What You Don’t Know About Online Dating (Ep. 154 Rebroadcast): Full Transcript
This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “What You Don’t Know about Online Dating (Rebroadcast)“.
[MUSIC: The Civil Tones, “City Stoopin’” (from City Stoopin’)]
Hey podcast listeners. You’re about to hear an episode from our archives: No. 154, which we originally put out in February, 2014. Before we get to that: Freakonomics Radio, as you may or may not know, is produced by the public-radio station WNYC — which means it is produced in part by you, our listeners. That’s right: you send us money and we turn your money into Freakonomics Radio. So please click here to donate. Now, you may be thinking to yourself … Wait a minute. Sure, I like this podcast fine but it doesn’t really accomplish anything? I could see throwing a few dollars their way if it accomplished something but it doesn’t … does it? Okay, I want to tell you a story, about two people — Mandi Grzelak and Tim Barnhart.
Mandi GRZELAK: Hello!
Tim BARNHART: Hey!
Mandi’s a nursing student in Cincinnati. Tim’s an engineer, also in Cincinnati. When the story begins, they don’t know each other. Mandi, however, is a big fan of Freakonomics Radio.
GRZELAK: I listened to the podcast on a Thursday morning on my way to work and it was titled “What You Don’t Know About Online Dating” or something along those lines.
This was around Valentine’s Day.
GRZELAK: And I had been single for a while and thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll be able to date an NPR employee because that’s whose profiles they were looking at on the show.”
The very day she hears this episode, Mandi Grzelak decides to sign up for online dating. The next day, she comes across Tim’s online-dating profile … they get in touch … the following Monday, they go on a date, to a burger joint…
[MUSIC: Drazy Hoops, “Happy Birthday To Me” (from Into the Red)]
GRZELAK: When he pulled up, we gave each other a hug and I said, “I hope you like beer cheese because they have great stuff here.” And he’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m already falling for you.”
That first date went well. Really well. Really, really, really well.
BARNHART: So we get the check and we walk out. And I get ready to walk her to her car. I got in my 4 Runner, she got in her car. I started to drive off. And there was just this overwhelming urge to not pull out of the parking lot and, instead, pull up beside her car. Bottom line, she hadn’t gotten in her car yet and she just started walking towards me. I walked towards her and we both knew what was getting ready to happen. It was smooch city, couldn’t control it.
GRZELAK: It was a great first kiss. That’s actually the same location where he proposed.
BARNHART: Yep. Exactly.
That’s right! Tim proposed to Mandi. And she said yes. And then they got married — all because of Freakonomics Radio.
GRZELAK: We have you to thank.
BARNHART: Yeah, so thank you.
GRZELAK: I feel like we are forever thankful, because really I would have not have gone online that night. I definitely would not have chosen the site that I did without hearing the podcast. It changed my life and ’til death do us part, right honey?
[MUSIC: Phil Symonds, “Carnival’” (from Memphis)]
Mandi and Tim: you are welcome. Our best wishes to the happy couple. As for the rest of you: if their story doesn’t make you want to donate to our show, what will? Your money goes to WNYC which, in addition to producing Freakonomics Radio, makes great shows and podcasts like RadioLab; Death, Sex, and Money; On the Media, New Tech City, and many more. I will say this: the people who listen to Freakonomics Radio are famous around here for their high rate of giving. So what are you waiting for? Join the crowd! Click here to donate and give us your money! Because without money, there is no Freakonomics Radio; and without Freakonomics Radio, there is no love. Don’t be anti-love. And now, as promised, Episode No. 154 — the episode that inspired Mandi to find Tim, and fall in love — “What You Don’t Know About Online Dating.”
Alli REED: I had been personally on OkCupid on and off for a few years …
That’s Alli Reed.
REED: And I just moved to L.A. in August and got back on as a way to meet people, and get to know the city a little bit.
[MUSIC: Tear Ceremony, “I Dream of You Endlessly” (from Resin)].
Reed is a comedy writer. She spent a lot of time on her OkCupid profile. OkCupid, in case you don’t know, is a dating website. The profile that she wrote wasn’t really working.
REED: … got a lot of messages of, “Hey, you seem nice.” Nothing to do with my profile. So I wondered, “Does anyone care at all? Are they just looking at a picture?” I wanted to see if there was a lower limit to how awful a person could be before men would stop messaging her on an online dating site.
