What You Need to Know About Online Dating Algorithms

Online Dating

What You Need to Know About Online Dating Algorithms

Gina Stewart Gina Stewart • 10/09/14

First of all, let’s define the elephant in the room. What is an algorithm?

An algorithm is a fancy name for a mathematical equation.

Online dating sites use all kinds of algorithms. Algorithms are used to show you matches and populate search results. It’s safe to say they are very intricate and complicated.

Dating sites keep their algorithms under lock and key, but it’s no secret they do use algorithms to match you up.

Two sites famous for their algorithms are:

  1. eHarmony.com
  2. OkCupid.com

For eHarmony, their entire business model is built on the foundation that is their matching algorithm.

If you’ve seen their commercials, they hammer home that they get to know you deeper so they can match you up with people on a more compatible basis. Twenty-seven dimensions of compatibility are looked at.

And they take this very seriously. You’ll realize how serious it is when you try to sign up for the site and you are met with 400 questions to answer before you can see a match.

I always say there is not one person on eHarmony with Attention Deficit Disorder because they would not make it through all the questions.

The appeal of algorithms is huge.

It offers daters the posture that by answering all these questions, you’ll be met with people you’re more likely to hit it off with in real life.

So many daters make the investment of their precious time to answer the 400 questions.

The other famous algorithm site is OkCupid. OkCupid offers an entertaining array of questions. It differs from eHarmony in that answering the questions is not required to use the service.

It also differs in that the site shows what percentage you match others in three categories: match percentage, friendship percentage and enemy percentage.

In many cases, you can even see exactly how your match answered the questions.

This is alluring to users because whenever you see a high match percentage with someone, you feel a certain level of comfort and confidence in a shared outlook.

But there’s a problem. It’s actually a big problem. Ready for it?

“The magical Internet doesn’t

churn out perfect matches.”

Algorithms don’t work.

WTF?! At least, not in the realm of matchmaking on a dating site.

I know, I know. I’m sorry. I hate to burst this bubble because it’s so fun to believe in the algorithms.

But research has shown time and time again they don’t work.

There are several reasons for this:

If you think about relationships, attraction and self-reported tests, you begin to understand why.

  • What people say they want in a partner and what they are actually attracted to in person can vary vastly.

How many times have you heard someone say they ended up with someone they never thought they would end up with? That’s because feelings always trump logic when it comes to relationships.

You may think you need to end up with a lawyer but an artist ends up rocking your heart. Chemistry is a funky chicken that can rear its head in funny ways.

Sometimes it’s a look someone gives you or an energy or a pheromone that you have no idea exists. The elusive chemistry makes the final calls on who you are attracted to, but you can only see chemistry in person.

  • Dissonance

There is a psychological term called dissonance, which means how people describe either themselves (or their ideal matches) varies in how this person actually is in experience.

For example, I can believe to my bone that I am unselfish and describe myself this way on my dating test, but if you met me, you could see I am actually a pretty selfish individual.

How does that work for setting me up with someone who requires a selfless mate? (I’m not selfish. This is hypothetical!)

  • Let’s say dissonance doesn’t exist and you know with textbook accuracy your psychological makeup.

Your answers are answered exactly representative to your personality.

The problem is you can’t be sure the person you’re being matched with has the same superhero answering skills as you or that people don’t just answer according to how they think they should answer in order to be matched up with who they think they should be matched up with.

Did you catch all of that? It’s mucky.

And this has nothing to do with the mathematical logic of the algorithm. This is a problem with user error and no company can build in for that.

Regardless of all of this, does that mean no one finds their soul mate on eHarmony, OkCupid or any of the other jillion sites that use matching algorithms?

Nope. Obviously it does not.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. The odds are random on any given site.

The moral of the story is:

You can’t trust the algorithm alone. Ignore the percentages. You have to actually just meet people.

The magical Internet does not figure you out and churn out ready-made, perfect matches. The sooner we realize this, the less disappointing online dating is.

What do you think of dating algorithms? Will you only go out with people who match you at a certain level?

Photo source: zastavki.com.