Letters

"Whether Warren is a member of the religious right or not, his desire to help create lasting marriages is not something I can find fault with." Readers respond to Rebecca Traister's article about the founder of eHarmony.


Salon Staff
June 14, 2005 10:25PM (UTC)

[Read "My Date With Mr. eHarmony," by Rebecca Traister.]

I am a longtime Salon subscriber and an avowed progressive Democrat, so I hope Rebecca Traister will believe me when I say Neil Clark Warren comes off more sympathetic in her article on eHarmony than she does. When Warren notes there are six places in the Old Testament that say homosexuality is sinful, she relates that the hair on the back of her neck stood up. I'm sorry, but what does she expect? He's simply stating a fact (that the Bible says what it says). Too often in this article, what came across was that, as Warren was at least trying to meet someone with different views halfway, Traister suggested he might be playing her. Why would he need to? EHarmony is clearly a success, with or without Salon's stamp of approval.

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I am an eHarmony customer, and while I have yet to meet Mrs. Right through its service, I am happier with it than other matchmaking services I have tried. I heard about Warren's affiliation with James Dobson shortly before I joined, and even though I share Traister's distrust of the religious right, I decided it didn't matter in this case. EHarmony sounded worth trying because of the way it claimed to try to match people. Years of experience has shown me that the "meat market" approach does not work, and I was glad to find something that seemed more substantive and serious. After several months as an eHarmony customer, I still feel that way.

I think the flaw in Traister's approach is that, despite all the soul-searching on the left since last year's election, she apparently doesn't get that being religious or even Christian (I am a progressive, dissenting, yet practicing Catholic) is not, in and of itself, illiberal.

Whether Warren is a member of the religious right or not, his desire to improve the world by helping to create lasting marriages is not something I can find any fault with. If anything, he gives me rare hope that there remain areas in the middle where conservative and progressive Christians can agree. There certainly ought to be.

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-- Joe Haas

Ms. Traister's article was absolutely timely. I completely deleted my eHarmony account yesterday after years of on and off (mostly off) membership. None of the "matches" ever resulted in anything beyond a few e-mails. My cancellation was a reflection of a recent personal decision to stop trying to find love online and have a little more faith about the whole process.

The description of Dr. Warren as "protesting too much" is right on. As an African-American, my choices were extremely limited; eHarmony's advertising in the early days was limited to conservative religious Web sites where there was only one type of Christian likely to view them. I got matched with people who were completely incompatible with me except that they (a) declared themselves to be Christian and (b) were "Black/African descent." If only it were that easy!

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Later, it got better; when one of my black girlfriends met her white husband on eHarmony, I got renewed faith. It simply didn't work for me, though; I never met anyone of any race who really "matched."

And what ultimately made me feel good about my decision to cancel was the final statement on the cancellation page: "Finding love on your own has never been more difficult or confusing." For a Christian, this statement alone is the very example of a lack of faith.

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It is nice to see that Dr. Warren is willing to admit to some of his internal confusion, but it is also beneficial to see that he is just a man with a vision -- albeit a well-intentioned one -- and that as such, he is subject to flaws, conflicts and doubts, just like the rest of us.

--Name Withheld

I was glad to see public recognition of the fact that eHarmony does not serve the gay and lesbian community. I originally heard of them while watching the reality TV show "Boy Meets Boy" on the Bravo network. "Boy Meets Boy" was essentially a gay version of "The Bachelor" and sought to find a mate for an attractive gay man. EHarmony was advertised heavily on several episodes of the show, and I made the assumption that it would be a useful tool to help me find a gay mate. I invested about half an hour answering all the compatibility questions, during which time my hopefulness grew that I would find someone with whom I could enjoy spending time and that I would eventually find a partner. At the end of the survey I was asked to describe my mate. It was impossible to register as a man looking for another man.

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After searching the Web site for an explanation, I came across the FAQ section where, as described in the article, they said that because gay relationships are so different and gay compatibility is not the same as straight compatibility, they would not match gay people.

I was filled with a combination of rage and heartbreak that reminded me of so many disappointing events one encounters as an outsider. I was marketed to in what I considered, at the very least, a gay-friendly environment. I was not informed of the restrictions prior to investing a significant amount of my time. I allowed myself to become hopeful that the depth of the survey would find a better match than other venues, and I eventually was told that not only do I not get even one match for a potential mate but I am not a normal person seeking an appropriate relationship. As a witness to my friends' gay and straight relationships, I fail to see any significant differences in the way they interact and form -- or fail to form -- compatible couples. I feel that if eHarmony invested even a small amount of time and money they would come to a similar conclusion.

