Why Do So Many Guys Lie Online?

It’s one of the worst parts about dating:

The effort you put into guys who turn out to be time-wasters.

You spend hours texting or chatting online, you talk on the phone, and you build up high hopes…

Only to go out with him and realize he’s nothing like you thought he was.

He said he was athletic, but he’s 20 pounds overweight. He said he was well-traveled, but he’s only been out-of-state a few times. He said he had a vacation home, but the beach cottage belongs to his parents.

Are all men liars?

Or is there more going on beneath the surface?

Even Good People Lie

Who would you expect to be more honest:

That guy you met in real life…

Or that man you met online?

Surely it’s the guy in real life, right? You can trust people in real life to be honest. It’s harder to tell a lie face-to-face. But is that true?

It turns out that people lie a lot more often than you’d think. Research has found that most people tell lies on a daily basis, and they don’t consider those lies a big deal.[1]

People are particularly likely to lie when they want to come across as likable and competent (hello, first dates and job interviews!)[2] and when they don’t want to hurt anyone.

Being compassionate makes you more likely to fudge the truth. Compassionate people engage in prosocial lying, or lying to make other people feel good.[3]

You may not think of it as a lie when you tell someone you like their new haircut (even though you don’t) or that they did a good job (even if they didn’t), because you’re not deliberately trying to mislead anyone. You’re simply spreading positive vibes.

Intentions matter when it comes to lying. We’re more likely to forgive someone for telling a lie if they were only trying to help. We’re less likely to forgive someone for telling a lie if it gave them an advantage.

So if a man tells you that he finds your job fascinating (even though he doesn’t), you probably won’t mind. It’s flattering!

But if he tells you that he earns a lot more money than he actually does, you’ll judge him harshly. Lying to make himself look good feels like more of a deception than lying to make you feel good.

We tend to be more suspicious of what people tell us online, because we suspect they’re trying to make themselves look good. But are we right to judge?

The Advantages of Lying Online

If no one lies, then it’s clearly wrong to lie.

But what if everyone lies? What if that’s just how the game is played?

Chances are, that guy who lied about some salient details on his online dating profile isn’t overly worried about you finding out the truth. He expects that you lied about some of your details, too. People who lie online think everyone is doing it.

And they’re mostly right. Only 1 in 4 online daters make an attempt to stay completely honest. (Social media users are a bit better, with 1 in 3 committed to honesty.)[4]

If everyone lies on their profile, there’s not much incentive to be the only person revealing her true details.

The more honest you are, the more you get penalized by the algorithm. A 29-year-old gets a lot more hits than a 30-year-old, even though they’re basically the same age.

Some people believe it’s okay to game the system by presenting yourself as younger or thinner than you really are, as long as you are forthcoming about the discrepancy in the “About Me” section.

But others feel that any deception represents a flawed character. How can you trust a man who claims to be taller than he is in real life? If he’s dishonest about his height, what else is he dishonest about?

It turns out that this is a false assumption. Someone who lies about their height (or weight or age) online is not more likely to be lying about other things.[5] Rather, they’re just trying to give themselves a leg up. Online dating is competitive. Fudging their figures gives them more hits.

So that guy who lied in his profile may not be as bad as you think. He’s simply trying to play the game the way he thinks it’s played.

How to Deal with Online Lies

That may not make you feel any better.

It’s a rude shock to show up on a date and find out that the person you’ve been chatting with online is nothing like the person standing in front of you.

But try approaching it with curiosity. Before getting mad, ask your date about the discrepancy. You may be able to empathize with his intentions.

You can also have this conversation before you meet. Knowing that most people lie about something in their online dating profile, ask him, “Is there anything different about you in person that I should know about?”

Always assume that what you saw online is not what you’ll get in person. Not necessarily because people lie (though they do), but because it’s impossible for an online profile to show us as we truly are.

[1] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1996-01753-006

[2] https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-06/uoma-urf061002.php

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28493758

[4] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-45315-015

[5] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-love-the-scientific-take/201712/lying-online

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