Date 23: The Data-driven Dater

So, I've left some of the bigger dating sites, the ones advertised on the telly, to near the end. I actually quite like E-Harmony's TV ad (I'm quite a fan of quirky brunettes in floral dresses), and it had a reputation for being the one people use when they were in the market to settle down. Seeing as that's what I'm after, it should have seemed like a logical choice for near the start, right?

Well, confession time, I actually thought I'd have girlfriend by now - and E-Harmony had never really appealed to me, quirky brunettes or no. It seemed like the most mechanical version of online dating. People told me the profile took forever to complete - one of my mates described it as "E-Self-Harmony". It's all based on one of these bizarre pseudoscientific personality tests - you know, the kind of thing your school made you do when you were thirteen, to tell you what career you were suited to. 

The ones that never told you you'd be a "motorcycle daredevil" like you hoped, but instead gave you something you definitely didn't want to do, like "Mainline railway station bootblack", "Piscine Agronomist" or "Council environmental waste management officer". I've always wondered if there are some people who come out of those tests with results like "Crimelord" or "Feckless Layabout" or "Tragic Date Blogger".

As I say, I'd heard the stories of how bad the profile was to fill out, but nothing had quite prepared me for the full horror of it. It's charmless and takes ages. No word of a lie, there must be over 300,000 questions to answer. Well, really about 300, but it feels ENDLESS. Each page of 20-30 questions ticks the profile completion up about 2% at a time. It took me about an hour of box checking to get about half-way through, I foolishly went and made a coffee, only to return to my computer and find the whole thing had crashed.

It's akin to applying for a job at a major corporation, or being asked about your personality and dating desires by a particularly rude and brusque Dalek. 

I could help but read these warnings in my best HAL 5000 voice

Also, some of the questions are very odd. For example, at one point, I was asked to rate my rationality on a scale of 1-7, from "not rational at all" to "I am very rational'. Another asks you to rate "how often you suspect you are being plotted against" from "always" to "never".

I mean, who ticks one out of seven for both of those? Presumably, if you're sitting there with borderline personality disorder, hallucinating unicorns that are scheming against you, online dating is probably not your bag.

I returned to the computer, and started again. Every now and again, it will flash up little messages, encouraging you to keep going. "This process may seem long, but I believe it will be so worthwhile for you--just as it has been for so many others before". Yeah, right.

By now, it was not unlike those grueling interrogations you see in films. You know the ones, where the Gestapo have tied the hero to a chair, are shining a bright light in his eyes and demanding to know where the resistance are hiding. Of course, the Gestapo aren't asking you to rate where the resistance are on a bloody scale of 1-7 from "almost never in caves" to "In the caves right now!".

Finally, I got to the end of the questionnaire, but before I could rise from my knees and call out "THERE.ARE.FOUR.LIGHTS!", I realised that I still had to go through all the normal rigmarole of uploading pictures and being charming and so on. And then they presented me with the bill for being interrogated and my jaw dropped.

E-Harmony is by far the most expensive dating site I have used. It's a quite astonishing £34.95 for a month. You can make it cheaper per month by forking over more cash - you can pay £75 for three months, £90 for six months, or £120 for a year. Of course, yes you are getting it cheaper by buying in bulk, but you are also effectively betting on yourself to fail. It's only good value to take out a year's membership if you think you're too much of a loser to find love in six months.

Of course, looking at my own success, or lack thereof, maybe that wasn't such a bad idea. Equally part of the appeal of the site is that it's for people who are really serious about dating. No-one is spending hours doing a psychological profile and then spending £35 a month if all they want is casual sex, when OK Cupid will give them that for free, and even classier places like Guardian Soulmates and My Single Friend will do it to a classier audience for £10 a month. No, if you go on E-Harmony, you are seven out of seven SERIOUSLY WORRIED ABOUT DYING ALONE.

