Black Mirror and Perfect Matches

Tonight I watched “Hang the DJ,” a fourth-season episode of Black Mirror that several people have asked me about. This will be a spoiler-free post in terms of plot, but not theme. (If you want a more in-depth, spoilery perspective on this episode, I recommend this article.)

The episode is all about love and relationships. What if every relationship were on a timer? Would you be happier knowing the time remaining or not? Would you knowingly suffer through a bad relationship if you knew you’d find the right person afterwards? How do our failed relationships improve our relationship skills and what we’re looking for in a partner? How do you ever really know you’re with the right person?

The big question for me is about the idea of a “perfect match.” A soulmate, essentially. The entire premise of the episode centers around a “System” that uses a highly complex algorithm based on who you are and the experiences it steers you towards to determine your perfect match.

This is something that real-life dating sites attempt to do. E-Harmony, Match.com, OkCupid…these sites all have different ways of determining compatibility. From my time on Match and OkCupid, I was sometimes bewildered by the 90%+ women I was matched with. Other times I was rather impressed.

The System takes it to a new level. It has a near perfect success rate. However, is that a good thing? Is it possible to have true love if an algorithm decides who you’re meant to be with, even if it works?

I’ve been going back and forth about if I would use the System if it were real (and if I changed my mind about marriage). It sure would be tempting. Okay, fine, I’d use it!

Would you?


7 Responses to “Black Mirror and Perfect Matches”

  1. This seems like it is similar to the book “The One” by John Marrs. I bought the book in th UK but it comes out in the US very soon.

  2. Charles Dionne says:

    Spoilers for the episode below….

    If I was still single and this type of matching system existed, I would absolutely give it a shot! The idea of a perfect match, whether it truly exists or not, is an intriguing one and I can’t imagine myself not wanting to at least try to find such an ideal pairing. I’m definitely the kind of guy who likes to plan ahead and I like to use my time as efficiently as possible so, like Frank in the episode, I would absolutely want to know what the timer said. I need to know how long I have left to experience the relationship to the fullest and make so I don’t regret anything!

    I believe it’s definitely useful to suffer through bad relationships in the hope of finding *the* one. I haven’t had that many relationships before meeting my wife but I think each one helped me figure out what I’m really looking for or reevaluate what I thought were important traits in a partner. Is there a woman somewhere just like my wife but that enjoys playing heavy Euro games? Perhaps, but I think I close enough to 99.8 to be happy with my decision! 🙂

    Jamey, have you written about those 90% matches before? I’ve never used online dating sites so I’m really curious if you could definitely tell what you had in common with the other person that would have resulted in their algorithms matching you, whether good or bad.

    Anyway, it’s rare to find series that brings up such interesting questions about relationships and love, much less a 50-minute episode. And for that reason, I really enjoyed it!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Charles, and thanks for the recommendation. It was a really interesting episode.

      Back during my online dating days, I wrote about dating and relationships quite a bit (see: https://jameystegmaier.com/category/relationships/). I’m not sure if I specifically discussed 90% matches. The sites don’t tell you how the algorithm works, though I think it’s a lot more than just having things in common. Like, OkCupid asks you a ton of situational questions to gauge compatibility.

      • Charles Dionne says:

        That’s really interesting! I’ll have to go back and read some of it since I might never experience that side of dating. Glad you found the episode interesting. Definitely stood it for me among the usual very bleak episodes of the series!

  3. emmalouklues says:

    Spoilers….

    I know the article goes into this, but I think the question you pose deserves the nuance the episode provided 🙂 The algorithm is not a typical dating website that matches likes and dislikes or other data points.

    The story and premise (in the simulation) was based on Amy and Frank being continually willing to take a leap of faith with each other based on thinking that their partnership had potential and felt good enough. They didn’t ever know each other that well and didn’t have some magical-instant-connection. They were intrigued by the other and it didn’t take that long in a dystopia for them to buck the system and attempt to escape, not for a chance at “true love” or “bliss”, but to take a huge risk to blindly enter the unknown and give it a whirl with each other. I feel like that’s the strongest and most relatable theme in the episode – whether it’s interviewing a prospective co-worker, entering a relationship, marriage, friendship, whatever, feeling good enough about someone and the potential for partnership and being on the same page about levels of leaps of faith and working together is kind of what life is all about? In that way, I think the algorithm is brilliant. Lots of good lessons to be learned there.

    But if THAT’s why they were matched in real life, because in 1,000 simulations, they chose to buck the system together 998 times, but and then in real life, they just blindly trust it, this begs so many more questions. Would they work in real life if not presented with those same circumstances? Is their wanting to escape based on it being a controlled, dystopian world and feeling good enough about each other enough to create something real? I think the episode suggests that it does work. So if they already think they are a 99.8% match, will that be a self-fulfilling prophecy and it’ll work because of that and not because of free will and trust and leaps of faith and hard work? Ahhhhh! As always, Black Mirror got in my head 🙂

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Emma: That’s a really interesting observation about how the match is more about two people being willing to take that leap–it isn’t necessarily about them being a soulmate-style match. As for the self-fulfilling prophecy, that’s so hard to tell!

      I like that Black Mirror provokes these types of questions. 🙂

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