I watch the quirky Match.com commercials featuring blissfully happy couples and upbeat love songs and think “Bullshit.” I prefer to believe that those people are actors hired by greedy businessmen to push more lonely people into hopeless pools of online daters. Apparently, I’m wrong.
I recently read an article in the New York Times titled “Hitting it off, thanks to algorithms of love” explaining the latest findings in the science of love. Before you counter that there is no science to love, hold on just a second. Love isn’t an emotion anymore; it’s an industry. An industry that requires as much study and analysis as any other business – if not more – to bring in profitable results.
Love Incorporated, as it should be called, is the emergent online dating business, an industry that profits more than $1 billion annually according to the 2006 Dating Industry Study. There are blogs, news columns, research institutes and even magazines dedicated to this business, which is growing at an astonishing rate.
By the way, with the direction this trade is headed, the majority of us will find ourselves integral members (or, more appropriately, customers) of this phenomenon in the years to come. According to MSN, 40 million American adults (roughly 40 percent of singles) already use online dating services and the number of first-time visitors to Web dating sites increases every day. If you haven’t tried it already, maybe you’ll be next.
I had always known there was a large pool of singles attracted to the idea of digitally picking a mate, but until reading the New York Times article, I had rarely considered the science of it. According to the piece, which examined the research behind online dating companies, the giants in the industry (like Match.com and eHarmony) have hired scientists and analysts to create unique algorithms for finding love.
Leading the pack is eHarmony, which employs the use of a fully functional laboratory to test its already successful algorithm. Different from other matchmaking giants, eHarmony does not use the “do-it-yourself” approach for customers.
Unlike Match.com, for example, where the customer can browse and click on those they find attractive, eHarmony requires its patrons to answer a 258-question test (probably more stressful than the SATs) that links them to potential partners. Every portion of the test is then put into a love equation of sorts to identify statistically positive matches.
Like any other cynic, I was suspicious of the equations and algorithms that are defining matchmaking. But I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
In data from a recent national Harris survey, eHarmony says that more than 19 million people have taken their test and become active members of their program. Even more convincing, it estimates that 2 percent of all American marriages each year are between partners who have found one another from their services – nearly 120 weddings a day!
Even a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, stepped into the scary world wide Web of love on Match.com. Unlike the successful 2 percent that eHarmony claims it matched, my friend was left with one bad date and a few awkward e-mails. However, even after her virtual “break-up,” she optimistically said she would be willing to try it again. (Next time: a different site and a different algorithm.)
I hate to admit it, but maybe this stuff really works. Online dating decreases the pressure and embarrassment usually associated with painful first dates. Users can ease into relationships, browsing candidates and sharing with others before they decide on one person.
Additionally, the most simple, stress-free option available is breaking up or breaking off communication. A short, succinct e-mail is all it takes to end a match going in the wrong direction. Services like Match.com even offer prewritten options for its members, ranging from statements like “This isn’t working,” to “I’ve found someone else.”
Also, the lack of person-to-person communication is a draw for less confident singles looking to date but deficient in attractiveness. A member of the online dating community can wear sweats and glasses on their first few dates without the stress of physical appeal.
Personally, I am not ready to take the plunge into the deep sea of online dating just yet. I still have hope that the old-fashioned kind of relationship will continue to thrive until I am ready to settle down.
But who am I kidding? It’s obvious the dating world is changing. Dating is dying out and being replaced by online communities. Let’s be honest, more of us are “poking” others on Facebook than paying for another’s meal and movie.
Although I’m not as convinced as others, I am in no position to judge them or the industry. Hey, who can judge science?
Taylor Moore is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily columnist.