There’s no magic formula for love, as both the lovelorn and happily shacked up will tell you, but according to tech guru Amy Webb there is a formula for online dating. Webb, an Internet pioneer who runs her own digital strategy company, took her number-crunching skills to JDate and emerged with a husband.
Frustrated with the algorithm of the site itself, and with social mores that dictated she be a passive recipient of men’s advances, Webb ended up logging in as a series of made-up men and studying the competition carefully. She used the data she found to create a “super-profile” for herself so that she could find someone who met her standards. These included a ranked and numbered list of qualities from the non-negotiable (culturally Jewish but not religious) to the more trivial (no cruise ship travel!). Now she and her husband, who qualified on the list and in person, have a happy marriage and a daughter.
Webb’s book, “Data, A Love Story,” hit stores in time for Valentine’s Day. Already the blogosphere is debating its prescriptions. Should women alter themselves to fit a normative formula? Is it fair to create fake profiles to scope out the competition? Can love even be quantified?
But as I — who found my own partner by happenstance very early in life — sat in Midtown Manhattan, drinking coffee with Webb and her husband, Brian, I realized that the core advice that arises from Webb’s data-driven love story is this: Know and name what you want in a partner, and market yourself so that he or she will want you. Just as we do with our Facebook profiles, she thinks we can play around with superficialities to appear more appealing without changing ourselves at all. The goal of online dating, Webb says, is to get offline as soon as possible, where the important connections — IRL, or “in real life” — are made.
Webb’s journey was triggered by a series of dating disasters. “Data, A Love Story” chronicles a relationship that started with a rom-com like “meet cute” moment — he helped her catch her plane, and when they disembarked, their parents had made friends — and ended with cheating and heartbreak. Post-breakup, in 2005, Webb put herself out there only to experience a string of unfortunate JDates, including a fateful coffee date with a married man. That was the night that she sat down with a bottle of wine and her mathematical proclivity, and began to work on the formulae that would lead her to love.
For Webb, taking this step was second nature. First of all, solving problems with math has soothed her since she was a child. “I’m not like ‘rain man,’” she said jokingly, but she gets anxious, and for her, math is a “form of meditation.” In fact, during the C-section birth of the couple’s daughter, the anesthesiologist was amused to find Brian tossing math problems to his about-to-deliver wife to keep her centered. “What’s calming is focusing on numbers,” she told me. “I think in charts and graphs.”
Another aspect of Webb’s personality that led to her exploration is that she wasn’t interested in playing passive, hewing to the gendered roles that society foists on would-be daters. “I had been following the rules, but it was antithetical to the way I felt,” she said. “I didn’t feel like it was 1950, I didn’t feel I should wait for a guy to approach.” She decided to make the system work for her.