Let’s be honest: Being single sucks sometimes. If you’re anything like me, it’s practically impossible to get through a day without being reminded of your unattached status. My Facebook wall is littered with pictures of happy couples and new babies. My partnered friends always seem to know “the perfect guy,” and I can’t even count how many times my family has asked if I’m “seeing anyone special these days.” It’s like there’s a flashing neon sign everywhere I look that screams: “You’re not getting any younger!”
So when a site like eHarmony boasts that they match singles “based on 29 Dimensions® of Compatibility for lasting and fulfilling relationships,” signing up sounds pretty tempting. “It is possible,” eHarmony’s scientist, Gian C. Gonzaga, Ph.D., told The New York Times, “to empirically derive a matchmaking algorithm that predicts the relationship of a couple before they ever meet.”
That’s a pretty bold claim, and eHarmony is not alone in making it. Numerous online dating sites now declare that they have mastered a scientific approach to matchmaking, boasting complex mathematics that will pair you with the perfect partner. But can they really do it? Is there a scientific way to assess whether two people will fall in love?
If you ask professional matchmaker and love guru Matthew Hussey, the answer is yes—but mostly, no. We’ll explain.
Though Hussey was one of the three “matchmakers” on NBC’s failed dating show Ready for Love, he cringes slightly at the title. “I’m not the guy who tells you what is right for you and tells you who to go for,” says Hussey, author of Get the Guy: Learn the Secrets of the Male Mind to Find the Man You Want and the Love You Deserve. Instead, he prefers to call himself a life coach. “I will give you the tools to be incredible, the best version of you that you can ever be.”
As far as online dating sites go, his reaction is lukewarm. He’s not against them, per se. “If it gets you slightly closer, then, well, great,” he says. But Hussey finds it hard to believe that the online dating algorithms are really as good as the websites claim. “I think that the benefits of matching in those ways are wildly overstated, and that applying an algorithm to [love] is beyond difficult.”
Saying that one person is “right” for another using a set of traits is “a very arrogant notion,” Hussey continues. “I don’t think I can do that, and I don’t think anyone can really do that.”
Scientists who have studied human relationships for years agree. “If you’re going to make scientific claims, act like a scientist—or don’t make scientific claims,” UCLA social psychology professor Benjamin Karney told LA Weekly. Karney and four other scientists published a scathing review of online dating in 2012, concluding “no compelling evidence supports matching sites’ claims that mathematical algorithms work—that they foster romantic outcomes that are superior to those fostered by other means of pairing partners.”