Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
The Internet Technology

The Problem With Internet Dating's Frictionless Market 453

Hugh Pickens writes "Peter Ludlow writes in the Atlantic that the internet has turned the dating marketplace into a frictionless market that puts together buyer and seller without transaction costs. And that's a bad thing. 'Finding a partner used to be expensive, and the market was inefficient. If you lived in a large city, there were always people looking for partners, but the problem was how to find them.' But one advantage of inefficient dating markets is that in times of scarcity we sometimes take chances on things we wouldn't otherwise try while in times of plenty, we take the path of least resistance (someone who appears compatible) and we forgo difficult and prima facie implausible pairings. Another problem with frictionless online markets (PDF) is that assume we know what we are looking for. But sometimes we simply don't know what we are looking for until we stumble across it in a search for something else, says Ludlow. 'The result is often unexpected and beautiful. So it is with relationships; compatibility is a terrible idea in selecting a partner,' concludes Ludlow. 'We often make our greatest discoveries and acquire our greatest treasures when local scarcity compels us to be open to new and better things.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Problem With Internet Dating's Frictionless Market

Comments Filter:
  • Settle? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @08:28PM (#42526209)

    Did the author just tell us that sometimes it's better to simply "settle" for whoever you can find instead of finding someone compatible? :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @08:42PM (#42526375)

    Saying "libraries are better than ebooks" is like saying "Video stores are better than movies"; you're comparing the distribution model with the product it's distributing. Also, the "discovery" aspect of libraries (and bookstores) is present with online bookstores too. Have you never been to

  • Re:One question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @08:54PM (#42526495)

    The problem with the old method is that it's often a game of attrition, namely you keep dating until you give up on finding someone that you are lifetime compatible with, and settle whoever's around at the time.

    Agreed. Mr Ludlow has the whole premise upside down to me.

    When dating is expensive you are LESS likely to date around till you find a closely compatible person, and more likely to settle.
    He has the whole situation upside down.

    It will take a few years to find out if internet dating will produce more enduring relationships, but the old method wasn't working
    all that well either. Some sites claim internet dating works better [] for the marriage minded. Other sources ask the divorce question in their headlines []. (So we must invoke Betteridge).

    One service actually publishes some numbers [] from an internal (and rather self congratulatory) study. They claim: "eHarmony couples had a 66.6% lower risk for divorce than would have been expected given eHarmony’s share of marriages in the population".

    I suspect the study is rather flawed, but its the only one out there that I am aware of.

  • Re:How is this news? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alexander_686 ( 957440 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:00PM (#42526571)

    It tries to solve a mathematical problem. How can we maximize marital bliss – or at least one night stands - when the users have a heuristic basis which leads to a suboptimal selection process?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:01PM (#42526579)

    If you want to add less misanthropic options, here's a couple more:

    4) Economic instability combined with people ranting about starting families you can't afford leads to people not starting families that they can't afford.

    5) Economic instability combined with employers' preferring unattached employees that can be expected to put in a few extra hours leads to people not starting families that they think will limit their economic chances

  • Re:One question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by miroku000 ( 2791465 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:45PM (#42526965)

    Feminism is partially to blame. Many women feel entitled to good lives with plenty of thrill and whatnot so they simply dump their boring husbands who slave away 12hr/day to support the family (women initiate divorce in 70% of cases). Ever heard women saying men have it so good, they live their sweet patriarchical lives with obedient housewives, dinners every day, sex every evening and whatnot, yet whining that there are no good men willing to marry on the horizon? The truth is the marriage is an increasingly lousy deal for men. Due to decades of lobbying based on 'will somebody please think of the women', the law is heavily stacked against men, when they marry they are literally at the mercy of their wives. Wives are entitled to half of wealth just because, can get their husbands arrested on their word alone (domestic violence even if it didn't happen), in case of divorce get child custody (and have men by the balls if they ever want to see the children), child support and/or alimony (material situation of the man doesn't matter at all and he can be forced to pay more than he earns).

    While it is somewhat true that marriage is not as good of a deal for men as it used to be, that is not entirely a bad thing. Women have more career options than they used to. When you have no way to survive without the marriage, you are less likely to initiate a divorce. But, it is true that women more often are awarded alimony and custody and such. But this may be because often men are making more money than their wives. Here is the paradox though. Women's value on the dating market peaks at age 21. Men's peak value on the dating market is at age 36. So, after the divorce, men stand a much higher chance of finding a better mate than women do. []

  • Re:How is this news? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @09:54PM (#42527055)

    I don't understand how this is even /. related news.

