Denise had a problem.
She’d been doing fairly well on Match.com. She hadn’t met anyone she really liked yet, but she’d gone out on a few decent dates. Mostly with guys in their 40s, which she didn’t mind, as she was about to turn 40 herself.
The day after her birthday, she logged into Match.com to check her messages. A 55-year-old guy had messaged her. And one who looked his age to boot.
He wasn’t the first. She started getting messages from guys in their 50s and sometimes even guys in their 60s. She only heard from a guy her own age if she messaged him first.
You know what happened. It was the algorithm.
When you set up your profile in an online dating site, you tell the site what kind of match you’re looking for. Straightaway, you’re asked what age range would be acceptable to you.
After turning 40, Denise was in a whole different bracket. She was no longer showing up as a match for men who wanted to date women in their 20s and 30s.
Christian Rudder is the co-founder of OkCupid and author of the book Dataclysm. After processing huge amounts of data from the online dating site, he found that age bias is real. Men, no matter their age, prefer women in their early twenties. Women, on the other hand, prefer men their own age.
Rudder explains: “A man, as he gets older, searches for relatively younger and younger women. Meanwhile his upper acceptable limit hovers only a token amount above his own age.”
That’s the bad news. But there’s good news:
Offline, that distinction almost disappears.
Sixty percent of married couples are either the same age or within a few years of each other’s age.
Only a small minority of men are much, much older than their wives.
So, while online dating algorithms encourage age bias, in the REAL world couples are falling in love with their peers.
Men may like the look of twenty-year-olds, but they’re mostly marrying women their own age or just a few years younger.
That piece of news helped Denise feel better, but it didn’t change the fact that Match.com was now pairing her up with fifty-year-olds. She wanted to date a guy her own age.
Here’s what I recommended to her:
1. Change your online dating strategy.
Denise had been waiting for guys to message her. She only reached out to a guy if she thought he was really special—and she rarely heard back, leading her to conclude that guys won’t respond to women who message them first.
But that strategy wasn’t going to help her get noticed.
Denise joked, “Should I put that I don’t feel 40 in my profile?” Maybe, if she told men that she was a very youthful 40, they’d give her a chance.
I advised against it. Nothing draws attention to your age faster than claiming that you don’t look or feel your age. (Nobody thinks they look their age!)
Instead, I recommended that she start being more proactive. Take the lead and send that first message. Don’t wait for someone really special to pop up. Send a message to any man who seems interesting.
Here’s why this works. If you rely on the algorithm to match you, he may never see you. But if you message him, he WILL check out your profile. You’re bringing yourself to his attention.
Guys aren’t as shallow as algorithms make them sound. They just want to meet someone nice. So do him a favor and make the first move!
2. Meet men in an arena where you can shine.
Online dating is by definition superficial.
It reduces people to a picture, some stats, and a few words.
So it’s no wonder that people behave superficially online.
If that bothers you, get offline!
Online dating isn’t the only way to meet men. The old-fashioned venues for meeting people are still alive and kicking. A lot of folks meet their future spouse at school, at work, or at church. Your future boyfriend may already be going to your gym or to your favorite coffee shop. You might bump into him at a music festival or a volunteer event.
The more you’re socializing in the real world, the less important it becomes to see an inbox full of new messages on Match.com.
That distance gives you the perspective to see online dating for what it is:
A tool for meeting men you wouldn’t otherwise meet…
NOT the ultimate arbiter of your value.
Denise wasn’t unattractive to men her own age just because she’d turned 40. The algorithm just made it seem that way. And algorithms are made by fallible human beings who don’t really know what makes two people fall in love.