Anonymity online makes it easier to lie without consequences.

But when it comes to dating sites, many users feel it’s easier to be truthful about who they are online.

"For me personally, I put exactly what I’m looking for (in my online dating profile). I tell people up front what I’m about so it saves hassle and time later. Remember, you can’t spell hassle without ass," said one user in an online message that identified him only by his online name, BullPopert.

BullPopert feels he presents his true self online. He says he tends to be direct and open.

"I got to tell you, doing this whole up front and honest business is really working out for me … I seem to be able to use it to my advantage," he said.

He and many other users of online dating websites, such as Lavalife and Plenty of Fish, find that it’s easier to be confident, and to be up front about awkward truths on the internet than it is in person.

And while they don’t necessarily come clean about every little detail, like whether they snore or drool, giving as accurate a sense of themselves as possible in their profiles and later chats can make it easier to meet the kind of mate they’re looking for.

Honesty, understanding of self are the keys to success

Another Plenty of Fish user, Brkroc63, says he’s learned how important it is to be honest online. In his three years using dating sites, he’s found it’s key, not just for finding success, but also for a better understanding of self.

It’s the lack of other observers in online dating that makes it easy to put your true self out there, said Bkroc63, who is 45 and single.

"You can be yourself online more because of the anonymity, where as in the social setting youíre really putting on a show," he said.

The process of creating an online dating profile is important, he said. It requires a lot of effort because you are trying to sell your profile to the type of people you want to attract.

Organ Donor, 44 and divorced, has a profile on He wrote in a message that when he made his Plenty of Fish online dating profile he wanted to get to the bare bones of himself.

In being honest, he discovered a lot.

"While I like acceptance (who doesn’t?), I think I take some pride in not needing it and not being phony to get it," he wrote.

Everyones_A_Shooting_Star, who is 25 and single, also has a Plenty of Fish account. He said that in the online dating world it’s all about selling you. It’s how you learn who you are, what you like, and what you need.

He is constantly changing his profile because he’s learning more about himself every day.

"I change (my profile) up a couple times actually. Everything I’ve listed on my profile is important to me because like I said I’m trying to present myself," he said.

Everyones_A_Shooting_Star said that the people he has met online were true to their profiles, just as he was. He also found in his encounters that shy people were able to break out of their shells because online dating calls users to be upfront and honest.

"It’s all about taking chances, when you explain yourself (and) who you are," he said.

The courage to take those chances, and to express and discover themselves, comes from the anonymous nature of online dating, said Brkroc63.

Users only give out as much personal information as they are comfortable with. That makes the trial and error process a little easier because in face-to-face meetings the rejection is harder to escape, he said.

"You can be a little more revealing about yourself and not worry about reprisal," said Bkroc63. "Being a man, I’ve been rejected many times and I’ll tell you it’s not enjoyable and its right there in a social atmosphere in front of people."

In a social setting, you can be putting on a show for friends but when you are on your computer it’s just you, he said. The anonymity stifles the fears someone may have in a social setting, leaving online daters more willing to divulge and be open with each other.

"(And, if you’re rejected online) it’s like oh that’s okay. Look at this other profile, I’ll chat to her."

Coyness goes, cautiousness remains

Brenda Henderson, a 47-year-old from Sarnia, Ont., isn’t always trusting of what she sees in men’s online profiles. That’s partly because she’s been burned before.

She had a long-term, long-distance relationship with someone she met online, and while the things he said about himself seemed for a while to be true, she said that in the end none of them were.

That doesn’t mean people are lying on purpose, said Henderson. It may be just a self esteem issue.

"I think men look in the mirror and see themselves differently than women do," she said. Men see themselves as 20 years younger than they are, while women are more likely to be hard on themselves, and to reflect that in their profiles.

She tries to be as honest as possible in her own profile, describing herself as average when it comes to looks. But she doesn’t post up-front the fact that she is currently looking for work.

Henderson was injured on the job and is going through a retraining program. She doesn’t include that in her profile because she says men are reluctant to get invloved with women they think might be financially needy.

"In order to get a good response, you have to put down that you’re totally independent and not looking for someone to take care of you," she said.

Henderson said the statement is true of her and that she would be frank about her job situation in an actual conversation with a man. She just doesn’t want it to be anyone’s first impression of her.

Annwn, a 27-year-old teacher in London, Ont. who asked to be identified only by her online user name, thinks the profiles of most men she’s talked to online are generally accurate, though they are designed to present each person’s most attractive qualities.

From her experiences on Lavalife, she says that while people aren’t likely to divulge thier deepest darkest secrets in their profiles, they do find it easier to say awkward or suggestive truths in online chat rather than in person.

"There’s more honesty I find. There’s a like, a layer of coyness basically gets pulled away," said Annwn.

The mystery and intrigue of dating in person is not what people are looking for online in her experience. People are more likely to ask each other what she calls "get-to-know-you questions" to figure out quickly whether they are compatible.

One reason to be up-front is the relative ease with which potential mates can check out your story.

"When I get someone’s e-mail address or phone number I’ll Google it, and I’ll search it, and I’ll go through all the MetaCrawlers and I’ll find out what I can about them. And they may not know that I now know where they work and where they volunteer and what they’ve done," she said.

In one case, Googling a man she’d chatted with revealed that he was a recently convicted criminal.

