I’m humble, successful, and kind.
I’m romantic, thoughtful, and trustworthy.
I’m sexy, passionate, and fearless.
I’m compassionate, honest, and friendly.
How many times have we seen lines like these in online dating profiles? If I had a nickel for every time I saw what I call an “empty adjective,” I’d be a very rich lady. What is an empty adjective? It’s a word that you use to describe yourself that can’t be proven until someone gets to know you. For example, I might say that I’m funny, but how would you know if that’s the truth? Maybe I’m funny to some people (the ones who love puns and wordplay) but not to others. Or maybe my definition of honest is telling someone she has spinach in her teeth, but your definition is giving back the extra penny if they accidentally give it to you at Trader Joe’s. A long time ago, I dated someone for six months who said in his JDate profile, “I’m really romantic.” Was he? Not in the least. The curse of the empty adjective strikes again.
This is where the concept of “show, don’t tell” really comes into play. For example, rather than saying that you’re funny, say something that you find funny. That way, you’re not only getting your point across, but you’re differentiating yourself from everyone who simply states, “I’m funny,” or worse, “My friends tell me I’m funny.” The latter is just a way to say the same thing while attempting to be humble. Sadly, it doesn’t work.
Let’s think of a story for some of the adjectives above:
Friendly: I tend to walk into a room and immediately ask people’s names – the cashier at The Container Store, the doorman/woman at my building, the parking attendant at school, the baker at Safeway. I may not remember them all, but I always ask!
Fearless: Despite my fear of flying, I knew I had to go to India as my culminating trip for business school. I may or may not have hyperventilated a bit. And then I realized, “I can do this!” Since then, I’ve been to 12 countries in the last four years.
Trustworthy: It wasn’t until many years after college that I realized everyone on my dorm floor had put me down as their emergency contact. They must have really trusted me… or knew I’d have nothing else going on. 😉
Funny: I’m a dog lover, especially when it comes to my wise old dachshund. Unfortunately, he doesn’t enjoy dining out quite as much as I do (he likes the leftovers, though), he can’t read the subtitles of the documentaries I watch, he can’t help me with that pesky last letter of the crossword puzzle, and when it comes to dancing, well, he has two left feet… literally.
Words like attractive, sexy, young-looking, and fit don’t need to be stated at all because someone can decide that for him or herself simply from looking at your photos.
These empty adjectives will get glossed over and end up having the opposite effect of what you want – they’ll become meaningless. Remember: Be sure to set yourself apart and not get caught in the… dun dun dun… curse of the empty adjective.
This article was also posted in JMag, the online magazine for JDate.com.
Erika Ettin is, as the Washington Post has noted, a “modern day Cyrano.” She is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people with all aspects of online dating. Check out her interview on NPR here. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter for updates and tips.