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 Growing Up Feeling Unattractive

In a post titled “I Was Not a Pretty Child,” Hannah Dale Thompson reflects on what it was like growing up feeling unattractive and being made fun of by peers:

Being unattractive in your youth forces you to develop positive personality traits. That’s why comedians are not sexy. Relying on something other than appearance for attention breeds a larger-than-life personality. It breeds a confidence that is more than superficial. It breeds humor, and a social awareness and empathy that, I think, can only be developed from the outside. I am more charismatic, confident, interesting, and funny because I was an ugly sixteen-year-old. I am slightly less superficial and marginally more open-minded. I can stand up for myself. Three days after the best first date I have ever been on, my half-drunk suitor called to tell me I have more moxie than anyone else he’s ever met. I am proud of all of these things; people should take pride in overcoming obstacles and developing better personality traits. Even if the obstacles involve bushy eyebrows and the personality bonus leads to self-diagnosed histrionic personality disorder.

Being unattractive in your youth separates you from even the other awkward, unattractive kids. I never had a real date to a high school dance. The entire concept of “Sadie Hawkins” terrified me. I never made anyone’s “top five girls” list. I never made anybody’s “girls” list. By the age of eighteen, I had approximately zero experience with games or manipulation or difficult social interaction. 

It’s interesting to read about how she developed as a person as she grew more attractive in her twenties:

Sometime around my twentieth birthday, I became reasonably good-looking. I started dating lawyers and financiers in their late twenties and early thirties. I became the kind of girl other women approach. I live with a model. All of my friends are beautiful and interesting. If I’m being very honest, I’m always a little angry when I have to purchase my own drink. At the grocery store last November, a boy who was mercilessly cruel to me in high school approached my mom and told her that he was “sorry for being so mean to HD in high school” because he “saw on Facebook” that I was “pretty hot now.” My mother, God bless her, pointed out to him the ridiculousness of that apology.

But what of friendship?

Women my age, particularly the bright-young-thing-in-a-big-city set that I am lucky to be a part of, are inundated with advice. About sex, careers, feminism, children, boyfriends, hook-ups, grad school. Lean in, but not too far. You can do anything a man can do, as long as you’re well put-together and relatively inoffensive. Ask for more, but don’t get cocky. No one tells women my age about the importance of friendship.

In the end, these two sentences dig deep:

This wound is new, but feels familiar. It’s something I remember being used to.

I’ve gotten used to being ignored as well…

Becoming Better Through Practice, Leading to Transformation

This post by @saulofhearts titled “I Was A Pretty Strange Kid: Or, How I Became An Expert in the Things That Scared Me” is timely for me. It’s about becoming better at things through practice, iteration, failing, and persevering. Here’s a passage on improving his dating skills:

Around that same time, I decided to get serious about my dating life. I’d grown up in a pretty repressed environment — thirteen years of Catholic school, a virtually non-existent dating life, and a family who never talked about sex, much less suggested I have it.

In college, I went straight into a long-term relationship. While my college friends were dating casually and having one-night stands, I was happily monogamous.

When my girlfriend and I broke up, I thought it would be just a matter of time before I ended up in another relationship. I’m not a virgin, right? I know what I’m doing….

What I didn’t realize was that my long-term monogamous relationship had covered up the fact that I was terrible with women.

I didn’t know how to ask a girl out, or meet someone new at a party.

So what did I do? I went on a billion dates. I set up an OK Cupid profile, sent out a bunch of messages, and arranged to have dinner with some of the girls that I clicked with.

I was scared as hell, terrible at making small talk — was it OK to mention Burning Man? weed? sex? — and most of the dates were awkward.

But over time, I got better. And I continued to challenge myself.

I went to workshops: tantric yoga, cuddle parties, an S&M club. I grewcomfortable talking about subjects that would have embarrassed my 10-year-old self.

This is the key takeaway that I need to repeat, repeat, repeat:

We’re not defined by the identity that we grew up with. We’re not defined by the expectations other people have of us.

It’s time to start becoming a better human.

A Craigslist Missed Connection for the Ages

This is one of the best Craigslist missed connections I’ve ever read. It starts out rather ordinarily: on the Q train headed into Manhattan. But if you keep on reading, it’s like a love’s labor lost, sixty years in the making (or losing, depending on your perspective). Presented in its entirety:

I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train. 

I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do.

You got on at DeKalb and sat across from me and we made eye contact, briefly. I fell in love with you a little bit, in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you’re looking at and fall in love with that person. But still I think there was something there.

Several times we looked at each other and then looked away. I tried to think of something to say to you — maybe pretend I didn’t know where I was going and ask you for directions or say something nice about your boot-shaped earrings, or just say, “Hot day.” It all seemed so stupid.

At one point, I caught you staring at me and you immediately averted your eyes. You pulled a book out of your bag and started reading it — a biography of Lyndon Johnson — but I noticed you never once turned a page.

My stop was Union Square, but at Union Square I decided to stay on, rationalizing that I could just as easily transfer to the 7 at 42nd Street, but then I didn’t get off at 42nd Street either. You must have missed your stop as well, because when we got all the way to the end of the line at Ditmars, we both just sat there in the car, waiting.