 Possibly somewhat cockily, I signed up for a month's membership, assuming I could find at least one person in my first month of trying. Of course, once again, E-harmony attempted to thwart me. As opposed to other sites, where you can browse the entire membership, E-harm only shows you your matches, and shows you them on a slow drip feed, maybe one or two a day. 

My first couple of weeks, I wasn't attracted to anyone. I started to wonder if maybe I should have shelled out more money on a longer subscription or maybe I had been overly liberal on clicking on boxes like "I don't care about the looks of my partner", which made me feel less like a Nazi while going through the interrogation, but presented me with a cavalcade of warty trouts to date.

I mean, we all sort of wish it wasn't true that we judge attractiveness at least partially on looks, but I was depressingly finding it to be quite true of myself. I mean, I'm not that picky, and I'm no oil painting myself, but Christ, some of these women all but had a calliope organ playing in the background while tophatted Victorian punters rolled up to leer at them. Even when you are offered a match who isn't some kind of ghastly curiosity, there's no way of telling if they're still on the site.

Finally, three weeks in, I got a date. Phew. We arranged to meet in a trendy bar in Camden; a place I rather like that does excellent craft beer (including the strongest beer in the world, which is served inside a taxidermied squirrel) and wonderful cheeseboards. The girl I was meeting worked locally, and she worked in "data analysis". We'd chatted a few times on the phone before I met her, which struck me as slightly odd.

She turned up, and was brilliantly geeky. Glasses, curly brown hair. A genuine quirky brunette, so it seems I can abandon that ASA complaint. She was really, really wonderfully quirky - it was like being on a date with a female Nate Silver. We chatted science, and numbers, and graphs. She explained the difference between an infographic and a diagram.  Normally, none of these topics are particularly exciting, but her obvious enthusiasm for the subject carried the conversation through.

Anyway, about twenty minutes into the date, she asks me about the blog, then asks me about my "system". I reply "I don't really have one, I just date people who seem cool". She looked at me like I'd said "I eat the hearts of my foes, to gain their delicious courage."

"YOU DON'T HAVE A SYSTEM?!" she replied, and bam, out comes her Macbook. She boots up a spreadsheet, and highlights my name on it. I realise I am looking at my entry in someone else's dating spreadsheet. There are multiple colours, multiple tabs. The data lass explains that she lists everyone who she has contacted; everyone who has contacted her; the progress of every conversation.

She responds to messages she likes, Googles you to find out what you do and if that accords with the profile you've written ("Photo analysis for height is quite hard; but doable"). Then, she calls a couple of times, to "have a real conversation, make sure you aren't weird". Then once you've been messaged, googled and called, she arranges a date with you. Apparently, she'd broken one of her rules by meeting me somewhere new, but "you seemed charming enough I felt you probably had good taste".

Only about one man in ten makes it through the "system" to get a date; oh, and of course, there's a tab for the men she's dating. Now, I suspect there are two camps on this sort of thing - the sort of person who says "OF COURSE YOU HAVE A SPREADSHEET FOR DATING! By Crom, you'll be telling me you don't itemise your receipts, next!".

And then there are people like me, who find the whole mechanisation of the process faintly terrifying. While I enjoyed my data-driven date - which included glasses of the world's second strongest beer, "Sink the Bismark" (which sadly isn't served out of a model Nazi Battleship), and a long discussion about the worst genre of music known to man (I hadn't even heard of Viking metal before - apparently it's "the worst of hero metal, black metal and folk metal combined") - I was pretty glad to escape back into the pre-industrial world of Artisanal Organic dating.

Or, at least as artisanal and homemade as online dating can ever be...


  1. Anonymous said...

    'A cavalcade of warty trouts?' Quite the charmer indeed Willard. Not.

  2. Unknown said...

    Damnit Willard this made m actually laugh out loud - in a manner which now has me sitting here with a keyboard and a white shirt full of coffee, and has rather undermined my look-at-me-being-in-the-office-at-half-seven-when-I-came-in-on-a-pubic-holiday-yesterday-too routine.

