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Calgary Counselling Services: Successful online dating, despite dating sites

Calgary Counselling Services: As bad as dating sites and apps are, successful online dating is possible. But, only if you learn how to win an incredibly rigged game.

A few months ago, a young, wealthy, educated and physically striking client sat in an online counselling session complaining bitterly about his latest online dating disaster. He recounted a rather familiar tale of a superficial match, her deceptive self-presentation, eventual idiosyncratic rejection and the abject disappointment that followed. As he concluded his rather hostile assessment of a dating site that claimed to use advanced psychometrics to match people with the perfect partner, he then made a chilling statement:

“Online dating is going to be the downfall of Western civilization because it’s made people into a product. Once people become products, then what stops everyone from just shopping forever?”

Jam on the CounterAbout twenty years ago, two researchers named Iyengar & Lepper performed a deceptively simple experiment. In a supermarket, they set up a situation where shoppers were confronted by a tasting booth that offered the opportunity to sample either six or twenty-four kinds of jam. The researchers then tracked the chances of shoppers stopping at the booth and their subsequent likelihood of purchasing one of the jams they had sampled.

The researchers found that, while shoppers were 50% more likely to stop at the larger booth with more jams to sample, they were ten times more likely to buy one of the jams from the smaller booth than when presented with the option to sample all twenty-four jams.

Subsequent studies done in 2011 have created similar situations in the romantic arena using speed dating scenarios. They have found the same thing: As the range of potential partners increases, people experience what is called “Choice Overload.” Choice overload is a state where people, feeling overwhelmed by too many choices, discover that their ability to make the right decisions is undermined. People in this situation often resist making any decision because it seems too mentally costly to exert the effort needed to evaluate so many options.

Take a moment and view this short web story describing the main reasons why online dating sometimes doesn’t work:

(Click here to view Calgary Counselling Service’s Web Story: Why online dating sometimes doesn’t work, in a separate window.)

This is the world of online dating Calgary counsellors and clients are faced with today – except we are presented with far more than twenty-four choices. On our modern online dating sites and apps, even the most selective are confronted by untold millions of options – many of which are not even real people, some of which may be fraud artists.

woman floating on back surrounded by sharksWe struggle to trust the validity of profiles and then send countless messages into a void of non-response created by a few people getting nearly all of the attention. Then, we cynically reject all the rest of the people for reasons as deep and meaningful as the background of a photo or a simple inability to classify a person’s ethnicity.

Meanwhile, general society is starting to regard those who would approach others in public to ask them out on a date as predatory and intrusive. At the same time, religious institutions make public statements about their young adult groups not being about finding a partner. (God, apparently, will just magically bring a partner to you.) Then, those same religious institutions also rail against those who find a partner outside of their faith…

Ironically, this insane North American dating culture is still relatively healthy by world standards. When we look at countries like Japan, where the problem started evolving twenty years earlier, many have entirely given up on dating, love, marriage or even simple sexual relationships. My young client was correct: Turning people into commodities marketed by algorithms has already started the collapse of Japanese society, and we’re next.

How long it will take the world to wake up to this reality is anyone’s guess. But, the good news is that you don’t need to be a victim of this crazy system, if you understand it!

Calgary Counselling Services: Successful online dating, despite dating sites.

Navigating online dating starts with one critical understanding: As ugly as it is, it’s here to stay.

Online dating has some significant advantages. In the past, most people picked their partners from the minimal set of prospects who happened to reside in their vicinity. At that time, marriage was more of a financial arrangement, and expectations were low in terms of emotional, recreational and sexual satisfaction. Online dating can offer the considerable benefit of providing access to partners that would otherwise have never been available. It can increase initial attraction levels, and it can weed out people who would make poor relational partners due to their unwillingness or inability to offer that emotional, recreational and sexual satisfaction. Also, online dating can significantly reduce anxiety by preemptively addressing the fear that a potential partner is merely being friendly but is not open to the possibility of a relationship with anyone.

Sadly, most credible research suggests that the benefits largely end there — and the rest of what online dating offers are drawbacks that those who would succeed at it need to overcome. Only some of those barriers include the stark divergence between what people find attractive in a profile vs what they find attractive in person and the cynicism created by a judgment driven process of side by side profile comparison. Overcoming those barriers requires a clear awareness that the increased attraction caused by the fantasy-driven process of computer-mediated initial conversation has little hope of lasting more than a few weeks. Additionally, winning at the overall game of online dating requires we walk away from the grand promise of these sites that their algorithms are particularly useful at matching compatible partners who will succeed in a long term relationship.

Seven critical steps for winning at online dating:

(1). Understand what is happening:

In the course of the Calgary marriage counselling we offer, I often get people in my office who will claim that they loved their current partner the moment they first looked at his or her profile. Of course, I do nothing to dispel that romantic belief for these couples, preferring to build upon that spark of attraction. However, I am fully aware that the truth is almost entirely opposite to that belief.

portrait of woman admiring herself in a mirrorThe truth is that when we view a dating profile, we are, at best, falling in love with how the fantasy person we imagine the other to be makes us feel about ourselves.

