“Everything is Too Efficient and It’s Exhausting”
November 19, 2019 2:00 AM   Subscribe

The Dating Market: Thesis Overview [PDF] by Dan McMurtrie via Tyler Cowen and Matt Levine

How have these dynamics impacted non-hetero-normative relationships? remains a "question to consider."
posted by chavenet (66 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Note in the charts above the up spike in “met in bar or restaurant.” In data science, the technical term for these reporting individuals is “liars.” They reported meeting in a bar because that is technically where the pair met in person for the first time, but the match was generated online.
Heh.

Anyway, am I the only one who's noticed that nowadays when OkCupid says I'm an 84% match with someone it actually means that we disagree on about 50% of OkCupid's questions?
posted by clawsoon at 3:39 AM on November 19, 2019 [10 favorites]


These dynamics have also led to prime reproductive age individuals having less sex, with men being disproportionately priced out of the market. This is a material driver of the “incel” (involuntary celibate) social movement/problem
For economists, that's a remarkable elision of a market with prices with human desire, and maybe the most alien part of the entire odd summary paper. To make a behaviour 'materially driven' is to impersonalise it and to reduce personal responsibility for its nasty effects; because financialisation crystallises desire and turns it to a measurable value: as if the incels or any of the other hateful movements of our time could be convinced out of hatefulness with market levers and price signals (in this case, to other people's swipes, and time, and bodies). Look at this stage it's just necessary to point—again—to Amia Srinivasan's essay in the LRB about the actual effects of such 'material' drivers:
It is striking, though unsurprising, that while men tend to respond to sexual marginalisation with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, women who experience sexual marginalisation typically respond with talk not of entitlement but empowerment...
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:44 AM on November 19, 2019 [42 favorites]


Throughout the whole piece, which I don't really otherwise think is completely wrong, there's a lot of eliding going on when it comes to a lot of violence against women, not just the incels. I know he's not not talking about about it, but I don't like how he's doing it.

Because costs (physical safety, social stigma) have been disproportionately impactful to women, their elimination has had the effect of flipping the power dynamic in the market to favor women in prime reproductive age, though the dynamic changes with age. (emphasis mine)

I know he pulls back from these claims somewhat later in the piece, but then why make them? I'm low-key expecting to see this quote on some MRA twitter within a week.

Also, there's a lot of "costs are effectively zero" going on, which just... like no? Especially in lower population density areas, where it's clearly not an infinite pool, it's who you went to high-school with. What about the cost of all the hate and bile women experience on those same online dating apps? I get that it's often a lower cost than previous forms of dating, but it's definitely not zero, and there can still be knock-on IRL effects. Maybe in the heart of New York City, it could feel like there's an infinite pool and so on given the population density, I guess, but most places aren't there.
posted by Acid Communist at 4:04 AM on November 19, 2019 [17 favorites]


So is this just another "if the world were just I would be able to have sex with anyone I wanted at any time but because this is not true something is wrong with society" things but with ginned-up graphs?
posted by Frowner at 4:09 AM on November 19, 2019 [22 favorites]


Okay, having read the paper, I think it leaves out something I notice: that it's far more acceptable for women to be single. Most people want romantic relationships, but what I've been seeing over the past ten years is a lot more women deciding that relationships aren't worth the hassle - if you can't date someone who is an equal partner the alternative seems to be "I'm going to be picking up after some guy who will prioritize his amusements over connecting with me, plus doing most of the childcare, etc, and even to get to this point I have to wade through a sea of hatred and entitlement" and I see a lot more individual, actually existing people saying that this is not worth it to them. An equal, good-quality relationship is best, but absent an equal, good-quality relationship, the best alternative isn't a low-quality one but none at all.

It's not that being single is unstigmatized but it's a lot less stigmatized than in the past, and there are a lot more advantages in singlehood for women than for men.

It's funny, there's a Gene Wolfe - Gene Wolfe, the conservative Catholic! - bit in one of his novels where a woman has invited three men who are courting her to compete at telling stories to win her hand. Then she says that she is also going to tell a story, because she's competing for herself too.
posted by Frowner at 4:18 AM on November 19, 2019 [103 favorites]




Also my body image issues really didn't need to see those graphs on page 5 & 6, although yeah talk about questions raised by non-heteronormative people. I kind of want to see a bunch more graphs.
posted by Acid Communist at 4:36 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, there's a lot of "costs are effectively zero" going on, which just... like no?

I think you’re not reading this from the POV of a hedge fund internal research note reader/writer :)

Think in terms of: what is the cost of finding a candidate partner? In the pre app world, getting a chance to even look at, say, 10 potential individuals required significant social and time costs. Today, the majority of people can open an app and have it lay out 10 people for their perusal in the next 2 minutes.

