How Do I Love Thee?

A growing number of Internet dating sites are relying on academic researchers to develop a new science of attraction. A firsthand report from the front lines of an unprecedented social experiment

A sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, Schwartz is PerfectMatch.com’s hipper version of Neil Clark Warren: the accessible, empathic, media-savvy love doctor who guides users through the treacherous dating trenches and onto the path of true compatibility.

According to the site­—which calls her by the cutesy moniker “Dr. Pepper”—Schwartz is “the leading relationship expert in the nation,” a woman who “holds the distinction of being the only relationship expert on the Web who’s a published authority, as well as a professor at a major U.S. university.” Oh, and then there are her appearances on Oprah, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, the fourteen books she’s written, and her regular column for LifetimeTV.com.

Unlike Warren, however, she neither founded the company (she was brought in by PerfectMatch’s Duane Dahl), nor follows Warren’s credo of simplicity. In fact, the nifty- sounding Duet Compatibility Profiler takes some complex deconstruction. This makes sense, given that Schwartz has been studying gender relations since the early 1970s, when she was a sociology graduate student at Yale and wrote a Ph.D. thesis on how people hooked up in the college mixer system.

Like Helen Fisher, the Rutgers anthropologist, Schwartz believes that both similarity and complementarity are integral to romantic compatibility. But while Fisher has more of an “it depends” attitude on the question of which of the two makes sense for a particular couple under particular circumstances, Schwartz has a more elaborately defined system, which she outlines in her latest book, Finding Your Perfect Match.

Schwartz’s Duet model consists of a mere forty-eight questions and focuses on eight specific personality characteristics: romantic impulsivity, personal energy, outlook, predictability, flexibility, decision-making style, emotionality, and self-nurturing style. On the first four, she believes, a well-suited couple should be similar; on the last four, however, a couple can thrive on either similarity or difference—provided that both people know themselves well enough to determine which works best.

“My first thought was, Know yourself,” Schwartz said of how she created PerfectMatch’s system. “How can you pick somebody else if you have no insight into yourself?”

Her questionnaire, she believes, will help users to think in a conscious way about who they are. As an example of the kind of introspection she hopes for, Schwartz cites the area of money. “It’s a very important thing,” she said, “and there’s very little research on it, because nobody wants to talk about money. I can ask people if they’re orgasmic, and they’ll tell me in a second. But ask a subject about money, and they’re embarrassed.”

When it comes to money, PerfectMatch asks users to get specific—and honest—about how important it is to them. “I want them to think about things like, Should parents pay for college education no matter what it costs? Do you feel you need to make extravagant purchases every once in a while?” Other tests generally stop at innocuous questions about whether people consider themselves fiscally responsible, but Schwartz ventures into un-PC territory with true-or-false statements like, “All other things being equal, I tend to respect people who make a lot of money more than people who have modest incomes”; “I could not love a person who doesn’t make enough money to help me live the lifestyle I need in order to be happy”; and “I would very much prefer to be with someone who did not have major economic responsibilities to children or parents unless they had a lot of money and these responsibilities did not affect our life together.”

Like Chemistry.com’s system, Duet has its roots in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But, Schwartz explained, Duet is different from Myers-Briggs in several ways. It has eight characteristics to Myers-Briggs’s four; it uses two personality profiles—similarity and complementarity—instead of one; and it relies on studies from a number of fields, rather than just psychology, to determine how these personality characteristics combine in romantic situations, as opposed to general workplace or team-building ones.

“If, say, I’m rigid in my tastes but I have a sense of humor,” Schwartz explained, “you can work with me. But if I’m rigid and very earnest, it’s going to be difficult. So in our test it’s not just, ‘Is this person rigid?’ Because rigidity can co-exist with humor or earnestness, and which one of those traits is present makes a big difference. It’s important how these traits are put together.”

I took the Duet test and was classified on the similarity scale as X, A, C, and V—that is, Risk Averse, High Energy, Cautious, and Seeks Variety. The site then interpreted the findings, which, to my surprise, rather accurately captured my personality:

You are careful about entering a relationship. You have a cautious side to your personality on more than one dimension, and so it takes you awhile to believe in love and romance with someone you are dating. Nonetheless, you are a high energy, intense kind of person. Once you believe in a relationship, you can be a good partner, IF you give it enough time. You demand a lot from the world and you take on a lot. You probably want someone who does the same, or at least supports your own high energy, explorative approach to life.

Yet the complementarity section of my test results—those traits on which my best match might be similar or different—reflected my temperament on only two of the four parameters. I was characterized as S, C, T, and E—that is, Structured, Compromiser, Temperate, and Extrovert—but I’m neither a C nor a T.

Schwartz wasn’t ruffled by these inaccuracies. “PerfectMatch is the only scientific site out there that’s completely transparent and user-operated,” she said. “If you disagree with me, you can retake the test anytime and get a different profile that more accurately reflects the subtleties we may have missed. Or you can keep the same profile, but in addition to the matches we provide for you, you can do a search on your own. Say I think a passionate person would want another passionate person. But maybe you know about yourself that you’re passionate, but want a calm person, someone who stops the escalation of things. I don’t care if what you think is theoretically sound; if it doesn’t work for you, you can search using your own criteria.”

This, she said, distinguishes PerfectMatch from eHarmony and Chemistry.com. “In the Chemistry test,” said Schwartz, who is a friend of Helen Fisher’s and a fan of her work, “there was a question about where you’d like to live. And I chose the country. And I would—but the people I tend to prefer are in the city. So they sent me people from Bass Breath, Arizona. And there was no way I could change it! At PerfectMatch, we don’t overdetermine people’s answers that way.”

What Schwartz is referring to, of course, is the bugaboo of all these compatibility-matching systems: nuance. “Even if a site lets you choose physical characteristics like height,” she said, “there’s no way it’s going to guess your physical template. It could be lankiness in one case, it could be somebody’s eyes in another. We can’t get that out of a questionnaire. Nobody can. So we say, ‘Go look at the pictures on our site, see who you find attractive, then look at their personality types and see if they’re compatible [with you]. You have that option on PerfectMatch.’ ”

The advantage to scientific matching, she says, isn’t to come up with some foolproof formula for romantic connection. Instead, the science serves as a reality check, as a way of not letting that initial rush of attraction cloud your judgment when it comes to compatibility.

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Lori Gottlieb is the author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

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