Sometimes the fantasy we have created matches the other person enough that attraction flows relatively seamlessly from the imagination to the person, but that’s still not loving the other person. Real love is a selfless dedication to the other person’s ultimate best, which may or may not be what he or she is demanding at the moment. It takes a long time to develop a real and lasting love for a person.

Research has repeatedly shown that profiles that speak more about who you are looking for than about yourself have a higher chance of creating lasting love. Intuitively this immediately makes sense: The person viewing your profile has zero knowledge of who you are — but knows himself or herself intimately. When a profile speaks to who a prospective partner is, it is easy to call the possible fit, thus eliminating a lot of stress/rejection from endless failed connections. And, even more importantly, forcing the viewer of a profile to assess “fit” has the added benefit of moving him or her out of fantasy-mode, thus reducing unrealistic expectations when you finally do meet in person.

(2). Hire a professional photographer who offers aesthetics services:

No, neither your selfies nor the photos your cousin took of you when you were out hiking last summer will do. Your photos are the first and often the only thing prospective matches ever look at, and first impressions are formed in a fraction of a second.

We’ve come a long way from film cameras and even DSLR technology such that, today, everyone can easily take thousands of pictures. The mastery of a piece of hardware such that you can take a photograph does not make everyone a photographer. To be a photographer is about possessing a capacity for seeing and communicating about what is seen – and relatively few people have that, much less the ability to hand you a thumb-drive with dozens of different photographic messages with which to experiment.

Repeated studies have shown that the most successful profile photos are close-up photos of expansive, erect postures depicting an even balance of competence, good-looks and honesty/authenticity with, for men, a side of dominance. They are built upon non-neutral colours, eye contact, accentuated jawlines, bright smiles, dilated pupils (Read: Photo edited) and feature carefully chosen clothing and settings. The most successful of them communicate a lifestyle that others would long to be a part of.

Standing out from a sea of vanilla photos while fully communicating the above is clearly a professional’s territory. Your cousin is never going to pull this off, especially using his iPhone camera.

(3). Write a compelling profile:

One of the most damaging errors people make in writing their profile occurs in an attempt to impress others and promote themselves. You are not writing a resume, and profiles that resemble one come off as needy, desperate and arrogant.

You are writing to accomplish two purposes:

(a). To give the reader an experience of the distinct and unique person that is you, so you stand out.

(b). To demonstrate that you know yourself, are comfortable in your own skin and are not afraid of rejection.

Writing in a conversational manner displays sincerity while sharing your passions, who you are and what you love to do communicates the confidence to be vulnerable. When you speak as much or more about what you want in the other person, you give them the ability to self assess and let them know that you are not just focused on yourself.

professional copywriter using black and gray laptop computerFirst, take your profile to people who know you well and see if they recognize you in it. Then, pay a professional writer to edit and or revise your profile or at least use Grammarly.

Again, people are lazy. You must communicate a lot of information in very few words.

Online dating is marketing, not an attempt to create a dossier of every known fact about yourself. The foundational goal of any online profile is to transition computer-facilitated connections as rapidly as possible to face to contact with a high number of quality prospective partners so you can discover who fits in the real world of lives and social relationships.

Professional help in this area is just as necessary as the area of photography. We are often not aware of our words’ tone and the understandings of who we are that others may form through such. Sometimes profiles are rejected based on a simple typo or misuse of a word.

(4). Congruence matters, a lot:

I see so many clients fail at online dating because people can’t figure them out, and nowhere is this problem more significant than for people of mixed ethnicities or those who appear racially ambiguous. They say things like: “I guess no one on any of these sites wants to date a Chinese/Italian/Japanese/Hispanic…” as they contemplate giving up. But, dating sites are filled with scores of men and women who ONLY want to date people of exactly those ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The majority of clients who have said these sorts of things are not immediately identifiable as being of the racial heritage from which they hail. In some cases, they could list nearly any ethnicity on their driver’s licence and, if pulled over tomorrow, no police officer would question it for even a second.

Again, people viewing profiles are inherently lazy and will expend nearly no effort in deciphering things that confuse them. Our brains continuously analyze information on an unconscious level, searching for signals that help make sense of what is being seen. Any incongruence in those signals is an instant death sentence.

shirtless man in bedroom scene looking out windowOf course, some of this is obvious: A profile that states a man is looking for marriage but which is fronted by a shirtless selfie or bedroom shot is glaringly incongruent. But, most of it is much more subtle. A photo of a person who identifies as being of Chinese ancestry but could pass for Chinese, Hispanic or Caucasian is inherently incongruent in this setting unless the background of the image includes a replica Ming Vase or something else that eliminates the confusion.

We find elements of signalling in photos, written features, lists of likes/dislikes, types of music preferred, religious or philosophical leanings. Most crucially, they are seen in and judged by way of the type of employment you have chosen.

Let me be very clear: As a psychologist in Calgary, I am fully and painfully aware that some elements seen under this heading are clear and present evidence of raw racism and other deeply distressing prejudices in general society. I am not condoning them in any way. Many are offensive, maddening, profoundly hurtful to so many people, and virtually all Calgary therapists would like to see them eliminated from our society. The problem is, a dating profile is not the place for a crusade to change culture because, in many cases, not playing along simply gets you ignored.

