what's love got to do with emojis???

Yep, that’s exactly what it is. Valentine’s Day. If you’ve found your lover, you can stop reading now (okay, not really – maintenance!). If you’re still looking, keep on reading: the following may be highly pertinent information for you!

A well-placed emoji or exclamation mark (both!) can make your online dating profile stick out among the thousands and hundreds of thousands (millions) floating around the digital ether. A smartly-used little picture can get you an answer, a date, even a relationship – even sex! “How” you are asking? Well here are the five key ways of improving your online dating experience through punctuation.

Alright, first off: emojis are punctuation.

Punctuation – from an expansive point of view – is any glyph (a fancy word for “sign”) that orders text, that separates it, sections it out. Sometimes such glyphs point out grammatical or syntactical relationships, such as a colon used for introducing lists; sometimes, glyphs offer a comment of sorts on the preceding words, for example #self-referential. Sometimes glyphs make us do something to the text, literally make us do something, namely rove around with our eyes, flip through the book or scroll through the document with our hands, an asterisk or footnote for instance has us go on a wild-goose chase for proof and pointers outside the text at hand. Such glyphs might even make us leave what we’re reading altogether and go to the library or Mrs Google to follow the hyperlink down the rabbit hole. Some – I’d contend all – punctuation captures feelings and binds them onto the page, sneaking into our own emotional system.

According to this capacious definition, emojis certainly belong to punctuation: they create boundaries between words or sentences, they offer non-alphabetical comments, and they encode feeling in text.

They marshal words into order by appearing at the end of a word or sentence or paragraph, or between two connected but discrete sections. They’re alternative spaces between words, one could say, telling us where one word stops and another starts.

They offer a comment on the surrounding words, for example if I wish someone good night in a text message, I’ll add a star or moon, or bed. Those emojis are just decoration. They prettify and I think they express that the other person is important to us because we go to the length of picking and choosing from hundreds of emoji in order to tell them a little story, make the message a tiny bit more lovely and personal.

I might also add  an ironic emoji when I actually mean the opposite, for instance “Trump says climate change doesn’t exist 😤”.


And then of course feelings… emojis deserve shelves and shelves of books on them – they’re complicated creatures, as are regular punctuation marks – as are we the people – but what’s safe to say for now is that emojis (as per their name) have something to do with emotion. They’re supposed to express the emotions of the writer, and it’s hoped they evoke a particular emotion in the reader. Smiley faces of various sorts are perhaps the most straightforward emoji belonging to that category.

So far so good. And what does any of this have to do with punctuation?

It has everything to do with punctuation.

Writing is a tricky disembodied business. Most things that can go wrong do go wrong: we don’t have our voice to modulate the tone of the words we’re saying (writing); we don’t have body posture, facial expressions, hand movements, gaze, the co-regulation of two bodies sharing the same space. We don’t have any of that when we send written words out as ambassadors for us, doing an astonishing amount of social work for us.

The internet is the ultimate world of disembodiment: it’s not only that the ordinary problems of (mis)communication persist; we also struggle with the lack of material evidence for the other person’s existence. Paper, that’s something the writer held in their hands before sending it to us readers. There might be folds. There might be scratchings-out, underlinings, blotches. In the virtual world, there’s none of that. We’re really reduced to just an electronic impulse. Zeros and ones and zeros again.

So, it’s no surprise at all that we try hard to control how someone might interpret our naked string of words that’s so emptied out of any trait or evidence of “us”. 

It makes perfect sense we should hang onto emojis for dear life, to recruit them for our desperate need to communicate. It’s also clear emojis should powerfully impact digital spheres where the main purpose is to present oneself and meet people. Such as online dating.

A 2021 analysis by a Tinder user of her data showed that 57% of all first messages following a match remain unanswered. That’s more than half! Perhaps a disheartening justification for the flack levelled at Tinder whose rationale seems to be based on a numbers game: swiping right with as many people as possible as intuitively as possible (that is, whether you respond to the pictures or not), rather than discerning who you’d realistically like to meet. Depending on the few pictures and even fewer information the app allows its users to include. Not exactly a promising avenue for the most important decision of your life.

Whatever the reasons for those unanswered calls for mating are, the bottomline is clear: you have to stick out. Online dating is a cold cold unforgiving world, punishing any mistake or oversight with indifference and ghosting, particularly at the beginning. So, profiles and first messages are crucial. Eyeballs eyeballs eyeballs, people! Attention is the currency of the 21st century.

While the algorithms mixing our profiles like card-games are murky at best and unfair at worst (who shuffles us? How? Why?), in the ideal case scenario we do get to have some kind of say over our self-representation and communication.

And finally, drumroll, here they come…the 5 ultimate tips how to build that bridge over the digital chasm.

1) Use emojis in your profile: sparingly and wisely. (And exclamation marks!)