Are there other costs? Sure. Is the app system perfect? Clearly not. Has it driven down the cost of finding a bunch of partner candidates to near zero? Yes, pretty much & the paper is arguing that this is having profound effects on people’s attitudes to dating and long-term partnerships.
posted by pharm at 5:21 AM on November 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


Frowner: Okay, having read the paper, I think it leaves out something I notice: that it's far more acceptable for women to be single. Most people want romantic relationships, but what I've been seeing over the past ten years is a lot more women deciding that relationships aren't worth the hassle

I noticed that, too. And, further, for someone who's purportedly interested in economics it seems odd that the author would attribute all of the increase in women's autonomy to dating apps and completely ignore the increased economic independence resulting from higher workforce participation and university education. Some women still face homelessness and destitution without a man, but in the past most women did. Now most women don't.

A flip side of that is the attractiveness graphs. Women are more attractive on average because they have historically put a hell of a lot more work into being attractive. More self-abnegation with diet and exercise, more money on clothing and cosmetics, more time in front of the mirror trying to get the perfect balance of sexy and innocent. Men didn't have to do that because that was not the path to access to resources needed to stay alive and keep a family alive for men the way that it was for women.

That's changing now, slowly, and I see more and more men spending money on clothing and subjecting themselves to pain in the gym and obsessing over which dog would be the perfect one to impress women without scaring them away, all because the old mafia-like lock that men had on money and resources is breaking down. When your monopoly is broken, you've got to start bringing more to the marketplace than just the fact of your existence.
posted by clawsoon at 5:30 AM on November 19, 2019 [54 favorites]


(...or you can try to reestablish that monopoly through propaganda and violence, which is the path being taken by incels and their patriarchal allies.)
posted by clawsoon at 5:36 AM on November 19, 2019 [21 favorites]


...it's far more acceptable for women to be single.

Sorry, I read this wrong at first, because society still doesn't accept women who choose to be single over being in a relationship, but yes, women (myself included) find it more acceptable to be single than be in a disconnected, unfulfilling relationship. After all, relationships require focus and effort, I have my own interests I can be absorbed in while I ignore everyone around me.

However, it will always be women's responsibility in society to be the maintainers of relationships, even if men are still traditionally expected to initiate them. And it is interesting to see the backlash against them as we just stop settling for them, both politically and culturally.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:38 AM on November 19, 2019 [10 favorites]


I find it depressing that "matching is increasingly visual", actually, because I think that's a terrible way to date. I say this because I have a knack for having very attractive friends (mainly because I don't hit on them, it's apparently amazing how rare it is to just, like, be friends with someone rather than instrumentalize them if they're a gender you could theoretically date). They have a lot of success in Tinder and their romantic lives are frequently godawful because they're dating people whose criteria are limited to "this person is hot" and "they didn't say any dealbreakers in our text exchanges".

Far more of my not-really-heteronormatively-beautiful friends are in happy long term relationships, and most of them met their partners through church, volunteer work or activism. A couple met on communist tumblr.

It's not that appearance is totally unimportant, but "appearance that is attractive to me personally" doesn't really match well with "looks normatively beautiful in photos".

In summary, many people are terrible and I do not like any of this.
posted by Frowner at 5:55 AM on November 19, 2019 [56 favorites]


in b4 "Metafilter: In summary, many people are terrible and I do not like any of this."
posted by PMdixon at 6:10 AM on November 19, 2019 [29 favorites]


When articles like this hit the wires, I tell people I am interested to hear what some of my more intelligent friends think on the matter. Really though, what I mean is that I am looking forward to reading the FPP on it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:28 AM on November 19, 2019 [18 favorites]


It's an interesting article, though I agree with many of the criticisms already expressed.

Reductions in marginal and opportunity costs lead individuals to exit potential or new relationships faster, and over time allow individuals to acquire more information about long term mate compatibility. People are less likely to stay in negative relationships, more likely to cut things off when red flags are spotted, and less likely to go on multiple dates when a spark is not there.

Quite a few of the societal trends it describes, if they are true, seem positive, such as people not staying in bad relationships. And while I'm overall not completely convinced by the argument about efficiency and competition, I liked how directly it linked some men's displeasure with modern dating to no longer being able to produce "low effort excess returns":

This can be conceptualized as the market becoming more efficient, which naturally leads to many market participants anecdotally expressing unhappiness with the status quo as they incorrectly identify an inability to produce low effort excess returns as the circumstances being “unfair.”
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 AM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


OK but the cargo shorts thing was beautiful and true.
posted by turkeybrain at 7:01 AM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


I didn't see it on my not-fully-paying-attention reading of the article, but did they discuss that small online-dating bump around 1982ish? It didn't reach that level again until the early 2000s. What was that about?
posted by snwod at 7:23 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I like the advice for dating at the end.
posted by tdismukes at 7:32 AM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


When I think about dating I have a few parallel trains of thought:

1. It sucks that it's so hard to find a dude who wouldn't be so warped by patriarchal bullshit that he would either dismiss me for Lack of Hotness/Youth/Whatever or want me to be his mommy/maid/emotional support animal.

