Data, A Love Story

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.

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  • Debby October 19, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    This is such a great example of dating success based on knowing yourself and being willing to stand by what is important to you in the partner you are seeking. While most of us would love to meet our ideal guy within our circle of influence, that isn’t always possible. Internet dating has the positive of being exposed to a lot more guys than you would typically meet in daily living. But the negative is that a lot of those guys just won’t be a good match. That’s where clearly stating who you are and what you want helps you avoid having to even talk to most of the potential mismatches and you can quickly sift through the other possibilities. While this may sound a bit calculating – dating is really no different than a job interview – it’s in everybody’s best interests to be thorough and clear about what you want and what you have to offer in a relationship. And like job interviews it’s important to put your best foot forward, and as Amy said not to be fake, but “present the best possible version of yourself”.

  • Andrea June 25, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    I love the concept not because I’m single but because I’m obsessed with Mary Poppins and its universal relevance to so many life experiences. Pitching a book called “The Poppins Revelation” to publishers now in fact on its parallels to our journey through autism to spiritual transformation. Thanks for keeping her legacy alive!

  • Mary G. June 21, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Having met my husband the old fashioned way (being introduced by his sister) and at the ripe old age of 21(yes – I WAS unbelievable young!), I can not imagine trying to meet someone in the age of internet dating. Still, we have joked about the idea of creating profiles and seeing if the matrix finds us to be a good “match” after over 30 years together….
    I have a friend whose sister had been trying to meet someone for years and claimed she had dated nearly every eligible bachelor in NY, NJ and CT. She said she was going to write a book and the first chapter would be entitled: “Please Tell Me You Don’t Live With Your Mother.”

    It’s the little things….

  • Nancy June 21, 2013 at 11:19 am

    The best part of the story,as Roz Warren reports it, is her “hacking” the system by going on dating sites as her dream man, culling the responses and reconfiguring her real online self to conform. Smart! This lady sounds pretty high maintenance…that’s quite a long list of picky specs…but it’s cute that she found her dream man through outsmarting the system!

  • Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) June 21, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I am so glad I found my guy the old fashioned way—sorting silverware at our college work study jobs in the cafeteria. I didn’t even know you could watch golf on TV then. I’m not even sure high fives had been invented yet. Fist bumps—definitely not.

  • Stephen June 21, 2013 at 7:42 am

    My list is easy – no one like this woman!!!!!!!!!

  • Joan Price June 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    If this book is close to as interesting and well written as your review, I want to read it!

    When I give my workshop for single seniors — “How the Heck Do I Date at This Age?” — I recommend making a list of 10 non-negotiables, 10 preferences but not absolutely essential, and 10 more “as long as I’m asking.” I think that’s plenty — 72 sounds like a high-maintenance woman. (“What? You want to hear a local band? We’re through!”)

  • kate June 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    A heartwarming story of data analysis. And in the end, true science conquers all.

  • Kelly June 20, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    While the list is a little bit creepy, you have to hand it to her for making what she wanted happen. I think that sometimes its healthy to be with someone that’s interested in a few different things than you (but not too many) 😉

  • Diane Dettmann June 20, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    I met my first husband in 1971 in a noisy, smoke filled bar, fell in love and married him a year later. We spent 28 wonderful years together. After his death, I never thought I’d ever marry again. Six years later, at the age of 58, I signed up for and met a wonderful man. I guess, no matter how you meet a guy, time will tell. Read about my journey in my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal

  • jody June 20, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Sounds like a good approach. Hope I never need it but if I do I’m getting her book. Maybe I’ll get it anyway. Nice review.

  • Amber June 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Let’s switch it up.

    Man writes a book called How I Gamed Online Dating to meet my match.

    His wife hunting list:

    * Wants to have two kids with me. This is non-negotiable.
    * Must weigh at least 20 pounds less than me at all times.
    * She must be very, very, very good in bed. I cannot stress this enough. She has to be amazing.

    Front page on Jezebel, by Lindy West probably, a article full of ire and disgust.

  • Tobysgirl June 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Hate to be the cynic here, but let’s see how long this lasts.

  • Mark Lowe June 20, 2013 at 10:29 am

    This is wonderful!

  • hillsmom June 20, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for another winner Roz, and a morning laugh!