How Much Lying Is Acceptable Online?

How much lying is acceptable online

Hi Evan,

I’m fairly new to your site, and to dating in general – back on the market after a long marriage – so, at this point, I’m mainly trying to figure out how things work, and what the unwritten rules and policies of the dating game are. I’ve had an account on a dating site for the last two months. I’ve had a decent number of peoplecontact me, and we mostly click fairly well when we meet in person. However, one thing that I notice puzzles me – it seems like no one bothers to list accurate information about themselves on their profile. I’m OK with people withholding, but I see things on men’s profiles that turn out to be downright misleading.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t get too upset if a guy’s profile picture is five years old, or if he’s really 5’8″ and not 5’10.” What I keep finding out, though, are things like “some college” means “no education past high school,” or that “work in research” means “factory worker at a plant whose clients are R&D companies,” and a white-collar technical profession listed on a profile really means “been out of work for some years.”

And “divorced” means “separated with no court date in sight!”  And these are the nicer ones…

My problem with misleading pieces of information like these is that I don’t know what else to expect. Can this person even be trusted? What else is he lying to me about? How can I tell if he just posted a little white lie on his profile, so he can get a first date and show me what a nice person he really is, or if he’s a con man through and through? Lastly, where do I draw the line? At what point does it stop being cute and start being a big deal? After all, here I am, meeting with total strangers from the Internet, and, like it or not, I have my personal safety to worry about. I did a search on your blog before I sat down to write this letter, and found a blog article where you say that it is okay to stretch the truth a little, just to get your foot in the door. Which I more or less agree with, but my question is, how can I tell between “a little” and “a lot?”

In the online dating world, how much lying is okay, and how much is considered too much? What are the red flags? Hope you can advise. Thanks!

Timely letter.

I just got back from a week-long vacation and discovered in my inbox a link to this eye-opening article posted by the fine folks at OkCupid, entitled “The Big Lies People Tell in Online Dating.” However, for all of the dating site’s advanced metrics and data, the subtitle of the piece could simply have been, “Duh.”

OkCupid merely confirmed what you and me –and everyone else who has ever dated online has seen ourselves – there is no detail small enough to resist exaggerating. The only things you may find surprising are that women lie about their height and income just as much as men do. Seriously. So no more self-righteous emails about men, okay?

Lying isn’t something that only others do. Like speeding and getting “creative” on your taxes, lying online is something that “we” do as a form of semi-accepted rule-breaking.

What I found fascinating was that the older you are, the more likely you are to lie.

Older people lie because they need to lie to get attention from the most desirable people.

You may conclude that people over the age of 35 are simply less ethical. That they’re more jaded. Less comfortable around computers. Perhaps life has burned them too many times. Maybe the civics courses in the 70’s were less effective because of Watergate. Really, I could spin any number of cockamamie theories, but the truth is much simpler.

Older people lie because they need to lie to get attention from the most desirable people.

A 22-year-old guy can make $24,000/yr as a waiter and not need to exaggerate. That simply won’t fly if he’s 35.

A 24-year-old woman can post a photo and watch responses roll in like the tide. A 44-year-old woman virtually drops off the face of the earth in comparison.

So when the market gets more and more competitive – and you recognize the realities of the situation, you’re forced into a tough decision:

Most women say to themselves: “There are hundreds of women on here who are younger and thinner than I am. They’re getting all of the attention of the men that I want to meet. So if I change my age from 44 to 39, or post a picture that was taken 5 years and 25lbs ago, it will give me a greater chance to get in the door. If I tell the truth – that I’m middle aged and slightly overweight – the only people who will pay attention to me are homely and desperate 60-year-old men.”

Needless to say, it works the exact same way for men. So 5’8” becomes 5’10”. $75,000 becomes $100,000 and 55 becomes 49. Not to mention the highly creative indulgences cited in the original email.

Ironically, the man who lies online sees himself as insecure, not untrustworthy.

Listen, I’ve been on the CBS Early Show defending women lying about their age. It’s certainly not an easy task. After all, anyone can decry someone who lies: what ELSE are they hiding? But given the pervasiveness of online lying, I came to the conclusion that lying, while not morally defensible, is at least UNDERSTANDABLE from a practical standpoint. People, for the most part, don’t lie because they’re bad folks who can’t tell the difference between right and wrong; they’re just insecure that telling the truth will eliminate them from contention before they ever get a chance to meet you.

If you have nothing to hide, then this has never occurred to you. I’m a 38-year-old guy with a decent job, a solid education, and good income. There’s no real incentive to lie, unless I want to make myself a bit taller than 5’9’’.

