Why Do So Many People Lie In Online Dating?


There are millions of Americans seeking love on the Internet. Little do they know that teams of scientists are eagerly watching them trying to find it.

A recent New York Times article titled “Love, Lies and What They Learned,” indicates that collectively, the major dating sites had more than 593 million visits in the United States last month.

Research involving more than one million online dating profiles was partly financed by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The in-depth studies found that about 81 percent of people misrepresent their height, weight or age in their profiles. On average, the women described themselves as 8.5 pounds thinner in their profiles than they really were. Men fibbed by 2 pounds, although they lied about their height, rounding up a half inch. Another study found that women’s profile photographs were on average a year and a half old. Men’s were on average six months old.

According to the studies, liars tend to use fewer first-person pronouns. Professor Catalina L. Toma, an assistant professor in the department of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said this is an indication of psychological distancing: “You’re feeling guilty or anxious or nervous.” Liars use more negative words like “not” and “never,” yet another way of putting up a buffer. Liars use fewer negative emotion words like “sad” and “upset,” and they write shorter online personal essays. (It’s easier not to get caught if you say less.)

“I was personally really shocked,” said Professor Rose McDermott, a professor of political science at Brown University whose study was published this year in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. “People were much more likely to say ‘I’m fat’ than ‘I’m a conservative.’ ”

Personally, none of this is surprising if you’ve dated online. You may find it exasperating, but I just think it’s human nature. WE are insecure. We know that online dating presents a lot of choices. We know that men are looking for younger and thinner and women are looking for taller and wealthier. We know that if we tell the truth – I’m 5’8″, not 5’10”, I’m 55, not 49, we’re all but eliminated from the search of the most desirable candidates. So we fib a little to “get in the door” and hope that we don’t seem too different from our descriptions.

Given that 81% of people lie, I think it’s time to stop getting so bent out of shape when they do, and simply assume that everyone is fudging a little bit – some, more than others. At the end of the day, it’s better to be pleasantly surprised when someone does tell the truth than bitterly disappointed when he doesn’t. It’s too predictable to get angry about.

Read the full article here and let me know your thoughts.

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  1. 21

    I met my SO online and I lied on my profile.   I put my initial age up for 2 weeks then switched it 2 weeks later and reduced it by 5 years.   I got a lot   more responses at the lower age.   On the 2nd date with my SO,   I told him the truth and he said that if I had left   my age at   5 years older, we may have never met because he didn’t browse for women at that age.      It’s funny he is only 3 years younger but believed I was 8 years younger until I told him.         

    Dating online changes everything.   In person you can decide if you are attracted to someone regardless of age or body type, but online there is a  tendency to deal with ideals.     

  2. 22
    Ronnie Ann Ryan - The Dating Coach for Women Over 40

    I agree with you Evan. Given the research that 81% of people participating in online dating lie, it’s time to get over it. According to the research you cited, the lies sound fairly minor. Whether women lie about 8 lbs or men lie about half an inch, that’s a lot more like fudging as #2 My Honest Answer calls it.
    Many of my dating coaching clients complain bitterly about how men spell. My response is that if they met the guy on a blind date or at a party or bar, they wouldn’t know how he spelled. You know you can be successful at finding love when you get get over a few minor details and get down to meeting and getting to know people to give them a chance. Look for what is RIGHT with the person, not how to disqualify them and you’ll have much better results and a lot more fun too.

  3. 23

    Do you get mad at everyone you date who doesn’t become your boyfriend or husband, or just the ones who lied.   B/c it seems as though you should get mad at everyone who doesn’t live up your expectations b/c again, I mentioned that some people stretch the definition of a lie to include the idea that their descriptions don’t match your descriptions.

    I mean, maybe the guy with the gut does work out…plenty of guys in my fitness class seem to have paunches of various sizes mainly b/c it’s something that can be hard to manage with age, even in an otherwise fit person.   It is what it is…but they are athletic and fast and fit, even if they don’t have “perfect” bodies.   

    It seems like you are making a choice to get mad at people b/c you didnt’ get what you wanted.   And that seems like an unfortunate waste of time and energy.     

