When Stanford professor and economist Paul Oyer found himself back on the dating scene after more than 20 years, he headed to sites like OkCupid, Match.com, and JDate to try his luck at online dating. As he spent more time on these sites, he realized searching for a romantic partner online was remarkably similar to something he’d been studying all his life: economics. In his book, Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating, Oyer reveals how you can use economic principles to your advantage in dating. Oyer, who is now happily in a relationship with a woman he met on JDate, recently sat down with The Date Report to talk about all the (actually interesting) dating tips you slept through during your freshman Econ class.
1. Know what you want.
People end up on online dating sites for a variety of reasons — some are looking for casual hookups with multiple people, while others are seeking monogamous, longterm love. Knowing what you’re looking for will help inform the way you describe yourself to others. During a recent segment of the Freakonomics podcast, Oyer analyzed the OkCupid profile of radio producer PJ Vogt, whose jokes about drinking and whose “casual attire” profile photos made him potentially less appealing to women looking for something serious. Oyer’s advice to Vogt: “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.”
2. Be wary of people who have been on a dating site for a long time.
“If someone’s on a dating site for a long time, that’s a problem,” Oyer says. He likens the fact to discovering a house for sale has been on the market for a very long time, even if the overall housing market is pretty active — in other words, the fact that this one house still for sale should raise a red flag in your mind. “By the same token, if a person’s been on a dating site for a long time, or has never had a serious relationship, there’s some hidden information that you want to be wary of,” Oyer says.
3. Approach online dating like you would approach the job market.
Finding the right partners, of course, is nothing like buying a house — the house you like doesn’t have to like you back in order for things to work out. Instead, Oyer says looking for a partner online is a lot like shopping around for a new job, in that you’ll always be wondering if you could do a little better. But whether it’s a new job or a partner, you can’t keep searching forever, otherwise you’d be unemployed or lonely forever.
4. Keep an open mind.
When Oyer first met his now-girlfriend online, he discovered early on that she owned two pugs. “I hate little dogs, and I had this association that anyone who would like little dogs is not the type of person I would want,” he says. But if he had chosen to forgo interacting with her simply because she preferred little dogs, he would have missed out in a major way. So whether its someone’s hairstyle or their taste in music, try not to immediately assume you won’t hit it off.
5. But know your dealbreakers.
Although Oyer was open-minded enough about small-dog owners to get over his assumptions, there were certain dealbreakers he knew he wasn’t willing to budge on for a relationship, like his dog and his teenage children. “The children and the dog were parts of my life I wasn’t willing to give up, and a relationship that didn’t work those in was going to be a problem,” he says. It’s best to know what you’re definitely not going to change about yourself, like your political beliefs, to be with someone else.
6. Offer up more information, unless you want people to assume the worst.
According to Oyer, there are two major problems with presenting information about yourself on online dating sites. The first is that people lie about themselves all the time — an infamous OkCupid blog post outlines the big ways people fudge their personal details, including how guys often say they’re two inches taller than they are in real life. The second, related problem is that people tend to make negative assumptions if you don’t explicitly offer up a certain piece of information about yourself in your profile, like your body type, or your income.
“If you have a positive attribute, you have every incentive to say that and to be forthcoming about it,” Oyer says. “Whereas if you have a negative attribute, you can say it, because they’ll eventually find out anyway, but the alternative is to just ignore it and hope that it’s not a big deal when you finally meet the person.” In other words, online dating sites are not the place to be modest.
7. But you don’t have to put it all out there.
In the same episode of Freakonomics, the radio producer PJ Vogt wonders whether he should include the fact that he has good teeth in his OkCupid profile. But remembering that people will make assumptions about you based on what you say on your online dating profile, saying you have good teeth is about so much more than just teeth, Oyer says. “They’re going to say, what kind of person tells me about their teeth? Then they’re going to start thinking, okay, is this a vain person? Is this someone who’s sort of joking around? So you can see all of those possibilities and you don’t know exactly which way it’s going to go.” If you are particularly proud of your great teeth, as you should be, it would be better to show that in a close-up photo of yourself smiling.
8. Personalize your messages.
I’ve received tons of messages on online dating sites along the lines of, “Hi I really like your profile let’s talk” that immediately end up in my trash folder. “That just shows no investment and no credibility,” Oyer explains. “I could send that message to 100 people.” I’m much more likely to respond to a message from someone who’s spent enough time reading my profile to know we both enjoy the same movies, or who offers a reading suggestion because he knows I’m a writer. Spending a little more time crafting that first message is the best online dating example of what economists call “signaling,” because it’s something only someone who’s truly interested in you is willing to do.
9. Don’t get too hung up on any one potential match.
Although personalizing your initial message to perfectly capture your shared interest in artisanal pickles and Arrested Development marathons is a smart way to signal you’re really interested, it’s not realistic to craft similarly detailed messages to every single profile user who catches your interest — you’d never leave your computer. “You want to signal up to a point, but then after a certain point you want to remember, ‘Hey, I’ve gotta move on because the odds this is going to work out are low,'” Oyer says.