Four weeks before the smooth operator above offered to turn my feet into a trifle, I was creating 40 phony profiles on the world’s fastest growing dating site: OKCupid. It wasn’t the first time I’d done it: about a year before, I’d created 10 accounts, five male and five female, to test whether women have an easier time dating online than men. But now it was different. This time, my fictitious daters weren’t listed as single: they were all married or ‘seeing someone.’ And they weren’t on the site to simply date: they were there because they wanted to cheat. My goal was to find out how much easier or harder it is for a man to cheat on his girlfriend or wife using an online dating site than vice versa. Here is how, one month ago, I set the honey trap.
First, I had to use all of my charm to persuade 10 real people to let me use their photos. Unfortunately that didn’t work, so I resorted to a combination of begging and promising them that their faces would be pixelated beyond recognition. Once they were on board and I had nice natural shots of 10 attractive men and women, I allocated them in pairs to five American cities. However, the locations weren’t chosen at random.
I wanted my bait to have the best possible chance of cheating on their nonexistent wives, husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends. I therefore placed them in the five most ‘unfaithful cities’ in America, according to AshleyMadison.com, a dating site that's marketed to people who are already in relationships. In other words, a website people visit to cheat on their partners.
I now had 40 people (five men and five women, duplicated and shuffled four times) assigned to different cities around the country. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to place each male and female pair along a cheating continuum, ranging from undeniably adulterous to totally innocent. Here’s how it worked: I put a copy of each pair into four different categories.
The Brazen Cheats
The ten people in this category were my extreme cheaters. Unlike most real people, they wouldn’t even attempt to hide the fact that they were on the dating site to cheat on their significant others. In fact, the very first line of their profiles blatantly announced their immoral objectives and sexual compulsions.
Pretty strong, right? You’d think such a ridiculously out there introduction to a profile would immediately cast it into the deepest pit of online dating hell. You’d think no one in their right mind would send a message to its owner. You’d think.
The rest of the profile was much less sociopathic, talking about work, hobbies, and the usual jazz. All perfectly reasonable and attractive, except for that dagger of an opener.
The Married Maybes
These ten people were one step along the cheating continuum from the Brazen Cheats above. Their profiles listed them as married, but didn’t explicitly state what kind of marriage they were in - maybe it was the open, free love kind, or something closer to the classic notion of monogamy. It was up to real people perusing the Married Maybes’ profiles to decide if they were interested. As you can see, although I left things ambiguous with this category, I also dropped a few hints that the owners might be closer to cheaters than swingers.
The Recently Taken
I think that of all of the categories, this is the one I was most interested to follow over the weeks that lay ahead. The Recently Taken profiles were completely normal (no insane declarations of immorality). Like the Brazen Cheats and Married Maybes, they described hobbies, work, traveling, and so forth. But they also included a special edit to make the owners look as if they were recently taken off the market.
So, apart from being technologically incompetent, the owners of the Recently Taken profiles weren’t doing anything wrong. They were just potential targets for people who would like to lure them back into the dating pool - preferably naked.
The Sincerely Singles
This group of angels would serve as my control group. They were listed as single, described themselves as such and in every way appeared to be above board guys and girls just looking for Mr. or Ms. Right. This category would give me a benchmark to compare the other categories to once the experiment was in full swing.
And that was it: 40 men and women placed in five allegedly unfaithful cities with four different reasons to be there. Unlike a year before, at this point I didn’t just sit back and wait - I continued my journey through online infidelity.
While my cheaters began to attract attention on OKCupid, I thought I’d shift my focus to the victims of cheating. I paid a visit to Twitter to find out what people who have been betrayed by their boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends and wives have to say about it. I wanted to find out:
- What is the general sentiment of tweets that talk about being cheated on?
- Do men or women tweet more about their partners’ betrayal?
- Which gender is the most vocal about what they might hypothetically do if they were cheated on?
I began by searching for tweets containing the key phrase
I then scraped thousands of the most recent tweets containing that phrase, and used other keywords to determine whether they were made by men or women. It was while looking through the results that I noticed that a lot of the tweets weren’t about real life betrayal, but rather the dreams and nightmares of being cheated on that people had experienced and then tweeted about. I therefore reran the count, making sure to separate tales of real cheating from imagined scenarios featuring it.
So, it appears that a lot more women than men speak out on Twitter about being cheated on in real life and in their nightmares. Maybe there are just a lot more women on Twitter than men, though. I checked it out and apparently 59% of Twitter users are female, so although there are more, they don’t outnumber guys enough to account for the results above.
What about tweets that aren’t about cheating that’s already happened, either in real life or dreams? Do more women than men tweet about what they think they would do if they found out they’d been betrayed by their partners? Evolutionary psychologist David Buss, in his book The Evolution of Desire, describes how men have a reputation for using scare tactics to retain women.
So, now that threats and cold stares can be broadcast to rivals (and be seen by mates) in a virtual social setting on Twitter, do men tweet threats of what they’d do if they were cheated on more than women?
