Is internet dating fatally flawed?

26th June, 2010

Dear Economist,

With yet another one of my relationships in the toilet, I find myself back on the internet dating websites. I have long been confused by the strategy of women on these sites. As a man, I am seeking to convey, modestly, that I have a good, stable job and that I am not a weirdo.

I have no idea what most of the women are on about on the site – most of them have paragraphs of drivel, punctuated with statements such as: “I like going to the theatre and for walks in museums” or “I want a creative man”.

Do the women not realise that most men look at their photos and get in touch with the fit ones? I have a reasonable level of success, so I must be on to something. Why do they waste so much time with their reams of gibberish?

Digital Lover

Dear DL,

Game theorists describe this as a “cheap talk” game because anyone can claim anything online. The question is whether the cheap talk can help people to find a good match.

Saying “let’s meet at Kaffeine at noon” helps to co-ordinate a successful date. “I like going to the theatre” could also serve that purpose, but only if men respond honestly, instead of, like you, saying, “yeah whatever, I like that, too” then hoping to get lucky.

Sadly, women bear much of the cost of your scattergun approach so I can hardly expect you to change it. But perhaps you should, because what you gain in the number of dates secured you may lose later because you have nothing in common. You say that “yet another one” of your relationships is “in the toilet”. Quite.

The psychologist Dan Ariely, with three colleagues, studied internet dating and discovered that people spend 12 hours a week searching and e-mailing, but only two hours a week on dates. Dan Ariely blames the dating websites for being poorly designed. I blame you.

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