Is Online Dating a Numbers Game?

Photo courtesy of WoodleyWonderworks (Flickr)

Photo courtesy of WoodleyWonderworks (Flickr)

(Yes, it is–but not in the way you think.)

Talk to any frustrated user of an online dating service, and you’re likely to hear a glum, “Online dating is juuuust a big numbers game.”

Accompanied by a dismissive shrug of the shoulders.

And…perhaps even a slight whimper to complete the portrait of Joe or Joanna Singleton who just can’t seem to catch a break. Oh, it’s not that they don’t try, mind you. Joe will tell you about his efforts to write nice, gentlemanly introductions to the parade of lovely women he spies on Match—and then about his growing annoyance, as he awaits replies…with only the chirping of crickets to keep him company.

And Joanna is quite likely to tell you about the periodic overtures of men who seemed both promising and interested online–but who (alas) turned out to live with Mom and lack any evidence of actual employment.

And they sigh and look solemn. Online dating, they declare, is an impossible numbers game. They’d have to quit their jobs and take up full-time dating in order to actually find that true-love needle in the mountainous haystack of singles.

Well, if there’s one thing my time on dating sites has taught me, it’s that Joe and Joanna are dead-on in their conclusion that numbers rule online dating.

But not exactly in the way they presume.

The “Poker Hand” of Online Dating

The “numbers,” they protest, are stacked against them.


The way I see it, this sort of lament is kind of like joining the buddies for poker night and losing a bundle because you keep sloppily dropping cards and tipping your hand. And then complaining about your continual, inexplicable bad luck at poker.

Like poker, online dating is fundamentally about numbers and odds. And there are smart ways and dumb ways to play the hand you’re dealt. All beginning with the dating profile you write.

The Dumb Way to Play

Relate every last boring detail about yourself in your profile, enumerate your “lovable quirks” in your initial correspondence, and generally act like an eager little cocker spaniel as you go about the work of convincing them you’re a shmexy devil.

Why is this so dumb? Because you just killed any and all mystique. Why in the world would any of the vast numbers of singles out there want to sign up for more of that for an interminable two-hour date?

The Smart Way to Play

Do what smart marketers do: Tease, amuse, entice, propose, question, or maybe even leave out an important nugget of info. Share a poignant or humorous memory, offer a story with a surprise twist, toss out an invitation, spark a controversy, ask a question.

The numbers are out there, right? So your job is to attract. Nothing else.

But, you may protest, I might attract incompatible people.

[Gasp.] And goodness knows presumed incompatibility is the cardinal sin of all e-matching. Let go of that concern. Seriously—or I’ll have to give you just as serious a tongue-lashing as I just gave Joe and Joanna.

The Goal: Attraction via Fascination

Listen closely. Your first online-dating priority should be to attract large numbers of those who go online casually browsing lots of profiles.

Like bees. To. Honey. (Swarms of ‘em.)

If you get to the point of having to screen out all the wasps and hornets, that means you’re doing it right. Attract first—screen later.

Online dating truly is a numbers game—but hey, that’s actually the beauty of it. Learn to drive the numbers your way by laboring over your profile. What would fascinate you about someone else’s story? (Probably not a list of favorite foods, right?)

What would make you hop out of your seat and say, “Wow…this is different”? (I suspect it wouldn’t be an opener about being a laid-back type of person.)

Stay tuned for more tips about thinking beyond the profile pic. I’ll show you how to to think beyond the template. How to tell a story. (And how to leave some juicy stuff out of that story).

Be unique. Be fascinating.

Bees to honey….

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