OkCupid is flattering you

By James Cook on September 3rd, 2013

It starts with a gold star. From there, you’ll learn about how appealing your personality is and how much people want you. At least, that’s what dating site OkCupid wants you to think.

Once you’re inducted, you’ll see the number of users who have liked your profile. Just to make sure that you get the message, the number appears underneath that big gold star. Positive reinforcement is deployed just hours after joining. OkCupid is patting you on the back, whispering in your ear: “You did the right thing.”

You’re immediately encouraged to answer some questions about yourself. Watch as the maximum percentage number increases, eventually reaching ninety-nine per cent. This, says the site, is the highest possible score that you could match with someone – a tantalising figure indeed.

After a couple of weeks, and perhaps a few conversations with other members, OkCupid emails you with “Great news!”

"Great news!" from OkCupid

This email looks like the result of complex analysis using OkCupid’s matching algorithm. Technical language abounds, drawing you into the idea that people really do want you “so bad”.

Sadly, this email means next to nothing. Almost every member of the site receives this complimentary message. Even users who have only filled out a username, age and gender receive the exact same missive. The giant green “Approved!” simply means that you are not classed as a spam account.

The final stop on the OkCupid charm offensive is acceptance into the secret subset of “attractive members”. The site sorts people into two different groups: hots and nots. Everyone starts off as a “not”. Users that the site deems “hot” are hidden until you reach an unknown set of criteria.

OkCupid sends you an email when you reach “hot” status. It’s comedy gold:

"You Are Hot" email from OkCupid

While the message claims that you’re now considered one of the most attractive people on the service, that’s not necessarily true. Users have found that simply adding a vaguely interesting profile image will make other users click through to their profile, which is enough to award them “hot” status.

Why is OkCupid sending emails informing people that they have reached some threshold of click-throughs? Well, sheer flattery.

Users on a dating site won’t interact with each other unless they feel good about themselves. And the easiest way for OkCupid to make you feel confident is by flattering you. The infamous “You are hot” email is the most blatant form of obsequiousness that the site engages in.

“Elite status”, “You are hot” and “The world is your oyster” are just some of the compliments that have featured in various incarnations of this message.

In fact, a previous version of the “You are hot” email ended with the following phrase:

We don’t send this email to everyone on OkCupid. Go ask an ugly friend and see.

Not content with simply building up your own self-esteem, OkCupid wants you to think of your friends as “ugly”, further reinforcing your own superiority – and the likelihood you will use OkCupid more often to find someone who deserves you.

After reaching this rareified level of attractiveness, visiting the home page reveals to you an entirely different set of users. The previous matches are gone, replaced with a plethora of attractive users that were previously invisible and uncontactable.

Gone are the weirdos; gone are the ugly people. You have now been ushered into the VIP pen of the dating site, where the walls are lined with false pleasantries.

Gone, too, you quickly realise, are the more fragrant profiles.

A weird OkCupid girl
This girl’s profile is hidden once you reach “hot” status.

So what have you gained from your time on OkCupid? An artificial ego boost. A computer somewhere in the world has dispatched a set of emails designed to hit the sweet spots in your brain and make you feel confident.

Is there any value in the artificial world of online dating? Sure, some people are having the time of their life. A pick-up artist going by the name of “Single Dad Swag” explains the virtues of OkCupid on an online forum for PUAs to discuss their conquests:

“I’ve been using these ‘dating’ websites to score vagina for years now, and it has been ridiculously productive for me. I find that establishing rapport with them prior to meeting puts you on the fast-track to the bang. Generally speaking, you’re missing out on quality pussy if you dismiss the online scene completely.”

And if that doesn’t persuade you to get yourself fast-tracked to the land of the beautiful people, I don’t know what will.