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On the Hunt Online
by Stirred Up!
2007-05-13 09:49:44
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In the ‘90s, a New York rabbi and a few pushy mothers, determined to marry their offspring to a doctor or to a lawyer, brought us the 3-minute-hop, commonly known as speed dating. The ‘00s brought back dating indoors, as a perfect partner now became just one-click away. With online dating, rules changed forever. The whole dynamics of anonymity and lack of physical audit means online users tend to portray their ideal self as opposed to their real self. The introvert becomes extrovert, the woeful morphs into the witty. Psychologists have researched online dating and have found some startling facts about how it has changed our dating behaviour. This is bad news.

Illustration by Rasha KahilOf course old-fashioned face-to-face dating has always had its level of deception. Men have been socialised into paying first-date compliments that they don’t always mean (“you look so much younger” and “that dress looks really fantastic on you”). Women similarly turned nodding and feigning interest into an art form, as conversations flicked between football, mates and who is ‘a right laugh’. However, online dating takes deception to a whole new level.

Research carried out at Boston University and the MIT found that 20% of e-daters admitted to lying on their profile. More tellingly, the same group estimated that around 90% of other users lie. Lying depends largely on gender.

In a study carried out on match.com, (often quoted as the biggest dating site in the world), they found that women are all miraculously 29: 8 times more women give an age of 29 than of 30 to 34. A similar age spike is found at 39. Shedding a few pounds is also a female prerogative. Women tend to ‘loose’ 5lbs (2kgs) in their 20s, 17lbs (8kgs) in their 30s and a whopping 19lbs (9kgs) in their 40s.

Men are no better but base their deception on a different set of criteria. They lie about their height, salary, education level and, in some cases, their marital status. Put rather harshly, the shorter, fatter and poorer you are the more you lie. Recent estimates in the press have put the number of attached men stating that they are single at between 13–30%. Girls used to online dating will do the maths very quickly.

In a nutshell, we lie about ourselves in order to appear in as many matches as possible, hoping that once we get ‘chosen’ a good follow-up session on MSN will have the magical power to erase all memory of our inaccurate profiles. The ideal-self is the bait; the real-self woos them!

What is of interest is that most relationship theories work both online and off. It seems strange in 2007 that women still portray themselves mainly by looks and age (deciphered as ‘I am healthy and fertile!’) whereas men still play the ‘big provider’ role in their descriptions. Yet, this can be seen in the majority of dating ads not only online but also in newspapers and magazines.

The matching-hypothesis states that we are most likely to date someone who is of the same level of attractiveness (think Brangelina). Same rules apply online where the biggest sin is to not display a picture at all (this will get you six times fewer responses than a profile with a photo). If you need to up your net-value then simply improve your photo. www.lookbetteronline.com will send a professional photographer to your door and a whole new YOU can be uploaded that will bump up your attractiveness and desirability level no end and flood your inbox.

Social Exchange Theory says that couples work best based on costs and rewards. Both have to be getting more rewards than costs for the economy to be sustainable. The rewards each side has to offer can be very different as long as they both add-value. This gives us insight into what the beautiful and fertile Catherine Zeta-Jones sees in multimillionaire A-lister Michael Douglas (and of course visa-versa). On the web this plays out on such sites matching young Russian and Thai brides to would-be, relatively wealthy, middle-aged Westerners. Youth and fertility meet financial resources.

Equity Theory is all about status, and both parties need to match on this criteria if a relationship is to work. No surprise then that Cherie met Tony or that Bill met Hillary. If you don’t have time to look for an alter ego in your 18-hours-a-day schedule, exclusive dating sites bring desirables straight to your laptop. The growth in sites such as www.professionalsinglesonline.com shows that people often filter, on and offline, based on similar education levels, occupation and salary.

The question that begs to be asked is how successful is online dating? Does it really offer us the best chance to meet Mr or Mrs Right? Let’s say that it is an option if you have bucketfuls of time and energy.

Using data supplied from eHarmony, Phillip Zimbardo and his team found a 1 in 500 chance of marrying a person who was found to be a compatible match. Using eHarmony’s criteria of delivering 1.5 matches a month, he grimly summarised that “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." George Michael and school discos all of a sudden seem much more appealing!

But before you all rush off to delete your profiles, there is brighter news. The Internet offers much more than just dating sites. Social network sites such as Myspace and Facebook let you become friends with your friends’ friends and here lays endless possibilities to hook up with your dream man or woman. Some advice first: check that your friend (and your friend’s friends) has not slept with them: it will save a lot of pain and profile-blocking later on.

The whole electronic dating community is also becoming more proactive and consumerist. In true Ebay style, some sites now let you rate other members on such criteria as, honesty of profile, photo accuracy and prowess… And a warning to any men who are not what they seem - you might just find yourself uploaded and profiled on www.dontdatehimgirl.com. Who wants to be described to the world, with picture attached, as;

Is always broke… will sleep with u especially if u lend him money… sends genital pics via the net… had 2chicks pregnant at the same time… is a member of porn sites… recently slept with Tiffany B, Lynette W, Quianna P, Jessica L, Marilyn J, Shekina B. Unprotected.

Or rather more succinctly as:

Beware of this one. He is more trouble than he is worth. Kevin is all about the drama. His dick is big, but he can't work it very well.

For married men, these sites spell disaster – but worry not: where there’s a market there’s a site. www.ashleymadison.com is dedicated to married men and women looking for a bit of extra-marital fun. With a tagline of ‘when monogamy becomes monotony’, it soon becomes clear what is on offer. And if you want to take your illicit lover on a secret trip abroad - no problem. Some sites will even provide you with a fake business trip, including a fake hotel reservation, fake conference passes and a fake certificate to take home. They will even give you a phone number that your husband/wife can ring to tell you how much the kids are missing you.

So what does the future hold for Internet dating? As technology advances so will the online experience. Soon you will be able to visit museums and art galleries without leaving your (separate) homes. Hold hands through sensory gloves and even have a good sniff of his or her pheromones wafting out from the smell cartridge attached to the side of your laptop. And if you do end up having that virtual, slow e-dance – remember, your sins will find you out - even in cyber space, guilty feet have no rhythm.

Chris Telford is a psychology teacher and Stirred Up's jack-of-all-trades.
Illustration by Rasha Kahil

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Mufaddal2008-01-31 23:07:53
An interesting article, I never really thought about internet dating and its advantages myself either. Glad to know someone else has the same views.
Although www.ashleymadison.com worries me a lot, I never realised people would want to make money by "setting up" a lie.

John Hadwen2008-07-17 17:00:45
A very interesting and well written article. Insightful and humorous. I'm not sure whether it makes me want to log on or keep dating strictly offline!

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