Dr. Cecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for us in many articles over the years. This week she presents her contrarian view of a husband-hunting manual we reviewed last Thursday—Data, a Love Story.  Roz Warren’s wry review laid out Amy Webb’s Internet search for a husband—amazingly successful, given her method. Webb laid down 72 demands that her suitor must fulfill—requirements as minor as “Mac person preferred over PC” and as major as “Wants to have two kids with me. This is non-negotiable.” She got her man—and by being picky!

Data, A Love Story

As Roz Warren made clear in her post last week, Data: A Love Story is very amusing. And it’s heartening, too—the writer’s self-confidence should be an example to us all! Her proactive approach to Internet dating is what it’s all about.

However, I have some serious issues about what Amy Webb’s research and subsequent man-hunting approach reveals about the still sorry state of the battle of the sexes.

Though Webb herself is a woman of many accomplishments and would probably call herself a feminist, she abandoned all that in pursuit of a husband. For research purposes, she masqueraded on the Internet as a man—to find out just what her kind of guy wants in a woman.

As Roz described last week, Webb, a discouraged online dater, decided to use her skills as a number-cruncher to come up with some formulae of her own to help her find more suitable dates. First she crafted her ideal man—with startling precision (each of those 72 characteristics had a weighted numerical value). She posted several online profiles of men matching these characteristics (doctors, lawyers—you get the picture), complete with photos from stock photo sites, and waited to see who replied. Thus she was able to observe the profiles of the respondees and see how her “men” interacted with them. She could judge what her men wanted by checking out how generally popular these women were in the online world.

Her research led her to change her picture (her new picture showed her in a cleavage-revealing clingy dress, holding a glass of wine). Indeed, she also had to alter her whole profile. What she found out was that the “popular” women presented themselves as generically as possible—that is, as upbeat, fun-loving, sexy, and adventurous, and that’s about it. While Webb’s list of things she sought in a man was incredibly detailed, it turns out that what men supposedly want is quite limited: cleavage, fun, and to feel tall. (She found that every single one of the women in the most-viewed profiles was listed as under 5 feet 4 inches, so she concluded that height was a big factor.)

So Webb refashioned her profile in the spirit of a cheerleader, presenting herself like these women (though listing her real height of 5 feet 6 inches). Though it’s true that her original profile was too detailed (making it likely to be skipped), she is a person of great accomplishment and she herself was seeking the same qualities in her man.

Some of the changes Webb made to her profile are ones that I usually recommend—especially choosing profile pictures with Internet dating in mind. Which means that they must present a woman as attractive and appealing, sexy (but not too suggestive), and friendly.

However, I also recommend fashioning a profile that will attract the kind of person whom you might want to meet—so if you are an intellectual, don’t hide it, since that’s what you are seeking in someone else. This is not, however, the approach that Webb took. She remade herself into a generically appealing fun-loving type while underplaying her main advantages.

How is it that she was able to attract intelligent men this way? One thing that puzzles me is this: Her fake profiles of intelligent men attracted women who’d made themselves sound like  unaccomplished cheerleader types. And the cheerleader types were popular. But how do we know that “real life” intelligent men would like them? These women are often marked as favorites on the dating sites—but how do we know that the kinds of men Webb liked were the ones doing the choosing, not the losers?

Finally, though Webb got 14 replies the first night she posted her new ad, she struck gold with the first man she responded to. So we don’t learn how many of the others are men who would have met her standards, nor how much drop-off there might have been (drop-off is typical after an ad has been around a while).

The most compelling thing about her story, and the most important, is that she knew what she wanted and refused to settle for less, despite the fact that there was enormous pressure all around her to date anyone with a Y chromosome. Perhaps not everyone knows herself as well as Webb does, or is as opinionated, but her self-confidence is inspiring. Some of her criteria, such as refusing to date any man who watches sports on TV, cut out an awfully large portion of the male population and may be dangerously limiting, but there are some things a person just can’t live with, I guess.

I have one more criticism, and it’s a serious one. When Webb put her male profiles up on the Internet site and was interacting with hopeful women, she limited herself to three interactions and then told them she wasn’t interested. Though it is important to have a thick skin when you engage in online dating, it’s hard for most not to take it as a personal rejection when this happens, and Amy Webb gave no serious consideration to the pain she might be causing other women during her research.

Later in her book she describes how incredibly excited she got when a man who seemed desirable contacted her. Yet, as a (fake) man, she showed “interest” over and over to other women, only to disappoint them. Sadly, the data in Data, A Love Story” suggests that your grandmother was right about how to get a man, “The Rules” are still in full force, and feminism still has a long way to go.