The Algorithm God of Small Things

Once upon a time, I opened an account on OkCupid. A friend had recommended it as a good tool to use to meet some new people. Being single, bored at my job, and a bit tipsy, I typed out a moderately-detailed profile that highlighted my love of bread1 and the film Robin Hood: Men in Tights. I uploaded a respectably-recent photo of myself in which I was smiling. Then I clicked into the questions, and I was hooked.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the algorithmic ideal of OkCupid, the process is such that even very small, somewhat inane and seemingly trivial questions can help a user to triangulate their perfect matches2. Users answer bunches of questions and a match percentage arises from in-common answers.

However, one fundamental, insurmountable barrier that was not (and could not have been) addressed by the hundreds of questions I answered stood in the way of a relationship with the only person I ended up meeting from this site. Even though we both correctly answered questions about Shakespearean syntax and logical analogies, several more serious, life-changing priorities kept us casual3.

Would things have been different if we had sat down and completed the “36 Questions that Lead to Love” from the New York Times? Could something have changed if we had simply stepped beyond the quirky and entered the realms of the serious? If he had known how I felt about my relationship with my mother (Q.24) or if I had understood his most terrible memory (Q.18), could we have been more?

Here’s what I’m going to do today: instead of getting all sappy and philosophical as is my usual tendency, I’m going to answer my own question with “I don’t care”. Instead, I’m going to give a voice to those little quirks that we all have, and shouldn’t be embarrassed about if they are what leads us to swipe right, send that first “hey” message, or wear nice underwear to a second4.

Here are a couple of OkCupid questions that I got a good giggle out of, and was happy to talk to someone who had the same answers:

“Does it bother you when someone says ‘PIN number’ or ‘ATM machine'”?
“How spicy do you like your spicy food?”
“In the line “Wherefore art thou Romeo?,” what does “wherefore” mean?”5

And here are a couple of my own small quirks that help me determine if a date is worth repeating:

“How long/how well would you have to know your date before holding hands?”
I have a small rule: no handholding in public (walking down the street, etc.) unless I know his surname. And preferably more than just that. I find it intimate, and a sign of trust that goes beyond even what is required before sex.

“What do you do if there’s a silence during your first date?”
To fill in awkward silences during my first ever Tinder date, I made up a game. “Hey,” I would say to my date, who I understood as not necessarily incompatible, or even a bad date, but possibly just a bit out of the groove after knowing each other for less than an hour, “let’s look around the bar and make up stories about the people we see.” I would usually offer to go first — “that guy’s name is something boring like ‘Vincent’, and he’s an accountant by day and a champion Starcraft player by night. He lives with 2 cats.” First dates can usually be awkward, but that doesn’t mean we should discount second dates. If a guy I’m with is willing to play along, then it’s usually a good sign6.

“How would you suggest to end a first date?”
I’m a fan of hugs, and I will always suggest a hug as a respectable goodbye gesture to a pleasant evening. What the date does in return to my hug is up to him — I’d accept anything from a gracious acceptance to a smooth line leading to a kiss. How a date responds to my hug request sounds absolutely minuscule in the grand scheme of love — but I’m going to irrationally postulate that it really does matter!

If we get to a second date, we can pick up our hand-holding, bar-game playing, and goodbye-hugging from where we left off. Hopefully the positive trajectory will continue.

1. I believe my exact wording was “bread — in both solid and liquid form. Because people who consume carbohydrates are happier than those who do not”.

2. I mentioned in my last post that I’m looking for a beer and Oscar Wilde-loving beagle owner. Of course, I care about the bigger issues too, but it doesn’t take a discussion of life ambition to build an intriguing foundation.

3. We had a 93% compatibility rate, the same taste in TV shows, and great sex. Oh well.

4. As a graduate student of a field that is not philosophy, I also refuse to engage with the hypothetical. Take your Trolley Scenario for moral ethics somewhere else. Be empirical, or go home!

5. a) It bothers me. It really, really does. b) Spicy enough that I can feel the burn, but not so spicy that the taste of the actual food is secondary. I’m not in high school anymore, and I will no longer participate in chilli eating contests to look cool. c) THE ANSWER IS ‘WHY’!

6. My favourite entry to date is “that guy’s name is Fabio, and he’s a failed tennis player turned coach. Lots of girlfriends. Speaks incomprehensible English but women find it a turn-on.” The more detail, the more conviction, the better.