Scientific American recently had a terrific article about the reality behind online dating, which shows scientifically what psychologists have known for a long time. Online dating doesn’t work very well.
The data is fascinating. The biggest problem is deception. Twenty percent of online daters admit openly to deception, but the real numbers are probably closer to 90% since that’s the number most online daters say fits the other daters online.
Everyone, male and female, adds about 1 inch of height. Everyone is attractive, in a strange sort of Lake Woebegone world, only 1% of online daters say they are less than average attractive. Wow! A world of movie stars and models. If only!
Women lie a lot about their weight. In their 20’s they lower their real weight by an average of five pounds, in their 30’s this “error” goes up to 17 pounds, and in their 40’s they are deceptively reporting their weight as an average of 19 lbs. under their real weight!
Everyone lies about their age. Men will say they are 36 rather than 37-41. Women say they are 29 rather than 30-34. They also like the ages of 35 and 44 rather than their real ages.
All this would be fine if the services worked. But they don’t. There is a terrific White Paper written by Philip Zimbardo, Mark Thompson, and Glenn Hutchinson: CONSUMERS ARE HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT ONLINE DATING.
In it Zimbardo, a former president of the American Psychological Association, concludes about one popular service, “When eHarmony recommends someone as a compatible match, there is a 1 in 500 chance that you’ll marry this person…. Given that eHarmony delivers about 1.5 matches a month, if you went on a date with all of them, it would take 346 dates and 19 years to reach [a] 50% chance of getting married.”
Other services overpromise and undeliver too. Match.com claims 15 million members, but only 1 million are paying members, which means that only 1 in 15 “member” can even reply to emails. This sets users up for rejection when they contact a user who is not able to respond.
In general, there are probably far fewer Americans than advertised using online dating services, and surveys suggest that less than 25% of them are satisfied.
There is also the “click” problem. This is where singles, thinking there is an infinite supply of available singles, will click away the instant they detect any flaws or problems. And most only allow for one date with potential mates, since why spend time getting to know someone when there is probably someone better over the online horizon.
So, online dating promises deception about appearance, age, income, and other things, and sets you up for disappointment and rejection. And yet it has become the way that many tech-savvy singles use to meet people.
Why? I think it’s because we’ve gotten too timid and afraid of the real world. There are a million opportunities to meet people in the offline world. But it takes a little courage and chutzpah to meet them.
The real world offers some real advantages. In the real world, you get to see people and there is no deception in terms of appearance (other than good lighting or makeup or elevator shoes). Age you can evaluate by appearance and personality you can quickly ascertain. Let me give you some suggestions for how to meet people in the real world.
Women, start by getting over your fear of flirting. Men are eager to approach you and talk with you, you just have to show them with smiles and eye contact that they won’t be rejected if they do. If you see a guy you think is cute, smile at him. Go up to him and ask him any question, it doesn’t matter. Start a conversation with him. This could be in a café, bar, restaurant, or bookstore. It doesn’t matter. If he is interested he will talk with you, and if you hit it off, he may ask you for your phone number. But if he is timid, he may chicken out, so if you like him, don’t let him get away. Suggest that you exchange cell phone numbers or email addresses so you can “get a cup of coffee sometime.” This will overcome the fear of most men, and if he demurs, then it’s probably because he is either not interested or not available. (You might want to look him in the eye, and ask him point blank, “do you have a girlfriend or a wife?”)
Men, you too must get over your fear of flirting and rejection. Start by talking to women more. Talk in line at the post office, at your favorite café, in the store, at work, etc. Learn how to make women laugh, that’s the thing most women like in a man. And don’t be afraid to ask a woman for her phone number or email address. What’s the worst thing that will happen? She might say no. Big deal!
If you really want to make it easy, start by looking around your workplace for attractive potential partners. Or join a biking or hiking club, and get to know its members. The main thing is to get out of your apartment or house, and go places where people hang out, and start to talk with them, flirt with them, and get comfortable asking them to coffee, drinks, lunch, or dinner. The offline world is full of exciting, attractive people, all you have to do is put down your mouse, close your laptop computer, and go out into the real world!
Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions
Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.