The majority of men (and women) are decent and reasonable human beings, who are appalled by the behaviour and attitudes of abusive types. Unfortunately, some women (and men) find themselves moving from one abusive partner to another, and (understandably) end up thinking everyone of the opposite sex must be like that, or there’s something wrong with them for being unable to find a non-abusive partner. It’s a myth that such folk are attracted to abusive people – rather, they are targeted by abusive people, and this is how: once you’ve been in an abusive relationship your self-worth is so crushed that you give off subtle and not-so-subtle signals that suggest you don’t value yourself, your needs, or your opinions. Survivors of abuse are crushed into a “passive” state (rather than an “assertive” one), where they apologise for everything, even when they’ve done nothing wrong; are afraid to state their needs, even when they look after everyone else’s; tend to be “people pleasers”, too scared to ever say “no” – all behaviours conditioned by previous abuse, and all behaviour that attracts the next abuser.
If you have had a previously abusive relationship, we would strongly encourage you to attend a domestic abuse awareness course (e.g. the Freedom Programme, for women in the UK) before embarking on a new relationship. However, if you feel you’re ready to move on, there is much you can do to avoid giving off the wrong signals and attracting the wrong sort of partner. In particular pay close attention to the words you use, and think about what messages they might be sending.
This guide is written from the perspective of a woman seeking a male partner, but much of it applies to men seeking women, and to same-sex relationships. Please swap “he” and “she” where appropriate, and if you have any suggestions of your own, please add them in the comments.
- don’t say “I’m just a girl”. You’re not “just” anyone, and you stopped being a girl when you were a teenager. Language can be indicative of attitude, so don’t suggest you’re anything other than a grown woman – an equal adult – deserving of respect and equality. Abusers target women who see themselves as subordinate to others.
- don’t say you want “a knight in shining armour” – this screams, “I’m vulnerable and I need a man to rescue me”. If you really need rescuing from your current situation, you might want to consider how ready you are for a new relationship. Abusers target vulnerable women.
- avoid saying you’re “fed up with being single” or “bored with independence”. This looks like you’re desperate for a new partner, any partner, and that you don’t expect to keep your independence once you’ve found him. Abusers target desperate and dependent women.
- avoid referring to sex on your profile, either directly or indirectly, unless you are specifically looking for a fling. Sexual references (and inferences) include being “cheeky”, looking for someone to “unlock hidden secrets” or “release a warm and tactile nature”, liking “fun and frolics,” or referring to a potential partner as “a good fit”. Using expressions like that will attract men primarily interested in sex, so unless you are too, avoid them. Abusers target women who are sexually giving.
- don’t refer to your profile as a “CV”, and offer yourself up for “the job of being Your Woman” – even as a joke. Language can be indicative of attitude, so if you portray yourself as “subordinate” and the man as the “boss,” some will assume that’s how you see yourself. Abusers target women who see themselves as subordinate to others.
- avoid mentioning how long you’ve been looking for a new partner, or any failed relationships you had before, and don’t use expressions like “it’s now or never” and “there’s no next time” – you come across as desperate to settle down, and that you might be willing to commit to the first interested man who comes along. Abusers target desperate women.
- don’t apologise for who you are, or what you want, by admitting you think aspects of your character might put people off, or that you think you’re being “fussy” about your ideal match: if you want to say you’re vegetarian, a ballet dancer, or a breeder of siamese cats – be proud of that! And if you particularly don’t like piercings or beards, you shouldn’t have to apologise for that either. It comes across as meek. Abusers target meek and apologetic women.
- don’t refer to yourself as “a daft bird” or “a bit blonde”. Abusers target women who think they’re stupid.
- avoid dating-website clichés: men tend to talk about “blue skies” and wanting a “partner in crime”. Women tend to talk a lot about “fun” and “that special someone”. Both sexes say they “love to laugh and smile” (who doesn’t?), that “the glass is half full” and how it “it all depends on the chemistry”, as they “begin a new chapter in life,” and look forward to “an evening on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a DVD.” Many (men in particular) start their descriptions with, “Hello, and thanks for looking at my profile,” or “my friends describe me as…”. Bizarrely, many women make a point of stating they want “a man with his own hair and teeth” and many men feel the need to say they have those things. Using clichés suggests you’re new to online dating. Abusers target inexperienced women.
