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You Care Less About Your Dating Preferences Than You Realize

Dating app users contact people far shorter, less wealthy, and more substance-abuse-prone than they originally wanted.
Image: Lukasz Wierbowski

You're swiping through Tinder, looking at the daily parade of profiles. You're thinking: Drinking is a yes, smoking is a no, not too tall but not too short. But then you see a profile you like; the person is attractive and has an interesting bio, and smokes. You swipe right anyway. Next: An alluring woman says "6 ft or above" in her profile; you're only 5'9" but you swipe right anyway. Lo and behold your phone buzzes: It's a match.


Most people—even those who are totally upfront about what they're looking for—still contact online prospects who don't even remotely fit their supposed criteria, finds a new study from behavioral economists Stephen Whyte and Benno Torgler at the Queensland University of Technology. They pulled data from the Australian online dating site RSVP and compared stated preferences versus actual contacting behavior of more than 41,000 members. The online daters were between 18 and 80, and across the board, people didn't hold true to their own standards, contacting people far shorter, less wealthy, and more substance-abuse-prone than they originally said they wanted. Men younger than age 60 were more likely to contact people outside of their criteria, while women over 60 tended to do the same.

The scientists explained in a press release that, evolutionarily speaking, sticking to very specific preferences in the search for a potential mate isn't exactly efficient—you know, since being picky shrinks one's pool of potential partners. They also speculated that selectivity might correlate with high confidence; people who are ultra sure of themselves might be more likely to stick to their guns when it comes to preferences. Whyte even went as far as to suggest that singles should contact others based on "an acceptable threshold of qualities or characteristics." Translation: Behavioral economists say it's more efficient to settle, so you should really just settle.