Only One of These Things Isn’t Like the Other

A good friend of mine was bitching like a petulant child explaining his frustration with eHarmony.  Though I’ve had limited success with my dating website of choice, I suggested that he give it a whirl.  For reasons that aren’t really germane to this post, I wrote his dating profile for him, an exercise that I found fascinating for what I learned about our friendship, and as a literary challenge.

I was amazed at how quickly his profile was viewed and he began receiving messages.  It was a stark contrast to my initial experience – my views came at a trickle and I didn’t receive an unsolicited message from a woman for several weeks.  This differential seemed to underscore the site’s internal analysis of response rates based on demographics.

My friend and I have roughly the same stats when it comes to the searchable categories for the site. He’s a couple of years older, we both have advanced degrees, are roughly the same height, have the same build,  share a fondness for adult beverages, are mostly agnostic, lean pretty hard to the progressive political scale, and most people would say we are about equal in the looks department.  The one difference?  He’s about as white as they come and I am not.

The principle of Occam’s Razor would suggest that difference as the cause, but like most people of color, I wanted to eliminate every other possible cause before making that ugly leap.  Perhaps in the year or so that I’ve used the site, I have become more proficient at the style of writing preferred there.  Could it be that the pictures were simply more flattering of my friend?

I know that physical attractiveness is an unquantifiable issue but I think that it would be hard to argue that he is Lyle Lovett to my Denzel Washington or I am Flavor Flav to his Brad Pitt.

In a mildly unscientific effort to test this, I created the exact same profile in a different city.  I selected Chicago because it is a larger city (creating a seeming advantage for me because of a larger dating pool.)  To add to my perceived advantages, I bumped my height to the six feet, two inches the doctor’s promised my younger self I would be.  I’ve known my friend for years and I am certain that the pictures of him weren’t the best ones I’ve seen just the ones that I had available.  Neither account completed any of the questions so the “Match Percentage” for women to both profiles was zero.  Additionally, neither account viewed any profiles during the study period, so there were no pingback views or “You Looked at me so let me look at you” views.

The Results:

Profile Views in the first 24hours, 48hours, week:

Same Words His Pictures: 36, 63, 212

Same Words My Pictures: 10, 18, 63

Elapsed Time Before Receiving First Message:

Same Words His Pictures: 34 minutes

Same Words My Pictures: more than a week and counting

Number of Messages in the First 24hours, 48hours, week

Same Words His Pictures: 3, 5, 10

Same Words My Pictures: zero, zip, and zilch


Preferences are preferences and I am not drawing any line in the sand conclusions, but I am fatigued by the implication. I’m tired of telling this story because way too many people realize that a story is just a few synonyms away from a fable and then just a few more from a tall-tale. And so it leaves me standing here under the weight of a lived-certainty that nobody believes and bracing for the ridicule of my anger.


This post was only possible because of the editorial assistance of my friend and fellow blogger, franco.Beans.  If he isn’t in your blog reader, you need to fix that… like right now.


20 Responses to Only One of These Things Isn’t Like the Other

  1. Gilahi says:

    Could it just mean that there are more white people looking for white people (i.e. – desperate white people) on internet dating services than there are people of color? That is, rather than mass bigotry taking place, is it possible that you’re just not the demographic that these sites attract? Seems to me that there’s an untapped fortune to be made here. There’s already Jdate, which caters to Jewish people looking for Jewish people. Perhaps you should start up a non-Caucasian-oriented internet dating site. You could get rich!

    Too bad that there isn’t a site dedicated to people who just want to find people.

  2. I’m not trying to downplay your experience at all, or suggest that your frustration isn’t warranted. I would simply suggest that those data points say far more about “society” than they do about you, and about a generalized problem with online dating.

    Because when one enters search terms into an online dating site, I suspect the significant tendency is to enter in what is familiar and comforting, rather than to be genuinely open to new experiences. Especially with the demographic appeal for that particular site, which skews heavily toward the overly educated, technically proficient social introverts.

    Either way, it’s truly their loss. And, I wish it were different.

    The way the site works one would have to make an active choice to eliminate members of a certain race in their search results. It isn’t as simple as leaning toward the familiar, one makes a choice.

  3. A says:

    My brief encounter with online dating sites pretty much ended when OK Cupid provided me as a top match for my step-brother.

    Ha, that would make me stop too.

  4. titania says:

    I think there may be a selection issue as someone pointed out above. Think about what kind of demographics use online dating sites, I think it is mostly Caucasians, and my thought is that people mostly try to find someone who is similar to them (that is, caucasians, look for caucasians, religious nuts for another religious nut, so on and so forth). There may also be some of what is called in economics “statistical discrimination”, which is mostly profiling, they look at your picture, and they decided who you are (or who you are likely to be) in terms of socioeconomic status, education, etc. Unfortunately, affrican american and minorities in general (hey, I am Hispanic), tend to be poorer and with lower educational levels, which is not your case, but they may not bother to read once they see the picture and they put you in a “bucket”. Am I making sense here?

