Pride, Prejudice, and Online Dating Deception

A woman commits online dating fraud and toys with the female psyche.

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Amy Webb, you're no Elizabeth Bennet.

In a world of woe, Amy Webb's Internet dating fraud will not make it into the State of the Union address tonight. But she is a creature of the culture, a ruthless character that would make Jane Austen drop her pen if she only knew how far our fall is since the novel Pride and Prejudice was published 200 years ago. You see, Austen's favorite heroine Elizabeth Bennet actually has to compete as she is for Mr. Darcy—Fitzwilliam to his closest friends. The young lady showed off her sparkling wit while dancing with proud Mr. Darcy. Her bright spirit and confession that she dearly loves to laugh, combined with "a pair of fine eyes," as he himself put it, proved matchless.  

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This century has wrought the crafty Amy Webb who, on the other hand, broke every trick in the book, and then some, to trap a member of the male species. Then she wrote a nonfiction book about her triumph, discussed in the Sunday Washington Post Outlook section. Her tell-all doesn't have quite the same ring: Data, A Love Story:  How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match.  

(At her writing desk in Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen is reaching for her smelling salts.) 

Here's how it happened. Ms. Webb desperately wanted to meet a man with 72 qualities, and joined the Jewish dating site, JDate, as a man—or men. In the fashionable style of fake verisimilitude, she created several different male profiles—variations on the theme of her dream man. The object of the gaming was to attract women so she could see what works to catch fish—or catfish—in a female profile. As Webb writes, "My goal in this experiment wasn't just to observe other women on JDate. It was to understand them deeply enough to understand their behavior. I didn't want to hide who I was or to pretend to be someone else."

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Hold on, she did do exactly that, weaving a tangled web (if you will) of trickery and deception. 

At least, be honest about your dishonesty, Ms. Webb.  

Here's the rub: The imposter interacted with 96 women for a month, and used them for all they were worth to her reshaping her own profile. Let's just say, 96 Elizabeths looking for their Mr. Darcys, hoping to meet and flirt with them like real people on a level dancing floor. Instead, they may wonder why they never heard from him again as he vanished into the ether. That does damage to the female psyche. And I am not fond of women who treat other women shabbily.  

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(Perhaps the gamer told them after the fact what she had done. But I don't have $25.95 to spend to find out.)  

All's fair in love and war, they say, even in this modern ploy—excuse me, opposition research on unsuspecting strangers. In the end, the winning version of Ms. Webb stripped her own profile of her job, resorting to a kind of dreamyspeak: She's equally comfortable in jeans and a little black dress. She's seeking an "insanely clever adventurer" who makes her laugh as they "venture off the beaten track together." Fake verisimilitude at work again, based on her character theft. 

Isn't it romantic?

Take me back to 1813 any day, where there are truths universally acknowledged. 

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