Either eHarmony had monstrously inept marketing (placing ads on a gay dating show) or they truly don't care about who they offend while going after the few straight women who were also watching the show. They said, "Shame on you and your lifestyle," and I would say the same to them and their "message" to gay people in search of an appropriate spouse. Shame on you, eHarmony.

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-- Dave

Having been raised in a conservative evangelical Christian home as a "P.K." (preacher's kid), I have known my whole life what Rebecca Traister has discovered: Many of the so-called religious right are articulate, compassionate individuals who can engage in a free exchange of ideas. Not everyone simply regurgitates the rabid conservatism of James Dobson and his ilk. It is not surprising to me that she had an honest and open conversation with Neil Clark Warren that was a multidimensional examination of life, love, and our place as humans in that mix. I routinely enjoy enlightening, often times challenging, and spirited conversations with my Christian parents and acquaintances. As someone who has cast aside his childhood beliefs and grown into a political and social liberal, atheist and happily married husband and parent, I was thrilled to read Mr. Warren's words. "We have to get real civil with one another." Indeed we do.

-- Jason Kren

Just wanted you to know that I really appreciate how Rebecca Traister portrayed Mr. Warren and his company. I found that I liked the guy even though I, too, have been skeptical in the past, and given his connection to James Dobson, somewhat fearful of their righteous hate.

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I think the conversation that Ms. Traister had with Mr. Warren was one a lot of us would like to be able to have with those whose beliefs are different from ours.

Thank you. I think the article will help open the eyes of people on all sides and show us that we still have something to learn from one other.

-- Claire P. Taylor

Ms. Traister's article on Mr. Warren was engaging and quite surprising. I found her thoughts, including her internal debates as well as the candor with which Mr. Warren described his, to be an honest and open look at differences in religious and political beliefs.

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Nonetheless, her article betrays an assumption that I believe to be the cause of the suspicion with which people of faith view the "liberal media" -- that having religious beliefs is mutually exclusive with being compassionate, fair or open-minded.

Clearly, Ms. Traister initially views Mr. Warren as someone who is likely to be close-minded and prejudiced solely due to the fact that Mr. Warren considers himself an evangelical Christian. Even after a long conversation with Mr. Warren in which he bravely has been quite open with his beliefs, Ms. Traister cannot help but view each of his more altruistic stances with suspicion. Would Ms. Traister have had these same suspicions if Mr. Warren were secular as well?

This assumption about Christians and others of faith, and the way it is insinuated in the media as well as in our nation's politics has had the effect of alienating those in this country who have such religious beliefs. Bush, Frist and DeLay have been able to capitalize on these feelings of alienation. And although some individuals, including Ms. Traister and (given his recent comments) Mr. Dean, may view those beliefs with disdain, it remains true that a substantial portion of this nation subscribes to them. Unless these assumptions, and the prejudices that underlie these assumptions, are rooted out of American journalism and liberals, this nation is likely to remain under the sway of conservatives.

-- Lee

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Why should eHarmony try to serve the gay community? Warren said that he doesn't know what contributes to a stable, long-term gay relationship. It might be the same as for straight couples, but wouldn't it be foolish and condescending to assume that without doing the research? Encouraging others to do the research and start such services for the gay community is the best thing that he could do, and he is apparently doing that. Besides, what is wrong with focusing his business on what he knows best? All successful businesses do that.

-- Larry Seiler

I worry about misguided evangelical Christians just as much as anyone, but Neil Clark Warren hasn't said anything that sounds so awful to me. While I would prefer a more enlightened attitude toward gay couples by eHarmony, I am also moved by what Mr. Warren purports to do. I was matched with about 10 people in the first month after signing up with eHarmony, and one of them definitely gave me a sparkly feeling the more I got to know him. I cancelled my membership after three months because of this great guy (who, by the way, is not Asian, although I am). Fast-forward 18 months, and we are still very happily dating. My previous two boyfriends drove me absolutely mental and they were the guys whom I met through more traditional means (mutual friends and through work). The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

-- Pia Park

I met my boyfriend through eHarmony, and we've been together for over a year. This is the best relationship I have ever had, and neither of us goes to church or is an evangelical Christian.

Warren has every right to target any market he wishes. Since his field of expertise is heterosexual people seeking long-term relationships, that's what his business should concentrate on. He should not feel like he has to be all things to all people.

-- Micki Chevalier

I want to thank Rebecca Traister for sharing her perspective so closely in the article about eHarmony's founder Neil Clark Warren. Letting us in on her doubts and inner questions allowed us to make our own decision about his sincerity.

I'd like to encourage Neil Clark Warren to open his franchise to lesbians and gay men seeking long-term relationships for one important reason: It is in the best interest of the children they may have or adopt.

With no marriage and no legal divorce, custody issues for parting gay and lesbian couples can leave children cut off from one of their parents in a bitter breakup. I think we can agree in principle that this is not good for children.

