Sex & Relationships

An Online Dating Pro on How to Spot a Red Flag Before You Swipe Right

Excuse us while we reactivate all of our online dating profiles and give this another shot

A photo of a smartphone with an anonymous profile and a red flag sticking out of it on a peach background

(Photo: iStock)

We’ve all been there. Swiping left and right until you give yourself borderline carpal tunnel, eventually matching with a few guys you think might be worth meeting IRL—only to find out during the first date that you have wasted your time on a total dud.

Between Bumble, Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge and whatever else is the romantic app du jour, scanning through profile after profile can sometimes seem daunting. And let’s be honest, while we love terrible date stories, we’re all looking for someone that we can *actually* click with offline.

So how can you separate the hot dates from the hot messes? We asked online dating expert Carmelia Ray, who has helped more than 7,000 people find love over the past 25 years, to help us sort the date-worthy from the dump-worthy. The Toronto-based matchmaker does everything from matchmaking to date coaching—and after chatting about online dating red flags, she had us totally rethinking who we say “yes” to.

Less-than perfect profile pics

Given that a photo is worth 1,000 words, a profile pic is a v. important source of information when deciding whether or not to swipe right—and it’s about more than just good looks. “Your main profile picture should clearly describe who you are,” says Ray. With that in mind, here are some profile pic problems that may warrant a pass.

GIF of a man saying "You don't look anything like your photo"

(Credit: Giphy)

Red flag #1: Who is in the pic 

“It’s probably the most annoying thing when someone is using a meme or a photo that doesn’t clearly define who they are, hiding behind sunglasses or in a group,” says Ray, adding that the same can be said for blurry or unclear photos. When you’re dating online, transparency and trust are crucial—and a clear profile pic builds that. Also, Ray warns to watch out for profiles with only one low-quality photo, since those can be indications of a scammer.

Red flag #2: What they’re doing in the pic

Display pics are an opportunity to showcase different aspects of the user’s life. But, if someone is putting up photos of them doing things that maybe you’re not into, such as smoking or partying hard, then that can be a red flag. Similarly, if a guy puts up a photo where he is wearing a shirt that says “I love Satan” for example, and you’re not down with that, then go forth and swipe left.

Underwhelming usernames

GIF of someone saying "pick a name any name" with cards fanned out

(Credit: Giphy)

What’s in a name? According to Ray, a whole lot. “The username gives me an indication whether or not this person put thought into that username,” she says, explaining that it can reveal a lot about someone’s personality and whether or not they are serious about online dating, or just testing things out.

Red flag #3: Terrible usernames

If you’re looking for a real relationship, steer away from guys with usernames like “MrRightNow,” “HotYoungGuy” or “WellHung69,” says Ray. Names like those clearly indicate that these users are looking for a hot hookup, so unless you’re down for a fling, you might want to click the x.

The actual bio

OK, so someone has caught your eye with a swoon-worthy profile pic and a super cute username, so now you’re actually taking the time to read their bio.

Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project typing at her computer and saying "If you're a serial killer, I'm not interested"

(Credit: Giphy)

Red flag #4: A blank bio

If you come across a profile that is basically empty or says “Just ask,” Ray says to put your guard up. Profiles like these make it difficult to know whether or not you should bother messaging someone because, as she says, they didn’t bother to write about themselves in the first place.

Red flag #5: Bad grammar and spelling

“You have one chance to make a first impression,” says Ray, and a quick way to make a bad first impression when online dating is to have a bio full of spelling mistakes or bad grammar. “It’s a red flag because it’s a sign of laziness,” she says. “Poor grammar and spelling mistakes just show that this is how this person shows up, this is who you get.”


Once you make it to this stage, things are starting to get real—but there is still time to take note of some red flags that might indicate meeting up for a date is not the best idea.

Mr. Darcy saying "I do have the talent of conversing easily with people I have never met before"

(Credit: Giphy)

Red flag #6: Ghosting or worse

If someone messages you and then disappears for weeks at a time, it’s a pretty clear sign that they may not be as invested in the online dating process as, perhaps, you are. Ghosting is never cute. On the flip side, Ray says it’s a red flag (and could possibly indicate a scammer) if someone gets real romantic real quick, for instance saying how much they like you before they’ve even met or gotten to know you.

So as we enter into cuffing season, get ready to swipe in search of that special someone—but keep these red flags in mind. Maybe that way, when you spot a profile with a blurry group pic and no description, you’ll feel confident in saying a swift “nah” to that.

Tina Fey in 30 Rock saying "No thank you please"

(Credit: Giphy)

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