Welcome to CNET’s Love Syncs, where we answer your questions about online dating. I’m Erin Carson, staff reporter, resident young-enough person, refrigerdating correspondent, curator of odd stuff on the internet, most likely to leave you on “read.”
This week: What’s with the random offspring pics on dating profiles?
Q: Here’s my question: Why do so many people put pictures of their kids in their online dating profiles? I’m not talking parent-child shots where your prospective date is shown holding hands with their cherubic offspring, but pics that show a kid, nothing but a kid, just standing there doing kid stuff. (Fun fact: My older friends tell me that after a certain age, people start posting pics of their grandkids in dating profiles.) It’s weird and I don’t like it — posting kid pictures on dating sites, that is. Children and pictures of children are delightful in other contexts.
A: Much like the universe as a whole, the universe of online dating holds a great many mysteries to unravel — like why dudes present fish in their profile pics, or why some people think covering their face is a strategic move when most platforms lean largely on the visual. Some of these mysteries are unknowable. Some are threads you can tug on. This one is a little of both.
To start, you’re not the only one a little weirded out by coming across a profile that says something like “Jack, 34” but features a Tonka truck-wielding toddler in a Daniel Tiger T-shirt. In some ways, this isn’t much different from some of the other poorly selected photos people use, particularly to be their primary photo. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen rotted-out Jeeps, close-ups of cats, and more than a few still-bloodied dead deer with nary anything else in the photo.
One time: A salad.
In most cases, I’d chalk all this up to poor judgment when it comes to communicating lifestyle. When people like me are doling out online dating advice, the general rule is that you want to give folks some idea of what you’re into and how you live. Depending on the format of the platform you use, you can think about which photos you select and — CRUCIALLY — the order you put them in, a bit like a sequence in a movie. You’ve got your (figurative) establishing shot HERE’S MY FACE and mid shots SOCIALIZING WITH OTHER HUMANS and some close-ups ON THE SLOPES; MY DOG. Put it all together, and you’ve got a personal photo essay of sorts.
Get it out of order, and (much as it would be in a movie) it’s disorienting. Imagine if Steven Spielberg had left out that famous shot of the entrance gates to Jurassic Park.
WHAT IS HAPPENING STEVEN? WHERE ARE WE?
Now, I do want to step back for a second and generally talk about the whole kids-in-dating-profile-pics issue.
For single parents, disclosing they’ve got offspring can be tricky. Sometimes there’s a fear that they’ll be prematurely judged or rejected because of it. Being up front, however, is always the way to go. If you’re looking for a serious relationship, it’s best to know early if the person you want to date has zero interest in kids, rather than letting both yourself and the other person get invested before you say “BTW, I share half my genetic material with a 2-year-old named Brooklyn Salinger, hope that’s cool.”
The question then becomes how to let prospective dates know you’ve got a kid. For lots of folks, the answer is tossing up a photo of the little critter and letting that speak for itself. However, I want to throw some big caution out there about putting your kid’s face on a platform that can be viewed by thousands of strangers with unknown intentions. I also pinged my colleague Laura Hautala, who covers security and privacy for CNET, who had this to say:
“Users should think of these photos as being totally public, and also ask themselves how their kids would feel knowing their pictures are on a dating profile. MOST IMPORTANTLY, anyone who’s dating while being a parent (or even an aunt/uncle) should keep in mind that they have to be on alert for creeps who, tragically, might be using them for access to children.”
Also consider how the kid’s other parent might feel about their child’s face popping up on Tinder or wherever else. And PLEASE, if you’re an aunt or uncle, DEFINITELY check with the parents before sticking your niece or nephew’s photo on the internet. Or better yet, just don’t.
Consider adding something like “father of 3” or whatever to your bio instead. It does the job of disclosure and keeps everyone’s privacy intact.
And remember, if you’re deciding on which photos to display on your profile, maybe save the lonely salad pic for your Instagram.
CNET’s Love Syncs is an advice column focusing on online dating. If you’ve got a question about finding love via app, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.