In the 2012 Quebec film Roméo Eleven, a shy young man with cerebral palsy and a slight limp poses as a successful businessman in an evolving romance with an online girlfriend. In real life, he is a part-time bus boy at his father’s restaurant. Online he tells his girlfriend that important business trips and client requests prevent him from meeting her in person.
Romeo is the young man’s alter ego, his idealized version of himself. In his fantasy life, he is the ultimate cool dude, with clothes and an attitude to match. In contrast, his real life family treat him with the solicitousness that is reserved for the infirm, the aged and those deemed by society as “defective”.
Romeo’s story is a poignant depiction of the role of fantasy in online romance, where you can pretend to be your ideal self with little risk of exposure. Online romances hold the promise of being admired as the person you wish to be, envied for the money and power you wish you had, if only nature and fate had been more kind.
Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies
Most people don’t lie to the same degree as Romeo on their online dating profiles, but sneaking in some fibs to look more appealing to potential partners is common. OKCupid.com, a very popular dating site, looked at data from about 1.5 million people to figure out which lies are most common.
In its findings the average person is about two inches shorter and 20 per cent poorer than they claim to be. Other ways people tend to deceive—putting up old pictures and women apparently claim to be bisexual more than they actually are. Other typical lies have to do with age, weight, marital status and employment.
People lie about these things, not necessarily to trick people, but sometimes to get through a search filter so they can have an opportunity to meet a wider range of people. The chart below shows how many messages a man gets, depending on his age and “reported” income. It shows men, especially older men, receive more messages if they report earning more money.
Does online dating work?
Besides all the misrepresentations, online dating sites are among the most popular ways to meet a partner. In fact, statistically it is more likely to meet someone online than in more traditional locations such as bars, work or school.
At the University of Chicago, psychologists researched marriages from 2005- 2012 to see the correlation between online dating and happy marriages. They found that people who met online did tend to be slightly happier and more satisfied than their counterparts and were less likely to divorce. As a side note, the study was funded by the dating site eHarmony, but they claim is completely independent.
Dan Slater, who wrote a book called Love in the Time of Algorithms, asks an important question about how the technological revolution is affecting our love lives. One of the main questions: why should we settle for who we’ve got, when mouse clicks away there are thousands of people who we may be more compatible? He finds that although online sites usually produce first-time dates where two people hit it off, it is extremely difficult to predict long-term compatibility.
Online dating may have some flaws, but it’s still a go-to place to meet people in a tech-savvy culture.
Just beware of the sand traps before you leap in, and don’t disregard the warning signs when things don’t add up. If you keep meeting people who lie or exploit you, it would be a good idea re-assess.
Meeting with a psychologist who has experience in these areas could be helpful.
Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisher, Facebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.
Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych All rights reserved. Copyright protected.