If he's worried about the repercussions of opening up eHarmony, then perhaps he can offer more active assistance to those gay businessmen he mentioned who want to start their own version. There are long-term gay and lesbian couples he could study, but I think he'd find that the same basic principles of compatibility apply.

-- Tapati McDaniels

One thing that should be noted about eHarmony is that not only do you have to pay to contact someone (fair enough), but also they have to pay to reply to your letter! So you are supposed to pay to respond to a letter from someone whose photo you likely have not even seen. Buyer beware!

-- John Gray

Rebecca Traister's article about Neil Warren, the founder of eHarmony, really had me laughing. After my own experience with eHarmony, I wouldn't advise anyone (straight or gay) to try it.

First let me say that I'm a Christian who is also a registered Democrat. I'm white, 41 years old, divorced, no kids, a writer in the high-tech industry, an intellectual who salsa dances for fun. I read literary fiction and like independent film. After I completed eHarmony's grueling questionnaire, they came up with a description of myself that I could live with, sort of. Something about me being compassionate and good with people. I waited and waited for matches. They came up with only one match -- a divorced Asian guy my age with three live-at-home daughters; the books this gentleman had read recently and liked were all about parenting. He didn't dance, but he did go to church. His profile answers were short and left me wondering about nothing. Apparently I would be providing the interesting conversation. I declined the connection. After a month with no more matches (and I couldn't figure out how to change the geography setting either), I removed my profile.

I wish Ms. Traister had plumbed the "Asian" storyline a little more. Are the only theoretically intelligent men on the site Asian or Indian? Are Asian and Indian men really seeking independent American women? And if one more of my friends or relatives says to me, "Why don't you try eHarmony?" I'm going to go postal. Despite Neil Warren's excellent intentions, I think all the kudos goes to his PR team.

-- Jennifer Jameson

We live in a time of extreme partisan paranoia, as evidenced by the fact that Rebecca Traister parsed every word from Neil Clark Warren just waiting for him to trip up and offend her secular sensibilities. For the sake of our country and her love life, I encourage Ms. Traister to lighten up!

As a Christian married 13 years to an atheist who is seven years younger and who considers Metallica the best band ever and who reads about one book a year and who watches "Conan the Barbarian" every time it comes on TV, I can say that compatibility is, as Mr. Warren cedes, complex. It is a trivial exercise to find the faults of another person. Instead Ms. Traister might find her high intelligence better used by searching for the value in others.

-- Ladye Wilkinson

Rebecca Traister's article about Warren was interesting. But one thing that she didn't point out is some of the strange ways that eHarmony will categorize people and match them. For example, they match women only with taller men. They will also ask you the strength of your convictions without asking you what those convictions are. I'm a vegetarian. One of my matches listed steak as one of three things he couldn't live without. It correctly stated that I have strong moral convictions, but then matched me with people who have different but equally strong convictions. In my opinion, they do not use an accurate matching algorithm.

-- Elisa Duggan

In the 1980s, I was the minister for the church where Neil Warren's parents, O.J. and Rosa, were members. I cannot convey how sharp O.J.'s mind was despite his advanced years. He was a man of substance, with a deep and personal spirituality. And, for a man his age in a quite conservative church, he was remarkably open-minded.

I met Neil a time or two. (His parents were so very proud of him.) And you just knew that his heart was golden.

I left the conservative church nearly 15 years ago. I am disturbed by the folks on the religious right and deeply bothered by the politics and agenda of James Dobson. So, your article was of great interest to me.

Having known his dad, and having met Neil only briefly, if I could have predicted the Neil Warren of today, it would be the Neil Warren you described: a heart of compassion, an inclusive, accepting man, with a longing for the best for others. Your article showed that it is possible for people who have been connected to the Dobsons of the world to be able to see a bigger, more complex world.

Thank you for giving us a hopeful picture of what the world could become.

-- Randy Mayeux

Why all the skepticism? From what's reported on the page, Warren seems like most enlightened 70-year-olds -- like the writer's own grandfather.

Warren comes off altogether mainstream; Salon comes off more arch-liberal than it really is.

-- Jim Pharo

I read this interview with great interest, as I am now coming to the end of an 18-month enrollment in eHarmony. I want to take issue with a couple of the assumptions of the article. First, I think it is far, far too easy to overplay the religious element. I am not religious at all, made this clear in my questionnaire and profile, and have received plenty of matches. Only two or three of the numerous matches made with me had anything about religion in the profile, and religion only came up in passing once or twice in the meetings I had with matches I continued up to that point. I think it's really easy to screen out the evangelical element if that's not your cup of tea, and I also think there are plenty of people enrolled for whom religion is not an important part of the match.