But the guy who has been separated for 18 months and his wife won’t sign the divorce papers, the guy who lost his prestigious job and hasn’t quite landed on his feet yet, the guy who was never formally educated but is wise from life experience – he knows that you will NOT give him a chance if he tells the truth.

And since you won’t give him a chance, HE’s going to give himself a chance.

Obviously, this plan backfires 90% of the time, but to the people who are lying, they see it as the only means to get in front of you. Because the truth is: you WON’T go out with the 5’6” guy, the guy in the wheelchair, or the guy who makes less than you. Don’t deny it. The evidence to support my assertion is overwhelming.

So, to answer your question after all, while I don’t know where the line is between the acceptable white lie and the unacceptable whopper – I will say this: ironically, the man who lies online sees himself as insecure, not untrustworthy; if he  doesn’t trust anything, it’s that you will actually give him a shot, in spite of his flaws.

And I have to say that, from what I’m observed, he’s right.

Is he wasting his time (and yours) by misrepresenting himself? Absolutely.

Would he have the chance to meet you if he didn’t misrepresent himself? Absolutely not.

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Comments:

  1. 61
    Joe

    @ JerseyGirl #62:

    People are quick to judge online–with the minutest criteria–because the next person is only a click away, and there are hundreds of them.  If you’re meeting someone at a party, there are usually only a few other people you could meet.  If you don’t like a guy’s nose online, you click “next.”  You’re introduced to someone at a party and don’t like his nose, but you spend a few minutes talking to him because it’d be rude not to, and you find out that he’s really interesting.

  2. 62
    Christie Hartman, PhD

    Whether lying is tolerable also depends on what they’re lying about. Lying about height, weight, or age, while annoying and inadvisable, is at least somewhat harmless. Lying about marital status (saying you’re divorced when you’re separated, or worse, saying you’re single when you’re married) is much more serious. Years ago, I had a beer with a man who lied online about having a child, and admitted it during the date. He said he did it because he felt that “some women are shallow” – i.e. that they won’t date him if he admits to having a child. He was very sour about the online dating experience and never once recognized his own role in his problems.

    1. 62.1
      Cat

      Not only is lying about martial status more serious, it can even be a suable offense in some states, including NC, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Dakota and Utah (at last count.) Just do a search for “criminal conversation” and “alienation of affection” lawsuits. For a sobering breakdown of the various offenses, look here. [Link no longer available.] Mentioned several times: “It is not a defense that: the defendant did not know the other person was married.” Alienation of affection doesn’t even require proof of extramarital sex.

      How costly is it? A NC jury gave the wronged wife a $9 million settlement.

      Personally, I don’t want to date a guy until he’s divorced. (I know Evan has a few interesting exceptions, such as this one.) The fact that it’s suable in my state makes me even more cautious…

  3. 63
    Laine

    In response to the original question : I recommend not emailing  guys endlessly, preferring to speak on the phone fairly soon. This gives you the chance to ask pertinent questions 

    ” I see on your profile you are divorced…how  long has it been?. or I love that pic of you smiling in a restaurant and the food looks great.Whats your favourite dish there…etc”

    Most people will not lie outright when speaking like this in normal conversation. If they do there are often hesitations. I think it is plain crazy to agree to meet someone if you have not talked on the phone. Vet via the phone. Saves a lot of time and energy :)

    For the first date only meet for a quick coffee. Again, not much time or energy invested if they are not who they portrayed. I wouldn’t agree to have dinner with a total stranger if we met in real llfe, say at a book shop for instance, but I would go for a quick coffee. Same thing needs to happen online.

    I dont think anyone should have to reveal their age on line either. Its personal. If you met at the bookshop you wouldn’t be asking the person their age..you are either attracted to the whole package or you are not. Recent photos are very important..much more than the age being out by a few years. 

    So for me the trick is to screen, screen, screen via the phone in a fun way. The dulcet tones of a persons voice and the ease of conversation between the two of you will let you know if it someone worth the time and energy to meet.

    Good Luck

  4. 64
    Goldie

    @Cat #65: Apparently, most states (including mine – whew) have enacted legislation to abolish the right to bring an alienation of affection lawsuit.
    Full list is here: http://marriage.about.com/od/legalities/a/alienation.htm I agree, if it were suable in my state, that to me would be scary enough to abandon all online dating altogether (since people seem to withhold or change that information in their profiles), and only date close friends that I know well. Scary!

