After failing to make a connection on OKCupid, I moved on to eHarmony: the great white whale of online dating sites. eHarmony’s different in so many ways that it was a little intimidating, because no matter what you’re used to, it’s going to push you out of your comfort zone a bit. For one thing, you can’t browse other peoples’ profiles. Instead, after filling out a lengthy (really! more than 250 questions, though they’re almost entirely multiple choice and quick) questionnaire, the service looks at your answers, looks at certain preferences you can set (how far away your matches can be, whether you care about race, whether you care if they have children, et cetera), and gives you a list of people the computer says you should be compatible with.
It has to be a little weird, right, talking to somebody a computer has already determined could be your perfect match.
I’m one of those people who always want to challenge the phrasing of the question — this was true in school too. Yes, I will complain that there aren’t enough options even when “none of the above” is one of them. I always want to explain my answer. I want to narrate. I was good at essays, and especially term papers. Multiple choice tests just frustrated me, because I was always sure they’d been written badly. (Later in life, I was a teacher for a few years, and I’ll let you in on a secret: many of those multiple choice tests ARE written badly.)
In the self-description sections of eHarmony’s lengthy questionnaire, I kept running into that problem. These are the questions where they ask whether a certain statement or description of you is true or false, and HOW true, HOW false. Does “dominant” generally describe me, on a scale of 1 to 7? Well, the answer in the bedroom isn’t the same as the answer on the street, you know? Am I frugal? I drive a car with good gas mileage and I make almost all my food from scratch, but I own more than 400 DVDs. I wanted to narrate. I wanted to write essays. But you can’t have a system like this unless it’s working with quantifiable data.
Other questions were very simple to answer, though — yes, it’s important for me to spend time creating things; yes, I enjoy meeting and talking to new people. There were enough clear-cut questions that I kept going.
Now, eHarmony has prepared for my difficulty, sort of. If your answers are too inconsistent, they will reject you. That’s right. They get the most press for refusing to match same-sex couples — eHarmony is an explicitly marriage-minded service that was designed to reduce the divorce rate by creating stronger marriages, between people who won’t get sick of each other after two years, and its founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren is an evangelical Christian who used to be a dean at a seminary school. Warren claims his theories, his math, just doesn’t take homosexuality into account, and that no moral judgment is being made. Me … well, I’m straight, so I decided not to worry about it at the moment.
But eHarmony’ll reject you for other reasons: for being under 21, for being already married (I assume this only matters because of people with open marriages and people who are separated but not yet divorced), and for having been divorced more than twice. Each of those sort of makes some sense. I’m sure that divorce one pisses some people off, but this isn’t a personalized service: if you’ve been divorced three times and you’re back on the dance floor looking for love and need a boost like this to help you, maybe there’s a problem that goes beyond what algorithms can do for you. Maybe there isn’t, but it doesn’t seem any worse than my car insurance going down just because I had a birthday. Stats are stats — Geico’s banking on my unlikelihood of being in an accident, and eHarmony’s banking on their ability to find me a woman.
Once you’re in — and most people do get in, from what I understand — you fill out a few more things (“Must Haves”/”Can’t Stands”) and then you get your matches. I’ll get to mine in a minute. You can’t get more matches as long as you have unexamined ones sitting in your metaphorical inbox, so from time to time someone will “close communication” with you even though you haven’t started communication yet — they’re just kicking you off the desk so they can see who’s next on eHarmony’s list for them.
My eHarmony Matches
It’s weird to say that this is weird, but I’ll cut to the chase: all of my first matches were deeply religious black women.
Now, I don’t have any problem with that — either with the religiousness or with race (for the record, I’m white and identified myself as such). I expressed no race preference when asked. I expressed no religious preference when asked. I don’t remember the wording of the survey’s questions, but I would have identified myself as Christian, no particular denomination, moderate feelings — and I was asked if church-going was important to me, and I said gave it the lowest possible rating. Other than Christmas, I haven’t been to church in well over a decade.
All these women in my matches were black women who mentioned God or Jesus in some way, usually along the lines of “I am passionate about wanting to be the kind of wife God wants me to be.”
That’s fine … and I’m not saying these women don’t belong in my matches. What struck me was how many of them were! When all your matches have two things in common, you reasonably assume that the eHarmony system believes those two things are right for you. The system thinks I want a religious black woman.
After all the soul-searching I did through that eHarmony multiple choice questionnaire … all the hand-wringing over whether I wanted to answer “4″ or “5″ on a scale of 1 to 7 … they sure found a way to surprise me.
Is it the site’s quasi-religious origins, and early backing by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio show? Is the user base filled with devout Christians, so that these results say nothing about my questionnaire and simply speak to the pool? I don’t know. Even if that were the case … well, I feel like a jerk to keep bringing it up, but what’s with the race thing? I have no problem with dating black women, but when they’re the only options in my matches … it just feels like somebody is trying to tell me something.
So have I hit it off with any of these women? Well, that’s the thing, I haven’t coughed up the fees yet, which means I can look at my matches but I can’t communicate with anybody.
But if nothing else, the eHarmony site has made me think about what I’m looking for, and why I’m looking for it, to a much greater degree than other sites did.