We've all heard success stories of online dating. According to a recent study by Match.com, a sixth of marriages now begin via online dating. If the numbers are so promising, why does online dating feel like an energy suck? As my friend Ario says, "Online dating induces ADD." With so many people to choose from, online dating encourages a consumer mentality that turns people into products. We are on the hunt for spark. And click, there's someone hotter, smarter, sexier.
What are the alternatives? I'm partial to the traditional advice. Follow your passions, get out and play: go climbing, go to games night, go on a trip. You are more likely to attract a kindred spirit when you are doing something you love. But let's say that you're doing that and it's not yielding results. What about a little help from your friends?
Lately, I hear a growing wish. People want their friends to help. We don't want an arranged marriage, but we'd appreciate an outside eye.
Ario, a user experience designer in his 30s, told me, "I've become more intrigued by old-school matchmaking where families make introductions to other families who have an eligible match. That seems unnatural to our Western sensibilities, but I've seen it lead to some great pairings in my family living back in Iran. A more Western version is having friends throw more parties where they can make introductions to single friends they think might be a good match. The catch though is that our friends tend to know the same people we do, which makes it more challenging."
My writer friend Jenny Bitner is becoming a modern yenta by marrying Facebook and matchmaking -- and exploiting the power of "weak ties." She is organizing a matchmaking party for eight of her single female friends in their 30s and 40s. (Disclosure: I am one of the 8.) Why is Jenny spending her time identifying "quality" single men? (I tease her that it's an excuse to talk to cute guys -- she is happily partnered and the mother of a three-year old son.) She wouldn't get on a site like matchupmyfriends because she says, "that would be too weird." Joining a site like that would be "just too involved with her friends' lives." Interesting, because she is doing the same thing -- but on Facebook.
Jenny says, "I know an extraordinary group of single women. There must be men and women out there (in a parallel universe) who know a group of extraordinary, single men, but we never meet."
How to find that parallel world? Jenny is seeking help from "weak ties" -- acquaintances who can provide help that friends and colleagues can't. Sociologist Mark Hanovetter wrote the influential paper "The Strength of Weak Ties" and found that people are more likely to find a job (or whatever they need) from talking to an acquaintance rather than a friend.
Jenny doesn't know any matches for us personally, but maybe her friends' friends do. If she posts on enough walls, will she find us all our soulmates?
How is it working out? When Jenny is out at a café or bar and tells strangers of her matchmaking project people love it. They're not weak ties, just random ties. They hand her Post-it notes full of phone numbers and emails.
On Facebook, the response has been less thrilling. Jenny tested out the weak ties theory on Facebook by posting on about 15 friends' walls. Few people responded. (Out of 12 men coming to the party, four are "weak ties" from Facebook, and four are Facebook strong ties [people who are already close friends].)
Why? Perhaps people don't actually see the invitation on their friends' walls. Maybe they are too busy playing Farmville. On the other hand, it only takes one. (Or eight, since there are eight single women.)
When Jenny sends out an email to lists, she gets a better response; the chain effect begins. C. (whom Jenny never met) is a super-connector among single men. She sent out Jenny's invite to her personal list and she alone is responsible for sending four single men to the party. One replied to Jenny, "Really, a bunch of creative, artsy single women all gathered in one place for me to meet? Sounds like a little slice of heaven on a silver platter."
What will the actual party be like? Jenny says, "I just hope that it's relaxed and not tense. I hope that people can get to know each other and it won't seem staged."
If you're frustrated with online dating, tell your friends you want their help. Seek out a super-connector in your social circle -- a person who knows lots of single men. Let us know how it goes.