- don’t lie about your age (which women are said to do), or lie about your height (which men are said to do). That sends the message that you think it’s okay to lie about stuff. Abusers will love that.
- unless cooking and housework are your passion, don’t mention your domestic skills in your profile. Abusers target women who look like they’ll be happy to do all the chores.
- don’t say you’re a “Bonnie looking for her Clyde” or “Cinderella looking for her Prince Charming,” or anything else that suggests you need a man to rescue you or make you a whole person. It comes across as needy. Abusers target needy women (and abusers are often very charming).
- it’s great to “see the good in everyone,” but avoid exposing too much about your kind and tolerant nature. Abusers target forgiving women.
- avoid describing yourself as “young-looking” (your looks will be obvious from your photos). It suggests a concern about how others view you, and a need to be seen as attractive. Abusers target women with a poor self-image.
- avoid mentioning any illness (past or present) on your profile. If you’ve survived cancer, for example, that’s great, but making that knowledge public, automatically gives abusers a lot of information about you, and a route directly to your deepest fears and emotions.
- avoid saying you’re looking for “someone kind” (isn’t everyone?) or that you’ve been “badly treated in the past”. It suggests you’ve been in abusive relationship. Abusers target women they see as victims.
- don’t say you’re looking for “a big strong man” (just tick the boxes for “tall” and “fit”). Abusers target women who want to be protected.
- avoid saying you need/want praise for things you do well, or for “someone to think you’re great”. It suggests insecurity. Abusers target insecure women.
- if you’re well off or financially struggling, don’t mention it in your profile. Abusers target wealthy women, as well as those they think can be bought.
- don’t ask for an “old fashioned romance” unless that’s what you really want – “old fashioned romances” were where men had the careers and the money, and women did all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and 24/7 child-care. Abusers target women who want “old fashioned”.
- be very cautious when mentioning your children, especially if they are still young. Paedophiles have been known to target single mothers through online dating sites. It’s enough to say you have kids; you don’t need to give their genders, ages, names, or any other information about them. Be wary of anyone who asks for these details early on, or anyone who is only interested in women with children, especially if he doesn’t have/want kids of his own.
- being your own person (without needing to apologise for that).
- having your own interests that you’re happy to continue pursuing on your own.
- enjoying your own company/independence .
- being comfortable with who you are.
- mutual respect.
- emotional intelligence.
- your confidence.
- how you view yourself in a positive light (without feeling the need to impress).
- things you enjoy (without worrying what others will think).
- empathy and consideration for each other.
“Should I admit to my autism in a dating profile?
We’ve seen this question many times, and the answer is: no, you shouldn’t – not just because abusers target disabled people (particularly those they see as socially isolated), but more importantly because you’re entitled to keep personal information private until you feel ready to talk about it. While researching this article, we looked at hundreds of dating profiles, both male and female, and not one mentioned autism, diabetes, epilepsy, lupus, or anything other hidden disability, yet plenty of people have these conditions. Then we hear: “But isn’t it dishonest not to warn people about something so major?” Nope! Such aspects of people’s lives become apparent soon enough, whether or not you put a label on them. As you get to know a new partner, you will learn what each other’s personalities are like, and what their issues are, and you will like each other or not on that basis. If you chose to mention you have a diagnosis, or that you think you might be autistic, or whatever, and your new partner then rejects you on that basis, s/he wasn’t the right person in the first place.
To conclude: abusers target women who come across as unhappy, insecure, desperate, dependent, vulnerable, bored, ill, disabled, lonely, sexually generous, forgiving, meek, isolated, needy, and apologetic. Even if you are or do none of these things, be wary of appearing that way. Abusers are highly skilled confidence-tricksters, and it might be a while before you realise your new partner is a fake. Better to scare them off to start with by mentioning your confidence and independence.