- What is my age:
- Available for:
- I prefer male
- Iris color:
- I’ve got large gray-green eyes
- What I prefer to drink:
- In my spare time I love:
- Body piercings:
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You filled out a questionnaire, fed it into the machine, and almost instantly received a card with the name and address of a like-minded participant in some far-flung locale—your ideal match. Altfest thought this was pretty nifty.
He called up his friend Robert Ross, a programmer at I. Each client paid five dollars and answered more than a hundred multiple-choice questions. Affected people. Birth control. Free love. TACT transferred the answers onto a computer punch card and fed the card into an I. The demolition of the Third Avenue Elevated subway line set off a building boom and a white-collar influx, most notably of young educated women who suddenly found themselves free of family, opprobrium, and, thanks to birth control, the problem of sexual consequence.
Within a year, more than five thousand subscribers had ed on.
It would invite dozens of matched couples to singles parties, knowing that people might be more comfortable in a group setting. Ross and Altfest enjoyed a brief media blitz. She makes Quiche Lorraine, plays chess, and like me she loves to ski. Some loser! She had planned to interview Altfest, but he was out of the office, and she ended up talking to Ross. The batteries died on her tape recorder, so they made a date to finish the interview later that week, which turned into dinner for two. They started seeing each other, and two years afterward they were married. Ross had hoped that TACT would help him meet someone, and, in a way, it had.
He and Lahrmer moved to London. Looking back now, he says that he considered computer dating to be little more than a gimmick and a fad.
Lives hang in the balance, and yet we have typically relied for our choices on happenstance—offhand referrals, late nights at the office, or the dream of meeting cute. Online dating sites, whatever their more mercenary motives, draw on the premise that there has got to be a better way. They approach the primeval mystery of human attraction with a systematic and almost Promethean hand.
They rely on algorithms, those often proprietary mathematical equations and processes which make it possible to perform computational feats beyond the reach of the naked brain. Some add an extra layer of projection and interpretation; they adhere to a certain theory of compatibility, rooted in psychology or brain chemistry or genetic coding, or they define themselves by other, more readily obvious indicators of similitude, such as race, religion, sexual predilection, sense of humor, or musical taste.
There are those which basically allow you to browse through profiles as you would boxes of cereal on a shelf in the store. Others choose for you; they bring five boxes of cereal to your door, ask you to select one, and then return to the warehouse with the four others.
Or else they leave you with all five. Civilization, in its various guises, had it pretty much worked out. Society—family, tribe, caste, church, village, probate court—established and enforced its connubial protocols for the pd good of everyone, except maybe for the couples themselves.
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The criteria for compatibility had little to do with mutual affection or a shared enthusiasm for spicy food and Fleetwood Mac. As for romantic love, it was an almost mutually exclusive category of human experience. As much as it may have evolved, in the human animal, as a motivation system for mate-finding, it was rarely given great consideration in the final reckoning of conjugal choice. The twentieth century reduced it all to smithereens. The Pill, women in the workforce, widespread deferment of marriage, rising divorce rates, gay rights—these set off a prolonged but erratic improvisation on a replacement.
Looking for someone
The obvious advantage of online dating is that it provides a wider pool of possibility and choice. In some respects, for the masses of grownups seeking mates, either for a night or for life, dating is an attempt to approximate the collegiate condition—that surfeit both of supply and demand, of information and authentication. A college campus is a habitat of abundance and access, with a fluid and fairly ruthless vetting apparatus.
A city also has abundance and access, especially for the young, but as people pair off, and as they corral themselves, through profession, geography, and taste, into cliques and castes, the range of available mates shrinks. We run out of friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. You can get to thinking that the single ones are single for a reason. If your herd is larger, your top choice is likely to be better, in theory, anyway.
This can cause problems. You fall prey to the tyranny of choice—the idea that people, when faced with too many options, find it harder to make a selection. If you are trying to choose a boyfriend out of a herd of thousands, you may choose none of them. Or you see someone until someone better comes along. It can turn people into products.
For some, of course, there is no end game; Internet dating can be sport, an end in itself. The Internet can arrange this for you. But if you really are eager, to say nothing of desperate, for a long-term partner you may have to contend with something else—the tyranny of unwitting compromise. Often the people who go on the sites that promise you a match are so primed to find one that they jump at the first or the second or the third who comes along.
