3 Reasons Why Online Dating Misleads You With Information You Don’t Need

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Ever since I met my boyfriend off Tinder, I have been particularly proselytizing about the virtues of Tinder. Tinder is a hookup app, right? What are the odds I meet someone I’m super into who’s also super into me, on Tinder?! (I’m mildly afraid of jinxing this freshly instated relationship by gushing about it too much on a public platform but I’m currently too euphoric to care~~~)

I read this article by Eli Finkel, who is a psychology professor at Northwestern University, “In Defense of Tinder“, and the article had some interesting things to say about algorithm-dependent, profile-heavy online dating as a method of figuring out compatibility. Here are my thoughts on why such online dating profiles lead you on to believe you know more about your compatibility with someone than you actually do.

1. We overstate the objective criteria that matter to us.

So we all have preferences for whom we find attractive; there’s no shame in that. On OkCupid, I restricted viewable profiles to those aged 24-36, and those were taller than 5’8″. I didn’t want to deal with less mature men, and I like my men at least a little taller than me. I also said I would strongly disprefer someone who didn’t think physical attractiveness was important in a match, because I assumed that only physically unattractive people would think that physical attractiveness was unimportant.

So who’s to say that I wouldn’t meet a 23 year old at a house party, worldly and wise beyond his years, still full of youthful virility? Who’s to say that I wouldn’t fall for a fellow subway commuter I’d make eyes at, even if he lived in Hoboken? (I once went on a date with someone who said he lived in “New York, NY” but I found out that he actually lived in Hoboken. All goodwill perished at that point, 15 minutes into the date, and I had to bear on with the two-faced liar.)

Who’s to say that some goofball didn’t answer the OkCupid questions sincerely and gave bullshit answers in a bid to be funny? We set all these arbitrary criteria that rule things out we have historically or socially deemed to be unsuitable when we should really be focusing on how we actually interface with the person, which leads me to my next point.

2. The things we should be basing our criteria on cannot be revealed in an online profile.

There’s a great quote from this study in the Journal of Interactive Marketing about online dating (the very idea of which tickles me, as a digital marketer obsessed with the phenomenon that is online dating):

…Online dating frequently fails to meet user expectations – because people, unlike many commodities available for purchase online, are experience goods: daters wish to screen potential romantic partners by experiential attributes (such as sense of humor or rapport), but online dating Web sites force them to screen by searchable attributes (such as income or religion).

It’s so true! Dating is inherently “experiential”. Someone could check all the criteria but still just not click the right way in person. Or someone could check all the criteria on the first pass, but when you’re really into them, it doesn’t even cross your mind that they’re a handsome doctor or a rich banker but just that they are the beautifully imperfect souls that they are. *sniff*

3. The people whose profiles you are intrigued by may not necessarily be people you are compatible with.

This is something that I’ve recently solidified as a fatal flaw in my online dating process. So here’s the thing about me: I am attracted to psychologically complex people. You may have an entirely different Achilles’ heel, like brooding musicians who are too much of a vagabond to commit, or manic pixie dream girls whose emotional stability can often be called into question. The point is, we sometimes like things that aren’t good for us.

I adore it when people allude to having had formative experiences, or have rich mental lives, or are highly self-aware – that is the kind of person I identify with and is the kind of person I want to jump straight into Level 4 (Opinions) or 5 (Feelings) conversations with.  Such people are also really good at writing captivating profiles. But more often than not, people like this are just like me. This also means that they tend to be:

  1. Just as neurotic as me, or worse
  2. Just as navel-gazing as me, or worse
  3. Just as intellectualizing as me, or worse

And there’s only so much of *me* I can take. I want to be able to have deep conversations, but I also don’t want to play therapist or feel like I’m in treatment the whole time. I have been misguided because I look for similar personalities (less superficial than liking the same kind of music or stupid bullshit, but still not ideal) when I should really be looking for complementary personalities. And there’s really no way of telling what personalities are complementary, and which personalities are just different enough that those differences become annoying.

In my next post, I’ll post a breakup letter I wrote to a guy who had fit my objective criteria, a guy whom I was very similar to but not compatible with – because I had so woefully neglected what I should have listened most to: my heart.

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The Author

Singaporean in NYC, analyzing relationships with a boozy brownie in hand.

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