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Cut the Chaff: Weeding Out Undesirables

With only two kid-free Happy Hours and a Friday night each week at my disposal for establishing a dating life, my time is limited for this adventure. Surprisingly, the pool of on-line dating eligible bachelors around my age is quite large, particularly given my new “casual” approach. How can I narrow the playing field down to a select few that I can actually make time to meet with in person?

One winnowing approach would be to look for similarities in our dating profiles. Similarity is strongly linked to liking and attraction.1 Unfortunately, identifying similarity requires reading many long-winded profile descriptions and I don’t have time for that. This brings me to the repulsion hypothesis.2 If a potential dating profile contains information that would signal dissimilarity, a relationship is unlikely to form. Some researchers have actually found that dissimilarity is a better predictor of repulsion than similarity is for attraction.3 There are many things I know I don’t like at this point in my life, so it would be fairly easy to identify them quickly at just the glance of a profile. Because I have hundreds of profiles to sort through, this time-saving strategy was worth a shot.

So what repulses me? Photographs were an easy place to start. I was shocked at the sheer number of men who posted topless photos of themselves taken via their bathroom mirror using their cell phone. Personally, I find this tacky. I also can’t help but wonder why they didn’t at least get a friend to take the photo for them. A few other guys showcased T-shirt collections that they apparently presumed would be funny rather than offensive to women (e.g., “Suck this.”). A substantial portion of men in the pool apparently also have an aversion for the sun, as every single photo depicted them wearing sunglasses. This may be an oversight on the guy’s part, because women rate direct gazes in photographs as more attractive than photos with averted eyes;4 it is a shame that I had to exclude so many men for not even having their eyes visible. Based on my photo elimination procedure, I was able to exclude over ½ the pool. Making progress!

Next…age. How old is too young? There is a “rule of thumb” that dating someone half your age + 7 years is the lower limit of acceptability. Apparently the data show this to be true only for males.5 The lower bounds of this age range for women are much closer to her actual age, with a preference for older men until she is 75 years old.6 Is this true for me? Recently, a 27 year-old asked me out for lunch. I briefly toyed (pun intended) with the idea of meeting him. I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was old enough to be his babysitter when he was born. Having two young boys, this did not sit right with me.

As noted above, similarity is also important for attraction, so I played out a hypothetical conversation with the 27 year-old over lunch. Him: “What did you do last weekend?” Me: “Watched Megamind for the 20th time with my boys. Popped some popcorn. In bed by 10. You?” Him: “Skied Steamboat with some Buddies. Caught a live show. The usual.” Hmm. Rewind my life about 10 years and his response would have been my answer as well -- I would have been pretty similar to the 27 year-old. Not now. I decided to set the lower limit of my acceptable age range to 5 years younger than me.

With a much more manageable pool, my on-line dating re-debut does not feel as overwhelming as it once did. However, I am left wondering whether my elimination criteria are too stringent? Am I at risk of eliminating a lot of false negatives by mistakenly discarding perfectly acceptable guys? In other words, am I missing out on the possibility of a good match just because some sunglass-wearing guy didn’t get the memo that he should be more careful about what his T-shirt says and the impression he is making (hopefully unintentionally)? Stay tuned...

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

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1Byrne, D. (1971). The attraction paradigm. New York: Academic Press.

2Rosenbaum, M. E. (1986). The repulsion hypothesis: On the nondevelopment of relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1156-1161.

3Singh, R., & Ho, S. Y. (2000). Attitudes and attraction: A new test of the attraction, repulsion and similarity-dissimilarity asymmetry hypothesis.  British Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 197-211.

4Strick, M., Holland, R. W., & van Knippenberg, A., (2008). Seductive eyes: Attractiveness and direct gaze increases desire for associated objects. Cognition, 106, 1487-1496.  

5Kenrick, D. T., & Keefe, R. C. (1992). Age preferences in mates reflect sex differences in human reproductive strategies. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 15, 75-133.

6Alterovitz, S. S., & Mendelsohn, G. A. (2011). Partner preferences across the lifespan: Online dating by older adults. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1, 89-95.

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.

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