A few years ago, when she was in her mid-thirties, writer and data cruncher Amy Webb was fed up with dating the many Mr. Wrongs that eHarmony and JDate kept matching her with.
“You’re not casting a wide enough net,” her friends and family insisted.
But after one particularly abysmal date, Webb concluded that the real reason dating sites were sending her so many liars and losers was that she wasn’t being picky enough.
So she sat down, drink in hand, and listed every single quality she wanted her future husband to have. The result of this midnight brainstorming session was a collection of 72 items, from big things—he had to be smart, funny, and debt-free—to subtler qualities like musical taste (yes to 1920s jazz, no to the soundtrack from “Cats”). And height (Five foot ten to six foot two.) She also wanted to avoid certain annoying habits, which lead to criteria like: “No high-fiving allowed.“
Webb, apparently, has a very strong aversion to being high-fived.
Further, he mustn’t mock her for loving the music of George Michael. Or be bad at “Trivia.“ And he had to loathe chain restaurants.
Webb dubbed this her “Mary Poppins Husband List,” after the scene in the Disney movie in which the children draft an ad in song for their ideal nanny, with items like: “Never be cross or cruel/Never give us Castor oil or gruel.”
“None of the men Jdate, Match, or eHarmony had introduced me to,” Webb writes, “resembled anything like the man I’d just created with this list.”
Even so, she decided not to settle for less.
But how to find him?
First Webb decided to check out the competition. She went online, disguised as her dream date. She posted a number of slightly varying profiles of her ideal tall, smart, debt-free, Arby’s-shunning, jazz-loving dude, then evaluated the women who turned up to try to win his heart. Noting their overall popularity scores, Webb studied the profiles and approaches of the most successful among them to see what did and didn’t work. Based on this analysis, Webb then redrafted her own online dating profile, replacing her earnest but boring description with one that didn’t alter the facts, but emphasized a friendly, upbeat attitude, a desire to have fun … and a little cleavage.
Men who are looking for love online, she‘d observed, find a little cleavage very compelling.
This meant upgrading her photo. The old one showed her in a suit, giving a lecture at a prestigious conference. In the new one, she’s at home, wearing a cute, clingy dress, a smile on her face and a glass of wine in her hand.
“I didn’t want to hide who I was or to pretend to be someone else,” she writes. “I just needed to… present the best possible version of myself.”
The moment Webb posted her new profile, date offers flooded in. Many seemed like winners. But she refused to date anyone who, based on his profile and a few brief online interactions, didn’t achieve a total point score determined by the weighted point values she’d assigned to the items on her Wish List.
Webb, a lover of spreadsheets and data analysis, was no longer leaving anything to chance.
Data, A Love Story is a riveting book, if only because it’s fun to read about a tech-savvy woman who decides to take charge of her own destiny by gaming online dating.
But what I really loved was that Mary Poppins Husband Hunting List. A few of my favorite items:
•“Must be from Chicago or willing to fly there often.”
•“Appreciates the beauty of a well-crafted spreadsheet.”
•Hates to watch televised sports. Especially golf.
•“Mac person preferred over PC person.”
•Must like smaller dogs, like beagles or dachshunds.
•Stylish balding with high-end glasses? Great. But no “surprising balding obscured with a hat.”
•“Wants to have two kids with me. This is non-negotiable.”
•Doesn’t wear athletic team shirts or jerseys.
•Likes Peter Sellers movies.
•“Must weigh at least 20 pounds more than me at all times.”
•Dislikes “long road trips, mall shopping, wine culture. and hanging out in bars listening to local bands.”
•“He should never feel compelled to punch a hole in the wall.”
•He must “(b)e very, very, very good in bed. I cannot stress this enough. He has to be amazing.”
(Amen to this one, sister.)
And not on the list, but surely implicit? When Prince Charming eventually learned about The List, he’d better find it quirky and charming, not weird and off-putting.
So what happened when Webb finally found Brian, Mr. 72 Shades of Perfect?
“I have to admit that reading through her 72-point wish list was a little creepy,” he says, “but not in the way you might think. [That] list described me so perfectly, it was almost psychic.”
Especially, one hopes, the amazing-in-bed part.
They court. He proposes marriage. She accepts.
Not only that, but she also gets a published book out of the experience.
For a writer, that’s two happy endings.
Would Webb’s method work for everybody? Perhaps not. But it’s clearly a great way to avoid dating a short dude who dons a sports jersey, takes you to a performance of Cats, and wants to high-five you afterwards.