Readers of this blog know that I am fascinated with online dating, probably the way that women who got married in the 50s were fascinated by the birth control pill. Like the pill, online dating has enabled a revolution in romantic and sexual behaviour, one that those of us who got married in the pre-eHarmony world will never fully comprehend.

From that outside perspective, however, certain fundamental inadequacies of the e-dating world are all-too-apparent. I’m not talking about the usual complaint, which is that you have to go on so many dates before you meet the right man or woman. Back in the day, we used to meet potential mates or hook-ups at these things called parties: you’d go to party after party, introducing yourself to people at each party, and then eventually you might meet someone who was cute enough or interesting enough to be worth seeing again. If you went to three parties, in the course of which you talked to a total of fifty people, you’d be pretty stoked if you went to party number four, met guy number 51, and hit it off. 4 parties, 50 dead-end conversations, 1 hot outcome: a pretty good return on your investment.

Suffer through 50 eHarmony or dates, on the other hand, and you feel like it’s taking forever to meet the right person. True, it’s a bigger commitment of time: all that scanning of other people’s profiles (which is why it’s worth writing a great one so that they come to you) not to mention the hour for each meeting (which is why you should take the advice passed along to me: if you meet them, and you’re not feeling it, don’t feel like you have to stick out the whole date — just say “sorry, this isn’t feeling right” and cut your losses). But at the end of the day, love is a numbers game: you’ve got to screen a whole bunch of people before you find The One.

As long as you’re looking at online dating as a DIY version of the in-person screening you might do at a succession of parties, it’s destined to fall short on the basis of the required time commitment alone. That’s because dating sites are far too trapped in the conventional offline dating model. They’re relying on the things that we are all told make for a happy marriage: shared interests, values, relationship goals, religious beliefs etc. And sure, those things matter. Kind of.

But where dating sites could really kick the ass of conventional face-to-face matchmaking is by getting at the crucial dimensions of compatibility that most of us only learn to value after we’re well into marriage. This includes not only areas of commonality, but complementary. I for one would be all for a dating site that matches people who…

Share the same perspective on:

  • Whether you should keep the living room curtains open or closed in the evening
  • Importance of using apostrophes correctly
  • Hip hop
  • Shopping: heaven or hell?
  • Ideal shower temperature
  • Coffee: black or polluted?

Have different but complementary preferences on:

  • Pizza crusts: pro or con
  • Blanket hogging vs blanket tossing
  • Aisle or window seat
  • Oreos: cookies or filling?
  • Highway driving vs. city driving
  • Drafting vs. editing
  • Router administration vs media server administration (OK, that one might just be an issue in our house)

Just think about how much better you’d feel about your remote-hogging spouse if he consistently offered you the cookie part of his Oreos, or she let you eat her pizza crusts. I know our own marriage (and business partnership) got a lot easier once I stopped feeling like I had to do my share of our long-distance drives (Rob likes highway driving) and once Rob stopped worrying about parking on city streets (I do the parallel parking, and thus, the city driving).

My own mother, who has been single for many years, finds it vaguely bizarre that I and her other married friends outsource big parts of our competency to our spouses in key areas like pizza crust-eating or electrical repair. My own feeling is that as long as the outsourcing is reciprocal — in other words, each partner has assumed primary responsibility for certain kinds of competencies — then this division of expertise is one of the great efficiencies of marriage. Better yet, the discovery that you and your partner have complementary as well as common preferences (so that you feel like she’s doing you a favour when she eats all of the pretzels in the Bits ‘n Bites) can create an ecology in which you are effortlessly providing little boons to one another simply by indulging your own quirks.

That ecology of complementary selfishness can take years or even decades of marriage to uncover and build. I dream of a dating future in which eHarmony does it for you, by finding you the crust-loving, cookie-eating, blanket-tossing love of your life.