Lez Miserable: Ten online dating mistakes to avoid if you don't want to die alone

For starters, never describe yourself as "bubbly" or "normal".

Online dating has become as big a part of lesbian life as bikes and hummus. Nearly all the gay women I know do it, or have done it. While I’m not going to pretend to know much about chatting up women in real life, I’ve been doing it from behind a computer screen for a while now. Sometimes successfully. My advice to fellow users of OkCupid and suchlike is this - if you you’re not keen on the idea of dying alone, never, under any circumstances, do any of these things:

1. When you message someone for the first time, ask, “How’re you?”

We’ve never met. How am I? I could be in hospital, dying of botulism and you’d mostly be thinking, “Right. So no sex then?” In fact, nothing says, “I’m only interested in your rude parts” quite like the “How’re you?” first message. If you’ve read through someone’s carefully constructed dating CV – a comprehensive list of their interests, views and quirks – and the only thing you can think of asking is “how’re you?” you’re either really lazy or really horny. Or both. Be warned: no one wants to have lethargic sex with you.

2. Describe yourself as “bubbly” in your profile.

Who remembers Panda Pops? They were big in the 90s; Neon-hued, tooth-dissolving, liquid shame. I wasn’t allowed them. Describe yourself as “bubbly” and you sound like a human Panda Pop – sickly-sweet and fizz-brained. Remember, you’re looking for a date, not a babysitter. “Bubbly” people also sound like they say “fudge” when they bump into things.

3. Wear sunglasses in your profile picture.

A message from someone whose face is half Ray-Ban warrants an automatic no-reply from me. You just seem like one of those people who wears sunglasses on the tube. Or in winter. Or in the shower.

4. Or use a shot of your cat as your profile picture.

If you happen to prefer eating cornflakes alone in the dark to sex then go right ahead and do this.

5. Try extremely hard to appear enigmatic.

A lot of people fill the “about me” section on their dating profile with complete nonsense. Stuff like: “Anachronism. Drifter. Poet”. In fact, the word “drift” and any derivative thereof should be avoided at all costs. You’re not that feather from the opening credits of Forrest Gump. You’re about as mysterious as a tuna sandwich. Also, you can be exactly 98.7 per cent sure that anyone who self-identifies as a poet is not a poet. But they probably have a lot of really meaningful tattoos and a Moleskine notebook. Remember, you’re trying to hook up with someone and maybe have uncomfortable sex; not win the Booker Prize. It doesn’t get more lowbrow than online dating. Try to come across all esoteric and Sylvia Plath-esque and you will make eyes roll right out of their sockets.

6. Ask the person you’re messaging with if you can add them on Facebook.

The premature Facebook add is deadly. Give someone access to all those pictures of you drunkenly humping park benches, before you’ve even met them IRL, and that date just isn’t going to happen. Ever.

7. Mention that you like going out and staying in.

You enjoy existing. Congratulations.

8. Include a picture of you with your tongue between two fingers.

This is particularly lesbian-relevant. I don’t know where the two-fingered tongue salute came from or when it’s planning on leaving. Very soon, I hope. Look, tongue girls, you’re gay – you enjoy giving head to women – I get it. It’s not the vulgarity of the finger-tongue gesture that irritates me; it’s the try-hardness. It’s like a straight woman including a banana-eating picture on her profile. Unnecessary. Cease and desist immediately.

9. Describe self as “normal”.

“I’m just a normal girl…”. What does that even mean? There’s something glaringly un-normal about declaring yourself normal. At the same time, it strongly suggests that you’re duller than beige curtains and you tweet stuff like, “Going to bed now. Lol.”

10. Send messages that begin, “Hey sexy…”

You know those pop-ups that say things like, “teenage Russian girls want to date you”? What makes you think those are good templates for actual communication with someone you fancy? It makes you look spammy. Stick to “Hi”. 

When in doubt, stick to "Hi". Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.