(Image from David Saracino/Washington Post)
Ellen Pierce: [a match-maker] You give me 3 days and I will find the woman you will marry.
Ted: No, thanks. I don’t need an algorithm to meet women. It’s New York, you know. Plenty of fish in the sea!
Ellen Pierce: [mocking him] Plenty of fish in the sea!
[grabs a calculator form the desk and starts clicking away]
Ellen Pierce: There’s 9 million people in New York. 4.5 million women. Of course, you want to meet someone roughly your own age – let’s say plus, minus 5 years. So if you take into account the most recent census data that leaves us with 482,000 women. But wait! 48% of those are already in relationships and then you have to eliminate half for intelligence, sense of humor and compatibility. And then you have to take out the ex girlfriends and the relatives. And, oh, you can’t forget those lesbians. And then that leaves us with 8 women.
[pushes calculator screen into Ted’s face]
Ted: [starts to get concerned] That can’t be right! Eight? Really? Eight?
Ellen Pierce: There are 8 fish in that big blue ocean, Ted. And if you feel confident that you can reel one into your boat without me, there’s the door.
Ted: Do you take credit cards?
(How I Met Your Mother, Season 1, Episode 7)
If you’re single and available, probably you’ve heard or used a dating sites like Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, Match and few others (and if you’re not single and not available but still wants to fling, there’s Ashley Madison. Hopefully your spouse or hacker won’t find you). In all honesty, I used one or two of those sites around years ago*, primarily because back then I was single and another is because I want to ‘study’ how these dating sites (or rather, their algorithm) work. Lame excuse, I know.
There’s nothing wrong with any of us using dating or matchmaking sites to find love. After all, to be in love is part of our human emotion (chatbots, if you read this you wouldn’t understand). We have moved away (at least quite a number of us) from a marriage pre-arranged by our parents to a date arranged by them to the one arranged by one of our close friend so on and so forth. Well, you got the idea right? Especially if you’re Asian (like me) and/or your parents are quite conservative (not mine, thank God). We no longer stick to the taboo of a guy should make his move first or a girl should play hard to get. Or the parents knows best.
How many of us never had any friends or family members that tried to matchmake you with someone? I know I had several matchmakers (when I was still single) from an office friends, casual friends, professional friends, siblings and even my own mother. In one particular example, it’s complicated enough that all those matches became friends and matchmakers themselves. It’s very much of Person A wants to match me with Person B. But me and person B got no chemistry whatsoever, therefore the person B introduces me to C and so on. I think it stopped somewhere with person E, whom told me that I should try my luck with person D instead (D and E knew each other) after person E got engaged (and married). I called it a ‘match-loop‘, but remain good friends with all of them.
Complicated much, eh?
Is Dating Sites Our New Cupid?
Just because we’ve evolved and civilised, doesn’t mean that getting into love and relationship gets any easier or better (or otherwise there wouldn’t be a thing called ‘ex’, right?). With technological advancement and demographic changes, not only it enabled us to find our love within specific interest, location or career but anything beyond that. Who says we can’t find, meet and love someone with different religion? Or race? Or career interest? We no longer stuck with the potentials that live within 10-mile radius because through advancement in communication and social algorithm, that radius has expanded to a few thousand miles more.
So what happened? We found out that our potential love interest has expanded. Maybe from two or three to several hundred. And how many of our matchmakers or friends can ‘filter’ such a large numbers before they drop dead due to exhaustion? Who got time for that anyway? And here we thought that with more possibilities, we can find true love and live happily ever after. Instead, we’re stuck in a never-ending loop of trying to figure out who is ‘the one’ from the sea of dating site fish. We’re thinking that we can decide better, but once the flood gates of potential suitors wide open, we can’t even decide which criteria is the most important for us. We just paralysed from too may options.
And so, we turned to the dating sites as our Cupid (or less annoying uncle or auntie) to decide on our behalf. Or at least to filter out unwanted suitors.
