Politics & Policy

The Love Doctor

Does eHarmony have the right love potion?

Are you looking for love in all the wrong places?

Is online dating the right place?

Dr. Neil Clark Warren, the founder of eHarmony thinks he has a winning formula for helping singles find their “soul mate”–and save marriage in America in the process.

“Of all the people you meet in life, only a few would make a great marriage partner for you,” Warren writes in his latest book Falling in Love for all the Right Reasons: How to Find Your Soul Mate. The eHarmony approach is to match up people based on their responses to an involved personality questionnaire (there are more than 500 questions). The name of the game is similarities–not “opposites attract.”

In an interview with NRO editor Kathryn Lopez, Dr. Warren explains his philosophy and gives some love advice.

You decide if he has a sweet deal or not.

National Review Online: Dr. Warren, You know the song:

“Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love

When you feel her call you across a crowded room

Then fly to her side and make her your own

Or all through your life you may dream all alone”

Aren’t you complicating something very natural with long questionnaires and tests?

Dr. Neil Clark Warren: I love this song, but it conveys a painfully inaccurate understanding of how to find your true love. Discovering your soul mate is a complex, terribly underestimated, challenge that requires the best of your cognitive potential–along with, of course, a discerning eye for chemistry. If you try to solve the whole puzzle on the basis of chemistry alone, you will inevitably risk failing in the most important decision you will ever make.

The fact is that almost everyone in this society wants to believe that you will “just know” when your true love comes along. But the marital failure rate in our country is catastrophic. Twenty percent of all first marriages have ended in divorce before the end of five years, 33 percent in ten years, and 43 percent in 15 years. The divorce figure is eventually right at the fifty-percent mark. Beyond this awful divorce rate, in some forty to fifty percent of all continuing marriages, at least one partner complains that they are not maritally happy.

Bottom line: I believe totally in the importance of chemistry in any good marriage, but most marriages will be over early if the chemistry is not undergirded by strong compatibility on nearly two and one half dozen other dimensions.

NRO: You are matching people up based on similarities. Is “opposites attract” a lie?

Warren: I often say that opposites do attract, and then they attack. It is downright exciting to find that someone who is quite different from you is very attracted to you. But, over time, when you have to negotiate all these differences and try to find one compromise after another, the task often becomes daunting.

It is so much better to find someone to love who is a lot like you. We have dozens of empirical research studies that stand behind this statement.

In one of my books, Finding the Love of Your Life, I list 50 areas in which it is good to be similar to your mate. You don’t have to have all 50 of these similarities, but it certainly is good to have in the upper 30s or lower 40s. You want to have way more similarities than differences. Otherwise, you will be maritally bankrupt at a frighteningly early point in your marriage.

NRO: eHarmony, unlike your previous private practice, is somewhat impersonal–you’re removed from each individual who signs up, looking for love. Does that worry you–as a doctor?

Warren: Yes. You can imagine how exciting and fulfilling it is for me these days to meet some of these couples who are getting married after having met on our site. I ask them every question I can think to ask them. When a man finds his wife, and a woman finds her husband, it is simply the most exciting moment in the human experience. How very much I loved being involved in this process on a close-up, first name, and intimately personal basis.

We have over six and one-half million men and women registered on the eHarmony site, and we receive ten to fifteen thousand new registrants every day. I can’t be personally involved in very many of these. The leverage of this large population gives us in our effort to “change the world” is stunning, but, oh my yes, I really miss being involved in the day to day growth of people and their most important relationships–like I was for nearly 35 years.

And I have to confess that I worry that some of the couples who are getting married after meeting on our site may do so too quickly, may lack the somewhat more objective perspective of having someone to talk to on a regular basis about this major decision. This more intimate therapeutic function gets replaced by our efforts to help thousands instead of dozens, and I can only trust that what we are trying to do is worth this loss in detailed assistance.

NRO: How did you and Mrs. Warren meet?

Warren: Marylyn and I have been married for 46 years come March 22 of this year. We both attended Pepperdine University, but it wasn’t until we graduated that we began to date. I feel like the luckiest man alive to have found Marylyn. We didn’t know the first thing about selecting a marriage partner. I often say, only somewhat kiddingly, that all I knew was that I should be taller.

The fact is that so many of our best friends from college have had to suffer the excruciating pain of divorce. Marylyn and I avoided this pain because we had broad based compatibility without even knowing it up front. Others were not nearly so lucky. I got started studying mate selection because I didn’t want our three girls to have to rely on the luck that saved our own marriage.

NRO: As many happily married couples as you’ve helped get together, there’s definitely a stigma when it comes to online matchmaking. Only losers would have to opt for paid cyberdating, some (many?) would say. How do you overcome that presumably huge obstacle?

Warren: I’ve heard this argument hundreds of times. I staked my own professional reputation on my belief that it is terribly wrong. Only the Internet allows a person to get into a large pool of candidates (which makes more and more precise choices possible). And only the Internet allows for the massive storing and accessing of huge amounts of data which can be used to help people determine their level of compatibility with others over all these dimensions.

The stigma of meeting on the Internet has diminished enormously over the last three or four years. My prediction: In five or ten years, there will be such an awareness of the massive challenge of finding someone with whom you have broad based compatibility that almost everyone will use the internet for this critical task.

NRO: You discourage photo exchanges initially. Is that fair to the couples? Physical attraction is important, isn’t it?

Warren: There’s no question that physical attraction is terribly important. But the reason we have encouraged people to wait a little while to exchange pictures is so they won’t make such a strong early judgment about a person based exclusively on external factors.

