A few short years ago, we had to put some actual effort into dating and finding love.
We dressed up. We connected with friends and headed out on the town/to the bar/to the game. To meet possible compatible love partners, we started a new hobby, networked in our social circles, had friends set us up on blind dates, and generally spent some time looking for someone just as amazing/screwed up as we are.
But with the advent of technology, “dating” doesn’t exist anymore.
In today’s technology-centric world — where everyone’s phone seems surgically attached to their hand — dating websites and apps are how modern singles find other singles. Normally, this would be a great thing, as technology makes things better.
But when it comes to love, all technology does is leave a wake of emotional destruction, disconnection, and false positives.
Take Tinder, for example. An article on Vanity Fair highlights how Tinder has signaled a “dating apocalypse” because it doesn’t promote actual “dating” — it promotes hookups based on physical appearance. In a nutshell: Swiping right strokes the ego of the recipient, and paves the way to sex-on-demand.
Of course, there are online dating success stories. Everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who is getting married to their online sweetheart. But after connecting with thousands of women via my Facebook page and hearing their tales of missed dates, mixed messages, and misunderstood expectations, the horror stories seem to outnumber any purported success rate by a very wide margin.
But why? Don’t we all hear how great the apps and sites are? It’s easy. You answer a few questions and then get to meet someone who is (supposedly) a great match. The dating site’s algorithm auto-magically pairs you up with like-minded people who have similar interests, hobbies, life goals… yada, yada, yada.
And with mobile apps like Tinder, it’s all based on proximity and the “first sight” phenomenon. If this is all so fantastic, why do I receive hundreds of messages every week asking why he didn’t call, why she lied about being married, why he pretended to love her and then disappeared, and much, much more?
The “Business” of Online Dating Success
When it comes to measuring the success of online and mobile dating, it turns out that research studies and success stories are usually gathered via commissioned research through a third party and paid for by the dating site. Hardly unbiased results, but at first blush, it reads impressively.
Here’s an excerpt from an article on The Huffington Post: “A recent study funded by [a major dating website] suggests that as many as 35 percent of Americans now meet their spouses online. What’s more, the study suggests that those marriages are less likely to end in divorce than those that begin offline.”
What this article silently implies is that the phrase “meet their spouses online” translates to “meet their spouses while using an online dating site.” However, if you read the complete study (and most people don’t), you’ll quickly discover that “online” means exactly that: on the internet.
Meeting someone online is now commonplace, a reflection of how we as a culture now socialize, not a feather in the cap of the online dating industry. Moreover, this study examined many online venues: virtual worlds, chat rooms, multiplayer games, and social networks, as well as many dating sites.
What’s needed to evaluate online dating success is information from a source that doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome, like the study from the Association for Psychological Science which discusses the notion that, although people are using online dating sites, the way people actually found spouses over the last several years remains largely unchanged.
According to the study findings, the most common place to meet a spouse is at work or at school (38 percent). “Through a friend or family member” came in second (27 percent), while “on an online dating site” came in third (17 percent) — hardly the “35 percent of Americans” as claimed in the earlier study.
The “Science” Behind It All
Proprietary algorithms, tests, and questionnaires that “promise” to match you with an ideal mate create an air of awe and confidence with a glint of the scientific. But the questions feeding these algorithms are highly suspect.
First, to match someone with a potential mate, these questionnaires must be answered honestly and accurately, and they aren’t (more on that coming shortly). And the questions these surveys ask are really about dating, not relationships, and there’s a big difference between dating someone today and being compatible for the long term.
Where are the questions about the environment, economic conditions, and outside influences? (Example: Long-standing research shows that when couples encounter stress or unexpected demands on their energy, their satisfaction with their relationship declines, often leading to breakup or divorce.)
Why don’t these dating sites take critical happenings, variables, and milestones into account when evaluating compatibility — money management, financial strain, losing a job, illness, death of a parent, moving, raising kids (not “do you want kids,” but rather, asking questions about parenting style and actually raising kids)?
The truth is, these questions are very difficult questions to ask. So it’s not the dating sites’ fault for not being able to bring them up. But these are questions/considerations that need to be taken into account. If online dating sites claim to help find lasting love — a “match” — questions like these are a crucial part of evaluating long-term companionship.
