According to the latest surveys, 11% of Americans say they have looked online for love. But that doesn’t mean that daters are happy with what they find.
In the latest Pew Research Center’s online-dating and relationships poll — the group’s first look at digital dating since its last survey in 2005 — people’s mistrust about their online partners emerged as their biggest concern with computerized matching services. More than half of online daters felt that at least one of their matches misrepresented himself or herself — in other words, that the match lied about his or her likes, dislikes, personality traits and even appearance.
“One guy I went on a date with used pictures of himself that were from about seven years ago,” Maggie Klimentova, a New Yorker who used (and eventually met her boyfriend on) OkCupid, says of her online-dating experience. “When I actually met him, he was 4 inches shorter than me and balding.”
And yet despite rampant misinformation, more people than ever are logging onto dating sites, thanks to a decline in the stigma of digital dating over the past eight years. Now, 38% of singles who are “looking for a partner” use a dating site or app.
And, according to the Pew poll, more daters expect that the people they meet on the site will lie about themselves. Faking any part of an online-dating profile, however, may be a shortsighted strategy. Sure, you may get the attention you want initially, but eventually a match is bound to discover your lies. And even if the lies aren’t immediately discoverable — such as not being truthful about previous marriages or a desire to have children, for example — those types of lies can do long-term damage to a relationship, says clinical psychologist and relationship expert Michelle Golland. “People think that it’s something they won’t have to worry about, but it is a huge problem that’s harder to overcome later in the relationship,” she says.
So why do people do it? And more important, if so many online-dating users assume people are garnishing their profiles in some way, why do they continue to look for relationships on these sites? Golland says it’s easy to understand why people fib online: “Unless you’re a sociopath, it’s generally easier to lie on a profile than it is to lie to someone’s face.”
For some, lying may also seem like the only option for finding dates. “People who lie on their profiles fear that they’re not worthy and may never have a relationship because of their job or how they look,” she says.
That can lead to a desperation with serious consequences; 42% of women who used online dating felt that they were harassed or contacted in a way that made them feel uncomfortable, according to the poll. Klimentova says her bad date harassed her online for weeks.
Understanding why people still find digital dating appealing, despite its shortcomings, is a little more complicated. For one, having more options may be a benefit when it comes to finding a match. “I think having a lot of options is a good thing,” says Golland. Some studies have found that the plethora of candidates online skews relationships toward the shallow side, since people have an instinctive tendency to shop around and not invest time or effort into each choice when there are so many to consider. And 32% of Internet users agreed that “online dating keeps people from settling down because they always have options for people to date.”
But Golland believes that people will stop dating if they feel they have found the one for them. “When you do, you’ll stop. You won’t want to keep dating,” she says. And you certainly won’t want the other person to keep dating.” She could be right. As the poll showed, people are starting to believe that the hazards of online dating are worth the trouble: 5% of married and serious couples in the U.S., and 11% of couples who started dating in the past 10 years, met through online dating.