I’m confused why people are so bad at dating. It seems to me like there are tons of $20 bills lying on the ground which no one picks up.

For example, we know that people systematically choose unattractive images for their dating profiles. Sites like PhotoFeeler cheaply (in some cases, freely) resolve this problem. Since photo quality is one of the strongest predictors of number of matches, you would think people would be clamoring to use these sites. And yet, not many people use them.

In the off-line dating world, it surprises me how few self-help books are about dating. Right now, zero of the top 10 Amazon best-selling self-help books are about dating. I see only two dating books in the top 50: The 5 Love Languages and Super Attractor. To the extent these books exist, they often have little to no empirical support; my guess is that horoscopes are the most frequently read source of dating advice. Evidence-based books like Mate are less widely read.

Possible Solution #1: Inadequate Equilibria

It might be that we are in an Inadequate Equilibrium. Eliezer proposes three general ways in which seeming inefficiencies can exist:

1. Cases where the decision lies in the hands of people who would gain little personally, or lose out personally, if they did what was necessary to help someone else;

This doesn’t seem very compelling in the case of online dating. Anyone could choose to use PhotoFeeler for themselves, for example.

2. Cases where decision-makers can’t reliably learn the information they need to make decisions, even though someone else has that information

Again, this isn’t compelling. PhotoFeeler clearly lets you know what other people think of your photos.

3. Systems that are broken in multiple places so that no one actor can make them better, even though, in principle, some magically coordinated action could move to a new stable state.

Regressions done by Hitsch et al., as well as common sense, indicate that improving your own photos, even if you do nothing else or nothing else changes about the world, does make a significant impact in your likelihood of finding a good partner. So again, this seems uncompelling.

Possible Solution #2: Free Energy

I’ve seen a number of novice rationalists committing what I shall term the Free Energy Fallacy, which is something along the lines of, “This system’s purpose is supposed to be to cook omelettes, and yet it produces terrible omelettes. So why don’t I use my amazing skills to cook some better omelettes and take over?”
And generally the answer is that maybe the system from your perspective is broken, but everyone within the system is intensely competing along other dimensions and you can’t keep up with that competition. They’re all chasing whatever things people in that system actually pursue—instead of the lost purposes they wistfully remember, but don’t have a chance to pursue because it would be career suicide. You won’t become competitive along those dimensions just by cooking better omelettes. – An Equilibrium of No Free Energy

It’s possible that people don’t actually want to find good mates. Maybe they just want to seem as though they are trying to find good mates, or something. This would be consistent with dating advice being so evidence-free: people really want to signal that they care about finding good mate (which they can do by leaving a copy of Cosmo conspicuously out on their coffee table), but don’t actually care about finding a good mate (so they don’t care if Cosmo actually has good advice).

I’m pretty skeptical of this. If I was forced to guess only one thing that humans actually, really, really really really, valued as a terminal goal, “find a good mate” would be pretty high on my list of guesses. It’s the thing we have millions of years of evolutionary pressure towards prioritizing. I might even go so far as to suggest that all the other markets which are efficient are efficient largely because of people’s desire for romantic success: quants find arbitrage opportunities in the stock market because they hope that this financial success will translate into romantic success, etc.

So why is it that people – including people who devote their lives to finding arbitrage opportunities – leave so many metaphorical $20 bills on the ground when they start dating?

I remain confused.


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This seems like a misapplication of the concept of efficiency. The reason that a $20 bill on the ground is surprising is that a single competent agent would be enough to remove it from the world. Similarly, the reason that the efficient market hypothesis is a good approximation isn't that everyone who invests in the stock market is rational; instead, it's that a few highly informed individuals working full time are doing a great job at using up inefficiencies, which causes them to go away.

For every example that you pick, it's certainly true that some people are taking advantage of it (some people are using PhotoFeeler, some people have read Mate, etc), but there's no reason why this would translate into the advantages going away, or would automatically lead to everyone in the dating scene doing it. (Indeed, if someone is highly successful at dating, they're more likely to disappear from the dating scene than to stay in it.) Thus, it's highly disanalogous to efficient markets.

