Think his online dating profile sounds too good to be true? There’s reason to be suspect: Most people are dishonest on dating sites. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cornell University found that 80% of online daters lie about their height, weight or age. The older you are, though, the less likely you are to fib, according to a study commissioned by BeautifulPeople.com, an online dating site where users are voted into the community. Here, we examine the most frequent fabrications, how to spot them in others’ profiles and why they’re not worth including in yours. Photo by Thinkstock
1. Height Both sexes tell tall tales, but men are more than twice as likely to (literally) stretch the truth. Twenty-two percent of guys and 10% of women in the BeautifulPeople.com poll admitted to fibbing here. But the actual numbers may be higher. The UW/Cornell study measured participants in person and found more than 50% were untruthful about their heights in their online profiles, with guys fibbing “significantly more.” Who can blame them? “Everyone knows women prefer tall men on the whole,” says Erika Ettin, who founded A Little Nudge to coach people on their online dating profiles. And a study from dating site OkCupid confirms taller men receive more messages. The same study shows shorter women get the attention, so it’s ill-advised to pad your numbers.
2. Weight “People lie to embellish themselves, but not be liars,” says Catalina Toma, PhD, an assistant professor of communication science who conducted the UW/Cornell study. “Weight fluctuates to some degree,” which is why it’s a popular characteristic about which to fib. The UW/Cornell study found women and men subtract 8.5 and 1.5 pounds, respectively, on average. Rather than be dishonest, skip over the weight question, recommends Ettin, who points out that people carry their pounds differently. Instead, Ettin suggests truthfully answering the body type question, which most sites ask with a dropdown menu of limited options like “slender” and “stocky.”
3. Physique If it seems like the majority of men on dating sites describe themselves as “athletic and toned,” your eyes aren’t fooling you-though the guys may be hoping that description will. Photos and activities are better gauges of how in shape your fellow onlie dater is (although as you’ll soon see, be careful there as well). As for you, while it can be tough to decide if you’re “average” or have “a few extra pounds,” you have more to lose by leaving this section blank than by choosing whatever you think is closest. But resist the slender option if it’s not your shape. “Your body type should match your picture,” says Ettin. “People will know on the first date. You’re not going to win over someone by lying.”
4. Age Nearly one-third of men in the BeautifulPeople.com study admitted to lying about their age, compared to just 17% of women. Although some varied their dates of birth by as much as ten years, the highest percentage of liars erased or added only a year or two. Ettin says a lot of women round down to the nearest five-year increment to come up in more searches, but she cautions against it. “Eventually you’re going to have to tell the truth,” she says.
5. Income When it comes to a man’s listed salary, knock off 40% for a more accurate picture, recommends Greg Hodge of BeautifulPeople.com. An OkCupid study found guys embellish by closer to 20%, but the point is that research confirms that men claim to bring home more bacon than they actually do. “Men in our study thought it was most acceptable to lie about income or occupation than other profile elements,” says Dr. Toma. “They know it’s important to women.” Ettin advises her clients not to answer this question.
6. Job Type and Title Income isn’t the sole career point guys falsify; 42% of men in the BeautifulPeople.com survey admitted to lying about some aspect of their job, from their title to how many people they supervise. Women weren’t far behind at 32%, but they were more likely than the men to demote themselves. “Some clever women downplay their intelligence,” says Hodge. Ettin sees this with her female clients, but she encourages them to tell the truth. “You want to end up with someone who is in awe of what you do.”
7. Lifestyle Other common lies revolve around how online daters spend their money. BeautifulPeople.com’s survey found 16% of respondents implied they were better off financially than they really were, with 5% faking how far and wide they’ve traveled and another 5% bluffing about the type of car they drive. How to spot a liar here? In Dr. Toma’s study, these people used fewer “I” statements, so they were more likely to say, “Love to travel” than “I love to travel.” It’s their way of distancing themselves from their fibs, she explains. Another sign: shorter descriptions. That’s because “lying is cognitively taxing,” Dr. Toma adds.
8. Hobbies and Interests “There’s a lot of ambiguity users take advantage of,” notes Dr. Toma. For example, Match.com’s Interests section allows members to check boxes next to sports, but “it doesn’t specify if this is something you do often, did in the past or just watch on television,” says Dr. Toma. So even those who went ice skating one or twice might check that as an interest. The best advice? Tell the truth. “I once took a woman camping because I remembered her profile said she enjoyed it,” says Jonathan, a 39-year-old online dater in San Antonio, TX. “I hate camping, but I wanted to take her because I was into her. Instead, we both had a bad time.”
9. Connections to Celebrities Perhaps the most interesting finding of the BeautifulPeople.com survey was that 3.3% of people said they lied in their profiles about knowing celebrities, and 3.7% said they lied about meeting famous people through work. “We’re in a celebrity-driven culture,” explains Hodge. “It’s so much about networking and ‘what can this person do for me?’ early on, so people try to make themselves sound more interesting by the folks they know.” Former online dater Matthew, a 37-year-old from Tampa, FL, says he’s done this to impress women. “I once worked on a movie deal and got to take a picture with Matthew McConaughey. I posted the photo because it catches people’s attention.”
10. Photographs They say a picture’s worth a thousand words-and those words are likely to be lies if the picture’s on an online dating profile. Dr. Toma says in self-reports, in which study participants admitted to their own lies, “photographs were identified as the single most deceptive element of the person’s profile.” Yes, some were unintentionally misleading, thanks to poor camera quality and lighting, but others were purposefully altered through digital editing to be more flattering. Ettin recommends posting three – five pictures. “One should be a good head shot, another a full body shot and another of you doing something interesting,” she says. And no photo you post should be more than a year old. You want your date to recognize you when you meet, don’t you?