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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Little White Lies

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


Online Dating - Little White Lies in Profiles

How common are "little white lies" in dating?

Everyone knows that some men trying to find that special someone exaggerate their income, height or even amount of hair. And everyone knows that some women trying to find that special someone distort many things too.  Everyone knows that exaggerations take place, which is one reason why people often fail to think twice about it. Little white lies happen often, but no one should tell them and no one should accept them when they are told.

I have heard it said that…

  • People lie because they're insecure.
  • People lie because they think that telling the truth will render them invisible or unfit to date.
  • People lie because telling the truth would sabotage their attempts to get a response.

Basically, people lie to be more competitive in finding someone. But there are different ways this can happen, and those ways are worth understanding.

Studies on assessment and profiling indicate that people modify their behavior in two primary ways. First, people can give honest but inflated self-descriptions reflecting a lack of insight and an unconscious bias toward favorable self-portrayal ("self-deception"). This is a variation of social desirability bias. While it is important to promote candor and truth in personal profiles and communications, it is important to understand that virtually everyone exhibits social desirability biases to some extent. Here individuals are often acting naturally out of a healthy self-image and are expressing a need to be liked and accepted as opposed to being insecure. The second and more serious form of social desirability is what social scientists refer to as "impression management." This term applies when people consciously use inflated self-descriptions, faking or lying due to a hypersensitivity to situational self-presentation demands.

Both behaviors -- self deception and impression management -- are likely at work in online dating profiles and communications. They are also alive and well with offline dating, so do not assume that you are dealing with much more honest people offline than in cyberspace!  I think that providing tools to online daters -- along with supportive education -- can help reduce both behaviors. Of course, quality compatibility or personality assessments can be a legitimate part of that process. Social scientists have long documented that the general public is typically horrible at self-assessment, so tests and assessments can help individuals get to know themselves better -- and that goes for both the positive and negative. The process of getting to know and accept oneself (all of oneself) is the goal here... and dating services should be among the first providers of such services if they truly care about helping customers succeed.

And to those who consciously tell others white lies to get ahead in the dating game, I want to say that you are likely sabotaging your own efforts by distorting yourself and what you have to offer someone. The best way to attract someone who will accept you as you are is to be upfront about how you are. You may get fewer emails returned or find less “winks” or IMs coming your way, but those that do are truly qualified prospects.

Having said all of this, I thought it would be interesting to share some research conducted with thousands of actual online daters and what they have experienced in terms of little white lies being told to them.

Younger daters complain about distortions about the following topics:

  • Aggressive tendencies of the romantic prospect
  • Energy or activity level as well as physical fitness
  • Drug use or addiction
  • Income level (be wary of anyone who brags about being wealthy)
  • Interest in issues related to personal growth
  • Presence of a loving attitude
  • Number of past relationships or seriousness of those relationships

Older daters complain about distortions about the following topics:

  • Leisure interests
  • Personality Traits, especially being “outgoing”
  • Education level
  • Level of independence or co-dependent issues
  • Trust issues
  • Social manners or etiquette
  • Profession, career or work habits
  • Sense of Humor
  • Sexual preferences or expectations

Keep this all in mind as you use online dating services. Online dating can be very effective, but it takes vigilance and common sense not to fall prey to someone’s lies… whether they those lies are deliberate or not.



Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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