    1. 64.1
      Cat

      Goldie #67, I still do online dating! Otherwise, I’d severely limit my ability to date. But I’m careful. What’s that Russian proverb? Trust but verify. :)

      Evan has a great, comprehensive guide to online dating that is a must for anyone who’s new to online dating or not getting the results they want.

  5. 65
    Kat Wilder

    I used to fudge my age by a few years, until I went on a coffee-meet date with a guy and, while discussing our experience with online dating, he called me on it.
     
    And, he was right! So, I stopped.
     
    Instead of hoping to show up on someone’s radar, I began writing to men who interested me, feeling (perhaps with some cockiness) confident that my picture and profile description would be sufficient to interest an intelligent man. And, it did, many times, and men would tell me how I “didn’t look my age.” (whatever my age looks like; who knows?) And that’s how my BF and I got together years ago.
     
    @lulubell makes sense. Once we allow honesty to be flexible, we’re in trouble.

  6. 66
    Orlando Singles

    Lying is such a waste of time and energy. Why bother to get responses at all if they are going nowhere as soon as the other person realizes you lied.  Let’s face it, none of us are perfect.  Therefore, you probably aren’t going to meet a perfect person on line just because they sound so good.  I think reality is best.  Lay the cards on the table and deal with “what is” not “what you wish is.”  And by the way, I’m over 35.  Thanks for the chance to voice my opinion.

  7. 67
    starthrower68

    @Orlando #70,

    You are correct, but we all have this mistaken notion we are going to find the *perfect* person on line, the one who doesn’t exist.  And of course eHarmony and other dating sites who advertise and use only the best-looking members (assuming that they’re not just actors in some cases) perpetuate that notion.  While I’m sure there are many who actually do read the profiles, I would say the majority of us don’t read them, if we don’t like the picture or there is no picture.

  8. 68
    Tall

    Lying is a dealbreaker for me. Three years on the age? Dealbreaker. It demonstrates an incredible lack of character. I actually felt nauseous after someone ‘came clean’ and told me the truth about their age, employment, etc. If someone is going to pass you by because of 3 inches on height or 5 years on age, who cares? There are thousands more who will welcome you. I met a man 5 years ago who said in his profile that he was 5’6″. My first thought was: wow. This guy is either a midget or an honest man. I liked him because he really was 5’6″ and height was irrelevant to him. And so, it became irrelevant to me. I am 5’9″. We are still together. What I can’t figure out is why height is so important to women. Are there not things couples do in bed where the size of something else is more relevant? I have met many tall men who were ‘small’, limp, etc. It actually makes me laugh to think that women will choose height over quality, kindness, integrity, and ‘masculinity.’

  9. 69
    Shay

    I think people who have complicated relationships makes things complicated. One of these complications is lying or keeping quiet and not telling the truth.

    I want a clean, healthy relationship and not get tied up in messy stuff. So, I don’t lie or support lying.

  10. 70
    JB

    8/26/10

    @Tall #72
    If someone passes you by because you’re 3 inches on height or 5 years on age who cares their are thousands more WILL welcome you.

    That’s a statement coming from a woman who’s never been a man trying to date online.There’ AREN’T thousands more who welcome you.If that were true no men would lie because they would have too many options with 100% honest profile.There are very few for most average men.

    And to try and explain to you why women prefer tall/taller men?……..It has nothing to do with sexual positions and everything to do with feeling feminine to the mans masculine. At 5’9″ I totally understand why women that are 5’8″ won’t answer me online.I don’t like it but I understand it.I actually prefer women that are shorter than me but I would never disqualify a woman who was attractive just because she was taller than me within reason.

  11. 71
    No Crap

    @Been Thru the Wars #28
     
    If I found out a man was a smoker, I would drop him like a hot rock.  Even if it were the day before the wedding, I would cancel the ceremony.  If I found out after the wedding, I would have the marriage annulled or divorce him.  Smoking is that much of an absolute deal breaker for me.
     
    While I do sympatize because of the risks to your health, you knew what you were getting into.  Maybe I’m just a hard-ass, but I can’t ever imagine being so much “in love” that I would be willing to risk lung cancer from second hand smoke.  Don’t you feel betrayed?  I would.

  12. 72
    Slim P

    I’ve posed this question here before – quite a while ago – but if someone can’t write their way out of a wet paper bag is it lying if they hire Evan here to help put together a profile?  Actually I’m not quite sure exactly what it is that Evan does,  but I gather creating a profile is part of it.
    Personally I’d be upset if I responded to a well written profile,  only to find a ghost writer lurking in the background.   I’d figure that out before any sort of meeting, because I liked (taken) a fair amount of email chat first, but would be none too happy about the wasted time anyway.  I suspect many might not.

