Alice, a marketing executive in her 40s, has been a member on and off of the Jewish dating site JDate.com for years; at her count, she’s been on more than 100 dates with men from the greater Dallas region. But the more she lingers on the site, she says, the harder it is to settle on any one suitor. She blames online dating for her inability to determine who, precisely, qualifies as her perfect match. The catalog of possible dates is just too infinite.
When Alice mentioned this predicament to me at a conference last week in Texas, she was echoing the growing sentiment that online-dating sites actually prevent people from finding long-term partners. But I told her she only has herself to blame.
The “tyranny of choice” theory posits that surrounded by too many options, we become paralyzed, overwhelmed and unable to make a decision. Some of us begin to think that we have infinite opportunities and become lured by the prospect of bigger, better deals. Others just want out, so they’re willing to settle for someone who seems good enough at that moment in time.
But this phenomenon is only applicable for those people who aren’t really looking for long-term love. They may not willingly admit this to their friends and family as they complain that there are just too many choices, but the reality is that an online dater will never really find satisfaction if she doesn’t know for whom she’s actually searching. Dating sites and the algorithms they employ don’t assess us on the qualities we’re looking for in others; rather, they ask us for data about ourselves. As I argue in my book, people are perpetually single or labor on in unfulfilling relationships not because of tyranny of choice but because they haven’t created a specific list of what they want in a mate. “Aligning on religion, finances and family” doesn’t qualify as a list. To wit: if you were to visit a grocery store with a list that simply read “meat, produce, dairy,” you’d have a hard time choosing and settling on the right items too.
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I believe that I was successful at finding the perfect person for me because I made an extremely granular and specific list, noting everything from acceptable attitudes toward work and sports to what type of jazz he should like. In all, I had 72 attributes that I parsed into two sections: one was a top-tier list of 10 deal-breaker characteristics, and the other was a secondary tier of 15 important qualities I would demand in a partner. I assigned each of those attributes varying point scores that reflected how important each was to me.
Example: I wanted someone who was Jew … ish. I need someone who was raised in a Jewish household. He should know what’s kosher and what’s not, what all the holidays are, the lore and the history. He should know how to survive long shul services on nothing more than a few hard candies from his bubbie’s purse and a promise that if he will just sit still for five minutes, everyone can stop for ice cream on the way home. He has to understand all the inside jokes and have the same set of shared experiences. But he can’t be religious at all. It will be too difficult for me to fake a belief in God. If we don’t have exactly the same point of view on religion, it will absolutely cause problems during marriage. I know it may be a rare breed, but he must be a cultural, emotional, linguistic, intellectual, gastronomic, nonreligious Jew. Total points = 97.
Once I had my list, I created a mathematical formula to assess each possible candidate before we went out on a date. A possible suitor had to reach a minimum threshold of 700 points for us to chat online or on the phone, and more points were required for us to meet in person. Suddenly, out of a possible dating pool of several thousand men, there were only two or three realistic possibilities.
You don’t need to be a math geek or a computer scientist to find true love online. Online dating is a very effective, efficient way of meeting the perfect partner. But only if you determine exactly what you want and you’ve developed some kind of framework — you can use doodles, or color-coded marks or whatever makes the most sense – to evaluate the data first. The good news for everyone is that you can build immunity to the tyranny of choice.