How psychology and technology are helping people find love

Rachel Maclynn

Matchmaking is big business these days. With so many lonely hearts at stake, it's important to get the formula for a successful match just right. Relationship psychologist and professional matchmaker Rachel Maclynn shows us the psychology and the technology behind it.

Dating and matchmaking

Do you remember the good old days when finding a partner required no more effort than putting your glad rags on and heading out with the aim of catching someone’s eye across a crowded room? Cue music and fireworks and you find yourself in the opening scene of your very own love story.

These days, chance encounters seem scarce and consequently the dating industry is booming as a majority of singles are turning to dating services, spanning from dating apps at one end of the spectrum to exclusive matchmaking services at the other.

 

"One observation I have made
time and time again is that many people
either don’t know what they are
looking for in a 
partner, 
or have a list the length of their arm"

 

I took a detour in my career as a business psychologist in 2006, choosing to help people gain success in love rather than success in career. Over the last 10 years, I have met thousands of singles and it has been an honour to steer so many people towards a healthy relationship and even marriage.

Although matchmaking is not a new concept, it’s surge in popularity is seeing more and more singles put their faith into their devices, computers, and professionals.

 

Technological suitors

The use of technology to match compatible singles goes as far back as 1959 when two Stanford engineering students formulated a questionnaire which asked for age, height, weight, religion, hobbies and various personality traits. They programmed an IBM computer scored all participants and matched them up with all other participants. The couples with the lowest difference between scores would then be matched. 49 women were paired with 49 men and one marriage resulted.

 

 

Whatever you feel about the results, algorithms have grown more intelligent and more popular—the turn of the century welcomed an era of online matchmaking services, which changed the landscape of dating forever. Today we are seeing an abundance of apps and websites geared at various individuals—there’s a niche site for every interest and every age group with various matching-algorithms to boot.

Warren and Forgatch were the pioneers of designing algorithms as well as the founders of eHarmony in 2000. Thier matchmaking process begins with filling out a 436-question personality profiling test. They claim eHarmony is about “science, algorithms and a secret source”. Their complex system pinpoints matches based on 29 key dimensions of compatibility and today boasts the creation of over 400,000 relationships.

Other services, such as Tinder, Grindr and Happn, rely on a much more simple algorithm based solely on proximity. And, believe it or not, people do indeed find love off the back of these dating apps.

In her book, The Mathematics of Love, Hannah Fry says that “the problem here is that you don’t really know what you want. So an algorithm that can accurately predict compatibility with another person simply does not exist, yet.”

Perhaps then the purpose of dating websites is less about finding an ideal match, and more a way to meet new people who are also single—which is not a bad idea if you never meet new people. However, as a matchmaker I use my own 'secret source'—psychological principles and human judgement—to assess compatibility and match my clients.

 

The human algorithm

 

A relationship expert and client

Ultimately I believe that matchmaking is about bringing two people together who are compatible on so many levels. One observation I have made time and time again is that many people either don’t know what they are looking for in a partner, or have a list the length of their arm citing criteria, which are neither realistic nor relevant.

When I am matchmaking, I spend hours discussing my client’s life in order to identify and list his or her core values. Some of these values will be determined by upbringing and some influenced through experiences in adulthood.

It is important to ask questions such as “Why did you change career in your late thirties? What motivated you to set up a charity?” It is especially important to explore lo—this is a great way to help clients recognise attributes in a partner that work particularly well for them, or that should be avoided.

How many people do you know who hop from relationship to relationship with partners who are all, in your view, wholly unsuitable, and weirdly similar to each other? It’s a part of the matchmaker’s role to break this repeated behaviour and help people become their own experts in finding love.

With the dating industry growing the gap between the online and offline services is certainly closing. It is widely acknowledged that the ultimate service to lead you into a healthy, happy, long-term relationship will combine algorithms and also human judgement. Watch this space! 

Rachel Maclynn, is a Psychologist and founder of Vida Consultancy. She is renowned as a world-leading matchmaking and dating expert and sits on the Board of Advisors for the Matchmaking Institute.

 

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