We’re better off loving for ourselves

Finding romance through a compatibility algorithm is suboptimal


Courtesy of the Marriage Pact

The Marriage Pact matches students based on a compatibility algorithm.

Melina Traiforos, Staff Writer

Bzzt. My phone vibrates. I have a new email:

Match Announcement

If you filled out the Marriage Pact survey in February, you probably found yourself in the same position I did — only a tap and perhaps a dorm away from the Wake Forest student with whom you are most romantically compatible.

Developed by two Stanford students during undergrad, Marriage Pact claims that college is the best time to lock down a life partner. They replace the grueling work of conversation with a 50-statement survey backed by “the latest research on romantic compatibility.” Rating each statement from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” allows Marriage Pact’s algorithm to compute, down to the exact percentage, the participant whose priorities and relationship style most closely matches yours. “I always take the scenic route,” read one question. Another posited, “I like drama.”

“Do you really want to look up from your cubicle when you’re 40 to find yourself alone?” asks the Marriage Pact website. 

No, I didn’t, so I took it. My roommate and I may have laughed off the quiz, but isn’t there something exhilarating about meeting the person with whom you are mathematically destined to fall in love?

These were my famous last words — the results broke all hell loose. 

I had no problem with my match. He looked like a nice guy! I followed him on Instagram, chose not to reach out and that was that. My friends’ results were a grisly conglomerate of campus celebrities, ex-boyfriends and members of fraternities we make a point not to frequent. Shouting and general panic characterized the minutes post-release. It was decidedly not love at first sight.

“I don’t know how much I believe it,” sophomore Lanie Kotler said. She questioned whether the 99 percent matches some students received are feasible on a small campus like that of Wake Forest.

I, too, am skeptical. Marriage Pact’s penultimate email, which revealed a plethora of commonalities between my match and me, raised a red flag. We both appreciate the beauty in the world. We value trustworthiness and detail orientation. As the similarities stacked up, I got the uneasy feeling that Marriage Pact was matching me to myself.

In the human sexuality course I’m taking this semester, we learned that similarity does not guarantee compatibility. 

Introduce yourself to the girl sitting next to you in economics; compliment the boy with nice hair. Real connections lie waiting for us to forgo the quick solution that dating apps advertise. We are better off thinking — and loving — for ourselves.

“While we do seem initially drawn to people who are similar to us,” writes psychologist Justin Lehmiller in “The Psychology of Human Sexuality,” “it turns out that the factors that initially attract us to someone are not necessarily the same factors that promote relationship stability and success.” 

A 2007 study adds complementarity to the mix — finding that certain traits follow the “opposites attract” adage while others are best shared by partners. While I am not privy to Marriage Pact’s secret algorithm, I wonder whether two highly confrontational people would resolve conflict well. Dating when you both prefer staying in for a movie night is convenient, but how will you ever experience something new together?

The cynical cherry on top is a psychological phenomenon called self-report bias, which recognizes that people are seldom 100 percent truthful when describing themselves in surveys. It is a rare respondent who, when asked if they desire a trustworthy partner, says “no.” It seems Marriage Pact matches our personas — fabrications born of a flawed self-image and robs us of our true complement. 

Marriage Pact is not the only culprit; like any form of social media, dating sites invite performativity. Tinder boils down the infinite tensions and complexities in a human person to five or six photos, allowing users to curate a collage of images. Even Hinge, which offers quirky questions designed to bring out authenticity, cannot escape digital performance. 

If you want romantic prospects to fawn over your built body, gym pics are a must. Skydiving and snowboarding photos broadcast how adventurous you are and posts with friends portray you as likable.

These sites offer insight into the romantic priorities of their users — physical appearance, quirky interests, etc. Even Christian Mingle represents its users’ belief that their faith plays a role in romance. 

We swipe left or right on the most polished versions of our peers, but none of it is real, and when you’re looking for love, real is the only thing that matters. 

Marriage Pact claims to know what is best for us better than we know it ourselves. Finding “the one” feels attainable when a shiny math formula promises to tell us exactly what to do. But there is peril in succumbing to the luxury of relinquished control, especially when you are not sure to what you’re relinquishing it. 

Introduce yourself to the girl sitting next to you in economics; compliment the boy with nice hair. Real connections lie waiting for us to forgo the quick solution that dating apps advertise. We are better off thinking — and loving — for ourselves.