2. This is probably a necessary transitional phase in hetero gender relations, where the old ways no longer work but newer ways have not yet taken hold. And lots of disruption/loss happens during big societal transitions, so it's not surprising that I might be affected. Lots of people in this boat with me.

3. This still sucks, because I liked being partnered (when it was good).

4. But it's pretty great that I can support myself, can do what I like, and don't have to settle.

5. Online dating looks like a real pain in the ass though.
posted by emjaybee at 7:41 AM on November 19, 2019 [22 favorites]


There's no way I can tell from looking at the graphs, but for the two graphs showing that men perceive the attractiveness of women as a bell curve, whereas women perceive the attractiveness of men as a large mode around 'not very attractive' sloping down sharply -- the implication from the text of the paper is that that's on the one hand men rating only 'prime reproductive age' women, and women rating men of all ages. If I'm right about that, that's a very artificially created asymmetry, isn't it? You take a large group of women who men find unattractive out of the pool of women being rated, and then say that men are less picky about women than women are about men?
posted by LizardBreath at 7:56 AM on November 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


Lizard Breath: I think those graphs are from OKCupid blog posts. They’re the aggregate ratings of men and women in the “online dating pool”. i.e. OKCupid male users’ ratings of women on OKCupid & vice versa.

So they naturally skew young for both genders, because the dating pool skews young. By the time you get to 35 most of your age group has paired off, for good or ill.
posted by pharm at 8:11 AM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


But if it's each gender rating the people in the broad categories they're willing to date, and women systematically include a broader, older age range than men do (which I understand to be the case) whereas men are much likelier, regardless of their own age, to only look for, e.g., women under thirty, doesn't that come out pretty much as I described?
posted by LizardBreath at 8:27 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Promise me I’ll never have to be out there again.
posted by Segundus at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2019 [12 favorites]


I spent about a year on apps after my marriage ended, which was one of those 'careful what you wish for' things: that is, I'd been happily married since before online dating was a big thing, and I'd been curious about it. It just seemed as if it would work so efficiently and painlessly, and I was kind of fascinated by the process.

And yeah, a year was plenty to satisfy any curiosity I had. Efficient and painless is not how I'd describe it.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


Back in the mid-aughts it was possible to date on The Onion Personals, which pretty much guaranteed a certain level of taste overlap and like-mindedness. Plus it was slow and phones had really terrible web browsers (if they had one at all) so constantly checking for updates was less possible. It still sucked most of the time but felt less, uh, mechanized and automated.

I met grumpybearbride at a bar.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:43 AM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm sure there's something that actually stands up in here, but it's wrapped in so much BS and so many blanket assertions, logical jumps and hand waving, that I certainly can't pull it out.

Lately, it seems like economists have decided that they are qualified as experts on everything and have done these kinds of facile analysis of everything. Now, it looks like investment guys (this one doesn't appear to be even qualified as an economist at all) have decided to jump in on the fun. Nothing wrong with anyone putting their thoughts out there, but when you grab some graphs that you like, make some very general assumptions and then tell some just so stories, there's no particular reason anyone should listen to you, especially about important issues like the growing incel problem.

This kind of shoddy reasoning that tries to present itself as objective with a few citations and graphs is getting more and more grating.
posted by ssg at 8:49 AM on November 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


> ssg: This kind of shoddy reasoning that tries to present itself as objective with a few citations and graphs is getting more and more grating.

It seems to me, based on the tone throughout, that this is more of a personal blog post in the form of an objective economic report than a personal blog post pretending to be an objective economic report, but I can see that it is a fine line.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:05 AM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


pharm: I think those graphs are from OKCupid blog posts.

I remember when OkCupid did a bunch of analyses which were preceded by removing all the "outliers" from their data, i.e. they threw out all the data about the most and least attractive users on the site and then gave advice based on who was left. One piece of advice that stuck out in my mind was that men shouldn't smile in pictures. I wonder if these graphs were created with the same care.
posted by clawsoon at 9:16 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


But if it's each gender rating the people in the broad categories they're willing to date, and women systematically include a broader, older age range than men do (which I understand to be the case) whereas men are much likelier, regardless of their own age, to only look for, e.g., women under thirty, doesn't that come out pretty much as I described?

IIRC, and I think the original post was taken down, the actual OKC finding was that women generally rate men to be, on average, much less attractive ... but they'll message them anyway. (See: this page about the study):

“As you can see from the gray line, women rate an incredible 80% of guys as worse-looking than medium. Very harsh. On the other hand, when it comes to actual messaging, women shift their expectations only just slightly ahead of the curve, which is a healthier pattern than guys’ pursuing the all-but-unattainable. But with the basic ratings so out-of-whack, the two curves together suggest some strange possibilities for the female thought process, the most salient of which is that the average-looking woman has convinced herself that the vast majority of males aren’t good enough for her, but she then goes right out and messages them anyway.”
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:19 AM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


Comrade_robot: which is a healthier pattern than guys’ pursuing the all-but-unattainable.

