eHarmony: Beautiful Lies

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Today’s television and internet is dense with advertisements for dating websites of all shapes and sizes.  In a culture veering towards minimal human contact, instant gratification, and increasingly populated social networks, it only makes sense that the dating and relationship building process would be incarnated on the internet as well.  Most internet services advertise ease of use, privacy, and quick turnover of whatever service is provided.  Advertising has long made use of the illusion that whatever product is on display now will solve all the consumer’s problems, but online service takes it to a still faster, more anonymous level.  The axioms of “good things come to those who wait” and “nothing good comes easy” have been cast aside in the face of more exciting options like “guaranteed results in the first six months” or “sign up now for free”.  eHarmony uses this tactic to sell love, or at least the closest approximation necessary to keep people signing up.  The advertisement claims that long-term commitment is the goal and the effect of the compatibility system.  The eHarmony claim is baseless and fundamentally flawed in concept. Not only is there an inadequate timeframe to prove that claim true or false, there is no reason to believe the system is creating any different kind of bond between people because it claims to be revolutionary but works towards an old goal, marriage, which has been a union of function, not of love, for much of its existence.  The very core of the eHarmony propaganda is that marriage is a cornerstone of achievement for a happy, healthy person and if a person doesn’t have it, he or she needs to get it.

Right away the eHarmony ad suggests that conventional methods for meeting people are slow and ineffective and the best—possibly only—way to truly find a soul mate is through a scientific method of personality matching (eHarmony).  While they are explaining how sophisticated the system is, the advertisement shows testimonials by satisfied customers who explain how nothing else worked and only after using eHarmony have, they finally found love that will last a lifetime.  Throughout the testimonials there is the suggestion that fulfillment cannot be had without a relationship that leads directly to marriage.  According to their informative ad, eHarmony has been pairing couples and fulfilling people’s lives since 1998 and growing all the while.  That information is clearly intended as a claim to authority, proving their experience and how many people trust their system.  All it really proves is that an increasing number of people have been turning to the internet to find companionship and there are more people joining eHarmony than there are successfully finding a match and moving on.

People certainly desire love and attention, and often they crave someone to love and give attention to.  It is fulfilling and for many it is a goal.  But society has made it a requirement of being whole and healthy.  If a person isn’t married by a certain age, he or she acquires a kind of stigma, never quite fitting in with the upstanding members of society.  The only way to put off the social faux pas of not being married is to at least be in a meaningful, long term relationship that is, of course, working toward marriage.  It creates pressure to find someone that drives people to services like eHarmony.  With such convenience there is no need to put in the time or effort of meeting people who may or may not be suitable partners.  It becomes only slightly more complicated than ordering a pizza.  Yet eHarmony finds customers and has successfully done so since 1998.

While fourteen years may seem like a long time, it is just a drop in the bucket of a lifetime, which is what eHarmony promises.  Even if a greater percentage of eHarmony married couples from 1998 are still together than those who met by other means, it is a small sample timeframe.  While most marriages fall apart in the first few years, plenty continue on well into their second decade before either or both members realize something has to change.  Regardless, there are no numbers for that and during that time divorce rates have only worsened, as have marriage rates.  A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that in 2008 only 26% of twenty-something Americans were married while in 1968 over 68% were (The Decline).  Fewer people are getting married and more of those who do are getting divorced.  Faith in the institution is lessening.  That same Pew survey showed that 39% of those surveyed believe marriage is obsolete while in 1978 it was 28%; yet 68% of respondents had an optimistic view about family in general (The Decline).  The very idea that marriage is a necessary conclusion to a healthy relationship is propagandistic.

Though it is bad rhetoric, eHarmony’s proof of authority does demonstrate that people are looking for an alternative route to long-term relationships, be they marriage or some approximation.  This has been reported by more credible and explicit sources as well.  In May of 2010 a Forbes article quoted Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, “’Historically men have been more eager to marry when they are financially secure, and women have wanted to marry when they wanted children’” (Goudreau).  The article goes on to explain that marriage readiness has been determined by classic roles of needing and providing support.  That dynamic has changed in the modern age and readiness is determined by each individual by whatever terms he or she chooses.  The old function of marriage is virtually gone, but it is expected to work the same way by those who engage in it for other reasons.

