The dating profile fudge factor

I may have led you astray.

In “You are (probably) more attractive than you think you are!,” I based my comments on the observation that most midlife women I know think of themselves as less attractive than others rate them. And men tend to overstate their attractiveness.

FreakonomicsBut a study reported in “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” sets my premise on its ear. The authors, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, quote research* conducted by two economists and a psychologist who analyzed how 22,000 active online daters rated their appearance, among other things. They compared these findings to the national average to show that online daters exaggerate.

Are we surprised? No.

What is surprising is the amount of the embellishment.

Just like in Lake Wobegon, where “the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,” so too in the online dating world. But this extraordinariness extends to the appearance of men and women — at least the single adults listing themselves on dating sites.

Seventy-two percent of the women claimed “above average” looks. Of these, 24% claimed “very good looks.” Men were a tad more modest — 68% rated themselves as “above average,” with 19% of those saying they had “very good looks.” Are we to surmise that single people — at least those listed on dating sites — are better looking than the general population? While many singles go out of their way to have makeovers, lose weight, and work out, are we to believe that 19-24% of these 22,000 people are very good looking? Doubtful.

Only about 30% marked “average” in the appearance box, and 1% choose “less than average” looks.

So people are a bit delusional about how their looks compare to others, or they are concerned that if they put “average” no one will want to meet them. But isn’t that what pictures are for?

Both genders listed heights averaging 1 inch taller than the national average. Men’s weight was congruent with the national average, while women reported their weight as 20 pounds less than the national average. One can understand this as men are penalized for being short, and women for being fat. My experience is that most women wouldn’t notice an inch of height on a man, and most men don’t really know what women weigh, but they have a sense that women should weigh less than 125 pounds. They don’t realize that sex symbols like Mariah Carey and Tyra Banks weigh 150-160, and that number sounds like someone who’s fat.

The embellishment continues. Four percent of the online daters say they earn more than $200,000 a year, but only one percent of typical Internet users earn that much. Are successful people more likely to engage in online dating? Probably not. More of them are likely to use a matchmaker for a finding a partner. Are they greatly exaggerating? Yep.

So what do we make of this information? You have likely already figured out to take what people say in their profiles with a grain of salt. Last week I went out with a man who claimed to be 6-feet tall, but with my 2-inch heels on my 5-foot-10 frame I was at least an inch taller.

Are you justified in stretching the truth to get more responses? If you are like 21% of the women in the study and get no responses to your profile, you may be tempted to fudge — post a younger picture, shave off a few years, say you’re slender when you carry 25 extra pounds. (BTW, the report didn’t say how long the people in the study had been listed on the site. But for some perspective, 56% of the men didn’t get one email.)

My advice: Don’t fudge. Today I got a wink from a 53-year old man who admits to stating he’s 51 in the demographics section in order to get more responses. Does he really think 2 years is going to make a big difference? However, duplicity does. What else might he be stretching the truth about? “Divorced” really means “separated” or worse “married in a loveless relationship but we stay together for the kids”?

* “What Makes You Click? — Mate Preferences and Matching Outcomes in Online Dating” by Günter J. Hitsch, Ali Hortaçsu and Dan Ariely



10 responses to “The dating profile fudge factor”

  1. Gray Ghost Avatar
    Gray Ghost

    Next in the series of thoughts, well, I’m not sure how many others do this but I’ve always kinda read the ad’s (both paper and electronic) with an eye to how much is actually ‘real’ in them *shrug*. Do I stretch the truth in the couple of ad’s I’ve got running, honestly I don’t think so, but probably more so because of a very early learned spot of self honesty from my parents. I’m not out to fool anyone, including myself, about who and what I am.

  2. Gatti Avatar

    I found a fair bit of fudging in my dating adventures. Several men lied about their age, one amazingly had himself as 46 when he was 62, whew! I never went out with him but we chatted on the phone once or twice.

    One guy I dated had his age as 49 but was really 56. And he put down a different town as well. I’d somehow missed that second fact until after the date. In his first email he gave me his website info which included his CV with full address and birth date! Very silly of him to lie…

    Some guys (not my dates) had photos that were obviously years old. One guy put a series of photos to his profile, you could see him age as you went down the row!

    The site I used didn’t list salary ranges (the terms were “comfortable”, “solvent” and like that), but as I tend to favour more alternative sorts of guys that wasn’t an issue as long as he wasn’t “completely broke”!

    Lying about your height or weight is just plain silly! It’s pretty obvious if you’re tall or trim when you show up at the date. And I’m with the school of thought, if you lie to me even before we’re met what will you do afterward???

    I told the truth on my profile and so did the sweetie. And the photos were realistic and recent. Worked out, didn’t it?

  3. Fred Avatar

    I have also found a bit of exageration on dating sites. When there, I posted candid photos (not glamour or posed shots) real heights and weights and such. I probably got fewer hits from women. However, whenever I met one in person, whether I initiated or she did, I usually got comments about how much I looked like the photo and so forth. Then I got the stories of “the others” who were not even close.

