I don't remember how I stumbled upon The Truth about Online Dating in Scientific American, but it's an entertaining read.

Before I get into it, though, I must admit that I've never played the on-line dating game. I've never been comfortable with the idea or felt compelled to get past my resistance to the expectations and judgments involved.

Anyway, numerous passages caught my eye.

Apparently there are folks who never use their real photos and even take to changing them now and then, as one might in an advertising campaign:

But Chris was not the woman in the online photos. This wasn't a question of an age discrepancy or a new hairdo. She was a completely different woman. Chris was in marketing, you see, and to her it was simply a good strategy to post photographs that would draw in as many "customers" as possible. I never said a word about the photos. I just enjoyed our conversation and the refreshments. A few weeks later I noticed that Chris had replaced the photos with those of yet another woman.

And, of course, everyone is above average:

If you are a Garrison Keillor fan, you have probably heard about the fictional Lake Wobegon on National Public Radio, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." In the online dating community, similar rules apply: in one study, only 1 percent of online daters listed their appearance as "less than average."

And apparently there's a type of SEO that goes along with getting yourself to rank well in the dating search process:

There are also straightforward, practical reasons for lying. One recent study showed that men claiming incomes exceeding $250,000 got 151 percent more replies than men claiming ­incomes less than $50,000, for example. Many women are quite open about listing much younger ages, often stating in the text of their profiles that they have listed a younger age to make sure they turn up in searches. (Because men often use age cutoffs in their searches, women who list ages above that cutoff will never be seen.)


And what about those on-line tests that promise your "perfect mach"?

I have been a researcher for about 30 years and a test designer for nearly half those years. When I see extravagant ads for online tests that promise to find people a soul mate, I find myself asking, "How on earth could such a test exist?"
The truth is, it doesn't.
For a psychometric evaluation to be taken seriously by scientists, the test itself needs to clear two hurdles. It needs to be shown to be reliable--which means, roughly, that you can count on it to produce stable results. And it needs to be shown to be a valid measure of what it is supposed to be measuring. With a test that matches people up, such validity would be established by showing that the resulting romantic pairings are actually successful.

Have you tried on-line dating services? Did they work for you or someone you know?

I have absolutely no idea how common it is among people I know. It really doesn't come up much in conversation.

Posted by jzawodn at February 01, 2007 07:27 AM

Reader Comments
# Derek said:

My now-wife and I met through an online dating site. Although amusingly the "hookup" that the site provided went horribly foul. It was only a year or so later that we got together and were both in the right "place" for such a thing.

Contrarily, online sites can be "just as bad" at hooking people up as real life. We have two friends who we thought were perfect for each other, and we got them hooked up. After one dinner they both came away thinking "uh, no frickin' way". Amusingly, we found out that - six months later - eHarmony (one of those "we psychoanalyze you and find a perfect match" sites) had paired them as a perfect match, which obviously wasn't the case.

I think it's like any other means of meeting a potential mate. It simply provides a "conduit" for two people who might be interested in each other to begin to break the ice easily. In that respect, it's a lot easier than, say, trying to ask out that co-worker, or any of a myriad other potentially awkward situations. But it's certainly not for everyone, and certainly isn't a system that you should be "gaming" so to speak. A relationship that doesn't have a foundation of honesty and truth isn't going to last.

on February 1, 2007 08:03 AM
# Gurtie said:

>>There are also straightforward, practical reasons for lying. One recent study showed that men claiming incomes exceeding $250,000 got 151 percent more replies than men claiming ­incomes less than $50,000, for example.

eeeeew, surely the last thing you want is someone contacting you because despite her thinking you an ugly jerk she believes you can pay for dinner? I guess men who find that helpful are probably not looking for an, erm, [i]lasting[/i] relationship?

on February 1, 2007 08:28 AM
# phil maher said:

Lol, nice find! So I tried online dating a ton! I wanted to believe in the myth that someone perfect is out there looking for me...like ships in the night, the internet was going to be the place to meet.

I enjoyed the conveience of being able to flop on the couch after a long day and open my notebook and start emailing and chatting with women...it rocked.

So I went on a bunch of dates and they are were kind of the same, nothing really sparked my attention to these women.

After doing this I will NEVER do online dating again. I didn't have a horrible time with it, rather there is something so special about meeting people in person. I mean that as a human we can filter out WAY better by meeting people in person then we can on the internet.

on February 1, 2007 08:33 AM
# Eric said:

I've tried it (mostly out of a "hey why not?" type thing), but I can't say it worked too well. The biggest problem I noticed was simply one of demographics - people who turn to online dating are disproportionately in their 30's and 40's. At 24, I found the pickings were pretty slim; there just aren't that many girls in my age group on these sites.