A funny thing about evo-psych theories: It is commonly asserted that women, BECAUSE EVOLUTION, will pursue a small number of highly attractive men, while men will be willing to sleep with any woman.

The OkCupid data shows exactly the opposite of that. It's, like, the data shows that the theory couldn't be more wrong.
posted by clawsoon at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2019 [16 favorites]


What I take from this is that straight men don't actually know/care what women find attractive - they're getting rated as "less attractive" because, unlike women, they don't spend a lot of time actually figuring out what the people they're interested in find attractive. It's not even the cargo shorts - remember that comic about Batman,where the women is describing how a Batman drawn to be attractive to her would look? And the guy gets all uncomfortable?

I think the dual audience is the problem. The straight men are literally posting only to women, but psychically they are posting to other men - so they're being photographed in postures of "masculinity" that are unattractive to women but that won't read as, like, gay or something should some other man chance to see them. A huge problem in gender relations is that men are always performing a "masculinity" that is adversarial, mean-spirited, closed-off, etc etc and that is not in general what women want. The less power women have, the more this works, because women have limited power to pick so it doesn't matter if Craggy McNeverDoesDishes can't muster a feeling to save his life. But once women are able to choose, deciding that it's more important to look Not Gay, Fellows than to look attractive to women is going to cost you.

Like, I bet a guy who was clean and had his hair combed and wore something besides a baggy tee shirt and athletic shorts and held a cat would rate as attractive to a wide range of women, regardless of his actual physical features.
posted by Frowner at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2019 [59 favorites]


"As you can see from the gray line, women rate an incredible 80% of guys as worse-looking than medium. . . . the average-looking woman has convinced herself that the vast majority of males aren’t good enough for her, but she then goes right out and messages them anyway."

I think this is a misreading of the data, because one of the universal experiences of being a woman on a dating app is just how apocalyptically terrible men are at posting normal photos of themselves. Really and truly, the UPSETTINGLY awful photos that normal looking men post is just...staggering. You can tell that a normal looking person has CHOSEN to post serial killer shots, and "here is a photo of the bottom of my chin while I am sitting in my car" shots, and "here is me doing public misogyny" shots, and "here is me very sweaty for some reason" shots.

So they asked the question wrong, because every woman I know agrees that these dudes probably look fine in real life, but they choose to upload photos that make them look angry and miserable and gross, and none of us can figure out WHY.

But if you wait to only message guys with normal photos, you'll be waiting a long time, so yeah, women rate the photos appropriately, but then still message dudes, because otherwise you're just spending your free time staring up the nostrils of a bunch of strangers as a hobby, which sucks.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:34 AM on November 19, 2019 [26 favorites]


Frowner: remember that comic about Batman,where the women is describing how a Batman drawn to be attractive to her would look?

I don't remember that, but it sounds very interesting. Anybody have a link?
posted by clawsoon at 9:34 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Probably this episode of Shortpacked! by David Willis.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:43 AM on November 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


I think the dual audience is the problem. The straight men are literally posting only to women, but psychically they are posting to other men - so they're being photographed in postures of "masculinity" that are unattractive to women but that won't read as, like, gay or something should some other man chance to see them. A huge problem in gender relations is that men are always performing a "masculinity" that is adversarial, mean-spirited, closed-off, etc etc and that is not in general what women want.

oh my god, men's version of male fantasies, male fantasies?
posted by gaybobbie at 11:06 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Was anyone else reminded of Hang the DJ?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:23 AM on November 19, 2019


Men see how men and women react to Justin Bieber, and we decide that it's more dangerous to be seen that way by other men than it is advantageous to be seen that way by women.
posted by clawsoon at 11:23 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, one of my main takeaways from re-entering the now-digital dating pool in my late 40s (as a guy) is how generally horrendous an experience it is for women. The stories I hear. Like, if you're a gainfully employed non-asshole with a modicum of common sense and self-awareness, you're already in the top 5%. Maybe 2%.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:25 AM on November 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


Also, one of my main takeaways from re-entering the now-digital dating pool in my late 40s (as a guy) is how generally horrendous an experience it is for women. The stories I hear. Like, if you're a gainfully employed non-asshole with a modicum of common sense and self-awareness, you're already in the top 5%. Maybe 2%.

If you really want a sample of this, check out r/datingover30. Holy SHIT.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:54 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


r/datingover30 is a private group; is it easy to get membership, or is it basically in shutdown mode?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


r/datingoverthirty

Sorry, typo.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:16 PM on November 19, 2019


The straight men are literally posting only to women, but psychically they are posting to other men - so they're being photographed in postures of "masculinity" that are unattractive to women but that won't read as, like, gay or something should some other man chance to see them.