My main point is that humans are frequently unstrategic and bad, absent a lot of time investment and/or selection effects, so there's no particular reason to expect them to be great at dating. It may be true that they're even worse at dating than we would expect, but to draw that conclusion, the relevant comparisons are other things that lay people do in their spare time (ryan_b mentions job search, which seems like a good comparison), while theories assuming perfect rationality are unlikely to be useful.

(Another reason that humans are sometimes good at things is when they were highly useful for reproduction in the ancestral environment. While finding a mate was certainly useful, all of the mentioned examples concern things that have only become relevant during the past few hundred years, so it's not surprising that we're not optimised to make use of them.)

My model for this is that there are strong norms against optimization. Specifically we are supposed to be genuine, which is to say conduct ourselves in dating as we would normally conduct ourselves, such that the people we date get an accurate view of the "real" us. Optimizing your photos and strategizing for maximum number of connections to your profile is not genuine because you wouldn't normally do them, so people don't.

This works for explaining how badly people feel when they try to get dates and fail consistently. For a person following the norm of being genuine, failure to secure a date means that they are genuinely undesirable. I'm confident we'll all agree that such a feeling cuts to the quick.

I think we can also profitably compare the situation of online dating to a similar situation in job seeking. In this case the norms for being honest are much weaker; there is a widespread understanding that this is a game that is routinely strategized on up to and including deception, and being rejected from a job is correspondingly less hurtful than being rejected for dates. Further, there is a huge profusion of resume review, interview prep, and search optimization services. These get routinely used.

The distinction between the interface (resume, job portal, interviews) and the goal (doing work for pay) allows people comfort with being strategic about the former. The norm of being genuine obfuscates this in the case of dating sites and relationships.

My model for this is that there are strong norms against optimization. Specifically we are supposed to be genuine, which is to say conduct ourselves in dating as we would normally conduct ourselves, such that the people we date get an accurate view of the "real" us.

From what I have seen of online dating profiles, this view is extremely rare amongst the general population, and even rare amongst members of the rationalist community. Anectodally, people tend to be even more dishonest in their dating profiles than they are irl. Most people don&ap... (read more)

Thanks! I agree that trying too hard or seeming fake is a big turnoff and would decrease your chances of success, but choosing better photos seems like a pretty covert activity (and one which seems to have reasonably high social approval).

I agree that choosing good photos is both covert and has high social approval. But the important feature of the norm of being genuine is that people simply don't evaluate their chances of success: instead, whatever success they happen to get is evidence of how attractive they are. But dating profiles are still relatively new, and their saturation in the dating world is very new. I expect that the norms will shift to accommodate them. Consider that it remains totally normal for people to put more effort than usual into the clothes they wear for a date; profile photos seem like they will probably slide into the same position as wearing a nice shirt, with mostly the same considerations.

My experience is that most of the men I've talked to who are into self-help have at least passing familiarity with the pickup community, and have read at least one book on it. But no one wants to say so and everyone plays dumb. For similar reasons, most of the PUA product sales are eBooks and DVDs(that you don't have to be seen reading/watching and can purchase seperately).

I think one of the things you're seeing is not a lack of desire/demand for consumption, but a lack of desire to advertise that consumption.

The people who date are those that have not found a partner.

The people who go on the "dating scene" are those who cannot find a partner from their existing social circles.

The people who use dating sites are those who have been unable to find a partner in any face-to-face venue.

If people who date are bad at dating, perhaps this is for the same reason that learner drivers are bad at driving.

A simple answer here but the whole concept is rather new to the human species.

Better strategies don't control much of the variance in outcomes. Photo optimization is a notable exception. Photo optimization is a huge part of what social media even is for young single people.

One possibility is that people actually don't care that much about their dating success. It's not that they're chasing some other orthogonal goal, like seeming "as though they are trying to find good mates" but rather they just actually don't care that much. The large majority of people don't face significant difficulty finding someone to date, and those who do are likely not helped much by these types of aids (eg. they're too ugly; they have no personality; they never talk to people they're interested in).

Another contributing factor is that using these types of tools feels unnatural and inauthentic. People don't want to think that they have to use tools like these to find someone; they should just be themselves.

