The social network is a vast relationship minefield where people try to impress others and posture for feedback. It’s a virtual world, but it has real impact on relationships. This is partially because the phoniness and distance of being online makes it easy to lie. One survey found about 25% of women post things on Facebook that are exaggerated or completely untrue. These usually involve trying to make their lives sound more interesting, like saying they are “Chillin with some friends at a restaurant” when they are actually home watching reality TV, or, “Just had an intense meeting with the VP L” when they were snoozing at their cubicle. Some lies were about alcohol use, holidays, or relationship status. Being online tempts people to share exaggerated details about their life, emphasizing cool details: “Totally surprised to get an award at work!” (this is known as the humble brag). They are less likely to share unflattering things, like: “Just ate four Krispy Kremes.” Researchers looking at online deception concluded that the pressure to present a front is strong, but ultimately leaves people feeling more disconnected and alone. It isn’t particularly fulfilling to get “likes” for fake behavior. Smart technology can also tattle on users. It doesn’t impress friends if your post says you are at a hip concert but your location setting says you are in your apartment.
It is worse on online dating profiles, where as many as 81% of people misrepresent themselves. It’s not that people hate long walks on the beach, but many pretend they are thinner or richer than they actually are. Women in their twenties claim to be about five pounds lighter; in their thirties about seventeen pounds lighter; and in their forties about nineteen pounds lighter. Men exaggerate their income and education, and Photoshop out their bald spots. Some fudge their relationship status and others claim to love kids when they really just think they are sticky and annoying. This type of deception is so common many experts suggest it is acceptable or even expected. Putting one’s best face forward, it seems, often involves digital enhancements.
There is a reason for all this deception. It works. A flattering picture will get more interest than a lousy one (so it may be a good idea to stop by the glamour shots booth at the mall), and women without pictures will get only half the responses of those with photos. Men who say they earn over $250,000 a year will attract 156% more interest than those who say they earn less than $50,000. Interestingly, only 20% of people admit they lie on their dating profile, but when those 20% were asked how often others lie, they assumed that about 90% do. So, those who were honest about their lying were accurate about everyone else.
While questionably effective, online deception can be dangerous. One client of mine found that two of the guys recommended to her had the exact same dating profile. “It was a pretty impressive,” she said. Both included: “Engineer, lost his wife to cancer, loved snuggling…” We couldn’t figure out if one ripped off the other or if they both bought a bogus profile from the same source. Another guy who was eagerly chatting with a babe with the nickname, “Luscious Lipz,” found out that she was actually a 13-year-old punk named Josh. This is called “Catfishing,” after a documentary movie from 2010 (and subsequent MTV show) where sketchy online relationships turn into awkward real life encounters. This often involves completely fake identities, as in the case of Manti Teo, who was a Heisman candidate football player for Notre Dame in 2012. He received public sympathy for the death of his girlfriend who he was in an online relationship with, but she was later found out to be a living man who had been leading him on.
The foundation of a good relationship is trust, so tread cautiously online as you get to know others, and be accurate as you represent yourself. It may be tempting to lie on social media or the online Meet Market, but it isn’t the best path to an honest relationship.