Pitfalls of Communication on Dating Websites

This web page is a psychological analysis why communication on dating websites often ends frustrating. As can be learned from relevant websites and print publications, frustration is common on both sides. It happens with man and women. Reasons are complex (multi-layered—please excuse educationese). No doubt, the reason often lays in different goals. Also, that people from different social cultural, and other backgrounds come together on a dating website that usually wouldn’t meet, is certainly a problem. I won’t touch these layers in this little essay. Rather I will focus on problems that are purely communicational.

We start with the commonplace assertion that mating focused communication between men and women starts with the first glance. The following table lists the goals that will be assessed as communication unfolds.

Goal Website Real Life
Attractiveness Picture not trustworthy Kind of first selector
Smell Impossible Most underestimated
Gestures Static pictures often misleading Important part of averbal communication
Intellect Written communication only Indirect evaluation, (averbal) communication
Behavior Written communication only (averbal) communication
Status Written communication only Observation, (averbal) communication

Physical Attractiveness

By physical attractiveness, we evaluate a prospective mating partner almost subconsciously. Psychological studies have shown that attractiveness subsumes various things quite important for mating:

  • Health (evaluated by facial symmetry)
  • A woman’s child bearing capacity (hip-to-waist ratio)
  • Intellect (inborn evaluation program that includes health and behavior)
  • Social status (health, facial feature, body size and shape, outfit, behavior)

Attractiveness generates some desire to mate that serves a first filter—the so called first impression. Again psychological studies have shown that this first impression is long lasting, even if there is clear evidence against it, so this first impression is hard to refute and under unfavorable circumstances it might be even tragically misleading.
This tragedy may be even exceptionally terrible on dating websites, as the only source of evaluating physical attractiveness is the photos that are embellished at best but often faked even. The archetypical victim is the man who felt that the woman he saw at the picture is the one he dreamed of, but who than has to learn the hard way about this woman’s evil character.
In conclusion, pictures on dating websites are not trustworthy at all and it can be even dangerous to one’s own psychological stability to rely to much on what was learned from these pictures.
Of course pictures on dating websites are not totally worthless. Next, follows what can be reliably deduced from those pictures’ physical appearance:

  • If a women looks unattractive, she certainly is. (As women tend to embellish themselves by various cosmetics, she probably would do so too when posing for her picture.) What further can be learned from her ugly picture is that she is either honest or stupid enough to believe that she looks pretty 🙂
  • A woman’s attractiveness is better evaluated from what you cannot see. If she hides her body, it is probably not well shaped, for instance.
  • If a man looks unattractive he certainly is too, but he is confident that this doesn’t matter.
  • If a man shows his naked body. He may or may be not be well shaped but he certainly is of low social status. In a middle class social status he risks repressions by such pictures. In height social status he would not show his muscles but symbols of his status.
  • If a man or a woman doesn’t show his face, he/she is either exceptionally ugly, promotes some deprecated form of sex, or is of higher social status. You have to find out by yourself.


Smell is so important for mating. As we humans evolved from animals for which chemical signals play a dominant role in controlling mating behavior, from signaling rutting season to triggering the actual act. The way how pheromones, the fragrances that we ooze, actually control our sexual behavior is not yet well understood. We know that humans since time immemorial have tried to override this control by various perfumes.
What is well known already about this pheromone system is that woman are particularly good at sniffing out kinship. A woman can smell if her genes are similar to that of a man and she feels the more attracted the more the man’s genes are unlike her’s. This phenomenon is evolutionary explained. Children of parents with different genes are more likely to be healthy.
Based on that knowledge some men developed the so called T-shirt test: See your favored girl after heavy physical exercise without having changed your T-shirt. If she doesn’t turn away disgustingly or if she even becomes excited, you have a good chance to have good sex with her.
Back to our dating websites, there is no need to mention that smelling out each other is impossible in the first place, but that smell is so important has to be kept in mind when first dating personally. It may cause unexpected frustration in a couple.


Gestures are important in so many respects. They are are an essential component of communication. We call it averbal communication. About 80% of our communication goes averbally, at least when we see each other. There are people who are exceptionally good at averbal communication. Often those haven’t developed a more sophisticated method of verbal or written communication. That’s to their great disadvantage on dating websites. That’s their major cause of frustration. There is no way out save learning written communication 🙂
An other aspect of gestures I’d like to mention here it is the aspect of symbolizing. There is a wide variety of gestures that signal physical and social well-being, social status even.
All things considered, messaging through a dating website truncates a quite important part of information so important to evaluate a prospective mating partner.

We now switch to aspects that can even improve by written communication. Not surprisingly these are aspects that have but recently evolved as scripture did.


It is commonplace that intellectual capabilities of a person can be evaluated by written texts. Teachers and professors do it all day long. Not only grammar and spelling but also coherence of thought can be judged.
What has to be kept in mind is that an intelectually satisfying partner doesn’t automatically make neither a good sex partner nor a god husband/father or a good wife/mother.

Social Behavior

Social responsibility can be tested by such written contests as asking what resources would be payed for a child in need for medical help, or to save animals, or protect the environment. There are various such programs around and I believe they exist but for the sole purpose to test mutual social responsibility.

Social Status

Social status is difficult to evaluate anonymously, but it becomes obvious as soon as anonymity is left behind. Til this moment it is kind of an intellectual challenge to query social status and to lay traps for possible lairs.


These conclusions can be drawn:

  • The more intelligent the more prospective mating partners will profit from website dating.
  • A quite successful dating website relationship may not last in real life.
  • The best place to find a partner for successful mating is at work.
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