The algorithm is not your friend

On my Facebook wall last week, I received a gift. A gift voucher delivered via a Sweden-based new Facebook app called Wrapp.

‘I don’t know what this is!’ said the Swedish friend who gave it to me.

I did. It was a voucher for eHarmony, an online dating website.

I’ve expressed my feelings about online dating so many times here, it’s almost boring.

The voucher claimed to be worth £20, I’ve not been on a date since I finished last year’s challenge, it’s spring and all the baby animals are being born, the season when all of my previous relationships (without exception) have started (although I’m not superstitious about this…), so I went to the site.

What can I say? Having been bombarded by adverts featuring ukelele playing boys on station platforms and confident looking blondes who don’t need a man to make their single lives better, but want one anyway, since January, I felt weak.

And you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Right?

So I gave in, and used my voucher to sign up, not knowing how long the voucher gives me access to the site for.

eHarmony’s profile is EXTENSIVE. You give basic info, complete personality tests, answer questions, list your must-haves and can’t stands, and then launch yourself into a sophisticated matchmaking matrix. Roughly every four hours since I filled in the online forms, squeezed my entire personality into tiny text boxes and redeemed the voucher I have had at least one email from them, telling me they’ve matched me with someone who goes perfectly with the ‘real me’. I’ve got a list of more than 50 men who have been selected because they make sense with what I’ve said about myself.

I feel hassled and a little overwhelmed. But another friend, an online dating master, told me to set aside a little time every day to go through them, and then to just get on with it. ‘You’ve proved you can date without online; now do it the normal way, like everyone else’…

So I’m trying to take her advice to embrace it.

Still, I can’t help but be a little bit disturbed that online dating continues to demonstrate in a highly concentrated form, the cruelties real life metes out to you at a more gentle pace.

I looked through my list, and initiated contact with all the guys who sounded reasonable and looked normal. I wasn’t too picky (I don’t think) and let some in who I wouldn’t look twice at in real life. I’m being generous.

In real life I would never start something with 15 or more guys all at one time.
And in real life I would never only get messages from more than one oddfellow at once.

But this is not real life, and so as I’m ‘smiling’ and asking nice-sounding men who have been specially chosen for me by an algorithm’s questions, they’re all ignoring me, and the off-the-wall characters, who wouldn’t come near me in a bar, and certainly wouldn’t last long in a conversation with me, are all trying to chat me up. All at once. I’m dealing with crushing levels of self-doubt, rather than the general gnawing levels I normally feel.

The site also gives you tools to help you start conversations, which is great, but also means that I’m selecting multiple choice answers to questions they’re asking me like I’m sitting a General Studies A Level exam – I don’t care about the result, but the more answers I give, the closer I am to gaining a result. It occurred to me this morning that the more I ‘chat’, the more likely I am to actually have to meet these people in real life.

I have nothing to lose, but I also don’t feel like eHarmony is enough of my friend yet to trust their recommendation. I’m dubious about the algorithm’s wisdom. This morning it recommended I hook up with a guy who wants to move to Brazil as soon as possible. I admire the precision of his criteria, but what made eHarmony think that woman might be me?


4 responses to “The algorithm is not your friend

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