Online dating has become incredibly common since the mid-1990s. For example, a recent nationally representative survey conducted in the United States revealed that 17% of heterosexual couples and 41% of same-sex couples met over the internet.1 However, as anyone who has ever dated online can tell you, internet dating is a tricky business. People have a tendency to lie and misrepresent themselves in an attempt to maximize their appeal to potential partners. But just how common and serious are these lies, and what effect do they have on someone’s likelihood of getting a date?
It seems as though men and women share the blame equally for deceptive practices in online dating. For instance, in a fascinating study of online daters in New York City, a staggering 87% of men and 76% of women lied about at least one thing in their personal profiles!2 The most lied about characteristic was weight, with nearly two-thirds of both men and women listing a weight in their profile that was five or more pounds discrepant from their actual weight. About half of the participants provided a height that was at least one-half inch different from reality, and approximately one in five participants listed an inaccurate age. Perhaps not surprisingly, the major gender effects that emerged were that men tended to increase their heights, whereas women tended to lower their weights.
However, the profile distortions were small in most cases, such that people generally provided heights, weights, and ages that were at least close to the real numbers. As a result, many of these lies would be difficult to detect in a face-to-face encounter. Unless you work at a carnival as a professional weight guesser, you probably wouldn’t notice if someone weighed five pounds more than his or her profile indicated. But if that’s the case, why bother with these lies in the first place? Will fibbing really get you more dates? Research suggests that, particularly for heterosexual men, these little lies may not help as much as guys think.
First, although both men and women disapprove of lying, women find it to be less acceptable than men, especially with respect to lies about one’s income and education.2 Thus, lying in one’s profile may be a riskier bet for guys if and when the truth eventually comes out. Second, a recent study of female college undergraduates found that the thing women were most drawn to in men’s dating profiles was the amount of confidence they expressed.3 To the extent that women are looking for guys who seem sure of themselves, then fudging your personal statistics is probably a bad idea. If you feel so insecure while writing your profile that you start lying about your looks, it’s likely that your self-doubt is going to show through in other areas, which will ultimately harm your chances of getting a date. Together, the results of these studies suggest that for the best chances of successful online dating, be yourself and be confident in who you are.
1Rosenfeld, M. J., & Thomas, R. J. (in press). Searching for a mate: The rise of the internet as a social intermediary. American Sociological Review.
2Toma, C., Hancock, J. T., & Ellison, N.B. (2008). Separating fact from fiction: An examination of deceptive self-presentation in online dating profiles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1023-1036.
3Brand, R. J., Bonatsos, A., D’Orazio, R., & DeShong, H. (2012). What is beautiful is good, even online: Correlations between photo attractiveness and text attractiveness in men’s online dating profiles. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 166-170.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller's research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.