Online dating has surged in recent years, providing unique opportunities for people to meet prospective partners, find lifelong friends, as well as to form alternative connections, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the digitalisation of dating may facilitate genuine connections for some, for others, they are presented with a mixture of love, lies, and surprise, as investigated by Dr Ursula Schinzel.
You can find her videos on YouTube, and her academic publications on ResearchGate. Her book, Love in Times of Coronavirus, is available on Amazon, and you can find more about her work through her blog.
The music in this episode is performed by Celia Baron.
Hello, and welcome to ResearchPod. Thanks for listening, and joining us today.
In this episode, we look at the work of Dr Ursula Schinzel, a social scientist who has investigated the world of online dating experiences which she has summarised in a series of semi-fictional books and in academic publications. She has also published her research on YouTube under ‘Ursula Schinzel’, the blog ursula-schinzel.com, as well as under Ursula Schinzel on Google Scholar and Research Gate. This podcast is spoken by Caspar Rundegren, who has also narrated Ursula’s audiobook, and the music is by saxophonist, Celia Baron.
In her book titled ‘Love in Times of Coronavirus’ she presents the fictional Julia Summerland’s experiences in meeting with many prospective partners on online dating platforms, and what lessons others can learn on the psychology of dating from Julia’s mixed results. The books are available on Amazon under the pen name of Julia Summerland, and Ursula’s videos, website, and academic publications can be found linked to in the show notes for this episode.
Today, Ursula would like to share the findings about the lies people use on dating platforms, as well as on other social applications. As she recounts:
‘I was sad when Alan left the house. On the other hand, I felt it was my chance to meet new men, to be young again. In about two months, I made up my mind, and on recommendation of my close friend Agnès, I opened an online account with MeetYourLove, a well-known dating platform. All names are, of course, ‘made up’!
Then, I was hit by reality: A man who claimed to be 185centimetres tall arrived to our date with a mere 165 centimetres of them. Another one, who claimed he never drinks alcohol, was so drunk at the end of our date I had to order a taxi to drive him back home. The next one was a naturist, running around naked at home, and well, another one was dumpster diving every single day of the week at exactly 8pm. Not to tell you about the one with the diabetic dog who needed injections every evening at 9pm.’
If any of those stories sound familiar, then Ursula’s research may be for you…
Ursula’s investigation is an ongoing study, which started in February 2020, and remains open, Ursula has contacted over 300 individuals in writing via an online platform and interviewing 56 daters by phone or in person. Through a series of calls, in person recordings, and some repeated meetings with serial dates, Ursula has gathered data and experiences from 36 other dating site users of all genders in semi-structured interviews. Respondents gave their perspective of a range of topics relating to dating psychology and the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, with key themes being:
1. Did the coronavirus situation change dating habits? What were the aspects of their personal information they lied about?
2. And, did coronavirus change their lying habits?
To Ursula’s surprise, most respondents upheld their positions of honesty in dating site messages throughout. Coronavirus did not change the lying habits; however accurate their professed honesty was. It did not change the deception either.
It did, however, change contact habits through social distancing, resulting in an increase in digitalisation of contacts. What’s more, daters have also adapted their lying culture to accommodate the new digital reality, whereby digital methods have become the preferred means for meeting.
Although it is difficult to believe, and challenging to check and prove, it is to be said that many daters do NOT lie about anything, not about their salary, their weight and height, or other parts of their life. Generally, people are trusting and trustworthy. They tell the truth about themselves, about their availabilities, and even their photos are genuine. They are honest and sincere, commonly looking for an honest and serious new partner.
Ursula spoke with 34 out of 36 of these honest daters who insisted they had not lied in their dating experiences. Here is their most frequent reply:
‘I am not lying here, I am honest. I am seriously searching for a partner here.’
However, those who did lie, would lie about the following points.
- Their gender (women who pretend to be men and vice versa.)
- Their profile photos
- Their name (Showing one name on the platform and using another name upon meeting – which even Ursula herself admits to, through her pen name ‘Juliaen dash
Other lies that are frequent topics for deceit and cannot be easily checked include age, salary, and exclusivity of any prior relationship. Some other deep truths cannot be uncovered until well into the course of dating, such as any secret addictions or traumas that can affect the course of future relationships.
- Some dating site users, when pressed, even confessed to using the site to meet for short, casual relationships so as to have somewhere to spend the night!
The most delicate subjects for dating site users, are understandably any deceit around the issues of:
- Sex – in this case, referring to lying about the importance of physical, sexual activity in a relationship and sexual preferences.
- Abuse (These traumatising events in the past often represent a hindrance for future new relationships. Although, in the first place, they would NOT talk about having been abused in the past at all, only later mention it in a second or third encounter.)
- Deaths (Like abuse, fatalities represent a traumatising event in the past with often negative impacts on future relationships. If a loving partner or child has recently passed away, it is difficult to replace him or her entirely.)
- And crime. (Criminal groups make contact to get money for a ‘sick’ family member or flight tickets.)
Many dating site users agree that sex is their main motivator for using the site, but don’t think that the casual nature of any short-term relationship should excuse deception. 10 out of 36 said, ‘A liar remains a liar and the lies remain the same.’ This is independent of coronavirus’ impacts on dating site use.
