One of my friends just set up a profile for herself on another dating website. I remember when I set up my first profile (I've done this twice now), I pulled some flattering pictures down from Facebook, stared at the questionnaires for a few minutes, came up with nothing, and left it at that. Setting up my friend's profile turned into a collaborative activity with genuine thought put into the tone and content of her metaphysical porch front.

I think spending a lot of time on a profile is wasted energy and soliciting the help of friends is likely to lead to even more murk. It's scary enough to come to terms with the fact that you're soliciting interest from strangers. It's even worse to think that their primary criterion for judging you will be based on physical appearance. The idea that some suggestive essence of your whole person can be communicated through a series of lists, colorful stories, and fill-in-the-blank teases is a security blanket. It makes the plunge feel more practical, less vulgar and embarrassing.

I've never learned anything worth knowing about any of the online dates I've had from their profile answers. I make all of my decisions about who to talk to based on physical appearance and, to a lesser extent, the little occupation slot. I imagine this is a particularly male-centric approach to looking for dates online. It's the basis for how I put together my own spartan profile, thinking less about how women might approach the process of filtering lovers and more about how I would do it.

One of the worst habits I've had in online dating is trying to talk myself into liking someone. During my first round of online dating two years ago, I would secretly chastise myself for dismissing someone based on physical appearance. I would look at pictures of women I found unattractive but whom had interesting or cocky profile snippets and try to imagine how I might find something alluring in them. I don't have a strict rubric for what I find physically attractive in a woman. It's been different with each woman I've ever dated (as far as I can remember), but it's never something I could manufacture or rationalize.

Attraction, more than anything else, is the essential quality in anyone I'm going to spend time with romantically. That's the only thing I really want to know when I look at someone else's profile, just like if we were in a bar or anywhere else. Am I attracted to them? If yes, then I don't need any further equivocation, explanation, or flirty tap dancing. I'll be willing to spend an afternoon or night together seeing how things go. All those questionnaire formalities can be done in person. Its useless information without some kind of genuine context.

I could fret over all the different implications of what it means to select a favorite sex scene in a movie or think up an interesting anecdote from my racier years, but none of it means anything. I project my own assumptions on other people when I read their answers. It tells me less about them then it does about my own pervasive stereotypes. The times when I have actually been charmed by someone's profile, it's usually been me projecting something fanciful onto a few paragraphs of black and white lettering. There have also been times when I was slightly dubious about meeting someone based on their profile but I had undersold them completely in my assumptions.

Meeting people to date online is ultimately just as shallow as meeting people out and about. Attraction leads us along by the nose. The times I've tried to be more rational about it, I've wound up sharing a conversation, oftentimes interesting, with someone I know I've no hope of ever feeling romantic about. It can be nauseating to think that's the kind of superficial shark tank that you're jumping into when you first set up a dating profile.

Being attracted to someone isn't shallow, it's just vague. Style, posture, expression, body type; all those qualities are contained in a picture. They all communicate just as much about who you are as a questionnaire. And if all you have to show are some pictures, at least you'll know that the people who ultimately do try to contact you are actually attracted to some basic elemental version of you, not a projected version they've constructed with their imaginations.