    All Slashdot topics are there because we don't understand. Like things that are so cold, that they have negative temperature and might be actually hot again. We don't understand, so we discuss it here.

    Nobody is better than Slashdotters, at discussing things that they don't understand.

    Dating, is something that we definitely don't understand.

  • Re:One question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vaphell ( 1489021 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2013 @10:50PM (#42527449)

    But this may be because often men are making more money than their wives

    probably there is some amount of prejudice against women but it doesn't make that often repeated 77% claim true. There is no economic sense to overpay workers when cheaper alternatives are on the market, especially when everybody is whining how soulless companies cut expenses at all costs. The reality is that if you account for life choices (eg men are much more willing to accept longer commute times, more overtime etc) the difference becomes negligible.
    Lower skilled men are usually the first to go when the company they work for is in trouble so the man=breadwinner role is undermined especially on lower levels of society. On top of that women in general are better educated and constitute the majority of students, which is a problem, because (even ignoring the 'lousy deal for men' thing) really soon women will be unable to find a mate anywhere near their level and i don't think they will be happy with 'mediocre' males. I guess their frustration is bound to go to 11.

    Here is the paradox though. Women's value on the dating market peaks at age 21. Men's peak value on the dating market is at age 36. So, after the divorce, men stand a much higher chance of finding a better mate than women do

    that's not really a paradox. Evolution made us value women by their looks (~20 is the best time for pregnancy) and men by their possessions (ability to provide for their mate and their offspring). That shooting in the foot done by women who hastily initiate divorce out of boredom only to find themselves in an overcrowded market with much better competition might be caused by simple shortsightedness and rosy perception of their situation.

    I've seen some stats based on that okcupid data, that women have very skewed definition of 'average looking' where not-johnny-depp-level but still damn fine looking men, easily in top quintile, were considered merely so-so (yeah, selection bias of the site and what not, but stats of males were not as ridiculous). That might suggest that women often have an unrealistic image of reality and expectations, tend to overplay their hand in their prime time and get into the SOL situation past the peak, in their 30s.
    Yep, we live in interesting times.

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @12:04AM (#42527987)

    "how to tell if your girlfriend is the love child of Beelzebub and Cthulu"

    Was her name Tina? Because I think I dated he same girl.

    I wasn't speaking from experience. I knocked up the first girl I dated, then knocked her up again, then married her. I've been with her nearly half my life now. If she is related to Satan it's reasonably distant.

  • Re:One question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sesshomaru ( 173381 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @12:26AM (#42528143) Journal

    What women actually want (if you are lucky, the alternative is even worse) is for you to spend lots of time with them (when it's convenient for them) but still also make a good living. If you aren't making enough money, you'll have a hard time starting a relationship, since it's one of the things women filter for. You don't have to be rich, she just wants to know you can take care of yourself and your kids (and maybe her too, if she's old fashioned).

    On the other hand, if you make a good living but put in tons of overtime, then she gets upset with you for never being around. It will cause friction. (I've been getting this from the missus lately since I'm putting in a lot of extra hours these days. We've been together 14 years though so I'm not too worried.) It also leaves her open to approaches by other men, and if she's lonely that's a real temptation.

    It's one of the reasons why I get so frustrated with guys who take a perverse pride in the long hours in many IT jobs. I want to tell them, "Enjoy being a monk in the service of the Machine God, because this will wreak Hell on your marriage."

    Oh, and for God's sake, avoid most women who call themselves Feminist unless you've checked them out carefully. In fact, there's tons of strong belief systems that can be problematic (if you are atheist and she's religious, for example) but certain types of Feminism are all about trashing men, and it's best to consider that label a warning sign if a woman cops to it. Actually, though, I think most non-desperate men will not choose a Feminist as their first choice on a dating site unless she looks like Barbarella or something.

    Oh, and one last note. I really think it's divorce that's the crummy deal for men, rather than marriage. I don't know many old married couples where the man is too unhappy, but I've never met a divorced man who didn't have some horror story to tell.

  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @01:23AM (#42528479)

    I've seen a half dozen of these situations in 30 years and so I can speculate some answers for you.

    1) Child support is 23% of the man's income for one child and scales up from there. There is NO requirement or enforcement that the money be spent on the child. If the couple owned a house and the man makes "good money", they are often required to pay part of the house payment while not being allowed to live there. For bonus points, in pro alimony states the man also pays child support.

