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How Long Is Too Long to Keep the Same Profile Pic?

And other hard truths about your dating-app profile

It’s rough out there, guys. Not everyone is blessed with a wealth of terrific photos taken by talented partners, and when a great pic comes around, you gotta milk it for all it’s worth until a new one comes around. But if that next fantastic photo never arrives, how long is too long to cling to that one flattering, high-quality shot? (Hey, you paid good money for those engagement photos, so who cares if you’ve gained 20 pounds and lost more hair since then?)

This brings up an even bigger question as well: What does your chosen profile pic reveal about you, anyway? Should you go with the candid shot your friend took of you at the bar? Should you try to squeeze another year out of that groomsmen pic from your brother’s 2015 wedding? Does it matter if your Tinder, LinkedIn and Facebook photos feature the same polo-khaki combo? (Uh, yeah.)

To bring you the clarity you crave, I’ve consulted with an etiquette expert and, most importantly, several women of the internet. Step one…

Get Your Priorities Straight

It’s all about the vibe you want to give off. What kind of partner are you hoping to land? What kind of guy are you trying to be?

Last year, I wrote “A Gentleman’s Guide to Flirting on Instagram,” advising the men who post peach emojis on my bikini shots not to slide into the DMs. It backfired, and now the thing men DM me about most often is… that article. My problem? I was moving a bit too fast. Before you can even drop your Instagram crush a line without embarrassing yourself, you’ve gotta make sure your own profile is in check.

If you just want a job, choosing the right profile pic is a little easier. No employer is going to grill you on your new hairline as long as you come off as confident, empathetic and professional on LinkedIn. Those headshots from three years ago are just fine. And if you’re a married guy just using Facebook to keep up with friends and family, who cares if you’re using those expensive photos taken at your wedding five years ago?

But if you want someone to think you’re hot, well, get ready to take some notes.

The vibe you choose will depend on the type of person you’re after. My best friend, Jade Sheinwald, a 24-year-old preschool teacher in Seattle, sums it up perfectly: “If you’re a rich bitch, a polo and hands tucked into khaki shorts is nice. If you’re a hip alt bitch, then the profile picture better be taken with a film camera and preferably in black-and-white.” The polo-khaki combo might suggest you’re a “my daddy will sue” type of guy, but it can signal that you’re well-off and presentable, too. That black-and-white film-effect vibe could seem a bit too serious, but it could also show you’re a creative type who values expression.

One thing is for certain, though: Regardless of which type of guy you might be, never ever use a gym selfie as your profile picture.

A Delicate Balance

I don’t make the rules about cultural gender norms, but for some reason, guys using selfies as profile pictures just rubs people the wrong way. I hope for a world where men can feel as free to brazenly love themselves the way I do with my selfies, but I’m unsure we’re there yet — mostly because men aren’t usually very good at taking them. It’s certainly a double standard, and it does vary between platforms. Twitter, I’ve found, is much kinder to the selfie avatar.

Still, a photo taken by someone else is always better, especially on Facebook. On Twitter, I embrace my identity as a dumb bitch, but on Facebook, I prefer to present myself in a way I won’t be too embarrassed about at the next family gathering.

Ava Zelkowitz, 22, my hot friend who lives in Burlington, Vermont, prefers guys who have “goofy but hip” profile pictures. “I need a sense of humor shown in the profile. If it’s a selfie or a serious shot, I worry that they take themselves too seriously.” While a selfie might seem casual, it can feel a bit too self-important. If selfies are the main thing you’re putting forth as your profile photo, it indicates that you don’t get out in the world very much.

“I like to see guys doing an activity in their profile picture so I know they’re a real person,” says Raphaela Boliver, another 24-year-old hottie friend in Burlington. Having a photo someone else took of you suggests you’ve cleared a very low bar in your social life: You know another human being.

By the way, we can all tell the difference between a true candid shot and a “plandid.” (Wow, so you just happened to be caught with perfect posture doing something cool and interesting? Tell me more!) “You either have to own it — that you did try to look hot or cool or whatever — or you don’t try at all,” says Zelkowitz.

So You’ve Found the Perfect Photo…

You convinced a friend with a 35mm DSLR to take a candid shot of you smiling mid-conversation on a thrifted sofa surrounded by beautiful group of friends. You showed up dressed to the nines at party with a photographer and got snapped schmoozing, looking charming but not wasted (yet). Or your wedding photos came back and there’s exactly one that doesn’t bring out your double chin. Congrats! Step one is complete.

Now, how long can you keep using that photo to represent yourself?

“The answer to that question depends on each individual,” says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. “A profile picture should reflect what the individual looks like today, not five or 10 years ago. It’s always best to keep a profile picture updated and looking fresh,” she says.

Here’s the bottom line: “If the profile picture does not resemble the person, it should be changed. Some people look the same two and three years later, but when possible, a new and updated photo adds personality and life to the social media page,” Gottsman concludes.

Sorry, fellas, but if you’re trying to put your best self forward with your profile picture, you’re going to have to acquire documented evidence that you leave the house at least once a year. And no, gym selfies definitely don’t count.