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Friday, June 21, 2024

How I Learned Confidence From Online Posers

As a 42-year-old, newly single mom, I was a little insecure when I joined Match to meet a nice guy. I described myself as a feminist law professor, interested in liberal intellectuals within five years, plus or minus, of my age. The people who contacted me only eroded my confidence, however. I got cryptic messages from much older and more conservative high school grads, pictured on their motorcycles. These suitors and I ostensibly had nothing in common. When they liked, winked, or waved, they seemed not to have even skimmed my profile.

“Hey, babe,” and “Hi, wanna ride?” engendered mild irritation. Yet I wondered if I was being too critical by declining queries from men who clearly wouldn’t be a fit for me or had interests that bored me. Almost shocking, however, was their confidence. “You just need to meet me!” and “We have a lot in common,” they’d declare with no irony whatsoever.

Nervous that I’d never find romance, I agreed to meet several candidates, in the hopes that we might find common ground. One was a butcher who was quite comfortable talking about cuts of meat and himself for hours. He didn’t appear to care about who I was or what interested me. I felt like a bargain brisket.

On another rendezvous, I met a self-described “50-year-old professional,” who showed up 20 minutes late to our date. I was already irked by his rudeness when he eventually informed me that he had to “come clean.” Professing that he was otherwise “honest,” he admitted, “I am a little older than my profile indicates.” He then revealed that he was actually 20 years older than me, which I’d already surmised when I laid eyes on him.

I learned that quite a few dating app users ignore posted filters and explicit preferences. They insist that if you just meet them, you’ll love them. They seem to think that you won’t notice or care that they’ve lied about their age, posted old pictures from when they were 30 pounds lighter, or professed to be erudite when they’ve never read anything longer than a horoscope. I, on the other hand, was looking for a connection. I’d never once considered misrepresenting myself. I know that I’m not perfect, but I felt dejected after wasting my time and energy (as well as theirs). Ultimately, I decided to do some research to find out what I was missing.

Sensing these folks had some level of confidence I was missing, I looked into the relationship between confidence and arrogance. I appreciate what Rose Morton suggested on Quora. She explained in her post that confident people understand their own strengths and skills. Morton then said that arrogant people in comparison, desperately portray what they think others want or expect to see. They want notice and recognition, even if it’s for falsehoods.

Morton not only pegged my admirers, but she also offered important guidance for me. Security, she pointed out, grows with experience and understanding. I had been a neophyte to online dating and naïve concerning human motivations. I needed to learn from my experiences and adapt in this brave new virtual world.

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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. A 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 science advisor to Match, 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 daters 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. 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 never would 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.

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