    1. 72.1
      Cat

      Just like when someone hires a stylist (to dress better) or a personal trainer at the gym (to get a better looking body,) hiring a dating coach – or a personal trainer for love – is simply a smart choice to be successful at dating, especially in such a competitive arena as online dating where first impressions are everything. People can be terrible writers -”unable to write their way out of a paper bag” – but have very interesting lives and just need some help translating it into a good profile. Someone’s blah “I love to travel” becomes “I love walking the cobblestone streets in San Miguel de Allende, browsing the open market for locally woven rugs, hitting Alhombra behind the Parroquia for posole, and finishing the night with salsa dancing under the stars.” When someone helps you write a profile, it’s not lying; they’re helping you become specific about your experiences and desires.

  13. 73
    tk

    I went out on a date with a guy who listed 30 and was really 40.  He looked really young, but I was turned off by the fact that he LIED!!!  Sorry, you got thru the door, but you are not staying in.  Honesty is always the best policy!

  14. 74
    Kaitlyn

    I think people lie in online dating because they can.  In the ‘real world’ of dating, a man would never think of walking up to a woman asking her age, salary, if she was divorced or single…height, etc.  Same thing with a woman meeting a man.

    When online dating you can choose to only look at men/women that are between X and Y years of age, make $x amount, have X education,etc.  It is strange if you think about it.

  15. 75
    JB

    11/19/10

    @tk #78 “Sorry,you got thru the door but you’re not staying in”

    I’ve “gotten thru the door” plenty of times and left when “I” decided to.If I could get responses by being 100% honest instead of “fudging” on things that are irrelevant and not physical,like,income,education,saying I’m “divorced” even though I’ve never been married…yadda yadda,yadda.After 13 yrs,I’ve learned the hard way.Some responses/dates are better than none.Just remember even if you don’t lie,you’re competing with AND emailng to people that are. You can’t change human nature.Fight fire with fire.

    The internet has changed the dating/relationship landscape so drastically to the point where everyone has pointed out above,people(women) check off “little boxes” and when Mr.Model/Masters Degree/100K doesn’t show up they say “I tried the internet,there’s no good men on there”. Oh well…..

  16. 76
    Denise

    Being authentic, if a person can’t be authentic, then what’s the point?  That’s either on line or in person.  I am completely honest in my profile, about everything.  It doesn’t feel right not to be completely honest, I am who I am and the man that wants me, wants me for exactly who I am. 

    What I have found with on line dating and this approach, if I think about it, is I weed out people who don’t have the integrity and values that I appreciate.  I may not get as many interactions, but the ones I do get are of high quality.  I also never have to worry about remembering what I said on line, and I can focus on the person I am with, getting to know them, instead of being in my head, being someone I’m not.  (Most of the on line profiles I read of men, and I’ve read a lot!, comment that they just want the woman to be herself, to be authentic :)

  17. 77
    Denise

    “Just remember even if you don’t lie,you’re competing with AND emailng to people that are. You can’t change human nature.Fight fire with fire.”

    Two wrongs don’t make it right.

    One attracts those of similar maturity and character.

  18. 78
    JB

    11/25/10

    @Kaitlyn 79

    You are right in the “real world” people don’t ask SOME of those questions directly but as a man in the “real world” women would and still do “qualify” me by using conversation type qualifying questions like “where did you go to school?” ie: are you educated with a degree and if so where from? Or the famous one we men always get asked in social situations “what do you do?” ie: How much money do you make?Do you have a good job title? Can you afford me?

    Of course we ask women “if they’re single” we want to gage their answer for interest.I also ask how many kids/ages in conversation so I know what I’m dealing with.

    So yes in the real world upon meeting each other men and woman go about getting info and qualifying each other in different ways for different reasons but the internet has turned the “qualifying” process on it’s head.

    It’s real easy for most of the women on this blog to say “just be 100% honest and let the cards fall where they may” that’s because you guys have never been a MAN online to see what goes on from our perspective.

  19. 79
    LC

    I found that guys lie a lot online. One guy said he was 5′-8″, and he was 5′-2″ when I met him. I’m 5-10″, so then I set my upped height range preference to 5′-10″ instead of the 5′-6″ it was before. Another guy lied about his job and income, so I set the income preference to the same height that mine is even though I was willing to go a notch or two lower than what I make. But I wasn’t willing to date someone unemployed who WANTED to stay on unemployment. Another guy told me I was brave to admit I was divorced (I had no children), and that he was divorced, too. But he didn’t think that counted b/c they didn’t have kids, so he put “single” on his profile. Other guys lied about being married, already having kids, or wanting a relationship. I got so tired of all of the lying that I just quit dating at all. How do you know a guy isn’t lying to you? You gotta hire a detective these days, I guess.

