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A Master at the Game Answers 20 Online Dating Questions

Julie Spira explains all, including the number of profile photos to use, how to spot red flags, escape a dud date and decide who pays for what.

Dating in middle age and beyond has always been a very particular kind of torture, but add in the vagaries and vulnerabilities of online dating and it’s a wonder anyone survives. But apparently many do–some even thrive. To unlock the secrets of cyber-dating success, we turned to Julie Spira, who from all evidence is a master at this game.

Spira, an early adopter of the internet, has spent over 25 years helping singles find love online. She’s frequently interviewed in the media about love online, and her advice appears on popular apps, including: Bumble, eHarmony, JDate, JWed, Match, Our Time, Plenty of Fish, Tinder, and Zoosk–a few of which we’ve never even heard of.

The public embarrassment was worth it, if it helps even one woman find new love.

NextTribe hosted Spira at a Zoom event last week, and 50 women came with questions. She also critiqued NextTribe Founder Jeannie Ralston’s profile, which Ralston gamely put up on a split screen so everyone could see her mistakes (see video below). “The public embarrassment was worth it,” Ralston says, “if it helps even one woman find new love.”

Read More: Suddenly Single… Now What? Tales and Advice From the Online Dating Trenches

Starting Out

Q: Each of the different sites have a different personality? Can you kind of go over the different kinds of sites? If you’re looking for something more casual or something long term or something local? Is there some kind of magic–which site to use for different things?

JS: OK, we’ll start with Match.com, which runs the gamut. You’ve got people that are looking to get married and have families and people looking to start over even in their 70s or 80s on Match. When we wrote up a profile for Maria Shriver on the Today show, we used Our Time, which is owned by Match, but it’s for singles 50 plus. But I would say that OKCupid has more New York Times wedding announcements than any other dating app. So it used to be that everybody had their box they’d got to. But what happens now is people are tired of one app that isn’t working and they’re moving on to another. I say start with one primary app that you like the best. And if it’s OKCupid, or Plenty of Fish, stick with that. And make sure you log on every morning and every night, and then roll in like one or two others. And those could be your specific dating apps. If you are a vegetarian, you find a dating app for for vegans. If you’re very interested in dating somebody within your own faith, then you look for the Jewish dating sites that Catholic dating sites. There are the niche dating sites for so many different types now.

The algorithms on the apps tend to favor paying members.

Q: Is it really better to pay for a membership?

JS: Yes, it is. People think once you’re a paid member you’re really taking this seriously. So sign up for three or six months because you’re going to be featured more often, you’re going to show up in a search more often. The algorithms tend to favor paying members. And I know a lot of the apps allow you to boost your profile for 30 to 60 minutes for four to $5.  It’s worth trying it once or twice, just to see if anybody new comes into your match queue.


Q: I don’t want to put my real age, because I don’t want to get left out of searches. Is that cool?

JS: Every woman says she want to fit into search. But think about it for a minute. What if you were at a party, and you met someone, and you’re striking up a conversation? And you know you are connecting? Would somebody say, Wait a second, How old are you again? No way that would never happen. So own your age. If you don’t, somebody is going to find you on a Google search and they’re going to know that you’re not being honest.

I think it’s just this insecurity that we have as women that we have this expiration date on love, and we are not going to fit into a search. And that is the farthest from the truth. There are people I know in their 70s and 80s finding love on dating apps. So you need to say your own age. And if you’re worried that someone thinks you’re taking five years off your age, just post something like, “My age is accurate. My photos are recent.” Because that’s really refreshing to a guy because they’re already expecting you not to look like your profile photo. And they’re expecting you not to be that age.

Q: Do men always want younger women?

JS: Not always. So many men are looking for somebody age appropriate that they can communicate with, who likes the same music, the same TV shows. I kind of have a rule that you should never date anybody closer in age to your parents or to your children. There’s a real trend now of women dating younger men. And we did a segment on the today’s show about this not too long ago. Women are now going, you know what? I took care of somebody who was kind of sick, and I’m looking for somebody who’s as energetic as I am. So women are dating younger, too. They’re dating the way that men had since caveman days.

If you don’t own your age, somebody is going to find you on a Google search and know you’re not being honest.

Q: I was wondering if in your profile it’s better to write a narrative, or maybe a list, like bullet points? You know, fit kayaking vegan progressive liberal whatever.

