What Online Dating Sites Don’t Understand

Enter an online dating site. The focus is on appearance and personality type and maybe even zodiac signs. It’s the kind of information that you’d check off on your list of your ideal mate. These might be aspects of yourself that you’d like to cultivate, should you imagine your idealized other as some mirror reflection of yourself. Yet these types of questions often lead to overanalyzing, imagining your ideal person instead of trying to become a real-life ideal of that person. And then there you are at the end of a long workday, sitting in front of a screen, clicking from profile to profile, looking for love on the Internet.

A story on the Wall Street Journal looked at a study of online dating sites, breaking it down to the fundamental issues that these algorithmically inclined spaces lead to. “Because the people who use these websites have never met, they can’t assess the variables that are most predictive of long relationships, such as conversational habits and problem-solving tendencies,” writes the Wall Street Journal. And then, in parenthesis, just ‘cuz: “(The scientists note that these variables still require people to interact in the flesh; no online quiz can measure them.)”

I grew up gay on the Internet. At age 15, I cruised PlanetOut.com looking for other teenage girls who might be interested in hanging out. I got my mom to drive me to some far off northern suburb 45 minutes away to meet a “friend.” I remember our car ride, long stretches of highway and open land. “How do you know, um, Rachael?” my mom asked me. I pretended not to hear her. We arrived at Rachael’s suburban two-story home, and I jumped out of the car. “See you later tonight! Thanks for the ride!” My mom didn’t ask questions. Years later we discussed why she drove me miles away to meet with my “friend,” and I told her that Rachael and I met through the gay Internet dating site PlanetOut.com. Mom didn’t inquire further. It was my teenage Internet world, after all. That adolescent relationship lasted three very intense weeks.

Perhaps because of those awkward gay teenage memories, I just can’t bring myself to try the online thing again. And besides, I’m not a teenager just trying to find gay love, or really anything at all, on the Internet. Today the Internet is a world to wander through, a place to discover, stumble upon, socialize, search… but to find love? That seems more like a person-to-person thing. Says the Wall Street Journal:

“True love is hard to find. As a result people have traditionally sought help from matchmakers, friends and family. Arranged marriages and blind dates, church socials and dinner parties all rely on real-world social networks. We depend on the connections of others.”

Yet in the same story, WSJ mentions that nearly 20% of all relationships begin online, and EHarmony.com claims responsibility for about 5% of American marriages.

The Good Old Days: First Attempts at Computerized Dating

A New Yorker story outlined one of the earlier attempts at computerized dating named TACT, or Technical Automated Compatibility Testing. It was New York City’s very first computer-dating service. Much like the online dating sites of today, users paid $5 and submitted answers to multiple-choice questions. They were also asked to rank images. Answers were fed into an I.B.M 1400 Series computer which created cards of the user’s ideal matches.

In an interesting twist of fate, a lady reporter for local radio station 101 WINS named Patricia Lahrmer came by the TACT office to interview one of the company’s founders. He was unavailable that day, so the interview fell to I.B.M. programmer Robert Ross. Lahrmer arrived at the office for the interview. And then the batteries of her tape recorder died. The two made a date for later in the week. The date turned into dinner, and two years later the couple married. TACT helped Ross meet someone, but not in the computerized way he would have otherwise thought.

New Internet Dating Sites, Same Old Tricks

Yet Internet dating site enthusiasts carry on. Not long ago, San Francisco-based coder Justin Krause launched Circl.es, a site that asks users to sign-up with their Facebook accounts. It then goes through the task of filtering out that user’s Facebook friends; too often, people discover their friends, ex’s or other folks they already know in real-life on Internet dating sites. It also adds a gender option for “genderqueer,” in addition to the standard male and female options. If a user does find someone they’re interested in through Circl.es, they can quickly check that person’s public Facebook profile and send a message – if the person leaves their message option open.

“At the end of the day, if there is a cute guy across the street who goes to different bars and keeps different hours, there is no way I’d ever meet him,” Krause tells ReadWriteWeb. “I could see people who meet her say ‘oh we met on FB,’ and once you click that you’re interested, it sends it to Facebook.”

Video chat gaming studio Gickup.com wants to “connect the world through video chat games.” They have created a dating game – play or watch people play. Naturally, the company is based in Burbank, California. The Blind Video Dating Game works off the 1960s television dating game, The Dating Game.

“If we were to be married, what type of an unusual wedding would we have?” Depending on how well or how poorly the bachelor answers the question, the girl goes out with the guy – the gameshow awards them a chunk of change. So imagine this horrifyingly male-focused scenario with three girls and one guy, except it’s all taking place on Facebook and email. Welcome to your very own television dating show circa 1960s – except it’s taking place live, right now, at your computer.

Like OKCupid, Match.com and eHarmony.com, this sounds like a fun game to play. It’s another way to cruise through potential mates, selecting people based on superficial qualities. For the online dater, there’s perhaps no better way to turn life into a game you play. When it comes to actually meeting someone, this sort of win or lose, comment or like formula doesn’t work.

Image via Gickup.com’s YouTube video of The Dating Game.

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