Match Point

5 minute read
Joel Stein

During the lowest point of our relationship, my lovely wife Cassandra and I saw a couples therapist. At the end of our first session, I asked him to rate our marriage on a scale of 1 to 10. He gave us a 7. I think we would have gotten an 8 if Cassandra hadn’t married the kind of guy who can understand emotions only through numbers.

Now, however, there’s a scientific method to determine how our marriage ranks. The dating site eHarmony designed an algorithm to identify people who would make the happiest 25% of couples based on its research of thousands of marriages. At a psychology convention in February, the site presented findings showing that–contrary to academic beliefs–similar levels of traits like extroversion and intellect, not just general agreeableness, are the key to a successful marriage. If two people aren’t enough alike in 29 categories, eHarmony won’t match them–and their marriage is going to suck. I had to know how we measured up.

Cassandra and I drove to eHarmony’s headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., in one car, which I worried would needlessly drag out our breakup if we failed the test. Which I was pretty sure would happen. Our friends and family don’t think we’re well matched. Cassandra is far cooler than I am, and way less desperate for social validation and material success. I, meanwhile, am much better at taking my loved ones’ negative traits and making them sound like positives.

We walked into the eHarmony offices, which are decorated much like a sorority house on Valentine’s Day if the head of the sorority had some kind of disease where she could not stop cutting colored paper into the shape of hearts. We sat down with Neil Clark Warren, the 78-year-old founder, who went to theological seminary and got a Ph.D. in psychology. His 53-year marriage seemed great, and his wife, who works a few offices down, seemed vivacious and devoted. Though I’m pretty sure Cassandra would be vivacious and devoted if I controlled a database of millions of single chicks.

Warren told us to sit on a couch and then said, “Do you intend to stay together for your lifetimes?” This seemed like an odd question to ask a married couple, like when your waiter starts off by asking if you’re hungry. Then we talked awhile, and I asked him if he was concerned about our marriage. “It would be hard for me to say. It’s clearly in the top half.” This is the kind of muted encouragement one hears from a doctor after a cancer diagnosis.

Cassandra and I went to separate rooms to take a 110-question test. I finished in 15 minutes, partly because I kept hitting “Extremely” in response to the sex questions, causing the site to say, “Easy tiger!” and tell me to slow down. I was starting to think eHarmony had more in common with Cassandra than I do.

After running three of the eight compatibility models, eHarmony vice president of matching Steve Carter, who also has a Ph.D. in psychology, told us that we were not a match. But on one test, we did score in the 74th percentile, just 1% shy of a match–and exactly the 7 the couples therapist gave us. What kept us from a higher score, Carter said, was that we both got a 0 for religious interest, and regardless of similarity, eHarmony finds that atheists aren’t often happily married. Also, Cassandra is 17% kinder than I am and has 37% more romantic passion. “You need to romance it up,” said Carter. “Lots of guys fail on that aspect, and it’s bad.” Then Cassandra said, “Actually, Joel is pretty good on the romance front and I could be better.” For starters, she could give me a sexy pet nickname like the eHarmony questionnaire did.

We were, despite physical evidence, only 2% apart in appearance. Which is key. “Appearance is a bigger deal for us than kindness,” Carter said of the company’s algorithm. When we looked at the wall of photos of couples who met through eHarmony, almost all of them looked equally attractive. The startling conclusion I gathered from this is that none of the men on eHarmony have a lot of money.

On the drive home, we held hands and felt surprisingly fine. “When we met, I just felt the most comfortable and most myself with anyone I’d ever been with. I didn’t think about compatibility,” Cassandra had told me on the way to eHarmony. I had also not been thinking about compatibility. I had been thinking about how to get her naked. For two people not even thinking about marriage, we did all right. And the way we handled the test only made me want to stay with her more. Especially now that I know that it’s impossible for me to date someone significantly hotter.

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