Yet another failing of the eHarmony concept is the audience they reach.  Older couples are shown in the commercial, but the majority of the examples are young professionals in their mid- to late-twenties.  There is a reason for this beyond wanting pretty people in the commercials.  This is going to be their primary audience simply because that is the age group that is most likely to use the internet for anything, let alone dating.  PSFK.com quotes a Pew study from 2009 that shows that nearly a third of all internet users are in the 18-32 age range with the rest distributed among all other age groups (Lachut).  This means roughly 10% of the living population accounts for over 30% of internet users.  The next age bracket, 33-44, accounts for another 23% of internet users, making over half of all people on the internet still, relative to the current lifespan, young.

The problem with eHarmony claiming to be a route to marriage among this age group is that divorce rates are highest among those who marry between the ages of 20 and 29, according to divorcerate.org (Divorce Rate).  The largest customer base for eHarmony is the most likely to prove the service wrong.  Even among older users the statistics are bleak.  Though eHarmony offers no numbers as to how many people of what age get married or what their backgrounds are like, it is safe to assume that some of the people using the service are previously divorced and hoping to find something better than what they had.  Divorce rates for second and third marriages increase dramatically.  According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, 50% of first marriages end in divorce, 67% of second marriages do, and 74% of third marriages fail (Divorce Rate).  This has been a worsening trend in the last few decades and eHarmony’s efforts in the last fourteen years have rendered no appreciable improvement.  Even if eHarmony is responsible for many marriages, there is no reason to believe those marriages are sounder or longer lasting than any others.

Marriage is still seen by many as requiring financial stability, indicating that while love might be a pretty reason to give, money is still a prime motivator.  Perhaps this is served well by eHarmony as it is a subscription service and what most would consider a low-priority luxury, if they had their way.  The Pew Study shows this by reporting that people with a college degree and those with just a high school diploma are equally likely to desire marriage, but of those who do, 38% of the high school graduates cite financial security as a motivator as opposed to 21% of college graduates (The Decline).  The more money a person makes the less likely he or she is to consider marriage as a multifaceted contract and the more likely he or she is to view it simply as a way to fulfill emotional needs.  While eHarmony may have perfected the art of getting people excited about each other, they fail to even acknowledge the issue of marriage requiring more than fuzzy feelings and shared hobbies to function.  Classically it has been an arrangement of mutual interests across all aspects of life and failure was no more an option than failing to pay the mortgage or bring home food.  In modern times it has become a mark of achievement that distinguishes fully formed members of society from those just limping along.

The underlying propaganda of the eHarmony advertisements is their insistence that marriage is the road to happiness.  This is a bold claim given that it is statistically proven untrue.  More and more marriages end unhappily, and it seems likely that many marriages that don’t end in divorce are still between unhappy people.  It is also an arrogant claim when more and more people are declaring outright that marriage is no longer the defining accomplishment of a relationship.  A happy, life-long bond does not require a marriage-license or wedding.  Families are forming around functionality yet again, as they have for centuries, but now that function no longer requires marriage to operate smoothly.  Children are raised, jobs are performed, houses are paid off, and families exist regardless of social norms.  If anything, marriage has proven a failing and archaic social construct.  It may suit some, but it does not define a person’s worth or achievement and services like eHarmony would do well to acknowledge the changing tides.

Works Cited

"Divorce Rate : Divorce Rate In America." Divorce Rate : Divorce Rate In America. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2011. <http://www.divorcerate.org/>.

"eHarmony's Channel - YouTube." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. . N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/user/eHarmony?blend=7&ob=5#p/c/DB1EE3E0436536EC/6/ciis-n_5eys>.

Goudreau, Jenna. "Why Men And Women Get Married Page 2 of 3 - Forbes.com." Information for the World's Business Leaders - Forbes.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2011. <http://www.forbes.com/2010/05/26/why-do-men-women-get-married-forbes-woman-well-being-love-money_2.html>.

Lachut, Scott. "U.S. Report: Internet Usage By Age @PSFK." PSFK - the go-to source for new ideas and inspiration. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2011. <http://www.psfk.com/2009/02/us-report-internet-usage-by-age.html>.

"The Decline of Marriage And Rise of New Families | Pew Social & Demographic Trends." Pew Social & Demographic Trends - Public Opinion Polling, Survey Research, & Demographic Data Analysis. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/11/18/the-decline-of-marriage-and-rise-of-new-families/>.