How to win at the online dating game: Legendary matchmaking guru Paul Brunson gives you all the tips you need to succeed on apps – and in real life

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Some online daters are hooked on the idea of finding 'The One', but I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s only one partner out there for you and that fate will decide if you meet them - I think soulmates are made, writes Paul Brunson

Most people probably think it’s never been harder to find a partner, but if you talked to my grandmother she would say it was worse when she was young: there were only eight men in her village to choose from. The truth is, it’s not necessarily harder today – the challenges are just different.

The dating app Tinder has been downloaded more than 530million times and made over 75billion matches. It is easy to feel paralysed by the thought that you have to sift through that massive pool of people to find the right one for you.

The thought that you have endless options does several things. One is that each choice has less value, as you can just select again if you make a bad decision. And it’s hard to make a choice in the first place. But I can help.

I’ve worked as one of the world’s best-known matchmakers and couples’ counsellors for over a decade and I’m Tinder’s global relationships insight expert. I have co-hosted one of the world’s largest social experiments on love with Oprah Winfrey, and advise on the popular dating shows Celebs Go Dating and Married At First Sight UK. I’m therefore perfectly placed to help you find love.

To my mind, there are parallels between a job interview and finding love. If you are advertising a job as the employer, you don’t just say, ‘Hey, does anybody want to come work for me?’ Instead, you outline the job’s role and responsibilities and describe the characteristics you are looking for in the successful candidate.

Some online daters are hooked on the idea of finding ‘The One’, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s only one partner out there for you and that fate will decide if you meet them – I think soulmates are made, writes Paul Brunson

It helps to think the same way about dating: if you define what you are looking for before embarking on a relationship, it will empower you to make a better choice of partner.

On Tinder, one of the first things you are asked to do is identify your relationship goal. There are six options but by far the number-one selected option is: I’m looking for a long-term relationship.

Number two – I’m looking for a long-term relationship but open to a short-term relationship – has become very popular in recent years. This is sometimes called probation, especially on platforms like TikTok, the idea being that I’ll give you three months and, if things are working, we’ll consider long-term.

There’s a challenge in this because the strategies that you would use to find a long-term partner don’t necessarily translate to a short-term relationship – which can mean casual sex, or just hanging out, with no intimacy. A lot of women fall into the trap of saying they want a short-term relationship because the man does, then hope that they’ll get him to stay.

My aim is to help you to make good decisions right from the outset.

Let’s start with the basics.

When I joined Tinder, I remember talking to people in the company about how horrendous the men’s photos were. They were holding a fish they’d caught. Or they didn’t have a shirt on and were leaning up against a car. Just terrible photos.

So that I could better understand the app, I set up an account. It took me a while to find a good photo. I then had a call with the head of product development, and she told me my photo was terrible, too – and she was right.

When online dating began, this wasn’t an issue. The first online dating services just involved filling in a questionnaire.

The launch of Tinder in 2012 changed online dating forever by introducing the swipe feature (swipe right if you’re interested, swipe left for no) meaning judgments about who might be of interest as a date are now instant, and based largely on whether someone likes the way you look.

But the bottom line is that a dating site or app is a tool, and it can be used badly or well. Before worrying about how good your photos are, make sure you include some in the first place. You would think this is obvious, but a lot of people don’t include any photos at all. 

And having multiple photos is better, because the data shows that if you have three to five photos, you will be engaged with more than if you have just one.

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The launch of Tinder in 2012 changed online dating forever by introducing the swipe feature (swipe right if you’re interested, swipe left for no) meaning judgments about who might be of interest as a date are now instant

The launch of Tinder in 2012 changed online dating forever by introducing the swipe feature (swipe right if you’re interested, swipe left for no) meaning judgments about who might be of interest as a date are now instant

So, you need to have the right number of photos, but you also need to have the right types of photos. There are three kinds that are optimal. Number one is a photo of you smiling a nice, authentic smile. So how do you do that? Ask somebody to tell you a joke and have them fire off a couple of photos at the same time.

Number two is a full-body shot, because the truth is everyone wants to see what your body looks like. The third photo is one of you doing an activity that you’re passionate about. This is much more engaging than just a photo of you on a night out drinking.

