Unbeknownst to you all, I’ve been taking time this semester to do some in-depth sociological research in the field of human sexuality. That’s right, I’m talking about online dating. Ready to take the plunge? I’ve collected some, shall we say, “colorful” experiences and insights over the last several weeks and I’m confident in saying I’ve got the know-how for maintaining an eye-catching online presence.

I picked the popular OkCupid dating site for my experimentation because it tends to be preferred among 20-something-year-olds. You can find everything on “okc,” from a quick lay to potential new friends to a third party for your current relationship to potential dating partners to kinky play buddies. That being said, many of these lessons can be translated to the various dating sites out there. In the end, it’s about making your profile stand out from the sea of faces in an effort to nab that first date.

The Profile Picture

Nobody owes you anything in the world of cut-throat online dating if you’re not willing to show yourself off. Some people leave their profiles empty in an attempt to maintain total privacy until you trade digits. My advice? DO NOT FUCK WITH THESE PEOPLE. And do not be one of these people. It’s sketch as hell. If you’re serious about this — whether “this” is finding a relationship or a fuck buddy — a certain level of reciprocity in vulnerability is expected.

Your profile pictures should be a careful balance of attractive selfies, body shots, action shots and group photos. This really is a careful scientific equation. Too many solo selfies of just you and you’ll come off as a lonely person with no social skills. An array of all group shots and no one will be able to tell who you actually are. You want to convey some of your hobbies and interests through your photos — rock climbing, traveling, fishing, cooking. But too many adventurous photos and you’ll turn away people who find 24/7 adventurists to be exhausting.

Ladies, try to be as filter-free as you can. If you have some make-up heavy portraits, make sure to include some more fresh-faced versions of yourself. Bros, especially you ripped ones, fight the testosterone-fueled urge to post shirtless photos unless it’s context-appropriate, like at the beach or on a boat. Cropped, headless shots of your pecs and abs are just giggle-worthy.

No matter what your body type, be sure to include at least one photo that includes a generous swath of what you’re working with. Whether you’re fat, scrawny, curvy, lopsided, short, muscular, I can guarantee there are people out there who are into your body type or don’t give a shit.

The Profile Content

Opening sentences of this variation tell us absolutely nothing about yourself and are a waste of space:

“Lol, omg, I totally hate writing self summaries like this, like how am I supposed to sum my life story and hopes and dreams in here? K well HeRe GoEs NuThiN*~”

“I’m really just a laid back guy/girl/person looking for some fun”

“Adventurer. Philosopher. Creator. Gamer. Lover.”

Write some things that are concise, genuine and unique. No fluff or bullshit. Are you looking for something specific in a playmate? Put it here. Put some concrete or interesting factoids about yourself, but don’t make a laundry list of movies and bands that you’re into. You want to give people something they can use in an opening message with you, but not a series of essays that glaze eyes over and cause people to skip right on to the next profile.

In the “I’m Looking For” section, be honest with yourself. Take some time for self-reflection before signing up. Are you only looking for something serious? Then just put long-term dating. Are you actually trying to establish new friendships — like if you just move to a new city — or are you just putting that there because it feels emotionally safer if you get rejected? Be forewarned that many people on okc treat “short-term dating” as what I would call casual sex, friends with benefits or acquaintances who sometimes have sex. Actual “casual sex” refers to relationships of the “hey-what-are-you-doing-in-20-minutes-wanna-fuck?” variety.

The Message

Always, ALWAYS ask a question in your opening message. Otherwise it gives people nothing to work with or even a reason to respond back. Unless you are an extremely conventionally attractive person, “hey cutie” or “what’s up?” will go nowhere. Even people looking for casual sex need some substance to work with. Be complimentary, maybe a bit witty or funny, and genuine. Try to pick something from their profile content that you can ask a follow-up question about (see how that works!). Do not become irritated, accusatory or aggressive if they don’t respond. You may just not be what that particular person wants. And that’s OK.

If you decide to meet up, exchange numbers and text back and forth for a day or so. Actually, I would even suggest calling at least once before meeting in person if you are so bold. If you can’t sustain a five-minute phone conversation, you’re probably in store for a hella boring date. Picking the locale and event is really up to personal preference. Just remember that coffee implies platonic and movie theaters are places where you’re not supposed to talk. From there on out, it’s all you!