Interview: Erika Ettin of A Little Nudge

730DC kicked off 2017 with two weeks of title sponsorship from A Little Nudge. In the interests of telling our readers a little more about what the company is all about, we sat down with Erika Ettin to learn about dating, relationships, and communication today. Article by Linda Flynn with Sheehan Whelan.

Going on a Tinder date (or Grindr or Bumble or Hinge or Viber — wait, that’s how I communicate with my mom — ) is practically a rite of passage for those who are single and mingling in their 20s and 30s in urban areas, and it’s not always a smooth one. Online dating can be hard, but Erika Ettin is working to make it more successful for more people. With an economist’s love for numbers and results, Erika founded A Little Nudge, an online dating consulting business. Consider her business analogous to a resume writer someone searching for a job might hire — Erika helps clients with everything from choosing the right profile picture to planning a first date.

Before starting her own company, Erika worked for Fannie Mae for nearly 8 years. I emailed recently with Erika about dating in DC; the interview that follows has been edited for context and clarity. After speaking with her, I know I’d trust her with my profile!

Linda Flynn, 730DC: How did you hear about 730DC? I understand there’s a story here about Local 16 and one of our readers?

Erika Ettin: I was giving a dating seminar/happy hour for my business one evening at Local 16. When it was over, it was pouring outside, and I didn’t have an umbrella, so I figured I’d just wait it out. I saw that there was an event on the other side of the bar, so, being the un-shy person that I am, I, well, crashed. ;) I started talking to a guy there, asked what the event was, and he told me about 730DC. I signed up for the newsletter that night. We ended up going on a few dates, too!

LF: How exciting to meet someone in real life! Some people balk at online dating or criticize the lack of spontaneity — they believe it takes the mystery out of finding romance. (Some of them also think going online is only for people who really struggle to meet others IRL.) What would you say to them?

EE: I’d tell them that they are being ridiculous! In the end, who cares how you meet someone if it’s the right person? Is it everyone’s preference to meet someone in real life and have that amazing, cute meeting story? Sure. But when these tools are so readily available to give us access to so many new people, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to use them.

LF: For anyone who would like to harness the confidence to approach someone in a coffee shop or at a bar or on the red line commute, what is your advice on asking someone out in IRL?

Metro: The right place for romance? Plz note this photo is literally titled “Metro Baby” on Flickr. (Thomas Hawk)

EE: “Confidence” is the key word here. Start a conversation with someone talking about something relevant. Ask something that makes sense for the situation. If someone is doing a crossword puzzle on the train, “Do you do them everyday? I’m impressed!” or “Ever try the NYT crossword puzzle app?” You’ll never know how someone might react unless you try.

Now, if you’re the person who wants to be approached, put down your phone! No one will approach you if 1) you have your nose in your phone and 2) you’re with a big group of friends. Be open, smile, and respond kindly, even if you aren’t interested.

Sheehan Whelan, 730DC: On the topic of phones, do you think that online dating (and the technology behind it) has improved the dating pool? How do you address claims that it has caused social skills to regress?

EE: I believe that technology in general (namely texting) has caused social skills — and grammar — to regress. As it relates to dating, because so many people now hide behind their screens, it makes people not feel accountable for their actions, which is where ghosting and breaking up with people over text comes from. Remember that you’re still dealing with a real person with real feelings. That’s something no text message can convey.

Millennials have warmed up to the dating apps because they don’t require as much commitment, in the form of time and money, than other dating sites, which, in turn, improves the number of people willing to put themselves out there. That is a positive.

LF: What are some common blunders you see people make in their online dating profiles and in messages to prospective dates?

EE: How much time do we have? ;)

1) Pictures with friends — don’t do it! I know you want to show that you’re social. The baseline is that you’re social! Don’t let others compare you to your own friends. Plus, we all think the friend is hotter anyway.

2) Too many pictures. Less is more. People will find the one they don’t like and nix you because of it.

3) “Hey” messages. How do you respond to that? If you want to reach out to someone, make the message unique. Even a couple emojis are better than “hey.”

Don’t say “hey.” And don’t tax the texting. (Susan Murtaugh)

4) Texting too much before the date. I don’t even let my clients exchange numbers until right before the date. Too much can go wrong over text. I call it the death of the first date. I even had a client just today ask me what to do because she gave a guy online her number and he had texted her 13 times…before they’ve even met!

LF: I heard a story about a guy who would only schedule dates on weekday mornings before work. (Apparently, this weeded out the non-serious potential partners that weren’t willing to meet for 7 AM coffee.) How can people make time for dating when they have so much other stuff going on in their lives?

EE: There’s no such thing as “I didn’t have time.” That really means “I didn’t make time.” You make time for anything that’s important to you. That’s how life works. As I always say, if you have time to go to the bathroom, you have time to send someone a text.

As a side note, I would NEVER meet someone at 7 AM for a coffee! That’s insane. That’s him trying to fit someone into his own schedule versus compromising on a time that works well for both of you. He’s forcing his date to “prove” that he or she is worth an evening date next time. No one should have to prove anything.

LF: What about zombie texts from people who ghosted and then popped back up on your screen months later (rising from the dead)? How do you advise people deal with that?

EE: This happened to me once. After seeing someone for over a year, while not exclusively, I got ghosted. Yes — over a year. It was confusing and horrible and saddening. I did let him know my feelings, even if I knew I wasn’t going to get a response. That provides closure, even if you have to provide it for yourself. For anyone who gets ghosted, whether after three dates or 300, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to reach out to that person, showing that you deserve better, and providing the necessary closure for yourself to move on. As Michelle Obama says, when they go low, you go high. By saying nothing to a ghoster, you’re really saying, “It’s okay to treat me like this.” And it’s not.

Just don’t ghost anyone. It’s a cowardly thing to do. I know you rationalize by saying, “I don’t want to hurt his or her feelings.” But we all know that’s a load of you-know-what. The only person you’re sparing is yourself from doing something uncomfortable.

LF: Word to dating with Michelle Obama’s class in mind. There’s the idea that people should put their best, most attractive, fun selves at the forefront. How do the brutally honest (“I wash my sheets every two months and never exercise ”) fare — and how can people market themselves well while also remaining authentic?

EE: Let your quirks shine! No need to tell people about your disgusting habits (when was the last time any of us washed our jeans?), but do tell people the things that make you unique. Many will write something generic in the hopes that they won’t turn people off. I say TURN PEOPLE OFF. Because, in the process, you’ll turn the right people on. One version of my own previous Bumble profile said this:

Entrepreneur, singer, punster, foodie, night owl, Scotch drinker, kettlebeller, original NES owner, and so much more.

These are the things that make me, well, me! No, they don’t share that I’m loyal and trustworthy and all that baloney. That’s for someone to find out over time. They also don’t share that I wish I read more books or that I’m not as knowledgeable about US history as I’d like to be or that I have a weird click in my left knee. Yes, those things set me apart perhaps, but they don’t make me who I am.

Also, keep the negatives out of your profile. If you have the line “need not apply,” it’s time to change it. No one wants to know what you don’t want; they want to know what you do.