In August of 2000, to the backdrop of the internet bubble getting ready to pop, a new dating site was launched called eHarmony. It claimed to have a significant edge over all other free dating sites because it used something that no others did: science. Was this just a gimmick to differentiate this site from the myriad of others dating sites out there or have the boffins at eHarmony finally cracked the mystery of human attraction?


Background

eHarmony was the idea of one man, Neil Clark Warren, who was a Christian theologian, author of relationship advice and psychologist.

After decades of professional work with couples through counselling, Warren noticed certain similarities within long-term relationships compared with those that didn't last. Warren was intrigued and started a study that eventually developed a theory on the criteria for lasting relationships. Core to his idea was that a lasting partnership was dependent on similar characteristics between the couple in certain critical areas.

Warren continued his research and after a three-year collaboration, with Dr Galen Buckwalter, the pair developed an algorithm that would match people that scientifically would have a higer chance of a long lasting, happy relationship.


Launch of the Algorithms

The algorithms were given their début initially through Christian dating sites and then as the core principle for the dating site eHarmony.

 


The Algorithms

After such long  and exhaustive study it was obvious that eHarmony weren’t going to release the algorithm that they developed to the public or their competition. However there have been are some vague clues given out through the years. Former CEO Greg Waldorf once stated,

“It's not about matching people who like certain hobbies ... it's about compatibility. You go on to the site and tell us about you, rather than about what you want."

A fundamental part of the matching process involves client filling in a detailed questionnaire to extract the information needed to make the basis of potential matches. The information is  grouped into several areas by eHarmony including:

characteristics, beliefs, values, emotional health and skills.

It is using the data based on these five areas, along with 500 other variables, that eHarmony enter into their algorithm to find potential client matches.

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Results

Due to the commercial success of eHarmony it is unlikely that any real details of the algorithms will ever be released for a proper scientific review, but the results of the matching process can certainly be analysed.

In 2004, the American Psychological Society, (APS) was presented a paper by eHarmony's research director, Dr. Steve Carter. Carter compared couples that had met on eHarmony with a control group that had met through other means and determined which set had more fulfilling relationships.

As it is difficult to quantify a “fulfilling relationship” subjectively Carter used the dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS),  which is a 32-item scale designed for use with either married or unmarried co-habiting couples.

The results favoured eHarmony’s matching methods with over 90% of their couples having a higher-than-average ‘quality’ relationship with their partner.

 Moreover, eHarmony couples were found  to be 35% more likely than other married couples to enjoy spending time together and nearly twice as likely to report that their marriages are 'extremely happy'. 


Criticism

With eHarmony having a unique scientific approach to finding a partner it was obvious that it was going to receive criticism from competition and sceptics. Some uncharitable reviews have rubbished the idea that eHarmony had developed a “secret guide” to finding true love and portrayed it as dating by  numbers.

Time magazine publically decried eHarmony and labelled them as one of the 5 worst websites ever (article). While Time magazine are certainly welcomed to their opinion, the criticism was based on the concept that if someone fully reveals themselves online (metaphorically of course, no webcams needed) and then don’t find a match, that they might feel bad.


Anti-Gay

More substantiated criticism of the site came because for a long time the matching facility was only there for heterosexual couples. It was thought this was due to the fundamental beliefs of the founder but later it was explained that Warren’s research was only carried out on heterosexual couples, and therefore was unsure if the algorithms would work as effectively with same-sex couples. Warren also claimed that  he didn’t want to promote gay marriage as it was illegal in most states at the time.

Whether these statements were true or whether it was a PR move to hide Warrens christian views was unclear. However, eHarmony revised their policy and constructed a separate site for same-sex couples called Compatible Partners.

gay protest

This picture made me laugh


Personal View

I was single for a while, some two years ago, and decided to try and find a partner through internet dating. I tried speed dating for a while and then decided to try the dating sites. EHarmony was the second one that I joined and after about two weeks I discontinued my membership with the other dating website.

EHarmony brought me better matches than anywhere else and I eventually went on three dates. The first two women were very nice, and we certainly had a lot in common, but there just wasn’t any real chemistry. The third girl I dated was great and two years later are still together and buying a house soon.

I felt at the time that the eHarmony entry questionnaire was too long; it took my two nights to complete. However it could be argued that this process is needed to get the information to make those algorithms work.

I can’t say for sure if the scientific approach is the way forward or if eHarmony has developed a mathematical way to find a perfect partner. All I can say is that it certainly worked for me and I am delighted with the girl I met through the site. It may have just been good luck or it could be all in the numbers but our relationship is working, although I have no idea how we would score on the Dyadic Adjustment Scale relationship test.


Advice

If you were looking for my advice I would at least give eHarmony a go. It can be useful to start by using their free introduction weekend, which as the name suggests lets you communicate for free for a limited time. It is also possible to use eHarmony coupons or promo codes to get a discount on the subscription rate. If you can’t get either a promo code or discount voucher then it is worth completing the form and joining but not actually paying for a membership. If you then leave it a few weeks I’m sure a discount code might pop into your e-mail in box to try and entice you back.

When I started dating my current girlfriend I obviously quit eHarmony and was delighted with the process. I did however receive discount vouchers trying to entice me back for over a year so the eHarmony discounts codes are certainly available.

eHarmony Promo Code

Bibliography

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_harmony

http://gizmodo.com/5902591/ucla-professors-claim-eharmony-is-duping-its-customers

http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1638344_1638341_1638336,00.html)