I will leave this bedroom chair and this keyboard behind."
In Real Life, online dating sites are simply another way of meeting people. You create a profile with your picture, beliefs, and hobbies, meet other like-minded users, and chat online until you're both comfortable enough to meet in the flesh. Many a long-term relationship and marriage have begun this way.
...unless you happen to be a character in a Sitcom, in which case the online dating service is yet another tool the writers will employ to turn your life into a swirling miasma of entertaining chaos. If you use a dating service, you can expect the first person you'll be matched up with to be:
- Your most hated enemy.
- A Serial Killer/Rapist.
- A transgender person (mostly discredited now).
- One of your own relatives.
- Your Psycho Ex.
- Your best platonic friend. Kiss that excuse good-bye.
- Your current romantic partner, who you hoped wasn't going to find out about this, though they're hardly in a position to complain.
- A Con Artist or an advance-fee fraudster (very much Truth in Television).
- Someone gorgeous who happens to be an Ax-Crazy Yandere, a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, or in possession of some other romance-derailing personality trait.
- An inhuman monster, especially one who'll literally eat your heart out.
- The Grim Reaper, who's actually kind of shy and nervous about this whole "online dating" thing. He hopes you don't mind if he takes his scythe and his cell phone along; he kind of needs them for his job.
- Someone whose profile picture shows them as very attractive, but when you meet them in person, they are anything but. The photo may be from when they were significantly younger and/or thinner, professionally taken, or that one flattering selfie out of dozens. In some cases it's not even them in the photo, but a prettier relative, friend, or even a model gleaned off the internet.
- In addition to a misleading photo, they may also use Weasel Words to play themselves up. For example, a woman who uses "Curvy" or "More to Love" as a euphemism for "morbidly obese". This isn't to say that people who aren't conventionally attractive don't deserve love, but there's a high level of skullduggery involved.
- A doughy and unattractive loser whom you'll discover to be either very, very nice or very, very rich, thus teaching you a valuable Aesop (probably a Family Unfriendly one in the latter case) about how not to judge people by their initial appearance.
- Someone who is actually married, engaged, or in a long-term relationship with someone else. Variants include the person who says they have an an open arrangement when they don't, or the person who says they're separated and beginning divorce proceedings but the divorce isn't final yet...when they're not getting divorced at all. Most other cheaters will hide it, but some will blatantly say they're cheating because they're unhappy or bored with their partner.
There are many other permutations and possibilities available, but no matter whom your suitor might turn out to be, the odds are very high that your first date will be anything but typical. If you're using an international dating or marriage agency, then expect an even bigger minefield, sometimes with an aesop about how we should stick to our own kind.
If you meet a love interest over the internet by chance rather than through a dating agency, the results will be similar, esspecially if the producers want to drop the New Media Are Evil anvil. This trope was particularly prevalent in The '90s when the Internet first started creeping into everyday life, but few people online had pictures of themselves because digital cameras were an expensive luxury item and not yet standard feature on cell phones, and not everyone had access to a scanner for paper photos. Half the scenarios listed above depend on the person not having a clear photo of their face; nowadays, that's a blatant sign that the person is hiding something, but back then it was the norm. But as shown earlier, even a picture can be misleading or Blatant Lies, and doesn't reveal the person's true intentions or personality.
Older Than They Think, with pre-Internet "computer dating" and "video dating" services, as well as newspaper "lonely hearts" sections, 1-900 premium rate dating phone lines and old brick-and-mortar "dating services" providing examples for this trope. The assumption delivered by these tropes—that normal people can find dates just fine; only weirdos, creeps, lunatics, and other folks with insurmountable character derangements would need to resort to "artificial" ways of meeting people—also fed neatly with the perception that everyone on the Internet is a weirdo creep lunatic to begin with, allowing an even wider range of absurdity. Today, the stigma surrounding online dating isn't quite as strong as before, especially among gays and lesbians whose options can be limited depending on the area. Current stories invoking this trope are less "Beware the anonymous" and more "If it looks and sounds too good to be true, it probably is." For those who still want a dose of uninformed dating calamity to infuse into their tales, the Blind Date trope is as strong as ever.