I cocked my head at you inquisitively. You shrugged and held up your book as if that was the reason.

Still I said nothing.

We took the train all the way back down — down through Astoria, across the East River, weaving through midtown, from Times Square to Herald Square to Union Square, under SoHo and Chinatown, up across the bridge back into Brooklyn, past Barclays and Prospect Park, past Flatbush and Midwood and Sheepshead Bay, all the way to Coney Island. And when we got to Coney Island, I knew I had to say something.

Still I said nothing.

And so we went back up.

Up and down the Q line, over and over. We caught the rush hour crowds and then saw them thin out again. We watched the sun set over Manhattan as we crossed the East River. I gave myself deadlines: I’ll talk to her before Newkirk; I’ll talk to her before Canal. Still I remained silent.

For months we sat on the train saying nothing to each other. We survived on bags of skittles sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break dancers. I gave money to the beggars until I ran out of singles. When the train went above ground I’d get text messages and voicemails (“Where are you? What happened? Are you okay?”) until my phone ran out of battery.

I’ll talk to her before daybreak; I’ll talk to her before Tuesday. The longer I waited, the harder it got. What could I possibly say to you now, now that we’ve passed this same station for the hundredth time? Maybe if I could go back to the first time the Q switched over to the local R line for the weekend, I could have said, “Well, this is inconvenient,” but I couldn’t very well say it now, could I? I would kick myself for days after every time you sneezed — why hadn’t I said “Bless You”? That tiny gesture could have been enough to pivot us into a conversation, but here in stupid silence still we sat.

There were nights when we were the only two souls in the car, perhaps even on the whole train, and even then I felt self-conscious about bothering you. She’s reading her book, I thought, she doesn’t want to talk to me. Still, there were moments when I felt a connection. Someone would shout something crazy about Jesus and we’d immediately look at each other to register our reactions. A couple of teenagers would exit, holding hands, and we’d both think: Young Love.

For sixty years, we sat in that car, just barely pretending not to notice each other. I got to know you so well, if only peripherally. I memorized the folds of your body, the contours of your face, the patterns of your breath. I saw you cry once after you’d glanced at a neighbor’s newspaper. I wondered if you were crying about something specific, or just the general passage of time, so unnoticeable until suddenly noticeable. I wanted to comfort you, wrap my arms around you, assure you I knew everything would be fine, but it felt too familiar; I stayed glued to my seat.

One day, in the middle of the afternoon, you stood up as the train pulled into Queensboro Plaza. It was difficult for you, this simple task of standing up, you hadn’t done it in sixty years. Holding onto the rails, you managed to get yourself to the door. You hesitated briefly there, perhaps waiting for me to say something, giving me one last chance to stop you, but rather than spit out a lifetime of suppressed almost-conversations I said nothing, and I watched you slip out between the closing sliding doors.

It took me a few more stops before I realized you were really gone. I kept waiting for you to reenter the subway car, sit down next to me, rest your head on my shoulder. Nothing would be said. Nothing would need to be said.

When the train returned to Queensboro Plaza, I craned my neck as we entered the station. Perhaps you were there, on the platform, still waiting. Perhaps I would see you, smiling and bright, your long gray hair waving in the wind from the oncoming train.

But no, you were gone. And I realized most likely I would never see you again. And I thought about how amazing it is that you can know somebody for sixty years and yet still not really know that person at all.

I stayed on the train until it got to Union Square, at which point I got off and transferred to the L.

Spectacular. I wonder if the author of this masterpiece will come forward and get a book deal or something.

Philip Roth on Getting People Wrong

This week, I had a deep, liberating, and humbling conversation with someone whose intentions I got completely wrong. The signals, signs, body language: I’ve misread everything.

And so: I am reminded of this quote from Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, on getting people wrong. It’s one of my all-time favorite quotes:

You get them wrong before you meet them: you get them wrong while you’re with them and then you get home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on a significance that is ludicrous, so ill equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we are alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride.

So, thank you, Mr. Roth for this reminder. I am wrong because I am alive. I am alive, and so I’m wrong.

A Desert, a Smiling Dog, and a Revelation

A hasty engagement and subsequent marriage turned into anguish for Liesl Schillinger, who realized she was incompatible with her husband. So she goes off to the desert in New Mexico and has a revelatory experience:

I continue amending my idea of fulfillment as I go. I have no regrets except for one: I am not allowed to own a dog in my apartment building. I travel too much to have a dog, anyway. Out of curiosity, though, I sent the photo of the big white dog to a breeder, who told me what kind it was: a Samoyed.

The breed, also known as “the smiling dog,” is famous for its friendly temperament. The dog I met in Taos would have shared its good mood with any creature it happened to encounter on its run. I’m so glad I was that creature.

I wish I still had the picture, but I will never lose the impression bestowed upon me by that generous, exultant animal on that long-ago day, when I most needed to be reminded that happiness is not an intellectual choice, it’s an instinct, and a good in itself.

A beautiful conclusion in this Modern Love story.

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.