What I think is a bigger problem is inherent in the eHarmony system: many of the men I was matched with had the attitude "You must be the one," because we were identified as compatible. That's an awful lot of pressure when you haven't even seen the person face to face, and all you want with the person is a cup of coffee and an introductory chat. The match system and the focus on long-term relationships are really played up in eHarmony marketing, and I think that a lot of people who sign up swallow that line whole. But it's just not realistic.

-- Rosemary Moore

I eagerly read the article on eHarmony and its founder, hoping I would find insight into why I filled out a profile almost a year ago but to date have received not one single match. Could I have been rejected because of my agnosticism or my progressive politics? As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I am passionate about the joys of a compatible, lasting partnership, but I was worried that eHarmony was shutting me out because I don't fit their idea of a good married person.

But what upset me most about eHarmony when I first decided to give it a try was that although I'm a confirmed bisexual woman, the site would match me only with men. Certainly it's their right to decide to do so, but the ad that convinced me to log on ran during "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." The association of the site with a show I found so appealing and gay-friendly led me to think the site would model similar values and attract people like me.

Apparently I was wrong on both counts, and when I wrote customer service to complain, I got very evasive answers that eventually stopped coming when I asked more pointed questions about the site's guiding principles. It was only my own research that turned up its Christian associations.

-- S. Addison

I really enjoyed reading Rebecca Traister's interview with Neil Clark Warren. My own experience with the eHarmony dating site has provided me with a great story for dinners and parties. I can't remember if, as I was filling out the long online checklist, I revealed myself as having experienced depression in the past, or being less than Christian, or being one of those women who are "too smart" -- but for whatever reason, I was not nearly as lucky as Ms. Traister, and only got one match total while my profile was active. My eHarmonious match was a guy more than 15 years older than me, who lived 60 miles away and who worked as a prison guard. The most important things in his life, he said, were working out at the gym, his ex-wife and their child, and food. I don't want to go into what I'm looking for, but it was pretty clear to me that this "match" was not it. He may have been a cool and decent guy, but there was nothing in his profile that attracted me, and I have to admit that I was kind of chagrined that, out of the thousands of guys on the Web site, he was my one and only love connection. I still wonder why. Maybe it was our common love of food.

-- Christy

I was a member of eHarmony for about six months. But I ultimately canceled my subscription before it was officially "done" and with no hope of a refund. I also sent a letter to eHarmony explaining the reasons I was upset enough to cancel -- but only received a boilerplate response from them. ("We're sorry you've chosen to cancel. Have a nice day.")

What ultimately drove me away, aside from the fact that none of the matches I received really clicked, was their attempt to match me up with a "recovering" homosexual. This person clearly stated in his information that he'd recently "come out of a gay phase" and wanted to find someone to help put the past behind him.

Please understand that I was not unhappy with the person who filled out the ad. In fact, my heart went out him. What upset me was the tacit support eHarmony gives to such harmful and dubious theories. EHarmony makes a great fuss about not accepting certain people that don't meet their high standards, especially depressed people or people who have ever passed through depression. It seems impossible to me that they did not know this person (and who knows how many more like him) considered himself in "recovery" from homosexuality.

When it comes right down to it, I don't think eHarmony is all that different in how they match people than any other online dating service. Regardless of how I filled out my 400+ questionnaire, in the end it seemed like most of my matches were based on the same things that other sites use. Location, location, location is a primary one, along with age and race and whether or not you want children.

What is clearly different is the clientele they both attract and seem to encourage. But after my experience, I just didn't feel any confidence that I would find my match in that group.

-- Kati

It was the omnipresent eHarmony television ads that made me curious about the service. But like Rebecca Traister, I figured I might not get many responses -- I'm an agnostic and taking the questionnaire made me feel as if I'd accidentally wandered into a church's singles group. But eHarmony's compatibility premise seemed reasonable and I thought it was worth a shot. Why not?

What frustrated me was that the site allows no proactive exploration. You take your test and then you wait for an e-mail telling you that a match has been found -- and you can look only at those profiles. In the first few days I received three or four, and then I got a further 25 or so in the following week when I expanded my search to anywhere in the world. I found none to be particularly compelling, but I couldn't go looking for someone who was because that's not how the site works.

And of course I was only reading about most of my matches -- eHarmony lets you decide when someone gets to see your picture and none of the girls who initiated contact with me chose to let me see their photo, even after a couple rounds of Q&A. I'm all for the 29 dimensions of compatibility, but c'mon -- physical appearance is key and you can get a sense of personality in a snapshot. I allowed anyone who got my profile to see my picture and the lack of reciprocation annoyed me.

EHarmony has obviously worked for a lot of people, but in the end I just couldn't get excited about faceless people who weren't especially intriguing on paper.

-- Christian Gulliksen


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