For a similar service but with face-to-face interaction, try Speed Dating. For a more general discussion of dating disasters, see Bad Date. Whenever one of these fictional dating services matches a person with someone they already know in Real Life it is invoking the trope It's a Small Net After All.
- The London Review of Books has a personals column full of intentionally unattractive ads relying on Self-Deprecation and Accentuate the Negative, like "Some chances are once in a lifetime. Not this one, I've been in the last 12 issues." or "Tap-dancing Classics lecturer. Chilling isn't it? (M, 38)". Perhaps people aware of this trope like knowing that they already know the worst about you?
- Inverted in pretty much every online dating commercial (such as eHarmony or Match.com), in which people who don't use the advertised service end up dealing with the aforementioned losers because they're too incompetent to find love on their own.
- In Marvel Adventures: Avengers Hawkeye signs on to a dating service online, but finds filling out all the personal info too much work, so he decides to upload his personal info from the Avengers' database instead. However, he succeeds in uploading everyone's personal info, and the Avengers are swamped with people who claim to have dates with them. The owner is an ex-supervillain (Batroc) who delightfully refuses to take down the info unless they comply, since it is good PR for his site to have celebrities using it. Hilarity Ensues.
- In an issue of Weapon X, there are hints that Victor Creed, aka Sabretooth, has a dating profile. The guy used to be a serial killer, cannibal, and possibly rapist, during his evil days. He's been inverted into a good guy, but he's still very feral and still seems to like eating live prey. Old Man Logan mentions being able to smell lies. He asks if Creed has a dating profile. Creed claims he knows nothing about dating profiles and tells Logan to shut up. Logan once again mentions smelling his lies.
- During the late-60s advent of computer dating services, MAD showed an example of how two customers with everything in common end up driving each other crazy - like dating yourself. He can even tell when she is about to sneeze before she can.
- A 1970 Batgirl story featured a serial killer who used a computer dating service to find his targets.
- The Powerpuff Girls: The opening of "The Bride Of Mojo Jojo" (issue #24, DC run) has Mojo, not wanting to be a party of one for Valentine's Day, going to a video dating service. Needless to say, he is not successful.
- Ultimate Marvel: In Ultimate X-Men Beast breaks up with Storm, fearing that Xavier is messing with her mind so that she loves him, and so he stays at the school. He seeks some new girlfriend in internet, and starts chatting with "Mutantchick", a mutant model wannabe. Actually, it's the Blob, from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who loves playing those pranks in his free time. But when Beast shares the secret that Xavier did not kill Magneto, that he's alive and brainwashed... it's finally the time to arrange a date.
- Happens in early Dilbert before it went to solely office-comedy.
- In 2009 Mary Worth featured a character named Ted Confey who was dating Dr. Adrian Cory after meeting her online. He proceeds to bilk her out of $50,000 using lines a three-year-old would see through. Just as he's ready to disappear, he's arrested by a Santa Royale detective who later asks Adrian out - and who turns out to be the son of Adrian's father's old college roommate (whom he seems to have cared about a great deal...). The moral of the story? Finding partners in new ways bad, going out with someone approved of by Dad good.
- The movie Must Love Dogs is a romantic comedy about a couple who meet via online dating. True to form, the main heroine arranges a date with a suitor who turns out to be her own father.
- The movie Napoleon Dynamite provides a gleeful subversion. Dorky, nebbishy Kip hits the jackpot when the girl he's been chatting with online turns out to be Lafawnduh, a gorgeous African-American woman with a fun personality. Amazingly, Lafawnduh thinks she struck gold, too.
- Exploited by the movie Sneakers. To infiltrate a secure facility, the team finds an employee who's been looking for love online and sends the protagonist's ex-girlfriend to go on a date with him so she can steal his ID card and record a voice sample to access the guy's room. He gets suspicious, takes her to his office and alerts the villain. She tries to talk her way out of it and seems to have succeeded. As the villain walks away, she humphs that this is the last computer date she's ever going on. At which point he stops, turns round and says, "A computer matched her with him? I don't think so..." and knows something's up...
- Pretty much the whole PLOT of You've Got Mail - they turn out to be (mutually hating) business rivals in real life. The situation is exacerbated when he finds out... but she doesn't.