    1. 23.1

      a) I think sites should ask if a person’s abs are visible or not visible. or what their waist size is. I’m serious. I don’t care that a woman is fit. I care that she has abs like Keri Russell. If she smokes, she smokes. I hate smoke. But i don’t care if she’s actually fit. I jsut care about the looks part of fitness.  
      it seems like the easiest solution is to just list your waist size (men and women). or your bodyfat. But women would rather endure a nuclear war than list their weight or waist size size. men are defined by their height and income. women are defined by their waist size.  
      As for men having paunches, i’m over 40 and have Hugh Jackman abs. But I run 30 miles a week, lift weights intensely four times a week, spin once a week, and never eat refined sugar or white flour. It can be done. I eat steak twice a week. I drink wine and whiskey. Just very few carbs.
      look at the gay men over 40 lifting weights. some of those gay guys stay ripped until their sixties.  
      Any guy who takes a class is not into fitness. Classes are for wimps. Maybe they’re okay fro women. Real fitness folk run 6 miles a day and 7.5 mph and lift until they grunt. i have seen some lean ladies leave classes. So, maybe classes do okay for women. i have never seen a fit guy leave a class (who is not the teacher).  

  4. 24

    I once read that we find about 10% of the sex we are attracted to actually attractive (not objectively attractive, as in we can acknowledge a person is good-looking, but that we actually have an interest), but a lot of things diminish these people from being relationship material…

    Namely, they may not be single. They may not be interested. Circumstances aren’t ideal (they are your boss).

    A friend made a comment that the advantage to meeting someone in person is you already know if you find them attractive but may not know if they are available, but online the only advantage is that you
    know those people are single but looking.

    Most guys I find attractive in person are in the 6 or 7 range, and a lot of it is personality. Of all the guys I met online, I only found one actually attractive… And he was 5’5, and had he not fudged his height I would not have met him.

    I think people should realize that your chances of liking the person will only be one in ten, or something like that. Helene, please don’t take this personally, but while not finding a man attractive can be frustrating, it is dramatic to say it ruins your whole evening.

  5. 25

    It’s funny how so many defned the liars and now it’s the fault of the person being lied to.    I guess you just have to assume everyone is lying and decide whether it’s worth your time and energy to meet them.  

    If ones lies on their profile they are either desperate or delusional and generally speaking these are not attractive traits.

  6. 26

    Edwina #21,
    That is why it is so common for women to fudge their age on profiles.   So many men like your SO dismiss women who are not at least 5-10 yrs.   Imagine that he was not willng to consider a woman three yrs his junior in an online search.   He imagined women close to his age as being “old” or matronly, until he actuall yme one and was pleasantly surprised.

  7. 27

    The thing is is that people are on dating sites for their own benefit,   not for the benefit of the online community at large.   If lying gets someone a date where they wouldn’t have got one before, they are almost always better off doing so.   The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t lead to anything, which would have been the outcome had the person told the truth anyway.   Who would you rather be; the person who lied on their profile and found the love of their life as a result, or the person who was scrupulously honest and ended up alone because of it? How many people are really going to put the happiness of a bunch of people they’ve never met  before their own chance of finding true love? It’s just one of the costs of this type of dating that you need to accept   before going ahead with it.

    And even if you don’t find the person the slightest bit attractive when you meet them, is it really so terrible to have to spend a short amount of time with someone who could potentially be fascinating/hilarious?   Maybe you don’t have much time but make the most of it, for goodness sake and look at them as a potentially interesting human being that might tell you some funny or interesting stories over the course of your date.

  8. 28

    Someone wrote: “But they lie about what they’re looking for in a relationship and their definition of a relationship and other important things.     Many of the dates are strained because these men are trying to maintain their facade built of lies.”

    Lies is a strong word, but I don’t think she is far off! 🙂  

    That, in a nutshell,is my main beef with online dating- men not knowing their true selves, what they truly want, not realizing how much anger, hurt, confusion,  they carry around from past relationships. The latter just leads to deviousness and cowardice on their part somehow at some point in our little “mini-relationship”, however long it lasts, whether two days of emails or 7 months of steady dating.

    Here in SC most men, whether on match or pof or okcupid, simply seem to want to get laid. Period. They might convince themselves that they want a “relationship”, but when push comes to shove (going exclusive or taking down a profile, etc.) they just can’t seem to do it. Or pursue in the first place. I’m finding a lot of initial attraction (one or two emails at most), but then a serious decline in “follow thru”. Patti Stanger of Millionaire Matchmaker says that’s her chief complaint with online dating.