  3. noughtpointzero said...

    @Anonymous 10:23, get a sense of humour. This is one of the funniest blogs of the lot and I for one cannot get enough gags about calliope organs.

    By the way, the worst genre of music is mainstreme R&B a la Usher et al. SO much worse than Viking metal.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Love this, thank you for the excellent tale. Btw I could answer 1 to the rational and delusional questions, with my top score of 8/9 on the DSM schizotypal scale and love for maths. I rationally know the voices are my fears and anxieties projected onto background noise, emotionally I'm in terror mode. Reminding myself there's no magic shit going on has as much effect as telling a depressed person to cheer up or a Parkinson's victim to stop shaking. I'd lie though on the test of course, no delusions ever, fairly rational, like I'm normal.

  5. Anonymous said...

    @noughtpointzero Oh I have a sense of humour alright. I just don't take kindly to pots calling kettles black. I'm sure plenty of genuine women might have thought the same about his profile. Not everyone's an oil painting you know, as the author himself points out.

  6. Will Foxton said...

    Anonymous commenter objects to me describing completely anonymised women as "warty trouts" for comic effect, does so by pointing out how ugly I am.

    By the way pot, you're black.

  7. Anonymous said...

    Willard, you conveniently misinterpret my point. I objected to your carpet bombing of women on e harmony as warty trouts. I never said this was for comic effect. I think that's something you find funny, not me. I'd love to hear what these alleged trouts had to say about your profile. I'll wager your barren three weeks speaks volumes.

  8. Will Foxton said...

    Well, "Anonymous", as we're conveniently on first name terms, if you want to write a blog about being a sanctimonious twat, I promise not to read it.

    Now off you fuck.

  9. Anonymous said...

    I'm more than happy camped out here thanks. It's a shame, I rather enjoyed your blog to begin with. But then you got too self-aware and its seems your more desperate for glory and stories rather than genuinely looking for love. Totally transparent. Sad really.

  10. Will Foxton said...

    I find it mildly amusing that I'm midway through a text conversation with a mate agonising over what a 3rd date with a girl I met through the blog means, at the same time you are accusing me of "transparently" looking for stories instead of love.

    You're not an oracle, you don't know a thing about me or why I'm doing this. You've barely even read the blog - as you can see from reading the post above, the bulk of the "story" is about writing the profile, hardly the glory hunt freakshow you assert the whole blog has become.

    Like I say - and indeed, have said before - feel free to stop reading any time you like if you aren't enjoying it or think I'm too self-aware. Please just don't waste any more of my time begging for attention like a petulant child.

  11. The mind boggles

  12. DrMcCoy said...

    How the hell can you say that this is bad music?!?

  13. Is it weird that after reading all these blogs I want to go on a date with Willard haha!

  14. Ewan said...

    enjoying the blog but think this is the first time I've thought that the date is someone I'd love to meet ;-)

  15. Unknown said...

    Hi Willard, to the passing observer it's clear why you're alone in your advancing years. Yes, it's partly to do with you being "no oil painting" but much much more to do with your attitude towards women.

    Bit of a delusional smokescreen to claim you're "exaggerating for effect" when it's more likely that reveals your true thoughts about the opposite sex.

    Hopefully you'll change your ways but if not you'll provide a useful service in acting as a warning sign for similarly unloved ageing men as an example of how NOT to live.

  16. Will Foxton said...

    Yawn, bitter anonymous comment troll is bitter. More sub mystic meg cod-psychology mind reading. Try harder next time.

    Maybe just let on what it is that really bothers you about me? That might at least be interesting.

  17. Unknown said...

    No it wasn't meant bitterly! You're one of those curious guys who proudly wears the 'I AM A FEMINIST' badge but don't live by anywhere near the kind of rules that would make a man truly feminist. Not saying you're a bad person, you're just markedly 'different' from your own self-image and that's fascinating.