So this is when she got crafty. She wrote a fake OkCupid profile. Very, very fake.
[MUSIC: The Mackrosoft, “The Game In F# Minor” (from Antonio’s Giraffe)]
Stephen J. DUBNER: So you set up a profile and your name is what?
DUBNER: And are you, in fact, an Aaron Carter fan?
REED: No, but I figured the woman I was trying to create probably constitutes Aaron Carter’s basic fan base.
REED: Well, Aaron Carter is the younger brother of a Backstreet Boy who had a brief and ill-advised rap career. There is just no substance there in his music at all. That was what I was trying to reflect in AaronCarterFan.
DUBNER: Talk about some of your favorite highlights or lowlights of your profile.
REED: Well, one thing I wanted to make clear is that she’s not just a bad person. She wants to ruin your life. Under the section what “I’m really good at,” the only thing she lists is “convincing people I’m pregnant.”
DUBNER: L.O.L. at the end of it.
REED: L.O.L. Oh yeah. She really enjoys it.
REED: “On a typical Friday night” she is knocking the cups out of homeless people’s hands because she thinks it is so funny to watch them try to pick it all up.
DUBNER: Talk to me a minute about “the six things you could never do without:” money, my car, my phone, keeping America American, my family, and my friends, and Aaron Carter. Which I guess is 7 things, but that’s okay. What’s keeping America American meant to signal?
REED: To me, the worst person in the world is definitely racist. I needed that to be a part of her. I didn’t want it to be so obvious. I wanted her to be believably terrible. I didn’t want it to be an obvious joke profile and keeping America American, to me, is code for, “I don’t like people who don’t look like me.”
[MUSIC: Seks Bomba, “It Takes Two to Tango” (from Somewhere In This Town)]
DUBNER: You created a profile for a girl named AaronCarter’sFan who likes to party and knock over homeless people, or at least their cups, and she’s a racist, gold digging, fake pregnant-getting, 25-year-old white girl. How’d you do?
REED: AaronCarterFan did very well. In the first 24 hours she got 150 messages. I had the profile up for two or three weeks, and she got close to 1000 men message her. She got probably 10 times the number of messages that my real profile got.
DUBNER: So what do you attribute that success to?
REED: Well, AaronCarterFan’s one redeeming quality is that she is very good looking. I asked my friend Rae Johnston, who is an Australian-based model and actress, if I could raid her Facebook photos. She very kindly said yes. So Aaron Carter fan is stunningly good-looking.
DUBNER: Tell me about following up with some of these replies.
REED: Well, after so many messages started rolling, in the optimist in me decided that these men had just seen the pretty photo and had not read her profile. My goal at that point became to convince them that she is just awful, that she is the worst woman on earth. If they asked what I was doing I said I was pretending to be a 14-year-old on Facebook so I could bully my sister’s friends. I would threaten to pull out their teeth. With a lot of guys, I wrote gibberish; just pounded on keyboard for a minute, sent it and the vast majority of them responded with, “That sounds great. What are you doing on Friday?”
DUBNER: And how many dates did you have then out of AaronCarterFan fishing?
REED: I actually, believe it or not, did not want to meet any of these men in real life.
DUBNER: I am so surprised, Alli.
REED: Actually, I found that a deal breaker for me was messaging AaronCarterFan.
* * *
[MUSIC: The Diplomats of Solid Sound, “The Cuber Bake” (from Let’s Cool One)]
We’re talking today about online dating. Alli Reed wrote a fake OkCupid profile for a really good-looking 25-year-old woman who also happened to be a racist, gold-digging, fake-pregnant-getting nightmare — and she got almost 1,000 replies.
Paul OYER: When men are deciding who to contact on dating sites, looks matter a great deal.
That’s Paul Oyer. He’s a labor economist at Stanford.
OYER: Just to give you one statistic that comes from the OkCupid blog, and I’m quoting here, “A hot woman receives roughly four times the messages an average-looking woman gets and 25 times as many as an ugly one.” Then there’s this interesting superstar effect where the very hottest 5 percent of men get twice as many emails as men who are just below that, who are more like the 10th percentile, amount the 10th percentile most attractive, but not among the very top 5 percent. Women are in general a little bit more attracted to lawyers, doctors, men in the military and firefighters — which I’d always heard was a stereotype, but apparently it turns out to be at least a little bit true.
