Washington - There are all kinds of photos that don't belong in online-dating profiles: the shirtless selfie; the faraway shot or the artsy pic where it's hard to tell what the person looks like; the group shot where it's hard to tell whose profile it is; the photo with a child where it's hard to tell if that's a nephew or a son; or anything with sunglasses. (If you can't look me in the eye while mediated by a screen, how will you do it in person?)
But the photo I swipe left on nearly every time? A man and his gun. Yes, even if he's "just hunting."
I'm not opposed to dating a gun owner. The man I dated most recently was in the military and, I learned as I got to know him, kept an unloaded gun in his house. We met on Bumble, where most of his profile photos were travel shots; my opening message to him noted that I had also been to Petra, Jordan - though my trip had been far too brief! He did not display a photo of himself with a weapon.
If owning a gun isn't a dealbreaker, why do I swipe left on men who include images of themselves with firearms in their dating profiles? Dating profiles are meant to portray the important aspects of a person's life, says online dating coach Laurie Davis, founder of eFlirt Expert. Ideally, someone happens upon your profile and thinks to themselves: I could see myself being a part of that life - and enjoying it.
"Posting a photo with a gun is a polarizing experience for people," Davis says, regardless of whether that profile belongs to a man or a woman. "It's a very aggressive photo for a platform where the aim is for you to find love."
If an online dater likes hunting and wants to portray that in their profile, Davis recommends posting a photo of themselves in camouflage rather than holding a gun.
When discussing such photos with her clients, Davis might ask: "How often are you really hunting? If it's a huge part of your lifestyle, perhaps it's an important photo to post, so you know that part of your lifestyle would be accepted by whoever you date. But if it's something you do once a year, then perhaps you want to leave it off because it is so polarizing."
There's a big difference between a man who happens to own a gun vs. a man who showcases his love of firearms in his dating profile. The latter says: Guns are a big part of my life. In the same way that my Bumble guy's profile said: Traveling is a huge part of my life.
If you're not online-dating, you might not realise how common it is to swipe through profiles with guns: They're usually images of someone hunting or practicing at a shooting range, but sometimes it's just an image of a gun or two, no person in the photo. I asked Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Match and Hinge whether they kept data on such profiles, and none had any they could share.
My Bumble guy might spend an occasional afternoon at a shooting range, but by the time we talked about this, it was a small piece of information within the larger picture of who he was. Online-dating profiles offer sound bites about a person as opposed to a nuanced debate about gun control that you might have over dinner or drinks. When gun ownership is among the first things I learn about someone, it becomes a much bigger piece of a narrower characterization, a visual that says: Ladies, look at me and my gun(s). I'm very masculine and potentially dangerous.
What? That's not what these men mean to convey with images of themselves hunting or practicing at the shooting range? I hear that.
But here's what these men might not realize when they create these profiles: As a woman, I'm already very aware that I could be the target of violence at any time - whether I'm walking home at night or I'm out with a Tinder date. To be looking for love, on the internet or anywhere else, means that at best I meet the love of my life. Amazing!
At worst, I meet someone who sends me unsolicited pictures of his genitalia (according to Match, about half of single women have received one); someone who stalks or harasses me; someone who assaults me; someone who is verbally or physically abusive. Perhaps I escape that abusive relationship alive (though half of female homicides are perpetrated by a current or former male intimate partner).
Swiping right only on profiles containing puppies or smiling babies won't guarantee happy outcomes. But when I see weapons on an online-dating app - a platform where I'm already on high-alert - it doesn't exactly make me feel safe.
And by the way, men, there are so many other ways to cast yourself as powerful and masculine. You don't need a firearm to achieve that.