- You've Got Mail is based on the much older film The Shop Around the Corner, which was released in 1940, in which two anonymous pen pals fall in love with each other without realizing that they hate each other in real life.
- Another Older Than They Think example: Multiple variants of the trope in Carry On Loving (1970) — although the "computer" in this case is a very impressive wall of tape reels and blinking lights ... behind which is the manager's wife with a card index. The main plot is that she intentionally sets up the first hapless customer with her husband's girlfriend.
- Other Halves is about the creation of a dating app the unleashes the user's id, for good or for ill.
- The Honeymoon Killers offers an example that is both pre-Internet and terrifying. Raymond Fernandez is a Con Man that writes to women through "Lonely Hearts" clubs, gains their trust, promises marriage, then rips them off. After becoming partners-in-crime with one of his victims, Martha Beck, the two of them graduate to murdering their targets.
- A joke about a young woman putting in an ad for a boyfriend, listing all her qualities. She asks her mother whether anyone answered, and she replies "Just one, your father!".
- In A Dirty Job, one character is prone to online-dating girls from Southeast Asia, who invariably turn out to be sixty years old or actually men or otherwise not what they claimed to be.
- This is basically the plot of Date Night On Union Station, a sci-fi novel about people living on an AI-managed space station with an absolutely terrible dating service. One of the characters is first set up with a dominatrix who thinks he's there for her services, then with an alien black widow who's looking for a sacrificial husband for religious purposes, and finally with a teenage runaway who'd been sold into indentured servitude.
- The Odd Couple: before the internet — before PC's even — there was computer dating, believe it or not. In a episode which aired circa 1971, Oscar signs up with a computer dating service and embellishes his bio. He winds up matched with Felix's ex-wife.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Brother and sister Hilary and Carlton get matched up.
- iCarly: Spencer, using whynotdateme.com
- The Drew Carey Show: Drew meets a woman online and engages with cybersex with her, only to discover later it's his archnemesis, Mimi. In a very odd Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, Drew comforts Mimi (in real life) after her mysterious beau ditches her and disappears.
- On Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope is horrified when a matchmaker site pairs her with her horndog coworker Tom. (Turns out, Tom had set up 26 different profiles to match himself with every possible female personality type.)
- In the 1992 series Down the Shore, overweight, nerdy Eddie meets a girl online, but chickens out at the last moment and has handsome-but-dumb housemate Aldo pretend to be him for their first in-person meeting. She turns out to be a knockout (played by Kathy Ireland) who was tired of shallow guys hitting on her for her looks and who was looking for an intelligent man attracted to her mind; she quickly sees through the switch and happily meets the real Eddie.
- Raven and Eddie are matched up on That's So Raven.
- A variation happens on Friends to Chandler on at least two occasions (once it was a blind date, the other time they met online), both times with his ex-girlfriend Janice.
- On Eli Stone a first season divorce case of Taylor's was initiated after both spouses found out they'd been flirting online after meeting in person. Taylor, having personal reasons to look for proof of real love, pointed out that maybe they shouldn't ignore the fact that out of all the people in the world and all the people on the internet they'd managed to find each other and fall in love twice; she refused to do any more work on the case for 72 hours until they had tried to have an honest and civil conversation.
- How I Met Your Mother used this trope twice (possibly three times) with Ted. The first time Ted went to a matchmaking agency with a 100% success rate, but it turns out they literally have no women compatible with Ted. The second time the same agency gets back to him with a perfect match, but he passes up the date for another shot at the Will They or Won't They? relationship with Robin. The third time Ted meets a woman online who turns out so far into the crazy end of the Hot-Crazy Scale; in a twist at the end it's revealed that she and Ted "met online" while playing World of Warcraft.
- Used in the Season 3 finale of The Big Bang Theory. And subverted. Howard and Raj sign Sheldon up for one as a joke, but the site gives them a match. Sheldon, thinking the entire thing was stupid when they finally tell him, only goes on the date to prove that dating sites don't work. Ironically, Sheldon's match happens to be perfect—a female version of himself. Apparently, she only used the site because she promised her mother she'd date at least once a year.
- Sheldon also creates a fake dating profile for Penny in hopes that she'll find a boyfriend and stop pestering him for video gaming advice.
- In the Three's Company episode "Mate For Each Other," roommates Jack and Janet each secretly try out a "computer dating" service, only to end up matched with each other.