    (Not sure how to get unanonymous on here, sorry)

  18. Will Foxton said...

    Do I not live by those rules? Some real world examples would be nice please?

  19. Unknown said...

    I tried e-harmony back before I realised that I don't actually like people enough to want to date one. After getting through the tedious form a wee message popped up telling me I'm one of the tiny percentage of people that they don't think they can help, or words to that effect. Should have known then that dating was perhaps not for me!

  20. Kate said...

    I tried eHarmony once. Took me over an hour. Then the site crashed. And I had to start again. By now, the coil of rope I conveniently keep in the corner of my bedroom (that's a whole other story) was looking mighty attractive but thankfully I resisted the urge to throw one end over the roof rafter and the other end round my neck. However, after reading Anon's comments, I'm eying the rope up again.

  21. TJH said...

    I hope that 3rd date went or augers well, Willard. Although I shall miss this blog, I shall raise a glass in celebration if it's brought to a happily premature conclusion. Don't let the misanthropes get you down; your appreciative anonymous readers greatly outnumber them, I can assure you.

    All the very best,


  22. Anonymous said...

    Ignore the jackasses. If it's excessively self-aware to realize "Hey, I don't really want to go on a date with someone I don't find attractive, and checking a box labeled 'I don't care about the looks of my partner' was a silly thing to do, even if theoretically noble", then apparently they'd rather be reading a blog about a squirrel. It's also not anti-Feminist to not want to go on dates with people you're not attracted to. Looks matter. For both men and women.

  23. Marzipan said...

    There is NOTHING wrong with spreadsheets.

  24. TJH said...

    I don't think there are very many people who can honestly say that they don't care, at all, about their partner's appearance. Awareness of and appreciation for human beauty are universal, ineradicable aspects of human nature. If you don't care about your partner's appearance then it seems to me that you don't think much of yourself; 'I'm so lonely, desperate and wretched that I'll sleep with anyone who'll have me'. What does that say about your attitude to the other person? Do you really value them? Or are you instead using them to make yourself feel better? Do you think of them as anything more than 'the poor lonely, desperate, wretched woman/man who has to sleep with me'? Low self-esteem provides no basis at all for a happy, lasting relationship. Psychologists have known for some time that, by and large, like attracts like; not only do people generally end up with partners who are roughly as attractive as they are, but they say that they find their partners attractive, and that they feel that their partners feel the same way about them. All this is to say that Willard certainly hasn't committed a crime against feminism, unless of course you're the kind of feminist who regards heterosexual sex or heterosexual desire as inherently exploitative. Of course, we ought to see and to love the whole person, and to challenge some of the absurd and dangerous ideals of the modern fashion and beauty industries. That doesn't mean that we abandon all notions of attraction, charm, chemistry, making the best of ourselves and finding partners who allow us to be our best selves. What would we be left with if we did? A kind of hair-shirt, dutiful, miserable world which would have nothing to do with love of any kind. A cursory acquaintance with Willard's blog tells you that he values all sorts of things in potential partners, and that he's very much aware that he's 'no oil painting'. He's said repeatedly that likes strong, independent, ambitious women, and he's nearly always had nice things to say about his dates unless they've bitten his finger or broken his penis. Those commenters who post here to accuse Willard of being a hypocrite who deserves a lonely old age need to look at themselves. Feminism is about securing full, well-lived lives for women; trying to pretend that you can eradicate the thrill of human attraction is an enormous distraction from that laudable goal. If you feel miserable about yourself, do all that you can to feel better. It can be done, without conceding an inch to the fashion and beauty industries. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to refute their premises.

  25. Unknown said...

    pffft, early thirties isn't 'aging'.

    err, right?

  26. Unknown said...

    Your blog is infinitely entertaining ... and often, cringe-worthy (kind of like watching The Office, embarrassingly funny, you want to fast forward but just can't) but really, just wondering which pub this is.

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