Features
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Love, internet style

Technology | Popular matchmaking websites may be blinding singles with the pretense of science

Issue: "Crossing the Rubiocon," Aug. 14, 2010

Kathy Rodarme says she might never have tried online dating were it not for the example of a friend. "The site [Match.com] was offering a free month trial and I had a friend who'd met her boyfriend there. She talked me into doing it and helped me get my profile ready because I would have been way too scared to do it otherwise." At first Rodarme's fears were confirmed. She received responses from a few "weirdos" and one man who initially seemed nice but soon began steering their conversations in ways Rodarme found inappropriate.

Then just before the month was up a police sergeant named Rob contacted her and said her personality profile had registered a 100 percent match with his. She decided to give the site one more try, and after several email exchanges and phone calls the pair discovered that not only did they live within two miles of each other, they attended the same church, though at different services. By the end of the week they agreed to meet for coffee at a nearby Starbucks.

Seven years and two kids later, both the Rodarmes are happy to sing the praises of online dating. "With my job and schedule [on an overnight shift], I met women, but not the kind of women I wanted to date," Rob laughs. "So Match.com really provided a solution for me." Kathy feels that God used the technology to bring them together, saying, "We lived practically in the same neighborhood and went to the same church, but without the website, we probably never would have met."

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As we progress further into the information age, stories like the Rodarmes' are becoming more typical. According to a nationally representative survey out of Stanford, one in four people who started a serious relationship in the last two years met their significant other online. The internet is now the second most popular way for couples to meet, right behind being introduced by friends. And that only counts the millions of people who have found success with online matchmaking, not the millions more who would like to. If, as Pat Benatar once sang, love is a battlefield, almost 40 percent of singles now include dating sites in their romantic arsenal.

What has caused the explosion in online love connections? It isn't just the fact that the internet has altered our approach to most things these days-after all, there are no sites making millions off helping people find new friends. Rather, a close examination shows that it is the promise of better prospects that has singles going to their keyboards in droves.

In 2002 a Wired magazine editor wrote, "Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won't look for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalog to instead wander the stacks because 'the right books are found only by accident.'" In saying this, he wasn't just predicting that more and more people would start looking for love online, he was predicting that the internet would offer a better, more scientific approach to love, which is exactly what dating sites like eHarmony and Match.com claim to offer.

"We try to give people what they need, rather than just what they want," eHarmony founder Neil Clark Warren has said. His company operates a relationship research facility and uses a patented matching system based on "29 key dimensions of compatibility" that the company claims is responsible for generating 2 percent of all new marriages. Match.com publicizes the designer of its personality profile, a "world-renowned biological anthropologist, author and expert in the science of human attraction," and crows that 12 of its members get married or engaged every day. Never mind that a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that these so-called success rates are based at best on questionable statistical tweaking and at worst on nothing at all, the marketing seems to be working.

In 2005, a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 64 percent of single internet users agree that online dating helps people find a better match than they would on their own. Only 28 percent disagree. Christians, in particular, seem to find the idea of targeted, marriage-minded web dating appealing. Talk to dozens of singles over the age of 25 at any given church service, and you'll be hard pressed to find even one who hasn't tried a service like eHarmony's or isn't planning to. Part of the appeal, they say, is the compatibility questionnaires that identify the spiritually like-minded.

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