The vagaries of online dating, however, quickly present new challenges to relationship etiquette

The vagaries of online dating, however, quickly present new challenges to relationship etiquette

After meeting several different men for coffee, she settled on one in particular and they dated for several months. In her case, after several months of successful dating, she and her boyfriend agreed to take their Match profiles down from the site. Since they were no longer “single and looking,” but single and dating, this seemed to make sense – at least to her. Checking Match a week later, however, she found her boyfriend’s profile still up and actively advertising himself as available. They are still together, although she confesses to a new wariness about his willingness to commit.

This February, a “commonsense guide to successful Internet dating” entitled I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book hit bookstores. Publishers Weekly describes the author, an “Internet dating consultant,” as “a self-proclaimed online serial dater” who “admits he’s never sustained a relationship for more than seven months,” yet nevertheless “entertainingly reviews how to present one’s self on the Web.”

Designing the “dating software” that facilitates online romance is a science all its own. U.S. News & World Report recently described the efforts of Michael Georgeff, who once designed software to aid the space shuttle program, to devise similar algorithms to assess and predict people’s preferences for each other. “Say you score a 3 on the introvert scale, and a 6 on touchy-feely,” he told a reporter. “Will you tend to like somebody who’s practical?” His weAttract software purports to provide the answer. On the company’s website, amid close-ups of the faces of a strangely androgynous, snuggling couple, weAttract – whose software is used by Match – encourages visitors to “Find someone who considers your quirks adorable.” Fair enough. But the motto of weAttract – “Discover your instinctual preferences” – is itself a contradiction. If preferences are instinctual, why do you need the aid of experts like weAttract to discover them?

The rapid growth of Internet dating has led to the erosion of the stigma that used to be attached to having “met someone on the Internet” (although none of the people I interviewed for this article would allow their names to be used)

We need them because we have come to mistrust our own sensibilities. What is emerging on the Internet is a glorification of scientific and technological solutions to the challenge of finding love. The expectation of romantic happiness is so great that extraordinary, scientific means for achieving it are required – or so these companies would have you believe. For example, Emode, whose pop-up ads are now so common that they are the Internet equivalent of a swarm of pesky gnats, promotes “Tickle Matchmaking,” a service promising “accurate, Ph.D. certified compatibility scores with every member!”

And Internet dating itself is becoming increasingly professionalized – with consultants, how-to books, and “expert” analysis crowding out the earlier generation of websites

The apotheosis of this way of thinking is a site called eHarmony, whose motto, “Fall in love for the right reasons,” soothes prospective swains with the comforting rhetoric of professional science. “Who knew science and love were so compatible?” asks the site, which is rife with the language of the laboratory: “scientifically-proven set of compatibility principles,” “based on 35 years of empirical and clinical research,” “patent-pending matching technology,” “exhaustively researched” methods, and “the most powerful system available.” As the founder of eHarmony told U.S. News & World Report recently, we are all too eager – desperate, even – to hustle down the aisle. “In this culture,” he said, “if we like the person’s looks, if they have an ability to chatter at a cocktail party, and a little bit of status, we’re halfway to marriage. We’re such suckers.” EHarmony’s answer to such unscientific mating practices is a trademarked “Compatibility Matching System” that promises to “connect you with singles who are compatible with you in 29 of the most important areas of life.” As the literature constantly reminds the dreamy romantics among us, “Surprisingly, a good match is more science than art.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *