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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Forget finding a woman who will love him as he is. The Web dating service declares him unsuitable for a love match.
By Rick Gershman, Times Staff Writer
Published June 16, 2007
You may have seen the commercial: Smiling guy looks through a magazine that resembles Playboy. Closes it, shrugs, and says, "Nope. Still gay."
A red "brand" slams down:
REJECTED BY eHarmony.
Then, a voiceover:
"Who knows why eHarmony has rejected over a million people looking for love? But at Chemistry.com, you can come as you are . . ."
So goes the assault on eHarmony.com, a popular online "matching" site, by its newest competitor.
The ad shades the truth a hair: If you're gay or lesbian, eHarmony won't consider you long enough to reject you; the site doesn't do same-sex matching. Chemistry.com does.
If you're straight - which you must specify upfront - eHarmony then allows you to answer more than 250 questions about yourself.
But not everyone who completes eHarmony's questionnaire gets to use its services.
- - -
A few months ago, after friends related their experiences with dates set up through eHarmony, I decided to give it a try.
After an hour of rating myself on hundreds of criteria, I was dying for the ordeal to end. Still, I carefully considered the questions and statements, answering them honestly.
Finally, I reached the penultimate page and hit "save and continue." Bring on the ladies.
The next page read:
Unable to Match You at This Time
What? After all that? You guys have several million women in your database, and you can't find a single one to match with me?
The eHarmony rejection page tried to let me down easy. The notice, in summary, says that for the service to work, applicants must "fall within several defined profiles." Unfortunately, "our model could not accurately predict with whom you would be best matched."
My friends accused me of lying about being rejected. They said there's no reason a commercial Web site would not provide services to a potential customer. But that's exactly what happened, and not just to me. I got on Google and found numerous stories of other rejections.
Apparently, eHarmony would rather walk away from your money - it charges $49.95 for a one-month subscription, $99.95 for three months - than let a loser into the party.
Next, my friends accused me of fouling up the survey on purpose. But I had answered honestly. That may have been the problem.
The site's founder is Dr. Neil Clark Warren, an evangelical Christian. It is focused on matching "soulmates, " with marriage as the goal.
I made it clear from my answers that I'm not much of a churchgoer. When eHarmony asked if I'm interested in "religious community" and "religious faith, " I replied truthfully: Not at all.
Did that answer get me banned from eHarmony's online church social? I didn't know. So I decided to take the questionnaire again, answer it honestly again.
And see if I'd get rejected. Again.
- - -
The first section provides 19 statements. You choose how closely each describes you, on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). Later sections are similar.
The first statement the eHarmony computer used to define me:
I do things according to plan.
My honest answer: 2. (Ask anybody.)
I often leave a mess in my room.
Answer: 5. (To be fair, the rest of the place is just as bad.)
I waste my time.
Answer: 6. (Even as I write these words, I'm two days past my deadline for this story.)
I gave myself a 5 for I take time out for others and I usually stand up for myself. Then again, I had to give myself a 5 for I anger easily.
Another section went well: I gave myself a 6 for warm and a 7 for clever.
(Disagree? Remember, I anger easily.)
Then it got tough. I went with 6 for quarrelsome because, well, I often am. Does that make me unmatchable? I mean, most women I've dated would get an 8.
I awarded myself three straight 7s for affectionate, intelligent and compassionate.
Eat that, Computer of Love.
- - -
One section told me to rank 21 more self-descriptive terms. Long story short:
I'm a fairly opinionated, restless, romantic, aggressive, open, charming, irritable, stubborn guy. Oh, and I'm not exactly always calm or rational.
Another section, sample statements:
I have a high desire for sexual activity.
My emotions are generally stable.
I view myself as well adjusted.
Hmm. This might have been a trouble spot last time.
Does a 7 for "sexual activity" rate me as sketchy? Is it okay to give myself a 3 for the stability of my emotions - I'm not always super-cool and collected - but a 6 for considering myself well adjusted?
I don't think they're mutually exclusive, though I'm guessing eHarmony does.
I go with 'em anyway.
A subsequent section wants to know what I consider important qualities in my partner. Do you want a partner who's attractive, whose company you enjoy, whose personality you like?
Nah, let's go with unappealing, intolerable and insufferable. All my answers land between 5 and 7.
- - -
A closing section is a breeze: general information such as my age (38) and how important my match's age is to me (not very).
Am I a parent? (No.) Want to be? (Sometime.) Willing to accept a match who has a kid? (Sure.)
There's a list of "what ethnicities (I) would be willing to accept as matches." I check them all, and wonder why there is no "check all" button.
A few more expected questions follow, and now eHarmony's ready to hook me up with the women of my dreams.
I click save and continue. Bring 'em on.
- - -
Unable to Match You at This Time
Fine. Enough auditions for this computerized Cupid. I call eHarmony for an explanation, but I don't get a phone interview. Instead, I'm asked to e-mail some questions over.
Responses arrive quickly but shed little light. Most simply repeat, virtually verbatim, information from the Web site.
One exception: I ask whether the process is weighted toward applicants who appear to consider Christianity, or at least faith, important.
The response: "Absolutely not. eHarmony . . . is not, nor has it ever been, a religious organization. Since its founding eHarmony has served and employed people of all (and or no) religious beliefs."
None of the other responses clarify anything.
So I guess I'll never know for sure why eHarmony can't help me find my soulmate. But in case I missed anything, I read the "Dear John" letter more closely, seeking hidden meanings.
We are so convinced of the importance of creating compatible matches that we sometimes choose not to provide service rather than risk an uncertain match.
(We learned our lesson from that Alec Baldwin-Kim Basinger thing.)
Unfortunately, we are not able to make our profiles work for you. Our matching model could not accurately predict with whom you would be best matched.
(Though we're leaning toward convicted felons.)
This occurs for about 20 percent of our potential users, so 1 in 5 people simply will not benefit from our service.
(We know you couldn't have figured that basic math yourself, reject.)
We hope you understand, and we regret our inability to provide service for you at this time.