Generally, I think that it's a variant on the Free Energy hypothesis. However, it's not that there is a side goal that caused them to lose their way, but rather that most people don't care that much. To stretch the omelette metaphor, you think that everyone is running a breakfast restaurant, while most people are cooking an omelette once a month in their home kitchen.

If you think it feels wrong that most people don't care, consider that you care enough about the subject to write a blog post about it so you're not an average person regarding dating.

If you think it feels wrong that most people don't care, consider that you care enough about the subject to write a blog post about it so you're not an average person regarding dating.

Thanks! This just increases my confusion though: the main thing that evolution optimized us for matters so little to the average person that they don't even want to write a blog post about it?

The main thing that evolution optimized for is simply having a child, not for having a child with the most attractive possible person. In fact - although this is probably straying too far into evolutionary psychology - it's better for the general success of the tribe when everyone has a kid, so it makes sense that people would optimize for wanting to have a kid with someone who wants to have a kid with them. Most people don't need to write blog posts to wind up together with someone who is at about the same social status as them, and same with things like using these photo selection tools.
I think this undervalues the evolutionary importance of having an attractive partner (see sexual selection [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_selection]). If I have an attractive mate then my children are more attractive and in turn will have more opportunities to have children, significantly adding to my overall genetic fitness. This process can lead to spectacular results [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisherian_runaway]. Introspecting purely on my base desires and not accounting for high level reasoning, I would trade ~3 chances to mate with a medium attractive person for one chance to mate with a highly attractive person. I wouldn't swap for people I find unattractive no matter how many. This suggests that, if I am typical of humanity, attractiveness of partner is actually more optimized for than simply having a child.
Group selection arguments are generally lose in data driven evolutionary analysis. If you have a kid with a person who has a lot of resources because they have the attractive characteristic of having a lot of social status and your mate passes down genes that make the child healthier and stronger, you are more likely to ultimately pass down your genes.

Well, one very obvious way in which No. 2 is true is that the overwhelming majority of people do not know about things like Photofeeler or Mate, can not infere that it must exist and thus do not do research to find it. Also it is not trivial to distinguish if a given tool / advice is any good.

Another aspect is that your assertion that there is little dating advice out there is just wrong. Just Google "Pick Up" or PUA.

But this probably is only a partial explanation.

A major missing piece might be that in the ancestral environment, sexuality and the social sphere were quite different from the modern day. Specifically, (the following points are mere speculation on my part.)

  • Good dating advice was already an established part of the meme pool, while bad dating advice was a memetic weapon of your competitors.
  • People knew everyone in the tribe rather well, so a lot of optimization/deception was simply not an option.
  • It was difficult to hide the fact that you are trying to optimize your sexual life. This effort itself probably signaled against you.
  • Sexuality and normal social relations were much more intertwined, and monogamy not the norm, so you were better off optimizing your social status and popularity as a whole rather than focusing narrowly on attracting specific people with unsustainable signals.
  • Radical self-improvement was probably not all that possible in the first place. When your genetics and the meme pool have had time to evolve for your environment, you have little to gain from trying to consciously improve, and a lot to lose.
  • Religion might also have been a factor in this; If the dating advice was influenced by the tribe’s religion, it is probable that it would optimize for things that are irrelevant or counterproductive.

Aside from these, I think you have not produced much evidence that people are bad at dating. Most of the examples you have provided seem to me to be the kind of things that the public is generally bad at. (Like, the public doesn’t use “evidence-based” books on most any subject.)

I've been out of the dating world for a long long time, so take these possibilities with multiple grains of salt:

1) Ambivalence about method. Many date-seekers aren't all that invested (or don't think of themselves as the kind of person who would be invested) in optimizing on those dimensions. Kind of the inverse of your "free energy" theory.

2) Intentional filter for partners who prefer the un-optimized profile.

3) They're getting "enough" matches without further effort in that part of the funnel, and are instead trying to optimize a later step in exploration of compatibility once matched.

How do you measure "success" at dating? It is not clear to me that most people are "bad" at it unless you define the criteria for success.

