Mike Kueber's Blog

April 16, 2012

eHarmony asking whether you would be willing to convert to a new religion for your partner

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 6:10 pm
Tags: ,

A few weeks ago, I subscribed to the dating website eHarmony.  eHarmony is reputedly unique in the dating-website business because, instead of allowing a subscriber to survey the entire field of prospects, it limits a subscriber’s interaction to prospects that eHarmony selects for them on the basis of compatibility.  Regarding eHarmony’s compatibility feature, Wikipedia says the following:

  • eHarmony advertises that compatibility is the core tenet at eHarmony.  “It’s not about matching people who like certain hobbies … it’s about compatibility. You go on to the site and tell us about you, rather than about what you want.”  eHarmony seeks to differentiate its matching service by what it calls a scientific approach to a deeply personal and emotional process.  Prospective eHarmony members complete a proprietary questionnaire that purports to determine characteristics, beliefs, values, emotional health and skills. Matching algorithms, the basis of the matching system that the company believes matches people’s core traits and values to replicate the traits of happy couples, use these answers to match members with compatible users.  A new, complex software technology not only evaluates the answers to the questionnaire but also each user’s behavioral data such as average time spent on the site.  The software analyzes 500 variables to further optimize the matches and, as a result, there has been a 34% increase in communication between users in the past year.  The compatibility system rests a lot on commonality, for their belief is that “Opposites attract, then they attack.”

   Of the hundreds of questions that eHarmony asks subscribers to answer, many are intriguing.  Just today I read one, “What is your relationship with alcohol?”  Instead of selecting one of their optional responses, I answered with, “Alcohol is an effective social lubricant.  I never drink alone.”

A few days ago, I was struck by the question, “Would you convert to a new religion for your partner?”  The question prompted me to recall my blog posting from a few weeks ago concerning whether a Baptist and an agnostic could co-exist as a couple.  In my blog, I concluded that such a relationship was problematic:

  • Thus, it seems that the agnostic and a Bell-like Baptist (new-wave, more tolerant) can certainly co-exist, but I question whether they can flourish.  How can someone who takes his religion seriously have as a soulmate someone who disagrees on something so fundamental to his life?

In asking whether a subscriber would convert for the sake of a partner, eHarmony takes an even more cynical approach to religion.  How can an individual convert to a new religion for the sake of a partner?  It seems that a person who would be willing to take on a new religion for the sake of a romantic relationship is almost by definition not an adherent to their current religion and thus “convert” is not really what we are talking about.  Such a person doesn’t really believe in any specific religion, and thus is able to move around relatively casually.  And if a casual move makes the partner happy, then the underlying difference may have been papered over.  But the fundamental truth remains – such a relationship is unlikely to flourish if either person actually believes in their religion.

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8 Comments »

  1. my guess is they are using experimentation based in behavioral psychology and their results are not based on definitions but instead reactions. also, we do not know if this phrase has a high or low correleation to their view of a relationship. in fact, we don’t even know if they know. they might be testing a hypotehsis.

    for example –
    background: our analysis says a key factor in a long relationship is willingness to change views on religion
    hypothesis: in our databases, subscribers that say they would “change religion” for a relationship are more likley to end up in a relationship that lasts longer than 5 years than those that say yes to other phrases.
    test: ask 1,000 subscribers if they would “change religion”
    test: ask 1,000 subscribers if they would “change church”
    test: ask 1,000 subscribers if they would “change religious beliefs”

    they gather and analyse the results against their database and find out if their hypothesis was right or wrong.

    what we do not know is if they used different phrases across their population of subscribers, but my guess they are doing just that.

    Comment by q — April 21, 2012 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

    • Wow, q, that is pretty sophisticated analytical stuff. I wonder if eHarmony is actually sophisticated or is it mere marketing? On another level, I agree with you that eHarmony would take a practical, nonjudgmental perspective of this question, whereas I took a philosophical/theological perspective that people who will change religions for a partner are what Gus McCrae called “too leaky a vessel to rely on.”

