Online dating is happier than traditional dating

History of the electronic dating serviceAlgorithms of love

"I filled out my questionnaire about two months ago and then got nine suggestions. I called two of them, they are very nice."

In a BBC report from 1968, a young man at a computer match party talks about his first experiences with this new form of dating. After filling out the questionnaire for a dating agency, the computer spit out nine names of suitable women and sent him the ladies' contact details, back then by analog mail. And they also trusted the new technology to help love get going:

"Computer No. 3 is looking for the right boy for me. And love is guaranteed for both of them."

The French pop singer France Gall raved about the computer no. 3 in 1968 and took third place at the German Schlager Competition in Berlin. It hit the zeitgeist of the time, because the euphoria about single dating with computer support was great. The women's magazine "Constanze" reported in May 1967 on "Spouses from the machine". And in the same year the Hamburg company Altmann switched entirely to the booming electronic marriage initiation.

US scientists in the service of love

An IBM computer played Cupid and tried to land hits from a database of over 30,000 partner seekers, each of which had more than 130 characteristics assigned to it. Strictly according to scientific criteria, as it was emphasized, because psychologists, educators and population scientists sat on the institute's advisory board. You weren't the first to look for parameters for the happiness of love:

"Basically, there was already great scientific interest in partner choice and in couple relationships as early as the 1930s. In the United States, sociologists and psychologists in particular examined the principles of a happy, and above all, long-lasting marriage," says Dr. Michael Homberg from the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam.

"The question was of particular interest, especially in the USA, because the divorce rate had risen massively. In this context, there were various psychologists who approached the subjects, namely the married couple, with questionnaires and tried to find out more what actually is the secret of a successful marriage. "

One of them was the sociologist Karl Miles Wallace of Los Angeles State College:

"Karl Miles Wallace launched a 'Lonely Hearts Club' there in 1948. It was a large field test over six and a half years in which a total of 6,000 people were brought together to explore the dynamics of modern dating back then. And Wallace was interested in the socio-economic backgrounds and also the character dispositions of the singles, i.e. for the question of what actually attracted the partners here. "

New technology - old gender roles

The result: loads of research data. "In order to master the multitude of information, that is, the interviews, questionnaires and personality tests, he had all of this data translated into machine-readable data, which a punch card reader then evaluated."

Michael Homberg has explored the beginnings of electronic dating in the US and Western Europe. Long before Parship and Tinder, the computer was used as an electron cupid. The first were still as big as buses, with thousands of punch cards for data storage. The punch cards for men were blue; those for women were pink. And in other ways too, partner selection by computer in the 1950s reproduced conventional gender images.

"So there was usually the idea of ​​a man as a sole breadwinner, of a man as breadwinner who is looking for a woman to look after the home and hearth. One of the beliefs of the agencies of these years was that, for example, in a successful marriage, the man is essential must be taller and older, earn more and ideally also have a higher level of education than his partner. "

Traditional role expectations are also reflected in the practice of dating. Michael Homberg: "Computer offices usually only sent a list of names and phone numbers of potential partners to male customers. Women were then only informed that they should be ready for workdays between 7 and 9 pm in the near future, for example the calls of their potential partners. "

Churches criticize electronic dating services

A new marriage and partner market had opened up, which for some was a welcome broadening of horizons when looking for a partner, for others it was an unromantic contact initiation. The churches in particular preferred to leave the finding of a couple to divine providence rather than an algorithm - at the same time they engaged themselves in the marriage initiation market. The new electronic dating service fell on fertile ground, especially in major American cities.

In New York, the city of lonely hearts, dating based on electronic preselection was hugely popular - provided you could afford the service.

In the film comedy "For Singles only" from 1968, all protagonists are looking for partners (www.imago-images.de/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Exclusive service for higher earners

"At the very beginning of the 1950s in the USA, the typical customer of an office in Manhattan was white, Protestant, between late 20s and mid-50s, well educated, had a college degree and also had a higher income So doctors, lawyers and engineers and computer dating was ultimately a service for higher earners. "

And here people liked to stay to one another: the algorithms were aimed at creating no connections across religious, ethnic or social boundaries. In order for Mr. and Mrs. Right to find each other, the participants had to answer questions about religious denomination, political views, education, income and hobbies. But more intimate questions were also asked, for example about their attitude towards sex before marriage and whether romantic love is important for a successful marriage.

