I was thousands of miles from home, in a country where I knew only a handful of local phrases, but the concern in his Tinder message was universal.
It turns out that 1.8 meters translates to 5 feet and 11 inches. Why was a man who’s nearly 6 feet tall worried that his date might tower over him? At 5-foot-4, I’m around average height for an American woman; the average American man is 5-foot-9. (He said I “photograph tall.”) In Portugal, where I was Tinder-swiping on vacation, the average man is slightly shorter (5-foot-7 to the average woman’s 5-foot-3). Even if I were taller and choosing to wear heels, would that ruin our evening? Would he feel emasculated, and would I feel it was my responsibility to avoid such a plight?
I should hope not. I had plenty of concerns about meeting a stranger from the Internet — mostly tied to my personal safety. Being taller than my date (naturally or due to footwear) wasn’t one of them. Besides, Lisbon’s uneven cobblestone streets were hard enough to navigate in flats! I could not fathom heels.
My match’s “disclaimer” made me laugh. Height is a thing in online dating — a thing many people care about and some lie about. Some women put their height requirements for a guy in their profile. And sometimes, bizarrely, a person’s height is the only thing in their bio, as if that’s all you need to know about them. As other outdated gender norms in heterosexual relationships are toppling, why do so many daters still want the man to be taller than the woman?
I’ve dated men who are shorter than me, those who are my height and those who are taller — and a man’s stature has never been the reason a match didn’t work. I do care, however, when someone lies because they think it might make a better first impression. It always has the opposite effect.
When Tinder announced on Friday that the popular dating app was developing a “height verification tool,” my first reaction was: Hallelujah! Finally people would stop lying about their height.
“Say goodbye to height fishing,” the news release said, coining a term for the height deception that’s common on dating apps.
By Monday, it became clear Tinder’s announcement was just an April Fools’ joke. Still, there’s a grain of truth in it. Do daters really deserve a medal for telling the truth? Is the bar really this low? In short: Yes.
Yes, in most heterosexual couples, the man is taller than the woman — but that’s partly because, on average, men are taller than women. And there are certainly exceptions. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, for starters. Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas. Pharrell and Helen Lasichanh. You probably know a couple in your own life to add to this list.
Height is associated with masculinity, attractiveness, higher status — and with one’s ability to provide for and protect their family. Daters might not be consciously thinking about this as they’re swiping left and right. An informal 2014 survey of students at the University of North Texas asked single, heterosexual students to explain why they preferred dating someone above or below a certain height. It found that they “were not always able to articulate a clear reason they possess their given height preference, but they somehow understood what was expected of them from the larger society.”
But height can affect whom they choose to date. A 2005 study, which looked at a major online dating site’s 23,000 users in Boston and San Diego during a 3½-month period, found that men who were 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4 received 60 percent more first-contact emails than those who were 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-8. Meanwhile, tall women received fewer initial emails than women who were shorter or of average height. (Of course, it’s unclear whether this pattern is unique to the users of this website or these two cities.)
When I think about daters’ preference for the man to be taller, I’m reminded of all the other ways in which relationships are changing that we still haven’t quite adjusted to. We expect a man not just to be taller than his partner, but to make more money than her, too — even though, in 40 percent of households with children, women are the sole or primary breadwinners. We have dating apps that require women to make the first move (Bumble, one of Tinder’s top competitors), but we still expect the man to Pop the Big Question and drive a heterosexual relationship forward. Intermarriage is rising steadily — in 2015, 17 percent of U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a difference race or ethnicity — but racial discrimination is still disturbingly common on dating apps.
Dating apps encourage singles to make quick judgments based on scant information in a profile — information that can be wrong or out-of-date. The real verification happens in person, where people can be physically small with large personalities or tall and exceedingly dull.
As my Tinder date and I walked through the Lisbon streets, we talked about the pros and cons of being single while most of your friends are in relationships and the many ways we’ve seen good things end. By the time we said goodbye, I was surprised by how much fun we’d had. He wanted to see me again, but I wasn’t sure. There was another distance I was thinking about — one not measured in feet but thousands of miles.