You could pick many plausible metrics (number of matches, number of replies to messages, number of dates, number of longterm relationships) but it seems unlikely that any of them aren't impacted positively for most people in the online dating market by having better photos. Do you have reason to think that two reasonable metrics of success would affect the questions raised in this post differently?

2Charles Zheng3y
I personally don't have a desire to maximize any of these numbers. Do you know anyone who explicitly wants to maximize "number of longterm relationships?" I was being Socratic but the point I was trying to make is that I don't think there exists *any* metric that can adequately capture what people are looking for in a relationship. Hence, it becomes difficult to conclude that anyone is being "suboptimal", either.
Interesting-ness of message exchange, enjoyability of dates, satisfaction in long-term relationships. All can be improved if the earlier filters have more candidates. But each stage is itself only satisficing, and doesn't directly improve with quantity (in fact, it may degrade).
Maximizing proportion of time spent in an enjoyable relationship seems to be the dominant metric for success at dating. It predicts a wide range of behaviors related to dating: * Partners rarely break up unless one of the following factors are met * They don't enjoy their relationship * They believe they can quickly go from their current relationship to another enjoyable relationship (i.e. cheating, breaking up, and then dating their paramour) * When people are single they often attempt to get into an enjoyable relationship * People express that they don't want their partners to break up with them * People complain about being single * People complain about being in a bad relationship * People don't complain about being in an enjoyable relationship It also accounts for what I believe are the dominant subjective valuations we give to other's dating ability. We think that a man who dates many different women is a successful dater, unless we think his relationships are mostly unenjoyable. We consider a woman who has been in a single long-term marriage to be a successful dater, unless we think she hates her husband. Most of the other proposed dating metrics measure our ability to shorten periods of companionlessness or being stuck in a bad relationship. This is done mostly by giving more options.

My experience: dating is just a wrong way to come to relationship. I have had several relationships and never through proper dating. I read "Mate" and it didn't help.

Totally agree. "Dating" is an artificial concept.

Meeting lots of people, spending time with anyone you click with, being honest about what you want and who you are (confidence) ...

can work wonders to finding a compatible mate.

How is that not dating? What do you mean by dating?

Thanks! Do you have an analogous confusion about why people are leaving metaphorical $20 bills on the ground? (E.g. you wonder why people are wasting all their time on Tinder instead of hanging out with their friends or whatever you think is more effective.) Or do you think that people are behaving in a pretty optimal manner?

Dating is over-advertise as an effective way of getting a GF, as it helps cafes, flowers sellers, girls themselves etc. In my experience, I've got GFs in two ways: 1) Relation evolved from friendship on a course of years. 2) I lived my own life, a girl fall in love at me based her own internal processes, she showed interest, I responded and we started dating. So, the secret is: live your own interesting life, and if a girl falls in love at you, start dating her. But stopped chasing these 9th and 10th!

"2. Cases where decision-makers can’t reliably learn the information they need to make decisions, even though someone else has that information

Again, this isn’t compelling. PhotoFeeler clearly lets you know what other people think of your photos."

I do actually think this is a bigger instance. There are *a lot* of dating resources, websites, blogs, books, methods. Some of these conflict with each other. Sometimes, the specific advice or guideline that a person needs (a dating book might say "be more confident" but this would not help someone who comes off as too cocky on their dating profile or in person). All of this, what we could noise, adds an additional "cost", what we call in economics a "friction cost". Also, to the vast majority of people, picking up a book, admitting that they need to change their own methodology, or doing accurate self-critique (maybe it's not me who is unappealing, maybe my pictures are bad; maybe I'm not coming across well vs WOMEN/MEN's STANDARDS R 2 HIGHH) isn't a small transaction cost at all.

Just like daters don't optimize their photo's with photo-feelers people writing job applications in countries where the job application has a photo don't optimize the photo either.

It seems to me like most people have a strange relationship to photo's that is irrelevant from any concerns about dating.

When self identity is attached to a given problem it's emotionally harder to think sanely about it.

Regarding pictures, I think you underestimate the effort required.

