    so i dont understand the lack of response.

    unless they never recieved it….or ever will.

    its all a fraud to only collect your membership money.

  10. The advice “show, don’t tell” is spot on. It reminds me of what an old boss would often tell me, “Words tell; stories sell.”

    While some may not feel comfortable admitting it, the purpose of the Profile is to effectively sell yourself, to make yourself stand out from the crowd, to create a connection.

    Words are empty, but a story that demonstrates the quality you claim to possess creates a connection.

  11. Erika gave some very helpful suggestions, although in practice, they may not always be easy to follow.

    For example, you wish to answer an ad that states “I’m looking for someone who is well-mannered, has a good sense of humor, and is a good listener”.

    The best way to reply to an ad is to address the contents so that the ad placer will know that you paid attention to his/her preferences.

    In the example above, I would feel inclined to reply with something like “I believe I have the characteristics you are looking for: I am well-mannered, have a good sense of humor, and am a good listener” — because I believe I do have these traits.

    They may sound subjective, but sometimes there may be no way of getting around it.

  12. Thanks, Erika, for another great article and helpful hints. I agree that it’s easier to hone in on someone if you know something specific
    about him/her.

  13. IMO, this one takes the cake as the all-time cliche:

    “live life to the fullest”…as opposed to what?

    “live, laugh, love”…
    “I just haven’t met you yet…”
    “want a guy who looks good in jeans or a tux…”
    “have children…who are my world”

    etc., etc., etc….


    almost forgot to mention…CORRECT SPELLING!…it’s not rocket science.

    yeesh…please feel free to add to this list.

    Good luck to all.

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