    In some ways you can’t blame them because all of us are so disillusioned by the process anymore.

    Re profile lies (and btw I myself lie about my age,  HAVE to! But in my defense I look 7-10 years younger  (have had “work”, been a  true athlete my entire life, so told I have a fantastic (by a 35 yr. old), sexy figure, etc.)  but am really pushing 60!, sooooo…): In 2.5 years of online dating only about three men have lied about age. Most fess up to true height actually before meeting, thank God. Lately, I’m talking to guys who put “divorced” on their profiles but will admit in the first phone call to being merely separated. I won’t date separated men.

    The solution is to meet quickly before the initial attraction fades, to “hook” them I guess. I have the looks, brains  and personality to keep men interested, and  the vast majority of men- in 2.5 years- always  want second dates with me, etc. But I am really picky as to whom I’ll meet lately as I’m suffering from “online dating fatigue” in a huge way AND recently broke up after 7 months exclusively steady dating someone online. He wasn’t ready for a relationship but I knew that going in. But our chemistry was fantastic and I was sick to death of dating so told myself I would take a detour, rest a while, love him unconditionally anyway.

    1. 28.1

      You hit the nail on the head. “Separated” people do not, do NOT, belong on dating sites!!! THEY ARE MARRIED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. 29

    helene@16: I thought you were married. Hmm. Confused. Is there another Helene on here? Helen, maybe?

    Funny story to no one in particular: Before I got involved with my S.O. (we met in real life, together several years) I met a guy online and we went to an outdoor jazz concert. I knew one of the  performers and so looked up her photo/bio in the program. The guy, who probably had done a lot of internet dating (me, not so much) looked at her onstage, then looked at her picture and scoffed, “I wonder how  old that picture is.” She was 22! And she looked it, both in her picture and in real life! I remember thinking, “WTF is wrong with this guy?” He was pushing 50 at the time, I think. I mean–really. Some people need to get a grip.

  10. 30

    I’d say there are two types of lies on dating sites: one is, like they said here, “fudging” the external factors, taking two years off your age, adding an inch to your height… this, I don’t mind. I have seen some big-time lying about serious things, though. I mean, if you’ve just gotten separated last month, don’t say you’re divorced; if you’re hungover every morning, don’t say you’re a social drinker; if you go through a pack a day, don’t say you don’t smoke; if you have a girlfriend, what are you doing on a dating site?? delete your profile and get off now!  

    All true stories, by the way…
    I’m not sure what to think of men who say they’re a white-collar professional, when in fact they’ve been out of work for a while; say that they have a college degree when they never went to college; etc. On one hand, I feel their pain, and understand why they’re doing this. On the other hand, that’s false advertising and the truth is going to come out before the first date is over, so why make these things up?
    @ Jane #8: “Apparently, he had noticed that she had altered her age on her profile, then googled her to verify that she was indeed 56. He said, “a lie is a lie”, putting an awkward end to what was up to that point a nice evening. It was completely premeditated on his part, he waited all night to confront her.”
    Holy cow. Who’d want this douchebag for a boyfriend? Your friend dodged a big one there! I don’t care how old he is or whether his profile is accurate and up-to-date, he’s a horrible person.

  11. 31

    No one has to lie it is a choice one makes.   Please everyone tells themselves they look 7 – 10 younger I think that is biggest lie those of a certain age tell themselves “I don’t look my age so I am justified in putting a younger age on my profile.  ”   I have read this in many mens profile and you know what 99.9% of the time they do look their age.   Why would you want to have relationship with someone who is this delusional?  
    When I was online the majority of emails I received were from men 20-30 years younger than me.   Did this mean I look good for my age( whatever that means) no it means they think I am so desperate that I would have no qualms about jumping in the sack with them.  

  12. 32

    Remember that clip from the Johnny Carson show where he tells Gloria Steinem on her 40th birthday that she doesn’t look 40? She responded, “This is what 40 looks like.” Ha! Where do we get these ideas of what people “should” look like at what age? It’s a very good question!

  13. 33

    I’m not scrupulously honest for anyone’s benefit but my own.   I’m not going to lie just because “everyone does it,” nor am I interested in a man who does.     I’m not missing out on great guys because I don’t lie about my age,.   Men who are too rigid in their thinking are missing out on me.    

