THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


Long-term Possibilities

eHarmony's just not that into you

by by Kathleen Ross

When it came to smearing online dating heavyweight eHarmony, rival Chemistry.com poured the perfect poison into the public's ear: rejection. In May 2007, Chemistry.com launched their "Rejected by eHarmony" advertisements, which questions eHarmony's record of turning down 16 percent of people who take their patented personality test. The advertisements also put forward the more serious critique that the online dating site--founded by Christian Evangelist Neil Clark Warren-- matches only heterosexual couples.

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In the television spots, dejected singles brainstorm why eHarmony decided he or she wasn't marriage-material. The most successful ad features a man flipping casually through a dirty magazine. He shrugs, chuckles and then says, "Nope, still gay." Other reasons for rejection include experiencing occasional depression or just falling short of eHarmony's standards of a 'good person.' At the end, a rubber stamp crashes down, marking each single in red ink: "Rejected by eHarmony."
In contrast to the conservative eHarmony, Chemistry.com encourages customers to "come as they are" when approaching online love. It seems that many liberal-minded Americans are attracted to Chemistry.com's dedication to being the new open, nonjudgmental relationship site. Since releasing the campaign, Chemistry.com experienced an 80% growth rate, as reported by The New York Times. Apparently, the advertisements have made Americans a little uncomfortable with themselves. Unlike eHarmony or Match.com commercials that appeal to the customer's romantic side, Chemistry.com exploits a consumer's underlying fear of rejection. Forget the fluff about soul mates; Chemistry.com reminded people how it feels to be left out and even alone.

Now, Chemistry.com is targeting eHarmony in print. This time, Chemistry.com imagines a world where eHarmony is the law. Folks were rejected before, but in these, they're excluded. A sign bans homosexuals from the beach in one advertisement while in another, pre-marital sex is forbidden at a local motel. The suggestion that life under eHarmony could be similar to a police state may seem a bit exaggerated. But Adam Hanft, chief executive of Hanft, Raboy and Partners, the agency responsible for Chemistry.com's aggressive campaign, argued to the Times, "By amplifying it to that level, it points out the absurdity and discriminatory nature of [eHarmony's] practices."

Must love God
Founded in 2000 by clinical psychologist Dr. Neil Clark Warren, eHarmony is the fourth-largest online dating service, an industry that rakes in over $650 million a year. Seeking singles pay up to $59.95 a month to have eHarmony find them their next successful relationship. A self-described passionate Christian, Warren presides over the television advertisements and website as the friendly, guiding authority, causing competitors and critics to ask just how his influence over eHarmony's selection practices play out.

Before internet matchmaking was his main business, Warren wrote love and relationship books such as Catching the Rhythm of Love, Date or Soul Mate and God Said it, Don't Sweat It, which were all published by the evangelical group Focus on the Family (FotF). He even appeared frequently as a guest on FotF founder James Dobson's radio show. Although in recent years Warren has pulled away in order to appeal to a more secular market, his positions on pre-marital sex and homosexual relationships are still informed by FotF and its dedication to traditional family values.

However, Warren's evangelical background is absent in eHarmony marketing. Evidence of his Divinity degree from Princeton or his close friendship with James Dobson is nowhere in the television advertisements unless it is drowned out by all the happy couples' enthusiastic testimonies or "This Will Be an Everlasting Love." This is not to say that Warren totally obscures this aspect of his autobiography. In a 2005 Fresh Air interview with Terri Gross, Warren openly talked about coming up on the Christian side. He also emphasized that eHarmony matches people from any religion, saying, "I'm okay with anyone who says I want to build a stronger link with a person."

Science over serendipity
Like other experts from the slew of dating websites, Warren claims to have found the exact formula for mind-blowingly transcendent relationships. After 30 years as a clinical psychologist and 43 years in an "outlandishly fortunate" marriage, Warren developed the "29 dimensions of compatibility." The eHarmony team interviewed both completely happy and utterly miserable couples to develop a complicated mash-up of emotional temperament, social style, values and cognitive mode.
Warren wants to match customers not just with someone they will like, but someone who is actually like them. On eHarmony, similarity is the key to long-lasting marital bliss. In his online essay, "My Marriage and What It Means for You," he uses an extended banking metaphor to describe commitment: "Similarities are like money in the bank. Differences are like debts you owe. It's all right to have a few debts as long as you have plenty of equity in your account. Otherwise your marriage may be bankrupt at an early point." eHarmony's short-term goal may be to help singles find committed, lasting relationships on the web, but Warren sees eHarmony's long-term goal as defeating divorce.

This--perhaps FotF-inspired--dedication to the annihilation of divorce is eHarmony's reason for pinpointing bad marriage prospects and sanitizing their dating pool. 7.5 million people have taken the eHarmony test, and roughly 16 percent haven't been accepted to the site. The exact algorithm eHarmony uses is unclear, but anyone who is depressed, difficult to please or potentially lying on the test is out.

While eHarmony's more confusing sorting mechanisms are buried under their 436 questions, one distinction is clear. On the first page of the test, the only two options available are "Man seeking Woman" and "Woman seeking Man." Any other options for orientation are immediately blocked. It seems that the company shows no interest in allowing gays and lesbians access to the site. Warren claims that in his 30 years of treating couples, he never met with a homosexual couple. Therefore, he was unable to know "what exactly the dynamic is there." Standing by his statement that new research would have to be done in order to understand the principles in homosexual relationships, Warren declines the possibility of applying his 29 dimensions to homosexual couples. Despite Warren's Christian background, the only public moral statement eHarmony has released about homosexuality is that gay marriage is still illegal in some states, and they can't participate in something illegal.

Ad libs
When it comes down to it, if a customer disagrees with eHarmony's policies, they can find love elsewhere on the web. There are hundreds of dating sites in the online marketplace, like Match.com, myPartner.com and Chemistry.com, which actually cater to the needs of gay and lesbian singles. Responsibility then falls in the lap of the consumer, who has to decide whether or not to buy the product.

Like an antidote to doublespeak, Chemistry.com's "Rejected by eHarmony" advertisements soured Warren's promises of electric, long-lasting compatibility. That pesky kernel of doubt, responsible for ruining reputations and careers alike, was planted. Even if the customer isn't homosexual or wasn't part of the 16 percent already rejected, the warm welcoming from Neil Clark Warren now sounds not only corny, but also canned. By positioning themselves as the alternative to narrow-minded and old-fashioned eHarmony, Chemistry.com appeals to individuals who have been excluded and who want to be inclusive.

KATHLEEN ROSS B'08 is meant to be together.