In February, New York Times writers Eli J. Finkel and Benjamin R. Karney put forth an interesting article entitled, “The Dubious Science of Online Dating.” We’ve been hearing whispers of this science for years now; news television program 60 Minutes even covered the “algorithm” approach to online dating featuring a happily shacked-up online dating success story who owe their life’s happiness to algorithms and the Internet.
But Finkel and Karney explored the much-debated topic in the Times and Match Girl was intrigued to hear their findings. It turns out, their research was resoundingly negative. In fact, they ask and answer in the beginning of the article: “…Can a mathematical formula really identify pairs of singles who are especially likely to have a successful romantic relationship? We believe the answer is no.”
Well, for starters, these dating sites are not revealing their secret coding systems to outside parties. Sometimes, secrets of this nature are well-kept because they’re so good that outing them would ruin the business model. Sometimes, though, this secretiveness could be indicative of an emperor-has-no-clothes scenario. How would the public know which is the case here?
Secondly, according to Finkel and Karney, dating sites that claim to match singles based on a slew of compatibility points are “fail[ing] to collect a lot of crucial information.” Factors like “communication patterns, problem-solving tendencies and sexual compatibility,” as the authors explain, are extremely important in starting and holding onto a successful relationship. These can’t be predicted by a computer; they either work or they don’t.
Furthermore, the items covered by dating algorithms “account for only a tiny slice of what makes two people suited for a long-term relationship.” Race, religion and other quick-pick attributes can easily be used to pair two people together, but singles are just as likely to seek out those of similar or desired race and religion anyway. Dating sites might claim that pairing similar personality types with each other is a recipe for relationship success, but Finkel and Karney share research to the contrary:
“According to a 2008 meta-analysis of 313 studies, similarity on personality traits and attitudes had no effect on relationship well-being in established relationships. In addition, a 2010 study of more than 23,000 married couples showed that similarity on the major dimensions of personality (e.g., neuroticism, impulsivity, extroversion) accounted for a mere 0.5 percent of how satisfied spouses were with their marriages — leaving the other 99.5 percent to other factors.”
What does this mean about the matrix? Match Girl’s two cents are this: an online dating site might hit the jackpot now and then by matching a pair of singles across a wide range of factors like race, religion, age, party animal status, and so on. But when you leave a first date feeling refreshed, energized and melty in the heart, isn’t it about a certain nameless feeling– those crazy butterflies that just are because they are?
Sure, butterflies might fly around in your tummy when you meet up with someone you met via the Internet. But wouldn’t you love to see how much more likely they are to swoop in after you’ve been matched by real people, who have listened to the tinkle of your laugh or who have read your very own detailed words? Words about yourself, your needs, and your life, unfiltered and without the PR spin necessary when creating a document for hundreds of potential dates to read? Now, that’s when the magic happens.