    2) The mom gets nearly complete control over how the child is raised. The dad gets to enforce his rules 6 days a month.. the mom gets the rest. This has declined since 2000 as joint custody occurs more. For bonus points, the 6 days plays out as free weekend baby sitting for the mom.

    3) If she's "hot" then it's pretty easy to attract a lothario-- especially if said lothario doesn't have to pay her rent. He doesn't have to support or deal with the kids. But if lothario turns into a step dad... he usually has no say in how the kids are raised. unless she repeats (which I have no personal experience with in 30 years but have heard about third hand). Oh wait.. there was one- high school friend, he was totally in love with one of these. She had 4 kids by 4 guys by the time she was done. And we are pretty sure that his daughter wasn't really his daughter.

  • Re:One question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fearofcarpet ( 654438 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @02:22AM (#42528795)

    If divorce rates are increasing (which I suspect they are), you'd be hard-pressed to convince me it has more to do with internet dating than simply a large shift in the way people find marriage to be a temporary commitment these days as opposed to when our parents were children. Divorces have been on the rise since the 70s and 80s, long before plenty of fish and match dot com and all those sites.

    Part of the problem, IMHO, is that the US basically offers couples two choices: marriage or, under the eyes of the law, complete strangers. I currently live in Europe with my wife (who is European), but we aren't "married" in the American sense--we have a civil union. It's sort of like a marriage in that we are legal partners, own a home together, etc., but I had to proactively accept custody of our son when he was born and it has a built-in prenuptial agreement. I'm not sure about Europe as a whole, but I know the 'pax' in France (a civil union) is on the rise, while traditional marriage is declining sharply.

    Many European countries offer a buffet of partnering choices that allows couples more fine-grained control over their partnership. There are even cases where people are religiously married in their church, but legally have a civil union or a "living partnership contract" because they don't believe that the government should have anything to do with the sanctity of their marriage. In the city in which I live (which happens to be predominately atheist) people by-and-large don't even use the terms 'husband' or 'wife' because marriage isn't super common, even with older couples with kids. Instead, people reflexively use the term 'partner' to describe their SO.

    Should we choose to move back to the US, we would essentially be forced to marry. It would save my wife the PITA of dealing with work visas, but more importantly, we would be family in the eyes of the law and could visit each other in the hospital, have implicit wills, file taxes jointly, etc., etc. But I don't think that marriage is right for everyone at every stage of their lives, however, many of my friends got married because they wanted to buy a house, have kids, or because they had just been together for long enough that they figured, why not? And a bunch of them are now divorced. If the US offered people gradients of choices--as we do with other big life decisions like home ownership--then perhaps the divorce rate wouldn't be so high because only people who were super into marriage would do it.

  • by Stirling Newberry ( 848268 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @02:51AM (#42528961) Homepage Journal
    I did some consulting in this area a while back, and since I am under NDA, will not mention specific sites. But the people running these sites know a good deal about what is going on, and have their own interests in the dating marketplace. What is fairly common knowledge in the industry is this:

    1. Individuals who are in the high attractiveness quandrant, the company I worked with referred to the as "date bacon," have high rates of being replied to, high rates of physical meetings, and moderate levels of dating success. If you are, or present as, a young, never married, childless, photogenic, of median for the site intelligence, and slightly above median earning and intelligence, male, the e-dating world looks like the one in the article: it is easy find partners, though it was fairly obvious who was real (the disappeared after 1-3 physical dates) and who was not (serial daters with complaints coming in after ward). There were some echo quadrants: people who were post a short "starter marriage," which could also have been a non-married domestic LTR, had date bacon like rates of reply etc. There was a distant echo quandrant among post-child individuals. Date bacon was the product: getting these people on was a high intensity activity, because everyone else on the site messaged and joined to message date bacon. This was irrespective of genders and orientations: women had a very narrow range of men the wanted (near their age, but slightly older, attractive, financial success signalling men of above median educational attainment), as did men (who were actually less visually correlated than the women). Date bacon did not stay on the site long, and date bacon indexes were good predictors of matching. Bacon goes with bacon.

    2. For everyone else, things were a great deal worse, however for, what was euphemistically terms "alternatively monogamous," read people in sexless marriages who were searching for relationships on the side, had high rates of use, and would score partners out of sheer persistence. The site had an equivocal relationship with cheaters, because these people were the income, but too many and it drove down site stats. I did some work to figure out the optimal level of cheaters. Yes there is one.

