When I talk with people who date online – and I’ve spoken to MANY – one of the top complaints I hear is that when you finally manage to schedule a date with someone, they don’t turn out like you expected. And let’s face it, most of the time this feeling is accompanied by disappointment, not pleasant surprise.

Here are some common examples:

  • She looks older in person than her photos indicated.
  • He was engaging over email, but had less to say in real life.
  • Her profile said she works out 5+ times per week, but her idea of fitness is walking the dog, not the ass-kicking jujitsu classes you’re obsessed with attending.
  • His profile seemed so interesting, but in person you felt no chemistry.

Pretty much everyone who’s ever dated online has experienced this, and that dissonance between expectations and reality throws off many an online dater. Part of the problem is that deception is a common problem in online dating – people may post photos that don’t represent what they look like today, or they may lie about height, weight, age, or income. However, in many cases, the person you meet isn’t what you expected, but not because they deceived you…

It’s because you had unrealistic expectations.

Managing expectations is a HUGE component in online dating success. Many of the online dating-related complaints and burnout I witness stem from expectations that are too lofty, too idealistic. And one way we inadvertently raise our expectations too high is to expect people to closely resemble our perceptions of who they are. Often, this is an unconscious process where we develop an attraction to a photo or form an impression of who a person is based on the profile; they offer up a few details, and we fill in the blanks. And when that person fails to live up to this mental image, it can be disconcerting.

So what do you do about this?

Lower your expectations. Accept right off the bat that no matter how honest people are in their online dating profiles, their real-life persona will often surprise you. Why is this?

  • Photos Only Show So Much

People don’t look exactly like their photographs. A photo is a 2-dimensional representation of a human being, capturing the mood, setting, wardrobe, hair, and lighting effects from a mere moment in time. Think about all the photos you have of yourself: some are great, some are awful, most are average. Chances are, you pick the best ones to post online. And so does everyone else.

  • Writing Is Hard

Most people aren’t writers. It’s a rare person who can capture the essence of who they are in two short paragraphs. In fact, most people struggle with this and create write-ups that are generic and filled with overused phrases you’ll see in hundreds of other profiles. This makes it easier for us to fill in the blanks and create an idea of who a person is.

  • Emails Aren’t Real Conversations

You can glean a bit more information from emailing or instant messaging someone, but you still won’t get a fraction of what you’ll get in person. Some people are flat and dull over email, but not in person. Others are quite the novelists over email, but have little to say in person.

In other words, people are multi-dimensional and profiles aren’t. Yes, when you’re browsing, go ahead and take a look at the photos, read the paragraphs, and check out the criteria. If you see any red flags, move on. If you find someone even a little attractive or interesting, and they feel the same way, set up a meeting. Go in with an open mind. See who winds up sitting across from you, the real human being in all their multifaceted magnificence. He or she may not wind up being your type, but who cares? You made a connection with a real person, and eventually one of those real people will become a worthwhile part of your life.

Dr. Christie Hartman is a dating expert and the author of Find The Love of Your Life Online and Changing Your Game: A Man’s Guide to Success with Women.
  1. I so agree with emails,texts,and chats not being a relationship.These things suck.I’d rather have a few face to face dates before even giving in to these things.I try not to set my expectations high.Just basic manners and conduct at least.

  2. It’s hard to know what your going to get into before you meet anyone online. Luckily there are more ways becoming available to keep people honest. Things like LuvRecord.

  3. Isn’t lowering expectations adouble edged sword. If we don’t lower them we may never communicate with anyone. However, if we do we have given in to the notion that Mr. or Ms. Right doesn’t exist in the on line dating world.

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