I think it's appropriate to liken the experience to sales and marketing. A pretty picture grabs attention. A profile is your sales pitch. There's a ratio of the number of people you'll contact to people that'll bite. All in all, it's not something I'd recommend, and not a good way to meet people (let alone a partner). A lot of people lie, but for the most part they're pretty obvious if you have half a brain.

That said, I've met a ton of people online that I later had offline friendships (and even a few relationships) with. But these never came through personals sites.

Meeting people online is just like meeting people offline. The places I've met people include forums, blogs, Flickr, and craigslist (not the personals section), among others. I've also found and joined offline clubs through upcoming.org & meetup. You get to know people, make friends, chat with them, and if you're geographically close enough, meet up in real life sometime. And as a point of note, the personals sites I found that work best are the ones organized around community and social networking rather than profiles and emailing.

I think the key is participation: the more you participate, and the more ways any given site gives you to participate, then the more people you'll meet and befriend. (And locally oriented sites help).

on February 1, 2007 08:36 AM
# Mike Conlen said:

I started using online "dating" sites when I started traveling as a consultant from city to city every few months. I was "on the road" 28 days a month on average so wherever I was was more home to me than "home". Mostly I just used the sites as a way to meet people when I went to new places.

My first experience was very positive. I was open about the fact that I was in the area for six months and looking for something that was likely going to end when my contract ended and I had lined up a date before I even got to the area. That relationship lasted exactly as long as predicted and we parted friends.

That experience and others like it encouraged me to try it when my professional life changed and I stopped moving from place to place.

I never took the websites seriously. I used them as a place to meet people and break the ice. I'm not the sort who enjoys meeting people in bars and clubs, I work from home, for myself. If I started chatting or emailing with someone near by who seemed interesting, I'd go out with them. It was very hit and miss but I always had fun.

I met my current girlfriend on one of the more fun online dating sites. The website doesn't take itself too seriously and neither did we. She's someone I would have never met had it not been for online dating and now we are living together.

I can say from my experiences that I've met more people I'd consider "sketchy" in person first rather than online first, though there have been plenty on both sides. The biggest problem I found (back when I was younger) was girls who claimed to be women, that is they are below the age of consent and claim to be above it. Now that I'm older I've stopped meeting 18 and 19 year olds and it's not as much of a problem anymore.

on February 1, 2007 09:08 AM
# scott schnaars said:

Remember the girl on the billboard? Head over to the Yahoo personals team and ask around about the success stories. They are happy to share stats with you.

on February 1, 2007 09:19 AM
# AK said:

Similar to Mike's comment, I think online dating helped me meet a great girl I might not have met otherwise. I remember performing that first search and thinking - man, there's no way I'd be able to go up and talk to these girls in person, but online dating helped make that first introduction part so much easier.

ps: there's a great blog being written by someone in Yahoo! Personals. Talks about all the good/bad things that come with online dating - definitely worth a read.

on February 1, 2007 10:01 AM
# Chris "Silver" Smith said:

Jeremy, I'd say it's pretty common overall, so there's quite a number of us that might fall in your general demographic who use online dating.

I've done it for quite some years, though not very heavily. Also, I've primarily only used a site devoted to people from my same, specific religious background, and that maybe improves targeting some.

Another major problem with those "perfect match" sites based on matching people who have compatible questionaires is that they're also highly dependent upon having a large enough group of participants in order to provide good chances of matches. Quite simply, if your ideal matches are less-common types of people, those sites are far less likely to work. For average people they might work well, since the comparison group would be larger with more choices of individuals that might match well with one. I'm fairly unique in a number of ways, so I severely doubt matchmaking sites like that would work well for me.

Quite a number of people apparently use Craig's List, but it appears to me to be much more of a free-for-all. Nice to have normalized description profile fields for contextual clues about whether a person is right or not.

One of my friends did some surveying and found that there were quite a number of bogus profiles in some major dating sites -- these were apparently from mail-order bride outfits and they even scanned in photos of models from magazines to use. With a little care, these bogus profiles are moderately easy to identify.

on February 1, 2007 10:05 AM
# Anonymous said:

My girlfriend and I met through Yahoo! Personals. I found that there were quite a lot of local girls (er, women aged 18-25) on Y!P. My girlfriend (who is not a nerd by any means) had been doing Yahoo and other Personals sites since 2001 and had varying success. She learned very quickly to 1) only talk to guys with photos and 2) to run away if the photos don't look like the person. She would literally hide somewhere, wait for them to show up, and leave if they didn't look like the photos.

