Think Out Loud

Portland dating profile reviewer offers free advice

By Lucy Suppah (OPB/Think Out Loud)
Aug. 5, 2022 4:41 p.m. Updated: Aug. 9, 2022 7:42 p.m.

Broadcast: Friday, Aug. 5

Sarah Ruby Armstrong offers her dating profile editing to anyone who asks.

Sarah Ruby Armstrong offers her dating profile editing to anyone who asks.

Courtesy Iris Smoot


Dating profiles rarely get a second opinion prior to going public. Sarah Ruby Armstrong believes that is many peoples’ first mistake when trying online dating. She now offers a free feedback service for people and their dating profiles, as first profiled in Willamette Week. She joins us to talk about how to successfully find online connections and what she looks for in a dating profile.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: Online dating profiles rarely benefit from a second opinion before they are made public. Sarah Ruby Armstrong says that’s one of the first mistakes people make when doing online dating. So Armstrong, a creative director in her day job, has been providing that second opinion. For a few years now, she has offered to improve people’s dating profiles. You may have seen her recent profile in Willamette Week or her posters around Portland offering friendly, objective feedback on your dating profile. They read, “No charge.” How did you get into this in the first place?

Sarah Ruby Armstrong: Honestly, the germ of the idea was swiping around myself and saying, “How has nobody told any of these men that they’re wearing sunglasses in every single photo?” I guess you could say that’s when I felt the call.

Miller: That’s such an empathetic thought because on the one hand you could just think, “No, no, no, no, no, here’s the one,” but you thought, “These men need some help.”

Armstrong: The work that we have cut out for us! When I started about four years ago, it was a little different than I think the attitude people have around online dating now. Back then there was still so much stigma or shame that people carried around with them when it came to the idea of online dating, as though they had somehow failed to meet a person in real life. And so they were exiled to having to date online. People didn’t want to show their profiles to their friends. It was such a shame thing. It was really this feeling that people just need space to be able to talk about this thing because it’s a big deal. It’s one of the most important things in our life – our love lives, our connection to other people.

Miller: Was it scary the first time you went out literally with a sign? What did your sign say?

Armstrong: “Offering friendly, objective feedback on your dating profile.”

Miller: You just held that [sign] in front of you and waited for people to come up to you?

Armstrong: Do you think it would be scary? What’s scary about that, Dave?

Miller: I’ll answer that, then I want to hear your response to it. It’s [scary] because who knows who’s going to come up to you? I think “person on the street” interviewing is always sort of scary because you’re just a stranger going up to a stranger. There’s no set aside contract for the interaction. And also I guess I would be afraid that the people who would feel the license to go up to a stranger may be the kind of people who I would least want to talk to. So those are my answers. What’s your answer?

Armstrong: I definitely didn’t have any of that foresight to be concerned about.


Miller: Are you an extrovert?

Armstrong: Yes, mostly. An extrovert with a highly regimented and necessary solo time regimen. It wasn’t scary. I think the context of what I’m out there saying, what I’m offering. I think people in the “out on the street” context, the default is sort of a shyness. No one is coming up to me with an aggressive energy. If anything, for every one person that comes up to me and starts talking about their dating profile, there’s at least four other people that come up to me and open with something along the lines of, “Oh, I wish I had a dating profile to show you because–” and then they will just go into sharing an epic monologue of their own love life, characters and plot lines and lots to keep track of. People seem to really appreciate a stranger who is friendly and safe, which I am. I don’t know if you can tell by my charm and my radio presence, but I think there’s something about having an unloaded space that you weren’t expecting to have that doesn’t have any expectations on it, to just say, “Wow, I do kind of really want to talk about this out loud.”

Miller: And it seemed like you welcomed that. So the people who come up to you and say, “Oh, I wish I had a dating profile to show you,” and then they would go on to talk about their lives, you were just as happy because it was still a meaningful interaction with somebody else?

Armstrong: Absolutely. The work is important to me and I think it’s helpful and the conversations I have with people are meaty and meaningful. One of the things that has happened for me, my takeaway, is that it’s made me a better listener, and I ask better questions. People usually have the answers inside of themselves that they’re looking for when it comes to how topsy turvy they feel about navigating their romantic connections with people. Truly, if most people can be asked a series of thoughtful, probing questions, they’re able to piece it together for themselves and find something they’ll maybe think about differently. It’s valuable.

Miller: You sound more like a therapist, if untrained. I imagine you’re not a licensed clinical social worker. But it seems like the service, from what you’re describing, sounds more like therapy than photo consultation.