You need to get a phone or camera capable of taking good-looking picture, you need someone that is semi-competent at shooting, you need nice looking clothes and a good-enough looking background. These are all things that need to be planned/accounted for. It also takes time.

I don't especially enjoy doing these things, and it took quite a bit of willpower to grab a few nice clothes (I already owned!) and my brother (whom I trust) to go and shoot a few pictures (in my garden).

There is also a diminishing marginal utility of better pictures. If your pictures are ugly blurry messes of you in weird poses, then you stand to gain a lot. If they are already decent, the gain is less.

As others have pointed out, there is a pressure to be "genuine". I think this is not entirely stupid. If someone likes you for your good looking pictures but you never wear these kind of clothes / go to these kind of places, you're may be setting yourself up for failure.

On the other hand, in my own experience, getting matches on apps like Tinder has proved to be the bottleneck — people like me well enough when they meet me, but it's hard to shine whatever they like about me through the pictures. So sweetening the honeypot might not be that bad of a strategy.

Nevertheless, the sentiment that matches obtained through more "genuine" pictures might be better suited might not be wrong. I guess you have to use feedback: are you happy with the matches you get? Why? If you deem they're "low quality", maybe you should sell yourself more. If you have too many shallow matches, maybe you should filter more (but consider that this filtering might eliminate the matches you do find desirable). Said otherwise (a) an increase in quantity is not necessarily an increase in quality and (b) a decrease in quantity is not necessarily an increase in quality. But they might be.

Regarding pictures, I think you underestimate the effort required.
You need to get a phone or camera capable of taking good-looking picture, you need someone that is semi-competent at shooting, you need nice looking clothes and a good-enough looking background. These are all things that need to be planned/accounted for. It also takes time.

This is wrong. This summer I got some pictures taken from a professional photographer with professional equipment.

I put them on Tinder and then got less matches. A while later I put my new photo's on PhotoFeeler ... (read more)

I don't think we necessarily disagree. Photo feeler does not strike me as requiring a large effort. But taking new pictures did. (In my case the new pictures did work better, so that was a required step.) I think what you're saying here is that taking pictures wasn't a big effort for you (since just a friend could do it?). But for me too it was just my brother who lives with me and using my mobile phone. And objectively, I expect for some people this is cake-walk, but for me it felt very tedious (but at least I ended up doing it! though it required quite a bit of willpower, explaining why other people who are like me would end up never implementing this strategy).
What you said sounded like you assume putting effort into a photo shoot is important for quality and the belief that things are necessary makes it more effortful. Simply taking pictures at a high rate where many will be rubbish and picking the best ones to test on PhotoFeeler takes less effort.
I disagree. Intuitively, I'd imagine the amount of effort required to find an adequate one from the pool would correlate with the subject's base looks level. (FYI: I loosely define adequate here as a picture that would substantially increase your odds vs the average whatever that is. "Best" doesn't mean anything here to me. I could luck out with an aesthetically pleasing work of art, but if women swipe left, then tough break). I could take thousands of pictures along multiple angles and vantage points but if I'm either ugly or just not photogenic, then tough break.. Indeed, I would pose the opposite question: Why would someone like XoDarap just assume people are oblivious to the power of a good picture when a more charitable interpretation would take into account factors like looks, the pareto principle, photography skills, ethnicity, and general sense of anxiety involved in the whole process of having your picture taken Imagine being average in looks and new to a city like NYC and having to walk around all day taking selfies in choice locations or going through the wierdness of enlisting a friend just to get ONE good picture. Furthermore, imagine having as your competition the top ~10% of men (lookswise) who as you know receive 90% of the swipe, and that this 10% is likely comprised largely of men who are ethnically white AND have well taken pictures.... To cite one example: Myself. I paid about almost $800 in multiple photography sessions (in studio and outside). I've used that photo-feeler app. I even tried to learn photgraphy on my own. And with all that effort, my results were marginal at best (instead of 500 swipes to get a result... maybe ~450?). The crazy thing about this is that I'm not even ugly. So the answer is obvious... and this actually makes XoDarap's question almost borderline offensive Now this doesn't mean that unless one isn't a Stud, that you might as well give up on dating. Rather it requires one to think creatively with a bit of daring