Once again, women on Twitter are much more vocal than the men. It makes sense in light of a study released in March 2013, which showed that women tweet more often than men (15 times a day on average, versus 9 for men) and are more personal when they do so.
So, women speak more often about what they’d do if they discovered their male partners had cheated on them, but how do the contents of their tweets differ from the guys’? Well, I can confirm that a large number of both men and women on Twitter are 100% bats**t insane. Don’t just take my word for it.
*Gulp*. Obviously not all of the ‘if they cheated’ tweets contained threats of kidnapping and murder, but I was shocked at how many did contain mentions of violence, so much so that I did another quick analysis. I took 1,000 ‘if they cheated’ tweets at random that were made by the men, and another 1,000 from the women. Then I used a list of 440 verbs to see how many times these words associated with violent acts were mentioned by each gender.
It's debatable whether people on Twitter are serious when they make threats of violence against hypothetical cheaters. It’s pretty grim stuff, though. I have a feeling that there are so many shocking tweets about cheating, and what people would do if they were cheated on, because people who are pretty normal (i.e. not violent psychopaths) don’t see much point in tweeting reasonable statements like ‘If I were cheated on, I’d split up with my partner, be extremely upset, then slowly rebuild my life.’ Instead, you just see irate children and young adults shouting and swearing, while the more mature crowd keeps their rage to themselves.
Speaking of more mature crowds, after a week had passed since setting up my honey trap on OKCupid, it was time to take my first look at what was going on. Presumably only the Sincerely Single group had received messages from hopeful men and women. The Brazen Cheats’, Married Maybes’ and Recently Takens’ inboxes should be completely empty, right? After all, at best they’re in relationships already, and at worst they’re openly admitting to being devious, sexaholic two-timers, and nobody wants to date one of those...
So, to very quickly reiterate: I’d set up 40 accounts on the dating site OKCupid, half male and half female. The men and women were split into four different categories: blatant cheaters, ambiguously married folk, recently off-the-market people, and a control group of totally single non-cheaters. They were spread between America’s five most unfaithful cities. From the number and types of messages received by each person within each category, I wanted to find out:
- How much easier or harder it is, in theory, for women to cheat online than men?
- Which category would receive the most messages - would anyone actually contact out-and-out love rats?
- What types of messages would the various male and female accounts receive - mostly hate mail?
Without further ado, here are the total number of messages received after seven days by each of the four categories:
Summary of the results after one week:
- Only 10% of the total messages received across all accounts were sent to the men.
- The female Brazen Cheats received more messages than the Married Maybes and Recently Taken women combined.
- The Brazen Cheat men received more messages than all of the other three male categories.
When I first looked at the results above, I just stared in silence. They neither shocked nor underwhelmed me, I was somewhere in between. The first thing I thought was ‘oh, this again.’ A year ago, when I ran a somewhat similar experiment to this one (except using only ‘single’ men and women), the unsolicited messages in the women’s inboxes outnumbered the men’s 17 to 1 after the first week. This time round it was about 10 to 1. I've found this is an extremely common theme with dating sites: if you’re a man and all you do is create a profile, add a couple of photos and do nothing else, you can expect very few unsolicited messages from women. So the women getting many more messages than the men didn’t come as a surprise to me.
The more interesting thing was the distribution of the messages between the different categories. The Brazen Cheats received more messages than any of the other categories, both for the male and female accounts. The male Brazen Cheats actually got almost three times more messages than the legitimately single guys! Are we to take from this that it’s better for a man to declare himself a total love addict scoundrel than be listed as a simple singleton? Well, no, actually, because not all messages are created equal. Take a look at the kinds of things the male Brazen Cheats were treated to in the first week.
- “I presume this is a joke. If not then wow.”
- “Do you have any idea how unattractive your profile is”
- “wtf are you serious?”
Of the 44 messages the male Brazen Cheats received, 36 were insults or inquiries into whether the ‘I don’t want my partner to know’ thing was really true. That left eight which could, possibly, be considered reasonable ‘leads’ for the owners of the accounts. Eight was less than the Recently Taken men and the Sincerely Singles scored, although two more than the Married Maybes. Perhaps women are slightly more interested in a single love rat than a married one.
So, what about the messages the female Brazen Cheats received? They too would surely be full of vitriol and condemnation.
Those were just the tip of the iceberg. In short, regardless of which of the three cheating or potential cheating categories the fake women were in, they all received dozens of offers. These ranged from ones that explicitly referenced the concept of infidelity, to others that simply offered sex (or just someone to watch while the women had sex with their current partners), to pretty standard messages that acted as if everything was normal (e.g. "hey wats up sexy?").