I ran two little unofficial surveys on Facebook and Twitter, and both showed similar results:

Something similar (in a more professional manner) was cooked up by Adobe in 2022. The Future of Creativity trend report asked 5000 Americans how emojis impacted their life (very much, it turns out). Emojis are everywhere and can positively influence debates and growth around inclusivity and equality of gender, ethnicity, or sexuality. The study is highly readable, because short and sweet, and peppered with emojis. I recommend diving in a bit. For our purposes, it’s important to remember that the study found participants felt more connected to emoji users than other writers. They saw emojists as friendlier, warmer, funnier, and cooler (yay!). More than half were more likely to respond to someone who uses emojis. And the good thing is, the most frequently used emojis (in general, not just a dating context) were pretty simple straightforward ones: 1) 😂  2) 👍🏼  3)❤ 4)🤣 5)😥

It seems that we might not actually be very into the huge number of highly complex pictures… those five here, they’re just what emoticons express: 🙂 and 🙁  happy, sad, very happy, okay, and I like this. We the people are not such nuanced creatures after all.. (We are! And we are not. We’re both!).

Use emoji. But not too many, not as a substitute for words (BIG no-no!). Writing about your hobbies through emojis like so 🛵✈🏝🥾🩲⚽🎹📚 seems cute, but “might delete later” is probably wiser. Do NOT under any circumstances let an emoji be your first message. No waving, bouquets of flowers, winkie-faces, hearts. People will see that as lazy, like you don’t care to actually engage with the profile. You’re just sending this to everyone. Save yourself the trouble. “Trouble”.

Use emojis sparingly, and do not use the “wrong” ones. Which those are? Well. That’s the million-dollar question: some people will find ❤ okay even at the beginning of communicating; others will interpret it as forcing intimacy. Hearts are strictly inner circle family and friends. A study of emoji use in dating by the famous American sexology body the Kinsey Institute found 50% of people indicated they weren’t entirely sure about the meaning of the emojis they were sending around every day. And what does 🙃actually mean? Or 🤠? And those are just faces! What about 🍒🍉🍋🍍??? Pitfalls a-plenty.

Ah, and then of course the Zoosk survey that found a well-placed exclamation mark to be a great match-maker!

2) Be aware of the other person’s culture

We bring all of us into the interpretation of emojis, from our language-specific habits, to cultures, age, which generation we subscribe to, which device we tend to use. And just generally personal preferences. We can probably all agree that 😬 may be confusing, but who would have thought that the plain old 👍🏼 could cause confusion?! Most people above 30 will read 👍🏼 as a general agreement to what was said or suggested above. An okay. Perhaps even a friendly okay. Gen Zers, however, feel it’s abrupt. Passive-aggressive. Shutting conversation down. That’s a little baffling to me, but I think I can get it. A big blue thumbs-up can seem a bit curt. You didn’t even have time to type “sounds good! Smile face”? I keenly feel the need for exaggerated friendliness when texting…

3) 🍆🍆🍆 is not sexy! NO!

No. Just no. 🍆 not even cute for a hook-up. 🍆, 😠 , and 💩 are the least likeable according to Adobe. I’m a little bit sad about 💩. It makes me happy to see it. It looks so friendly, and I have socks with the print. But I might be the only person trying to reclaim it…

The institute also found that people who use emojis in online dating are more successful at dating (they get more first and second dates, and get into relationships more often) – and they have more sex! 

Whether quantity also means quality is a different story, but there you go. What might be behind that? Well, correlation is not causation. So just spraying emojis all over your profile won’t cut it. 

The findings probably mean that people who are drawn to using emojis tend to be more open to emotional encounters and find it easier to build intimacy. Change yourself, and your emojis will also change! And your dating game.

4) Mind your grammar!

Yes, yes, it’s a little uppity up, and I’m the last person cheering for grammar, but it does make sense… an online profile is your business card, your CV. That’s what potential dates see, and you want things to be clean and clear. You want to be seen to make an effort and not be all sloppy and careless. Remember: words are ambassadors! At least women want that. Women are 300% (!!!!) more likely to match with a man with a Good Grasp of Grammar according to ProWritingAid, a platform improving your grammar and spelling (hm…biased?).

This was not a mutual phenomenon, however. In fact, men seemed to prefer women who made mistakes. If we give the benefit of the doubt, we could say participants were tolerant and inclusive, and maybe thought it was a sign of the woman not taking it all so seriously… Or this preference for “dumb women” (I’m extrapolating here, I don’t at all think people are dumb who make writing mistakes) – it means men are looking for someone to dominate intellectually. I suppose, depending on whom you want to attract, check ya spelling, y’all! Harry Styles approves. 

5) Know your app.

Not all online dating apps are the same: the matching modalities are different (swiping? liking?); self-representation is different (how many photos? How much text?); how much can people use the app (Hinge, for example, restricts daily swiping); who writes to whom (Bumble’s concept is about giving women more say by requiring them to write first after a match). Some apps are known for hook-ups such as Tinder – although I know enough long-term couples with Tinder marriages and Tinder babies to refute that stereotype.

