The Three Week OKCupid Date Across Europe

Clara Bensen shares the story of how she met a guy on OKCupid and decided to go with him for a three week travel adventure across Europe. The catch? They would wear the same clothing during the entire trip and bring no luggage:

Our no-luggage journey began with the buzzing protest energy of Istanbul and from there it zigzagged wildly across the European continent. There were no plans. With no stuff, moving to the next destination was as simple as getting out of bed and pointing to a dot on the map. We jumped from city to city using almost every mode of transportation on earth: an old train along the Turkish coast, a giant ferry across the Aegean, a cramped bus through the Balkans, a series of hitches through Croatia, a flight to Edinburgh, and a pair of bikes in London. From baristas and dancers to investment bankers and Cambridge professors, we wandered the streets with guides who were as varied as the urban landscapes we were moving through.

Looks like they survived and bonded (though it’s not clear from the story whether Jeff and Clara are still dating):

We ended our journey after eight countries, 3,500 miles and 21 days in the same clothes. Our romantic relationship intact, Jeff and I boarded the Heathrow return flight as closer friends than ever (despite the questionable state of our undergarments). Materially speaking I was as empty-handed as the day we started, but I actually carried a great deal back home across the Atlantic. Traveling with no luggage and no plans was much more than a minimalist lesson in living well with less. It was an intense, in-your-face invitation to the unknown. There’s a truly magnificent side to the unknown, but we aren’t taught how to welcome it, let alone explore the breadth of its possibilities.

Did our luggage-less dance with uncertainty lead to some kind of travel nirvana? Yes and no. We careered through time and space at a fiendish pace and experienced all the blood, sweat and exhaustion that might be expected. At the same time, we were vividly present in the midst of a disorienting cloud of city grids, metro stops and incomprehensible dialects that shape-shifted with every border crossing. We were alive. And every so often the intensity was punctuated with time-crushing moments that were so staggeringly beautiful and strange that even now I’m not sure they occurred at all.

Still. A very cool story.

Atlas Hugged: A Dating Site for Ayn Rand Fans

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the rise of niche dating sites. It’s pretty interesting, especially the description of Atlasphere, a dating site for fans of Ayn Rand and Objectivism:

A growing number of niche dating sites have popped up to serve people who think they know exactly the type of person they want. These includes Farmers Only, whose 100,000 users may have been attracted to the site’s tagline, “City folks just don’t get it.” More recently, GlutenFree Singles launched for love-seeking wheat-free folks.

Atlasphere founder Joshua Zader, 40, of Phoenix, says niche sites are more efficient than broader sites such as OKCupid or Match.com.

“If you assume that maybe 1 out of 500 people is a serious fan of Ayn Rand’s novels, on a normal dating site you have a 1 in 500 chance of someone sharing the same basic values,” he says. “On the Atlasphere, every profile shows you what you want,” he says. The 10-year-old site has seen a spike in membership in recent years—it has more than 16,000 dating profiles—after two “Atlas Shrugged” movies were released, says Mr. Zader, a Web developer. User handles include “Atlas in Arlington” and “ObjectivelyHot.”

He founded the site after attending Objectivist conferences, where the “open secret” is that most people are there to meet potential partners. “You shouldn’t need to fly to a conference to meet people with your values,” he says.

The site was efficient for Mr. Hancock’s now-wife, Stephanie Betit-Hancock, 33. Her now-husband messaged her 12 hours after she first put up a profile in 2007, and proposed after dating long-distance for six months.

Ms. Betit-Hancock, a schools special-needs coordinator, says she had been “kind of freaking out,” wondering how she’d find someone “rational” to date. She met a man at a meet-up group for fans of libertarian former congressman Ron Paul, but “he couldn’t explain why he supported Ron Paul and why the ideas behind his policies made sense.”

Mr. Hancock, an engineer, says he specifically wrote his profile to “scare people who weren’t serious Objectivists away.”

Read the rest of the piece here. There’s also GlutenFree Singles and Farmers Only dating.