6 out of 36 said: ‘Deceitful users have changed their lying habits, because they spent less time at work in person – because of remote working. Spending more time in front of their screens to kill time; relieve boredom and to avoid depression, they get inventive, creative, they fantasise.’
One respondent offered that, ‘Nothing has changed, and the photos do not match reality, or the photos were taken years ago. Men say exactly what women want to hear to seduce them. Take the example of weight, the reality is they’re often 10 kilograms more than they write down, but if they say, “a few kilograms overweight”, this often means 20 kilograms too much, or even more.’
Another one, told Ursula that they: ‘Cannot tell if the truth also suffers because of coronavirus’, adding ‘I am convinced that on the dating sites there is always a lot of lying. Probably they cannot distinguish any longer between what is true and untrue. In the anonymity of the internet a lot of people let their fantasies and imaginations run wild.’
During her interviews, Ursula heard that ‘liars exist everywhere’ from one user, with another ready to confirm that they frequently stole or modified photos from around the internet to create a false dating profile.
Others expressed frustration with the tendency for dating site users to ‘ghost’ one another – disappearing to complete silence after a period of active communication. The impacts of coronavirus on meeting and messaging habits only divides a population even more, and some will succumb to the uncertainty, while others will try to understand why. This said, people will continue to meet, nevertheless adapting to the constraints, or otherwise they would lose their humanity.
Another respondent said: ‘This is exactly the way it is! It is as if we are window shopping here! We communicate on the platform, then one encounter, a second and a third, … and then nothing any more…. People don’t take the time any longer to know each other. And then when you get lost, you don’t know any more what you were looking for in the first place!’
What’s more, many users are familiar with how to optimise dating sites for casual sex. As one participant reported: ‘My first encounter was with a woman of my age, she knew all these sites well, she was used to them, she was just looking for sex, and of course, I accepted, I am a man, I couldn’t resist, but in the end, I didn’t like it.’
Online dating sites nowadays are not only used for ‘romantic dating’ in a traditional sense, but more and more for alternative connections, such as ‘friending’, networking, creative innovation, and even recruiting!
On the other hand, however, these online sites can reflect the society we are living in, where Ursula describes that superficiality, lies, and sadness are commonplace. As one of Ursula’s male respondent’s reports:
‘I have met too many sad women there, so much sadness. I asked myself: What am I looking for? Am I lying to myself?’ In the end, there are a lot of women who turn up on these sites, who you meet and think “This person is out of their mind!” But, from simply reading their profiles, you could be led to believe that they were all friendly. In reality, they were unfriendly, impolite and nasty. They’ve lied not only about their weight, appearance, manners, but especially their real reason for being there: Their only priority was that they wanted to find a wealthy, single man, 50 years old, and without kids, that’s it.’
On the flip side of things, Ursula describes meeting many women who were married, but leading a double life through dating sites, Looking for ‘fun on the side’.
‘Funnily,’ says Ursula, ‘the women didn’t believe me about my research. They thought, I was dishonest, even though I had indicated my real name and my real photos on the website and my real phone number. But they didn’t believe me. They thought, since they lie, I would be lying too.’
When deciding if a prospective online match is,
1. romantically available and desirable and
2. whether to meet in person or not,
daters employ four strategies, which Ursula has explored in further research. Namely, impression management, availability management, truth management, and false consensus management.
Self-presentation covers factors such as age, height, weight, and standard of living, for example through houses, cars, professional occupation, and salary,
Availability management covers physical and emotional availability, such as marital status, or workload, or distance in residency.
Truth management is much as it sounds – the energy spent on the question ‘how to find out what the truth is?’
Lastly, false consensus management is where daters estimate the actions of other daters based on their own behaviour. The more they lie themselves, the more they estimate the partner also lies.
Previous research into online dating and deception found that two-thirds of lies are due to factors within Impression Management, leading to deception.
Overall, the big winner is the digitalization of love. It is big business, and we’re talking really big business! Imagine, 300 million people worldwide on dating apps, 4.94 billion dollars revenue in 2022.
Did Ursula’s findings make you curious? Find more on Google and ‘Google Scholar’ and her videos on YouTube by searching for ‘Ursula Schinzel’, and in the links accompanying this episode’s description.
You can find the book and audiobook for ‘Love in times of coronavirus’ on Amazon, under pen name Julia Summerland. The academic articles detailing more of the methodology and data from user surveys is published by Palgrave Studies in Cross-Disciplinary Business Research, in association with EuroMed Academy of Business, in the volume Business Advancement through Technology Volume 1: Markets and Marketing in Transition, edited by Alkis Thrassou and others, titled, ‘Digitalization of Love and Lies on Online Dating Platforms in Coronavirus Times’. Ursula is an independent tutor and works for Unicaf University, Cap Langues Luxembourg, Sports pour Tous, Ville de Luxembourg and Commune de Differdange.
That’s all for this episode – thanks for listening. And be sure to stay subscribed to ResearchPod, for more of the latest science.
See you again soon.