February 11, 2015

Love is hard. Finding somebody to love is even harder. Just ask noted scholar and philosopher Freddie Mercury.

Online dating makes the whole thing easier, or at least, it’s supposed to. It presents users with a multitude of options: bearded hipsters, guys who go kayaking, nurses who are totally over drama, and countless more. So you evaluate people based on your exact specifications, fill out quizzes and tests to find matches, swipe left or right based on someone’s picture - all to find love. But all this searching doesn’t just get you a date to sip overpriced cocktails with, it also says something about you.

And what all this big data reveals isn’t always pretty. “The more time you spend with this stuff, the more it confirms your cynical intuitions about people. Guys go almost totally based on looks. People are judgmental, they’re picky, and they’re racist in certain situations,” explains OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder.

But just as these online dating exams reveal uncomfortable truths about the population as a whole, they can also help us know ourselves. “I think all of these quizzes, tests, and algorithms that are on these various websites are a terrific addition to someone’s dating acumen,” says sociologist Pepper Schwartz of the University of Washington. She believes that the quizzes and tests can help us learn what’s important to us, and what we’re really looking for in a partner. In fact, she helped create the algorithm behind the dating site Perfect Match for just that purpose.

Algorithms, though, aren't the most important tool in finding your partner. “I don’t think there’s anybody, whether they’re on Perfect Match, or OkCupid, or Match.com, that looks at a recommendation or match percentage, and falls in love. You’ll send a message based on it, but after that, it’s the other person and you and whether they fit all the idiosyncratic things you want out of life or love.” 

One of the benefits of the algorithms though, is that they’ll look for matches outside your social circle. Schwartz views this as a revolution in the way people date, especially for older folks. “You wouldn’t find anybody after fifty, before. You’d have been single and people would have known who to set you up with. And now that you have online dating, it’s opened up a huge regeneration of people’s romantic hopes and efforts.” 

That’s absolutely beautiful. Still though, we’re not going to let you leave without giving you a taste of the weird, hilarious, and strange aspects of online dating. Check these out:

Online Dating Horror Stories

Tinder in Brooklyn

Nice Guys of OkCupid

online dating, OkCupid, Christian Rudder, dating, Culture, relationships, love, Pepper Schwartz

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