Data, A Love Story

“How could the experience of online dating be improved?” has been a pet topic of discussion between a friend and I for quite some time.

So, when we first heard about Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating and Met My Match, by Amy Webb, our curiosity was naturally piqued. I finally got my hands on a copy and quickly made my way through the very entertaining book. Webb describes in self-effacing detail how, after several relationships and a long run of terrible online dates, she drafted a laundry list of criteria that would define her ideal partner. Not stopping there, she assigned point values to each attribute, and vowed not to go on dates with anyone who failed to meet a certain threshold.

Realizing that her own dating profile and real-life appearance would be unlikely to attract the kind of man to whom she’d be attracted, she set up 10 fake male dating profiles. With meticulous attention to detail, she recorded every interaction real-life female users initiated with the fake profiles. Based on these data, she determined how to optimize her communications and profile to be equally alluring, despite not being the kind of bubbly blonde woman whose profiles attracted the most attention on the site.

Brilliant, right? Well, kinda. As a personal memoir, this was an enjoyable read. But the book – and the accompanying press attention – suggests that this is an experiment that readers might be able to replicate, going so far as to offer an Appendix to help readers improve their own dating profiles.

While Webb eventually found her husband-to-be, whose characteristics almost eerily matched her initial long list of criteria, I’m doubtful that just anyone could repeat the process.

First, Webb obviously had a clear, well-articulated vision of who she wanted, and with whom she’d be compatible. I’m not convinced most people would have the self-awareness or ability to put into words their ideal partner in such level of detail.

Second, Webb’s approach was astoundingly labour intensive. Yes, you can argue that for anyone truly desiring to get married, it’s worth the time to hone in a smaller set of potential partners, and to invest in both real-life and digital self-improvement. It’s not a simple process, though conceivably, based on Webb’s experience and resulting insights, one could perhaps skip the step of fake male dating profiles.

Third, and perhaps most importantly: even a highly detailed, methodical system didn’t immediately help Webb land her match – not until she broadened her search criteria to include other cities. Granted, she was looking for someone with similar spiritual values (“Jew…ish,” as she put it), but in all of Philadelphia, there wasn’t a man for her. Even with her eventual husband, they relied on their mutual close proximity to major Amtrak hubs during their courtship. Without the means (transportation, money) and a willingness by both parties to commute, it never would’ve worked out. That seems like a pretty major factor on which the success of the entire system hinges, ultimately.

At this point, my friends, or my mom (just kidding, she doesn’t read my blog–I think?) might be wondering: would I ever try to replicate Webb’s system? Hard to say. Past experience doesn’t necessarily give me the confidence in being able to a) identify and describe my most compatible potential mate, b) stick to my guns in not dating guys that don’t meet all the criteria. Realistically, at such future time as I’d be looking to date, I think I’d be better off deferring to someone else’s expertise – perhaps even my friend Sofi’s Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, which seems like a great approach.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be riding off into the sunset, solo, listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” (no really, that’s what’s playing on my turntable right now).

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