Lies My Online Dating Partners Told Me

July 15, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

OK Cupid may not be the largest online dating site, but it has the best data analysis – not surprising since its founders are Harvard math grads. They use the demographic data their subscribers provide, and they can trace the paths of messages – who sends to who, who responds to who. Last week, Christian Rudder, one of the founders, posted some detective work they did to assess the truthfulness of their customers. For example, the height distribution of their male subscribers is about two inches to the right of the national distribution. Either the OK Cupid guys are an unusually tall bunch, or they were standing on tiptoe when they filled out the form. They don’t need Randy Newman to suspect that the shorter a guy is, the less interested women will be. And they’re right (up to about 6' 1") They may be liars, but they’re not fools. It’s not surprising that people stretch the truth and their height. But why would people on a dating site lie about their sexual orientation? Yet the OK Cupid analysts found a difference between reported and observed behavior, at least for those who put their orientation as “bi.” Less than 25% of men who claimed to be bisexual actually sent messages to both men and women.
(Click on the graph for a slightly larger view.)
More likely, they weren’t lying. My guess is that the younger men were using OK Cupid as place to cautiously explore their homosexual tendencies. Maybe they were truly bisexual and didn’t need a dating service to find women. Or maybe they were homosexual but hadn’t yet come to identify themselves as such. Rudder speculates that as gay men age into their thirties, they no longer need to claim that they are bisexual. But that still doesn’t explain why even among the older self-identified bisexual men, only about one in seven is looking for both male and female partners. The data on women do not show so dramatic a change with age. But as with the men, most women who identify themselves as bisexual send all their messages to either women or men, not both.

UPDATE, July 16:

There are lies, and then there are lies.


Dating said...

Still doesn’t explain why even among the older self-identified bisexual men

The Relationship Company said...

Online dating simple fact is that you are likely looking for your soul mate do not tell lies, so at some point in the dating relationship, those lies will come back to haunt you.

mwilson said...

This doesnt suprise me at all. Of course people are going to lie. They shouldn't but a lot of people do.

Jay Livingston said...

Hi Megan. It's not that people on dating sites lie. Often, they tell the kinds of lies we'd expect (about height or weight or age or income). That's easy to explain -- people tell those lies because they think it will make them more attractive.

What interested me was the apparent lies about sexual orientation. Most of the people who said they were "bi" didn't act bi on the site. They sent their messages either to men only or women only. How can we explain that?

Dating Websites said...

Online dating is not for telling and listening lies.. And people should take care of these things.. Many people join it to have fun.. But its also true that you can't stop every one from saying it..

Anonymous said...

You're assuming 'bi' means 'equally likely to be attracted to men and women', which is likely not true, or at the very least doesn't match the understanding of those people who call themselves bisexual on the site. (Also, AFAIK this is a frequent attack by people with 'traditional views', i.e. that anyone who isn't in 50-50 hetero/homo relationships isn't truly bi, is confused about their own sexuality, is doing it only for the attention etc. It's like they can't imagine simple things like someone experiencing sexual attraction to both men and women yet gravitating to either men or women when it comes to relationships. Or simply having enjoyed sex with men and women, but on balance found the experience with men/women better and hence look for someone out of that subset first.)
Also, consider that site use is often short term. So even a 'fully 50-50' bisexual person who happens to be in the mood for a particular gender _right now when they use the site_ would show up as not messaging equally.
Finally, consider the use of online dating for finding a partner to have kids with. For a bisexual man it's vastly easier to find a woman willing to become pregnant than to find a male partner and go through adoption/surrogacy. Especially since they could also go the adoption/surrogacy route with a female partner and still have a better chance of being approved. Just from that, one would expect a proportion of 'truly bisexual' men only looking for women. For women the effect would not be as pronounced.

Jay Livingston said...

Thanks for commenting. I hadn’t considered the question of what kind of relationship people are looking for. That explains why bi men, as they age from 18 to 38, are increasingly interested in meeting a woman. For a bi man who wants to become a father, it’s much easier to do it the old-fashioned way. But a woman who wants to become a mother does not require a long-term relationship with a man.

I’m not sure I get your point about “bi” and the ratio of sexual interest. OK Cupid made no 50-50 assumption. If a man who identified himself as bi sent 25 messages to women and one to a man, he would still be in that narrow purple strip at the top of the graph. But it looks like 80-90% of them (depending on age) sent all their messages to only one gender.

Jay Livingston said...

One more thing: I'm very curious as to what brought you (and a handful of others) to this post which has gone mostly unnoticed in the nine years since it was first posted.

Anonymous said...

I'll try again, though i think the example in brackets is still relevant: Two scenarios:
1) People create an account, search, find someone, delete their account once the relationship is somewhat steady. The latter is often a signal of commitment, in the the sense of 'see, I'm no longer checking out other people'. If the relationship fails, they make a new account. Everyone who is bisexual but for whatever reason currently is looking only for men/women contributes to above statistic as 'not bi-messaging' despite this being not their overall live-long attraction pattern. Reasons for (temporarily) only looking for one sex are many: bad experiences, a desire for variety/change, response to environment (i.e. after moving to smaller, more conservative communities a hetero relationship is easier to obtain and present, whereas moving to a big city might trigger more exploration of homosexual tendencies), preference for specific sex acts (bisexual women into fisting/oral might prefer women, bisexual men into anal might prefer men) or simply availability (bisexuals looking for opposite sex partners usually have ample opportunities offline. For same sex partners, online might be more convenient). Crucially, the shorter an account is active, the more influential this effect will be.
2) I've know several bisexual people who truly enjoyed their homosexual experiences in early adulthood, who still at times fantasize about homosexual sex, but who nonetheless have 100% heterosexual relationship history past their experimental phase. Some people decry these as 'not truly bi', which strikes me as narrow minded and contradictory. At the extreme, according to that reasoning, someone who marries their high school sweetheart and remains faithful into old age cannot be bisexual, which IMHO is not how this works. Bisexuality is about romantic/sexual attraction to both sexes, one doesn't have to be equally attracted to both. It also especially doesn't mean being equally interested in longer term romantic relationships with both sexes. So it strikes me as perfectly valid, if someone only messages one sex, because that's the one they're more strongly attracted to, and puts the 'bisexual' info in there but to give potential partners a head up (Anecdotally some heterosexual people do have a a problem with people who had homosexual sex in the past. Not sure about the reverse, though I image some homosexual people deeply into the relevant communities might prefer 'truly gay' partners.) and maybe also signal their in principle availability to partners of the other sex, despite not making any active efforts to find such.

As for the interest: it was at the top of the blog, nothing beyond that. (Ok, and I think OKcupid's statistical reasoning is abysmal, so there's a bit of an interest in correcting the record, which maybe tips it from 'ignore' to 'argue'.)