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(via @mims)

Speed Dating was Invented by an Orthodox Rabbi

A brief but fascinating piece in The New York Times on how speed dating was invented:

At a matchmaking event he organized in 1998, Rabbi Yaacov Deyo brought along a gragger, the noisemaker Jews use during Purim. That night, in a Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Beverly Hills, the Orthodox rabbi twirled his gragger to signal when it was time for the single men and women present to switch partners and spark up a conversation with the next stranger. “We thought 10 minutes for each date, because that was just an easier number to use in a busy coffeehouse,” Deyo says. This entirely practical measure would inspire matchmakers all around the world — Jews and Gentiles alike.

Weeks before, Deyo invited a group of friends to convene in his living room and brainstorm about how he could best serve the local Jewish community. This being L.A., Deyo’s group included several entertainment-industry people, including someone who produced game shows. The rabbi and his think tank decided that Jewish singles needed to identify marriage partners with maximum efficiency, and they designed a wacky game in which participants would table-hop their way through a dozen dates in a night. Soon they began their experiment (under the auspices of American Friends of Aish HaTorah, the nonprofit group that employed Deyo), using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the singles and their responses on feedback cards. Within a year or so, the speed-dating idea had gone viral, with imitators around the country.

After he and his friends trademarked SpeedDating, they began the process of filing a patent. But as the trend exploded, Deyo realized he had lost control of the idea…

I hope this is a trivia question some day!

There’s a funny quote about Atlanta in the article.

On Compatibility Genes: Can You Smell the Perfect Partner?

The Guardian on whether humans have the ability to smell out suitable partners/mates, based on an upcoming book by Daniel M. Davis, The Compatibility Gene: How Our Bodies Fight Disease, Attract Others, and Define Our Selves:

The basis for this notion is the so-called smelly T-shirt experiment, first performed by a Swiss zoologist called Claus Wedekind in 1994. He analysed a particular bit of the DNA of a group of students, looking specifically at the major histocompatibility genes (MHC). The students were then split into 49 females and 44 males. The men were asked to wear plain cotton T-shirts for two nights while avoiding anything – alcohol, cologne etc – that might alter their natural odour. After two days the shirts were placed in cardboard boxes with holes in them, and the women were asked to rank the boxes by smell using three criteria: intensity, pleasantness and sexiness.

Wedekind’s results appeared to show that the women preferred the T-shirts worn by men with different compatibility genes from themselves, raising the possibility that we unconsciously select mates who would put our offspring at some genetic advantage. The experiment was controversial, but it did alter scientific thinking about compatibility genes. And while the mechanism behind this phenomenon is poorly understood, that hasn’t stopped dating agencies from employing MHC typing as a matchmaking tool.

Of course, there are labs out there taking advantage of this science:

One lab offering such testing to online agencies (you can’t smell potential partners over the internet; not yet), a Swiss company called GenePartner, claims: “With genetically compatible people we feel that rare sensation of perfect chemistry.”

But take all this with a big grain of salt, as the research is still preliminary and no one really understands how all this works:

It is not completely understood how all this works at the molecular level, but it is at this forefront that Davis toils. “My research is in developing microscopes that look with better resolution at immune cells and how they interact with other cells,” he says. This interaction is “reminiscent of the way neurons communicate” in the brain, raising the possibility that your compatibility genes are responsible for more than just fighting infection, and could even influence how your brain functions. I confess to Davis that I don’t really understand this part. “None of us do,” he says. “I just happened to write a book about it.”

But how does the smelling thing work – if it works? It has been shown that mice can, and do, detect compatibility genes by smell, and that stickleback fish also choose mates by their odour, but in humans, Davis admits, the jury is out. “How it works on the olfactory level is basically not understood at all,” he says.

I think the more interesting point from Davis’s research is this: since each human responds slightly differently to any particular disease, in the not-too-distant future vaccines and other medications may be tailored to match our compatibility genes.