- Happens on The Office (UK), when David Brent uses one in the second Christmas Special. Michael uses a more traditional method in the US version: bullying his subordinates to offer up names of eligible friends.
- A victim of the week in Bones was using a cell phone dating service that Hodgins was also using. Angela later started using it and they popped up on each other's phones later.
- Although this was a mild subversion, as the "dating service" was primarily meant to serve as a booty-call, with members able to scope out who happens to be nearby via phone and arrange for a bit of spontaneous sex.
- Bosom Buddies had a "video dating" example, where a woman seems to be a perfect match for Henry until they meet face to face, and he discovers that, among other things, she's really into Satanism. (Of course, it's also possible that she wouldn't be crazy about Henry's own secret.)
- The X-Files has the episode "2 Shy", in which a serial killer is finding his victims/food via dating sites.
- In the episode of The Nanny called "The Fifth Wheel", C.C. (who goes by "goodnplenty") gives up men after finding out that "porchepuppy" was actually 15-year-old Brighton. She is surprised by his vocabulary.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun did this with newspaper personals. While Dick and Mary were on the outs, Dick placed an anonymous personal ad in the paper. Someone answered it and asked to meet him at a restaurant. It turned out to be Mary, of course, and they immediately decided to Never Speak of This Again.
- Naked City in another pre-internet example, has an episode in which a woman uses a lonely hearts dating service that didn't do a good job of checking its applicants backgrounds and sets her up with a philandering married man.
- Before the Internet, and PCs and computer dating, there were dating services. In George And The Dragon, both George and Gabriella (Dragon), while not enemies, at least opposites, use a dating service to meet someone else. When they go to meet their dates, they find out they've been matched with some nice dates. However those dates walk out with each other, leaving only George and Gabriella.
- An episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show ("E.C. The Extra Creepy") had the Bros. discover that Mario's date is a robot.
Luigi: Wait a minute. Mario, this is not a computer date. You're dating a computer!
- There's the recurring "Lowered Expectations", which involved some of the saddest, weirdest, or downright scariest people looking for love that you'd never want to meet.
- They also did a parody "Blind Date" show. The male contestant was O.J. Simpson. He was actually a real gentleman while his date kept expecting him to go Ax-Crazy at any second. At least until he thought he saw her with the maitre d'...
- The whole point of the documentary Catfish and the TV series it was made into is about deceptive online relationships. While the movie doesn't fit this trope, the show does. The show features people who are in long-term online relationships with people they've never met or seen in person. In some cases they've never even talked on the phone. Usually the person is revealed to be a lot uglier or a different gender than their profile pictures. Also, often the person being profiled by the show is stupid enough to give gifts to this person they've never met, in some cases even paying for expensive plane tickets or paying bills for this person.
- NCIS has an episode where McGee found his idea woman online while DiNozzo eggs him on about how she's not real or really a man. When McGee asks to meet her in real life, she never shows up and makes an excuse about not being able to meet. It turns out that the woman is actually DiNozzo trolling McGee (revealed to Ziva by DiNozzo) and kept on egging him, but begins to feel guilty because McGee refuses to give up on his mystery online perfect woman until at the end of the episode, he begins to act nice to McGee and returns money that he owes him which he never intended to return. It turns out that McGee knew all along and kept up the loyalty to troll DiNozzo back.
- One early sketch by Ronnie Barker has two men going to a dating service; as various women arrive, they discuss them and wonder if these are their dates. It eventually transpires that thanks to an error by the proprietor, the two men are each other's dates; at which point, they happily go off to the cinema together.
- On The Mindy Project, Mindy makes eye contact with an attractive guy on the subway (or as Peter put it, she "eye banged" him). The next day she sees a personal ad from the guy, named Andy. She begins e-mailing Andy back and forth. Turns out that it's Danny, who she has had a Will They or Won't They? relationship with, pretending to be the guy she saw on the subway. He briefly ends up in a Two-Person Love Triangle when Mindy decides that she should give up on him and pursue "Andy". This causes him to chicken out on meeting her like he planned. When Mindy confronts "Andy" on the subway, Danny is forced to reveal that it was him sending the e-mails. Things end up working out for them in the end.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cost of Living" has Lwaxana Troi surprising Counselor Troi with news of her upcoming marriage to... some guy whose profile on some vaguely defined matchmaking or social network is allegedly perfectly compatible with her own. He turns out to be an uptight and prudish bureaucrat who expects Lwaxana to wear a hideous wedding gown. Keep in mind that Lwaxana is something of a Blithe Spirit type devoted to Betazoid tradition, which includes holding weddings in the nude. To no one's surprise, the wedding is canceled at the last moment.
