Exactly What To Say In A First Message
There’s more to it than you think
Ok, here’s the experiment. We analyzed over 500,000 first contacts on our dating site, OkCupid. Our program looked at keywords and phrases, how they affected reply rates, and what trends were statistically significant. The result: a set of rules for what you should and shouldn’t say when introducing yourself. Online dating advice at its best. Let’s go:
Rule 1: Be literate
Netspeak, bad grammar, and bad spelling are huge turn-offs. Our negative correlation list is a fool’s lexicon: ur, u, wat, wont, and so on. These all make a terrible first impression. In fact, if you count hit (and we do!) the worst 6 words you can use in a first message are all stupid slang.
Language like this is such a strong deal-breaker that correctly written but otherwise workaday words like don’t and won’t have nicely above average response rates (36% and 37%, respectively).
Interesting exceptions to the “no netspeak” rule are expressions of amusement. haha (45% reply rate) and lol (41%) both turned out to be quite good for the sender. This makes a certain sense: people like a sense of humor, and you need to be casual to convey genuine laughter. hehe was also a successful word, but much less so (33%). Scientifically, this is because it’s a little evil sounding.
So, in short, it’s okay to laugh, but keep the rest of your message grammatical and punctuated.
Rule 2: Avoid physical compliments
Although the data shows this advice holds true for both sexes, it’s mostly directed at guys, because they are way more likely to talk about looks. You might think that words like gorgeous, beautiful, and sexy are nice things to say to someone, but no one wants to hear them. As we all know, people normally like compliments, but when they’re used as pick-up lines, before you’ve even met in person, they inevitably feel…ew. Besides, when you tell a woman she’s beautiful, chances are you’re not.
On the other hand, more general compliments seem to work well:
The word pretty is a perfect case study for our point. As an adjective, it’s a physical compliment, but as an adverb (as in, “I’m pretty good at sports.”) it’s is just another word.
When used as an adverb it actually does very well (a phenomenon we’ll examine in detail below), but as pretty‘s uses become more clearly about looks, reply rates decline sharply. You’re pretty and your pretty are phrases that could go either way (physical or non-). But very pretty is almost always used to describe the way something or someone looks, and you can see how that works out.
Rule 3: Use an unusual greeting
We took a close look at salutations. After all, the way you choose to start your initial message to someone is the “first impression of your first impression.” The results surprised us:
The top three most popular ways to say “hello” were all actually bad beginnings. Even the slangy holla and yo perform better, bucking the general “be literate” rule. In fact, it’s smarter to use no traditional salutation at all (which earns you the reply rate of 27%) and just dive into whatever you have to say than to start with hi. I’m not sure why this is: maybe the ubiquity of the most popular openings means people are more likely to just stop reading when they see them.
The more informal standard greetings: how’s it going, what’s up, and howdy all did very well. Maybe they set a more casual tone that people prefer, though I have to say, You had me at ‘what’s up’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Rule 4: Bring up specific interests
There are many words on the effective end of our list like zombie, band, tattoo, literature, studying, vegetarian (yes!), and metal (double yes!) that are all clearly referencing something important to the sender, the recipient, or, ideally, both. Talking about specific things that interest you or that you might have in common with someone is a time-honored way to make a connection, and we have proof here that it works. We’re presenting just a smattering: in fact every “niche” word that we have significant data on has a positive effect on messaging.
Even more effective are phrases that engage the reader’s own interests, or show you’ve read their profile:
Rule 5: If you’re a guy, be self-effacing
Awkward, sorry, apologize, kinda, and probably all made male messages more successful, yet none of them except sorry affects female messages. As we mentioned before, pretty, no doubt because of its adverbial meaning of “to a fair degree; moderately” also helps male messages. A lot of real-world dating advice tells men to be more confident, but apparently hemming and hawing a little works well online.
It could be that appearing unsure makes the writer seem more vulnerable and less threatening. It could be that women like guys who write mumbly. But either way: men should be careful not to let the appearance of vulnerability become the appearance of sweaty desperation: please is on the negative list (22% reply rate), and in fact it is the only word that is actually worse for you than its netspeak equivalent (pls, 23%)!
Rule 6: Consider becoming an atheist
Mentioning your religion helps you, but, paradoxically, it helps you most if you have no religion. We know that’s going to piss a lot of people off, and we’re more or less tongue-in-cheek with this advice, but it’s what the numbers say.
These are the religious terms that appeared a statistically significant number of times. Atheist actually showed up surprisingly often (342 times per 10,000 messages, second only to 552 mentions of christian and ahead of 278 for jewish and 142 for muslim).
Though very few people actually do it, invoking the sky-breaking thunderbolts of zeus does help a person get noticed (reply rate 56%), but maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise on a site that is itself named for a member of the Classical pantheon. So if you can’t bring yourself to deny the deity, consider opening yourself up to a whole wacky bunch of them. But ideally you should just disbelieve the whole thing. It can help your love life, and, besides, if there really was a god, wouldn’t first messages always get a reply?
