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Why a popular dating website can’t call itself ‘scientifically proven’ anymore

How useful are the algorithms dating sites use? According to one regulatory agency, not very.

It is truly a golden age for introverts who want to find love but hate going out. The advent of online dating allows people to find love anytime or anywhere, and often from the comfort of their own homes. While some of the apps and websites, notably Tinder, are superficial in nature, others have found their niche in trying to match users based on compatibility. Some achieve this by reducing the scope of potential members to particular demographics, others let everybody in and try to coordinate matches by personality traits.

However, for one such website, claims on the effectiveness of its method has led to problems.

An ad claiming that eHarmony has a “scientifically proven matching system,” has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, a U.K. regulator, on the grounds of it being misleading advertising. The website claimed that its algorithms that matched members were based on scientific theories on relationships and backed by statistics on tens of thousands of couples. The ASA argued that potential customers would read the ad and take, “’scientifically proven matching system’ to mean that scientific studies had found that the website offered users a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love than what could be achieved if they did not use the service.”

eHarmony has said it will improve the advertising campaign to align with the decision, though it did note that:

“eHarmony was conceived on the premise that science and research could be harnessed to help people find love. For over 17 years, eHarmony has been matching singles into high-quality, long-lasting relationships based upon sophisticated matching standards designed by Ph.D. psychologists. Although we respectfully disagree with the ASA’s findings, we are happy to work with them to assure that our advertising is as clear as possible.”

The advert in question. 

Perhaps eHarmony had it coming; there are far more idioms and proverbs about the absurdity of love than there are about its rationality. Sayings like, “love is blind,” “opposites attract,” “the like-minded last,” and “those who try to find reason in love will lose their reason,” suggest that experience shows us that love is absurd and trying to find a pattern in it might be doomed to failure.

One philosopher is inclined to agree with that as well.

The French philosopher Albert Camus understood that love could be absurd and took it to heart both in his daily life and in his work. He considered the seducer Don Juan to be an Absurd Hero, a man who understands the meaninglessness of life and carries on anyway. Given that Don Juan would have seen trying to find love based on statistics and formulas crazy and dehumanizing, perhaps eHarmony’s advertising department is just coming to terms with the absurdity of love.

Author Albert Camus dancing with actress Torun Moberg after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature at Concert Hall in Stockholm, December 1957. (Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Maybe love can’t be found in formulas, maybe statistics offer little to no improvement on random chance. Perhaps the search for “the one” must rely as much on luck as it ever could on math. Of course, monogamy might just be a social construct anyway.


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