How "Model Man Syndrome" Is Ruining Your Online Dating Chances

These days, it seems like most single women have tried online dating and the common consensus is that it’s far from perfect. At this point, it’s rote to wax poetic about how difficult it is to find lasting relationships online or via apps, so let’s dive into the why instead.

By Ella Carroll-Smith3 min read
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It’s always easier to blame other people for your own misfortunes in life, but I’ve been on and off the dating app game for a few years now with little success to speak of, so I had to start considering an uncomfortable alternative: is it possible that the problem I’m not saying there’s something wrong with me personally (although past boyfriends might beg to differ), but more so that there’s a problem with how I – and many others – go about online dating. 

The Vicious Cycle of Online Dating 

There’s an insidious online dating phenomenon among women that typically plays out like this: First, you match with a guy and establish a mutual interest and attraction. Then, you proceed to text or message with said guy for days, weeks, sometimes months. Finally, after all that build-up, you meet for a date in person, and – womp, womp, womp – you’re immediately underwhelmed. 

“He was nice,” you tell your friends after yet another unsuccessful date. “But I don’t know, there just wasn’t a spark.” So you move on, only to repeat the cycle again with the next guy. I’ve seen this exact situation play out many times over. It’s happened to me, it’s happened to my friends, and maybe it’s even happened to you.

All that messaging is setting yourself up for failure because you’re not really getting to know this man.

Here’s the problem: it’s natural to want to get to know someone before you meet them in person. You want to make sure that you get along and that he’s not secretly a serial killer, but all that messaging back and forth is setting yourself up for failure because you’re not really getting to know this man, you’re getting to know the man you want him to be. I’ve dubbed this “Model Man Syndrome.”  

What Is Model Man Syndrome? 

When you text with someone you’ve met online before meeting them in person, something else happens while you’re getting acquainted: you begin to form a version of the person in your mind. A version that probably has little basis in reality. You have an idea of what they look like and what their interests are, but you don’t have the whole picture. As women, we have high standards and expectations for men. Sometimes too high. When we don’t have the whole picture, we paint with bright colors and broad strokes and inevitably, the version we create is slightly better looking, and funnier, and richer, and suaver. 

Then you meet the guy in person and – surprise – he pales in comparison to your idealized version. Of course, he does! Because in all likelihood, no guy can actually live up to your Model Man. That doesn’t mean that the very real person now standing in front of you is bad or that it couldn’t work out, but you’re ruining your chance of getting to know this real and possibly great guy simply because he falls short of the better version you’ve invented in your mind. Model Man is derailing you. Model Man needs to go. 

When we don’t have the whole picture, the version we create is better looking, funnier, richer, and suaver. 

The advent of Model Man is not completely your fault. Our fantasies about what a relationship should look like have been fostered and perpetuated by the stream of romantic comedies Hollywood has churned out since we were mere babes. Our culture is so saturated in weepy love songs, muscled, gun-toting action heroes, and happily ever after stories that we’ve forgotten what real love actually looks like. While it might involve some weeping, it’s typically free of action sequences. Love isn’t a happily ever after – it’s a whirlwind of ups and downs, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. We all know that Hollywood has given us unrealistic expectations about love, but knowing and accepting are two completely different things.  

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. You can prevent Model Man from forming, at least to a degree. I know we hate phone calls in our society nowadays, but it’s time to bring them back. When you match with a guy, ask him to talk on the phone or FaceTime instead of texting incessantly. And if he refuses, that’s a red flag in and of itself. We’ve all seen Catfish. Or, here’s a novel idea: meet in person after you’ve established that he’s probably not a serial killer. Meet somewhere public and just talk – get to know the real him.  

One of the common woes I hear from friends about online dating is that they just wish they could meet someone organically in the real world. If you met someone at the gym or Trader Joe’s or wherever it is people meet these days, do you think you would text them incessantly before ever actually going on a first date? Probably not. You’d just go on the date, thus cutting Model Man off at the pass. Try to replicate that real-world romance with the person you meet online. 

Don’t text incessantly before going on an actual first date.

Now, before you throw rotten tomatoes at me, I’m not saying this phenomenon happens to everyone. I know some people who have met their husbands and wives online. And that’s great! But it does happen to a lot of people, and since online dating has gained in popularity recently, so has the rise of Model Man Syndrome. It’s also something that’s more common among women than men. Why? Probably because women are pickier than men, especially when it comes to dating. 

If you don’t believe me, here are some stats: According to a Pew Research study about online dating, women “are more likely than men to say they have found it very or somewhat difficult to find people that they were physically attracted to (36% vs. 21%).” The New York Times found that when it comes to the popular dating app Tinder, men swipe right 46% of the time, meanwhile women swipe right just 14% of the time. We know that socioeconomically, women date across and up whereas men date across and down, so statistically, the dating odds are stacked against women.  

Closing Thoughts

No one is perfect. Don’t let your pursuit of perfection be the enemy of the good. Who knows? Maybe good can even grow into perfect if you give it the chance. Ditch the texting in favor of a phone call, FaceTime, or real live date so you can say goodbye to Model Man and hello to real love. 

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