    3. The least satisfied quadrant was non-date bacon individuals searching for monogamy. The difference here is a factor of about 10 from date bacon. People in this quadrant see a totally different dating world: low rates of reply, few physical dates, low chance of a relationship, though, as you might guess, if people did make it over these hurdles, they tended to leave the site. Males in this population did not stay paid members, were as many females in this population did.

    4. There were two other populations, one "the non-daters," mostly women who got replies and were either hostile or non-responsive. Part of the project was to weed these people out, because they were "payment killers." One interaction was enough to get a member to cancel. The other were what the programmers called "subprime," people with significant geographic, personal, or physical barriers, or women with children. This was a fairly large base of people, who were culled periodically because too many again dropped membership rates. Essentially, people who had few other alternatives.

    5. Very specific people were also consistent long term users, and were shunted to more specific sub-sites, this is because outside of their subset, they are non-daters, but inside they look more like date bacon. Hence sub-sectioning and bucketing run rampant.

    6. The upshot of this is that there is about 10% of the population that e-dating works well, or very well for, and another 20% which has no good alternative. These individuals were satisfied, or at least repeat, users. For another 30% the experience was highly negative, indeed, even soul crushing.

    7. YMMV - because personal relationships are heavily based on factors which do not capture from dating sites, many relationships happen even in low probability areas,

  • Re:How is this news? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @05:52AM (#42529871) Homepage

    Well, for starters, we geeks (particularly of the 'sysadmin' variety) tend to have a difficult time with relationships. Particularly the good ones who have focused on our careers throughout life instead of learning 'social skills'. We may be kind, loving, thoughtful, and self-sacrificing in our personal relationships but, for the most part, our careers have to come first.

    Many women do not understand this. In fact, in today's culture where women are a significant part of the work force, with today's general work ethic, most people in general do not understand this. It's not necessarily a healthy approach to life, but it's how we're wired.

    We also happen to be fairly direct and logically oriented. Things like not understanding why a woman would want flowers may sometimes result in us not realizing we should be doing special things for them.

    Personally, I'm just coming out of a 10 year marriage. She left for another man she started seeing while I was out of state working and sending money back home. It hurts a hell of a lot, no lie. But I want to be in "a relationship", that's something I need. But I've got kids. How do I juggle my work schedule (oh yeah, I'm on night shift now), full child care responsibilities, and a dating life?

    Pretty much the only traditional option I'm left with is strip clubs and a babysitter. Maybe take a little bit of each if I were to get lucky.

    So I tried a couple dating sites and met a woman who is astoundingly compatible with me: that is, I enjoy her company like I have no other woman's, we have similar interests and worldviews, and we make each other happy. I wasn't actively seeking, just putting out a line, and I am blown away by the results. If I believed in divine intervention instead of heuristics, that's what I'd say made it happen.

    There IS a very big cost associated with online dating, by the way. The 'findings' in the linked article are wrong. Relationships do commerce in trust. The financial side of a relationship is largely extraneous; it isn't what's important, and it isn't what is being bought or sold. If you're looking for a long term relationship, you're expecting your partner to want to do things for you which require trust: make you dinner, bring home a pay check, suck your dick, spread their legs, share their/your inner-most feelings (thoughts and emotions). Without being vulnerable - paying the other person - there's no way you can expect the other person to respond in same, and the relationship ultimately ends. So yes, you very much do still have an 'economic exchange' - nobody emotionally stable can effectively be vulnerable with everyone, it's not possible.

    (Oh yeah, a fun thing... best match I got on OKCupid? While most of the matches were in the 20-30% range on relationship/friendship, only a handful stood out: my current girlfriend, and my ex wife. I'm not sure if I should intrinsically distrust my girlfriend as a result of this, but she did score (a lot) higher than my ex on lifestyle, so we're giving it a shot.)

  • Re:One question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LoRdTAW ( 99712 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @10:33AM (#42531641)

    I would say that the Divorce rates are up because a) divorce is no longer religiously and socially taboo. Which leads to b) people are less religious today, its more of a tradition than a true spiritual belief. I bet there were a lot of marriages that were unhappy but they learned to work things out and live with each other. They feared god or being labelled a social outcast. Getting divorced was considered a sin and people would look at you funny, a stain on your reputation for the rest of your life.