JS: I’d rather read and see and feel and hear conversation because then if I’m looking at someone’s profile, and I can just kind of visualize having a conversation with them If you start to list things, it feels like a resume or LinkedIn profile. But try not to write that novel; no one’s going to want to meet you.

Q: What are some of the things that are off-putting in a profile?

JS: Some people get really hung up on grammar and punctuation. I say to everyone, put your profiles into a grammar/spell checker, and see if there’s a better way to get your point across and see if there are any punctuation or spelling issues.

Photo Editing

Q: How many is the right number of photos?

JS: Six or seven–at least for match. Otherwise someone has an entire look at your life and there’s like nothing left for them to think about. You don’t want to just give it all away.

Q: What how many years back is should you stop with photographs?

On dating apps, you’re only as good as your worst photo.

JS: I always say five years back is the maximum. And put the year that the photo was taken in the caption.

Q: What kind of photos should you include?

  • The first photo, your primary photo, should be a headshot with a great smile. Over 40% of men swipe right or want to match with a woman who is smiling.
  • I also say make sure to take off the sunglasses. A man wants to be able to like look right into your eyes, you know, when he’s looking at your profile.
  • On dating apps, you’re only as good as your worst photo. So, invest in good photos. Hire a photographer and go on a photo shoot. Something outside and casual that doesn’t look like a LinkedIn profile. Or grab a friend, pick out a couple of outfits, and just have fun taking photos. Just giggle and laugh.
  • I like at least one full-length shot, and it’s nice to show you doing something active. I think that’s important to have it shows that you’re not like a lump on a log.
  • I suggest to people that the final shot be one of you with a dog. There’s a reason we call it puppy love. And if you have a photo with you and your pet as the last photo, it’s very appealing. Because you know, you love your dogs. You have a lot of love for another.

How Independent or Intimidating?

Q: I was a conversation with a great guy and as soon as I started talking about all the carpentry construction I used to I do and still do, he completely got turned off. He said I don’t want a woman who gets her hands dirty.

JS: There’s a fine balance because you know, guys can hang out with guys. And usually when they’re looking for is a woman who’s independent, but whose life could be better with them. They’re looking for somebody that’s active and interesting. But you don’t want to end up sounding so independent that there’s no room for the man. You’re out and about, but you don’t want someone to be intimidated by your profile and to think, “She sounds so interesting. But she’s out of my league.” How many times do I hear that? Every day.

Q: But how do you establish that you’re an independent person, perfectly happy living a fantastic life by myself. But not make it seem there’s no room?  

JS: So that’s the part we say my life is very full, but there’s room in my heart to meet someone new. And I look forward to… name some of the adventures that you’d like to do together. I love to go wine tasting, it would be so great to do that together. I mean, these men look at profiles, and they go, what do I ask her? Where do we go? What do we do, I mean, they really don’t know what to do? So if you put in your profile, like perfect dates, and just help them through it. And if you do that, then  you’re sounding more like a we and that’s how you have to use the word “we.”

You don’t want to end up sounding so independent that there’s no room for a man.

Q: So I’m a VP at a financial technology firm. And I could see where that could attract, like, I don’t want to be anybody sugar mama, right? I want you to understand where I am…I’m not looking for somebody who manages a Subway restaurant, right? But maybe there are different standards for women’s titles versus men’s titles. Should I just say I’m in communication? Or is that feeding into the patriarchy, and I should celebrate my title and my accomplishments?

JS: Celebrate your title. You’ve worked hard to get that title. You deserve it. It’s only intimidating if you talk about work all the time and in your profile. If you talk about things that you do outside of work, the title can just stay by itself.

Getting to First Base

Q:  So when you are exchanging with people, you know, you could be your pen pal forever. When is it more appropriate to move it to the phone or to a meeting?

JS: Yeah, I call it the digital pen pal syndrome. But after two or three exchanges, it’s a good time to hop on a phone call. Because if you have a great phone date, and no more than 20 minutes, then your goals after that are to say, “I’d really love to continue the conversation.”

If you don’t move it forward, someone else will because you know, everybody’s talking to 10 people at once. There have been too many times when women say to me, “I like this guy, but I waited a day to write back and now he’s in a relationship.” And I will say, “Well, you don’t know what point in the process they are with somebody else that they’re chatting with.” These matches go stale really fast if you don’t write back. The squeaky wheel gets the digital love. So if somebody writes to you don’t say I’m going to wait an hour and write back, if you’re near your phone, write back. The best thing you could do to move these matches forward is turn on the push notifications on each individual app. Then you will get a notification that you got a message from Jeff or whoever.

