Dating Don’ts: 6 Harsh Online Dating Realities That You Should Be Aware Of

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My girlfriend and I met on eHarmony, so I’ll be the first to acknowledge that online dating can absolutely be a worthwhile experience. Still, it was far from a smooth journey. I dabbled with it for almost seven years, and prior to Melissa, the most memorable thing I came away with was a tome’s worth of craptacular dating stories. (Though, in that respect, I guess I do have eHarmony and Match to thank for my writing career.)

Armed with years of slow-churned cynicism, I took to the internet to see if others shared my experiences. What I uncovered were some harsh realities about online dating that no one ever talks about. After the jump, some things you might not have known…

1. Most of the member profiles you’ll find are inactive. Online dating sites love to boast about the millions of members they have. But as it turns out, they’re heaving shovelfuls of statistical manure at you.

A few years ago, OKCupid calculated that 96.25% of eHarmony’s profiles are inactive, using numbers provided by eHarmony themselves. Match was only marginally better, coming in at 93.1% inactive. This means that 19 out of 20 profiles on these sites are either past members who aren’t around anymore, or non-paying members who can’t respond.

OKCupid was acquired by Match in 2011, and that article has since been taken down (for obvious reasons). Of course, putting something on the internet is kind of like catching herpes: once it’s there, it never goes away. Here’s a cached copy. Now, given that OKCupid was talking some serious shit about their competitors, you’re probably thinking that article should be taken with a grain of salt. And that would be wise… if not for the scads of other evidence that online dating sites do in fact juice up their numbers.

To date, Match has been involved in a spate of lawsuits by disgruntled daters, alleging that the vast majority of their member profiles are inactive or outright fake. One suit went as far as to accuse Match of employing shills to entice members to renew their subscriptions. These cases were all dismissed or dropped, but the most recent one in 2011 did produce disheartening results (well, disheartening for online daters – the results were great for Match). This time, a federal judge threw out the case, on the grounds that Match makes perfectly clear in their terms of service that they do not screen member profiles, nor will they take any responsibility for doing so. In other words, even if the allegations are absolutely correct that most of their profiles are inactive or fake, Match is not obligated in any way to remove them.

So if you’re new to online dating, prepare yourself for disappointment. And don’t take it personally if most of the people you message never reply since they may be not even be real.

2. There are some sketchy people out there, and the online dating sites can’t do much about them. While we’re on the topic of fake profiles, let’s talk about the rise in scams. A recent British study found that, in just the United Kingdom alone, online dating scams clobber 230,000 people a year, with a total damage of $60 billion per year.

In one particularly sad story, a New York woman was separated from more than $25,000 by a man she met on Match who claimed he was a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. She’s not the only one, either. Then there are the cases of both men and women getting blackmailed after being coerced into exposing themselves via webcam (though these incidents aren’t strictly confined to online dating sites). The internet is peppered with stories like these, and it’s become such a serious issue that the FBI has released a press report on how to recognize an online dating scam artist. If you don’t want to click the link, here’s a quick summary of the report: “Use some goddamned common sense.”

Okay, so you probably figure you’re neither dumb nor desperate enough to fall for scams like these. And hey, mad props to you for being such an exemplary case of human savvy. Still, you might want to pay attention to this story, of the woman who went on a few dates with a man she met on Match, only to end up getting stabbed multiple times by him when she tried to break it off. Once again, Match got slapped with a lawsuit. And this time… whoa, they actually did something about it. Sort of.

In 2011, Match finally announced that they would start implementing background checks. Woo hoo, score one victory for the online dater, right? Not quite. Hailing down on their own parade, Match admitted that the background checks may do little good. As a site representative put it, while “these checks may help in certain instances, they remain highly flawed, and it is critical that this effort does not provide a false sense of security to our members.” Thanks, Match. Were you actually trying to help? Or was this a subtle “fuck off” to all your dissatisfied daters?

So, go ahead and enjoy online dating if you dare. Just be ridiculously wary of the human scum you may come across.

3. The person you meet may not be the person you were corresponding with. Alright, let’s say you’ve weathered the pitiful response rate, and you’ve slogged your way through the dredges of humanity. You maintained your optimism, and lo and behold, you finally get matched up with someone who’s attractive and intelligent. Jackpot, right?

Sure, maybe. Maybe you’ll send a few messages back and forth, and you’ll realize you’ve met someone truly special. Or maybe – just maybe – the person you’re corresponding isn’t actually the person whose photos you’ve been daydreaming about.

You see, businesses have sprung up around the idea that if you’re too busy – or lazy – to handle all the groundwork online dating demands, you can just hire someone to do it for you. Here’s a company that will write your online dating profile, send emails on your behalf, and basically cover for your ass up until you meet someone for the first date. For a mere $5,000, you get to bypass all those e-hoops the e-dating sites make you e-jump through. And your date will never know the difference (hopefully).

And guys, if Mother Nature graced you with the splintered end of the eloquence stick, this man will be your online dating coach. He will even pretend to be you throughout the entire communication process. Using his background in screenwriting (i.e., writing fiction), he will adopt your personality and make sure your online persona is the Casanova your real self could never be. (Hopefully, he’ll cut out the part where you’re unbelievably boring and socially inept, hence your need to hire him in the first place.) And once he’s set up a date, he’ll give you all the information you need on the woman “you’ve” been corresponding with. Have fun on your date! And don’t forget, she thinks you’re fluent in five different romance languages.