    Today, women aren't the "helpless homemakers" they once were expected to be. Women didn't work. They cooked, cleaned, made babies and raised them. So they needed a man to provide for them and married young, usually in their late teens/early 20's. Now that women work, they are no longer helpless home makers. They can provide for themselves. So where is the drive to get married? Children? Even then how do women cope with having a kid and a career? Do they want to give up their career (My mother did and she holds a masters degree)? That is why more people are getting married in their 30's instead of their early 20's or late teens like they did 50+ years ago. They become firmly planted and then search for a mate. I also believe the high cost of living strains relationships as two incomes are now mandatory to survive. So two people must work in order to rent/buy a home, pay bills and raise kids. You better love eachother and not just be physical. In short: "shits complicated".

    Anecdotal examples:
    I have a friend who knocked up a girl while in the Army. He married her and started to hate her but loved his son. After a few years of them living in partial misery and splitting up for almost a year, he made a massive effort to put aside his differences with her and be there for his son. Well it worked and he actually learned to love her if that can be believed. They now have three kids and live quite happily. They need effort to make things work, some people don't have that kind of commitment.

    My mothers parents shouldn't have been together either. My grandmother was a firecracker of an Irish woman who didn't take shit from anyone but loved her family members (Awesome grandma!). But my grandfather was an atheist, hateful, misanthropic man who also didn't take shit from anyone and was a genius and skilled craftsman in his own right. The two never expressed any love or affection towards each other. They slept in separate rooms and my grandfathers room was such a disaster that he mainly slept on the couch. As a kid I was terrified of him as he always watched you with a scowl and yelled at you for doing just about anything. He rarely attended family gatherings and hung out at a Polish social club in jersey. Later on in life he did warm a bit and I got to know him better. When he died, only my mother was there. A great man in many ways. How did two people like that get married? My bet is grandpa knocked up grandma and it was the late 40's, you better get married. They don't have wedding photos either. I once asked my mother why there weren't and she just said "its difficult to explain". So that is my conclusion. They just sucked it up and learned to live with each other. If they grew up today they would have certainly never been married or divorced very quickly.

  • Re:One question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Theaetetus ( 590071 ) <> on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @10:40AM (#42531709) Homepage Journal

    How often it's the male who gets the sole custody? 5% maybe? How many in case of females?

    Wrong question. The proper question is "how often is it the primary caretaker who gets sole custody?" and the answer, as you'd expect, is probably close to 90% or higher. If a child is raised by a stay-at-home parent, the courts will almost always find that parent to be the best caretaker for the child, absent some unusual circumstances.
    Then the second question is "how often is the primary caretaker female?" And here, rather than biatching about feminism, you should be praising it. Go back 50 years, and that answer would be nigh-100% of the time. But now, with women able to have careers and advanced education, that rate is declining. Feminism is the answer to this problem, not the cause of it.

    And similarly, it's the answer to most of your complaints:

    How often it's the female who pays alimony/child support to the male? Next to never?

    Exactly as often as the male is the primary caretaker and the female is the one with the career. Again, rare in the pre-feminism days, increasing now, thanks to feminism.

    How often it's the male who gets locked up by default in case of domestic violence because of the concept of 'predominant aggressor' enshrined by the DV laws?

    And feminism is changing those laws too, to make them gender neutral. There are abused men out there, and by mixing this in with complaints about child custody, you're doing them a disservice.

    Why is that men are only approx 1% of are allowed to the shelters for DV victims?

    Because of our historical culture that says that women are weak and fragile and can't have jobs or careers and men are strong and stoic. Again, feminism is the answer to this complaint, not the cause.

  • by RazorSharp ( 1418697 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @11:37AM (#42532451)

    Bars, work, church?

    Uh, yeah. If a girl is on an online dating site she's all fucked in the head and has no self esteem. So, for me, if a girl's on an online dating site I know we're incompatible.

    Dating sites are just legal pimps. If they actually worked to match up 'compatible' people at a high rate, they wouldn't last because they would have no repeat customers. Basically, you want to get laid but you don't know how to court a woman, so you turned to internet dating. Fifty years ago you would have turned to a brothel or the classifieds. Same thing.

    I'm no Don Juan but I still prefer to do things the old fashioned way. It's a test of one's wits, persistence, and masculinity. Online dating and whores are just attempts to avoid one of life's great challenges -- it's akin to using Cliff Notes to understand that book that's real confusing. You may get what you need out of the Cliff Notes, all stripped down and boring, but you'll never get the full satisfaction of reading the book. Online dating just seems like free whores to me - you pay them in self-esteem rather than money. I'd start paying for whores before I sacrificed my dignity and signed up for an online dating site.

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham