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The University of Alabama

UA Matters: Thinking of Online Dating? A Few Items to Consider

Dr. Christopher Lynn

Dr. Christopher Lynn

I’ve never utilized online dating. I don’t say that as a point of pride. Online dating is brilliant, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to experience it. Dating was hard work, and I was not so good at it.

Why not rely on caring, experienced guides to help in a process with such high stakes? If you were going to hire someone for a job that involved dating and possible reproduction of the next generation of the species, no 20-somethings would be considered because they have such limited experience.

Alas, we live in a culture that romanticizes love and inexperience, and all the training you’re gonna get is on-the-job, as it were. Consider online dating as our cultural accommodation to the floundering most of us feel dating is, and take advantage of it if you can.

The University of Alabama’s Dr. Christopher Lynn offers the following do’s and don’ts to consider regarding online dating— and, in some cases, dating in general—based on some basic principles of human (and primate) nature.

DON’T consider online dating a last or even secret resort. Online dating companies have worked hard to normalize what used to be considered somewhat shameful. The success of our species and increasing population density doesn’t make finding a mate easier—it makes it harder. People move around and don’t necessarily know everyone in their village. We’ve all become like Jerry Seinfelds in thinking that there’s someone out there to fit an ideal we have in our minds.

That person is you. Stop looking for your clone, and notice all the interesting people around you who have differences for you to learn to appreciate. Don’t let misplaced shame or stubbornness make life harder—take every opportunity to increase your happiness. No one is thinking less of you for it except the “you” you’re imagining in the eyes of others.

DO put yourself out there. Be yourself, but be your best self. If you’re not willing to put effort into portraying yourself in your best possible light, you’ll look like someone who’s not willing to put effort into a fun, caring relationship. Every effort you make signals something to others.

It should be an honest representation of you because a false one just signals that you’re a liar, and one date is all you’ll ever get. But if you highlight your interests, your silliness, your funny quirks, and allow that person to show up, you’re signaling that you’re an interesting human.

DON’T expect to find a 10 or even an 8 if you’re a 5 or a 3. Most people match up with someone within a unit of themselves on a 1-10 scale of physical attractiveness. If you’re unsure, you’re probably average. Most good-looking people know they’re good looking, and not so good-looking people know they’re not so good looking. It’s the average people who are unsure.

Don’t be too self-enhancing or self-diminishing. It won’t do much good on the Internet unless you’re especially charismatic. Describe yourself, and say you’re looking for the same. That’s your best bet of success.

DO say what you like to do or would like to do in your profile. If you haven’t thought of a “bucket list,” think of one now. If your desires are reasonable (and not sexual), it’ll give prospective people a reason to find you interesting and ideas of what to do on a first date.

DON’T go looking for love. You’ll sound desperate. People can smell desperation and steer clear. Don’t say you’re looking for love in your ad, on your first date, in your first month of dating, and probably in the first year. Avoid the “L” word, even if you feel it—especially if you feel it.

Feelings aren’t facts. Ordinarily, I say to trust your gut, but not with blurting out the L word. Just enjoy it. If it feels good, you’ll get to that place where it’s mutual. Blurting it out too soon doesn’t do anyone any good.

DO expect to get what you give. It bears repeating. Expect yourself to be mirrored. If you want to have a good time, portray yourself as happy. I know I said to be honest, but you can change how you feel as simply as forcing yourself to smile. If you hold a pen between your teeth, it forces your face muscles to smile, and you’ll see things in a brighter light. If you hold it between your lips, it simulates a frown and has the opposite effect.

Type up your profile with a pen in your teeth. Go see a scary movie or ride a roller coaster. Your body gets easily confused between fear and excitement. Put some effort into your happiness, and don’t expect it to simply fall into your lap.

Lynn is a UA assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences who teaches the Anthropology of Sex and Non-Human Primates courses. He says he’s been happily married for nearly two decades and watches the growing success of online dating with anthropological interest. 

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