A few weeks ago, I was listening to some friends share stories from their experiences with an online dating service. Not being single, I had no idea what such a service entailed so I asked a few questions to find out more. Apparently, it’s quite easy – you fill out a profile, it gets posted and boom – you’re entered into a magical world of online matchmaking. Within a few days, you’ve already received hundreds or e-mails from potential suitors and you have the choice to pick and choose as you please.
Sounds simple enough. But I guess where you get bogged down is sifting through all of those e-mails, separating fact from fiction, sexual predator from just plain nice guy, 170 lbs and athletic from that picture was taken 10 years ago. Something that was supposed to be easy and time-saving turns into something complicated and time-consuming.
And perhaps that is fair because after all we are talking about matching you with a potential mate. Rightfully so, that should take time. But if one of the reasons for online dating is to expedite the whole mate finding process, it seems unfair then that it takes so much time to go through the bad to get to the good. In fact, my friends admitted that the success rate was about 1 success for every 10 – 20 failures. Those are not great odds for the time conscious late twentysomething. 20 dates add up. 20 dates cost money. 20 dates cost time. 20 dates can go really bad. Soon the friends were exchanging horror stories from dates that never were to be again filled with quirky habits, busting out ego, short tempers, sexual pushiness. All of those traits that you probably can’t detect through a series of questions, all of those traits whose revealing takes time.
After listening to my friends, I felt quite lucky that I didn’t have to date and go through the agony of online dating. But still, I'll admit I was curious. I wondered how many matches were really out there for me. And so, I approached my husband for permission to do a little experiment. I wanted to go through the motions of posting a profile just to see what it was all about.
Now I know what you’re thinking – that sounds like a flagrant abuse of the internet dating system. Well, you’re right….it is. However, being schooled as a social psychologist and being curious in general, I felt justified – in the name of social science – to do a little research and learn more on what it’s all about. Oddly enough, my husband agreed to let me do this - almost a little too quickly. And to keep this as inoffensive and harmless as possible, I decided I would sign up, go through the process, see my matches, and then immediately cancel it.
After registering on the site, I got started answering the pages upon pages upon pages of profile. Answering each question thoughtfully and honestly, it took about 20 minutes. Each page was filled with statements and questions. What are you most thankfu forl? How would your friends describe you? What three things can you not live without? Who was the most influential person in your life? How far would you travel for a mate? What three things do you do best? How often have you felt this way in the past month? Questions, statements, lists, check this, consider that. There was a lot to think about.
After completing what seemed like endless statements I agreed with, disagreed with, felt sometimes, felt rarely, preferred, felt were most important, enjoyed doing in my freetime, could not live without, I finally, what felt like 10 days later, completed the profile. I clicked ‘save and proceed’ on the last screen and less than a minute later, a personality profile appeared.
I’ve never put much value into these profiles. After all, being a psychology major in college, I realized that most of psychology – especially personality psychology – is just BS. Really, it’s just a matter of coincidence or generalities, patterns and consistencies. There’s no formula for figuring out who we are. We’re much more complex than a series of questions and more sophisticated than saying yes or no to statements. Our likes, dislikes, and lives in general are more than just limited to a Likert Scale. And so, I did not put much faith into this personality profile.
But then I read it.
Pages of it. Pages of me, me, me. Each sentence more descriptive than the next. After awhile it hit me – oh sh*t – they’ve been watching me. They know me. In college, they taught me all of this was bullsh*t. How could this be? Statements reflected exactly who I was, what I thought, how I felt.
The more I read, the more recognized myself in every single word:
“You’re best described as usually taking care of yourself, curious, responsive, focused, outgoing, demanding, realistic, skeptical, judgmental, perceptive, down to earth, inventive, eccentric, avant-garde, unique, brave, thinker, accessible, too sensitive, candid, unguarded, deliberate, regimented, determined, proactive, perfectionist, purposeful, friendly, full of life, unreserved, vigorous, emotional.”
Holy crap. Not only have them been watching me, but they’ve been taking good notes.
After reading through about 12 pages of notes about me, I wondered if this site, capable of describing me with great clarity and accuracy, could also match me to an ideal mate. I got a little rush. What if I clicked “find my matches”? What would happen? Would my match instantly appear? Have I already taken this too far? Suddenly, I felt giddy and awkward like a teenager sneaking out of the house at night. Being described as curious and brave, I clicked the button. And I waited.
A few seconds later, 6 names appeared. My eyes lit up.
But then I paused. Wait a minute – 6 names? You mean after 20 minutes of pondering these deep and existential questions about my personality and life, after finding a unique understanding about myself within about 12 pages of profile I am left with only 6 men in the entire Chicagoland area that are considered compatible with me? There must be hundreds, thousands that use this website. And I only match with 6?
