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Thursday, July 13, 2017 12:09 am

The truth about stats and dogs

Amy Alkon
I’m a woman looking for a new boyfriend and considering various online dating sites. Some have long questionnaires and they factor your answers into an “algorithm” to match you with the best possible partner. Are these sites significantly better than the others? – Site Seeker

Sites using these compatibility “algorithms” would seem to have some added value. However, according to a massive online dating analysis by social psychologist Eli Finkel and his colleagues, this algorithm stuff mainly seems to be a “science!”-flavored marketing ploy. The researchers explain that it’s “virtually impossible” for sites to do what they promise with these algorithms: “match people who are uniquely suited to one another” and who are likely to have a “satisfying and lasting long-term relationship” together.

As the Finkel team notes about the “uniquely suited” business: The evidence suggests that these algorithms are really no better at rooting out compatible partners than the matching most people already do themselves with sites’ search parameters – culling the herd of breathing, profile-posting humans down to, say, fellow Ph.D.s who are also weekend Satan worshippers.

Even more outrageous is the sites’ claim that this mathematical alchemy can identify two people who can have a lasting, happy relationship together who have yet to even meet. The researchers point out that the algorithms only measure the “individual characteristics of partners” (personality, attitudes, values, background). They note that this is just one of three essential variables that determine whether relationships sink or swim.

The other two are elements that can’t really be sussed out before two people are in a relationship. One is the “circumstances surrounding (a) couple” – like how they fit into each other’s family and whether one loses their job or goes through other major stressors. The other factor is the “interactions between the partners” – how partners communicate, solve problems and support each other.

I would add an essential fourth factor that needs to be assessed face to face – physical attraction.

There’s also the “garbage in, garbage out” problem. It’s unlikely that people are any more honest and accurate in filling out questionnaires than they are in their online dating profiles. Typically, deception in online dating profiles is intentional; sometimes – as research on personality finds – we can’t quite see ourselves as we really are.

This isn’t to knock online dating itself, which offers rapid, easy access to a lot of potential partners whom you’d probably never meet otherwise. However, it helps to have a smart strategy vis-a-vis the potential pitfalls, and that’s meeting any person you think might be a possibility ASAP.

Meeting pronto gives you the best shot at seeing whether you click, as well as spotting any vast differences between profile and reality. And as I always advise about first dates, keep it cheap, short and local. Less investment means less disappointment if you find out a guy’s lying – or, maybe worse, if he’s being honest: He really is looking for his “partner in crime” – because one of the guys on his robbery crew got arrested last week.


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