[MUSIC: All Good Funk Alliance, “Timely Convo” (from Social Comment)]
Paul Oyer usually writes papers with sexy titles like “Fiscal Year-Ends and Nonlinear Incentive Contracts: The Effect on Business Seasonality,” and “Are There Sectoral Anomalies Too? An Illustration of the Pitfalls of Multiple Hypothesis Testing.” But he recently published a book with a different angle. It’s called Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Economics I Learned From Online Dating. Now, why did Oyer suddenly turn his attention to online dating? Well, he recently re-entered the dating world himself, after a 20-year absence, and when he signed up for some online dating sites, he found that the dating market very much resembled the labor markets he’s used to studying. And, more important, he realized, dating could be much improved if only everybody approached it like an economist would.
Now, of course he would say that — he is an economist. But whoever you are, when it comes to online dating, it helps to start with some facts:
OYER: For example, one study found that a man who makes $250,000 per year holding everything else equal gets contacted two and a half times as much as a man who makes more like $50,000 or less and looks the same. Okay?
Okay. What else?
OYER: Now, more education, it turns out, doesn’t have much of a direct effect. If you have more education on a dating site, you won’t get more attention on average. However, you will indirectly. The reason for that is if you have more education, you’re likely to make more money. A typical study will find that a person with one more year of education holding everything else equal makes 8 to 10 percent more than someone with one fewer year of education. That’s going to lead to more money, which would then make you more attractive on a website. The other thing is looks matter a lot, but it turns out that weight doesn’t matter that much independent of looks. An overweight person who is otherwise medium attractive will do almost as well as a medium attractive person who is not overweight.
All right. And what about men’s preferences versus women’s preferences?
OYER: Men, on the other hand, care a lot less about income. Women who make more don’t get a lot of extra attention. By the way, there’s a very interesting recent study by two University of Chicago economists and another economist from another school. They find that once you get out of this world into real relationships, relationships tend to be less stable and happy if the woman makes more money than the man. So that makes sense that women should be more attracted to money than men to begin with.
[MUSIC: Two Dark Birds, “Run For Daylight”]
Okay, so Paul Oyer knows a good bit about the rules of attraction in online dating — which, if you think about it, is just dating with a much bigger pool and a much better filter. So here’s the question: does all of Oyer’s knowledge translate into actual wisdom? In other words — is he any good at giving actual online dating advice? For instance: how do you build the best profile ever? Is it better to choose a big site like Match.com or a niche site like GlutenFreeSingles.com (which is real)? Should you lie — and if so, about what? Wouldn’t it be nice if Paul Oyer could not only answer these questions but answer them for a real person wanting to improve his actual online dating situation…
P.J. VOGT: Hey Paul.
OYER: Hi, how are you?
VOGT: Good! Nice to meet you.
That’s P.J. Vogt. He lives in New York, and he’s a producer at the public-radio show On The Media, and he co-hosts a podcast called TL;DR. And P.J. is a brave, brave soul — because he let us open up his OkCupid profile and pick it apart, on the radio:
OYER: Have you been told before that you look like Ryan from The Office?
VOGT: No! I’ve been told I look like Andy from the office, which I take as a dig …
Vogt and Oyer sat down with Suzie Lechtenberg, a producer on our show.
Suzie LECHTENBERG: P.J., do you feel like you want to read a few of the …
VOGT: Oh boy. So we’re looking at my OkCupid profile. I don’t know why this is as embarrassing as it is … But it’s got a few picture of me. I’ve tried to [choose] pictures that are flattering, but not too flattering. And then just, it’s a series of prompts. Basically, what I’m realizing now looking at it, is in every case I’ve tried to brag and then quickly tell a joke so it doesn’t look like I’m bragging that much.
LECHTENBERG: Give us an example.
VOGT: Okay, so it says what are you doing with your life? I say I’m a public radio producer, which means I edit and report stories (brag) and drink too much caffeine (mild self-deprecating joke). Recently I’ve been learning to not jam all my words together in a mush so that old people can hear me better on the radio. See that I’m trying to get away with there?
LECHTENBERG: I see.
VOGT: Very transparent.
