The Prevalence of Little White Lies in Online Dating

Have you ever seen an online dating profile that makes a person seem almost too good to be true? In this week's episode, Dr. Rachel Vanderbilt, the Relationship Doctor, talks about how common it is for people to lie when dating online and when it actually matters.

Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #40
The Quick And Dirty

Small deceptions in dating profiles are common, and usually are not something to worry about. However, when building your own profile, being as authentic as possible will make you more attractive to potential partners.

Have you ever been perusing profiles on dating sites and seen someone who looks too good to be true?

Sure, there may be bots trying to catfish people or influencers trying to gain more followers, but I’m talking about a profile of a normal person who seems a little too polished. You search for clues in their profile that might indicate that they're lying or consider the extent to which pictures were edited. Do you “swipe right” and hope this person turns out to be as amazing as their profile makes them seem?

On the flip side, you might be considering how much you can stretch the truth when creating your own profile. Yeah, you might not love hiking right now, but it’s something you want to get into. Maybe you gained a few pounds over the holidays, but your New Year's resolutions are to get back on the dating scene and lose weight, so why not portray yourself as a little lighter since you’re going to lose that weight anyway?

How common is deception in online dating and what does it look like?

Deception in online dating, both your own and others', is a common issue that people worry about, but things may not be as dire as they seem. Although online deception is common, with some research estimating that 80% of people engage in deception, the things people are lying about are quite minor. For instance, people often fudge their weight and height a bit, particularly in the direction that is considered to be attractive—which for people who identify as men usually means they add a few inches to their height, and for people who identify as women may mean they take a few pounds off their weight. 

Relationshopping: why dating apps can lead to choice overload

One perspective is that some people may view their “profile as promise”, where they present the version of themselves they are working towards instead of who they are today. This might be the case when someone talks about hobbies or goals that they are not actively involved in or haven't achieved just yet. They present an idealistic version of themselves in an attempt to put their best foot forward, and to be fair, they almost certainly see these desirable characteristics as a real part of who they are and who they want to be. To them, they aren't really lying.

Although minor deception is common in profiles, research has found that deceptive messages in the messaging part of dating apps are quite low. Research estimates that only 7% of messages sent on dating apps include a minor level of deception. When looking at the content of the messages, these lies were mostly for managing impressions, such as trying to seem more similar to their match. For example, a match may lie about their favorite show, saying "that's my favorite show too!" when in fact they've never watched it. Someone may also make up an excuse about skipping out on a date or missing messages, such as saying that things at work have been busy.

How to shape your own profile and identify red flags in others’ profiles

What should you consider when creating your own profile and looking through other people’s profiles? Some selective self-presentation is okay, but too much is a turn-off. For example, you definitely do not need to offer up all of your baggage on your profile, and frankly, you probably shouldn't. Your dating profile, however, isn’t a resume, and it doesn’t need to only show a highly curated perfect picture of yourself—it should be authentic as well as accurate.

If a profile looks too polished, it can backfire. One study found that a profile that had high selective self-presentation was rated as less socially attractive than a profile with low selective self-presentation. Meaning, when someone added unnecessary enhancing details to their profile, such as graduating from college with honors rather than just graduating from college, people found that off-putting. So, avoiding an unnecessary humble brag may improve your chances of finding a better match.

Providing verifiable information can be helpful. People who connect their profile to their social media come across as a safer match because it can help authenticate and legitimize the information they provide. One study found that a profile with a higher degree of verifiable information was perceived as more trustworthy. For your own profile, don’t just say that you like to play soccer in your free time. Include a team name or a picture of you playing soccer. Or, if you’re comfortable, include more specificity with your job title and school you attended to allow someone to identify common ground and to verify that you're a real person.

What is ghosting and why do people do it?

Most online deception is minor, so don’t worry too much about it. Although catfishing can be a big fear (and a TV show), it's unlikely that this is something you’ll experience. That being said, don’t give out too much personal information to strangers (e.g., address, etc) for safety reasons. If you're someone who shares your location with your friends on apps like Instagram or public parts of your Facebook profile, you may not want to link them with your dating profile, just in case.

Small deceptions in online dating profiles are common. And although slight exaggerations may not be particularly harmful—like adding or subtracting an inch from your height—consider other ways you can increase the attractiveness of your profile. Selecting pictures that show you in a good, but natural, light or providing a bit more information to make you seem real. Authenticity is a huge part of what makes a person and their profile attractive to others. 

Citations +
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD

Dr. Rachel Vanderbilt is the host of the Relationship Doctor podcast. She is a relationship scientist whose research examines how we communicate in our romantic relationships. Specifically, she studies how we communicate in our romantic relationships as we age and our relationships mature, particularly during conflicts that are difficult to resolve. She believes that we can all benefit from evidence-based recommendations about how to have healthy and happy relationships.

Do you have a question for the Relationship Doctor podcast? You can leave a voice message for the show by calling (813) 397-8165 or send an email to relationshipdoctor@quickanddirtytips.com. You might hear your question on a future episode.