(5). Use an online dating site that matches via complex psychometrics:

Let’s just admit it: All dating sites are awful.

Even the best of them have not allowed their matching protocols to be independently assessed. The wild claims of high volume, perfectly aligned connections coming from these sites are often the result of deceptive statistics or the simple elimination of obviously ineligible prospects. The impact of the different elements of similarity or compatibility is generally far from so many of the claims that the media blindly repeats. They deserve little trust and even lower expectations.

That being acknowledged, they are still better than nothing. Some are better than others. The research of people like Neil Clark Warren (eHarmony) and Pepper Schwartz (Match group) and even the algorithms utilized by Plenty of Fish do offer some order of a filter protecting users from obvious severe addiction and mental illness. All take some steps to protect users from abusive behaviours and, after a lawsuit, Match has also begun screening for sexual offenders.

All of them possess the ability to match based on obvious preferences such as spirituality, socioeconomic and education levels, which most research indicates are of significant importance. The matching system developed by Neil Clark Warren and team focuses on around 600 different elements of similarity their research has shown to do the most to reduce stress within a relationship. Pepper Schwartz and the Match team have focused on both differences and similarities and attempt to create matches based on both.

Because all of their procedures are closed source, we have little ability to evaluate these services’ wild claims. Still, third-party research on them makes it reasonably clear that, at least for people who fall within their standard range, they do offer some benefits. Using them can make your search easier, provided it is appropriately pre-tested and only done in short bursts, so you can alter your course if something is not working.

(6). Focus groups and A-B testing:

I always suggest that clients never start by setting up a profile on expensive and high end dating sites. The development of a compelling online dating profile is very similar to the development of a web site – nearly no one gets it right on the first try.

three calgary counselling services clients sitting in a cafe discussing an online dating profileOnce you have your photographs taken and your profile’s outline written, it’s time to get it assessed by others. We all believe we know how we look but, in reality, you have never seen yourself. You have seen two-dimensional images or reflections of yourself, but other people see you differently. Just because you like a photo does not mean it represents you well.

Get several people to vote for the best pictures your professional photographer has taken of you. Then put them together with the written text into a sample profile.

Look around your friend group and identify the most similar friends who are in the kind of relationships you would like for yourself. Get their partners to give you a read on your profile and photos. Ask them if they would date a person like what they see in your profile. Ask them who they would imagine that person to be and see how their fantasy matches with you. Ask them for their picture of the person your profile says you are looking for and mentally assess if it fits.

Then we move to the A-B testing portion. Find a low-end free dating site and set up a sample profile. Pick your best photos and begin to test users’ responses by switching them out every other day. Track both quality and quality of response. Is there a difference between the people different presentations of you attract?

Take the results of your focus group and A-B testing to a Calgary Counselling Service or psychologist and get a professional to look over the profile and tell you if any red flags may be off-putting to the kind of person with whom you are seeking a relationship.

Only then consider dropping money into a high-end psychometrics based matching site.

(7). Not drinking the Kool-Aid:

Most of even the best-researched claims of online dating sites stand on weak evidence and are barely better than what self-selection can accomplish. In the most simple of terms, it helps you win the game. That being said, it’s still a game and to win, you need to see it as such and play to win.

A dating site is nothing more than a sophisticated advertisement for you. As in all advertising, there are things you do and do not say in it. While lying is a waste of time, no person is entirely congruent. When profiles are incongruent, you never get to in-person contact. If you happen to be an ordained minister who also enjoys Death Metal, maybe just list Rock as your preferred musical style and share that incongruent information later.

While dating sites push people to sign up for extended term contracts, never sign up for more than 1-3 months at a time until you know your profile is perfect. You may wish to remove your profile and redo the initial assessment/testing giving different answers as you discover the matches your answers are generating. The psychometric assessment tools the various sites are using may have arrived at a completely inaccurate understanding of you. Even a couple of different initial test responses could open up a whole world of more compatible matches.

Online dating is a game that consists of quick pivots, targeted messaging, preliminary sorting and then quick contacts with multiple people until you can find someone who lives up to the claims of these sites enough to risk attempting to build a relationship.

Calgary Counselling Services: Getting the love you want online, despite dating sites.

man in a gray t-shirt kissing woman's foreheadPeople simply do not find love online. Love is found through in-person relating, and switching from computer-mediated communication to face-to-face contact as early as possible is essential.

Despite all of the hype about matching and compatibility, a happy, stable and lifelong relationship is only somewhat a result of such. Once those essential elements of compatibility are in place, marriage is fundamentally a skill-based proposition. Our divorce courts flooded with the wrecked remnants of unions between highly compatible people who simply lacked the skills to make a marriage work.

Yes, the therapists in our Calgary counselling centre can help you evaluate your profile. Still, there’s something far more critical our Calgary Counselling Services for premarital and marital success can offer you: Skills to go the distance.

Reach out today!


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