Next, you need to complete your profile. And I mean really complete it because online dating is a computer system, and the algorithms will favour you if you have filled out all of the questions and uploaded your photos. This is because the app wants to showcase people who look like they’re fully using and engaging with it.

When it comes to the content of your profile, you should stay away from saying all the things you don’t want. Talk about what you are interested in as opposed to what you are not interested in. This is a much better way of getting across your values. 

These tips might all seem very basic, but they are the keys to optimising your profile, and you’d be surprised, in my experience, how many people don’t do it.

Of course, creating your profile is only half the battle. To use a dating app or site effectively, you actually have to engage with people. It’s not uncommon for someone to spend 30 minutes on a dating app and not engage with anyone.

You really need to do so: this means being open to people who you are only remotely interested in and getting to the point where you’re actually meeting them in real life.

Not everyone is good at talking about themselves or putting themselves forward and identifying what their virtues are, but you can get help: ask your friends and family to look at your profile and photos so that they can give you honest feedback.

Some online daters are hooked on the idea of finding The One, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s only one partner out there for you and that fate will decide if you meet them – I think soulmates are made. Still, it helps to fish in the widest pool possible.

Studies have shown that when you have a larger dating pool, you make better choices and end up in a stronger partnership. Let me emphasise that I don’t mean a perceived pool – it’s not the perception that you have a million people to choose from online that matters; it’s the people you actually interact with directly. And that means in real life, too.

Today, many of us work on the kitchen table and exercise in the front room. We buy goods online rather than going to the supermarket. We live a much more isolated life with far less in-person interaction.

If you’re only meeting half a dozen people in real life each year, and most of those are not suitable, you could go a long time without having a strong candidate for a partner. 

Paul Brunson is one of the world’s best-known matchmakers and couples’ counsellors. He has co-hosted one of the world’s largest social experiments on love with Oprah Winfrey, and is an advisor on the popular dating shows Celebs Go Dating and Married At First Sight UK

Paul Brunson is one of the world’s best-known matchmakers and couples’ counsellors. He has co-hosted one of the world’s largest social experiments on love with Oprah Winfrey, and is an advisor on the popular dating shows Celebs Go Dating and Married At First Sight UK

That’s when it becomes easy to take the first thing that comes along. If you go five years without a date and then meet someone who is just OK, you might be tempted to settle.

But there are still countless ways to meet people in real life, via social and family events, common interests, school and continuing education, restaurants, bars and clubs, festivals, public spaces such as dog-walking parks, gyms and other fitness classes, charity and volunteering, sporting events, museums and art galleries. 

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I once gave a talk and a contestant from The Apprentice was seated in the front row. A guy who had come to listen to me sat next to her. They had never met, and now they are married.

Our social circle – friends, acquaintances, present and former workmates or fellow students – can typically add up to around 150 people. We tend to go to those nearest to us for help. So, you ask your best friend to hook you up with somebody.

But we have already exploited all of those connections. It is with the 150th friend, the one who is a so-called ‘weak tie’, the one you haven’t talked to in a while, where the real opportunities lie.

My weakest ties are certainly where most of the opportunities in my life have originated. It’s where all my big projects have come from, and it’s how I ended up moving from America to work in the UK.

There are three steps to strengthening your weak ties. The first is that you need to constantly introduce new people into your social circle. That doesn’t mean as potential romantic partners. It just means you need to be introducing new people into your life in general.

For example, I have been hosting brunches for a few years now, to which I’ll invite people I don’t know very well. The last brunch I did was 20 guys who were all in the entertainment industry. They won’t all stay in my network, but some might. You can do this on a smaller scale by inviting a friend of a friend or a work acquaintance for a coffee or lunch.

Every week, I pick three people whom I haven’t talked to for an age – two years, five years, ten years – and I’ll send them a WhatsApp voice message: ‘Hey, just checking in. I saw on your Instagram page that you got promoted. Congratulations!’ Or, ‘How are you? Jill and I and the boys moved to London. If you’re ever here, look us up. Let’s have dinner.’ Cultivating those weak ties leads to opportunity.

Adding a new person to your social circle means that the connection in 150th position drops out, but it’s OK to say goodbye to people when you are no longer adding value to each other’s lives.

If a new person stays in your circle, it typically means they have shared values and interests with you and your current group of friends. This in turn means their circle of 150 friends probably overlaps a lot with your and your friends’ values and interests. Think about that. That person becomes the bridge to a whole new circle of people you’ve probably never met before, some of whom are going to be single.

