Friday, February 1, 2008

Love, the "Scientific" Way

Thanks to TiVo (and grad school), I don’t see many commercials anymore, but the ones for online dating services always stick out. Have you seen’s ads claiming: “we don’t know why eHarmony has rejected over a million people… at you can come as you are” (e.g. here and here). When my wife first saw that she laughed and responded: “Come to and date the rejects!” eHarmony’s own ads seem better--cute couples raving about love at first sight, how they felt like they had known each other forever, blah blah blah, hearts and flowers, all thanks to eHarmony! It was cute the first time, but two years later when they are still showing the same couples, you start to wonder: are these the exceptions or the rule?

According to this article in the New York Times (HT: Boundless Line), no one really knows. Though all of the major online dating services claim to be applying “scientific” expertise, none of their claims or methods have been verified by peer review (that is, by science). Having never used such a site (I got married the old fashioned way) I wont presume to judge them, but this does raise red flags. No doubt these services work for some people, and I’m sure they would say the fee was well worth it, but what about the rest? More to the point, it seems likely that whatever success these sites do have, has less to do with "scientific" methodology, and more to do with the fact that they bring together people actively seeking love. But that's just my opinion; I have have no "science" to back it up. I wont rule out that such services (and even algorithms) can find matches that would otherwise be missed, but in the end love can never be reduced to an equation. Finding a match is one thing, but building and maintaining real love (not just infatuation) is all about one's choices--to put the other first, to listen to them, to keep your eyes to yourself, etc.--and no algorithm can make those for you.

Maybe that's why those sappy commercials promising "everlasting love" always make me thankful for my TiVo, and even more for my wife!

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