So, overall, different technologies, different approaches – and different emojis. Baidu, the Chinese answer to Google conducted an analysis in 2020 on US users, finding different habits across the board of Bumble, Hinge, Tinder, Match, Ok Cupid, and Plenty of Fish. The 😉 is among the top 15 of all, the 😂 in the top five. 😭 emoji only makes the top five on Hinge and Tinder (does it mean anything…?), 🙏🏼 on Bumble (perhaps more of a mutual spirit?), and the 🔥 and 💦 are unique to Ok Cupid. Which is odd, considering their explicit sexual content (some like it hot, producing a splash of, well, “water”).


Good news for us aging millennials! Emoticons seem to be making a come-back – who’d ‘a’ thought?! I have indeed seen them more often, and have used them myself, and I think it’s because emojis are just overly complicated. More below! Emoticons also seem to suggest more emotional maturity as opposed to emoji floods of Gen Zers. Although beware to add a hyphen nose! That REALLY makes you old. Like, boomer old. Linguist Gretchen McCulloch writes about the typographical noses in her excellent Because Internet.


This seems like a no-brainer, but apparently it needs saying: do not break up with someone via emojis. According to Adobe, one third of Gen Z has broken up with someone via a picture (I mean!!! A FREAKING PICTURE. This was confirmed by another third stating they have received an emoji as break-up text. I can’t even. What emoji would one use for that? A 💔? This is just 💀💀💀.

…and will emojis kill exclamation marks…?

Because I’m the exclamation mark lady, people always ask me whether emojis are killing the exclamation mark. I can hereby confidently say that NO, THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN. Why?

So, emojis are indeed super useful for inclusivity and representation and conversations about those topics, and their importance for identity and belonging But that means they’ve become uncoupled from their original purpose (and that’s okay) of being a short-hand form of communication. Texting is an informal medium giving us the illusion of real-time talk. That’s two things here: real-time and talk. 

Because we’re so quick at firing messages back and forth, it seems like we’re writing and messaging at the same time. It all seems spontaneous. But there’s always a time lag that we don’t have when we actually speak face-to-face. Then there’s the illusion of talking. We’re not talking when we’re texting. We’re writing. We’re digitalking as some linguists like David Crystal say. But that’s not the “pure” unadulterated thing-to-sound-making that happens when we actually talk. We still filter our thoughts through words and then our words through fingers typing. This is not talk! And it will never be, no matter what kind of things we come up with in terms of technology. No emojis, gifs, voice-messages, or anything will do away with that filter. 

I for one have no problem with that. Digital communication is just another manifestation of words, text, and picture. But it is not speech. So, I contend that emojis will never replace exclamation marks because:

1) They’re too complicated and intricate for the informality and spontaneousness of texting, making us take time to decipher what the sender intended, and making us scroll through hundreds of similar little pictures in order to find the “right” one for our own message.

2) Lots of room for misinterpretation! As we have seen above, the likelihood for things to go sideways is huge, because emojis are supposed to be easily decodable, but they’re just not. Because humans love metaphor, and making things mean something else than is obvious.

3) We do twice the interpretation effort with emojis than with exclamation marks: we need to discern which emoji is being used (how many tears, which eye shape, rolling side-ways, which skin colour, what kind of hair? This is exhausting!). AND we then need to think about what this particular emojis means in relationship to the words before and after it. An exclamation mark is much more efficient at communicating feeling and setting us the task of interpreting: it’s shape doesn’t relate to anything “out there” that we need to take time over analysing. It just flags up EMOTION and leaves it up to us to interpret. It’s quick and easy, and half the amount of work than emojis. 

So no, I actually believe emojis might become a bit of a fad and fade out. Witness the return of emoticons, the five most used and loved emojis in the Adobe study (those showing easily-recognisable and very basic emotions like happiness, sadness, love, and anger). And: just have a look at your emoji use. Now. Open your whatsapp and see which you have used recently. Isn’t it always the same ones? For me it’s ❤👍🏼😬😂✨🌸and🌈. Oh, and 🙏🏼 of course. 

Those are enough for me to say most things I want to say, or rather to prettify, decorate, and visually/emotionally boost my messages a bit. For me, sending emojis means taking a tiny bit more time, and showing the person I care about them enough to make that little effort. And it makes me happy to get emojis back. It makes a little warm fuzzy inside, and I do feel more connected to the person. Bottomline: THE EXCLAMATION MARK WILL NEVER DIE!


Fun stuff: check out Riane Konc’s hilarious “honest dating profiles of punctuation marks” in the New Yorker: 

I’ve been accused of being too possessive.


Might as well be straight with you now: I’m probably going to end things.

And a silly little quiz: which emojis describes your love life? 

Permission to emoji carefully and intelligently: granted!

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