Armstrong: Excellent perception. I didn’t do that on purpose. I wasn’t out here trying to hoodwink people into using my unlicensed therapy services. The impetus really was that I just want to talk to people about their dating profiles. I want to talk about their pictures and the quality and variety of them, and how to talk about ourselves and our bio. It sort of inadvertently took shape as this kind of Trojan Horse to talk to people about identity and perception and the language that we use to try and communicate our wants and needs and boundaries. I think dating is one of the most valuable, self-growth, enriching opportunities that we can experience in our human lives.

Miller: Before we talk about what’s hiding inside the Trojan Horse, let’s talk about what you are explicitly offering. I’m curious, what are some of the most common mistakes or missteps that people make when they’re writing their profiles?

Armstrong: I think the most common misstep in writing your profile is the tendency to think that a list of your hobbies and interests is a substitute for a personality. You see this block of text in a bio that is, “Cooking, mountain biking, movies,” and this doesn’t tell somebody anything about what it’s going to be like to have a conversation with you or how your brain works or like what your personality is. It’s as though you were expecting to walk up to someone at a bar and decide you were interested in them based on the list of interests that they have pinned to their shirt sleeves. That’s not how human connection works.

Miller: So what do you advise people is a better way to communicate personality?

Armstrong: I think the most valuable thing that people can do in the writing of their bios, regardless of the app, regardless of the format, is really do the work of articulating, not just for the bio, but for yourself, “What is it that I actually, really want in this connection?” Everybody uses language like, “Looking for friends or something casual, or more, if it works out.” This is a very vague way of saying basically nothing. If I use the phrase, “casual dating” and you use the phrase, “casual dating” and this person over here uses the phrase, “casual dating” and we were to ask each of us what that means to us, we would probably have very different answers. I think the most valuable thing someone can do is really put the energy into saying, “This is what I have the bandwidth for, this is what I don’t have the bandwidth for, these are the kinds of connections I’m looking for.” I think people are scared to specifically name their wants because they’re afraid it means they’re being too picky when in reality, the gift of app-based dating is that there is a huge pool of everybody with all sorts of interests. You can be picky and it’s valuable to be picky because that is how you are flagging to people in this sea of vagary that you have thought about this, you’ve communicated what you want. Because then, by the time you’ve actually matched, by the time you’ve actually started a conversation, if you end up on a date, you have already established and been on the same page about fundamentally what you’re after.

Miller: What do you see as the biggest missteps when it comes to photos? For so many people, I don’t even think the words get read. The pictures get seen and then they get negged on the swipe.

Armstrong: Negged on the swipe, good language. It’s so complicated [because of] people’s relationship with their own self image and pictures and whether or not they have friends who take the pictures of them and what their social life is. It’s complicated. I think that’s why it matters to have these one-on-one conversations with people because it’s not just an overarching, “Here’s the way, here are five tips to make your best profile.” That’s not what we’re doing here. The baseline is obviously a quality photo. Not grainy, well-lit, cropped. Nobody needs to see the state your bathroom is in or whatever state you keep your house in. Crop that picture tighter. All I want to see is you. I don’t need to see the messy background. And a variety of face shots [and] body shots. I think it’s important to note about body shots that it’s not about seeing how tall you are or what shape your body is. It’s about seeing what kind of physical presence someone has in the world around them. How do they hold themselves? Do they look comfortable?

Miller: What do you get out of doing this?

Armstrong: I get to be interviewed on the radio. When I started doing this my partner and I had recently started traveling full time. I went from having a daily life chock full of rich, varied, stimulating conversation to kind of having the same conversation over and over again with baristas and bartenders, a lot of first conversations. When I started doing the sign, all of a sudden I was having a lot of stimulating conversations about a lot of topics that really interest me with a lot of people. I’m generally insatiably curious about people. It’s valuable to me to talk to people and learn what they think about different apps, which is very different regionally. The way people talk about their perception of different apps and why they use them and what they’re looking for in dating. I think in general we are using a lot of really crumbly, outdated, dusty language to try and talk about our nuanced, modern, romantic and physical connections with people. Everyone is fumbling with this old language and wondering why it feels so impossible to try and communicate with people and have connection the way we want. It feels like meaningful work to me to spend time holding that space with people in developing language and providing that service.

Miller: Just briefly, is part of what you’re talking about the fault of these apps themselves, the architecture behind them, as opposed to us?

Armstrong: I think we get out of the apps what we put into them. It’s a tool and how we wield language and how we actively, intentionally engage with technology is fully our responsibility. The language has been outdated since before the apps and they have just proliferated the problem, which means it’s just as easy for us to course correct.

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