“Find Love. Guaranteed.” –Match.com tagline
I have a friend–let’s call her “Ruby”–whose dating life has lately experienced a dry spell. Worse than a dry spell, actually–more like a dry spell interrupted by intermittent acid rain. Things reached a crisis late one night, and in a fit of defeated desperation, she got out her credit card and pressed the button that sent $39.99 to Match.com, securing her a one-month membership with the online dating service. She told me of her decision the next day, and began a month-long quest for love through online dating. Naturally, I was suspicious of the whole endeavor from the start, but at the time I could not adequately explain why Match.com seemed so sketchy.
“Their ads are lame,” I told Ruby (some of whose experiences described here are actually those of other friends of mine; I was keen to protect her anonymity). “You’re young and beautiful, and you live in a city! Why are you wasting your time on strangers?” But Ruby grew up in the Midwest and has never managed to shake the conviction that dogged work is correlated to success in all realms, and she was determined to apply herself strenuously to dating on Match.com.
She tweaked her profile and searched countless men’s profiles, exchanging e-mails and meeting up with the most likely-seeming specimens several days a week. At one point, she even sacrificed a weekend morning to have a coffee date with a PhD student in Continental philosophy who didn’t ask her a single question about herself. As the month progressed, her standards became lower. Men who cropped their profile pics at the eyebrows to exclude their retreating hairlines were no longer off limits. But as Ruby went downmarket and reset her “what I’m looking for” settings accordingly, she succeeded only in increasing the quantity of her miserable dates. At the end of the month, she was forced to admit defeat. But we were left wondering how America’s most popular for-fee dating site, which boasts that it attracts 20,000 new members a day, had failed Ruby.
Curious about the site’s matching algorithm, I set up my own profile. Because I already knew what a woman’s experience on Match was like, I posed as a male version of myself. I bumped my height up two inches and used a rather nebbishy-looking Facebook friend’s profile photo as my own.
The resulting persona, SensitiveDude450, was a five-foot-nine-inch, “athletic and toned” 27-year-old Jew with an annual salary in the mid five figures. He liked yoga and cats. And while some women did look at his profile during the month I spent on the site, no one ever sent him an e-mail or even a “wink.”
To be fair, SensitiveDude450 was not exactly putting himself out there. Proffered “mutual matches,” he declined to e-mail them. But these matches, and the “Daily 5” (selected by the site’s “advanced matchmaking service,” which prompts the user to check out the day’s matches and select “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” for each profile), did contain some clues as to how matching works–and I needed clues, because no one who works at Match would speak to me for this review, on the not-unreasonable grounds that the site’s methodology is proprietary. The short answer to the question “How does matching work?” seems to be: “Not the way it pretends to work.”
SensitiveDude had not expressed any preferences when it came to the height, ethnicity, salary, or body type of his potential dates. “Surprise me!” I thought.