First, I started to doubt myself. Was I not good enough? Not sensitive enough? Do I like things in too much order? Am I not warm, clever, witty, generous, patient, resilient, or agreeable? I started ripping through the pages of my profile to look for clues or hints as to why I was so incompatible. Then I started getting angry. Too driven? Too aloof? Too irritable, restless, open, and opinionated? Then I started getting scared. Was I really that bad? Should I try to be someone else? Is there no one for me? Will I spend the rest of my days alone, the crazy old lady down the street with a thousand cats and newspapers piled high to the ceiling watching talk shows and infomercials all day long? Was I doomed to spend the rest of my life by myself?
It took me a moment to remember, thankfully, that these worries did not even exist, that I was already married. You fool.
Setting aside the significant threat to my self-worth and the self-induced tantrum that followed, I decided to take a look at my 6 matches. Maybe they would be 6 perfect, Prince Charming and his horse Lance matches. Maybe narrowing it down to 6 was the blessing, not the curse.
But that was not the case. This was no blessing, this was slim pickin’s at their worst.
I quickly read through the profiles. This one lives with his parents….and doesn’t own a car. This one makes a living out of selling items on e-Bay. This one has two kids. This one likes Tom Clancy novels. This one values hygiene above anything else and can’t live without a daily shower. This one likes to watch sports – go White Sox! Dear god. If these people were anything like they were on paper no wonder my friends were having such awful online dating luck.
Snapping back into the reality that I was just doing this for ‘research’ and not for real, I cancelled my account. I had seen what I needed to see. And, no harm done. If you don’t count the harm done to my self-esteem that in all of Chicagoland I match with only 6 men who predominantly valued showers and I-PODs as the most important things in their life.
Later that night, I went home to my husband and reported my research. When I told him I solicited only 6 matches, he laughed.
Pardon the foreshadowing here, but little did he know.
After reading through my personality profile, he was surprised because indeed it described me quite well. Intrigued by this, he wanted to find out what the site had to say about him. And so, the next day he completed it for himself.
About 20 minutes later, I got an e-mail entitled “OMG”. He told me that he completed the profile answering each question honestly, thoroughly. And then, in clicking on “find my matches”, his number one match came up as……you are not going to believe this….no it was not the supermodel he was hoping for….nor Sandra Bullock….or some exotic big-boned blonde.….it was….no other….than…..OMG (OH MY GOD) ….me.
There had to be hundreds of questions to answer, statements to consider, preferences to rank. You had to list the number of miles you’d travel, ethnicities you would consider dating, religious preferences, the degree of mess you made, the amount of drinking or smoking you’d tolerate. I think you even had to comment about the use of cuss words. And after all of those details, each response making it even more detailed and further away from any one person, he ends up weeding himself through the thousands of persons and matches perfectly with me.
Of course, I found this out of control, wildly, want to pee in my pants kind of hilarious funny in a victory-is-mine sort of way.
He called it bad luck. I called it destiny. He called it proof that some higher evil power was working against him. I called it proof that we were meant to be together. He called it a glitch in the system. I called it scientific support that the system really does work. He called it a message from the devil. I called it a match made in heaven. He called it hocus pocus. I called it hard core empirical evidence. He called it a sign that the dark side was at work. I told him to look at the bright side.
In other words, if he never met me, he would have gone through the internet dating scene and eventually just met me any way. In such, I saved him about 7 years; 7 years of bad coffee dates, money wasted on dinners, unreturned phone calls, warding off sexual predators, turning down second dates, break-ups, stalkers that won’t let go, and one night stands. He told me I was describing the sex life he always yearned for. I told him to leave it at that.
“So you think you’re saving me, huh?” he asked.
“Of course,” I replied in a very realistic, pragmatic, deliberate sort of way (see above).
“I was hoping I’d find that there was a supermodel out there that matched with me. And all I found was you. That is so unfair,” he said, tongue-in-cheek…I think.
“I guess this is proof that I am your supermodel,” I replied.
He shook his head.
“It could have been worse,” I added. He looked at me as if it couldn’t get much worse. “You could have matched with your sister.”
There we stood in the kitchen of our home, an internet dating success story, if you will, a match made in heaven. Clearly, there was something cosmic at work when we met 7 years ago in the pool – something far beyond triathlon, or values, sense of humor, or work ethic. And finally there was concrete evidence and profiling to show there was a reason why we matched ourselves together in real life.
Take heart my online dating friends, it may take you 7 years of dating but rest assured you will find who you are looking for. Have faith in the profiling system, because strangely enough it seems to work and seems capable of producing a match made in heaven.