One of the myriad brilliant things about being with The Writer is the chance to piggyback his frankly ludicrous magazine habit. Numbers aren’t really my thing, but a little mental arithmetic suggests his weekly outlay is somewhere in the region of News International’s imminent legal bill (any lovely men’s mag / current affairs periodical publishers reading who fancy offloading a subscription or two: you know where I am).
One of TW’s hundreds of weekly must-reads, and thus one of my over-Sunday-morning-coffee-and-almond-croissant-now-reads, is The New Yorker.
A recent piece in the magazine was a long, brilliant exploration of online dating sites, and their successes and failures.
The number of online dating sites out there is mind-boggling (as I say: I don’t have a head for maths). You can decide which characteristic is most important to you in a partner, and start from there. Some make some sense: Jewish? J-Date. Rural? Muddy Matches. Being a bit proactive about life? Doing Something.
Some are rather more niche: massively shallow? Beautiful People. Like men in uniform? Uniform Dating.
(For the sake of decency, we’ll ignore the fact that there are also dating sites purely for those looking for affairs.)
Or, you could put yourself at the mercy of one of the dating sites at the more scientific end of the market, and let maths whittle down your options for you.
The New Yorker article explored – at length – the algorithms that different sites use to pair up compatible users, from the first ‘computerised’ dating service back in 1964, to the eHarmony-type sites today.
It all seems exceptionally clever, and as someone with very little idea how something works if it’s not entirely composed of words, I’m quite in awe. Or, I would be if I weren’t quite so sceptical about it.
Whilst not quibbling that science, in all its forms, is an amazing thing (hell, TW and I were up till the small hours last night talking about quantum mechanics and string theory. Or, at least, he was talking. I just was desperately trying to keep up), I would suggest that there’s a flaw in the plan.
I don’t quibble that clever algorithms are just as good as a bottle of Merlot (or two) for finding you someone you quite like having around. Personally, I know two women who are utterly, blissfully in love with men they met online. The men they’re with seem wonderful, and I genuinely could not be happier for either of them.
But looking at it a little more cynically, surely the sites – a bit like dieting companies – don’t really want you to succeed? I mean, they want you to sign up, and go on dates, sure. But that they want you to go on a few dates, find The One and then end your subscription, I’m less convinced.
Of course, a few success stories are good for giving the majority enough to believe that it works, and hope it’ll happen to them. But taking things to their logical conclusion, ultimately, everyone would be paired up (or skinny) and you’d do yourself out of an awful lot of cash.
Surely what they’re after is people having just enough success – several dates, a few that turn into something a bit more long term, but not permanent – to keep people thinking that it nearly worked with that chap, so I’ll go back and see if I can’t hit the jackpot this time round…
But maybe that’s too cynical, even for our unromantic, digital age. After all, someone has to be the success story. But don’t give up on the Merlot…