THIS. OMG, so much this. It's why the Fish Photo is a thing. It's why the boat pic, the convertible pic, the mountaintop pic are all a thing. WOMEN. DO. NOT. CARE.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:20 PM on November 19, 2019 [10 favorites]


Well from the article some do care about the fish photo and are fisher's themselves?
posted by Carillon at 3:57 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think the fish photo probably is a useful filter -- if fishing is a big part of your life, there isn't a lot of point in connecting with women who are going to say 'ugh, a fish'. You want a partner who is enthusiastic to tolerant.
posted by tavella at 4:09 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Online dating is definitely grim. I'm not sure how much of the grimness is because of brutal efficiency, the way this describes things, and how much is because you're basically putting your happiness in the hands of a YouTube-style recommender system.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:41 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post. It was an enjoyable read and, for me, mostly points to the very idea of how social media has made us think of self as product or brand to be "sold" on a market, where better performance may come from exploiting market inefficiencies rather than necessarily being "true" to ourselves, for both good and bad, as some of the comments point out. The comments, which I largely agree with, seem a bit orthogonal to thesis in some ways, taking it straight, so to speak, when I see it as much a comment on online dating apps being a marketplace and thus open to analysis in ways that run counter to long time beliefs over dating in some ways.

Take, for example, the comments on photos. The idea that someone should or could choose a photo to best sell themselves to others instead of being what the person choosing it thinks as representational of themselves or their "better selves" is a fraught one. It may indeed be more efficient to post photos that are designed to appeal to the wants of someone else, like advertising, but if the product doesn't match the ad, then the "sale" is a deceptive one. To be sure, there is good reason to argue that there are some areas where one might do well to better oneself in order to be a more attractive product, but that's less in how one sells oneself than in how one sees the value of the product being sold and how to improve it itself instead of its packaging. The notion that one should somehow perhaps want to look like this celebrity instead of that celebrity as an ideal too is inherently flawed as both celebrity as an ideal carries significant problems and the desire to be or look "like" someone other than oneself is sorta like trying to imitate a successful brand rather than offering something more unique to the market.

Questions over what is the better, best, or the "real" value behind choices people make in presenting themselves and in what they desire from others is also a more complicated question than it appears as the market has so long been skewed to certain values of "masculinity" and "femininity" that trying to parse which are "true" and which are constructed is not as easy as it may appear, which makes the issue of how best to understand our desires difficult to say the least. Things like fishing, for example, aren't inherently "masculine" in themselves. Anyone can fish easily enough and the pleasure should be about the same for all since there is nothing that really favors one person over the other indulging in the activity. But it does tend to show as more a "male" thing for reasons of history around the pastime. The question of whether that should be the case are another matter.

The same holds true for looks. Preferences in looks and body types are a bit nebulous in how they come about and why some hold one preference over another. There is certainly a cultural aspect to it, but there also seems to be other issues involved that don't lend themselves well to "you should want" to look like this instead of that. Suggesting that one should prefer one look to the other in order to draw interest from potential partners then is to try to redefine a cultural attitude to fit one's own interests which are defined by cultural attitudes or to just say your desires aren't as "true" as mine. Both are obviously problematic and come from a culture that provides distorted views of body and self to all participants. Seeking to refine that in market terms could potentially be a path to quicker social change by "winning" products being more likely to be emulated, or it could lead to further distortion in a different direction and more people being alone for not fitting expected brand standards.

Whatever the case, I'm perfectly content to be someone not looking for a partner and not having to deal with self as product, which may just mean I'm old or old fashioned, but I can live with that too.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:13 AM on November 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


Or I guess the TLDR version would be, maybe Aristophanes had it wrong, the best way to change male behavior isn't by strike, but by boycott.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:03 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


The idea that someone should or could choose a photo to best sell themselves to others instead of being what the person choosing it thinks as representational of themselves or their "better selves" is a fraught one.

The issue here isn't that men aren't doing this-- they ARE, but they are doing it (as Frowner points out) to impress other MEN, and often end up being repulsive to many women as a result.

Gym pics. Here is me in my fancy work clothes in a fancy hotel on a work trip pics (this usually ends up being a weirdly threatening picture of an unmade bed). Here is me disregarding the human rights and ecological issues climbing Everest pics. Here is me making an angry face pics. Here is me with my hot ex pics. Here is a picture of me and 15 other people but I have blurred all their faces pics. Here is a picture of me from 1998 judging by the pixels pics. Here is me meeting a known misogynist celebrity pics.

Those are all already attempts to sell oneself and some sort of aspirational lifestyle-- but they fundamentally misunderstand the "market," aka, women who want to see what their faces look like.