- Played around with on the Black Mirror episode "Hang the DJ", which essentially skewers modern online dating, especially Tindr.
- In the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Waitress Is Getting Married," Mac and Dennis create a Match.com profile for Charlie. Although he uses this as his avatar and gives nonsensical answers for his profile (favorite food: "milksteak," hobby: "magnets," likes: "little green ghouls"), he somehow manages to get a date with a lawyer. At the restaurant, he eats an entire block of cheese before the date, sweats profusely through his shirt, is bleeding all over his face due to hornet stings, attempts to lie that he's a philanthropist but mispronounces it as "full-on rapist," and then grabs his date's breasts when instructed to "make a move." Needless to say, the date doesn't go well.
- Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" is about a pair of bored lovers who secretly arrange to date other people via newspaper ads; to their surprise, they discover that they're cheating on each other with each other. The various violations of conventional morality, not to mention simple logic, implied in this song were heavily deconstructed in a particularly memorable sketch on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Note that this eventually happened in real life. Unlike the song, both spouses sued each other for infidelity.
- Noah and the Whale's "Second Lover", whence the page quote, is about an online affair.
- Big Data's "Clean" (ft. Jamie Liddell) is about catfishing, or somewhat embellishing one's online profile on dating sites.
- Red Vox's "There She Goes" features the protagonist getting catfished by someone through a dating app.
Got another woman
Found her on my new phone
Really should see her photos
Too bad they weren't her own
- One Christmas pantomime version of Beauty and the Beast has the Beast's servants try creating a profile for him on such a website so that he can find his true love and break the spell — although they keep putting things they like on the profile rather than things the Beast likes. This plan is discarded once Beauty shows up, of course.
- In Sam & Max: Freelance Police Episode 104: "Abe Lincoln Must Die!", Sybil pretends to run a computer dating service. When asked about it she claims Sam and Max would make an excellent pairing. Notably, she doesn't move from her position, read anything from her computer or type anything in.
- Mass Effect 2 has a loading screen message that says "There are no decent galactic dating services." This is backed up by logs of Miranda Lawson's experience with one such extranet service.
- For a time, webcomic Least I Could Do advertised its own dating service with the line "Meet the 40-year-old trucker of your dreams!"
- In the Insecticomics, Bombshell sets up 'Dr. Shell's Love Connection", mostly for kicks. He hooks up Vector Prime with Hotshot (who Vector Prime hates)...and Vector Prime later goes on about how wonderful the evening was. He's lying, though.
- In Ctrl+Alt+Del, Lucas tries to use this, but he is repelled by the first photograph he sees (saying that it's hard not to judge a book from the cover when it's made of fur). Then, Zeke decides to play a practical joke on Lucas and sets him on a date with a girl that is slightly fat... but, in the end, she turns out to be a beautiful girl (she was wearing a fat-suit).
- Websites exists to chronicle Real Life examples of this sort of thing. Like Not Always Right, they tend to thrive on user submissions. Examples include A Bad Case of the Dates and Dating Fails.
- There's also the Instagram feed Bye Felipe, which compiles screenshots of men's rude/perverted/scary/ridiculous come-ons or responses to rejection on dating services (think "Well, I never wanted you anyway, you're an ugly bitch").
- In an early episode of Johnny Bravo, Johnny arranges a date with a woman he met online... who turns out to be a talking antelope named Carol. And, this being Johnny, they actually hit it off quite well. Too bad it turned out she was dating Johnny in an effort to make her ex (an ill-tempered talking crab) jealous.
- Totally Spies!: The villain-of-the-week starts a phony digital dating service and sets himself up (in a variety of disguises) with every girl at Beverly Hill High so he can dump them and break their hearts like his ex did to him. Yes, it's an incredibly lame plot.
