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Dating and Data

CaptureDeconstructing the construction of successful online dating profiles has been all the rage lately.

It may really have hit the spotlight with Amy Webb’s mathematical approach to writing the right profile, highlighted in Data: A Love Story in January of 2013, eventually trickling to Alli Reed’s Four Things I Learned From the Worst Online Dating Profile Ever come January 2014 (a much less scientific based look – was anyone else concerned she didn’t have a control for her experiment, which could have been done by using the same photos, and it seems to me that the assumptions she made can’t quite be taken seriously?). There was the New York Magazine profile on the top four dating profiles in NYC, and The Date Report’s round up of that piece.

Even economists are in on the action. Not only was there the recent Freakanomics episode, What You Don’t Know About Online Dating, but there’s a book by Paul Oyer, Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating.

In the Freakanomics episode, Paul Oyer reviews the profile of PJ Vogt, an On the Media NPR producer. I found this endless fascinating, because wouldn’t you know it, Oyer gives Vogt the same advice I would about changes to make to his profile – only difference is the economist has numbers backing him up, where all I have is experience and an ability to look critically at a profile and read between the lines. (Which makes you wonder…when else can experience equate to correct conclusions?  I digress. )

Anyway, Oyer’s advice blew my mind. Because it was my advice, just packaged differently.

For example, Oyer says: Before you even begin writing your dating profile, you want to think about what you expect from online dating – and write to that audience.

Men and women I’ve worked with are always shocked when my first question to them is plainly, “Are you looking for a long term relationship, to date around, or to hook up?” I’m going to write differently based on your desire.

Vogt said he was interested in meeting people he’d like to date longer term – but his profile presents him in an overly fun loving light. Long term potentials don’t look at multiple references to whiskey drinking as “the one.” The read, “partying, wants to hook up” and move on.

Another example: Oyer, again reading from Vogt’s profile, notices that Vogt describes his body type as “jacked.” Oyer’s assessment? “This answer makes it sound like you’re not taking this seriously.”

I do the same, only I’d have zeroed in on another comment. Vogt’s response to the OkCupid question “What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?” was, What would happen if my friends found my OkCupid profile. Same basic interpretation as the “jacked” comment – it not only makes it sound like he’s not taking online dating seriously, but on top of that he’s inadvertently making the reader feel ashamed for online dating, too. If he’s embarrassed, shouldn’t I be? It automatically makes his audience want to leave his page.

I bring all this up for a few reasons:

Online dating is going to change. I mean, of course it is. It already has. We’ve gone from interest-based matches (think Match, eHarmony, OkCupid), where people compare likes and dislikes, then meet to decide if they’re compatible, and gone onto location-based matches (think Tindr, Grindr, etc). And we’re learning that neither is as good as compatibility based dating – the kind where you meet someone at work or a softball league and get to know them first, deciding to date because you know you’re compatible on some level.

Plus, despite the amazing amount of rhetoric that has been out there regarding online dating profiles, I am guessing all this new numbers-driven data is going to be taken way more seriously than any sociological or experiential information.* But more than that, I’m guessing it means we’re actually going to see more and more data-driven profiles (that are maybe even computer generated).

But the more we think we’re interacting with a faux version of someone, or worse, a computer (can’t help but think of Her right now) the more we’re not going to trust online dating, whether an economist or a professional dating profile writer helped us or not.

Maybe we’re not going to make it down that rabbit hole. Or maybe (and call me crazy) we’re going to return to the compatibility based dating, using something Tindr like to help us locate singles (lest we be hitting on someone already taken) and employing a sort of zero-th date method – meet, chat, then decide if we really want to date.

*Which admittedly, irks me. I’ve been telling people all this for years! I said to myself when I heard this podcast. How come no one has been listening until now?

**Randomly great resource for seeing what not to do in profiles.








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