"Online dating is a great way to meet like-minded people," says Donald Johnson, who's been HIV-positive for over 20 years. Johnson is also the founder of PozMatch.com, the first-ever online dating website for people with HIV. Joining any dating website, he notes, can be intimidating, especially if you're uncomfortable writing about yourself.
If you're considering online dating, you'll need to write a personal profile. A successful profile reflects who you are and what you want. Most profiles are composed of four general areas: the personal particulars, the appearance paragraph, the personal pitch, and your ideal relationship.
Here's a quick primer on how to think about -- and write -- your own personal profile.
Whatever dating website you join, you'll need to disclose the realities of who you are: gender, age, race, religion, education, and so on. Most sites have a predefined menu of choices, so you can just choose one answer that best describes you. Sometimes your choices are clear cut, other times not so much. Defining your race -- such as African American, Caucasian, or Hispanic -- might not work for people from mixed-race backgrounds. You can choose "other" or "I'll tell you later."
Age can be a touchy subject. People in their 40s or 50s might feel "too old" to date someone in their 20s or 30s. On the flip side, those in their 20s or 30s might feel too unsure of themselves to date someone older and more secure. Whatever your age, it's a good idea to be honest about it. Why? When you join a site, you'll need to provide at least one recent photo of yourself, if not more. A good photo shouldn't lie. Eventually, you'll meet someone face to face. Starting a relationship in the context of deceit might not work in your favor.
Writing about your personal interests is the fun part. Some sites require you to pick from a range of interests, such as different music, sports, or pastimes such as astrology or cooking. Having a common interest with a potential dating partner can be a great online ice breaker. Even if the relationship turns towards a friendship, you can always talk about horoscopes and casserole recipes.
Most dating websites require a few lines about your own appearance: height, body type, best features, or even personal style, such as conservative or casual. When writing this, you'll want to put your best foot forward without lying. Lying isn't cool. Being forthright about body type and weight may be difficult for you. However, let's face it, most of us have felt too thin, too fat, or too something. For people with HIV, another concern might be lipodystrophy, the telltale physical side effects from some long-term HIV medicine.
Whatever you believe is your worst feature, it's very normal to compare yourself to other people -- and then feel some inadequacy. We all do that sometimes. So when writing about your body, instead of fudging the truth, try writing about your physical self with a tone of confidence and appreciation of your uniqueness. For example, a female friend of mine carries some extra weight. But instead of making apologies, she exudes confidence about herself -- and it shows. She's constantly swarmed by men. When writing about your appearance, be honest and be confident.
The personal pitch paragraph is difficult to write because it should convey who you are and what you're about. Here, you'll describe your personality. For example, you might be a type-A person who values a career. In that case, you might describe yourself as, "a workaholic who's the first to arrive and the last to leave." Or, you might value family life or recreational time. You might write, "I love spending time remodeling my house, puttering around the garden, or catching a good sci-fi movie."
Try to avoid clichés when describing yourself. Clichés are common phrases that tend to get overused and lack specific meaning. Examples of clichés are: "I live life to the fullest." You might recast this sentence to: "I love parties and BBQs with friends and my monthly whitewater rafting trips." Another common cliché: "I take care of myself." You might rewrite to: "I spend three days a week at the gym lifting weights." Don't hint at how you spend your time; actually describe the little stuff that makes up your life.
What do you want from a potential relationship? What characteristics are acceptable in someone else? Here you state what you want and what you don't want. When you write about your ideal partner, stay general and avoid being too specific. If you're looking for "a 35 year-old man with blue eyes and black hair who plays the violin," good luck. You'll better your odds with: "a 30-something man who appreciates music."
For what you don't want, here's where you note any relationship deal-breakers. For example, if you're newly sober and in a 12-step program, you probably want to stick with other sober people. Maybe you're a former cigarette smoker and you can't handle an ashtray kiss. Maybe you're allergic to cats, kids, or even flashy gold jewelry. Here's where you say so.
Now imagine you've written your personal profile, clicked all those buttons, uploaded a recent picture of yourself, and you're just about ready to go live. Just click Enter and don't over-think things. Give it a few days and see what happens. You can change your profile and picture any time. Once your profile is live, it's easy to compulsively check your email for responses. Instead, play it cool. Most of all, however, just have some fun with your new online community.
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