Because it wasn’t practical to execute a thirty-year longitudinal study, he and Warren decided to measure existing relationships, surveying people who were already married. The idea was to look for patterns that produce satisfaction in marriages, then try to reproduce them in the matching of singles.
Buckwalter’s studies soon yielded data that confirmed one of Warren’s longtime observations: namely, that the members of a happy couple are far more similar to each other than are the members of an unhappy couplepatibility, in other words, rests on shared traits. “I can’t tell you how delighted I was,” Warren said, “when the factor-analytic studies started bringing back the same stuff I’d seen for years.”
But could this be true across the board? Warren assured me that’s not a similarity their system matches for. “You don’t want two obsessives,” he explained. “They’ll drive each other crazy. You don’t find two control freaks in a great marriage. So we try to tweak the model for that. Fifty percent of the ball game is finding two people who are stable.”
For Warren, a big question remained: What should be done with these findings? Originally, he had partnered with his son-in-law, Greg Forgatch, a former real-estate developer, to launch the business.
“We tried so hard to make videotapes and audiotapes,” Warren said. “I went into the studio and made lists. We came up with a hundred things singles need. But singles don’t want education; they want flesh! They want a person. So that’s when, in 1997, we said, ‘We’ve gotta help people find somebody who would be good for them. Some body.’ ”
To connect singles and create a data pool for more research, the Internet seemed the best option. Based on a study of 5,000 married couples, Warren put together the compatibility model that became the basis for eHarmony. “We got encouraged by everybody, ‘Get out there, get out there! The first person to market is going to be the most successful, ” Warren recalled. But he insisted on getting the matching system right before launching the site-and that didn’t happen until he was contemplating declaring bankruptcy.
“And then,” Warren recalled, “we found an error in our matching formula, so a whole segment of our people were not getting matched. It was an error with all the Christian people on the site.”
Their first thought was to produce educational videotapes on relationship compatibility
This is a sensitive topic for Warren, who bristles at the widely held opinion that eHarmony is a Christian dating site. The company’s chief operating officer, he offered by way of rebuttal, is Jewish, and Buckwalter, who became a quadriplegic at age sixteen after jumping into a river and breaking his neck, is agnostic. And while Warren describes himself as “a passionate Christian” and proudly declares, “I love Jesus,” he worried about narrowing the site with too many questions about spiritual beliefs. Which is where the error came in.
“We had seven questions on religion,” he explained, “and we eliminated four of them. But we forgot to enter that into the matching formula! These were seven-point questions. You needed twenty-eight points to get matched with a Christian person, but there was no way you could get them! We only had three questions! So every Christian person who had come to us had zero matches.”
After all, Warren had recently written his book, Finding the Love of Your Life
Fortunately, a wave of positive publicity, featuring married couples who’d met through eHarmony and the naturally charismatic Warren, turned things around. Still, Warren said of the innocent mistake, “you kind of wonder how many relationships fall apart for reasons like this-how many businesses?”