      Comment by Mike Kueber — April 21, 2012 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

  2. sometimes i surprise people…

    Comment by q — April 21, 2012 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  3. Mike, I think you’re wrong about these people who supposedly take their religion so casually that they’d be willing to switch. Rather than speaking to the nature of this person, who you assume to be superficial and casual, I think it speaks to the nature of how deeply ingrained religion is in American society. While the Christian fundamental right remains large in this country, there is far more distrust of atheists or agnostics among these people than there is people of other sects or religion. In a certain sense, as long as you ascribe to some kind of religion, you will remain palatable to this group of people, because the importance of having religion has been so impressed upon American life.

    Another major thrust of your argument, that a relationship cannot flourish if the participants disagree on such a fundamental issue, falls into the trap of believing that when people adhere to two different viewpoints, one must necessarily be irrational and thus unattractive to the other person. Essentially, when you make this argument, you throw out the idea that reasonable people can disagree on a certain issue, i.e., that two equally rational people can come to differing conclusions from the same evidence, and that neither is behaving irrationally. My suspicion is that you would agree that reasonable people can agree on most issues, but religion is somehow too fundamental for a relationship to flourish despite disagreement. Like the people I mentioned in my first paragraph, you too have fallen into the trap of ascribing religion such a fundamental place in American society that we must treat it, even as a logical proposition, differently from other arguments. In reality, it is the same as any other disagreement, and the result of the relationship will depend on how seriously the people involved take the nature of their disagreement.

    Comment by wjordan1 — April 22, 2012 @ 3:49 am | Reply

    • wjordan1, thank you for your excellent insight. You seem to be suggesting that two people can agree to disagree on religion, just as they do on issues like abortion (Bush-43 and his wife Laura) or on politics in general (James Carville and Mary Matalin). Obviously the Bushes and Carvilles don’t feel so strongly about these issues that it precludes them from having a loving, romantic relationship.

      But then you conclude by saying,”the result of the relationshiop will depend on how seriously the people involved take the nature of their disagreement.” I think that is the same thing that I said – i.e., someone who takes their religion seriously will not take up with someone who fundamentally disagrees with their religion. In other words, I don’t think you can take your religion seriously and still conclude that the disagreement over religion is not a deal-killer. How can a serious Christian flourish with someone who doesn’t believe in God? Perhaps you can think of some famous examples?

      btw – a Facebook friend made the following interesting comment – “From another perspective, there is little chance an atheist could truly connect with someone who worships a god. It defines the way a person reasons or thinks…”

      Comment by Mike Kueber — April 22, 2012 @ 4:30 am | Reply

      • i have a personal disagreement with this observation – perhaps once again i’m an outlier. i did not choose to believe until i was age 45. at that point beth and i had been married for 15 years – quite happily. she allowed me my views and i hers (since i was surrounded by believers nothing new for me).

        Comment by q — April 22, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

  4. q, whose observation are you disagreeing with – Wjordan, Marlene, or Mike? I like you taking this discussion away from the abstract to the real. As I suggested to Wjordan, my abstract ideas might be easily refused by actual practice. Or as you say, you might be an outlier.

    If you and Beth were happily married from your perspective, it might have been because you were not a committed nonbeliever. I think Marlene is referring to individuals who are committed agnostic or atheists. They may be unable to flousish with someone who, as Ayn Rand would say, believes in mysticism. Thus your example doesn’t necessarily contradict Marlene’s point. However, we might want to ask Beth how she was able to put up with you for all those years. What does she think about the biblical saying that “ye shall not be unequally yoked to a nonbeliever.” Perhaps, as Wjordan suggested, religion was not so fundamental to her life.

    Comment by Mike Kueber — April 22, 2012 @ 3:20 pm | Reply

    • i was countering wjordan’s position. i was very comfortable being surrounded by believers being from a family of very devout baptists. mostly i kept my opinions to myself. but concerning Beth, i wouldn’t go there unless you want an ear full… in my view Christ has been essential to her since she was in high school. and, i’d say she had a lot to do with me accepting Christ – my lack of faith was a very big obstacle for our marriage. the bible says a lot of things that we Christians don’t adhere to…

      Comment by Q — April 23, 2012 @ 2:27 am | Reply


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