Everyone has a dating app pet peeve. For some, it’s the ubiquity of espresso martinis. For others, it’s the ever-present threat of photos with fish. For me, it’s people who hope you “don’t take yourself too seriously.”
My colleague Rachel Thompson has explored why the phrase is a major red flag: It’s interpreted as code for “don’t expect me to be a reliable or giving partner” or “don’t hold me accountable.” I personally see it as a convenient shorthand for “don’t expect me to respect you.”
But the phrase continues to be so common on dating apps, TikTokkers are singing about it. For my part, I began to wonder what it means to the people who use it. For the past few weeks, I’ve swiped right on men with those five words in their profile to ask them to explain it to me. They knew what they were getting into — I noted I was a writer hoping to ask them a few questions about the phrase for work, and got permission to use their first names along with their quotes, unless otherwise noted below. (Of course, women have the phrase in their profiles, too, but to reach a majority of them I would’ve had to create a fake male profile, and I’m not about to get myself kicked off the apps during cuffing season.)
There were significant similarities in the responses I received. Most guys needed several paragraphs to explain their interpretation, which was usually derived from a painful dating experience. Several called the self-reflection required of them during our chats “therapeutic,” and none of them seemed aware that the phrase was a turnoff. Most importantly, every guy had a different spin on what “taking yourself too seriously” meant.
What did I learn after hours of swiping and chatting? What I already knew, which is that “taking yourself too seriously” is a joke. The phrase is flimsy and hollow, like a Twizzler you can contort into a bunch of dumb shapes. And because it means something different to everyone, it ends up meaning nothing at all.
But don’t just take my word for it! Here’s a breakdown of the phrase, according to six men I matched with on Hinge and Bumble.
We’ll start off on a high note with John, who was definitely the sweetest guy I chatted with. For him, someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously “has a sense of humility,” is “able to laugh at themselves,” is “understanding and easygoing,” and is “able to accept opinions other than their own.” Those qualities are important to him in a relationship, because they help “develop a mutual understanding. Not everyone shares the same opinions but being able to understand the way another person thinks is a skill,” he explained. “Being able to laugh at yourself and not take yourself seriously is part of being comfortable with yourself as well as being a skillful listener.”
Given how well he articulated that perspective, I asked why he didn’t write something like “someone who is able to laugh at themselves and appreciate other perspectives” on his profile instead. “That is a good question and definitely a better way to phrase it,” he said, adding a sweating emoji. Not taking yourself seriously “is a quicker way mentally for me to sum it up, but I guess it just gets lost in translation when everyone on these apps ha[s] that in their profile… the meaning is different for everyone and pretty subjective. But, then again, who will take the time to put in a more well-versed explanation without seeming like a try hard?”
By the end of our conversation, he had answered that question by removing the phrase from his profile and replacing it with my proposed alternative. As our chat ended he added, completely earnestly, that he hoped I would win a Pulitzer for this article. John, I don’t see it in the cards, but I appreciate that energy.
Clint asked me to use a fake name, since he’s still out there on the apps looking for love. He thinks someone who takes themselves too seriously is “super high-maintenance. Taking selfies all the time, caring what people think too much… having a pretentious stick up your ass. I’ve dated women like that and I feel like I had to tip-toe around them to not trigger them on some dumb BS. Just enjoy life and forget about social media and public image BS. Now that I’ve mature[d] I’ve learned to avoid that for my own mental health haha.”
He says he saw that “pattern” of behavior in the last two women he dated, both of whom he thinks would self-identify as taking themselves too seriously. “One was too serious on social media” (and gave him a Bed, Bath, & Beyond gift card for his birthday, while he handmade a gift for hers. Ouch). The other was the “polar opposite. Super serious [in] everything they did in life. Beat themselves up about any decision they made which would eventually lead to me taking heat for no reason cause I’m chill. She wasn’t superficial, didn’t care about social media or impressing people. But she felt like every action she made had to have some sort of big impact or meaning.”
When I noted that phrase is seen as a red flag, he assured me, “I’m all for building the[ir] career and kicking ass and taking names. Make more money than me, be taller than me, just be my equal in a relationship.” But he wouldn’t take the phrase off his profile. Does he think women who look at his profile will know what he means by it? He replied, “If I truly knew I wouldn’t be on here, haha.”
Dating makes Daniel “a nervous piece of shit.” In an impressively thoughtful, multi-hour back and forth he admitted that, having just come out of a two-year relationship, “deep emotional connection does scare me a bit… I basically never say I’m looking for something serious because it means I’ll have a more relaxed first engagement I think.” Putting the phrase in his profile “limits a level of attachment. It’s the pretext of ‘Are we gonna fall in love even though I don’t know you’ that makes me nervous. I get so analytical about it all… [I worry] I won’t live up to their expectations.”