And while the questions these surveys do ask are usually centered on individual wants, needs, behaviors, and characteristics, they only address a very small part of what makes human beings compatible. These compatibility tests don’t take into account upbringing, childhood environment, and/or teenage influences, nor do they address changing attitudes and needs.
And again, this is all assuming the respondents are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How often do you think that happens?
With mobile dating apps, it’s even worse. There’s no qualification other than sending a witty, snarky remark that will get their attention; the proverbial wet dream for any pick-up artist. But given how disconnected people are from the process of “courtship” on Tinder, it ends up a train wreck, as exemplified by the rising usage and views on Bye Felipe, the Instagram account that calls out the jerks from Tinder.
The Human Element
Beyond all the pseudo-science, online and mobile dating short-circuits the natural courtship process of men and women. Primal dating rituals and natural courtship don’t include posting a profile and a few pictures or swiping right to indicate interest. Here are the biggest issues with online dating:
1. There’s a lack of honesty.
It’s well-documented that both men and women lie when completing their online profiles. Old pictures, employment status, income, weight, age — over 80 percent of online daters don’t tell the truth. In essence, you’re starting a relationship based on dishonesty.
2. First impressions are deceptive.
You aren’t actually meeting the person, you’re meeting their portrayal and estimation of the best parts of their personality. And it’s not even them; it’s a digital impersonation, and a poor one, at that.
Perhaps more importantly, once the online dater sees a potential match’s name and/or photo, the next step is to spend a bit of time scouring the internet to get more information about them, before they have even had a chance to respond to the first message sent.
3. There’s an absence of non-verbal communication and body language.
According to communication expert Albert Mehrabian, there are three elements that account for someone taking a liking or interest in another person: words (7 percent), tone of voice (38 percent), and body language (55 percent). With online dating, you only get the words (and not even spoken words).
The remaining-yet-critical 93 percent of the evaluation process isn’t available. And when it comes to online profiles, the written word is completely subjective — perception, tone, and understanding landing squarely on the shoulders of the reader.
True intent isn’t known nor understood, plus all the primal, subliminal cues that we depend on as part of the human courtship process — facial expression, gestures, paralinguistics, body language and posture, eye movement, appearance — get lost to the digital format.
4. The “getting to know you” process is non-existent.
In the real world, both parties communicate via verbal and non-verbal cues. But with online dating, initial impressions, introductions, and the spoken/unspoken “Please allow me to introduce myself” process is virtually non-existent.
Even more damage occurs when interest is affirmed. Most of the first interactions between daters take place via chat, which means their entire investment is mental/emotional. This can lend itself to a falsely positive impression of “connection” and lead the daters to believe that they really know each other, when, in fact, they don’t know each other at all.
A Predatory Environment
If you think your local bar or nightclub is the quintessential “Meat Market,” you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The online/mobile dating world is fraught with pick-up artists. (Disclaimer: Are there women scammers who troll online dating sites? Sure. But in my research, the number of women scammers aren’t even close to the number of men.)
In truth, online dating sites allow these hustlers to become anyone, say anything, claim anything, and portray an image that sells them to as many willing/hopeful/desperate/naïve people as possible. In many ways, online dating provides a finishing school for amateur pick-up artists.
Early failure doesn’t deter them from achieving success. Quite to the contrary. Online and mobile dating provides them with an arena they would otherwise not have, where they can perfect their lines by trying them out on a multitude of people; where they can pursue whatever it is they’re after. Maybe it’s an ego boost. Maybe online sex, instant emotional gratification, short-term love, one-way companionship.