I mean, I'm certainly grateful that men with terrible ideas about masculinity are so willing to foreground that worldview in their profiles, bc it saves time. But the lack of self-knowledge and context and "here is a picture of me smiling pleasantly" as a baseline is still ASTOUNDING.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:19 AM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


I think Frowner is wrong. Men aren’t posting these things for other men. That would be a really strange thing to do on a dating site, where the expected audience is definitely female. (assuming hetero posters - presumably gay dating has gone it’s own way on this)

What we see is a weird mish-mash of people choosing photos for all sorts of reasons, some which include:

1) “this is me, take it or leave it” is one which, honestly, I can completely understand - online dating is a shitshow and clearing out people who aren’t going to be interested in you as soon as possible is a great idea. “Here’s me with a minor celebrity you hate?” is a subset of that. Don’t like the celeb? Well you’re obviously not going to be a good fit are you? So it’s a win from both sides.

2) “Here’s a picture of me doing a thing I enjoy”, be it fishing or whatever is also pretty relatable: choosing pictures where you actually look happy / proud seems entirely understandable to me. Sure, that means that in certain areas you get a lot of pictures of guys fishing, but if that’s a common activity then why not?

3) “Here’s a constructed version of myself that is the best fit with what I think women want to see”. I think this is where Frowner is seeing men posting things that they think will impress other men. My interpretation is that they are posting stereotypically “male” things because they think that’s what the kind of women they want to attract like & they might well be right.

as well as the obvious

4) ”I look good in this photo”

and

5) “I don’t have any good photos, so here are some terrible ones.” subtext: I hate online dating.

1) and 2) can overlap with 3) of course.

(NB according to one of the OKCupid blogs shirtless pictures get a lot of responses if you have the body for it. You might not like them but lots of women apparently do. For guys that have put the work in & want to attract those women, well shirtless photos apparently work so why shouldn’t they post them?)

Online dating strips away a lot of the polite fictions we like to maintain about the way we partner up & we don’t always like what is revealed as a result, but that doesn’t mean that those things aren’t real.
posted by pharm at 7:06 AM on November 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


Sure, that means that in certain areas you get a lot of pictures of guys fishing

A major factor here is that fishing (specifically, posing with a just-caught fish) is one of the very few times people will reliably take photos of you, so even for someone who only goes fishing once every couple of years, fishing photos are probably going to be overrepresented in the assortment of possible photos to use for the dating profile.

I'm not dating so it's not an issue for me right now, but if I was I would have to either call in a favor from a friend or pay a professional and arrange to get candid-yet-hopefully-photogenic photos taken. If I was limited to the photos on my phone right now, it would be a terrible array of me-with-fish and selfies-with-dogs; no one in their right mind would think I was a catch based on those.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:34 AM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Men aren’t posting these things for other men.

If they are crafting them for the sole consumption of women then their profiles would contain a lot less statements about how horrible and disgusting women are!

obviously they are not posting them LITERALLY for men to look at, but they are constructing a rhetorical identity through photos and text that is more designed to appease masculine anxieties than those of women, which is what people here are actually talking about.

Also I literally said nothing about shirtless torso pics, so I'm not sure why you're scolding me about it?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:36 AM on November 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


> pharm: That would be a really strange thing to do on a dating site, where the expected audience is definitely female.

If you think men don't act in ways counter to their own best interest on a daily basis because of toxic masculinity, you are far more optimistic than I am.

> Dip Flash: I would have to either call in a favor from a friend or pay a professional and arrange to get candid-yet-hopefully-photogenic photos taken.

What do you think women do?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:37 AM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]


a fiendish thingy: I was referring to your aside about “gym pics”.
posted by pharm at 7:48 AM on November 20, 2019


I would have to either call in a favor from a friend or pay a professional and arrange to get candid-yet-hopefully-photogenic photos taken.

What do you think women do?


This is kinda the thing I was trying to get at which underlies some of the charts in the thesis. Online dating sites, theoretically, present an alternative power dynamic around dating. Women, according to the charts, are in better positions as "buyers" in this model, with men now increasingly becoming the product being examined. With that change, as long as women are willing to forego any purchase until they find a product they like, they should be more able to post the equivalent of fishing pics as they have the greater leverage. Men are used to being the initiators and being catered to in their desires, but online dating sites shift expectations and men don't hold the same structural advantage in initiating relationships.

There are some areas where women might be able, if they wanted, to take back some of the imbalance of power regarding expectations of what is acceptable or expected from those one might be interested in. That might just be cutting off those who don't "dress up" their photos, but it could be in laying back more in one's own photos like men have done and showing oneself doing things you actually like even if it isn't "traditionally" appealing in the way women have been expected to be. There can be some good things about that, notwithstanding that it had mostly been men who were able to get away with it previously. Not "dressing up" can sometimes present the more genuine self if one isn't normally interested in such things and is only doing it to sell.

Likewise, demanding more from men will either lead men to change in order to get more interested buyers or leave them to continue to present themselves as they see fit, which can handily eliminate them from the market if their presentation doesn't suit one's interest, which is to the good, not really a flaw in system. Better that then men just "dressing up" without actually believing in fashion they put on other than to fool a prospective buyer. It isn't just men who are caught up in values of the past, women are too, distortion is all there is. Trying to pin down what men would really do or like if they weren't homophobic doesn't work because there is no free space where that this social distortion doesn't touch.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:26 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


pharm: 5) “I don’t have any good photos, so here are some terrible ones.” subtext: I hate online dating.