LECHTENBERG: Give us another example.
VOGT: Okay. It says “the six things I could never do without,” and this is true, but it all ends up sounding up like weird bragging: coffee, whiskey, running shoes, paperbacks, torrents and my geriatric Vespa. You feel like you’re bragging about being a Vespa guy, whatever that, and that’s not a good thing.
OYER: Can I just ask the old guy question? What are torrents?
VOGT: Torrents are ways that people download media illegally online, usually.
LECHTENBERG: I was going to ask the same thing. I was pretending to know but I had no idea.
VOGT: It could be that I was really into torrential rain.
LECHTENBERG: Long walks in the rain?
VOGT: Long walks in the rain.
LECHTENBERG: And what do you spend a lot of your time thinking about?
VOGT: One of the prompts is “I spend a lot of time thinking about.” I say that I spend a lot of time worrying about people I know seeing me on here, which is ironic because we’re on the radio right now.
LECHTENBERG: Are you worried?
VOGT: Yeah. I’m not a person who feels a ton of shame, and I feel just rivers of shame right now.
LECHTENBERG: What’s your name on here?
VOGT: Oh, this is the worst part. It’s Barthes Simpson, but it’s Barthes spelled like Roland Barthes, like the theorist. It’s really the worst thing.
LECHTENBERG: Spell it, spell the whole name out for us.
VOGT: Oh boy. B-A-R-T-H-E-S S-I-M-P-S-O-N. This is so mortifying.
[MUSIC: Christopher Norman, “Word of Prey” (from EP3)]
Now, as Paul Oyer sees it, the most important first step in online dating is to know exactly what you’re trying to get out of it.
OYER: As an economist I can’t help but think we have to start with your objective function. What are we looking for here? Marriage? Someone to hang out with? Option value, someone to hang out with and if it turns into more that’s good?
VOGT: Yeah, option value sounds like a good way to put it.
OYER: Okay, before we even look at it, the first thing an economist is going to do is think about supply and demand. I don’t know if you realize this, but you’re in a great position. New York City is demographically more female than male. I’m not entirely sure why that’s true. Out here in San Francisco it’s the opposite. We have an oversupply of men relative to women, at least compared to other cities. New York City and Washington D.C. tend to swing much more towards more available women. So you’re in a good position from a competitive point of view. You’re providing a good, single, straight male, which is in relatively high demand. Now the other thing to keep in mind here is time is very much on your side. You’re in a good position for two other reasons, and that is the male/female differential I just mentioned is going to swing much more in your favor over the next 10 years.
You’re under no pressure to hook up for a long-term relationship right now. That’s one thing that’s good. The other thing is, just more generally, aside from your gender, the fact that you’re 28 years old from an economist point of view means that you should be very picky. You should be picky. You should be looking for a really good match. The reason for that is suppose you do find just the right person,get married, and live happily ever after. Well, you’re in no rush to do that because you have, let’s just say ,50 more years in which to enjoy the relationship you find if it’s a successful one. When I was on the online dating market recently, I’m much older than you are, and from a rational economic perspective I should be less picky than you. I should be searching a little less carefully. I should be settling.
Settling is a very important idea to economists because of what we call search theory suggests that at some point you should realize that having what you have is better than expending more resources to try to do better. That’s more true when you’re my age, I’m 50 now, than when you’re your age, which is 28.
LECHTENBERG: When do you peak?
VOGT: What’s my deadline here?
OYER: Your patience level should slowly and steadily erode.
VOGT: Okay, that’s happening.
OYER: Right now you should be very patient.
[MUSIC: Christopher Norman, “Word of Prey” (from EP3)]
So Paul Oyer is telling P.J. Vogt that P.J. is in pretty good shape, dating wise. One thing he’s got going for him is that he’s using a big dating website, OkCupid, in a big city, New York.
OYER: I don’t want to advertise for any given website, but especially in your demographic, a younger demographic, OkCupid is what we call a thick market. It’s a very big website, there are lots of men and women on it. By putting yourself on this website, you’re going to have lots of choice and a lot of people are going to have the opportunity to see you and consider you as an option. That’s a very good thing.
VOGT: Can I ask you a question … Or I can save it if it’s like a derailing question.
OYER: No, no, go ahead.