10 Charts About Sex
Orgasms, oral sex, masturbating and more
This was one of the first infographics ever made:
Later remembered as “the map that made a nation cry”, it depicts Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia in 1812. The wide tan swath shows his Grande Armée, almost half a million strong, marching East to Moscow; the black trickle shows the few who straggled back. It’s an elegant fusion of geography, time, and temperature into a single statement of military disaster.
Of course, using modern tools of analysis, like circles and the color blue, we can get an even clearer picture of history:
It is our goal today to create graphics of similar concision and power, but about something more useful than war — sex.
All the data below, even the most personal stuff, has been gleaned from real user activity on OkCupid. Some of it our users have told us outright by answering match questions; some of it we’ve had to learn from observation.
Other than the unifying theme, sex, there’s no big point or thesis to this post: just comparisons, correlations, and quirky trends.
We found this by crossing the match questions Do you like to exercise? and Is it difficult for you to have an orgasm?, and, as you can see, women who don’t like working out report twice the orgasm problems of women who do.
Here, we took a single question — Is your ideal sex rough or gentle? — and scraped people’s profile text for the words that most correlated to each answer. Here are word clouds for women and men in their 20s.
The text is basically Hot Topic versus, I dunno, Burberry. But beyond the words the interesting thing is how men’s and women’s preferences change with age:
This dataset only includes single people, of course, but I was still very surprised at how many old men like it rough. Looks like I’m going to have to rethink a cherished part of my worldview.
The odds shown in this chart, and the others like it later in the post, are odds “in favor” — in this case, odds in favor of being into giving oral sex. The higher a group’s odds, the more into it they are.
Since so much sexual slang involves meat — “hot dog,” “sausage,” “burger,” “beef injection,” “another beef injection,” and so on — I thought this would be a fine occasion to point out that there are plenty of veggie alternatives:
Vegetarian-Friendly Sex Slang
Peeling the banana.
Tossing the salad.
Squeezing the melons.
Zeroing in on a grown man’s nuts and nutsack.
Putting Monsanto in yoursanto.
Ordering the split pea soup.
Sorry, that’s got ham.
Charts #4 & #5
Frequent tweeters have shorter real-life relationships than everyone else, probably via some bit.ly hack. Unfortunately, we have no way to tell who’s dumping who here; whether the twitterati are more annoying or just more flighty than everyone else. There is also this:
If someone tweets every day, it’s 2-to-1 that they’re #ingthemselves just as often. Like the “shorter relationships” thing, this is true across all age and gender groups.
In the Bible, in between the part where Reuben kills a he-goat so he can dip some clothes in the blood of the he-goat and where Judah tries to give Tamar a goat but decides maybe she should be burned to death instead, God kills a man named Onan because Onan intentionally spills his seed on the ground.
(1) Thou shalt not whack off. (2) Mo goats mo problems.
Life lessons! From the Iron Age!
Charts #7 & #8
This bubble chart, plotting body type, sex drive, and self-confidence, is dynamic — you can see it change below. As you can see, a woman’s sexuality peaks in her twenties, holds more or less steady for twenty years, and then falls to the floor. And while sex drive waxes and wanes, self-confidence steadily grows.
Remember, the women themselves select their body-descriptions; the bubbles show the size of each group. Though many of the words are just a shade of meaning apart, there are dramatic differences in the traits of the people who choose them. Go through the animation and compare full-figured to curvy or skinny to thin.
It’s particularly interesting to isolate skinny — a deprecating way to say something generally considered positive (being thin) — and curvy — an empowering way to say something generally considered negative (being heavy). Here are those bubbles’ complete paths across the graph:
Curvy women pass skinny ones in self-confidence at age 29 and never look back. They also consistently have the highest sex drive among the groups. Curvy, as a word, has the strongest sensual overtones of all our self-descriptions. So we’re getting a little insight into the real-world implications of a label.
This is the “complete path” plot for men:
Things to notice: (1) almost no men choose curvy or full-figured as self-descriptions, so those words aren’t plotted here; (2) men of all body types have roughly the same peak sex drive; (3) and the thing that matters most for guys is simply to not be overweight. The other four body types are clustered relatively together at most ages.
For this chart, we took our own data and mixed it with a little outside stuff: college tuitions from U.S. News & World Report.
Generally speaking, the more your parents are paying for your education, the more horny you are. If only Freud were still around to help us understand; instead we have psychology majors, those Adidas shower sandals, and darkness.
You can think of the dotted best-fit line as dividing the good sex-ed values (above the line) from the bad ones (below). The line also gives us a handy sliding scale: given a 36-week school year and the average partner, every $2,000 spent on your college tuition is an extra time you could be having sex that year.
The correlation between sex and money is robust for colleges, but it gets even stronger when extended to entire nations.
We were amazed at this result — money seems to be a more powerful influence on sex drive than culture or even religion.
You have, for example, Portugal, Oman, Slovenia, and Taiwan within a few pixels of each other on the right side of the graph, and Syria, Sri Lanka, and Guatemala almost stacked on the left, and all of them sit along the trend line.
Speaking of Guatemala, you should Facebook-like this article. The end.