In the process of meeting new people, it’s important to remain open-minded. When I worked as a matchmaker, most of my clients were professionals in their 40s and, right out of the gate, they would give me a long list of things they wanted in a partner.

I had one client who gave me a spreadsheet of up to 150 things she wanted in a husband – no exaggeration – even down to him having good feet, along with photos to illustrate what she meant.

Meanwhile, my oldest client was in her late 70s. To be honest, I was reluctant to take her on, but I did, because I liked a challenge. When I sat down to do my intake call with her, I was ready for her to give me a long list of requirements.

Instead, she said, ‘Paul, I’m in my 70s. Do you know how hard it is to find a man my age who can walk up the stairs to my apartment? I want you to find me a man who can walk up three flights of stairs.’

I said, ‘OK, what else?’

‘That’s it.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘Yes, I’m absolutely serious.’

Once I got over my surprise, I realised that she was very wise. As well as being an indicator of good general health, she was also telling me that she was completely open-minded.

She was saying, ‘I don’t care about ethnicity or religion. I don’t care if they have five children or no children. I’m just looking for a companion for the rest of my life.’

Most people start with a narrow idea of what they want – you need to have good feet just to get in – and when you do that, you severely limit your potential matches. In fact, you can soon start to believe that this person doesn’t exist. And that is a very dangerous place to be.

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So, use every tool at your disposal. And, whether you’re online or meeting in real life, show up as your best self.

Work on your ‘brand’, what I call your ‘mate value’, before you get out there. What aspects of your life should you be content with before embarking on a relationship?

If you are not in the best place personally when an opportunity to connect presents itself, you are going to be at a disadvantage.

It’s like running a race. It’s better to have bought a great pair of running shoes and have a water bottle in your hand before you get started. You could, of course, go back to the starting line to pick those things up if you wanted to, and you’d still be in the race, but you’d be behind.

In relationship terms, if you go back and do the work on yourself once you’ve already chosen a partner, further down the line you might find that you’re not happy in life, your values don’t align, you have different goals and you shouldn’t have been in the relationship at all. It’s far better to have started ahead of time.

You don’t have to be at the destination to find your perfect partner, but you do have to be on the path.

If, along the way, something emotionally challenging happens in your life – you lose a job or a close family member passes away – how quickly do you bounce back? Those who are lower on the neurotic scale are able to rebound from adversity more easily and make better partners.

Take a look at your career and your personal goals. Identify the things in life that you’re passionate about and work towards becoming exceptional at them. And it’s like a tide – it lifts up everything else, including your romantic life.

You get the network, the connections, the introductions; you’re happier and more satisfied. And that means your pool is wider, your ‘mate value’ is higher and the people you are meeting are better candidates to become your long-term partner.

I’m not suggesting you have to be the number-one person in your field or become a billionaire. As long as you’re on the journey towards becoming your best self, that’s what’s really important. And the further you travel on that journey, the more you’ll get out of life – and love.

How to get a date – both online and offline 

Every time someone says to me, ‘all these guys out here suck!’ or ‘all the women out here are terrible. I’ve done everything right. Why am I still single?’ and I sit down and unpack their dating history, I inevitably discover they haven’t done the work on themselves to maximise their chances of success.

A UK client in her early 50s said to me: ‘I’ve been online for six months, and I attract almost no men, but the men I do attract are complete a***holes. They are the worst of the worst. They’re terrible. Men just suck. They’re dogs.’

So I said: ‘Take a couple of photos of your profile and send them to me. Maybe I can give you some input.’

Her profile consisted of a photo, her name, her age and a bio that basically said all the men she met online were crazy people and she only wanted to receive messages from people who were sane.

She was screaming out: ‘I have trust issues. I am not satisfied with my life. I am disgruntled.’

The work that she needed to do on herself was so apparent, but she was quick to place the blame elsewhere. That’s an issue a lot of us have: we’re quick to point the finger – at other people, at social media, at dating sites – but we are rarely willing to be self-reflective and do the work.

Find Love by Paul Brunson (Ebury publishing, £16.99). © Paul Brunson 2024. To order a copy for £15.29 (offer valid to 17/02/24; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.

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