Yep.

About constructing photos for other men instead of women: If she really likes your photo - which is after all a public presentation of yourself - at some point she's going to want to go out with you looking like that, and do you really want your friends to see you like that?
posted by clawsoon at 9:11 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


That might just be cutting off those who don't "dress up" their photos, but it could be in laying back more in one's own photos like men have done and showing oneself doing things you actually like even if it isn't "traditionally" appealing in the way women have been expected to be

But you're still basically saying that there's an "authentic self" and that trying to seem appealing by considering the interests of your audience is in some way fake - that in utopia our un-marketed selves would be real and true and unified and we'd be loved or not loved for this authenticity.

Leaving gender aside, I am sometimes happiest eating rye crackers in bed while reading fanfic, usually with hair that needs some serious attention and sometimes surrounded by plates, books and the odd water bottle. While this is charming in theory, it is crumbly in practice and something I try not to force on others. I wouldn't post an unstaged photo of me with crumbs down my front, a plate with a half-sandwich and a pillow with the pillowcase half off even though this is a sadly characteristic sight. What's more, I don't expect people to love me because I sometimes get crumbs in the sheets - this is behavior that I expect to moderate around others and hope for some tolerance about rather than what I think of as my best self and what renders me lovable.

Even if we lived in a utopia which still inexplicably had online dating, I'd be picking and choosing photos according to some kind of social metric, being less "genuine" by trying to foreground things about myself that seemed likely to interest and attract people. I'd still consider my audience.

It's only pretense to say that men are being authentic when they post random pictures from their phones. The random nostril shot from your phone isn't more "authentic" than a picture of you playing with your cat in good lighting. The issue is never "pretend to like gardening and gastronomy when you really like beer and football", it's "I recognize that it's not bad for men to think about their appearance in photos when they are trying to attract people by posting photos".
posted by Frowner at 9:14 AM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


But you're still basically saying that there's an "authentic self" and that trying to seem appealing by considering the interests of your audience is in some way fake - that in utopia our un-marketed selves would be real and true and unified and we'd be loved or not loved for this authenticity.

Not exactly, since I don't think there is some authentic self that exists outside cultural influence or anything, just that the choice is akin to advertising in that the person choosing to represent themselves in whatever way is offering that image as standing in for their sense of self, at least in regards to dating, which then provides useful information to the person browsing the selections in ways that everyone choosing to get a professional or "dress up" image won't for trying to fit a formula of what is believed to best "sell", which is another less revealing kind of conformity which men who want to stand out will work around as now.

That, to me, points to both the downside of self as product and the potential for upside, depending on how it plays out and what exactly people want or hold as expected norms for potential partners. If, as the study suggests, women are gaining increasing leverage in partnership selection, then that can potentially alter the social expectations around relationships, but how it might do that is open for what we cling to from the past or hold as "true" to our own desires regardless of how they came about. If some women only choose to date men who put on their Sunday best in photos or present themselves in pictures of higher quality, then men who don't do that will have to change their behavior to find dates. If women choose to stop dressing up their photos and choose whatever suits their fancy like men are said to be doing, then men will have to accept it or go without dates and so on.

The question of what is wanted and why in terms of developing a better social balance should be at the fore of how this plays out, but the social distortion from the archetypal masculine and feminine constructs distorts the process. I'm not saying there is a right answer, just that there is more to it that comes from it being a marketplace than debating how to best advertise oneself to fit current consumer demand.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:10 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


If, as the study suggests, women are gaining increasing leverage in partnership selection, then that can potentially alter the social expectations around relationships, but how it might do that is open for what we cling to from the past or hold as "true" to our own desires regardless of how they came about. If some women only choose to date men who put on their Sunday best in photos or present themselves in pictures of higher quality, then men who don't do that will have to change their behavior to find dates. If women choose to stop dressing up their photos and choose whatever suits their fancy like men are said to be doing, then men will have to accept it or go without dates and so on.

My impressionistic takeaway from everything I know about heterosexual online dating is that this is not happening: women are continuing to put effort into presenting themselves appealingly online, and men are not. This suggests to me, again, that the narrative the OP puts forth (which is certainly the conventional wisdom) that straight women have a great deal more leverage in the online dating market than straight men, is not accurate.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:22 AM on November 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think it is simpler than that. Culturally, speaking in very general terms, we raise women to care, think about and prioritize how they communicate, how they present themselves, etc. We don't raise men this way; in fact, communicating effectively, presenting oneself well etc are considered effeminate in some ways.

