One useful thing to come out of social psychology is the discovery that spouses who are very similar get along much better, and are far less likely to divorce, and it’s fairly easy to measure these traits (like introversion-extroversion) and make predictions.
When I first learned about this research around 1970, I envisioned starting something remarkably similar to eHarmony. But I was still an undergraduate, and computers were just being invented, so it was a bit premature. It seemed to me that it would be much better for the whole world if couples were happy and didn’t get divorced, and it was exciting to think that science could really make this happen.
Today, more than half the marriages in America end in divorce, and of those who remain married, about half are unhappy. So that gives us over 75% bad outcomes.
Neil Clark Warren founded and now runs eHarmony, and he is both a theologian and a clinical psychologist. He’s the kindly, white-haired man in the TV commercials. Dr. Warren has determined that most marriages that fail are actually doomed from the outset because the couple is incompatible.
In his book, Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons, Warren tells the story of eHarmony, and the 29 dimensions of compatibility. He counseled couples for several decades, and performed “autopsies” on marriages that failed, and that’s how he became involved in this endeavor. As far as chemistry goes, he believes it’s either there, or it isn’t, and he has no idea why, but that it’s necessary in a marriage.
He says it’s fashionable nowadays to emphasize “friendship first,” and that’s good, but he believes if a man and a woman are good friends and are very compatible, and they have a strong physical attraction, that’s great, but if there’s no attraction, they should stay friends and absolutely not get married.
It was interesting to learn that if couples are strongly attracted to one another but are not fundamentally compatible, very often they will ignore red flags and rationalize their partner’s bad behavior because a great sex life clouds their judgment.
Warren also seems to think a good deal of who we are is genetic, especially IQ, and that ideally, partners shouldn’t be more than 10 points apart. Now they’ve started making homosexual matches, too, with the same purpose of finding enduring love.
Most people sign up for 6 months or 1 year. It begins with a long list of questions which takes over an hour to complete, and this is no doubt off-putting to many people, but remember that prospective mates will answer those questions, too, and the answers are what determines compatibility, so this is important. Each person is actively involved in the process from beginning to end.
It’s a good idea to be as flexible as possible about things that don’t matter – for example, where the person lives – because anybody can take a flight to anywhere, and most long distance phone calls are free, as is Skype. I’ve never actually done eHarmony myself. (I’m very old and not personally interested in finding a mate.) But hypothetically, as a woman, I would include the entire English-speaking world if possible, and I would definitely not rule out bald guys, short guys, or even “below average in looks” guys, because intelligence and character are crucial, and they are in short supply, as well as warmth and kindness, and sensible political beliefs.
To belabor the point, if you are flexible about all the things that don’t matter, you create a larger pool of potential mates, so this increases your chances of finding someone with the qualities that do matter. There’s no guarantee with eHarmony, but it’s definitely worth a try for at least 6 months, especially in light of the alternatives. The “old fashioned” method is only somewhat better than a crap shoot. Say you meet someone attractive who has similar interests, you fall in love, get married, have 3 kids, and then finally one day, after years of turmoil and conflict, you finally reach the conclusion that it’s just hopeless. Kind of a kick in the stomach.
If you’re in it for the long haul, it might be wise to step back and look at your situation objectively, in a state of total calmness. Sometimes when people are trying to solve a problem, especially one that’s sensitive, personal or embarrassing, they think that somehow this particular problem is “different.” A sense of fatalism sets in, they feel stuck, unable to take any action at all.
But that’s wrong! Applying creative intelligence, imagination, hard work, trial-and-error, patience, persistence, soliciting expert advice, taking reasonable risks – all these apply to finding a mate, just like they do to any other problem. Granted that it seems strange to employ science for this purpose – and it is strange! But so what? What matters is results.
According to eHarmony’s website, altogether they’ve had 600,000 marriages, with an average of 542 new marriages each day. Almost 5% of all new marriages in America today are the result of eHarmony.
People may object, “But what about chemistry?” eHarmony doesn’t attempt to figure out who is physically attracted to whom. That part’s up to the individual. When you find potential mates (who are similar to you and meet your preferences), most likely at least one of them will attract you, and be attracted to you, but if not, the situation requires a bit of patience. After all,10,000 new people sign up each day.
There’s always been a severe woman-shortage for men who hold radical conservative beliefs, because women on average, tend to be more liberal. But this could be a way to find a wife who is at least in the same ballpark politically.
People looking for a mate today are lucky that eHarmony exists. It’s not magic, it’s just a tool – a very useful tool – that substantially increases the probability of success. And if you succeed, the lifetime pay-off is huge. I believe that Warren and eHarmony have made a unique and valuable contribution by applying science to match-making.