  20. 80
    GV

    Lying, in general, is a huge turn off. I would not pass up a guy’s profile because he was 5’5″, but if his profile says he’s 5’10″ and we meet and it turns out he’s 5’5″, I have a serious problem with that. I get that the fib might be about trying to meet someone without the “height bias”, but now, having met and discovered this untruth, I’m just left wondering what else he hasn’t been honest about. I guess to me, a lie like that screams desperation, or worse yet, that the person is not comfortable or confident enough in himself to be honest. And that’s a deal breaker.

    1. 80.1
      avery_t

      Most men lie ONLY about their height. The degree to which women make a certain height (over 5′ 10″) a requirement forces some men to do this. 
      Suggesting that a man who lies about his height is likely to lie about other things is the same as saying a woman who lies about her weight by 8 lbs is likely to evade her taxes, lie on her resume,  and lie about her marital status. In other words, it’s not at all likely. 
      For women, short height is a deal-breaker. 
      My Equinox gym is full of men who are 5′ 6″ and built like Jason Statham. Many probably can’t get dates, despite having ripped bods. Those guys may be VERY confident about their bodies, endowment, and intelligence. But women may STILL reject them because they’re 5′ 5″/5′ 6″. It’s got NOTHING to do with confidence. The wold is full of men who are 6′ 4″, very shy, afflicted with anxiety disorders, and totally lacking in confidence who has pretty 5′ 2″ girlfriends. 

  21. 81
    Jordan

    I totally disagree with ur assertion that 44 yr old women have to roll it up…..I’m 44 and my inbox get’s flooded with hundreds of emails from men 18 and up, too many to answer…..I switched my profile age just to see if there would be a change down to 34, the same men responded…what I think is there is a bunch of garbage on the internet and that women who are in the know, know what is really going on out here, when it comes to men. They are desperate and many lie about their age….I’ve met men who said they are 45 and when I see them they are well over 55 and I want to puke…..older men are gross and they look like I’m dating an older dude. 45 is still a hot age for some men, it pisses me off that these older men think that I want a 60 year old….excuse me I need hard wood in the bedroom. I’m not dating some old dude who’s going to need me to be his nurse in 10 yrs….goodbye and as far as the $ and career stats, plenty of men I have met are professionals, educated, and are gentlemen. Women should date ten years down since we outlive men anyway.

  22. 82
    Marie

    I’ve had guys lie about their age and most recently, a man who put on his profile that he had no kids, texted me that he had just spent a weekend with his son.  I had just breezed through his profile and did not realize this lie until an hour or so after the conversation.  That does it for me.  Douchebag! 

  23. 83
    kate

    Hi, I thought this was a pretty honest article – not kind, but ‘telling it like it is’. What is going on, it seems, is a kinduv ‘arms race’, or ‘evolution’, in that we discover which rules we need to break in order to survive – ie to what we need to lie about to get a date (chance to mate). But if everyone lies about those things we are not at an advantage any more, so the stakes are going to keep getting higher. It seems inevitable. On the other hand, we could imagine that the pressures ‘irl’ are the same, so do we think more lying is going on online? If so, why? There are people who are less inclined to tell these lies of course – so do they always miss out? I am not convinced. But, speaking as someone who has thought of themselves as very honest (but, no, I would be lying if I said I never told lies), I certainly haven’t got very far up the greasy pole – but I do have a partner and 2 kids and we are both employed and (relatively) solvent. I think you are probably right though – lying is a strategy that becomes more common as the competition increases. We can afford the luxury of honesty as a matter of principle if there isn’t too much at stake. Most people would not opt to die for that principle. I am still not going to condone it though. Some people will use lying as a strategy with much less pressure than others. I am not going to say that is a character flaw. Perhaps relationships work best when this value, like many others, are held similarly by both partners – if you are both lying about the same level of things, you can’t be too surprised to when you find out the truth. It is a really thorny issue though – because I think that yes, if someone is lying about one thing then yes, they ARE more likely to lie about other things. If you assume the other person is lying, trust, which is critical to an intimate relationship, is hard to establish. I suppose the point is to remember that when you meet somene online, you need to take time to get to know them and ‘get a feel’ for them. During that time, you need to keep your head and NOT take things at face value.

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