It’s a modern love story: they liked your profile, you liked them back, the messages are coming through fast and flirty – then they mix up “their” and “there”.
A study of online daters in the Netherlands has found that spelling mistakes in a dating profile, such as writing “teh” for “the” or using iRRegulaR CapS, are perceived as signals of sloppiness or lack of care, which in turn affects the profile holder’s perceived attractiveness. The researchers, from Tilburg University, had hypothesised that deploying informal digital communication styles – such as excessive exclamation marks on “hello!!!” or emoticons – would be seen as kinder. But in fact, those whose grammar was more formal were rated as warmer people.
Command of the written word has been rated highly in other studies of traits that people look for in potential partners. It may seem like a failure of imagination, but language errors can be interpreted as an indicator of poor education or being inattentive, clumsy or ignorant.
The paper, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, has clear limitations. For example, it drew on only a small sample of members, all mostly “older adults”, of one Dutch dating website, called Parship. It may be that on dating apps serving younger demographics, a good grasp of literacy and convention might be rated less highly.
Linguist Gretchen McCulloch, author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, has explored how written online communication has evolved its own rules, such as using all lower case to present as relaxed: “If I say everything very formally [with standard capitalisation], then maybe that means I am standing on ceremony, am easily offended, and will be offended if you do, too.”
In any case, presented with a seemingly bottomless pool of potential partners, the reason why you might pass over any one profile may well be arbitrary or intuitive. To find lasting love online, most agree that the means by which you rule out profiles is less important than what happens when you meet in person. They’ll be the one at the bar, with today’s newspaper and a red pen.