The thing to realize is that it's a numbers game. I e-mailed probably 70 girls in one month. Less than 10 responded. My message was basically a short, two or three line message asking them to look at my profile (the text for which was very lengthy) and let me know if they're interested. About 4 of those turned into dates. And one of those dates was with my girlfriend... we've been together for nearly 16 months now and will probably get married. We both had actual photos of ourselves, as did the rest of the girls I dated through Y!P.

I did find a fair number of fake profiles. They would respond with links to porn landing pages, basically. "I've got a web page here! Some of my pics are a little wild! I hope I'm not being too forward! Hee hee!" Practically the same script every time.

The Internet is an easy way to cast a wide net. Most of the catches will be throwaways, but your chances of eventual success are pretty darn high. Think about it: 1) People on personals sites are A) available and B) actively looking for romance. 2) You can see photos and match "important stuff" (education, religion, etc.) up-front. You never have to even talk to the people who don't match your criteria.

on February 1, 2007 10:42 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


Thanks. I didn't know there was a Y! Personals blog. Or at least I did and then forgot.

on February 1, 2007 10:45 AM
# David Ottow said:

I met my wife 3 years ago on eHarmony. We got married last August. I was honest, as was she. I think that online dating allowed us to broach a lot of important subjects via IM before we met face-to-face and quickly make sure we were compatible. Online dating definitely worked for me!

on February 1, 2007 10:47 AM
# Jeremy Palmer said:

Interesting read. It sounds a lot like the data published in one of my favorite books (Freakonomics) a few years back.

on February 1, 2007 11:36 AM
# Asa Bour said:

Mandy and I met through Yahoo Personals and are happily married.

Caveat Emptor!

on February 1, 2007 12:32 PM
# Rasmus said:

The thing that always bugs me about people being surprised about statements like "90% claimed to be above average" is that there is nothing mathematically wrong with that. Take the case where you have 10 people. 9 of them are rated 10 and one of them 5. The average is obviously 9.5 and since 9 of the 10 are 10's then 90% are above average. It makes perfect sense. I think people confuse average with median.

on February 1, 2007 12:42 PM

Online dating?Bullshiting.There is no such thing as that in Croatia.If you wanna met woman,then go to Bar.That's it.

on February 1, 2007 03:05 PM
# said:

I have used Yahoo (and other) on-line dating with poor results.

In general, the number of women registered with Yahoo Personals within a 50 mile radius of where I live was pretty limited. Of those, the number of women who weighed less than I do and had all their teeth was decidedly low. Factor-in those without children who don't look like recent mental ward parolees, and the number of eligible prospects was darn near zero.

In all seriousness, the few ladies I found attractive never responded to any of my [uber-compelling] messages.

I later realized that just as several of the "hot-girl" ads were about to be classified as 'inactive' (they hadn't logged in for 90 days), miraculously, they would "check-in" on day 89, and be "active" for almost 90 days, and the pattern repeated. Sad tactic (on the part of the service).

I met one girl, in person, who deserves to be single.

I met another via on-line dating, who I only ever chatted with over the phone. She really enjoyed talking dirty/having phone sex. She ulimately insisted that we meet, in person, to have sex. As a red-blooded male, I found the offer attractive, but, ultimately, decided that I wasn't in the mood... She terminated our "relationship" after that.

A seemingly nice girl asked me to have dinner with her tonight - she IM'd me about 100 times today (presumably to confirm), while I was presenting a webinar (and away from my desk). Because I didn't respond to her within one-hour (or whatever her A-D-D threshold was), she decided to blow me off, first, and e-mailed me saying that "she didn't think I was still interested in meeting".

I have started to date some of the divorced women at my job; it's easier, though potentially dangerous.

on February 1, 2007 07:53 PM
# Matt said:

In the modern legal climate, where dating a cow-orker can get you both fired and sued when the relationship ends, a lot of people naturally turn to online dating. Plus, it serves to at least weed out the folks who aren't interested.