Oh, and just to be perfectly clear, this particular entry is intended as a beware of, not a how-to. Then again, when you read what comes next, you may want to consider outsourcing your dating life after all.

4. Online dating makes you shallow. Now, let’s talk about how online dating will mess with you psychologically. We’ll start with the fact that you have so many potential dates to choose from (or, well, you think you have so many potential dates to choose from – see entry #1). You may believe it’s better to have too many than too few choices, but that’s not the case when it comes to dating. One psychologist calls it the, the Paradox of Choice, and it says that when you’re given too many options, you get overwhelmed and end up focusing on superficial differences.

And this is exactly what happens on an online dating site. You want to meet someone who’s a good match for you – someone you can truly connect with. And that’s great. But, the problem is, there are just too many damned dating profiles out there. You simply don’t have the time to scour through every single one, so you start setting the most random, nitpicky dealbreakers in order to speed up the process. Blurry picture? Out. Can’t distinguish “your” from “you’re”? Dumbass. Duckface? Next. Obligatory selfie reveals a superfluous third nipple? Eww.

Keep in mind, these are people you might totally have given a chance if you had gotten to know them in real life. But online, you have hundreds of potential dates that you have to pare down. And the easiest way to do so is to pick random, easy-to-spot dealbreakers that are invariably shallow and overly critical. Here’s the sad conclusion made by a comprehensive online dating study published earlier this year:

“As a whole, the online dating system would function more effectively if there were some mechanism by which users could discern which potential partners are more compatible with them than with other users. Browsing profiles does not appear to be such a mechanism.”

Basically then, online dating will turn you into a superficial asshole. And it gets even worse when you pair your newfound shallowness with…

5. Online dating warps your sense of intimacy. Great news, guys! Yet another survey has shown that nearly one-third of women who do online dating have sex on the first date.

Wait. Hold on a sec. That’s supposed to be a bad thing? Well, maybe…if we’re talking about the reasons you move to a physical relationship faster online than in real life. If you’re looking for casual sex, congratulations! If not, well, the problem is that online correspondence creates a false sense of familiarity, so that by the time you meet someone for the first time, you think you know them more intimately than you actually do. You think you’ve reached down deep and embraced someone’s soul, when in reality, all you’ve done is whittled at their façade.

According to sex therapist Laura Berman, due to the often-extended nature of online communication, by your first actual date with someone you meet online, you may feel as though you’ve already been on three dates or more. You’re also more likely to flirt and engage in sexual banter through email or text before you meet. This, of course, ramps up the sexual tension and increases the likelihood that your first date will end in sex.

The underlying issue here is that it’s way easier to maintain a façade online versus in real life, so you can easily be led to believe that the person you’re messaging is the One (or at least, the One-for-the-Week). And if they turn out to be a huge letdown when you finally meet, you’ve built them up so much in your own mind that you have no problem lying to yourself and justifying how amazing they apparently are. And so, you hook up with someone your rational mind would’ve scoffed at if the rest of your brain hadn’t dumped it by the wayside 25 messages ago.

The lesson here is simple: As much as the online dating sites love to boast about matching and compatibility, really, online dating is mostly good for casual sex. And if you do manage to carve a relationship out of it, consider yourself lucky.

Then again, if you’re not looking for anything serious, online dating is the perfect resource for superficial love. (Ah, yes, superficial love. I think that’s going to be the title of my next album.)

6. Race relations are horrible in online dating. Alright, fine. So online dating is full of jadedness and cynicism, and it will bring out your ugliest side. Maybe we should focus instead on all the single people who are out there. After all, online dating is still a great opportunity to meet tons of new people, right?

Absolutely. If you’re white. And male.

The cool thing about OKTrends (OKCupid’s official blog) is that they’ll use data from their own site to tease out the dating patterns of millions of people. And according to their results, nowhere is the “white man’s privilege” more apparent than in online dating. This figure shows how likely a woman will respond when men of varying ethnicities message her. And this one shows the how likely a man will respond when women of varying ethnicities message him.

In case you’re not in a number-crunching mood, here’s what you can glean from the figures:

  • White men are the most likely to receive response when they send a message. They are also the least likely to respond when messaged by women of any ethnicity.
  • Black women are the least likely to receive a response when they send a message. They are also the most likely to respond when messaged by men of any ethnicity.

Furthermore, white women are more racially discriminating than any other group, as 54% said they strongly prefer to date someone from their own ethnicity. All the other ethnicities range from the low teens to the 20′s. Here are two more interesting findings on preferences:

  • White women show a clear preference for white men.
  • Asian and Latina women show an even clearer preference for white men.

As OKTrends puts it, “The takeaway here is that although race shouldn’t matter in messaging, it does. A lot.”

And in case you’re thinking this is just OKTrends being all inflammatory again, an impartial study conducted by the National Science Foundation on millions of online daters echoes these results, revealing that people are way less open to interracial dating as they would like to admit.

So why should this matter? Well, for all the talk about America being a land of equal opportunities, online dating would indicate that’s not the case. The results suggest that we still have a long ways to go before we truly become a post-racial society.

Put all these factors together, and it becomes pretty clear that online dating, while it may be a palatable way to meet people, can also end up messing with your head and turning you into a sniveling, cynical, superficial asshole.

Oh, good God. I hope I never have to resort to online dating again.

Dennis Hong blogs here and runs a group dating advice site. You can also follow him on Twitter.

[Photo from Shutterstock]

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