VOGT: My friends and I talk about this all the time. My female friends and my male friends all feel that this is true. Men in New York and in cities where my friends live, everyone can actually feel these market forces and we talk about them. And I hate them. I often wish that I were from … I always think of the suburb that I’m from — where most of the people are not like me, like cultural attitudes or whatever. I think I’d be so much happier being there, where I had almost no choice and where I would meet one person where it seemed like I could be happy with them. I feel like the hardest part is the feeling of, “Oh, there are all these people who seem pretty good.” If I were shopping for a TV, it would fun if everyone were clambering for my dollar. That sounds terrible applied to dating. But when your heart’s involved, it feels so bad.
LECHTENBERG: The idea is do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, right?
VOGT: Just the idea of that the search sucks, even if the search is like weighted in your favor.
OYER: Okay, so a couple of things can help you out here: one is if the technology is good enough on the dating site, you want a huge dating site that gives you just a very, very small fraction of the available people on the site. Think about if we tried to put everybody on one dimension, which is, of course, the oversimplification that economists get made fun of all the time for and that’s fair. But just think about a boardwalk. At one end of the boardwalk is people who are completely incompatible for you, with you for one reason. At the other end of the boardwalk is people who are completely incompatible for you for another reason. And you’re right in the middle of this boardwalk.
OYER: Then think of all the women who might be in your potentially in your market as being evenly distributed along this boardwalk, where the ones that happen to be right next to you are perfect fits for you, or very good fits for you. And the ones at the extremes are not. Well, obviously the more women on that boardwalk the better you are. But if you don’t know exactly where they are on the boardwalk, then the more women there are, the more problematic it is. If the technology is good enough to show you, “Here are the 10 women who are really close to what you’re looking for,” that’s way better than going to a city where the whole boardwalk has only 10 people. It’s easy to play the whole field of that boardwalk, but the chances that any of those women would be a good fit for you would be not nearly as good.
This is what we call a thick market effect. It does have the opposite problem that thicker markets lead to more costs of screening all the potential candidates. If the software can do that for you, you’d be better off.
VOGT: Do you feel like the software does a good job of that?
OYER: [NERVOUS LAUGHTER]
VOGT: That’s how I feel.
[MUSIC: The Diplomats of Solid Sound, “Bullfrog Bugaloo” (from Instrumental, Action, Soul)]
So whether you’re a straight man in his 20s, like P.J. Vogt, or a straight woman, like Alli Reed, who was pretending to be a very different kind of straight woman, or if you’re gay, or if you’re in your 50s, like Paul Oyer — your hopes of meeting the right person are very much dependent upon a series of algorithms. Now, does that make you nervous? If so, we can help. Coming up on Freakonomics Radio: how to build the best online dating profile ever:
OYER: As an economist, I look at that and I want to suggest the following: that you fill in more detail keeping in mind two ideas that are very important in economics.
And, why online dating is a bigger deal than you think:
Justin WOLFERS: The Internet has turned matching upside down. It used to be that you would find compatibility first and then learn more about someone else’s attributes. Now you see all the attributes and then you learn about compatibility later.
* * *
[MUSIC: Judson Lee Music, “Cheesy Race”]
The dating site OkCupid has a section called “My Details” where you can fill in all kinds of facts about yourself — or, I should say, “facts,” in quotations marks, since you can really write whatever you want. You fill in your ethnicity, body type, diet, religion, income, astrological sign, the pets you love, or hate. The economist Paul Oyer, the author of Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned From Online Dating, told P.J. Vogt and Suzie Lechtenberg that there’s a science to filling in these details — and that sometimes, just sometimes, you might want to lie.
OYER: As I discuss in the book, people lie all the time online. I never would advocate lying, but these were two [areas] where I thought, “If you want to signal to someone” — and I’m not saying you should — “that you were serious and ready for a relationship longer term, you might want to either not answer them or shade, exaggerate a little bit.” Whatever term you want to use.
VOGT: Oh man. I’m so worried about what this is going to be.
OYER: No, no. It’s not a big deal, but you said you space out “all the time.”
VOGT: Oh yeah, that’s true.
OYER: Okay, so you might not want to reveal that. If you’re looking for someone who’s thinking about who’s going to be the father of their children.
VOGT: Oh yeah, that’s a good point. That’s a really good point.
