Erika Ettin: If grandma gave dating advice

©Tribune News Service

Posture and body language matter in dating - and not just in person. - Dreamstime/TNS/TNS

Sit up straight! Look me in the eye! Don’t cross your arms!

Who knew that Grandma was here to reprimand us in 2020? While my Grandma Henny never said anything quite that forcefully to me (though she did get upset when I wouldn’t say hi to her when I was about 5 years old … I was really shy), these are unsolicited pointers that a lot of people hear on a regular basis. But is there actually something to them?

It turns out that when it comes to dating — and much of life — posture and body language matter. And it doesn’t just matter when you’re face-to-face with someone, but it matters when doing online dating, too, in both your photos and in any potential video dates (aka the new normal).

I was thinking about body language in the era of COVID, where most of us “meet” on screen now, and I remembered a study that I had read several years ago, done by the National Academy of Sciences. Based on both an in-person speed-dating event and an app-based online dating site, the study showed three things to be true:

1. Expansive (vs. contractive) body posture increases one’s romantic desirability. (Think arms outstretched vs. arms crossed)

2. Results are consistent across gender.

3. Perceived dominance (much like a peacock … we are animals after all), and perceived openness are mechanisms through which expansiveness exerts its effect.

In the first study, researchers filmed 144 speed-dating sessions, focusing on facial expressions, gestures, and posture. After the sessions, the participants were asked whether they wanted to meet that person again, which would indicate success, in this case. It turns out that those who gestured with their hands and moved their arms nearly doubled their odds of getting a “yes” as compared to those who sat still or kept their arms to themselves, she said.

To test whether the same thing was true in online dating scenarios, the researchers took six heterosexual people and set up two online dating profiles for each person on a GPS-based dating app, one with photos in expansive poses and the other showing them in contractive postures. Again, it turned out that the more expansive poses garnered more “yes” responses from users of the dating app.

What does all of this mean? In a world of dating where so much is based on immediate first impressions, especially online, overt displays of this “expansive” posture can increase one’s chances of initial romantic success. It could be the difference between a left and a right swipe. When being compared to others in rapid-fire succession, you want to be sure to give yourself the best odds of getting chosen by a potential date.

How does this apply to video dates? Just like in photos (and in person), people notice EVERYTHING — the mess in your living room, what you’re wearing (at least on top), and your body language. So, if you’re slumped on a couch (or a bed… big no no!) during the call, you may be perceived as lazy or unengaged. But, if you’re at a table or at least sitting up straight on that same couch, it shows that you put some effort in and exude much more confidence. And confidence is sexy.

Now, this “expansive” rule doesn’t overshadow all of the other photo advice I could give, including my five rules of thumb:

1. The main profile picture should be a clear headshot of yourself

2. Less is more

3. Be by yourself in the shot

4. Have one “interesting picture”

5. Be accurate

If you do follow this advice, but so does everyone else (I wish), then the more open posture may be just the thing that pushes you over the top. So, listen to Grandma and sit up straight … and stretch it out. Because science says so.


(Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter,


©2020 Erika Ettin