People of the same kind stick together

The more similarities there were, the better the couple should be a match. A theory that also stands up to current scientific tests:

"There are of course very, very many and different theories, but the one that has been best and most frequently positively researched is actually the homophilia thesis."

Says Wera Aretz, Professor of Business Psychology at the Fresenius University of Economics and Media in Cologne. "Equal and equal like to join together" is the formula for success for happy couples.

"There are so-called meta-analyzes that actually show that couples who are together for a long time have similar norms and values, especially at 'top one'. A certain physical attractiveness, intelligence that does not differ that much. But there are exceptions confirm the rule. That means that sometimes it is also the case that partners who also differ from one another in individual areas are particularly happy and satisfied. "

Dating fever of the 1960s

The wave of computer matchmaking spilled across the Atlantic to Europe in the mid-1960s. Here, too, the dating fever broke out.

"Love by computer - Twen is looking for the ideal partner for you" announced the Munich youth magazine in 1967. It promised a "groundbreaking scientific adventure".

In the documentary "Liebe per Computer" from March 18, 1968, the WDR gives an insight into the experiment by "Twen":

"These groups of women, which we now all have in our core memory, we compare them with men. So we bring in one man after the other, compare him with the myriad of women."

The "Twen" promotion "Rendez-vous 67"

More than 25,000 men and women took part in the first "Twen" campaign, "Rendez-vous 67", including Sigrid Breitrück and Markus Krämer from Mühlheim an der Ruhr.

"We thought it was funny. That was the first time that there was anything like that. And we were young, so the idea that you would get to know someone through an advertisement or something like that, so that was far from any imagination. I think, it was because the questionnaire was attached or enclosed in the magazine, and we thought it might be fun to take part in it. "

Sigrid was about to graduate from high school, Markus was already studying theology. "I think the questions were quite extensive. We didn't fill them out together, but each one for himself."

The two twen readers had long been a couple. But they wanted to challenge the computer - and test the logic of the algorithms when choosing a partner.

"And I got a letter and it said that they had found someone who would suit me. And that was Markus. I only had this one name. Only Markus."

"I also got a letter at the same time and there were two women named and Sigrid was in second place. In first place was another woman, I think from the Ruhr area, I mean that I called her once or from I wrote a few lines politely. And we sometimes joke that Sigrid is, so to speak, the second choice. Which is of course completely absurd. "

Wasn't Markus curious to get to know the first choice? "No, I was way too in love with Sigrid."

Partner for life or just a flirt?

Two years ago Sigrid and Markus Krämer celebrated their golden wedding. In 1968, when they got married, others were not necessarily concerned with finding a man or woman for life through computer mediation, but also with casual friendships or flirtations. This reflected the change in values ​​at that time - while at the same time the search for security and the desire for marriage showed the ambivalences of the 1968 revolution, according to historian Michael Homberg. And criticism of the economization of the partner market and the rationalization of love was already loud in the 1960s.

"Basically, however, the euphoria surrounding computer dating was relatively unbroken until the mid-1970s. It was only when debates arose around horrific fees or breakdowns and misallocations of the computer that confidence in the supposedly cool logic of the computer shrank. And then there were also problems with the violation of privacy and data protection. That was when the computer dating agencies came more and more into the focus of criticism. "

Because of bare facts - in the old BTX times a lot of imagination was necessary for "intimate communication" (dpa)

Singles in the jungle of online dating

In 1981 the group "Kraftwerk" had a hit with "Computerliebe". During this time, teletext systems such as BTX allowed intimate communication in chat rooms and dating sites pushed their way onto the market. The possibilities of electronic partner search have long since multiplied through the Internet. The result is a gigantic market that today vies for the favor of over 17 million singles in Germany.

"What was always a bit short in science at the time is the distinction between different online dating portals. And it is important to make it clear to yourself that online dating is not just online dating," emphasizes the business psychologist Wera Aretz.

