You probably experienced this phenomenon of human nature at school or work: There were certain people you weren’t sweet on at first, but as you got to know them, they became more and more physically appealing over time. The reason is that you came to appreciate the qualities that made them likeable – their sense of humor, their interest in your work or the fact that they shared their chocolate-covered almonds with you every afternoon– and your affection turned into attraction.
Well, there’s a way to create the same effect in the unnatural arena of online dating. It’s called meeting someone. There’s even an academic study to back it up. Researchers at the University of Kansas found that people’s perceptions of their matches’ physical attractiveness improved after they interacted with them in person.
In the study, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Communication Studies, the researchers asked one group of heterosexual undergraduate students to look at photos of 10 people of the opposite sex and rate their attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10. The students then met several of them for a 10-minute chat. Afterwards, they were asked to rate them again. Not surprisingly, they gave the people they had just met higher marks the second time around.
“Two characteristics played an important role in whether the rating changed,” explained lead author Jeffrey Hall, associate professor of communication studies. “One was social attractiveness, which is whether we think we could be friends. It’s not sexual attractiveness or romance, but likability. The other was combined sense-of-humor or being-a-fun-person measure. If you’re rated more highly in those two things, your appearance rating goes up more.”
The research findings might seem obvious, but they have important implications for online dating:
1) Don’t wait too long to meet matches after you connect with them
It might seem like a good idea to try to get to know people a little better by texting or talking with them before scheduling a date, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. You won’t improve your chances by dragging out the process and wooing them with funny videos or links to your favorite songs. If anything, you risk disappointing them when the persona you created online doesn’t match reality. Communicate with someone just enough to pique their interest and then seal the deal with your in-person wit and charm.
2) Don’t compare your matches to each other
One of the goals of the study was to determine whether the practice of scrolling through multiple profiles at once helped online daters form connections in real life. The researchers concluded that it didn’t. The reason is that daters ended up comparing their matches against other ones, rather than giving each individual a fair shot. Having fewer matches works in your favor. That’s why eHarmony does the matching for you, so you’re encouraged to evaluate a person’s attractiveness in the context of their personality, interests, and worldview to determine overall compatibility.
3) A good personality counts for a lot
One of the most interesting takeaways from the study was that attractiveness ratings went up most dramatically for people who didn’t rate high from the outset. (However, it’s important to remember that’s according to conventional beauty standards. All people are beautiful in their own way.) The good news is that if you feel self-conscious about your appearance, your other qualities that make you fun to be around can make up for your perceived physical shortcomings.
So enjoy the texting time with your matches. But get some face time as soon as possible. It’s true: To know you is to love you.
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.