I interviewed 50 men who use online dating sites and mobile apps to meet women. Here’s what a few had to say:
“Online dating is easy. I check out their profile and can find out really quickly what they are looking for in a guy. Maybe they want a relationship, so I tell them I want one, too. Some want a guy to be all adventurous, so I tell them about my last mountain climbing exhibition or how I bike a lot. It doesn’t matter what I say, because once I get in there, I probably won’t see her again.” —G.S., New York
“I have a really great profile. I paid a professional writer to help me with it. It’s general enough to appeal to many different types of women. It usually only takes me a short email to get her interested. From there, I just pour on the charm. A smile, a little shy attitude over coffee, and she’s mine.” —E.B., Chicago
“You just tell them what they need to hear. It’s not complicated. Women on online dating sites are there because they want a boyfriend or husband. They’re prequalified, so it’s really like shooting fish in a barrel. I tell them I want something exclusive, a real connection. I take it a little slow, and before I know it we’re in bed. They’re eager to land a guy, so if I play my cards right it’s easy to get laid.” —M.D., London
“Tinder is the perfect app. I can pretty much browse until I find someone I want to have sex with. Then, I chat them up with something cute or witty, or original. From there, I just pour on some charm. And if they aren’t down for the hook-up, I’m out. Plenty of girls will f*ck quick if you just tell them what they want to hear.” —D.G., Los Angeles
These men also shared something they have in common: They all play the numbers game. They each send many messages, emails, and chats out to lots of different types of women, resulting in many email exchanges and chat sessions, and a few dates — the goal of which is to end up having sex.
These scammers deal in volume because different women take different lengths of time to coerce into the bedroom. If a woman proves she’s too challenging to get into bed, these predators move on.
“I test the waters with soft lines. But I don’t want some lady to fall in love with me. It’s too hard to get away from that. If I see that she’s ‘really’ after a relationship, I move on. I can find easier targets.” —F.H., San Francisco
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And in this simple statement, perhaps we find one of the most common reasons why he seemed so into her on that first date and then never called her again.
This predatory environment has far-reaching implications. These men prey on women. After a few bad dates and misplaced emotional investment in the wrong guys, many of these women decide that all men are like this. So when a genuinely nice guy comes along, she’s not interested or else she decides that he’s “just like all the rest.”
The nice guy then laments that women only date the jerks, and he sets out to become a jerk in order to garner a woman’s interest. Rinse. Repeat.
The Real Lies and Secrets of Online Dating Sites
The business of online dating is business, not love. Do you want the dirty truth? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
First, with Tinder, there’s no real model for love. They provide a mechanism to connect to people who will believe each other’s first impressions; nothing more. Tinder is a crapshoot, at best, and the dice are loaded.
Even so, the online and mobile dating industry generates $1.9 billion of revenue every year, earned mostly from monthly subscriptions. The typical dating site customer spends an average $239 every year in their quest to find love; just under $20 a month.
However, were those monthly subscribers to find love quickly (as these dating sites promise to deliver, thanks to their algorithms and science), they won’t stay subscribed to the site very long. They will have found love and won’t be dating anymore, and there go the dating sites’ monthly subscription fees.
Think about it: If everyone fills out a 400-question compatibility survey, chances are decent that there will be some commonalities, perhaps even a connection or two. If that’s the case, and the science/algorithms are so accurate, why would anyone have to spend $239 over 12 months to find someone with whom they click?
According to “Sally” (name has been changed), a senior consulting programmer who’s assisted in the creating of compatibility algorithms at a number of online dating sites, it costs the average dating site approximately $120 to generate a new customer. (In the subscription-based services world, this is called the Cost of User Acquisition, and includes the fees associated with advertising, promotion, sales bonuses, transaction fees, and more).
But if the monthly fee is only $20 a month, the dating site needs to keep you using their services (read: unmatched) for at least six months just to break even. To show a profit, they need to keep you unmatched even longer. According to Sally, this is how it’s done:
“When a subscriber completes their online questionnaire and profile, the site’s technology matches them up with compatible potentials, and the subscriber is shown a selection of matched profiles. However, although the algorithm is capable of matching based on compatibility, only one of the profiles shown is actually a match based on their algorithm; the others are either random profiles of other users or fake profiles entirely.
If the subscriber doesn’t happen to click on the profile generated from the algorithm and instead selects one of the other randomly generated profiles, the algorithm shuts off for the next four to five months in an effort to recoup the cost spend of acquiring that subscriber. It’s been done like this for years, and is the way the business works.”
Tinder? Online dating? Pfffft. If you’re looking to get laid, Tinder is perfect. But if you’re looking for love, you can’t short-circuit the real way to meet people. Yes, online dating can cast a wide net, but given the challenges and dangers, isn’t it better/easier to meet people in the real world?
Charles J. Orlando is a bestselling author and has been a relationship/interpersonal relations expert for the past 10+ years. Follow him on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in April 2016.