    All of this would have real statistical value in explaining minute differences but when it’s this dramatic reductive reasoning can only eliminate so much.

  5. Vie says:

    I’ve been on OkCupid for a few years. There statistical analysis for then new blog is very well done, and also very disturbing. I find it incredibly depressing – I wish I found it more surprising. I also find it funny that people try to claim that it’s not racist at all, because, well, it is. Moreover, the fact that the one profile received so few views in comparison to the other profile suggests that people delineated their search preferences to include race.

    Though, one note: straight men are oftentimes really bad at picking out attractive photos of themselves. I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than a few times. Have a female friend confirm that they’re good pics. This won’t stop people from being racist, but perhaps it will wield you more results.

    As you noted, it is an active choice that people make and then tell themselves means nothing.

  6. can you set me up with him?
    we all get judged…alllll the time…everywhere… try going out blond one night… and then…try to get taken seriously at a meeting at the world bank…you really cant underestimate the arena…

    Judgment is a harsh mistress and she visits all of us too frequently, but with all due respect, I think the issues differ.

  7. I have the same problem with the issue of homosexuality. I am embarrassed for humanity that such things are deemed even remotely relevant. I just don’t get it. At all.

    2009 and we’ve come a long way but really, it is rather embarrassing that we still deal with it as frequently (but discuss it so rarely.)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Man, I can feel the frustration in your voice. Wish I had an answer but I think we both know the truth. I will say this, I’m an AfrAmer female and I had no idea you were also Afr Amer until you shared the story about the Black Caucus event! I was already a huge fan but knowing that you were an intelligent, successful brother who can turn a phrase and make a bearnaise made me love your site even more. :-)(disclaimer: I am not saying black is better. please note that I did say I was a big fan of his site even when I thought it was written by someone of a different race. those who get it, get it. Nuff said.)

    It’s not really frustration as I didn’t expect the results to be anything but what they were.

  9. kate.d. says:

    i fb linked their statistics blog post when it came out – as was said on racialicious, it was just so nice to have some facts! data! hard evidence! to back up the nagging suspicions of so many. interesting (but sadly not surprising) that you’re finding a similar story with your own unscientific version…

    It was just an accidental experiment for me that yielded similar results.

  10. Jean says:

    It’s an accurate, but unfortunate observation. Arbitrary nonsense like that is ridiculous. When will people ever learn?

    We have to have faith, right?

  11. f.B says:

    I had a professor once ask me how far we should be willing to go for “the cause.” At the heart of the question was how much any person should be asked to make his/her decisions about love with an eye towards racial harmony. And we couldn’t personalize it; we couldn’t say we should make our own decisions that way and so couldn’t ask anyone else to do so.

    And that was the most frustrating part; the realization of a problem that feels completely out of our control.

    To some extent, problems without solutions aren’t really problems and thus not worth to much thought.

  12. […] more, read Restaurant Refugee’s experiment comparing  responses on EHarmony to an identical profile with pictures of a white person and a […]

  13. anon says:

    Just because someone doesn’t want to date out of their own race doesn’t make them racist.

    Your comment would have so much more credibility if it hadn’t been left anonymously. Why do you feel the need to be anonymous? Go back and reread the post because I didn’t accuse anyone specific of any specific thing.

    Sure there might be legitimate and non-race related reason for a some people to choose to date exclusively within one race or another. But there is a distinct difference when the aggregate population responds in one way or another.

    Don’t wish to engage in this conversation via comment and reply? I’d be happy to have it via email at your leisure.

    ETA: the prior anon comment isn’t more valid because of her agreement, but because there was an actual email address and some thought rather than a blanket statement that seemingly ignored the argument put forth.

  14. elle dubya says:

    one day it won’t matter, one day the option to filter one versus the other out won’t even be there. i hope i’m alive on that day.

    What kinda chaps my ass about this is that OKC didn’t always have the ability to search based upon or in exclusion to race. It was added a few months ago as part of an “upgrade.” That’s what makes the prior comment so odious to me. A race based search would imply that people of a certain stripe are so unattractive that you don’t even want them to appear in your search results.

  15. liz says:

    fascinating . . . someone could write a PhD thesis on this. i have a friend who met his wife on eHarmony (or something like it), and he did NOT put in his profile that he is blind. he didn’t want women to immediately write him off just because he can’t see. they’ve been happily married for over a year.

    I know you didn’t mean to equate non-whiteness with a physical challenge/disability, but it is so sad that the analogy works on some levels when it comes to dating.

