Finding Matches On the Internet

We don’t really understand how love happens in life, but dating services on the internet keep trying to help us out.  Now, eHarmony is exploring a “new” approach.

Utilizing “predictive software,” such as used by Netflex and Amazon, they are trying to find the algorithms that will “optimize love connections,” according to Fortune.  (See, “The Algorithm of Love,” in the September 27th issue)  With the aid of behavioral data, they hope to expedite the matching process by highlighting common interests and similar activities.

Psychologists have long tried to add up the bits of human behavior into a meaningful whole, the traits, the habits and interests that collectively explain who we are.  But it usually doesn’t work.  The whole has a consistency and inner logic you just can’t get at through addition.  Human beings are not assembled out of parts.

Computers have no choice in the matter.  Bits are all they have to work with.  But to get a sense of a human whole you need some feeling for the motives that drive a person, what he fears, what excites her, the why and wherefore of how it all fits together.  Sharing a common interest in basketball or cooking may be useful in breaking the ice and starting a conversation, but if doesn’t tell us anything about where the conversation is likely to go.

The answer to that is likely to be found in earlier relationships. As a psychologist, I get a feel for the course of future relationships based on post-mortems of the past.  Knowing more about very early relationship with parents and siblings helps even more.  I get to see the deeper fears that animate the search, key illusions he or she may be susceptible to, the challenges and problems that attract them both, the energies that turn them on – or off.  That understanding is far from infallible, but it is a more reliable indicator.

I have no idea how a computer could gain access to such data – and I’m not even sure it should.  The information I get is offered in trust and guarded by confidentiality.  Moreover, since those who confide in me often don’t fully understand themselves the patterns they disclose, it’s also murky.

And, then, there is the element of mystery.  People often behave in unexpected ways.  They surprise themselves – and us – in what they dare to do, the hints they pick up, the intuitions they are willing to follow.

Perhaps, after all, it’s best to leave the whole dating game to chance.  What do you all think?  Can the internet do more than provide information and suggest topics for beginning conversations?  Should just leave it at that?