- The Bojack Horseman episode "BoJack Hates the Troops" has a subplot about Todd Chavez finding a pretty, charming Japanese girl named Ayako online. But it soon turns out that she's really a scheming con woman who only wants to drain all the money from his bank account.
- The Boondocks episode "Attack of the Killer Kung-Fu Wolf Bitch" has Robert Freeman trying to date women through MySpace. The first several women he meets are all grotesquely ugly, having tricked him with fake photos of younger and prettier women; he finally meets the titular character, an attractive, cheerful woman named Luna... who just happens to be a mentally unstable kung-fu master with extreme daddy issues.
- In the Futurama episode "Put Your Head On My Shoulders", Bender runs such a service, which is both discreet and discrete. It's eventually revealed that his "carefully selected dates" are just random people he picked up at the bus station who leave as soon as the driver (also one of the dates) is ready to go.
- Happens in the Code Lyoko episode "Déjà Vu", where Odd arranges a date with a girl he met on an online dating site. Said girl turns out to be Sissi of all people.
- Metalocalypse - Toki is tired of the fast and loose life of a rock star and joins a couples matching service to find his soulmate - to his horror she's a frightful being who is clinically intent on mating and making children immediately.
- Atomic Betty used this plot more than once with Sparky's mother Zulia. The first time she uses a dating service, she ends up falling in love with the Big Bad, Maximus. The second time she ends up with the leader of a gang of biker vandals. Sparky tells her that her dates are villains he fights and tries to save her, but she's usually smitten with them and doesn't listen to her son.
- Beavis And Butthead had an episode revolving around a dating service during the early days of the trend. The duo watch a Geraldo special on the concept, one of the guests being interviewed is shown blacked out and talking about great the service is because all he had to do was call the service and they'd "send him another victim". Ironically, Beavis and Buttheads attempt at using the service turns out great, Butthead's video (where he just talks about being a "sex machine") ends up intriguing a very attractive woman, and Beavis somehow manages to charm the service provider, (also rather attractive), who mistakes his aimless rambling for deep thoughts. Unfortunately, by the time they get back home they've forgotten the whole thing and end up blowing each others' chances.
- Family Guy has done several cutaway gags, most notably one about hooking up with someone over Craigslist (a dangerous proposition even in the best case scenario).
*a portly, slovenly man rings a doorbell and is met with an equally slovenly woman. Both speak simultaneously* "You dont look anything like the photo. Oh well, lets get this over with".Man: Oh boy, I wonder which one of us is the murderer!
Mort: OH GOD, THERE'S BLOOD IN MY MUCUS!
- An early episode had Mort and Muriel Goldman talk about how they met. Turns out Muriel found Mort through one of these as one of the worst possible choices in a video dating service.
- Another episode had a cutaway about Brian on one of these. Turns out it was a disappointment on both sides. Brian was disappointed that his date was a rather dull-looking middle aged woman (she claimed the photo was old), and she was disappointed that Brian wasn't a golden retriever (he stammers out that he's a mix breed).
- The Simpsons had Marge's homely sister Selma try using a video dating service while trying to get pregnant. Figuring that she's not attractive enough to actually make a man stick around, she advertised herself as a "free lunch". Unfortunately, multiplying by zero is still zero.
Groundskeeper Willie: Och! Back to the loch with you, Nessie!
- The Hair Bear Bunch episode "Bridal Boo Boo" has the bears secretly sending Peevly's name to a lonely hearts club. A plus-sized battleaxe answers and not only wants to marry Peevly right away but also run the zoo.
- In the We Bare Bears episode "Video Date", Panda uses video chat on a dating site to talk with Celine, a charming young lady from Paris, France. However, he's so nervous and insecure that he has his brothers Grizzly and Ice Bear disguise themselves as Panda to try and make him look better. But things soon go very awry when all three of the Bears start competing against each other to win Celine's affection. And it eventually turns out that the deception wasn't one-sided either; Celine isn't even French, she's actually an American from Paramus, New Jersey.
- An episode of The Fairly Oddparents had the Crimson Chin trying this out and he ended up nearly going on a date twice with two of his archenemies. Once he realizes this, he quickly has Timmy take his place on the date and makes a break for it.