Describe yourself in three sentences.
Now do it over again, and this time, answer honestly.
It took data analyst, journalist, and relationship-seeker Amy Webb a few passes around the online dating world to realise that the one glaring problem with online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony isn’t that their questions are worded poorly or that their algorithms are bad.
It’s that people who use online dating sites — herself included — don’t answer the questions honestly. And these questions are what the sites rely on to pair you with someone you might like, or even love.
As a result, users get matched up with people they have nothing in common with and, date after torturous date, they’re left asking themselves ‘What is wrong with me?’
The good news is that it’s not your fault.
To get the date you really want, you have to hack the system.
Lucky for you, Webb’s already done all the grunt work. Tired of break-ups and looking for a lifetime partner, she signed up for a handful of online dating sites. After filling in all of the questionnaire and getting a few responses, she ventured out to meet her first match.
The first date was a disaster. Once she arrived at the glamorous restaurant he’d picked out, he began making lewd jokes and ordering tons of food. Then, just before the waiter dropped off the massive bill, the date left, never to be seen again.
Phased but determined, Webb struggled on. When the dates didn’t improve, she started logging them in a spreadsheet, pulling out dozens of data points on her alleged “matches” in an attempt to discover what was going wrong.
Webb tracked everything from the number of times a date made her high-five him to how often he made an awkward sexual remark.
What she found surprised her. “It turns out that these probably weren’t bad guys,” she says in a TED talk. “They were just bad for me.”
The reason they were bad for her wasn’t because the websites’ algorithms were off. In fact, the algorithms “were doing exactly what they were designed to do,” says Webb. But in order for the algorithms to match up two people, both of them have to answer the questions on which they’re based honestly.
This is the crux of the problem, says Webb: Smart algorithms getting skewed by not-quite-honest answers. Unfortunately, Webb says, “very few of us have the ability to be totally and brutally honest with ourselves” As a result, we get “matches” that don’t match us at all.
Research supports Webb’s findings. In a recent study of undergrads, 60% of participants lied at least once during a 10-minute casual conversation with a stranger. Another study estimated that the average person lies in one in five of his or her daily interactions.
Worse still, just being “more honest” won’t solve this problem, because all of our potential matches out there aren’t being totally honest either.
In order to meet her real matches, Webb realised, she had to find out what her match was looking for. In other words, she had to reverse-engineer the dating game.
Once she knew what she wanted in her match, she started studying what he looked for in his. When she took a look at her matches’ matches — the other women he had been paired up with — she found some striking commonalities. She also found some key differences between their profiles and her own.
First, she realised, she’d selected terrible photos of herself to present to the world. Of the three she’d included in her profile, one was too zoomed out to even see her, another was too close-up to be flattering on anyone, and a third was poorly lit.
Second, because she had been busy when she filled out the site’s questionnaire, she had simply copy-pasted information from her resume into the blank spaces below the questions. Where the site had asked for a description of her, Webb had copy-pasted that she was “an award-winning journalist and a future thinker.”
In contrast, Webb’s competitors all had great profile photos (well-lit, perfectly positioned, etc.) and filled their descriptions with words like “love,” “family,” and “fun.”
These women seemed friendly, Webb realised. Her profile, by contrast, didn’t. “It’s about being more approachable,” she says.
Using her findings, Webb gave her profile a make-over. She included better photos, for example, and used more fun, open language to describe herself.
A few weeks later, Webb had become, quite literally, the most popular woman online.
And thanks to all her hacking, she found the perfect match. They’re now married with a kid, proving all her hard work worthwhile.
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