I logged on to a dating site the other day and was greeted by a large, flashing message. It promised that if I took the time to answer a series of questions that they would find a “perfect match” for me. Imagine that? All the work and worry of being single – gone! We truly have evolved! Not only can computer programs manage the entire traffic system of a city and make chess grandmasters cry, but now they can lead my perfect match right to my doorstep. I always wanted a Stepford wife, I hope it comes assembled.
The recent trend in Internet Dating has been the use of a “computer personality test” of some sort. Websites claim that these tests, usually developed by a “top psychologist”, have the ability to understand you and your needs through a series of questions. Confused? Lost in love? Problems communicating? Don’t worry, the Online Dating Hal 5000 can figure you out! In fact, when you’re done, this computer program will know your needs and desires better than you do.
Remember the Broadway play “Fiddler on The Roof”? You might not, it was the first Broadway play I went to when I was seven. A song that always stuck in my head for some reason was “matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match–” The song starts as a plea to the matchmaker to bring true love straight to the altar; someone beautiful, rich, intelligent, and perfect.
But by the end of the song, the singer realizes that the Matchmaker might not be up to the task. She decides that “playing with matches, a girl can get burned”.
So, do these tests really work?
Personality tests have a long history. Really, really smart guys with names like Freud, Maslov, Fromm, and Jung developed respected psychological theories, and these theories are used as the basis for all types of tests. “The Big Five” theory suggests that there are five dimensions of personality: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Some popular personality tests use this as a foundation. Others go the “Big Three” route, which does away with the “openness” and “agreeableness” dimensions – mostly because it’s easier to remember.
I joke a little about these theories, but the truth is that they’ve survived the test of time and there is a ton of scientific research behind them. The real question is if these tests can be effective in applying a theory to the complexity of a human being. Add to this the additional layer of meshing your answers with another, equally complex person. That’s a tall order.
People have impulsive behavior that simply can’t be measured when they’re sitting, relaxed and introspective, taking one of these tests. Often our answers reflect our perfect (or hopeful) idea of ourselves. Even if we are trying our best to be honest, our impulsive behavior in real-life situations can be far different than we’d expect.
Another wildcard is attraction. We can meet someone who’s empirically good-looking, has a similar background, is kind and successful – and yet we’re not attracted. Often we can’t explain why we like another person. It may be how they make us laugh, a crooked smile – even how they smell! Sometimes little things that are immeasurable on their own can collectively make us attracted.
Human beings and our emotions and desires are far too complex, and a computer program can’t solve the riddles of our romantic lives. As Jung put it, “the meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is a reaction both are transformed”. It sounds good, but even Jung was hedging his bet when it comes to love. What will cause two individuals to react to each other? Even the developers of the study of personality would not presume that a series of questions could predict romance.
If you rely solely on matchmaking services, you are missing the entire beauty of online dating. The beauty is opportunity. Online dating offers you an almost limitless opportunity to meet and date new people. It gives you the time and space to find what best suits you. Going to a quality dating site that isn’t trying to sell you fantasy of finding your match for you will mean you will have a pool of millions of singles to meet.
Treat matchmaking options as just another fun way to explore. It can serve as an ice breaker to start a conversation, but don’t expect them to be the answer to finding your perfect match. Keep all options open and explore possibilities. As a unique individual, only can you know what works for you. You need to develop skills to communicate and meet people. Developing both online and offline dating skills is the best way to find the right relationship.
Next time you’re brushing your teeth, take a look in the mirror. See that amazing person? That’s your matchmaker with a mouthful of toothpaste. Take charge of your life and get into action! Enjoy dating and enjoy the process of discovery. Your experiences, both good and not-so-good, are essential to finding the right person for you.