Hinge: A Dating App Developed by a Military Contractor

The Verge reports on one John Kleint, a former military contractor who’s now switched gears and is helping develop a dating app called Hinge:

When Kleint first started working at Hinge, in a DC office not far from his old defense gig, the first challenge was understanding his new data set — tens of thousands of completely harmless Facebook users. On a good day at his old job, nobody got hurt, and now, a good day is when Hinge receives an email from two soul mates who found each other using the service. Hinge doesn’t ask the usual array of questions like “Do you believe in God?” from its users, and instead relies on pre-existing signals to make assumptions about you. Solely by examining your friends and interests, the service can predict your political leaning, your age, your sexual orientation, and your race. Kleint works on the algorithms and machine learning techniques to make it all work.

“There are certain factors that go into a stable long-term relationship, and you can infer some of those factors from your friends,” he says. “There’s no explicit equation. There’s no guessing that likes should have 20 percent weight and attraction should be 30 percent.” Picking matches is especially hard since different people have different tastes. Hinge takes the opposite approach to some dating sites like OkCupid with overt “hot or not” meters and percentage odds of being a a match. And unlike dating services that simply pair you with somebody who’s also obsessed with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,Hinge uses that data to learn other things about you. Kleint won’t expose Hinge’s secret sauce, but points to a study by researchers at Cambridge University who created an algorithm that correctly predicts male sexuality 88 percent of the time, and is 95 percent accurate at distinguishing between African Americans and Caucasian Americans, without ever having seen a photo.

The app is in limited release so far: Washington D.C. and New York City, primarily.

On The Relationship Status on Facebook

The title “Why I Married My Best Friend on Facebook” is ambiguous, but as you read this story of how Lilly O’Donnell changed her relationship status, you are left with a few interesting takeaways:

The virtual marriage came in handy again a few years later when I found myself in another relationship. I was happy, but after the disaster of my previous rush to labels and rings, had no desire to use the “b” and “g” words. I didn’t even tell my IRL friends about the relationship for the first year or so, let alone have any desire to announce it on Facebook. And when it ended, never having really been labeled, I didn’t have to announce that, either.

The fishbowl experience of Facebook and other online profiles seems in contradiction to this generation’s reputation for being noncommittal–to career paths, to jobs, to relationships. We live our lives out online, on full display, but we also want the freedom to change our minds every few days, to have ambiguous relationships and embrace what’s been labeled “hook-up culture.”

The simple, seemingly cutesy and trendy move of “marrying” your best friend on Facebook is a way around that contradiction–maintaining privacy without the suspicious omissions of the information-less profile.

I wouldn’t do this, but I can see why some would. This idea that everything has to be shared on Facebook is bizarre to me.

Emily Witt on Online Dating

In this London Review of Books piece, Emily Witt shares her thoughts on online dating. It’s an interesting read:

Like most people I had started internet dating out of loneliness. I soon discovered, as most do, that it can only speed up the rate and increase the number of encounters with other single people, where each encounter is still a chance encounter. Internet dating destroyed my sense of myself as someone I both know and understand and can also put into words. It had a similarly harmful effect on my sense that other people can accurately know and describe themselves. It left me irritated with the whole field of psychology. I began responding only to people with very short profiles, then began forgoing the profiles altogether, using them only to see that people on OK Cupid Locals had a moderate grasp of the English language and didn’t profess rabidly right-wing politics.

Internet dating alerted me to the fact that our notions of human behaviour and achievement, expressed in the agglomerative text of hundreds of internet dating profiles, are all much the same and therefore boring and not a good way to attract other people. The body, I also learned, is not a secondary entity. The mind contains very few truths that the body withholds. There is little of import in an encounter between two bodies that would fail to be revealed rather quickly. Until the bodies are introduced, seduction is only provisional.

In the depths of loneliness, however, internet dating provided me with a lot of opportunities to go to a bar and have a drink with a stranger on nights that would otherwise have been spent unhappy and alone. I met all kinds of people: an X-ray technician, a green tech entrepreneur, a Polish computer programmer with whom I enjoyed a sort of chaste fondness over the course of several weeks. We were both shy and my feelings were tepid (as, I gathered, were his), but we went to the beach, he told me all about mushroom foraging in Poland, he ordered his vegetarian burritos in Spanish, and we shared many mutual dislikes.

It is interesting how we tend to characterize the online vs. “real” worlds as such disparate entities…