"Generally, a distinction is made between online dating agencies, online contact exchanges, social dating and adult dating. And these offers can be differentiated according to whether they are initially chargeable or at no cost to the user. To what extent algorithms are used and a matchmaking system, i.e. suitable partner suggestions are made, ultimately according to the target group that is being addressed and whether there are different interests, so to speak. "

On online contact exchanges such as Love-Scout24, Neu.de or Finja, you can present yourself with your own profile free of charge and also study the profiles of potential partners in a targeted manner. It works differently with paid online dating agencies such as Parship and Elite-Partner. There, the answers to an extensive questionnaire are the basis for matching personality traits, interests, preferences and opinions. In 2017, Wera Aretz and her team at the Fresenius University for Business and Media in Cologne examined how the motives of the various portal visitors differ:

"While online dating service users tend to say that they are looking for a steady relationship, the love for life, online dating sites tend to focus on flirting."

"Love me tinder"

And then there are the users of Tinder or Lavoo, for example, social dating offers that are connected to a Facebook account and GPS-based and that are mainly used by 20 to 30 year olds. With a swipe movement on the smartphone to the left - flop - or to the right - top - the proposed profile photo is responded to. Wera Aretz:

"In the case of social dating, the test subjects even said, well, it's also a bit about digital pastime and not always necessarily about a real counterpart and with adult offers, as one might assume, about the generation of sexual contacts. "

What is love? There are worlds between the love god shooting arrows and the systematic online partner search. Or not? (imago stock & people / Eckhard Stengel)

Curse and blessing of the variety of offers

Many singles are even active on several platforms at the same time. The Frankfurt sociologist Dr. Kai Dröge, who carried out a qualitative study there with his colleague Olivier Voirol from Switzerland six years ago.

"Sadly, we have had many in our interviews who somehow go from one contact to the next over the years and just somehow don't make it and are also very frustrated to somehow really commit to one person because this huge selection is always tempting. And you could still find something better and the slightest frustration with someone leads to the fact that you break off contact or the other person breaks off contact and so on. "

You can get lost in the network of online dating portals - or see the preselection as an opportunity:

"And that is where algorithms come into play again a little bit by, like with Tinder, for example - without us understanding exactly according to which criteria - but in the background they preselect which image is displayed to us at all, and thus us Reduce this gigantic selection a bit and make it more manageable. "

It is a kind of raster search for the ideal flirt or great love. The researchers have determined that photo and age are the main selection criteria.

Opaque algorithms

The providers of the various matchmaking platforms do not look in the cards, according to which criteria their algorithm works exactly. And if, based on his calculation, he comes to a match of 80 percent with another person - which, for example, according to Parship would be ideal, everything else threatens to get boring - would this matching be the basis for a happy relationship? Wera Aretz:

"To what extent there is a real fit, I think that shows real life. The algorithm, so to speak, cannot smell, cannot taste, so other features that are also important for physical attraction can be based on technology, so to speak cannot be forecast alone, of course. "

Online dating is booming in Corona times. However, a contact picture with a protective mask is only conditionally recommended. (www.imago-images.de/Riccardo Milani)

Booming online dating in Corona times

Many online dating portals have posted record increases since the beginning of the corona pandemic. In times of limited contact in analogue life, the need for encounters on the Internet has increased enormously. From the beginning of May to the end of June 2020, Wera Aretz and her team asked almost 1,000 online dating users to what extent this had changed their online dating:

"That means that you said, on the one hand, I come into contact with other people much easier at the moment. And the topics we are talking about are not so classic small talk topics. It's about corona-related stressors, about the question of how do you deal with this special situation? But also what values ​​and attitudes do you have? "

Matchmaking in the service of family planning

The latest report on the further development of the electronic dating service comes from Japan: Because fewer and fewer children are being born there, the government plans to invest the equivalent of almost 16 million euros in local dating services from 2021. This is intended to support and expand "Matchmaker" programs that work with artificial intelligence. Not only age and income, as before, but also hobbies and values, for example, could then be taken into account. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to more couples who will then also solve the offspring problem. The search for the "algorithms of love"; it is and remains a challenge, even if France Gall announced in 1968:

"Computer No. 3 is looking for the right boy for me. And love is guaranteed for both of them."