Like Love Potion no. 9, a decent film adaptation of Infinite Jest, and passable meatless bacon, the notion that a dating website like eharmony can utilize user-entered data to precisely and scientifically predict future relationship potential is a quixotic myth willed into being by our stupid dreams and kept alive by irrational hope and Disney movies. Wait — eHarmony is a dating website? I thought it was an awkward stock photo couple generator. No wonder they're never pictured standing next to a chart in business clothes using a pointer to indicate that profits are going up, up, way up, as you can see by this jagged red line with an arrow at the end.
According to the five scientist team behind the paper "Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science," despite what ads claim, eharmony & company are duping consumers with false claims of future love more replete with empty promises than an on-camera date with Kim Kardashian. Researchers analyzed methods employed by online dating sites and concluded that, science-wise, matchmaking methods ranged from "basically adorable" to "crazy."
UCLA professor Benjamin Karney, one of the co-authors of the study, says that eharmony's methods aren't only totally unreliable, they're also harmful. He'd like to see claims made in ads for online dating services checked for accuracy, since as it stands now, online dating sites can pretty much claim whatever they want without fear of retribution. The "scientific" algorithm behind eharmony, for example, has never been tested against other algorithms to measure whether or not it makes any difference in the quality of relationships experienced by users. Basically, you might be better off just going to a bar and introducing yourself to a bunch of dudes who don't appear to have girlfriends. Or just playing World of Warcraft for awhile. Or just go onto OKCupid and find someone with a weird tattoo, for free.
That's faint praise for a company like eharmony, which has presented itself as a science-based solution for people who are serious about dating and marriage and posing for cheesy engagement photos where both parties wear sweaters, a site that will use magical computers with heart shaped buttons to beep beep boop until they calculate the exact perfect match for customers and then present them via conveyor belt. The company's founder, Neil Clark Warren, received his PhD from the University of Chicago, but after graduating, he has published no scholarly articles or anything peer-reviewed, but he has pushed a couple of self-help books based on his experiences as a relationship counselor. So it seems a little strange that a guy who "doesn't like research" would base a company's entire oeuvre on a fake idea that entire teams of nerds are pouring over tics on a data sheet, pouring primary colored liquid into beakers and watching it bubble, tabulating and cross-referencing and calibrating until a perfect match is found.
Karney doubts whether such an algorithm could even exist. Relationships, he explained to LA Weekly, don't begin because of actual similarities, but people who are in relationships project similarities onto their partnership. That is, if you're spending a ton of time around someone you think is rad, you'll try to hunt for elements of your own personality that match up with the other person's rad-ness. That's why looking to long-married couples for matchmaking is ultimately a fool's errand — they have learned to think they're very similar to each other over the course of years. They've grown together; they weren't made for each other.
If eharmony wanted to prove that its method is superior to other matchmaking methods, it wouldn't be tough, says Karney — all they'd have to do is perform an experiment that compares the success of relationships matched using their algorithm as compared to those cultivated with another algorithm or with no algorithm at all.
I guess now we know that the reason that love is blind is that science blinded it.
<smallImage via Janos Huszka/Shutterstock.