Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Love By Numbers




I'm heading out on vacation till the end of August, so I thought I'd post some final thoughts before the end of the month.

Taliban soldiers in the Pakistani/Afghan border region clearly haven't seen any eharmony.com commercials. Chinese peasants in the People's Republic probably share that same distinction.

As for the rest of us, online dating services are now a fact of life.

G.K. Chesterton, an early 20th century English journalist who was both funny and wise, once remarked, "I've heard that in America couples can be divorced because of lack of compatibility. I'm surprised anyone is still married there. I've known a lot of successful marriages but none that were compatible."

EHarmony promises to match singles on the basis of "29 scientific measures of compatibility." From their commercials sounds like a lot of people have tied the knot after filling in the online survey and charging their credit cards.

So far this post probably sounds like I'm going to write a cheap shot at services like eharmony.

But I don't feel that way at all.

I'm very interested in this whole trend of online dating/marriage, or maybe even more accurately, anonymous speed courtship.

Eharmony is simply the most prominent service like this, but there are lots of online dating services and speed dating stuff too.

Speed daters sign up online for events where they have 7.5 minute dates with 5-10 prospective partners. They run through those dates one after another and then fill out a form that tells whether they want to see any of those people again. If two people anonymously indicate on their forms that they want a second date, the speed dating firms notify both parties and encourage them to get together.

While the eharmony approach depends on quantifiable measures of compatibility, the speed dating approach depends on the importance of immediate intuition and sheer volume of potential partners. The idea in speed dating is that people can tell quickly if somebody is wrong for them and that they have the best chance of finding somebody who is right for them if they get a chance to meet a whole lot of people who are equally serious about finding a mate.

Some serious observers think both of these approaches work pretty well in getting folks together.

The great selling point of online romance services is speed and anonymity. They offer a way to quickly meet people who are very similar without having to go through the face to face agony of rejection that make church singles groups or bars such potentially painful experiences.

Here's something that makes it even more interesting. Religious people--who were motivated at least in part to help spiritually committed people to find each other--founded the leading online dating approaches.

A Jewish rabbi and his wife started the speed dating trend. They wanted to find a good way for committed Jewish singles to meet each other and struck upon the speed dating concept. It caught on and expanded well beyond their original intent but it started in a fully religious context.

Eharmony was founded by Neil Clark Warren, a committed evangelical Christian. He was a professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary (while I was at Fuller)before he started the service.

He wanted to help committed Christians find one another, and he also wanted to contribute to strengthening marriages in the culture in general. Given his training and expertise, he thought he could help people "cut to the chase"
and eliminate a lot of the wasted time and bad romantic decisions people tend to make.

Lots of cultures arrange marriages, even today, though hardly any arrange them on the basis of compatibility or personality profiles.

Other cultures, including our own, have long valued the mystery and chance of romance and have relied on strong marriage vows and powerful religious institutions to help people stay together even when they aren't compatible. Some people think the greatness of marriage can be found in the long term friendship and affection that develops between people who aren't very compatible but who commit to living with each other for a lifetime. Some of those same people value the great potential social good of having people who aren't alike crossing obvious social barriers by getting married.

Other people think the traditional take leads to lots of silent suffering or to the dislocation of divorce.

What does it say, if anything, about churches and other communities if people feel the need to find a mate online?

I won't comment on this one till I get back from my vacation, but feel free to discuss and debate this one on my blog space.

9 Comments:

Blogger TPB said...

I agree that speed and anonymity make these things so appealing. But if a person doesn't have time to meet people and go on dates, what makes them think that they have the time to be in a committed relationship?

(Jason is probably laughing at the fact that I just wrote that.)

You know, it's funny, I just got invited to one of those speed dating thingys. I'll let you know what it was like afterwards.

Have fun on vacay, Wordcat!

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

When eharmony was just getting going (around 3-4 years ago), I took their personality test on two seperate occations. The first time, it said they could confidently find a match for me. When I did it again, with probably slightly different answers, they said I was in the percentage of folks that they couldn't garontee a match, so I should look elsewhere. When eharmony was just getting going (around 3-4 years ago), I took their personality test on two separate occasions. The first time, it said they could confidently find a match for me. When I did it again, with probably slightly different answers, they said I was in the percentage of folks that they couldn't guarantee a match, so I should look elsewhere. It seemed odd that their system was so finicky, but maybe I am just borderline tolerable anyway.

But anyway, I take issue with eharmony's advertising campaign. I think it is visually manipulative (though probably not any more than most advertising today). But it kind of sucks when you are trying to use online bible study tools and you have to look at a pair of "soul mates" that have never been unhappy since eharmony hooked them up. Thank God for firefox adblock.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Mr. Warren goes to Lake.

11:15 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

my cousin is setting up an eharmony profile. Apparently it is about $40 a month? Money can't buy me love...

now what does THAT say about our society? as if we haven't made everything else into a commodity already?

10:36 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Opinion here seems to run against online and speed dating. Tina, you can serve as our courageous explorer. I look forward to hearing other takes on this since it seems like a pretty important potential shift in the way people get together.

7:04 PM  
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