The answer to my first question was already staring me in the face: if a woman wants to cheat on her partner, she’s going to have a much, much easier time finding a willing third party to do it with than a man in the reverse situation. But this is not the revelation of the century: it’s pretty well established that men are more interested in sexual variety and no strings attached sex than women. For instance, you may have heard of a now famous experiment first carried out in 1989 on a college campus, in which women solicited a one night stand to male strangers and men solicited a one night stand to female strangers. 100% of the women declined the out-of-the-blue offer, whereas about 75% of the men were up for it.
So I expect that when the men who sent messages to my female cheater accounts saw that they were unhappy in their current relationships, or at least interested in something on the side, they saw a big, juicy free lunch: “wow, this girl is begging for sex... she wouldn’t be here unless she wanted to cheat, and I’ll happily be the man to grant her that wish!”
Women, browsing the profiles of my male cheaters, presumably saw things in the opposite way: “Oh look, another man who wants to screw anything that moves.”
At this stage, the experiment was all but over in my mind - that is, until I read through more of the messages received. Not all of the men messaging my female accounts were single. In fact, some of them were actual, real life cheaters themselves. I decided I’d like to catch one, so here’s what I did.
First, I batch saved all of the profile photos of the men who sent my fake female accounts romantic or sexual messages. I then used Google’s reverse image lookup tool to see if any of the photos existed on other places around the Internet. I found that about 5% could be reliably linked to the owners’ identities, most often through their LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. One guy whose photo I successfully linked to a name caught my eye in particular.
‘Claudio’, as I’ll call him, is a firefighter living in Houston, Texas. I knew this because his OKCupid profile photo, through the reverse image search, linked me to another picture of him posing in a recent edition of the Houston Fire Fighters Calendar. There he was, all buff and oily, carrying an axe with no top on - definitely not standard firefighting practice. There was a chance that his photo had been stolen and used on OKCupid by a scammer or somesuch, but there was also a possibility that Claudio, who I could see was married, was cheating on his wife. I decided to find out by replying to the message he originally sent to one of my Married Maybes.
‘Married, widowed, whatever.’ Claudio really had a way with words. And what a nice guy! He knows that it would be inconsiderate to his women on the side if he wasn’t upfront about his tight schedule. You know, when he’s busy seeing his wife, putting out fires and getting oily on camera.
I’m confident I could have uncovered more sex addicted cheaters using a similar method to the one above: gather photos, find out real names and situations, bait them into admitting they’re married or in relationships because they think the women they’re talking to (my fake accounts) are as well and might prefer it, etc. But this kind of undercover work isn’t for everyone: most people aren’t eager to confirm their suspicions that there are a lot of unscrupulous people in the world, who would be more than happy to facilitate cheating if it means they can achieve their own goal of having compulsive sex, finding a sugar daddy, or just basking in the attention of someone new.
So, after a month online, what did the inboxes of my 30 potential cheaters and 10 singletons look like?
Summary of the results after one week:
- The men as a group received 7.9% of the messages (199), whereas the women received 92.1% (2,527).
- The female Brazen Cheats beat any other female category for total number of messages, including the single women.
- The male Brazen Cheats received the most messages amongst the male categories, although as with week one’s results, the majority were insults and questions about the legitimacy of the profiles’ claims.
It seems that when you make a bunch of fake male and female dating profiles and include references to the owners wanting to break social taboos by cheating on their partners, you effectively exaggerate what usually happens with male and female dating profiles: the women get vastly more unsolicited messages than the men and, probably because sex seems more possible than ever, the men go berserk sending the women offers of one night stands.
This is interesting, I think, but more interesting is the kind of man that emerges from the woodwork at the smell of fresh, immoral meat. Sure, there were a few women who messaged the fake male cheaters with offers, but they were heavily outnumbered by exchanges like this one, in which a real woman messaged one of my fake men with a question:
And not a single real woman sent a message that mentioned whipped cream, or being kinky, or anything like this dubious tale:
I’d have more readily believed him if he’d had a photo of himself on his profile - after all, he has his wife’s permission, right?
The results of this experiment seem extremely one-sided, and in many ways they are. But I think a large part of why there was such a difference between the men’s and women’s numbers has something to do with the most common reasons men and women are on dating sites - many more men than women are on them just for sex. Also, while many of my fake female accounts received copious offers from men looking to cheat on their wives and girlfriends, my fake male accounts only received a handful: three or four out of 200. When one examines the reasons women cheat, this kind of makes sense. In The Evolution of Desire, David Buss reports the most common reasons 101 women gave for why they might consider cheating. Amongst the top were:
Of these six main goals of mate switching, how many could a woman probably achieve just by meeting up with a love rat she’s encountered on OKCupid? Not many. Men, on the other hand, might set their ambitions a bit lower: sex with a woman who’s willing to cheat would be enough for them. Guys aren’t all sex addicted dogs, though. Amongst the calculating, predatory, seedy fellas, there do seem to be a few gentlemen. Like this one, for example.
Or is that just Clive’s way of getting his foot in my fake woman’s proverbial door? Who knows. Right now I have to make a call to someone to ask if my feet being size 13 and hairy will be a problem, and if I need to bring my own whipped cream.