So I think it's partly that many men simply do not have the skills to present themselves well, to evaluate pictures of themselves (which, let's face it, can be hard for many people in different ways) and to communicate effectively. On top of that, for some there is a degree of belief that caring about those kinds of things is effeminate, i.e. not something they want to do, and that asking for help would be embarrassing.

I think there's a lot that you can talk about as to why this is, but fundamentally, I think the biggest factor is men simply don't know how to present themselves well or to even see that they are presenting themselves poorly. In other words, what is obvious to the viewer is not at all obvious to the men making these profiles.
posted by ssg at 10:43 AM on November 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


When I was online dating a decade ago I don't recall women's pictures being all that polished - I mean you can find at least as many articles (msyogyny) making fun of women's dating photos as mens. Unless there has been a seriously dramatic change. Best I can find Tindr is 38% women and 62% men, therefore women can be more critical of men's photos than men can be of women. I would guess every other site is that way too. I can remember getting messages from women who were very obviously staff of the dating site back in the day responding as part of their job.

Maybe it's just a perception difference - men are annoyed that women don't message back and women are annoyed at the large number of lazy photos because that expresses the different ways they experience online dating.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:26 PM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Presenting yourself in photos so as to be attractive to women, requires some kind of mental model of how women might think and what they might find attractive.
Most women are pretty well practised at imagining the motivations of men and predicting their likely actions, but the reverse is not equally true.
posted by quacks like a duck at 3:17 PM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Note in the charts above the up spike in “met in bar or restaurant.” In data science, the technical term for these reporting individuals is “liars.”

While I suspect that many of the recent "met in a bar etc" claims are actually "met online; arranged first in-person meeting in a bar or restaurant," for older ones, that may not be true. I have met partners at public places - not so much bars because I don't drink, but conventions, RenFaire, and similar places. If I were more outgoing, I'd probably have met partners at concerts.

I'm pretty sure most of the people who claimed they met in a bar in 1980 were not hiding their "actually made contact online first" answer.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:14 PM on November 20, 2019


I think the up spike he’s referring to is the one from 2000 onwards, co-incident with the shift to online dating ErisLordFreedom.
posted by pharm at 12:33 AM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


Presenting yourself in photos so as to be attractive to women, requires some kind of mental model of how women might think and what they might find attractive.

Yes it does and it in real life there is no one male or female 'presentation' that accurately captures what men and women find attractive and thus people form subgroups around different looks, which seems to work. ICP fans would be one extreme example. Online dating doesn't really exclude those subgroups as well as IRL dating and as such preppy daters might find ICP fans disgusting in real life. If you personally find some of those offputting in photos, I'm not sure it's de facto that men don't care what women like in their dating profiles but rather that online dating doesn't culturally segregate as well as IRL does.


To be more specific, if you are going to blanketly state that 'women' don't like car photos, gym shots, etc, I think that is totally wrong. Have you ever seen a small rural town newspaper? Those fishing photos (both men and women) are in the newspaper nearly every week, so a subset is very proud of them and what they signify.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:32 AM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


To be more specific, if you are going to blanketly state that 'women' don't like car photos, gym shots, etc, I think that is totally wrong.

Literally no one has said this, no, not even me. I mentioned gym photos as a follow up to saying that men posting pictures of themselves dripping with sweat is a weird choice. I mentioned the number of men who take pictures of the bottom of their chins while sitting in the driver's seat of their cars. Characterizing these classics of the online dating photo genre as unilaterally declaring women to be repulsed by car photos and gym shots is, uhhhhh, weirdly familiar of a lot of the miserable parts of online dating, where what I actually said has been reduced-- by multiple people! -- into a much less complex and more risible claim.

But in general, I think a lot of this discussion is depressingly familiar-- ohh, men have trouble thinking about what women like about men! And yet the final takeaway from the OP is somehow that women are STILL too choosy, wherein "too choosy" = "prefer to contact men they find at least slightly or potentially attractive." Yes, even when their photos suck. Yes, even when their posts contain a few red flags. Still too picky! Incredible stuff.

I cannot tell you how many women I know are condemned as "too picky" for not wanting to go on dates with strangers whose profiles repel them. By their friends and families. By men on the dating sites. By people in this thread characterizing this choice as somehow a toxic part of consumer culture. Weirdly, I almost never see anyone suggesting that men should try to go out with women they don't find attractive-- oh, right, because "men are such visual creatures," another old chestnut, but also it isn't their fault if they don't know what their own photos look like.

We have a murderous radicalizing movement working internationally that is based on "women shouldn't get to have any preferences about who they date or fuck," and it is exceedingly grim that the same thread is running all the way through this discussion here as well. The bare minimum standard that some people have mentioned of "it would be nice if men could post a picture that shows their face and maybe they could smile in it" has been met with "well some rural women like fishing." I mean, okay????? great rebuttal to the actual facts in evidence and discussed extensively in the OP.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:57 AM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


There's literally someone arguing in favour of self-abnegation in this thread.
posted by Acid Communist at 1:19 PM on November 22, 2019


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