I adore dating companies because they are so fascinating: if a dating business does its job well, it immediately loses two customers. I’m a nut for romances anyway so on the one hand you have the delicate tinderbox of when two people meet but then on the other you have a business that might have to fail in order to succeed. Or even survive.
Then with online dating there’s the fact that it was once something you wouldn’t admit to. (You’d go on ITV’s Blind Date and be matched up by Cilla Black, fine, but you wouldn’t admit to using online dating, nooo.)
Plus online dating seems a bit geeky, somehow. I know it isn’t and we all know how deeply personal and intimate technology can be – friendships are made and lost on Twitter – and as writers it can’t shock us that the typed word can have so much power. But the notion of ticking boxes and saying your ideal partner must have GSOH, it’s geekily clinical.
Amy Webb, who I just realise has quite an appropriate surname given how she’s written about using the web to find love, has, er, written about using the web to find love. But Brain Pickings describes her as “mathematically-driven” and Webb went full-on, geek-out analytical:
After a series of bad dates following a major heartbreak, [Webb] decided to take a quantitative approach to the playing field and started systematically recording various data points about her dates, revealing some important correlations. After one particularly bad date, she decided to formalize the exercise and wrote down everything that was important to her in a mate — from intellectual overlap to acceptable amount of body hair — eventually coming up with 72 attributes that she was going to demand in any future date. She then broke down these attributes into two tiers and developed a scoring system, assigning specific points to each. For 700 out of a maximum possible 1800, she’d agree to have an email exchange; for 900, she’d go on a date; for 1,500, she’d consider a long-term relationship.
The full piece on Brain Pickings includes a page from Webb’s handwritten notes (which curiously includes a bit saying “year: 2050” and also “have to get military experience” which all feels like a different story altogether). And it recounts how Webb could’ve stopped there but instead took the next logical approach and analysed herself.
She also analysed the statistics of women on online dating and, actually, some of that is really depressing. I’m a man and statistically I am supposed to prefer blondes, I’m supposed to be turned off by powerful women. I don’t like this bit. But I really like how Webb ripped all this online dating apart to get the guy of her dreams – and, spoiler, she did it – and in doing so really revealed a lot about us.
Online dating firms claim to have these great personality-matching algorithms but Webb shows how they can of course only go by what we tell them. And, worse, what the other person tells them.
She found ways to get around that artifice, perhaps by creating artifice of your own but still. She broke down online dating into what works – and as you read what she concludes, you’re going to be thinking about yourself. Specifically, about yourself on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and all the rest. Never mind dating, what she’s found is alternately useful and eye-opening about the image we unconsciously present of ourselves.
Do read the full Brain Pickings piece for, as ever, Popova has written a really good article about all this. But then go read Webb’s book: Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match.