Lovegorithm To The Rescue
As any social sites that we are all aware of, they have something as their magic called algorithm. After all, this is 2018 right? Algorithms should know best. And might be even better than we ever acknowledged or even aware of. I mean, I don’t even remember what I did at this exact time and exact date 5 years ago, but Facebook and Instagram surely knows and remembers me well. It’s safe for me to assume that f I’m single right now, the dating site’s algorithm will define me as someone who read too much, not much social life, staring at my computer screen or all of them. Or maybe it will just spit out something like ‘you should get out more’.
Due to my own lack of creativity, let’s called it ‘lovegorithm’.
Tinder is not the earliest into online dating service (Match was founded in 1995), nor it would be the last. Even Facebook already announced last month that they’ve entered this arena. And if history is any indication, Tinder or OkCupid might be facing a giant which not only has deeper pocket but more data and users to their advantage. (Snapchat would be a good Exhibit A). I don’t know how Tinder’s algorithm works, but since Facebook has most of our data, they may have advantage of finding the most suitable match for their Facebook Dating users. Maybe Facebook can even suggest whether this potential suitor is going to be good spouse, has suicidal tendencies, ate too much crappy food, ranting on even the smallest thing, love to share fake news or I don’t know, troll others?
And I don’t blame the users. As I mentioned above, who has time to really filter out the unsuitable candidates? Clearly lovegorithm can help them doing so and just show us the one that fulfil our criteria. We can select which criteria that we want to match with and et voila, lovegorithm works its magic and show us our dream spouse.
Or nightmare. But worth the try, right? At least in 50 or 60 years time, we got something to laugh at while dragging our feet to make it to the toilet in time.
So what’s my experience with these online dating services?
I registered in 2013 with Match.com and 2014 with Tinder and OkCupid (stumbled upon my ex on OkCupid. Yikes!). Of course, before it can show you your potential significant others, you have to tell them a bit about yourself (i.e selecting your gender, your interest, your age etc etc) and what you consider as your potential suitors (i,e. range of age from your own, location, interest etc etc). Then after lovegorithm looked through its magic balls, photos of potential suitors rains down on you and all you have to do is choose which one that gets your attention (or in Tinder case, swipe left or right).
My result? 1 match from Match.com and 2 from Tinder. None from OkCupid. I got ghosted from the suitor through Match.com after few dates and I myself ghost those two from Tinder.
Ironically, I met my significant other offline and my spouse is nothing like what I described in the criteria of potential suitors when I joined those dating services.
Are We Being Duped By Online Dating Services?
I like to think so but no, I don’t think we are. Yes, I spent about 20 bucks (or is it 50?) to register into the service with nothing to show for it.
The problem with some of us (OK maybe including me back then) is that we rely too much on algorithm to decide on our behalf. Not necessarily decides which specific person is the suitable candidate, but also to decide whether any person should be our candidate in the first place. I always told my other single friends that yes, you can have criteria to find a lover, but you have to be specific which criteria is the need and which criteria is the thing that you want. Good career is want, not need. Great attitude is need, not want. You can see someone’s career through those dating service results (or Facebook or LinkedIn), but great attitude is not something explicitly showed in a static image of someone’s selfie. And let’s be honest. As a human, we have tendency to get attracted to physical appearance, right? I mean come on, if someone as pretty or cute like Jennifer Lawrence or Chris Hemsworth showed up in those dating results as our potential spouse, how many will actually say ‘No’? or swipe left. I’m not gonna lie, I’m going to say ‘Yes’ or swipe right.
Love is not something that should be decided by some bytes and statistics. Yes, having an online dating services helps plenty of couple out there found their love and get married. Yes, lovegorithm should assist or guide us to make decision. But relying solely on it will just deny us the possibilities to explore beyond what we thought we need and want.
Or worse, lovegorithm will make the wrong decision for us, just like the scene below.
* Just for the record, my luck was not that good with dating sites. How many person that I managed to meet? Not that many, as I can actually count with one hand. Fun fact: I met my spouse through our mutual friend, got married 2 years after that and now we’re blessed with 1+ year boy. Algorithm (at least for dating) clearly was not my best friend… 🙂