  16. Alice says:

    one of the things i thought was interesting from that okcupid analysis they did on their own members was that it wasn’t just that women were not writing black men; it was that white men got more views / responses / etc than other men from women of ALL races. they were getting messages from black, asian, & hispanic women, while those same women were practically ignoring everyone else on the site, even members of their own race. i’m not sure what the conclusion there is, except the one that you’ve already made: apparently it’s a lot easier to be a white guy on an online dating site than.. well.. any other guy.

    I wish I had the proper words to pontificate on the self-loathing that contributes to your point.

  17. jamy says:

    Your mini-experiment is rather similar to the paired-testing method HUD uses to find discrimination in the housing market (I’ll spare you the details). In short, I’m almost certain that what you found is true “disparate treatment.” You have an even better test, actually, because the “qualifications” are exactly the same on both profiles and the only thing that varied is race.

    Hey everyone: IT IS RACIST TO REJECT PEOPLE SOLELY BECAUSE OF RACE. In fact, isn’t that the very definition of racism?

    Sorry for the painful realization. Our society really sucks sometimes.

    It wasn’t a realization, more like confirmation of a suspicion.

  18. Your findings, while disappointing, aren’t shocking. I once dated a guy who refused to eat fish because it tasted fishy. I argued that only OLD fish tastes fishy and, more importantly, ruling out the entire ocean was silly seeing shrimp and smoked salmon taste nothing alike. He still refused to try any of it.

    Some people prefer to exist in a sheltered box that lacks interest and curiosity. They are the same people who have no interest in visiting France because they saw “Paris” on their last trip to Vegas. They are also the same people who prefer Olive Garden and Chilis to (insert name of tasty local eatery here).

    You, my dear, deserve someone who thinks outside the box, not someone who lives in it.

    I think people with this type of myopia live in a mental prison not a box… and thank you.

  19. Michael P says:

    I found this blog and this particular post thanks to a black/latina woman I met on OKCupid who’s pretty much had the same experience as yourself and, well, myself. I’m a fairly attractive 26-year-old black male professional and pretty much get shut down on that site. I get a few profile views each day but practically no unsolicited messages. What’s more is–the response rate to messages I send is dismally low, even if the recipient has indicated her interest by rating my attractiveness highly. I realize that my experience hasn’t been as controlled an experiment as your own but have also heard anecdotes from other attractive, educated blacks indicating that their profiles are routinely dismissed by OKCupid’s white majority. I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting this to happen–it’s pretty much been the case my entire life, as I’ve attended predominantly white institutions of learning where the selection of women has been mostly white. I’d get passed over in these places, too, even though many of these women would candidly tell me how attractive they found me to be.

    I posed a question in my OKCupid journal, basically inquiring as to why this sort of racial bias exists on the site. One person–a 30-year-old white woman–took the time to posit her theory. She presumes that much of the problem does stem from a quiet racism that persists among whites–a racism which basically degrades the perceived value of persons of color within the context of a romantic relationship and thus increases the likelihood of their dismissal. Her theory, which has long been held by myself, is that a) the racist views are transported from one of whites to another through family and community and b) the media helps to perpetuate the perception that whites are the mainstream.

    An example of the latter point: the media portrays whites in lead roles for much the same reason as cartoon animals are anthropomorphized–so that they might better depict an image to which a mainstream audience can relate; that said, even if those movie roles call for a non-white person in the lead (e.g., Prince of Persia [2010]), a white person is cast in the role (e.g., Jake Gyllenhaal), because the goal of movie companies is to sell tickets, and the best way to sell tickets is to appeal to the largest, most widely-accesible customer demographic. Within the United States, that demographic happens to consist of people of European descent. In India, Indians are that majority, and thus, Indian movies feature Indian actors and actresses in key roles. Anyway, I think that part of why non-whites are regularly dismissed on sites like OKCupid is that whites tend to be regarded as the ideal, because that’s what society feeds to us.

    Unlike yourself, this frustrates me nearly to the point of abject bitterness. I’m 26-years-old and feel completely isolated–especially in the area in which I reside (Minneapolis, MN). Whites are probably 80% of the population. I know that there are blacks who seem to get along just fine with everyone, regardless of their color, but I find it difficult and altogether disingenuous to play to the crowd; I know who I am, what I’m about, and that ought to be sufficient for me to get along well in this world, because I’m a pretty good guy. Still, human beings are social creatures, and I’ve always felt as though I’ve been experiencing a sort of social death whereby I’m unable to connect with my peer group or have a normal life because I just don’t fit in due to racial boundaries. I’m willing to admit that my thinking may be flawed, but I know what it feels like for others to simply wish that you did not exist.

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