I tried the online dating thing, but never managed to get a response to any messages. So, after figuring I'd die a virgin, a friend I'd long written off as unavailable to me, announced she has a crush. The wedding will be early next year. :)

But I do have friends that the online-dating thing has worked for.

on February 1, 2007 10:48 PM
# Bo Nash said:

I've worked at two of the major online dating sites. Overall, it was an amazing lesson in sociology and demographics. Having seen the nuts and bolts of how these things work, would I recommend it? Sure, I'd try pretty much any of the majors except maybe eHarmony. I'm not a fan of how their system pairs you up without you being able to filter people out yourself. Like other posters have basically said, a human's still the best bullshit detector. If you use a little common sense and pay attention to weed out the people gaming the system, it can be a great way to meet people. Think of the sites as just the initial filter -- a search tool to help you find people. After that, dating is still dating. Once you've met, it's still all about how you relate to each other as people. The same things are the ones that matter: honesty, communication, attraction, etc.

on February 2, 2007 01:05 AM
# Bo Nash said:

Sorry for the double post. I just finished the SA article and had a couple more thoughts beyond the more general question Jeremy asked...

---The Lake Wobegon Effect---
There are more reasons than just dishonesty as to why nobody appears to rank themselves as below average by this study. Here are two I can think of off the top of my head.
1 - This is the big one -- I'll bet that the numbers quoted in that article are pretty close to how attractive people THINK they are. There are often large discrepancies between how "hot" people are, and how "hot" they think they are. Even the "truly ugly" people consider themselves average. There's something about basic human self-esteem that prevents people from thinking too negatively about themselves. Besides that, society helps boost them up, too. Most people are polite, and short of stories like Quasimodo, most people are pretty kind to others in that regard, even if they wouldn't date them themselves. Think about it ... how often do you hear people pulling out the old "she's got a great personality" or "he's just a little husky" lines when describing friends?
2 - It'd be interesting to see how these researchers chose truly random profiles to critique. Were they given full access to the companies' databases and given free reign to query against it as they chose? Or did they do this research from the outside, using the sites' search tools and selecting random numbered results? If they did something along these lines, then there's a technical reason that could skew their results heavily -- If you have a database of 15 million people, how do you index that and quickly return the results to the searcher? And how do you ensure you're returning the "best" or "most pleasing" results to the searcher? Don't you think that if all other search criteria were equal it would benefit the perceived quality of the results if the last line of your query looked something like "sort by attractiveness desc"? Since they're only going to return the top X pages of the search result and not all 15 million members (like even the biggest search engines do) it's very likely you'd be cutting the less attractive people out of the possible returns.

--Guarantees that a company can find you a soul mate--
It might be more valuable to scientifically prove true soul mates exist before proving that a service can find you one, don't you think? I don't say this (entirely) to be a smartass, but more to point out that we're talking about a very subjective goal here. This a pure and simple marketing spin, that lays out a big promise to get your attention, and yeah, because that's what many people are seeking. It relies on the numbers game of all guarantees, knowing that most people are too lazy to claim guarantees... and it's not like it costs the company anything to give you "your next X months free," which you'll notice is usually the guarantee. In fact, even if you're not paying them, your profile is worth quite a lot to them. They want to keep their shelves stocked with people who might attract someone else enough to be willing to pay to talk to you. And if someone who you find really attractive contacts you, don't you think you might pay for a membership so you can respond to them? Never forget that the people in those profiles, not search algorithms and pairing technologies are the product these companies are really selling.

on February 2, 2007 02:04 AM
# Merlynn said:

I very unexpectedly met someone online in a game, a MMUD called Second Life, and it changed my life. I was not looking to meet anyone, but ended up forming a fabulous friendship that quickly, but not too quickly, blossomed into an online romance. Being one of those people who always responded negatively when friends told me they 'met someone online,' I had to eat a lot of crow and admit that I was wrong about online dating. We exchanged photos early on, and I admit I did not send a photo of myself the first time,and I also took 10 years off my age... typical insecurities were behind those moves. I didn't realize how important to me this person I met would eventually become, but I admitted my deception and things moved forward. With as much as I have learned about my online "boyfriend," I have to say that at this point I wouldn't care if he was three feet tall and purple, his personality and character far transcend any physical attributes he possesses. We have spent so much time together online and on the phone I feel I know him better than any man I have ever met in person, and we have discussed things openly that I think I would have hesitated to bring up in a face-to-face meeting. I also have several friends who have married people who they met online, one is having their 3 year anniversary next month, one is newly married. I think online dating has its merits, and that people are just as deceptive online as they are in person, but it doesn't take long to weed out those unworthy. It all depends on what you consider to be important qualities of a potential mate. If looks are all that are important to you, you are bound to be disappointed more often than not, whether in online dating or any other kind.

on February 2, 2007 07:41 PM
# andrew wee said:

The whole thing with online dating is that your first priority should be to make friends and have fun.

