When Jess Carbino moved to Los Angeles in 2009 to start her graduate work in sociology at the University of California, she had no idea that so much of her time would be consumed by online dating. It started when she wanted to meet a guy and signed up for JDate, a website for Jewish singles.
She began to ask herself questions such as: Why am I interested in certain people? Why are they interested in me? And who’s messaging each other first?
Carbino isn’t the kind of woman who’d wait around for a man to ask her to dance, so she started sending messages, and many guys said it was unusual that she’d made the first move.
Carbino soon had her Ph.D. topic — and the Philadelphia native was on her way to becoming one of the foremost experts on the sociology of online dating. Before she even completed her thesis last year, Tinder hired her as a staff sociologist. The app boasts more than 26 million matches per day, and that amounts to billions of potential dollars — and billions of reasons why the L.A. company would like to know why people are swiping right to accept some potential mates and swiping left to ditch others. Carbino’s research made her an attractive partner.
Call her Dr. Ruth of the Right Swipe Generation.
“What interesting is this idea that online dating represents the possibility of being able to meet anyone you want,” she says. “But it’s actually real-world social norms playing out online.” You can swipe right on anyone, sure, but you’re likely going to match and date someone who’s roughly as attractive as you and who shares the same values.
“If you think about attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10, individuals who are a 5 tend to meet with people who are between 4 and 6,” she says. “People who are 5s often don’t meet with 10s. That doesn’t happen in real life.”
Carbino says it comes down to efficiency. Once you’ve been rejected by a couple of 9s and 10s, you realize your time is better spent going after people who are likely to respond.
Does this mean Tinder is a superficial app where attractiveness is all that matters in the quest for quick hookups? Far from it, Carbino says. If you think a photo just tells you whether someone is hot or not, you’re ignoring all the other social signals your brain is picking up. “A photograph is a window into someone’s personality and demographic background,” she says. “People have the ability to glean a very large amount of information about somebody in a very short period of time.”
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Carbino is full of insights into online dating, but her expertise is more than theoretical. She met her boyfriend of almost two years when they matched on Tinder, Hinge and JSwipe in the same day.
“I don’t think we’ve been apart for, like, 48 hours since,” Carbino says. “I found love online.”