Online dating offers a plethora of people you could potentially go out with. But could all these possible partners make it harder to gauge your own attractiveness — and theirs?
That's the argument Marina Adshade makes in her BigThink post. She writes,
Everyone can find at least one good picture of themselves. And if everyone puts their very best picture on their online dating profile (and why wouldn't they?), then anyone trying to estimate the distribution of attractiveness using dating profile pictures will almost certainly overestimate the average level of attractiveness for people of that gender who are searching on that market.
Adshade does a bunch of economic analysis on this idea, some of which seems specious to me, but her basic argument is an interesting one: that if everybody looks hotter online, it's hard to know where you — or your potential dates — stand. Of course, that's a big if. We all know gorgeous people who look terrible in photos, and I've long been of the opinion that many people are more attractive in person, because they have a chance to charm you (also, they might smell good). Actually, I think what you're dealing with when you date online is not a collection of everybody's most attractive selves, but a database of the photos people think are their most attractive. And that's likely to create a whole set of effects more complicated than Adshade acknowledges.
Online dating is really a two-step process — you meet online, and then go on a date in the real world, just like everybody else. So really, the problem is that you're browsing a set of photos and dating a set of people — obviously there's going to be some mismatch between the two. I don't think that mismatch is nearly so easy to predict as Adshade claims — but of course, unpredictability is part of dating in all its forms. And plenty of people seem to be willing to accept the quirks of online dating in order to get its major benefit: the ability to check out a whole bunch of people without ever leaving the house.
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