If you're looking for a lifemate, then either a personal referal or a matchmaking service will likely provide better results.

With that having been said, people lie on forums and social networking sites about their personal info, so why shouldn't online dating be any different.

And there're a number of paperbacks and info products intended to help you 'optimize' your dating chances.

The problem is that most of these products are purchased and practised by the PUA (pick up artist) crowd, rather than the average joes and janes who might use it to up their online dating quotient.

If you're out to have fun, online dating is ok.
If you're out to find a mate, you might have better prospects with a 'brick and mortar' approach.

on February 3, 2007 02:51 PM
# Ravi said:

I tried it for a while, but it stopped being fun very quickly. It takes far too long to cut through the b.s. and actually figure out if the person would be worthwhile. Much more effective to just meet me people in person. In 30 seconds you can figure our more in person than you would reading an online profile and google searching for hours.

on February 6, 2007 09:43 AM
# Jay Allen said:

My fiancee and I met on Nerve.com a little over a year ago. It was my very first foray into online dating and it only lasted three days. Hence I can't help but think that if you do it right, it works.

The biggest problem IMHO with personals sites is not the sites themselves but with people's usage of them. Most people write about four or five sentences about themselves and blithely fill out whatever mostly useless stock questions the service asks you. Trying to figure who someone is about by that little amount of information is tantamount to trying to discern someone's place of origin based on the way they say one word.

When I filled out my profile, I WROTE about ten to fifteen paragraphs. The first was a basic summary and the rest read like a conversation with a friend. Not enough to really know who I am, but certainly enough information for someone to know whether or not they want to meet me.

And apparently, it worked... YMMV of course.

on February 6, 2007 11:24 AM
# Optimizer said:

Online Dating, like anything else, is a gamble. You'll never know whom you are going to meet, and deal with. It all depends on your luck, finding the right person .. at the right place..and at the right time right? Be it Online.. or offline.. :)

on February 6, 2007 07:33 PM
# Ed said:

I met my fiance on eHarmony. She was the second girl I talked to, first I met. We lived an hour apart so the odds of us meeting in person were basically zero.

My good friend spent a year on eHarmony. He had three dates, and they all crashed and burned.

My point? None, really.

on February 7, 2007 08:04 AM
# Chris Dunphy said:

I'd suggest checking out OkCupid.com

Totally free site with a matchmaking engine written by MIT math-geeks. I've had a lot of fun playing on that site, and have met many cool people.

Cheers -

- chris // www.radven.net

on February 14, 2007 03:39 PM
# Nouveau Riche said:

Think about that online dating is sometime a beautiful illusion and when you go to a date and get struck by reality you might just lose your interest on finding a date for the rest of your life. It is better to try other means than online dating...

on March 6, 2008 09:41 PM
# Karen Rose from Sexy Russian-Dating said:

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on May 26, 2009 11:14 PM
# Abner said:

You know, I can sit here and read the many experiences that women have had with dating sites, but I have been in this little game long enough to know that the odds are really in favor of women... I mean, think about it, everywhere you go, even on a website, the good looking women, NEVER HAVE ANY PROBLEMS GETTING A DATE ONLINE OR IN THE REAL WORLD... Never! Dating websites are no different, the odds are in their favor... So if you are an average Joe, forget it... either you lie and get yourself some pictures of yourself when you used to look good and younger, or just learn to live with the bad hand that was given to you in life... I am a 29 year old virgin who despite of knowing that being desperate will not help your chances, I can't help but to act more and more desperate as I know I have a biological clock ticking... and I am only getting older by the minute!!! And the irony is, I am not a bad looking guy, but since I have no world experience with relationships, I am always bound to make mistakes that will lead to my supreme solitude! However, I will say this, dam you all women who complain and bitch about your husband abusing you physically and mentally, because here I am, a good man who is humble and honest, have tried all of my life to get a decent girl, and yet, I will probably die as a single man because of your little games, rules, and willingness to remove the desperate guys from your life like me! Dam you all, because at the end of the day, you will ignore me, refuse to date me, and see me, but yet you will return to your abusive ex for some more abuse!!! All I can say is, power to you ladies!!!

on January 4, 2010 02:13 AM
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