There's a very familiar sight as a straight woman on dating apps in 2018: mirror selfies of well-oiled, buff, stereotypically hot men sucking in their bellies to reveal a set of perfectly sculpted abs. But new findings suggest they needn't bother – looking "average" could serve up better results in their online quest for love.
In the biggest piece of research of its kind, Oxford University's Internet Institute analysed 150,000 heterosexual online dating profiles and a decade’s worth of communication data from dating site eHarmony, and found that "average" looking men receive more messages from women.
Straight women are more likely to message men who rate themselves as 5/10 for attractiveness than men who believe they're a solid 10, likely because they're perceived as being more faithful and reliable. However the study, "Computational Courtship: Understanding the Evolution of Online Dating through Large-scale Data Analysis", found that men aren't as forgiving and looks matter more to them. Men are more likely to message women with a self-rated attractiveness score of between 8-9 out of 10.
One of the academics involved in the research, Taha Yasseri, professor of computational social science at the University of Oxford Internet Institute, explained the finding thus – people may think they stand little chance messaging someone they consider a 10/10 for attractiveness because they lack confidence, so instead plump for someone they consider good looking but not intimidatingly so.
It "has to do with the self-esteem of the person who is checking the profile," he said. "They might think 'I am not that good looking, and if I take someone who is much better than me, I might have issues, I might be a bit worried about the faithfulness of my partner'."
Another of the study's standout findings was also pretty dispiriting, given the rise of dating apps like Bumble (and now Tinder) which let only women initiate the conversation. Traditional gender roles and expectations still dominate modern dating, with men still 30% more likely than women to make the first move – a figure that has increased from 6% in 2008 to 30% in 2018. Even more dishearteningly, when women do pluck up the courage to make the first move, they receive 15% fewer messages than men.
Cheeringly though, single straight people seem to have become "more tolerant" and progressive over time. Men and women are both less likely to care about a partner's income or education level than they were in the past.
The study also looked at the variables that predict online dating "success", namely, the number of messages received. For women it's most important to show yourself to be athletic if you want a date. Presenting yourself as romantic and altruistic are also likely to increase your chances, while suggesting you're anxious or clever (yes really, despite how far feminism has come!), could actually count against you.
Meanwhile, men fared better the more photos they included on their profile, and scoring highly on athleticism, agreeableness and altruism also helped them in their journey towards finding love.