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Baiting the Hook to Catch a Fish

Being a scientist, I draw many research ideas from my personal life and, admittedly, my personal life provides much to draw from! I have been married and divorced more than once, have traveled the world and tried out many different types of relationships, and I now find myself a single mother of a toddler and preschool aged boy. I also live with my newly retired mom. Talk about being sandwiched. After taking a break from any relationship that remotely smacked of romance for some time now, I have decided to re-enter the dating world.

This column will document my adventures. I know my personal analysis will generate more questions than I initially pose, but that is the scientific process! Putting my personal experiences out there for public scrutiny is a little intimidating for me. But, if my successes, failures, and embarrassing experiences can be used as a way to teach and generate more research questions about relationship science, or at the very least get you to laugh with or at me, I am willing to be the sacrificial lamb. So, here goes.

I recently started on-line dating using the free website, PlentyofFish.com. While I expected my re-entry into the dating world would be quite different from when I was out there last, I had no idea just how different. My last foray was in my early 30s; I finished with school, started a new career, and had no children. Fast forward to post-divorce aftermath: work, playing “good guy/bad guy superheroes” with my little boys and an occasional hour for a glass of wine pretty much characterizes my schedule now. Aside from concerns about even making time to date, I was curious about my new dating pool. How do I best “market” myself on-line to men in their late 30s-mid 40s?

After slamming a few glasses of Pinot, I hammered out a personal profile, threw a few photos up, and made myself publically available for dating consideration. A few days later it was evident that I needed a personal assistant! I could not keep up with the sheer volume of emails from men ranging in age from their late 20s to early 50s. What happened in the last 6 years? I never got that much attention when I tried on-line dating in the past! Are there that many more eligible men now? Did they all get divorced? Am I “lower pressure” now that I already have kids? Then, it hit me. In my desire to be honest about my life circumstances, I said that I was only interested in casual dating and had no desire for a committed relationship. Apparently, this was interpreted in vastly different ways by my potential suitors. I would estimate that 1 out of every 4 emails offered either a make out session, a “romantic rendezvous” when their wives were out of town (yes, actual quote), or better yet, an occasional F’buddy.

When I tried internet dating in my early 30s, I was looking for a more serious relationship. I got a bit of attention, but nothing like this. Why am I surprised? As a psychologist, I should know that one of the oldest and most effective selling tricks capitalizes on the scarcity principle.1 The more unavailable or unobtainable something is, the more we perceive it to be of value. As a “casual” dater, I was making it clear that I would be dating other people and am a slippery fish to catch (Let the competition begin!). Just the simple act of conveying my lack of seriousness and availability inadvertently made the harder-to-get-me all the more appealing to the pool of fishing bachelors. Obviously, some guys interpreted my “casualness” as being open to an “intimate encounter” of some form or another. Research has shown that men interpret interpersonal cues as being more “sexual” in intent than women do,2 so that wasn’t a real shocker. Out of curiosity, I temporarily changed my “relationship intent” to being a long-term relationship for a week. My in-box flow dropped substantially. Clearly, I had to switch it back.

This overwhelming, flirtatious attention is fun, albeit time consuming. However, I am left with a lingering question: Should I have lied about my romantic intent in years past? At various points in my life, I really wanted a serious relationship. By stating that I don’t want one now, I have generated a lot of interest, and not just from the smarmy types. Playing hard to get works, but isn’t honesty important, especially when it comes to telling someone what kind of relationship you are looking for?  Feel free to post your idea/reactions/comments below!

If you have a question or idea for me (or any of the other researchers on SofR), you can submit it here.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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1Cialdini, R. B. (2008). Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 

2Farris, C., Treat, T. A., Viken, R. J., & McFall, R. M. (2008). Sexual coercion and the misperception of sexual intent Clinical Psychology Review, 28, 48–66.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating...Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

image source: askmissa.com

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Reader Comments (2)

I would interpret your status of not wanting a serious relationship and being open to casual dating to be 'easy to get' not 'hard to get' and so you're getting lots of men looking for the 'low hanging fruit' so to speak. If a woman says she's looking only for a committed relationship then she's 'hard to get', and will get fewer responses, weeding out the 'hookup' guys.

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCliff

I have always tended to appear to be a little more casual then what Im acutally looking for in dating profiles. It has definitely kept my inbox full but doesn't help me to find anyone on the same page as me. Anyone I've found a connection with as a result of down playing what I was looking for just felt like luck. I think it's a better idea to just be honest about where you are, no matters where that ends up being.

July 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBerg
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