LECHTENBERG: Is that what you’re looking for, though?
VOGT: I mean, kind of, honestly. Here’s the thing: I would want to date someone even if it were casual, where they were like, “I would never want to make a human with this person.”
LECHTENBERG: Oh. Yeah.
OYER: The other thing is you were “attracted to dangerous situations.”
OYER: That may be true. I’m not suggesting you go back and give a false answer, I’m just saying you don’t have to answer. There were a few questions where when I filled out the OkCupid questions there were a few I just didn’t fill out. And I’ll be honest, there were a few where I checked a box that I don’t think it was entirely truthful what I checked.
LECHTENBERG: Such as?
OYER: In some of the questions it asks you how into deep conversations with your mate, and cuddling, and things like that you are. I may have made myself seem a bit more accessible in those dimensions than an honest person would say.
[MUSIC: Cale Pellick, “Sunday Stroll”]
So Paul Oyer admits he fibbed a little bit. But that’s because some of the signals in a dating profile can come across really strong. And if they send the wrong message, it might be better to tone them down a little bit. So… what kind of signals was P.J. Vogt sending out?
LECHTENBERG: Do you want to read what you have under “My Details?”
VOGT: “My Details.”
LECHTENBERG: Yeah, do you have that in front of you?
VOGT: “My Details.” Height is 5’10’’.
OYER: Your, your body type is “jacked.”
VOGT: “Jacked.” That’s supposed to scan as a joke. I said I don’t smoke. I said I drink socially, which is stretching it a little bit. I probably drink more than socially. It says that I speak English okay.
LECHTENBERG: I look at this and I think this guy is just looking for a good time. He’s not taking it seriously because everything’s a joke.
OYER: There you go, exactly. As an economist I look at that and I want to suggest the following: that you fill in more detail keeping in mind two ideas that are very important in economics. They’re related. They are statistical discrimination and adverse selection. When people look at things in your site, they’re going to make assumptions about you based on them, statistical assumptions.
OYER: A simple example looking at your thing is you have many jokes/statements about whiskey and other alcohol consumption. Maybe it’s fine if you’re just looking for the hangout market, but in the is-this-guy-marriage-material market, the drinking and then the fact that all your pictures are in extremely casual attire …
VOGT: Wait, so you think that I should have dressed up pictures?
OYER: No, no. If you want to show that you’re serious and you’re ready to settle down, you should consider having one or two pictures that show that. Now, the other thing to keep in mind here is there are certain things women want — especially when it comes to settling down, when they’re starting to look for spouse material — there are certain things women definitely want in a man. You can’t fake some of these and that’s okay. One of them is they like rich men.
OYER: And I don’t know your family background, but the public radio thing is probably not what they’re looking for as far as rich goes. But that’s okay, so you just have to accept that.
VOGT: The alcohol thing gives me pause but for the most part — and it’s actually one of the things I hate about dating — is I think I know what I’m selling. I think I have a firm idea of the person who is probably going to like me. I know, on a superficial level, what details they’re going to like about me.
OYER: You have to keep in mind the distinction between someone who’s going to like you once they get to know you, which is the most important thing you’re looking for, and somebody who’s going to be initially attracted to your profile. Can I throw a little economics jargon at you guys?
VOGT: Oh, please!
LECHTENBERG: Please do.
OYER: What you want to remember in your profile is that you want to be very upfront and forthcoming in anything that is what an economist would call a coordination game. It’s where our interests are aligned and as long as we have the right information, we’re going to make the right decision. In my case, I was very upfront and forthcoming in my profile about the fact that I had a large and badly behaved golden retriever, and the fact that I have two teenaged children. Because if somebody was against those things, then those were deal breakers. In your case, you want to be honest about the fact that you’re a public radio producer, because on the one hand that’s very attractive to some people, but it also indicates that you’re not going to be rich, at least in the short term. You don’t want anybody who wants you just for your money either because you don’t like those types of people or because even if you do, you’re not going to get them once they have the information anyway. But the beauty of that is you still have plenty of time to learn that. You have time to experiment, make some mistakes, and then you have A) time for the reasons we talk about and B) you have this very thick market of available women where you live. If you make some mistakes early on, sure your heart will get broken, you’ll be crushed for a while, but then you can recover, learn from your mistakes, and it will all work out happily.
