The Psychology of Sex #7: Match.com

Although I’m a completely open person who is comfortable talking about pretty much anything with anyone, there are two circumstances in which I’m exceedingly shy:

  1. Initiating a conversation with a woman who is a complete stranger.
  2. Walking into a crowded room in which I know very few people.

Unfortunately for me, those two areas eliminate a number of venues for meeting women at my age. That’s why Match.com has actually seemed ideal for me during the two weeks I’ve been a paying member. Initiation is really easy, and there are no daunting hordes of women to penetrate (wait, that came out wrong).

However, Match.com and other online dating sites go against a number of rules of behavioral economics. In a continuation of my long-lost series about the psychology of sex, here are three of those rules:

  1. The Malcolm Gladwell Rule of Spaghetti Sauce The MGRSS states that we don’t know what we want until we try it. He uses a lengthy but fascinating example of spaghetti sauce that you can watch here. A researcher created 45 different varieties of spaghetti sauce and did taste tests all across the country. He found that over 30% of people preferred their spaghetti sauce extra chunky. The spaghetti sauce companies had never known that before because they had simply been polling people without taste tests, asking them what they like. We think we know what we want, but we don’t really know until we try it. The principles of Match.com directly contradict this rule. On Match, you input a bunch of stats about yourself and the person you think is ideal for you. Height, interests, age, etc. But how do we really know that we want a woman who’s between 23 and 31 versus a 37 year old (I won’t dip on the low end there)? We don’t.
  2. The Barry Schwartz Rule of Salad Dressing The BSRSD states that more choices makes us less happy. He talks about shopping for salad dressing–or really anything these days. You’re presented with a daunting number of choices. Eventually you choose one or two, but you’re left with an inherent dissatisfaction that you may not have chosen “the one,” the perfect salad dressing for you, simply because there are so many more out there. This is something I’ve struggled with in all of my relationships. What if there’s someone better out there? Is it reasonable for me to think that someday I’ll find someone (or realize I already know someone) who deactivates my wandering eye (lots of hyperlinks today, sorry)? Match hasn’t made this any easier. Every day there’s a cadre of new women who are matched just for me. Say there were only three women on Match.com. If one of them seemed right for me, I’d be really happy with that choice. But in the face of hundreds, thousands (actual number of winks to me so far: 56)? Much harder.
  3. The Dan Ariely Rule of Open Doors The DAROD (the one cool acronym of the three) states that when we find something good, we endanger that goodness by continuing to consider other options. He did a study that involved a computer game with three doors. It’s more complex than I’ll describe here, but basically you can open a door and click “stay” or “leave.” If you leave, you can try another door. Whenever you enter a door or “stay,” you get a small amount of money. The trick is that one of the doors is better than the others. And it’s no secret. One simply pays more. And yet, given the option of the other doors, people continue to click away from the best door to see if the money improves in the other doors. They simply can’t help themselves. I can definitely see that happening with Match. I might find someone who is clearly the best for me, but it’s very hard to close those other doors. In doing so, I hurt my chances for happiness with the best of the bunch. I think the best I can do is be honest with myself and with the women I’m talking to.

So there you have it. Everything you need to know about how Match.com doesn’t work…and yet it’s working for me. Kind of. We’ll see how it goes.

Daily Quickie: I challenge anyone to draw a map of the US while intoxicated this weekend (and with no help from Google). I’m not encouraging intoxication; I’m merely saying if you happen to be drunk, draw a map of the US and send it to me. I’ll post it on the blog.