The fact is that the most important qualities that contribute to long term marital satisfaction are qualities from the inside of a person–their values, their “heart,” their character, their personality. When you get to know these inside qualities, you will tend to be more forgiving of external features. Sometimes people veto another person on the basis of external factors, but if they had actually gotten to know them from the inside out, they would have discovered what a perfect mate this person might have been for them.

So, we believe deeply in the importance of appearance and attraction–but we believe that judgments made of a person on the basis of internal qualities, then followed by judgments based on the external factors, are the best judgments of all.

NRO: We all know mixed marriages that work—even among devout folks. Despite your focus on similarities, do eHarmony matches ever mix it up? Is it conceivable that eHarmony would match, say, a Christian with a Jew? Catholics and evangelicals, etc.?

Warren: Similarities in areas that are really crucial to persons are the most critical similarities of all. If spiritual orientation, for example, is highly defined and passionately held for a person, it would be a mistake to try to match them with someone with a significantly different spiritual orientation. The same is true of politics–and any other body of convictions and values about which people often feel very strongly. If certain dimensions are simply of little importance to a couple, these people can often make their marriage work even when pretty major differences are present.

Bottom line: Similarities are like money in the bank. Differences are like debts you owe. It’s all right to have a few debts as long as you have plenty of equity in your account. Otherwise, your marriage may be bankrupt at an early point.

NRO: What’s the demographic makeup of your audience? Age range? More women than men?

Warren: Our largest numbers are in the 25 to 40 range. All states in the union (especially the large population centers) are highly represented. We have a large group of registrants from all the Provinces of Canada. Moreover, we have some relatively small representation from slightly over 240 countries.

We have about 55 percent women and 45 percent men. Interestingly enough, we are one of the very few sites in our space that has more women than men. I attribute this to our extensive focus on safety, and our obvious commitment to thoroughness.

NRO: Besides logging onto eHarmony.com and/or buying your book, what would you say to a single person reading this, perhaps alone on Valentine’s Day, anxious about never finding “the one.”

Warren: Decide that before Valentine’s Day of 2006, you’re going to do everything in your power to find your soul mate. Once you get deeply involved in this process, you will feel so inwardly hopeful–and good about yourself–because you are trying to do it right. You are no longer involving yourself in a lottery-like experience–hoping against hope. You are using the most thoughtful approach to mate selection that has yet been developed. This will get you through a lot of lonely weekends and holidays.

NRO: To folks who are reading this and are currently dating–is there a basic tool, short of your personality profile, that will guide them through whether they are seeing the right person or not?

Warren: Read Falling in Love. You can easily skim it in an hour. After that one hour, you will know whether the person you are dating is in the ballpark for you. If you’re still not convinced after this reading, buy one of the other books that bears on this subject: Finding the Love of Your Life or Date or Soul Mate? How to Know If a Person is Worth Pursuing After Two Dates or Less.

NRO: What have you learned about love since starting eHarmony? Is there anything that has surprised even an experienced professional like you?

Warren: For most people, the inner yearning for a primary love relationship is overwhelmingly strong. In the grip of this set of strong desires, people often fluctuate between hope and fear. For a while, they focus heavily on hope that everything will work out for them. When they experience a few tangles along the way, they begin being dominated by fear. Sometimes they back off from their search. Once their fear abates, they begin to hope again.

It is a terribly scary thing to pursue a soul mate. Because the process has a double veto, the amount of control for either individual is slim. It is truly petrifying to consider that I might find my soul mate and then be told that they don’t believe I am their soul mate.

NRO: Do men and women know how to court anymore? Do singles need eHarmony because no one taught them how to date?

Warren: To some degree this is true. But even deeper in the human experience is the lack of tutoring of any kind relating to the fundamental relational processes.

Let me briefly explain. The most important task in one’s effort to find the right marriage partner is getting to know yourself well. How in the world can anyone find their soul mate if they don’t know themselves at a deep level? But virtually no one in this culture has been taught to identify themselves in the most important inner places. And, clearly, if you don’t know yourself well, your choice of a mate will be a stab in the dark.

When you get on eHarmony, our first effort is to help you get to know yourself better. We give you a personality profile designed to do just this. We also ask (and assist) you in identifying your top ten “must have” qualities in a mate (out of a set of 50 such qualities)–as well as your top ten “can’t stand” qualities (out of a set of 50 of the most frequently reported can’t stands). All of these efforts are designed to help you get to know yourself well.

NRO: How worried are you about the state of marriage in America?

Warren: The marital deterioration rate in America, if we don’t bring it under control, will destroy our society. Seventy percent of all persons in our country have experienced a broken home–either the home of their parents or their own marital home. Kids are being devastated by this epidemic.

But here’s the good news: We can bring this epidemic under control! Seventy-five percent of what makes for a great marriage has to do with the successful selection of a partner. And we’re better prepared to do this now than ever before.

NRO: You’re hoping to strengthen marriage through eHarmony-on large-scale, aren’t you? How does/will that work?

Warren: We have 10,000 marriages now that we know about–with addresses, etc. We are carefully following these to make sure that they work in every way. Our research so far is highly encouraging.

We actually think that some 30 to 50,000 couples have met and married on the basis of their eHarmony matches. We are doing everything in our power to identify and reach these people. (We just announced a new program in this regard today in conjunction with Tiffany).

When the number of couples reaches 100,000 in the next few months, it will be obvious that we have begun the job–at a significantly level–of changing the world. We are aimed at nothing less.

Think of this: For every one percent that we can reduce the divorce rate in North America, this will affect about one million people in one generation. If we can ever get the divorce rate down to single digits, it will be the greatest single social revolution in the history of the human race.


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