Q: What is the rule about who pays for what on dates? 

JS: People ask, you know, should we split the check? Who pays for the first date? Is it the person asking? Is it the person who selected the restaurant? The rule is for the first date, the man usually pays. If you lean in and offer to pay, you’re sending the message to the guy that you’re friend-zoning him. You don’t want to do that if you want a second date. The bottom line is let yourself be treated to something nice. If it moves forward, you can always pick up tickets to something or contribute in another way.

The rule is for the first date, the man usually pays.

Q: Is it good to have a cut-off time when meeting people in person?

JS: There are these marathon dates that go for hours and hours. You need to be busy, you need to say, “Oh, gosh, I’m having so much fun with you. I would love to continue the conversation and get together again. But I have to get up early tomorrow, I’ve got a project.” If it’s a phone or Zoom call, no more than 20 minutes; If you meet in person,  do not go on dates that are over two hours. Leave some mystery and intrigue for date number two or three.

Q: Any advice about how much you should drink on dates? 

JS: I I’m not a fan of alcohol on dates at all. But I would say for a first date, a glass of wine and maybe don’t even finish it. Don’t get a second or third glass; then your judgment is impaired and you might end up in a situation that you’re going to regret.

Q: If you’re not interested, is there a good exit, so to speak?

JS: If you meet someone, and they were kind enough to take you out for lunch or dinner, but you’re not feeling it, just say, “Thank you so much for the offer to get together again, I really enjoyed meeting you. But I don’t think we have enough in common to move this relationship forward.” Or the opposite. “You’re almost a carbon copy version of myself, and I know how I am and opposites attract in my life, and I don’t think we’re fit.” But tell them if you meet someone that I think would be a good fit for them, you would love to introduce them. Because part of dating is gracefully exiting. Look at each date not as, Is this the person I’m going to ride on the sunset with? Instead think, How can I expand my social circle? Dating is a social networking experiencing, because this is how we’re meeting people at this point in our life, because our friends aren’t having parties and fixing us up. People aren’t going into the office that much most people meet through work. So the last thing you want to do is be a rude, bad date. This person sitting across from you might have a best friend or invite you to a Super Bowl party where you could meet someone else. So be gracious.

Safety Always

Q: What are your suggestions for avoiding scams?

JS: One of my biggest passions is to make sure people are dating safely. All of those sites and all of us in the industry take it very seriously. So for instance, a whole bunch of the sites owned by the Match Group, are now going to offer a service where you can pay to do a background search. A lot of women who are starting over, after a divorce or the death of a spouse, are very vulnerable. And the next thing you know, they’re in love with someone who lives in another country, and they never meet. And then the next thing you know, they’re asking for money. Those stories are not as common as the good people who really wanting to meet online. But you need to be aware when you see something.

I always say meet in a public place, never tell anybody your address, go in your own vehicle, whether you take Uber or drive yourself.

The one blurry photo or no photo should raise a red flag.

Q: I met up with someone from a dating site for coffee, and during the conversation, he asked me what my last name was. I ended up telling him, and when I got to the car and punched in my name with my zip code. Everything about me came up right away on Google, including my address. How should I handle that?

JS: If somebody would ask me what my last name is, I would say, “Oh, I’ll tell you on the third date.” Just be kind of be fun and flirty about it. And you know, keep your privacy, because if the date goes south, you don’t want this person showing up on your doorstep. If you say it that way, they think wow, she likes me enough to go on a second date because you have to give man the cue that you want to go on a second date. The dates that are called One and Done dates are exhausting. And everybody’s wondering when can I get off this merry go round of one and done dates. But you know, do not reveal information that could tie into where you live,  your financial information, how much real estate you own. Keep all that close to the vest.

Q: What are some red flags we should look out for?

JS: Yes, most of the red flags are are in the photos. It’s usually the blurry one photo or no photo, that means they could either be married, or they could be potentially a profile that’s not authentic. There’s a lot of software right now that detects these IP addresses from some questionable profiles. And they’ve pulled them right down. Somebody asked me, “What’s the worst photo you’ve seen on any dating profile?” I said, “It’s the over and over and over again photos of a man in front of a Ferrari or a Bentley,” That’s just so in your face (and maybe not even his car). Much more appealing is a man who is understated and wants to connect on a heart level rather than on a commodity level.

Read More: He Might Have Been the One: Hope and Hurt on the Dating Scene

By NextTribe Editors


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