Do Matching Algorithms Actually Work?

Matching
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Online dating services like eHarmony and Chemistry.com have long emphasized their ability to find “quality” matches based on matchmaking algorithms. Even dating app Tinder, known as more of a hook-up app than a true matchmaking service, is getting in on the long-term love strategy. The company just released a new version, with updated algorithms that Tinder CEO Sean Rad maintains will lead to “more meaningful matches.”

Matching algorithms work like this: If you craft a profile with your interests, hobbies, income, and other descriptors, and you identify the qualities you are looking for in a match, then voila – the online dating site will find those candidates best suited for you. In other words, they will find people with similar preferences, interests, and backgrounds and match you together.

Which means that there’s a higher likelihood of the two of you falling in love and living happily ever after, right?

Not necessarily. Some writers point to research that says otherwise. As The Washington Post shared in a recent article: “Dating site algorithms are meaningless. They really don’t do anything. In fact, the research suggests that so-called ‘matching algorithms’ are only negligibly better at matching people than random chance.”

The reasons behind this conclusion are varied, but the basic idea is that chemistry between two people is highly variable. Just because you might match up well in theory, (and online), doesn’t mean that the spark will exist in real life. But the dating sites want you to believe otherwise.

There is an argument to be made that people who are considered “compatible” or who have the same background, communication style, or any number of factors in common might make better matches. And they might – or they might not. According to one very prominent study from 2012 conducted by Northwestern University’s Eli Finkel on the matching algorithms used by online dating sites, there was just as good a chance that someone you meet at random could end up being the love of your life.

According to Finkel’s study, relationship success depends on three things. First, individual characteristics, like whether you’re smart, funny, consider yourself beautiful, or avoid commitment at all costs. Second, the quality of interaction between two people - specifically how you hit it off in-person, not through text messages back and forth. And third, your surrounding circumstances, like your career, ethnicity, financial security, and health.

As we know from online dating sites, we aren’t always accurate or truthful when we are describing ourselves, so it’s likely we aren’t as compatible as we think. Another problem is that compatibility isn’t the marker of a good relationship. It really comes down to that elusive thing called chemistry and how you interact together in person.

With this information, it’s to every dater’s benefit to accept more invitations and matches, even those who don’t seem to be suited for you. Because the truth is, until you meet, you just don’t know.