Match made in algorithm: Students turn to dating survey | #tinder | #pof


Love is in the air — and online — at the University of Michigan.

More than 2,900 undergraduate students — approximately one out of every 10 — have completed a new matchmaking service survey, dubbed the Michigan Marriage Pact, as of Thursday afternoon. LSA junior Elien Michielssen, one of the survey’s creators, said a team of students created the online questionnaire for a class project in Psychology 223.

“There’s a lot of dating sites out there — some that people are comfortable with and some that people aren’t — and we wanted to do something that was Michigan-specific,” Michielssen said. “We wanted to bring it to Michigan and spice up the campus a little bit.”

Michielssen said the questionnaire, which opened Saturday afternoon, has a lifespan of 21 days. At the end of the submission period, students will be emailed their match’s name and potentially a message from their match, though Michielssen said there is a possibility that not every person who completes the questionnaire will have a match.

Participants answer a series of 40 questions, ranging from the likelihood of using a prenuptial agreement to views on gun ownership. The questionnaire also asks students to rate the levels of their drug and alcohol use, sex lives, cleanliness, spending habits and other personality traits.

Based on the responses, an algorithm finds another person who it deems the best fit for each individual participant and the two receive each other’s email as their match. Once that information is sent out, it is up to the students to decide how to proceed, as there is no requirement for participants to communicate with their matches.

Michielssen noted the service is only open to undergraduate students, so any graduate students or alumni who attempt to fill out the questionnaire will be disqualified. Only a valid University email is required to fill out the form, but the software filters out non-undergraduate emails. 

LSA senior Beatrice Kelly-Andrews said she found the questions in the survey to be similar to those found in a compatibility test. While she is not seriously looking for a relationship, Kelly-Andrews said she is interested to see what the creators deemed important for a match and who the algorithm finds for her. 

“I would sort of love to meet the person who someone else says is perfect for me and see what aspects of myself from the survey are found in other people that make them ‘perfect,’” Kelly-Andrews said. “I’m also not looking for love or a relationship, so I would absolutely reach out to them and be like, ‘Hey, want to grab coffee and hang out?’ Like, maybe you’re my best friend, maybe you’re my arch nemesis, maybe you’re just a cool person, but I sort of need to let them know I’m not looking to date them.”

To come up with the questions, Michielssen said she and her group of co-creators researched compatibility. The group used their findings to draft questions related to issues important to a successful relationship, while also keeping the questions engaging for students.

LSA junior Nick Cassar, who is also a student in Psychology 223 but not a member of this group, took the questionnaire and said he would be interested to meet the person who matches with him.

Cassar said he found the questions about sexual habits important, as they relate to healthy relationships.

“It would still be really cool to see this person (who) is clearly a lot like me, their answers were extremely similar to mine,” Cassar said. “I’m actually in a relationship, so I’m definitely not looking for the love of my life, but, hey, maybe in 20 years I can go back to this person and marry them.”

This type of service is not a new phenomenon on college campuses. According to The Harvard Crimson, Datamatch, a matchmaking system created by Harvard University students in 1994, expanded to Brown, Columbia and Wellesley Universities in 2018.

In 2017, students at Stanford University created an algorithm, named the Stanford Marriage Pact, to match students. Michielssen said the Stanford Marriage Pact was her team’s original inspiration, though the questionnaire was private, so all the questions her team asks are original.

LSA junior Kendall Johnson said she felt the questionnaire was a better avenue for finding a relationship than dating applications like Tinder, but she does not like the fact she will only receive one person back as a match. Johnson also said she recognized there may be issues if students who took the survey looking for a relationship were matched with students who took it for entertainment.

“Even when you’re on Tinder, you don’t know who’s that serious about it and who’s not, and that’s just part of the dating experience,” Johnson said. “You’re not always going to find someone who’s looking for the same thing as you, and you just have to be able to handle that and bounce back and be cool with it. So, obviously, if someone was really hoping to find their future partner, hopefully they find them, but they can’t be that upset if they don’t.”

Kelly-Andrews said, if anything, the matching service was the opposite of Tinder because participants know they have something in common with their match but have not had a chance to talk to them. On Tinder, there is an immediate opportunity for discussion but no guarantee of similarities. Johnson noted Tinder is heavily based on photos and physical features, while the questionnaire is focused on personality, which could provide the opportunity for more meaningful connections.

However, others, like LSA sophomore Patrick Potoczak, still find at least some knowledge about physical appearance important. Though he said he can understand the value in not having any information about looks in the matching system, he said physical attraction is necessary for relationships to succeed.

“I think physical appearance is very important, so I’m curious to see how that would be or what the general consensus is to see if personalities match, but appearances do not,” Potoczak said. “My biggest concern is that, number one, I’m just going to get matched with my friend or someone I already know, and then my second biggest one is that I won’t be physically attracted to the person because of their appearance.”

While Michielssen said the Pact’s website did poke fun at Tinder and the awkward situations students can find themselves in, her team was not trying to brand their service as an alternative for the application.

The purpose of the service, Michielssen said, is actually to give participants a backup plan so they can focus on their academics and careers. Then, if they do not have a significant partner in the future, they can go back to their Michigan Marriage Pact match.  

“It’s not really a dating service, and it isn’t meant to set people up with a match right away,” Michielssen said. “Its main intent is just to provide people with a backup plan so that if they both end up single in 20 years, then that’s the person that they get married to.” 

Barstool Sports, a sports and pop culture blog, featured the questionnaire in a story on its University of Michigan-focused Instagram account. Michielssen said the account said in the post the creators were lonely computer science students, but noted her and her group members were neither lonely nor majoring in computer science.

The link has also gained traction by circulating in group chats for fraternity and sorority life and other organizations on campus, as well as through word of mouth. Kelly-Andrews, who is not on social media, said she heard about the questionnaire from her roommates and sent it to many people she knew in addition to a group chat for students in her major.

She also noted the importance of having a diverse set of participants. If the majority of respondents are one gender and looking for the opposite gender, she explained, then it would be more difficult for the algorithm to find the people in that group a match.

“I filled it out, and then I realized I was sort of scared that if, depending on how small it got, it would just be my friend group and my friends’ friend groups and some computer science majors,” Kelly-Andrews said. “If (the creators) are looking to make people fall in love, I think they have a responsibility to make sure everybody has an option to be in love, or meet a friend or ghost someone new.”

Michielssen said her team has seen more female participants than male so far. She said they are hopeful this will even out over time and have recently noticed an uptick in heterosexual males completing the form.

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