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The people who are looking may not be the people you are looking for. Some hitters swing at every first pitch, and others always strike out looking. Many sites, either because of their methods or because of their reputations, tend to attract one or the other. It is now the biggest dating site in the world and is itself the biggest aggregator of other dating sites; under the name Match, it owns thirty in all, and s for about a quarter of the revenues of its parent company, I.
Infee-based dating Web sites grossed over a billion dollars. According to a recent study commissioned by Match. For many people in their twenties, accustomed to conducting much of their social life online, it is no less natural a way to hook up than the church social or the night-club-bathroom line.
There are thousands of dating sites; the big ones, such as Match. Free sites rely on advertising. Some sites proceed from a simple gimmick. ScientificMatch attempts to pair people according to their DNA, and claims that this approach le to a higher rate of female orgasms. A site called Ashley Madison notoriously connects cheating spouses.
Your suggestion should theoretically be a sufficient al of your taste and imagination, and an impetus for getting off-line as soon as possible. Apparently, a big winner has been a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. The cutting edge is in mobile and location-based technology, such as Grindr, a smartphone app for gay men that tells subscribers when there are other willing subscribers in their vicinity. Many Internet dating companies, including Grindr, are trying to devise ways to make this kind of thing work for straight people, which means making it work for straight women, who may not need an app to know that they are surrounded by willing straight men.
The raw material, in the matching process, is a mass of stated preference: your desire or intolerance for certain traits and characteristics. Many of the sites make do with that alone. The more sophisticated ones attempt to identify and exploit the dissonance between what you say you want and what you really appear to want, through the choices you make online. He is one of those guys who say they enjoy dating.
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After taking stock of your stated and revealed preferences, the software finds people on the site who have similar dissonances between the two, and uses their experiences to approximate what yours should be. You may have sent introductory messages to only two people, and marked a few others with a wink—a nonverbal expression of interest—but Match will have hundreds of people in its database who have done a lot more on the site, and whose behavior yours seems to resemble.
From them, depending on the degree of correlation, the software extrapolates about you. The trick is in weighting each variable. How ificant is hair-color dissonance? Do political views, or fan allegiances, matter? The weightings can change over time, as nuances or tendencies emerge.
The algorithms learn. And sometimes behavior changes—political opinion matters more in an election year, for example—and the algorithms scramble to keep up.
We met at a party and took up with each other for a while. The date itself came later, on the first night of Christmas vacation. I remember John Malkovich stomping around onstage and then my date catching a train back to Scarsdale.
She remembers that we went to a Chinese restaurant and this hurts that I ordered a tequila sunrise. That night, anyway, was the end of it for us. For the next date, on the advice of a classmate from Staten Island, who claimed to have dating experience, I took a sophomore I liked to a T. On the drive there, a fuse blew, knocking out the car stereo, and so I pulled over, removed the fuse box, fashioned a fuse out of some aluminum foil from a pack of cigarettes, and got the cassette deck going again. My companion could not have known that this would hold up as the lone MacGyver moment in a lifetime of my standing around uselessly while other people fix stuff, but she can attest to it now, as she has usually been the one, since then, doing the fixing.
Needless to say, we had no idea that anything we were saying or doing that night, or even that year, would lead us to where we are today, which is married, with children, a mortgage, and a budding fear of the inevitable moment when one of us will die before the other. Instead, I went out for coffee or drinks with various women who, according to their friends, had had extraordinary or, at least, numerous adventures dating online.
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To the extent that a date can sometimes feel like an interview, these interviews often felt a little like dates. We sized each other up. We doled out tidbits of immoderate disclosure. Some research has suggested that it is men, more than women, who yearn for marriage, but this may be merely a case of stated preference. Men want someone who will take care of them, make them look good, and have sex with them—not necessarily in that order.
It may be that this is all that women really want, too, but they are better at disguising or obscuring it. They deal in calculus, while men, for the most part, traffic in simple sums.
A common observation, about both the Internet dating world and the world at large, is that there is an apparent surplus of available women, especially in their thirties and beyond, and a shortage of recommendable men.
For women surveying a landscape of banished husbands or perpetual boys, the biological rationale offers little solace.