Dating is complicated, and I'm no expert, but some ideas:

1. Using less-than-optimal-but-still-good pictures feels like maybe an unconscious balance involving countersignalling ("I don't need the best possible picture just to get a match"), a desire to make a good first impression ("Wow, you look even better than your picture!" is a better place to start than the opposite, especially since your date is someone who wanted to meet you even when they'd seen only said picture(s)), and a desire to find someone who will be a good match longer term ("will they still like me when I'm at my worst, or older, or just right now? See also the Rita Hayworth quote, "They go to bed with Gilda; they wake up with me"). I wonder if this is systematically much different on more hookup-oriented vs. relationship-oriented apps and sites?

2. Maximizing matches isn't the goal, finding the right matches in an enormous pool is. Putanumonit did a great piece on this ( https://putanumonit.com/2016/02/03/015-dating_1/ ), maybe some portion of that kind of advice caught on more generally?

3. Norms favoring explicit optimization are squicky in our society. Not just in dating, but in lots of places. See Robin Hanson, http://www.overcomingbias.com/2019/05/simplerules.html for non-dating examples. People want things like plausible deniability, and the need to not constantly optimize everything (Who wants to live their whole life, or relationship, with that kind of pressure? Who can sustain it indefinitely?) and may value partners who feel similarly. In practice this might also be a good way to avoid controlling, demanding jerks on the one hand, and higher-maintenance-than-you-prefer individuals on the other.

Maybe people aren't actually bad at dating, but bad (or willing) at forming and keeping meaningful relationships.

From your question, it feels like you're trying to understand why people are bad at dating (as a means to form meaningful or lasting relationships), but the point is that most people don't want to form meaningful lasting relationships, they just want to quickly or efficiently satisfy their temporary and more superficial needs for bodily and emotional pleasure, and often they can do that without going into "efficiency" about how well they attract dates or partners.

So it's neither solution #1 or #2, but

Solution #3:

People just don't actually care about "mates" in the sense of the type of mating that leads to solid relationships, what they're seeking is to satisfy their own needs.

For example, we know that people systematically choose unattractive images for their dating profiles. Sites like PhotoFeeler cheaply (in some cases, freely) resolve this problem. 

Nice. I didn't know about this. I am going to test some high-risk pictures that I was hesitant to put on my profile for a while. 

I also had to think of this Post about dating from Putanumonit:

First, the data. The most important post on OkTrends explains that women get a lot more messages if guys differ wildly in assessing their appearance, i.e. if some guys think they’re super hot and some guys think they’re unseemly, with no in-between. I looked at speed dating data from Columbia University and confirmed the effect for both men and women. When controlling for average rating of attractiveness, the variance in ratings correlated strongly with more people wanting to date you.

So not optimizing for average likableness might actually be in your interest when dating.

I have used Photo Feeler. I think it may not actually be terribly helpful in improving dating outcomes. Photo Feeler might get more people to respond to your messages or message you. But that does not necessarily translate to increased success in dating, if the goal is to find somebody who makes for a good life partner. The good life partner would presumably be a good enough match that they would respond to you or message you regardless of whether you had good or bad photos, within reason. Using Photo Feeler was also kinda rough on me emotionally, getting all my photos judged like that. Not to say I wouldn't use it again, but still.

To answer the more general question, maybe dating is just an extremely hard problem because it doesn't have general solutions. Everybody is different and is looking for something different in a partner and has their own quirks and preferences. And there's no simple algorithm to match them up. That seems like kind of a cop out response to me, it seems like enough effort should be able to solve the problem. But it's my best guess.

My second guess is more cynical. The dating apps actually benefit from people failing at dating. Because once people succeed at finding a life partner, then, (assuming they're monogamous, which is still the dominant norm) they no longer need the dating apps. So for instance, maybe Match actively made OKCupid worse after they bought it, because it was too good at matching people and kept them from making as much money off the more lucrative Match.

