Love & Sex

I Did It For Science: eHarmony.com

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EXPERIMENT: To gallop in on a white stallion, sweep my be-taffeta-ed beloved off her pygmy feet, and ride us off into an eco-sustainable sunset: in other words, to fall in love and get married — with eHarmony!

HYPOTHESIS: State your hypothesis in the form of a prediction that can be verified by the results of the experiment.

As Nerve’s new lab rat, I thought I’d go for it all: trade in this dissipated New York sex-mag lifestyle for the American dream: the doting wife, picket fence, and 2.4 screamers. eHarmony will bring me love, permanent love. Just watch: I will take their compatibility profile, be matched with the right woman or women, go on the requisite three dates before meeting the parents, and the rest will be smooth sailing. Nuptials by November!

MATERIALS: Please list all the materials required for this experiment (including, if applicable, how they were obtained).

• One evening and half a bottle of Maker’s consumed in filling out eHarmony’s 693-page questionnaire

• The perfect woman, picked from the millions for me by eHarmony’s infallible algorithms

• Thoroughbred stallion

METHOD: Describe, step by step, what you did in your experiment.

I’m barely kidding about the questionnaire (you can read mine here): printed out in single-space, it’s eleven pages long. Filling it in online, I quickly lost count of how many screens I had clicked through, though after what felt like a half hour, there was a helpful little note at the bottom, "You’re eight percent done!" I thought, Great, I guess I won’t let my blood just yet.

The thoroughness of eHarmony’s inquisition (with probing questions like "How often in the past month have you felt plotted against?") is what separates them from all the other dating sites online. Working from the idea that while opposites might attract, they’re less likely to endure, eHarmony tries to pair you with your virtual twin in all the things they think matter ("the key dimensions of personality," they say — but, other than "autonomy" and "kindness," they don’t specify). I have to hand it to them; there’s a lot more research and science behind their process than you see in the competition, and, like reading that your shampoo has some jungle plant in it you’ve never heard of, their approach brings forth all our knee-jerk trust in men in lab jackets. And it might just be working; they cite a study saying that "an average of 236 eHarmony members marry every day in the United States as a result of being matched on the site." I could be next!

Overall the whole process feels like taking a Myers-Briggs personality test (remember, the old thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving one?) geared especially for dating and mating. On Match.com, I remember pretty much just needing to be able to spell my own name (difficult for many of their members), but eHarmony wanted to know how stylish I think I am (moderately), how moral (highly, darling, I assure you), and how submissive (uh’). They asked a lot about religion and even "church involvement." What if you go to a mosque or synagogue or Satan’s grotto? Do those count?

On a happier note, they asked me if "I waste my time" — can you imagine trying to date someone who said they never did? They gave me a list of adjectives, many of which seemed synonymous (am I more caring, affectionate or warm? More intelligent or thoughtful?) and then asked me to pick. I would have gone with obnoxious and megalomaniacal, but those weren’t on there. Some of the questions seemed a little odd: do I enjoy a good joke? Well, it is a good joke. Who would answer no? Pol Pot?

Then there was a series of questions about monogamy that made me a little uncomfortable, though I do think I’m capable of it. They asked about a lot of skill sets, and clearly I have a rather high opinion of my abilities, barring my chances of fixing the family car. At the end, they asked how far I’d go for love; I live in Manhattan, so I said thirty miles. That was the minimum; the reality is probably about fifteen blocks. Drunk as a stepdad and all my inner workings laid bare, I pressed enter. Love loomed on the horizon.

OBSERVATIONS/RESULTS: Quantify the effects of the experiment.

It only took them a few seconds to smash the snowy paperweight of my romantic future.

"Unable to match you at this time."

They had to be kidding. It’s New York City, a straight-male dater’s paradise, the most famous place in America to land girls you wouldn’t have a shot at anywhere else, where fabulous women put up with dirtbags and freeloaders and still get cheated on. No one for me? But I’m not homeless! I’m not a convicted felon! I can be monogamous, I promise! No dice. "Our matching model could not accurately predict with whom you would be best matched." Yeah, when you say best matched, no shit, you’re a computer, but how about someone who might just like my cardigan collection?

Apparently this happens to one person out of five, and despite appearances, they weren’t exactly telling me that there was no one out there for me (among the million-plus women in Manhattan — ouch!). No, the problem was that I didn’t "fall within certain defined profiles." And instead of throwing the rejects into a free-for-all dating pool of freaks (maybe like Alaska), they set you loose to finish your date with the bottle.

When your psychological profile starts sounding like an astrological chart, you know you’re in trouble.

Distraught, I shelled out the $19.95 to get their full analysis of my uncategorizable psyche (and, for the record, it was the first time this month I felt plotted against). Like a cunning palm-reader, they did a good job of hedging their bets, giving me these summaries in all-caps: for agreeableness, they say: "You usually take care of others" (my emphasis); for emotional stability "Sometimes steady/sometimes responsive"; for conscientious "Focused and Flexible" (my emphasis). In every case, too much of both. (Though apparently, despite my desire to stay home all the time, I’m still "Outgoing" and "Very curious." Okay’) When your psychological profile starts sounding like an astrological chart, you know you’re in trouble.

CONCLUSION: Summarize your findings.

I still had questions, so I got their Senior Research Scientist on the horn. Gian Gonzaga, Ph.D. told me that people come up unmatchable for four reasons: they’re under eighteen, they’re married, they’re trying to "game the system" (i.e. not being serious about the process — their code for bootycallin’?), or they’re people who have "a complex, nuanced view of themselves." (As an unspoken fifth, eHarmony also famously doesn’t match gay people — thus their new spin-off site, CompatiblePartners.net, which I would have called eSingShowtunesInHarmony.com.)

I’m over eighteen and never married, so in this case, the problem was me — or at least my sense of myself. "One of the downsides of the system," Gian told me, is that if you answer questions in "inconsistent ways" it "blows the system up. It’s not an implication of how worthy you are of a relationship. It’s actually saying that you are a unique person. And finding someone is something that our system can’t handle, but it doesn’t mean that there’s not someone out there."

"Uniquely self-delusional?" I asked him.

"No, unique in the sense that you are a rare bird in the world… a person with a complex view of yourself."

"Wow," I said. "That sounds pretty good." eHarmony wasn’t going to get me married, but they at least gave me a new headline for my ad on Adult Friend Finder.

Read more I Did It For Science here.

©2009 Jack Harrison and Nerve.com