After I described the phrase’s generally negative connotation, he agreed that it’s “totally loaded.” “I would guess what a lot of guys mean [when they use the phrase] is that they want someone who won’t hold them accountable. I can totally see it playing into the ‘it’s just a joke’ mentality. [Like] ‘It’s just a bit of fun why are you being so serious,'” he says, adding a line of red flag emoji. “I was gonna say these guys possibly mean it differently to me but then I was like wow I’m literally pulling the ‘I don’t mean it like THEM. I’m DiffErEnT.’ Yikes.” After our chat, he updated his profile to say, “I get along best with people who are comfortable with themselves and have an appreciation for difference.” Lads, take note: the change impressed me and made my editor “swoon.”
“I’m not going to try and be something else to impress you,” explained Nick (not his real name) matter-of-factly. “I’m just going to be myself and show you my flaws instead of pretending I’m perfect.” He thinks that taking yourself too seriously “leads to false impressions. And it leads to not being any fun to be around lol. I like to joke around and make fun of people (myself included) and if people are super serious all the time it leads to them thinking I’m not a very nice person hahaha.” Haha, I guess? His ideal, not-so-serious partner “can take a joke. And they understand that… being wrong isn’t the worst thing in the world.”
I sent him this TikTok, which makes clear that the phrase is overused and unimpressive, and asked him if it inspired him to remove the phrase from his profile. “Well I think that changing it falls under the banner of ‘taking things too seriously’ so I’m in a bit of a pickle,” he opined. “Do I keep my authenticity and my lame profile or do I become a hypocrite and increase my matchability?” I countered: Is it possible you’re taking all this too seriously by refusing to change it? Nate was unfazed. “I think that the process of reviewing exactly why I said what I said and what I meant by those things is taking things too seriously lol.”
For Niraj, not taking himself seriously “means not being overly self-conscious about my self-image or thinking about what people think of me,” noting that concerns about physical appearance or having a clean car and home “is an indication of poor self-esteem.”
When I suggested that someone who cares about their physical appearance probably does have high self-esteem, since that care is a reflection of how confident they feel about themselves, he said, “It’s a double-edged sword. If [a] better appearance makes them confident, that’s fine but if they obsess over it and constantly compare them[selves] to others… [then] the question is how much of their self-esteem is tied to [those] things.” For example, someone he dated “had body image issues but had a bad time dealing with it.” Getting sunburned on a hike “would freak them out” he says. For another person, “lipstick getting thinned after eating/drinking something would make them uncomfortable.” To be honest, that sounds like a normal Tuesday to me.
But, for Niraj, there’s even more to the phrase. “It also means not over-thinking about my purpose in life or beating myself up for things… that I don’t have or lack or could be better [at]… All of these things take away [a potential partner’s] sense of fulfillment and prevent their growth and therefore they cannot have a healthy relationship.”
Niraj has only been on dating apps for a few months, so he admits his profile is still a work in progress. “There are things that I haven’t given much thought to and this is one of them,” he admits. “I’m honestly not sure if I can take this for too long.” Welcome to hell, Niraj.
After assuring me he only swiped right on me to help me with this article (and not because he was in any way attracted to me because… ew), Aaron kindly answered a single question—what does taking yourself too seriously mean to you?—with this striking paragraph: “Having an understanding that no matter how much you were told by people growing up that you are special and no one else is like you, that there is a world of people just like you and as special as you are so don’t gloat and have some humility. Be able to laugh at yourself, because no one is buying what you are selling.” Whew.
When I asked why that was important to him in a partner, he said, “next question.” And that’s how our interview ended.
When I first set out to ask men about this topic, I assumed I’d encounter insecurity, unmet expectations, and a dearth of empathy. I did not expect them to project the crudest outlines of past dating experiences onto the phrase, or for me to empathize with their struggle to make sense of that history.
Their nuanced replies underscored something I already knew: Dating apps aren’t designed to go deep. Once nudged, many of these guys willingly opened up to me about their feelings, including details about painful breakups and rejections. I still won’t be swiping right on anyone with “don’t take yourself too seriously” in their profile, but I won’t be passing judgment on people’s profiles as quickly as I once did, either.
To active daters, I make this plea: Online dating will likely always suck. You can make it suck less by being as thoughtful, honest, and up front as possible about what you need.