    I’m 53 and I’m honest about it.   I date men from online and real life from ages  42 to 72.   The online guys can’t even be kept as friends, they have so much weird stuff going on in their heads.   Some have incredible fake lives built for online dating and have hit me on several sites.   They don’t recognize me because I don’t have  a picture.    

    My real life men become relationships of some sort or another, Oprah Guy Friends, fishing buddies, I’m their “hot young chick” to show off to friends, companions, friends, uncommon intellectual discourse.   The men who are not for me, but are awesome,  I introduce to my girlfriends who can never meet nice  men.   They appreciate me screening out the jerks.

    I know not everybody lives in such a rich dating pool as I, but still…. Quality over Quantity.

  14. 34

    @Teresa, you aren’t kidding.   I mean, a person who hasn’t reach age X is a poor judge of what X looks like.   If you are 18, 30 seems ancient.   If you are 25, then 45 is ancient, so when they say “oh you look great” you should take it with a grain of salt.   I mean, a person can find you attractive even if you are older than they are and are they REALLY going to say, yeah, you look your age if they are hoping to get laid?   

    @Ann, that’s just it.   There isn’t any one thing that a given age looks like.   There is kind of what YOU look like at a particular age and just b/c another person who is your age looks different, it’s really just ego to tell yourself that you clearly look 35 when you are 50, b/c even in a pack of average 35 year olds, your plastic surgery and botox isn’t fooling anyone.

    I personally think that there are a lot of cues that indicate people’s age besides what they look like so I’m not usually surprised by anyone’s age if I can interact with them for a little bit.   It just shows, or when you are close to them you can see the tell-tale signs, even in someone who has “aged well.”  

  15. 35

    @Goldie #30 “The truth is going to come out on the first date

    No it won’t and it never has. Not one woman has ever known I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree. I date women with Master’s degree’s all the time. Ironically they’re teachers!

    It’s also not a woman’s business if I have a cigarette once in awhile when I’m out with my friends and not around her. Should I put “smokes occasionally” in my profile and be honest? Of course not I’d be eliminating 90% of non smoking women from responding to me. Again,not one woman has ever known.

  16. 36

    When I went to my 30th high school reunion, I was amazed at how differently we had aged, even though we were all 48. Some people looked about 48, some looked much older, and some much younger. Everyone commented on how much better the women looked (overall) than the men. Of course, we women are more likely to use cosmetics, hair dye, etc., than men are. It did show me that people age very differently, so I do think it’s a good idea to keep an open mind about age.

  17. 37

    So if I’m 5′ 9.5″ tall, and Match.com only does even inches, is it lying to list myself as 5′ 10″ tall?

  18. 38

    @ JB #35, 99% of my children’s HS teachers, half of their middle school teachers, and a good portion of their grade-school teachers had masters degrees. Then again, they may be lying to impress me. Maybe they’re trying to date me, yikes.
    “No it won’t and it never has.”
    If a man says he has a nice, well-paying job, and in reality he’s unemployed, there is no way he can hide that for long.
    “It’s also not a woman’s business if I have a cigarette once in awhile when I’m out with my friends and not around her.”
    When I said true story, I meant true story. A person’s profile said non-smoker, then he told me he “smokes once in a while”, then it turned out that “once in a while” was really a pack a day. There’s no way to hide a pack a day habit for longer than 2-3 dates. The “once in a while”, I actually don’t mind.

  19. 39

    Because of JB, I might start asking to see a diploma now.

    If people are so insistent on beating the filters and wanting to make sure they show up in a search, they can keep their ‘fake age’ up and then disclose their real age in the body of their profile (same with height, education, etc.). It’s not ideal, but at least you disclosed before meeting so the other person has a choice on whether or not they want to be bothered.

    I don’t like the idea of everyone being so casual and ‘everybody does it’ about lying online. Because that attitude makes more people feel like it’s alright  and the people who *don’t* lie and won’t resort to it are eventually going to get fed up and leave the sites, if they haven’t started to already.

    I like people that are comfortable in their own skin. People that meet that criteria aren’t the ones who lie on their dating profiles.

  20. 40

    @JB & Goldie – Teachers get a pay raise of about $15-20k for getting their masters.   Every single teacher I know is now getting their masters for the guaranteed raise!

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