Washington, D.C. is a spectacularly intimidating place to undertake the experiment of online dating. Everyone is educated, well traveled, and athletic. PhDs, MDs, JDs. Profile pictures from Paris to Petra. Aspirations to complete a triathlon. These are a sampling of some of the achievements featured on a run-of-the-mill D.C. dating profile.
At this point, I'm hardly floored when I happen upon the profile of some guy who claims to have been to 4 different continents in the past 4 months. After all, the dude whose profile I was checking out yesterday said he had been to every continent except Antarctica! And -- oh! -- this new guy has a MBA and a law degree, and he ran the Marine Corps Marathon in under three hours, and he speaks French!
I'm not kidding. People like this exist. If you don't believe me, just come to D.C. They're all here.
According to most recent U.S. Census data, 50 percent of people living in the District have a bachelor's degree or higher, so it's not surprising that U.S. News and World Report ranked D.C. as America's third most-educated city. And with these brains comes some pretty impressive brawn; online personal finance site Nerdwallet ranked D.C. number 7 of the 15 healthiest cities in America. What with all our easily accessible parks and bike lanes, there's really no excuse to not be out and about.
Washington is incredibly diverse, filled with transplants from all over the world. Obviously, dating here is very exciting. On any given night, you could find yourself meandering around the national monuments, or sipping wine at one of the city's many outdoor cafes, discussing backpacking adventures through Asia, or something as obscure and wonky as the similarities between the urban layouts of D.C. and Paris.
So, then why -- in a city that has seen an unprecedented influx of such young, successful people with the coolest of stories and the most unique of perspectives -- are so many of us D.C.-dwelling online-daters single?
To quote Ian Kerner, a nationally-recognized sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, "If online dating hasn't led you to your perfect match, perhaps the issue isn't that you're too choosy, but rather that there's too much choice."
In a city like D.C., we are inundated with incredible choices, all of which are laid out so neatly before us on our computer screens. With the click of a button, we scroll through hundreds of jaw-dropping online dating "resumes." Becoming jaded, crippled by too many options, is inevitable.
You're just one more person in the sea of people with a law degree, top-secret security clearance, all-access pass to the halls of Congress, worn-in passport or a multilingual book collection. So how do you differentiate between the equally exceptional? You make snap judgments, that's how.
This guy is wearing a puka shell necklace. Nope.
Hah! This guy took a shirtless picture of himself in front of a mirror. Next.
Oh... look at this guy. Yeah, he looks great. Message!
Superficial? Sure. Effective? Absolutely.
This quick decision-making is the product of millennia of evolution. In the words of best-selling author of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell, "When you meet someone for the first time... your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions... I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good."
Scientific data from the first study using real-world dating to examine how the brain makes fast romantic judgments suggest that people are pretty adept at knowing who would interest them based purely on a photograph. I can attest to that. I've glanced at hundreds of the aforementioned impressive profiles, but only a few that really caught my eye, featuring a goofy grin or clever glance that somehow manage to scream "compatibility!"
The science of attraction is still a mystery that eludes scientists and helpless romantics alike. But one thing is for sure, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Maybe worth more, even, than that polished, page-long resume.