Love, digitally: is it dishonest to seek professional help for online dating?

As a professional portrait photographer, Ryan Walter Wagner works with lots of people trying to look their best.

But lately, Wagner has noticed another trend: people booking photo sessions specifically to upgrade their online dating platforms.

He said clients sometimes tell him what the photos are for. Other times, he'll later notice his photographs on dating apps like Tinder or Bumble.

"I think it's great. It means that I did something that portrayed that person in the manner that they felt they were approachable, natural and being themselves," he said.

As dating increasingly shifts toward the digital realm, more and more services are popping up to help people find love, from professional photographers, to dating coaches.

Dating has often involved enlisting advice from a third person, whether it's a friend offering suggestions on an outfit or helping to craft a witty text response.

But at what point does it become dishonest to seek professional help while searching for love?

Marina Adshade, a professor of economics at the University of British Columbia, said that in a society that's increasingly moving toward outsourcing everything from work to picking up groceries, she's not surprised that this industry has emerged.

Adshade said she doesn't think it's dishonest to seek professional help, especially for those who have trouble articulating who they are.

"It's possible that somebody else could write your profile and do a better job of putting into words who you are than you could," she said.

"It might make more people want to meet up with you — but it wouldn't necessarily make more people want to spend time with you."

'There's a learning curve'

Deanna Cobden is a relationship coach who helps people date, from curating their photos and writing their profiles, to sending messages and navigating a first date.

Cobden said she got into the business seven years ago when she started online dating herself and realized just how baffled people were by the process.

"It's OK to ask for help if you're not having success. There's nothing wrong with having somebody look at [a profile] and say: 'what do you think of this?'" she said.

"People get discouraged by that fact that there's a learning curve to dating these days, and they just don't understand it. They get caught up in these long texting relationships without knowing how to take it to the next level."

Adshade agrees that getting off the app and in front of someone is the biggest hurdle to overcome.

"Somebody could have the best photos on their profile, but you'll know within 30 seconds of meeting them whether you're really interested in them," she said.

Cobden said part of her coaching aims to change that mindset.

"You do not fall in love the first time you meet someone, normally. A lot of people you meet, you're not even sure if you like them, and then you end up thinking, wow."

High information dating

Adshade said that the trend could alter the dating market — depending on who is seeking professional services. She said men stand to gain the most, because women generally put more thought into their appearance and photos.

"Women have always probably been putting a lot of work and thought into their photos. [They] tend to get a much higher number of matches, so for women hiring somebody, you probably don't increase the number of people who contact you that much. For men, this could make a big difference."

Adshade said she thinks online platforms have improved the dating market, because a wealth of information about potential suitors is readily available.

"When you match with someone on Facebook you don't just see how they speak to you, you see how they interact with others, and then you actually have way more information about them than you would have, say, if you walked up to them at a coffee shop," she said.

Wagner, who has himself used dating apps, said that there's nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward, because we do it all the time.

"You're presenting yourself in a certain way constantly, whether it's in real life, on a dating profile or your Facebook or your Twitter — but there has to be an element of reality to that," he said.

"If you take a photo of yourself that doesn't look anything like you, you're going to get a different reaction in real life than on that initial swipe."