That last paragraph has some merit.  Plenty of folks need some help, guidance, or oppertunities in some form or another, but all the largest providers of such help have a perverse incentive to keep people dating longer - it's the only way they retain customers.  To the extent someone tries to run such a business on recurring charges, customer retention will inevitably become a KPI and of course you get what you measure...  Obvious fix to that is flat fee, pay only if successful pricing model (or similar).  At minimum, we need to stop in... (read more)

I do think Lanrian nailed it: there's no process ensuring fitness selection in dating. On the other hand, we are wasting an opportunity to go meta here: if everyone were capable of mimicking the features of a picture that make it successful, then those features should lose their importance, since they are not reliably signaling that someone is a good mate. If I'm not bright enough to see through a carefully planned image of a smile and a discrete cleavage, I am probably not bright enough to get a similarly attractive picture for myself. Plus, usual cognitive bias: I often mistake how much I like my pics (for the emotions they evoke, for example) with my assessment of their quality - and so irrationally rate them above average. But yeah, now i can use Photofeeler

{evolution + trust: truth, lies and consequences in small tribes + psychological effect of lying} {cons. [c]} = event observed here.

where cons. [c] = unknown constant of proportionality.

I find it interesting the amount of comments and karma a question about dating has attracted on a rationality website.

We are all biological creatures, however well we think we think and analysis and rationalise.

Pheromones play a bit part in attraction.

Sniffing out a potential mate in a crowd, rather than one-to-one encounters, will have a higher "success" rate.

Hormones a big influence on physiology and behaviour. We don't get a lot of say in that!

Easy answer:

(1) Learning via experience imposes costs (rejection, broken heart, etc.); so learning will be slow and tentative.

(2) People who get good enough (via talent or experience) generally exit the dating market (they find a partner). Whoever is left is either still learning (expensive) or a "player" who prefers serial dating / hooking up to a long-term relationship (LTR). There may be a few people gaming the system by having multiple partners (the stereotypical "alpha"), but I doubt this is a significant fraction.

So, in your opinion, what's the best way of learning how to date?

1Nicholas Garcia3y
You learn by doing it. Find someone you like (or who likes you) and start dating them! Without dating apps: * Join a few social/intellectual/school clubs or co-ed sports (e.g. running). Be a generally cool person and you'll find someone after a while. Or... * Go to lots of low-key house-parties thrown by friends, or throw them yourself. See if there is any chemistry with "friends-of-friends." In these situations there is lower risk for each of you since you've been "vouched for" by mutual friends, and you've seen each other in a low-stakes setting. Bonus points if you are the one hosting/organizing the party. With dating apps: * Think of fun things you'd like to do if you had someone along: e.g. hiking, comedy show, exploring downtown, bar-hopping, etc. * Use an app like "Coffee Meets Bagel" that limits how much time you spend on it each day. * For each person you "like", mention one thing written in their profile and one thing from one of their more adventurous photos (generally one towards the back). Say something like "You look so excited in that photo with the ____, there must be a good story behind it!" * This naturally starts the conversation on something and shows that you admire them in a way that other people may not comment on. * Keep the back-and-forth relatively short (just within one day). Ask if they'd like to meet on "Thursday at 7 for drinks at ___. If it goes well we can take it from there." Suggesting a hard time and place before asking their schedule is easier for them to say "yes" or "No, how about Friday at 6" instead of asking "when are you free." * To prepare for your date look at the map and make a short list of things to do / places to go depending on the mood of how the date is going: Chill, High Energy, Make-out spot, etc. Don't tell your date that you have additional options planned until you meet - just say "I have some ideas of additional places to go depending on ho

The strategies for finding a mate must have been highly optimized by evolution, and that likely included making us hesitant to deviate from evolved strategies. Perhaps in the ancestral environment, dating advice tended to be unhelpful, if not an outright sabotage from the competition, and so we evolved a strong resistance to paying attention to certain kinds of dating advice?

Perhaps in the ancestral environment, dating advice tended to be unhelpful, if not an outright sabotage from the competition

Perhaps this is true for most dating advice today, too.

Yes, there is also some good advice out there, but the problem is that if you can distinguish good advice from bad advice, you probably don't need the advice anymore.

In the ancestral environment, there wouldn't be such a thing as dating. Do chimpanzees "date"?

If you think having a girlfriend is like picking up free money I suspect you've never had one before ;)

12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:54 AM

I think one of the reason so many people are bad at it is that there is a lot of misinformation about the subject. Consider it is also kind of a taboo so it's hard for people to take it seriously. I also wanted to say that I think "Mate" is probably the worst book I've read on the subject.

Why did you think the book was so bad?

Generally bad advice. I found the book to be very well written, my only complaint is with the content. The beginning was good with some good introduction and very well written definition of some of the core problems/concepts. The rest of the book was just bad; bad advice and very vague in general. I've read many books on the subject, most have flaws in the sense that are heavily in ideology and/or somewhat poorly written, but they manage to at least get the basic facts right; this one left like the complete opposite.

Sorry, I'm bad at reviews.

So, Leafcraft, if any, what book do you suggest on the subject of dating?

As a general thing, I believe dating falls into one of those category of things that are better improved by simply practicing it; I wouldn't really recommend any books on dating per se.

I can, however, recommend certain books that better explain the nature of social interaction in general that I personally found very helpful and have had a positive impact on my dating life:

Games People Play

Influence: Science and Practice

The Laws of Human Nature

I might have better suggestions for more specific topics...

I'm noticing a lot of comments about the use of online dating websites. How are we using the word "dating" in this thread? Is it being used to mean "engaging in a systematic filtration of persons in search of a plausible recurrent event/romance/date partner"? I always used it to mean the practice in which you engage once you have found such a suitable partner. Just meeting people is not "dating" to me, and looking through pictures of people online is certainly not dating, as that seems to configure "dating" as unilateral which is out of keeping with the traditional use of the term. To me, dating is what happens when I have already met a person and we are seeing eachother regularly with a mutual understanding that we have mutual romantic interest and that these meetings are for our romantic emotional pleasure.

I didn't know that other people thought they were bad at dating, either. What is there to be bad at? You pick people you wind up not liking, over and over, or something? That doesn't seem to happen with friendships... Or is it that people select on the basis of liking people's personalities, but then they expect that person to function as a business/life partner with character virtues that make them competent and easy to work with, even though that was not what was selected for?

I do not understand why people using dating apps. It is very hard to gauge chemistry, which has a strong physical mannerisms component, through a profile. There is also something dissuading to me about the very fact of someone having a dating profile. It would make me feel like they just wanted something, anything, and I didn't flunk the criteria so I was good enough. I want to date someone who met me and despite having not been on the hunt for a partner, became personally interested in me and I them, on our own merits.

If PhotoFeeler or similar apps drastically improve your chances, why wouldn't dating apps offer to improve your picture? Surely they are interested in more interactions between users? Snapchat automatic filters show that it is not hard or resource-intensive to touch up one's picture to make it look much better.

I don't think the app has much of an incentive to do this – each individual person wants to look more attractive, but if everyone looks 10% more attractive I'm not sure the community as a whole is benefited.

Some apps do provide feedback on which photos you should choose though, which is kind of similar.

I think they do; Consider The League. It’s a somewhat exclusive dating app that does provide advice on your profile. An app that has a more attractive community is itself a more attractive app.

Is an attractive pic even what you want? Put a less attractive pic up to filter out the borderline cases. Anyone who wants to date you despite an ugly pic must really want you. Put up a glamor shot and you will be swamped in replies.

The amount of information that a dating profile provides doesn't allow someone to really strongly want you for deep reasons. In most cases people it will just be a sign of the person thinking that they don't have that many choices for pursuing a partner that looks better on paper.

Maybe most people do not think that they are bad at dating. They think that their pictures look great. They think that their profiles are good. Therefore they are not looking to optimise further. Not getting any dates is explained away by the faults in others.

Also nefore reading this post I had absolutely no idea that things like this exist so it would not have crossed my mind to look for something like this if I had to create a dating profile.

Someone might also think (either consciously or subconsciously) along the line of - this site is giving me feedback about me. I have a prior estimate on how datable/likable/pretty I am. Getting a lot of direct feedback on these aspects might make me re-evaluate my current position about me and that is scary. For some scary enough not to do it.

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