If you’re striking out while online dating, you might want to see if your profile shows off your interests—and wants—in the best way possible.
A study by researchers Isabella D’Ottone and Gabrielle Pfund, and Patrick Hill, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, found that online dating profiles that clearly portrayed the user’s sense of purpose were the most sought after by those looking for a romantic partner.
The study was built off Pfund’s initial research findings that people with a higher sense of purpose had more positive romantic relationship outcomes and longevity. D’Ottone’s interests came more from the initial start of relationships.
“We were curious if there was any relationship between being interested in individuals who have a high sense of purpose,” says D’Ottone, who is a laboratory manager at the University of Miami.
“If this is a variable that is creating positive qualities between people while in relationships, there’s a potential that it’s something people seek out in a partner,” she continued.
Their findings are less about helping singles find love, though, and more about what dating apps can do to benefit their users.
“Dating app developers might want to consider adding more [purpose-led] questions into prompts because it could help direct people toward others that they might find more attractive in that sense,” Hill tells Fortune.
Still, they can be useful for those looking to build a relationship.
Hill studied how sense of purpose influences people’s lives for years, but it wasn’t until Pfund and D’Ottone joined his lab that they started looking into romantic relationships. Hill’s research recognized four main purposes:
- prosocial (goals related to helping others)
- relational (centered around familial and romantic relationships)
- financial (related to financial security)
- creative (an emphasis on expressing originality or creativity) orientations
The four purpose categories were used as a basis for making pseudo dating profiles. D’Ottone says the process of writing—and rewriting—profiles was long, as she and Pfund wrote biographies and filled in fake prompts to mimic the look of real dating profiles.
“So many of our materials in psychology come off as unrealistic, so there was time spent asking, ‘Is this actually what people say in their profiles? Is this how people write these?’ We wanted to make sure this was as close as possible to a real profile without going into a dating app and creating fake people,” says Hill.
The group researched formatting and prompts by going on dating apps. Because dating apps don’t have a specific section to include things related to purpose like they might for occupation or favorite music artists, their profile samples showed purpose orientation through each aspect of the profile, from the biography to the interests.
All the profiles they created were considered purposeful, but showed purpose in different ways and at different rates. The profiles that seemed to show less purpose were still written as interesting people who seemed fun to be around, but didn’t seem as goal-driven, to see if participants would care.
For the study, they asked 119 participants to read and rank the fake profiles on various levels of attractiveness. The profiles with clearly expressed purpose were ranked higher, and oftentimes, participants were drawn to others with the same purpose orientation.
“[The study shows] these are the things people are looking for in apps, and maybe that’s something for app developers to consider putting more of an emphasis on,” says Hill.
Just as dating apps can be sorted for things like height, religion, and political affiliation, D’Ottone suggests they allow the same for purpose, so users can sort between people of similar life motivators.
“App creators can be mindful of what kind of prompts they give to people that make them reflect on who they are, what they want out of life, and what they want out of a relationship,” D’Ottone says.
Having more purpose-specific information in a dating app profile “would allow people to seek out partners not only with similar purposes,” she says, but also avoid partners with vastly different ones.
“We all have values, but not all of them define the way we want to live our life,” says licensed mental health counselor and dating coach Samantha Burns.
“If you’re dating with intention or purpose, you do not continue to go on dates with people that violate your core values. You want to be seeking a partner in a pragmatic way that complements or aligns with your core values, and that leads to not only creating the life that you want, but also creating a life with a partner that shares similar beliefs,” she says.
If you’re looking for ways to show your sense of purpose in your dating profile—and date with intention—here are a few expert tips.
Be forthcoming, but not negative
If you know exactly what you’re looking for in a relationship, it’s important to say that up front. But don’t be a downer about it.
“Don’t make a list of all the things you don’t want. That can come off high-maintenance or just negative,” says Burns.
Instead, Burns suggests making a list of your core values and finding a way to work them into your profile.
“If you value family time, maybe write in a prompt, ‘Looking for someone to do weekly family dinners with.’ But you don’t have to write everything. Lead with what you want, not what you don’t,” she continued.
Show don’t tell
Instead of just writing what your purpose is, also show it in your photo selection. Burns recommends three types of photos for dating app users seeking a partner: a portrait, a full body shot, and an “activity” photo.
The first two are up-to-date photos that show off your smile, eyes, hair, and a realistic portrayal of your body—she says not including a full body photo can and will do you a “disservice”—and the last type gives you a chance to work in your values and interests. This could include a hobby, like painting, hiking, or volunteering, that leans into your purpose orientation. Burns says the third type is also often the photo that leads to a conversation or connection.
“No swiping right on a blank account”
Burns strictly cautions her clients away from swiping on any accounts that haven’t filled in a bio or prompts.
“It’s like being lazy in love,” she says.
“If they aren’t going to take the time to create a thoughtful, creative profile, it shows me they are not willing to put in the effort it takes to cultivate a relationship.”
Nobody wants to start a relationship off on that foot.
Even if you find yourself physically attracted to their photos, think carefully before swiping.
“So many times we are attracted to a person so we want it to work, but the reality is, they might want completely different things,” says Burns.
When you match, ask intentional questions
It may seem obvious, but you can only learn so much about a person from asking what they do for work. Ask questions about things like their beliefs, passions, non-negotiables, and what they are looking for to avoid miscommunication down the road.
“Learn if your visions for the future align,” says Burns.
“If they check off your ‘boxes,’ you then have to actually date them and put in the time to figure out how you will work together.”
You also want to ensure this person is someone who will advocate for your values and goals long term.
“It’s not so much about that attraction phase, but more of when you’re in a relationship, what are the qualities that will make you feel supported and feel like this is a valuable relationship for you? And if purpose is one of those things, great. What else can we learn to hopefully support our partner?” says D’Ottone.
Take a break when you’re feeling burned out
Online dating can be taxing, even when you are doing all the right things on paper. It’s okay to take a break when it gets frustrating.
“If you’re starting to feel burnt out, jaded, or cynical, then it’s time to set some boundaries around your dating app usage,” says Burns.
Burns suggests limiting your usage to 20 minutes a day. If that’s still too much, lower it more, or fully focus your energy on something else.
“Dating is supposed to be fun! If it’s not, assess why,” she says.
Remember your sense of purpose, and that it isn’t defined by how many matches you’ve gotten or dates you’ve been on this week.