The Great E-Dating Experiment

Notorious socialite Caitlin Boersma tries out the most popular online dating services for a laugh and gets exactly that.

Recently I’ve noticed a rash of TV commercials and website banners for online dating sites. To offer a full disclaimer, I have no need for services of this sort. When I want a date, I simply walk down the street and take my pick from the numerous men that fall at my feet.

Apparently, not everyone has this luxury; they must sit at a computer screen to assess an individual’s appeal much the same way you would purchase a car.

Even though I wasn’t in the market for a man to chat with (emoticon wink), I was curious. I wanted to know three things: could an online service really locate my soul mate? Were there any non-weirdos actually on these sites? How were these sites generating enough money to have commercials during such prime time shows as American Idol and Dancing with the Stars? My fourth unofficial goal was to stop watching the crappy summer television I received on my three fuzzy channels.

The first site I signed up for was eHarmony.com. This is the big one. They have commercials with that old guy who claims to be a doctor. They have testimonials and guarantees. They promised me that, with their surefire personality profile representing 29 dimensions, I would find the man of my dreams. We would connect so well because our profiles would match up, based on such complex analyses as, “Do you think you’re a kind person?” and “Check boxes that indicate the ethnicities we would NOT date.” It took me over an hour to finish the profile questionnaire!

On the last questions, I was prompted to type in my own answers. “What are the three things you are most thankful for?” and “What are you most passionate about?” I was thankful for family, friends, and Morrissey. I was passionate about “Learning?…this is cheesy.”

I felt that my compatibility partner would not only get a good sense of how funny I was, but that he would also find my laziness adorable.

When I finally finished the questionnaire, a page appeared asking me to wait patiently while it located my future husband.

UNABLE TO MATCH YOU AT THIS TIME. Unfortunately we are not able to make our profiles work for you. Our matching model could not accurately predict with whom you would be best matched. This occurs for about 20% of potential users, so 1 in 5 people simply will not benefit from our service. We hope that you understand, and we regret our inability to provide for you at this time. You can still receive your free Personality Profile by clicking here.

My profile told me I was critical, self-serving and reserved. If that’s not hot, I don’t know what is.

After boasting that they could easily find my soul mate out of the 12 million users worldwide, eHarmony gave me the shaft. Perhaps it sensed my skepticism. Perhaps online dating services are like birthday wishes or salvation: it only works if you believe.

Well, if online dating thought it could defeat me it had another thing coming. I decided I would beat the system and create a profile that was impossible to reject.

My fictitious profile was that of a 25-year-old blonde, blue-eyed and thin woman named Vivian. She was a social worker who deeply cared about everybody. She was passionate about family, friends, and her puppy, Gordon (smiley emoticon with hearts for eyes).

Aside from Vivian being the perfect woman, she had absolutely no standards for her mate. Ranked first for “not important” were looks, sex appeal, age, and race. She also had no preference on how much he smoked, drank or did drugs. Children were also no problem.

Among her fourteen matches (more were ready to come in, but her inbox was full), four matches immediately sent multiple-choice questions, important for establishing any new relationship. They questioned my level of punctuality, idea of adventure, and level of closeness to my pet (I may have gone overboard with Vivian’s love for Gordon).

I decided it would be unethical for me to be a tease and lead these men on with my answers, or to send them back five more multiple questions of my choice.

Encouraged by my success in learning the formula for receiving dozens of compatibility matches, Vivian also joined Match.com and PlentyofFish.com.

Match.com does not even lure you in with an extensive personality profile. You are allowed to look at the pictures of all the other goofballs on the site for free (NOTE: Webcam pictures taken from below your chin are not attractive. Neither are shirtless photos of your tattoos with you doing the inane “rock on” sign), but you are not allowed to mingle until you pay. In eHarmony’s more controlled environment one can receive a free profile, but in order to see pictures and communicate beyond initial questions, there is a membership fee.

Both sites charge a monthly fee, which fluctuates depending on the number of months you commit to being a member. At Match.com it costs $16.99 a month for six months, but one month à la carte costs $34.99. If you want Dr. Phil’s advice during your Match.com experience it costs $23.98 a month for six months or a whopping $43.98 if you only want one month of service. God, these poor suckers must be desperate.

eHarmony.com is more expensive even without Dr. Phil. A year’s subscription costs $20.95 a month, six months is $28.95 a month, and for a one month membership it costs––hold your breath––$59.95.

My question about advertising costs was answered. These online dating sites cost more than a subscription to World of Warcraft.

PlentyofFish.com, on the other hand, is a free site. It does not offer the services of protected phone conversations or advice from acclaimed “psychologists,” but it does offer a primitive personality assessment and plenty of ugly pictures.

I have one last criticism of the high-priced dating sites. A progressive mindset and liberal arts education made it immediately clear that these sites were not at all gay-friendly. You male, you seek female. You female, you seek male. PlentyofFish did a much better job of accommodating gay men and women, but there was still no place for people in-between.

I do not recommend any of these sites for finding a potential partner. As an answer to my second initial question: Yes, they are all weirdos. If anything, go to a singles night at a bar. This would be just as creepy, except you’d actually meet the people you could eventually instant message instead of the other way around.

Caitlin Boersma is studying political science and English, but spends most of her time analyzing pop culture. Her premise for a new reality TV show, Killing Andy Milonakis, has yet to be picked up by VH1. She is notorious for spending a week’s wages on a ticket to see Morrissey live.