Monday, February 21, 2011

My Beef with eHarmony

I am sorry if this whole post comes across as bitter. I am enjoying the process of eHarmony for what it is worth, but there are some very glaring problems I see with this way of dating.

So, I've been subscribed to eHarmony for about 6 months; I signed up after my previous relationship ended, and I was looking for a way to alleviate the loneliness I was feeling at the time. I admit, it was probably not the best thing for me to do at that moment, but I was looking for a way to ease my way back into the scene and it seemed like a great way to meet people. So one late night (probably after a few beers) I took the personality test, and figured what the hell, let me sign up for a year and see what happens.

Let me say up front that eHarmony is not a great way to meet people. I have had various degrees of success with the model. I dated someone seriously during some of my tenure, I have sent numerous message requests, gone through the hand holding "guided communication" and had entire email conversations with people that eventually evaporate. There are artificial barriers up all over the place that actually prevent potential matches from communicating with each other, rather than getting people together. My main gripe is that by the time two people jump through all the hoops and stages of communication, reading reports on their personality, and speaking in messages, there is very little left to talk about between the two people; all the potential small talk has been smothered out of the equation. It is almost like I saw how the sausage was made before actually trying it.

One thing that differentiates eHarmony from other dating websites is the 29 dimensions of compatibility system that you are matched with other people. The matching system sends you several people per day that the system has matched you up with based on the personality profile you completed. After about 6 months, at a rate of ~6 matches a day, I now am matched with 340 women. I looked at that number one day, and thought "Wow this is depressing. There are 340 people that either I don't find particularly interesting or attractive, or they don't feel that way about me; either I am being way too picky, or there is something really putting off about my profile." I think self consciousness always sets in before rational thought, but now that I think about it, I am pretty sure the matching system isn't as good as they advertise.

When you set up your profile, you can setup a profile of likes/dislikes as well called "Something to Talk About." These are things like, what sports do you follow, what kind of music do you like, are you a dog/cat person etc. This profile is just the little goofy things that everyone likes/dislikes; It resembles a mini profile of you. What bothers me is that the system will match me with someone, and most of my matches will have zero or few matches in this mini profile. I would assume that if the system is matching me on 29 dimensions of my personality, almost every profile would have at least some of these little things line up as well.

The website also makes you choose your "Must Haves/Can't Stands" so that you can communicate to people you are matched with the things that you are unwilling to compromise with. I like this idea in theory, but I come across people that I start communicating with and as soon as I read their list and compare it with mine, I wonder why I was matched up with this other person in the first place. Is the model wrong? Is the model comparing or measuring the wrong things?

In fact, every other profile starts to look like a cookie cutter of the last one after a while. After looking at all the profiles I have seen, I can predict what the next girls are going to say: I love my friends and family, I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had in my life, and I want to meet someone who I can laugh with. It is starting to sound like these girls are writing to Santa. I think it has to do with the personality test that they give everyone to begin. You answer about a half hour's worth of questions and almost feel sedated at the end of it, so by then you brain can't really produce anything unique or expressive about who you are. Ok, maybe there is some hyperbole in there, but there also may be a kernel of truth.

There are some things that the website does pretty well. It is great at being a non-threatening place where singles can let a computer program take some of the burden off their shoulders in terms of looking for a date; however getting you in contact with another person is not one of those things that it does all that well. In fact I would argue that it does the opposite. I don't think that eHarmony has a real incentive to match people up with each other. They are a business after all. One of their motivations must be to make money at some point in the process. After 6 months in the system, it feels more like a trap than a place where I am supposed to be meeting others. Here are a few reasons why:

1) The system finds people for you, rather that letting you search out and filter people based on what you are looking for. This seems counter-intuitive to me.

2) The system delivers you a few new matches at a time, which keeps you coming back to the website every day, or at least frequently. It also delivers new people to you even though you may be getting to know someone, which could make you think the grass is greener somewhere if your current match starts to lose his sparkle.

3) The guided communication is actually a barrier to communication. It is fun the first few times to send lists with checkboxes back and forth the first few times. After you have been through it enough though, it get very tedious and starts to feel like jumping through hoops.

4) It is expensive. It can be argued that the cost of the service keeps it for people who are serious about finding a relationship, and keeps the lurkers out. I think that is very true, but it does cost much more than other services.

I would argue that the website has an incentive to keep you coming back to the website, impede the communication between people, and not allow you to browse and search the other people in the database, simply because it keeps you subscribed to the service and paying a monthly fee. Neil Clark Warren aint cheap.

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