Dan Ariely doesn’t like online dating.

The term is all wrong, he says. There’s no dating happening online.

Instead, he jokes, they should call it “online searching and blurb writing.”[1]

Not that Dan has searched for love online himself. He’s happily married with two kids.

But he’s studied online dating, and he finds it shameful that people waste so much time and energy on something with so little return.

He’s got some ideas to make online dating better—more enjoyable, more productive, and more likely to lead to love.

But until someone comes up with an online dating app designed around his research, you’ll just have to use his hacks yourself.

Online Dating: Designed for Robots?

As a behavioral economist, Dan examines systems to see if they genuinely help people achieve their goals.

He believes that we should design systems around what people naturally do, rather than what they should do in an ideal world.

Any system designed for love should take into account the fact that attraction isn’t rational. You don’t think it through (even though maybe you should!). You feel it in your gut.

Which is why it’s so strange that online dating sites present people as collections of data points.

That’s not how we experience people.

We don’t look at someone and think, “Hmm, 5’11”, brown eyes, 4-year degree, likes Phish… Nope, doesn’t meet my criteria.”

Instead, we look at someone and drink in everything about them: the way they walk, the way they smile, the way we feel in their presence. We know whether we’re attracted, but we can’t explain how.

Conclusion: Online dating isn’t designed for people. It’s designed for algorithms.

And that’s the first big thing online dating gets wrong.

#1. People aren’t data sets.

You would think that all the time you spend answering questions on your profile would pay off.

After all, the more information the algorithm has about you, the more easily it can pinpoint your perfect match, right?

Unfortunately, that’s one thing ALL online dating sites get wrong.

Research by Dr. Eli Finkel and collaborators found that algorithms can’t predict love by their very nature.

The data collected—about your likes and dislikes, your personality, your traits—are “much less important to relationship well-being than has long been assumed.”[2]

Algorithms can’t predict whether you’ll feel a chemical attraction, whether you’ll enjoy each other’s company, and whether you have what it takes to last a lifetime together…

No matter HOW much data they collect.

Which brings us to the second thing online dating gets wrong…

#2. You can’t quantify intangibles.

If you’re looking for something casual, you tend to look at external qualities, like how he looks, what his lifestyle is like, and whether you have similar hobbies.

But when you’re looking for a lifetime relationship, your search broadens. You look for difficult-to-spot traits like whether he’d make a good partner, how well he navigates conflict, and whether you’ll be able to grow together.

The only way to get those answers is to spend time with him. Lots of time.

Because if you rely on what he says about himself in his profile—that he’s a kind, thoughtful guy who gives amazing foot massages and will bring you breakfast in bed for the rest of your life…

You’ll probably find out there’s a big difference between how he sees himself and how you experience him!

The way a man describes himself in his online dating profile only tells you one thing: how he hopes you’ll see him.

Not much use when you’re trying to spot Mr. Right!

3. Dating is not information gathering.

The online dating process seems to be about getting as much information as you can about someone, so that you can decide whether to date them.

That’s not what dating is about.

Dan defines dating as “experiencing something with another person in an environment that is a catalyst for the interaction.”

In other words, you do something together.

You drink coffee, or you go to a museum, or you go for a bike ride.

Your shared experience gives you something to talk about.

If experiencing something together is the foundation of dating, how can we approach online dating differently, so that it matches more closely what we do in the real world?

Dan suggests virtual dating.

Instead of asking your date endless questions about himself, send him a link to a website or a picture or a video and ask him what he thinks.

Play an online game together, or hop on an interactive website.

You might even suggest that you do something different on your first date. Each of you brings an object that has personal meaning to you, and you tell each other about it when you meet.

By focusing on ways you can experience something together, online or in real life, you dispense with the boring, “Tell me about yourself,” part of the interaction, and you go straight to what’s most important:

Finding out whether you click.


[1] The Upside of Irrationality (New York: HarperCollins, 2010)221.

[2] https://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/eli-finkel/documents/2012_FinkelEastwickKarneyReisSprecher_PSPI.pdf