I was initially angry at these posers, but Morton helped me realize that other online daters might be more ashamed or insecure than actually arrogant. Compassion, not acquiescence to a date, would have been a better response to my wannabes.
Migrating from Quora to more formal advice, I continued my research with some online academic sources. In 2021 paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology by psychology professor Jessica Tracy and her graduate student Eric Mercadante discussed hubristic pride and deception more generally. They identified two facets of pride: “authentic pride, which is associated with achievement, high self-esteem, and prosocial personality traits; and hubristic pride, associated with arrogance, low self-esteem, and antisocial personality traits.” That sounded like academic-speak for confidence and arrogance to me. These researchers explained that “findings suggest that hubristic pride may engender a willingness to lie to get ahead, but only in situations where one’s status has been threatened.” I began to wonder. Had I threatened their status or pride?
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor to Match.com, spoke to me about her research and how most people are looking for companionship, not just sex. This desire for connection, especially after the pandemic, can lead people to misrepresent themselves in their profiles.
Fisher explains that daters who lie or exaggerate their talents are just trying to be selected. “From a Darwinian perspective, courtship is not about honesty, it’s about winning,” she says. “Most people who brag and show off just want to win.” She compares dates with other animals, including the peacock. “Those tail feathers are a handicap, but they impress.” She acknowledges, “Of course, there are some fools, but the vast majority just want to love and be loved.”
Fisher connected me with Amy Canaday, director of public relations and marketing at Match.com. Canaday echoed Fisher’s idea that people just want to impress and will stretch the truth to do it. She suggests that people “want to get a date, woo you, and win you over,” regardless of whether they actually think you are a good fit for each other.
She also explained why I may have been paired with so many people that didn’t resemble my imagined partner. The Match dating algorithm, she explains, uses a “watch and learn” methodology. The site watches the choices that a person makes and matches that person with more of those similar choices. So “men who select women they rate as a ’10’ will get more profiles like that ’10,’ even if they themselves are a ‘5,’” says Canaday. Thus, if I lacked confidence and selected the 5s, or merely responded politely to a lot of 5s, I would get more 5s. She adds that about 75 percent of people on the platform don’t really know what they want, so that’s important to consider too. According to her, many ultimately say they would never have met, dated, or even considered a person if it weren’t for Match. Canaday recommends, “Be confident in what you know you want and deserve.”
After my rough start, I decided to act as confident as the mediocre white men I’d met. So I went for someone who seemed out of my league and contacted him. When we finally met, he was attractive and smart, and we initially got along well. Too soon, however, he apologized and told me that he should be going. He’d just started dating someone else and wanted to see where that relationship would go.
“Why did you meet me today then?” I asked.
“I guess I was curious to see if you were real. You are. You’re as intelligent and beautiful as you seemed online.”
I saw him at an academic event several years later. He recognized me, smiled, and I thought I heard him say, “Just as beautiful!” With confidence gained from my research and experiences, I’m still looking to meet my match.