Science Just Proved That Online Dating Is a Waste of Your Time—Here’s Why

Relationship science has a long way to go before it figures out an algorithm for true love.

Online dating is a minefield—it’s so easy to say the wrong thing. Don’t worry, because the effort may not be worth it anyway. Although eHarmony claims that 20 percent of current, committed relationships began online, new research suggests that it’s pure luck whether you’ll actually click with your online connection: Matching people by shared traits and values is a woefully inadequate method, says science.

New findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, claim it’s actually impossible to figure out whether people who have the same values and character traits will fall in love. “Attraction for a particular person may be difficult or impossible to predict before two people have actually met,” says Samantha Joel, a University of Utah psychology professor and lead author, in a press release. “A relationship is more than the sum of its parts. There is a shared experience that happens when you meet someone that can’t be predicted beforehand.”

The study, which used speed-dating data, confirms what online dating skeptics have said for years: No computer-based algorithm can predict whether two people will feel that indescribable connection, that je ne sais quoi, that certain something. Computers may be able to predict how much someone would desire someone else, or how much they would have in common, but they can’t pinpoint exactly what makes two people fall in love. (Will these real-life stories about true love inspire you to find your soulmate?)

The researchers used a cutting-edge machine-learning algorithm to test whether it was possible to predict unique romantic desire based on the questionnaire responses of speed daters, covering more than 100 traits and preferences. After completing the questionnaires, participants met in a series of four-minute dates, then rated their interactions, revealing how interested, and sexually attracted, they were to each person they dated.

Once the numbers were crunched, the researchers were surprised to find that they were unable to predict even one couple that was a match. “We found we cannot anticipate how much individuals will uniquely desire each other in a speed-dating context with any meaningful level of accuracy,” says Joel. “I thought that out of more than 100 predictors, we would be able to predict at least some portion of the variance. I didn’t expect we would find zero.”

“It may be that we never figure it out, that it is a property we can never get at because it is simply not predictable,” explains co-author Paul W. Eastwick of the University of California, Davis. “Romantic desire may well be more like an earthquake, involving a dynamic and chaos-like process, than a chemical reaction involving the right combination of traits and preferences.”

Still looking for love? These secrets from professional matchmakers might help.