I just read this fascinating New Yorker article on the subject of online dating, and I thought that perhaps some of you wanted to hear my feedback on that, thanks to my own extensive research in that particular field. I’ve been doing the online dating thing for about two years, and neither the article nor my experience has been especially encouraging.
Nick Paumgarten doesn’t sufficiently graze the social implications of online mate-finding, in my opinion. The shift of online dating from creepy and slightly desperate to thoroughly mundane occurred in the space of only a decade or so, leaving traditional hookup methods like going to bars and friends-of-friends-of-friends looking increasingly fuddy-duddy. Finding a date has gone from a serendipitous exercise in ‘fishing’ to a highly controlled shopping experience. Browsing online profiles has more in common with scrolling pages on eBay than making eyes at strangers across a crowded room. There must be deep sociological implications in this, which surely are tied to the general social networking revolution, and which is with equal certainty too new a phenomenon to really get a grip on.
Paumgarten delves well and deep into the cogs and wheels that turn behind every online dating site. There are complex algorithms and extensive field research at work in the matchmaking. I’ve never sunk to the point of paying cash money for dating services (now that’s desperate) so I have no place to judge the efficacy of Match.com or eHarmony. I’ve only used Okcupid, which Paumgarten accurately describes as the hipster at the party. Okcupid bases its matches on algorithms, which feed off of multiple choice questions you’ve answered, other users rating of you, what you claim your interests are and your ongoing behavior on the site. For you, the user, this means you’ll get matches within your general age, geographic, and subjective attractiveness range. Or, more importantly, you’ll be seeing matching with similar taste in entertainment.
The epic drawback of this carefully considered matchmaking is that no amount of math can account for what we scientists like to call ‘the Click’. Algorithms simply cannot predict chemistry. What I’ve learned is this; liking cool things does not make you a cool person, matching on paper has nothing to do with clicking in person, and in the end, attraction is a primal instinctive force that circumvents all rational logic. God knows, I’ve tried my hardest to date ‘good matches’ – people who gave similar answers to similar questions, who expressed interest in the same things I have interest in, people as similar to me as I could hope to find. And I didn’t like any of them. Maybe that’s because I’m really annoying. But maybe there’s something in the old adage that opposites attract.
Let’s think for a minute about the biological basis of attraction. In the broadest evolutionary sense, we ladies are programmed to seek a mate who will be able to provide for us when we’re pregnant and helpless, and then stick around to provide for the offspring too. So obviously, we’re all looking for signs of virility, dependability, and strength. For many women that means seeking a man with huge financial assets – otherwise, would we have this plethora of Mrs Trumps running around? Some women, for whatever reason (cough *insecurity* cough) do their mate choosing based on something called ‘personality’, which has never factored into my own romantic exploits, so who knows, maybe they’re onto something. And some of us are old school and seek mates based on whether or not they could conceivably kill a mammoth. As it turns out, one great big dominant alpha male is worth a dozen wimpy intellectuals.
In short, online dating is fun and amusing, but it’s all basically a crock. Extraneous details like what music someone likes or whether or not they believe one should shower on a daily basis (one popular match question on okc) have absolutely no correlation with the attraction that forms (or not) in a face-to-face situation. In the end we fall for who we fall for based on some intangible factor – pheromones perhaps – which we have about as much control over as we do the weather.
Illustration, Adrian Tomine, lifted from The New Yorker Digital Edition