When you're swiping through an endless stream of shirtless dudes on Tinder, it's easy for a cute, witty, seemingly-normal guy to feel like The One.
You just know you're going to feel that "spark" the moment you spot him at the cafe, move in together immediately, and, one day, toast to the 50 years that have passed since you both swiped right. Except when you go out in real life, the spark never comes: He never asks you any questions, is grumpy to the bartender, and ghosts you three days after meeting.
Once again, you've overhyped a crush you met online, and you were sorely disappointed.
You only see a person's best side online.
Despite all the recycled pickup lines and mirror selfies you see on dating apps, most online daters are trying to create a great first impression: It could be why one-third of the highest-rated online dating photos are more than a year old, meaning they don't necessarily reflect a user's current appearance, according to an OKCupid study, which also revealed that many users exaggerate their jobs and salaries and straight-up lie about their height.
And because users can decide which details to share, they rarely mention their flaws. "People try to put their best foot forward in the initial stages of a relationship, so you're basically just finding out the positive stuff," says Dr. Catalina Toma, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The same holds true when you deviate from dating sites to stalk potential dates on other networks by going through their tagged photos and Insta comments. "Other people can contribute to your self-presentation as well," Dr. Toma says, suggesting that a person's online persona can make them seem very well-liked. That said, social media isn't always a true indicator that someone is a decent person or has meaningful friendships. And some people actually set themselves up to disappoint you.
The less you know about someone, the more likely you are to hype them up.
Online dating profiles tend to provide so little information that it's easy to hyperpersonalize, or put more weight on the things you know about a person, which intensifies your feelings towards them, according to a 2012 study on the subject.
So if all you know about a person is that he has a cool job and likes all the same Netflix shows as you do, you inevitably focus on the positives and get really excited, Dr. Toma says. Stalling the first date lets you fantasize even more more: The peak amount of time to chat before going on a real date is one week, according to a 2014 Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication study that compared early communication between online daters and the fate of their relationships. "The more time you spend online, the more you set yourself up for these hyperpersonal impressions,” Dr. Toma says, referring to exaggerated expectations for a person or date.
No wonder those two college kids who messaged each other for years didn't end up pairing up, after all.
Great texting chemistry can create an illusion of closeness.
When online dating, it's so rare to strike up good banter with a stranger that when you do, you may think you've developed a bond—even though you've never met IRL. But when someone who sounds social and witty during a rapid-fire, three-hour text convo is really shy or more closed off in person, it can feel like a letdown—particularly if they don't seem as into you in person.
"If you have somebody who’s a great texter, your explanation for that might not be 'Oh, he's a great texter,' it's, 'Oh, they really like me,'" Dr. Toma says, adding that the effect is exemplified when texting with someone who's super responsive. "How quickly someone gets back to you really, really matters—people hate having to wait for texts," she says.
You're still new to long-term dating.
If you've never dated anyone seriously and broken up with them, you're more likely to be more extra enthusiastic about your crush.
"I think it's almost a lack of learning from experience," says Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D, a former professor of psychological and brain sciences of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Once you've fallen for a seemingly-perfect person, only to be left heartbroken or increasingly bored by them, you learn to obsess less when someone sounds too good to be true. "It's knowing that it might start out great and then things might not go that well," she says.
You set your expectations sky-high.
There's nothing wrong with having high expectations for your potential partner. "High standards for a relationship, to me, say you want closeness, companionship, honesty, loyalty, trust," Dr. Whitbourne says. And in terms of the actual date? "It's your time, it's your energy—you're giving something up to go on the date. You might as well go into it with a positive attitude—it's just a matter of, 'How positive is it?'"
The answer isn't going into a date expecting it to be so terrible that even a sub-par experience feels decent. Instead, meet up for a date soon after swiping right, take everything you see online with a grain of salt, and still imagine that Wednesday night drinks could be fun. "There's something adaptive about having a positive attitude but not setting yourself up for disappointment," Dr. Whitbourne adds. So go forth and meet that Bumble boy for drinks with moderate expectations.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.