Here’s a common experience with apps that show you one profile at a time (Hinge, Bumble etc):
- You are given a few profiles of very attractive people (let’s say, attractive according to current trends) with very enticing profiles
- You try to engage with those profiles and nothing happens (wtf?)
- You keep swiping and searching, and the physical appearances and quality of profiles become a much broader spectrum (where did all these “normal” people come from?)
- You feel disappointed that everyone is not a physical dreamboat but keep searching for “hotties”, swiping with despair before chucking your phone in disgust
This intro is purposeful. The apps know they can hook you with attractive people with popular profiles to get you excited about the app. Despite our better instincts, we’re suckers for it. The League even has a super hot “concierge” of the opposite sex (for hetero folks) that sends you messages and guides you on your dating journey.
Now, I don’t necessarily fault them for this; it’s a marketing strategy. It works. Our plight as daters is to try our best to work through the bias they’re using (more on that later) and remember what we actually want and how to look for it in a well-rounded way.
The good news is that something cool happens when you go on enough dates. Your attraction to people’s looks starts to get more broad and your ability to build on that attraction with personality increases.
Remember Why You Signed On
The picture is usually the first thing we see. There is an instant and visceral reaction to seeing someone’s face and deciding on your attraction level. It’s certainly a gateway. Profile pics are important, let’s not pretend otherwise. A sloppy or disturbing set of photos is not what we’re talking about here; I want to focus on just what people look like and how we absorb that.
For serious daters, I don’t think we sat around dreaming and hoping for the hottest person in the world. Most people that get on the apps are hoping to find someone they connect with and that compliments their life — usually some combination of kind, funny, supportive, smart, family oriented, adventurous or cuddly is in their top desires, with a small sprinkling of physical attraction, fitness, wealth or ambition for some.
Dig a little deeper and take the full profile in before a swipe. You might be surprised how even just the right sense of humor will hook you into taking a second look. And oh, wait, they’re from your same home town and they posted a pic about that pizza place and they look so happy, awwww. Super cute. Then, a true crime podcast reference you just have to google. Suddenly all the photos are given a second glance with a new outlook. Hotness is not a majority desire until it’s put right up in our faces first thing, even though we know looks aren’t everything.
Give in to What Makes Your Taste Specific
A lot of us can agree on certain folks we find attractive or not, but then again, a lot of us have very different tastes and quirks that we need to let guide us a little more on our swiping habits. What we might admire publicly is not always what we like personally or feel comfortable looking for in a partner. Remember what you find endearing and how that happened. Chances are, it’s through experience with real people.
I have a friend who loves chubbier bearded men. I have a friend who prefers women with cellulite on their thighs. I have a friend who goes bananas for big noses. (As someone with a big nose, I can protest all I want, but I’m sure glad someone likes it.) Some people love crooked teeth or face moles or body hair. Our whole world of experience comes into play with attraction and when pressed, everyone can think of a characteristic that’s not normally thought of as “beautiful” but it turns them on. People are actually pretty cool in this way.
Funny enough, we are very oxymoronic when I bring this issue up on a person-by-person basis. One minute, I’ll have someone telling me about this one time they had a relationship with someone who only became attractive when they got to know them and then they fell in love with the physical qualities of that person. They’ll claim they don’t care at all about looks. The very next minute I can show them a feed and they are swiping through people faster than I can even see names. I guess we have to fight the instinct a little no matter how gracious we think we are about looks.
Watch for The Halo Effect
Think about your celebrity crush. It’s a fun game to imagine that you might be perfect for them without having met them, making a lot of assumptions based on public information, thinking they are probably a great person, a good partner and if only they met you, they’d know…
Reality check: you have no idea what they really need in a match and to think you understand them in any intimate way is ridiculous.
This is what happens on dating sites when you first get on them. You react to perfect looking profiles like they are celebrities. You assume other good qualities based on those looks and a few tidbits of information. It’s called The Halo Effect and we have to look past this bias and remember that looks alone mean nothing. Hotness does not always equal goodness, even though we’re programmed to think so.
Be Ready for Surprise and Disappointment
I think when most people get on the apps they feel they really know what they’re attracted to. I can tell you from personal experience, your attraction categories will grow. I’m definitely not saying to go out with anyone, no matter how bad their photos are or how much they’re not your type, but give yourself opportunities to be surprised.
Find out which things on profiles tend to lead to better dates outside of the photo for you. Photos can be deceiving and the charm that works for you can’t always be captured in a phone screen. If there’s a person you are connecting with and you’re uncertain of the looks aspect, just give it a try and see what happens. You never know.
On the flip side, you will have situations where you date someone you found so very attractive in photos and then in person they turn you off, big time. What a disappointment. But what a learning experience too! Looks aren’t everything; there it is, in the flesh.
Dating is not about finding some top percentage of exclusive people and hoping you snag one. We have to operate on the idea that being right for someone is highly specific and not a numbers scale. A good match is about measurements of all sorts of things. That’s going to include some physical attraction, sure, but you might be surprised in what you think you’re attracted to on a screen versus real life.
With all the love I have for online dating, I want to give you skeptics this gift: the more you date, the better you get at it. Not just your skills on a date, but your ability to choose, perceive and attract people that work for you.
The photo is a hook, sure. Go beyond that. Get better at perceiving your true attraction measures and get dating for real.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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Photo credit: Andrew Seaman on Unsplash