Annwn also thinks the names people choose for themselves say a lot about them. Hers is a Welsh word for otherworld, or afterlife. And she says men are more likely than women to use their real names, and to volunteer information about themselves.

"Guys seem to be very open about that kind of stuff and girls, I might be wrong, but I think girls are more protective of their personal information," she said.

"I think that there’s an extra layer to it because of who I am. And I can introduce myself as a teacher, but I can’t say where because that puts the kids’ lives in danger, Annwn said. "I think that’s the difference, that you’re a little more protective with your personal information online, but you’re a little more outgoing with your personality."

Webmasters: women in control

Some women aren’t so cautious on the web.

Louise — who chose not to reveal her last name — has contacted plenty of men online, and has moved on to meet about 10 of them in person. She says that for her, online interaction is completely different than traditional media.

I’m not a phone person, I feel like I’m bugging (people), said Louise, a 45-year-old Stratford, Ont. resident and user since April.

"But here, I’m bugging, but I’m bugging my way. I’m taking over. I guess that’s how I like it. Some days I’ll say yes, some days I’ll say no."

A recent study shows that Louise is not alone. ‘Surfing for Love: Women, the Internet, Sexual and Intimate Relationships’ followed 27 Canadian women ages 31 to 60 to find out how their attitudes and behaviours were influenced by online interactions.

The study found that online dating has given some women a sense of power they donít feel they have in face-to-face interactions.

"Some of [the women] also felt that they had much more control using the Internet," said Susan Frohlick, co-author of the study. "They were women who were not at all afraid or nervous about contacting men."

Frohlick said that among the women she studied, the Internet had become the primary way they met new partners. Many of these women said that online dating websites gave them the ability to seek out the type of men they were looking for and begin and end relationships on their own terms.

Louise was able to exert this unique power after an argument with a man on Plenty of Fish. She just blocked his contact.

"I erased him," said Louise. "I said ‘fine, you don’t want me anymore, I don’t want you either,’ and I erased him."

That’s a far cry from usual meeting places like a bar, where it can be much harder to get rid of someone. The bar scene was the most commonly used comparison to online dating among women in the study, Frohlick said.

To her surprise, women said that they trusted much more of what they heard from people online.

A success story: Erika and Nate Lacroix

All this honesty can pay off.

For Erika and Nate Lacroix, honesty brought them together.

The couple met online six years ago through Erika, 27, had been experimenting with online and phone dating for a few months and had a hard time finding someone who would be honest with her.

"I went out with guys who lied to me a lot," she said.

She dated one guy who refused to tell her his last name and wouldn’t introduce her to his family. She had no concept of his identity, on or offline.

She thought she was his girlfriend until she called him one day.

"I called his phone and a girl answered," said Erika.

When she asked who was speaking the girl replied, "his girlfriend."

From then on, understanding a person’s identity became an important factor in Erika’s search. That’s how she found Nate, 29.

"Nate was the only decent, normal person I met online," she said. He seemed genuinely interested in what Erika had to say, and his number one priority wasn’t seeing her picture.

"We just kind of clicked," said Nate, "I was able to talk to her a lot."

Erika doesn’t think their relationship would have worked at all if they hadn’t met online and had the time to really get to know each other. The couple has different interests, and hung out in different places.

Using the Internet enabled their conversation.

"We’re both quite shy in person when we first meet somebody, but being online and not actually talking face-to-face at first gave us a way to open up to each other without having that nervousness factor," said Erika.

"It’s easier to chat through tech," said Nate.

Both agree that online dating profiles are good because they give you a glimpse of potential mates, but talking on a chat or over the phone is better.

"It’s kind of like the difference between watching a movie trailer and watching a movie," said Nate.

Erika and Nate say turning to the web to find a relationship and building their own profiles helped them to discover and understand their own identities.

"It makes you think about what you like and what you don’t like," said Nate.

No identity crisis

For those singles who aren’t as immediately successful as Nate and Erika Lacroix, the major appeal of online dating seems to be the fact that it mitigates the embarrassment of approaching people.

Users are able to tell the person they are getting to know whatever they wish without worrying about their reaction or having to go through a real life rejection.

To return to BullPopert, he says he is better able to be himself, and also to portray himself in the ways he would like to be seen, two things that are not in contradiction for him.

"I was pretty shy as a younger lad. I decided to finally come out of my shell," he wrote.

He, and many others like him, are still coming out of their shells online. The ease and relatively few consequences of expressing themselves make that possible.

And like him, many users see no difference between what they think of as their true identities and the profiles they design to promote themselves to potential mates.

Whether their descriptions ring true for the people they meet, online daters tend to describe their identities the way they see them — honestly.


Zahraa Al Khalisi, Lauren Baron, Marina Brkljaca, Liane Fisher and Dan Punch are students in the MA Journalism Program at the University of Western Ontario.

Who R U? An Exploration of Identity at the Edge of Tech, is a collaborative feature series created by the students of the 2008 Online Journalism class at the University of Western Ontario, Instructed by Wayne MacPhail. The series looks at how technology is changing our identities and our idea of identity. Each of the nine episodes includes a feature article, a podcast (part of the rabble podcast network) and a video segment on rabbletv. We’ll feature one episode a week, each Thursday here on Hope you enjoy Who R U? We welcome your feedback, as do the great students who produced the series. Thanks to all of them for sharing their work with the rabble audience.