Why OKCupid's New Option To Weed Out 'Ugly People' Will Backfire

Online Dating Advice: Why OKCupid's New Filter Will Backfire

OKCupid recently announced plans to give users the option to pay a fee to weed out "unattractive" users — those who describe their body types as "overweight," "a little extra," "full-figured," and — most unsettling — "used up."  They also offer the option of allowing their paying "A-List Members" to choose partners based on an attractiveness rating gleaned from a "five-star scoring system determined by OkCupid’s own algorithms," according to Gawker. OkCupid's co-founder, Sam Yagan, was quoted as saying, "You always have an option not to fill in anything you’re not comfortable with revealing about yourself online."

In other words, Yagan encourages further lying and misrepresentation in online dating profiles — or, it could be argued, gives users very little choice to do otherwise if they want to remain relevant.

I don't remember his name, but I do remember his pictures. Cameron, let's call him, was a guy who wrote to me on OKCupid. With his worn leather jacket, wiry frame, cool stance and head of wavy hair, he had just the kind of casual sex appeal that made me pay attention. Granted, he was wearing sunglasses in his photos, but the angle of his face — tilted slightly as he looked off at something distant — made him look handsome in a mysterious way. And his witty self-summary told me this guy had a head on his shoulders. Or at least could make me laugh. Of course, it's next to impossible to tell who someone really is from their dating profile alone, but you can tell if a guy has promise. And by OKCupid standards, this guy did.

I arrived a few minutes early at the bar he'd chosen in West Chelsea. Perched on a stool, sipping the froth off the top of my beer, I suspiciously eyed every dude who walked through the door with equal parts excitement and dread. Then he showed up. If it weren't for his searching eyes, I'd have never guessed this was the Cameron I met online a week before. There was no trace of the cool, handsome, brooding James Dean-esque stud he'd portrayed himself to be. In its place was a shlub in a white, crew-neck undershirt (draped over a significant gut), khaki slacks that came tapered (tapered!) at the ankle, and a pair of beach flip flops. His hair, slightly thinner than pictured, framed a face that was a good decade older than the one that had graced his profile pic. I sat for a moment, paralyzed with disappointment — in my cute sundress and sandals, carefully coiffed, made up and accessorized — until he came over to greet me. The first thing he said, after introducing himself, was "If I'd known you were so pretty in real life I would have made an effort to dress a little better." Charming. I guess we both had false expectations.

We recently published "Online Dating: Is It All Just One Big Web Of Lies?," in which YourTango Expert Charles Orlando explained that we're already at a disadvantage when it comes to looking for love online, because the crucial indicators of chemistry — pheromones, that cute way he puts his hand on yours when he compliments you, the charming way she blinks when she’s nervous, his infectious laugh — are absent on a computer screen. So it's already kind of a shot in the dark when you date online. Do we really need to encourage people to lie even more in their dating profiles? Why not just get rid of images and physical descriptions altogether at that point? No expectations might be better than false ones, in which we literally set ourselves up for disappointment — even when we go into it trying to convince ourselves, "this is no big deal, it's just a drink for god's sake." The truth is, it is a big deal. We wouldn't be wasting our precious time making small talk with a stranger if it weren't.

YourTango's own Dating In The Digital Age survey asked similar questions about lying in dating profiles. Not surprisingly, 32% of people revealed that they've dated people who have lied about their weight, and 25% report suitors who have lied about their height. Respondents themselves admitted that posting old profile pictures was their biggest digital dating faux pas. Cameron was certainly guilty of this. Come to think of it, so am I. When we find ourselves literally shopping for dates — and we have even more competition than a contestant on The Bachelor — even the most virtuous among us tend to become little white liars (or bald-faced ones. Or bald ones. I've gotten those too). Do we really need incentive to deceive each other? We're doing a fine job of it already.

Perhaps, if dating sites want to increase the accuracy of the results they surface to clients, they should stick to examining the habits of users and sending them profiles similar to the ones they click on most, instead of creating a feature that lets us dismiss otherwise promising partners based on generalities and blanket judgments.

In other words, let us decide who we find attractive — not an algorithm.

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