    Anyone in a large working environment knows the value of credibility. What I do modify is my mm/dd/yy of birth. I do it to keep within 3 months of my own or so – but will not put valid exact birthdate out on a website. Prior experience with my ID being stolen – that one difference kept me from having permanent problems. The ID thief had the wrong birthdate, so I could clear my record easily.

    I disregard the attractiveness listed as it does not matter and far too subjective. And, yes I do make some allowances for size listings. But if way off base, then that loss of credibility thing kicks in. Since many have aspects they feel impede them, I know that some are hoping “if he/she gets to know me then the (insert fudged quality here) won’t matter”.

    I have found that most women who are not model perfect are more attractive than they actually feel (per “You are (probably) more attractive than you think you are!). Yet I think they might fudge the listing on the site. One can review the sites and decide the standard for the listings (for most qualities) is different than they would use or than they actually feel about themself, both men and women. We have the same thing with “grade inflation” in schools.

  4. Rod Avatar

    My favorite ‘fudge’ story was just after I discovered online dating. I met a woman who’s picture very much impressed me. I sent her a gentlemanly email and we chatted online a bit and she soon admitted she didnt look ‘quite like’ her posted photo although it was her picture. I asked her to send a recent candid shot. When it arrived I just about fell off my chair. The candid shot in no way resembled her posted shot, and in showing the two pics to others, they couldnt even recognize her as the same person! I have no idea how she managed to make THAT much of a difference but obviously there are some talented photographers/makeup artist/wardrobe/lighting technicians out there, ’cause they performed a miracle on her… to top it all off, I discovered she was divorced three times, had 5 kids with 4 different fathers, and enjoying ‘a bit of a drink’ before bed each night. How much is a bit, I asked? Oh, just a six pack. Followed by a couple of hard shots. LOL. Oh my goodness, can you say Train Wreck??

  5. walt Avatar

    I wonder which gender fudges their age more? I’ve found under-stating of age to be epedemic among women I’ve dated online. What I find particularly funny is the profiles of women I’ve dated previously who have actually somehow gotten younger since I dated them!

  6. Elena Avatar

    Well, Walt, if men in their 40 and 50s wouldn’t be such sticklers about setting their dating preferences 10 to 15 years younger, there wouldn’t be such a problem of so many women understating their age. The women are trying to get on a guy’s radar.

  7. nysharon Avatar

    Agree with Elena. I would check age preferences on any profile I was interested in and it was always 2 to 10 years younger than his age. I knew that when they were doing a search I wasn’t even coming up in their search. I lied about my age just to see what would happen. I got tons of responses but then at date time had to honest up. It wasn’t worth it just to get a date. I look 10 years younger but on line was an undesirable. I have better luck meeting men in person since they are looking and meeting me and not my statistics.

  8. walt Avatar

    I understsnd the reasons, but it’s a slippery slope. The problem I had when I was dating online was not my age, but the fact that I have kids, and don’t want more. The majority of the women I was interested in were in their 30’s and early 40’s and looking for a guy without kids who wants to have them. What would you think if I said that I don’t have kids, and was open to having them? I didn’t seriously consider saying I don’t have kids, as they would find out soon enough, but I did consider suggesting that I’m more open to having more than I actually am.

  9. Mitsy Avatar

    I enjoyed Rod’s post (as well as the others). It helps me to know it wasn’t just me who ended up very disappointed in the online dating game. I have not done online dating since the first of the year since I got burned (once again) in mid-January by a guy who strung me along and played games with my mind and emotions. I still had, up to that point, illusions that after meeting for the first time and there was spark, chemistry, similar interests, as well as attraction, that that meant that all systems were “go” for a relationship to happen. Turns out that he was a lot like some of the rest in that the online dating thing was more of a pastime or hobby than a serious endeavor to actually “find someone”. I have met or dated a couple guys who actually removed their profile after they started waffling in their intentions. And the thing is, I don’t believe any of them had other love interests going on. I think they realized that they were not ready for a real relationship and that was what I wanted and expected from them. Imagine that? To put a profile online and actually expect to find a relationship? Apparently, it’s a concept many single guys are not ready to grasp. I also had a bad experience with a guy who was legally separated. He ended up going back to the ex-wife from hell. He had nothing good to say about her nor did his family. Last I knew, he was still with
    her, and I’m glad he’s gone and I do not run into him.

    I’m currently seeing someone and have been for about 6 months. I won’t bore you with the details because things are not ideal with this one either, but they are more palatable than my online dating experiences. At least this guy isn’t playing games or misrepresenting himself in any way. I will take honest any day over some joker who gets his kicks out of leading a woman on.

    I doubt that I’ll ever venture into the world of online dating again. My profiles are hidden on Yahoo and Match (not deleted in case I change my mind), but for myself it was signing up for a lot of heartache I could do without.

  10. sginjersey Avatar

    This post reminded me of a profile where the woman liked “active men who took care of themselves” and listed herself as a non-smoker. Clicked on her pictures, one of which showed her lounging in a chair with a cigarette in her hand!