Why Online Dating Can’t Find Us a Good Match
Hint: It’s not because of echo chambers
From far away, everything looks like a simple problem, which is the only explanation I can possibly give as to why a man who has been married for 30 years would write about online dating woes. Arthur Brooks’s “The Common Dating Strategy That’s Totally Wrong” argues that people today aren’t happy with dating and relationships because we overemphasize similarity.
Apparently, focusing on finding our twin online means that we overlook compatibility or someone who complements us. (Spoiler alert: He’s wrong.)
Homophily: A History
Surveys do show that people value finding a partner with similar traits — political leanings, level of education completed, etc. In fact, the principles of “assortative mating” and “homophily” are staples of the literature on attraction and precede life online. As one of the standard texts on relationships says, “One of the most basic principles of interpersonal attraction is the rule of similarity: Like attracts like.”
It’s tempting to look at the predominant cultural narrative about the internet’s woes — filters, bubbles, differing versions of reality at war — and assume that algorithms are also leading our singletons down a similar echo chamber. “Modern daters, and the tools they often use to find one another, rely excessively on making sure a potential mate is similar to them,” he writes.
The math behind Tinder: what algorithms really do
What do algorithms actually do? They’re our best stab at solving the central problem of dating: the two-sided marketplace.
The way we browse for potential dates online resembles a bizarro type of Amazon, in which everyone wants the same product (a date). These selections are presorted and often shown one at a time. Whereas online shopping allows you to choose the order (“Price: high to low”; newest first; top-rated), the algorithm chooses who to show you, and when. Some apps allow users to prescreen the potential matches they see…