[MUSIC: Kero One, “This Life Aint Mine” (from Early Believers)]
So in case you’re wondering, as I was wondering, whether all of Paul Oyer’s dating advice is worth listening to … One thing you’d want to know is: did it help him get the girl? Well, it did. He found his significant other on JDate. So naturally we wanted to know if Oyer’s advice worked for P.J. Vogt, too. A few weeks after they talked, I asked P.J. how he changed his OkCupid profile:
VOGT: Generally, the sense that I got from talking to him was that I came off as a flippant alcoholic. So I was trying to diminish that. So I cut, I think, one reference to drinking.
DUBNER: Which one?
VOGT: Uh, I think … no I didn’t … I left in both references. What I did … he said I should fill out more of the basic questions about me.
DUBNER: Did you change photos?
VOGT: Yes. He told me to put in a picture of myself more presentable so I took a picture of myself from a wedding …
DUBNER: Can I see?
DUBNER: Oh yeah. That’s really good. Also, what’s really cool about this picture is it is you in a suit, looking great, surrounded by four women.
VOGT: Right, so there is an implicit, “They’ll stand next to me!”
DUBNER: What’s wrong with you? It was a solo shot before, a little slacker-y …
VOGT: Also, I put a picture with my dog, which felt like to the spirit of his advice, and a bunch of old ladies. How’s that?
DUBNER: Oh my god. You are canny! This is actually a perfect mirror, in a way, of the other picture of you at the wedding with four young good looking girls. Now here you are on a park bench — in what looks like Brooklyn — holding a dog. Not just in your lap, but in your arms like you have so much love to give, “But I have to give it to the dog because you are not here.” And there are four older women on the bench surrounding you looking as though, “If only I were forty years younger, this would be the man of my dreams, or if he were forty years older.”
VOGT: Yeah! Exactly!
[MUSIC: The Civil Tones, “Trepidation” (from Rotisserie Twist)]
P.J. also tweaked his profile a bit, as Paul Oyer suggested. He tried to highlight some of his best attributes….
VOGT: Public radio… relatively fun. Not depressed…
DUBNER: You have good teeth.
VOGT: Thank you. I should put that in there.
DUBNER: Yeah. Well, no, no. That’s where you let the picture do the talking.
DUBNER: Look, it is hard for me to say, but I would think if I were a woman and any guy is listing his teeth as an attribute …. a) It feels vain and b) If that’s what you are listing as an attribute I’m afraid the list isn’t going to be very long … But I’m just saying as an aside, you do have good … you know …
VOGT: Yeah, it would be like an apartment being like, “We have a working sink.” You should have a sink.
So how did it work out for P.J.? In the year since we first released this episode … He met a girl! On OkCupid! He also now hosts a podcast called Reply All. Which you should listen to, after you finish listening to this. Now, it’s easy to get lost in the details of online dating and fail to appreciate what it represents — which is a new and, theoretically, improved way for one person to take a look around at the 7 billion other people on the planet and try to pick the right one. Now, it comes with its own problems, that’s for sure. But the strengths of online dating are very real. Especially if you aren’t a single straight man living in a big, big city — a “thick market” — a with an overabundance of single straight women:
WOLFERS: For certain thin dating markets, it’s revolutionized things.
Justin Wolfers is an economist at the University of Michigan.
WOLFERS: It’s a really big deal for young gay and lesbian men and women in otherwise homophobic areas. It’s also a very big deal in the Jewish community, JDate. All my Jewish friends talk about being under pressure from mom to meet a good Jewish boy or girl. They don’t happen to be everywhere, but they’re all over JDate. I imagine this is true in other ethnic communities. Certainly, it’s enormously easy to match on very specific sexual preferences.
So whoever you are, and whoever you’re looking for, Wolfers says, the Internet has turned dating upside down.
WOLFERS: It used to be that you would find compatibility first and then learn more about someone else’s attributes. Now you see all the attributes and then you learn about compatibility later. For an economist, it’s very seductive to believe that more information makes these things work better. I haven’t seen careful studies of this yet as to whether these high information marriages are working out to be more stable.
[MUSIC: Two Dark Birds, “Pie Eyed” (from Songs For The New)]
This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “What You Don’t Know about Online Dating (Rebroadcast)“.