When I was in my 40s, I occasionally lied about my age. I only rounded down by a year, pretending to myself that I was bad with numbers, which is accurate but also dumb. From my current perspective, my age back then seems practically adolescent. I tell the truth now but prefer not to volunteer it, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ask. Let’s just say I’m old enough to search the New York Times obituaries the way I once did the wedding announcements. Avidly. Looking for familiar names.

A friend in the fashion world—let’s call her Sasha—is known around those parts for refusing to tell her age to anyone in her adult life. Most of the time, her secret stays safe. But she’s been on dating apps lately, and her approach has proved to be a bit, let’s say, controversial. When I called to chat about it, she told me cheerfully that she was “getting ready for a date with a guy I lied to.”

Her usual line—“A lady never tells” (something she heard growing up in the South)—doesn’t fly on Hinge, where, lady or not, you have to include an age in your profile. “I just said, ‘Fuck that,’ and put in whatever.” In other words, she lops off around five years. If she meets someone and “there’s remotely any chemistry,” she’ll say, “Look, just so you know, that’s not my correct age on the Web site. It’s not far off, but I don’t disclose it.” Only once did this backfire, with a date who apparently forgot her initial confession and felt duped.

Compared to the usual dating population, she looks like Honest Abe. That’s because “over 60 percent of people lie on their profiles,” says Adam Cohen-Aslatei, who’s spent most of his career creating or consulting for apps, including Bumble, Raya, Chappy, and S’more, which he started and sold to Tawkify. “The No. 1 thing women lie about on their profiles is their age. For men, it’s income.... Also height. Height is definitely top three.”

If you were to trust online profiles—and please don’t—you’d believe all women were under 30 and all men were over six feet tall, worked at Goldman, and possessed a winning lottery ticket. Or, to quote the TikTok chant, “I’m looking for a man in finance, trust fund, six-five, blue eyes.” You might be tempted to blame the liars, but they’re victims of eons of programming.

Let Christian L. Hart explain. He studies the evolution of lying as a professor of psychology at Texas Woman’s University and the director of its Human Deception Laboratory. “Women, when given options, often prefer mates who are slightly older than them, and men by and large prefer mates that are slightly younger. This all tracks back to the evolutionary origins of attractiveness. If we think of trying to find mates that advance one’s reproductive potential, it makes sense for men to select mates that are slightly younger than them. Slightly older mates tend to have more resources, more psychological stability, and higher status, which are advantageous for women.”

You might be tempted to blame the liars, but they’re victims of eons of programming.

If you’d like a depressing example or two, step right this way. In one study, men were presented with a variety of dating profiles and asked how desirable each woman was based on her age and income. “The men said they would sacrifice $7,000 of a prospective mate’s income for every year that they were younger,” says Hart.

He offers another, gloomier tidbit. “Female prostitutes in their 20s command about double the rate that female prostitutes in their 30s command. This gives you a real-world sense of how much men tend to value youthfulness in women.”

Photographs published online can never be trusted, as anyone with a Facetune account knows. “A lot of people use outdated photos, they use overly airbrushed photos, they use other people’s photos,” says Cohen-Aslatei. “It’s something that a lot of people get mad at.” He believes this all amounts to lying. “It’s catfishing, right?” Bingo.

My fashion friend Sasha is careful not to post a ridiculously old photo or, equally risky, one that’s too edgy. (Her look of choice is “ice queen.”) To select a picture, “I’ve had to get the help of some hetero men,” she says. “Left to my own devices and a bunch of B.F.A. photos, I’d never get a date, that’s for sure.”

You could wring your hands about these deceptions, but your hands would soon ache. Noting the ubiquity of these lies and their small stakes—most people shave off just a few years and add just a few inches—Hart isn’t too worried. “Probably a lot of this is forgivable,” he says. “If it hasn’t been a lie that seems clearly aimed at taking advantage of us, we tend to be pretty forgiving.... We tend to judge the morality of lying based on harm.”

In this case, fudging the numbers a bit doesn’t qualify as necessarily harmful. Instead, “it’s sort of a strategic game that people play,” says Hart. “They slightly misrepresent themselves in the early stages of a relationship to present themselves as being as desirable as possible.” Once there’s a spark, couples tend to reveal the truth.

Meanwhile, technology is catching up with human deception. Cohen-Aslatei is excited about Amazon Rekognition, a cloud-based image-analysis technology. Used in identification, it can take a real-time photo of your face and compare it with one on your profile. “So if I’m using Tom Cruise’s photo, it’ll block me automatically.” He sees this as hopeful for the future of dating apps.

Cohen-Aslatei also detects positive changes in dating behaviors. “More younger guys want to date older women,” he says. “They’re saying, ‘I’m 35 and I’m willing to date a woman who’s 45 or 50.’ That’s pretty new.” Thank you, Harry Styles.

Sasha’s gone through her phase of younger men, but now she’s ready to find a partner who’s close to her age and share the truth with him. “In not revealing my age, what else am I masking?” she wonders. I text her after her latest date to see how it went. “We may just have a love match,” she texted back. “Zero fucks given about the age.”

Cohen-Aslatei would be happy. “I don’t believe the human species is meant to be alone.”

Linda Wells is the Editor at Air Mail Look