Tuesday, 29 September 2009

eHarmony: Homosexuality and Business

Edit 22 Jan 2013: Ugh. I have pretty much entirely moved my position on this. I won't take it down because I don't feel like that's a responsible thing to do, but I want to state right here that as much as I understand why eHarmony would do what they did, I no longer feel like it's justifiable.

So the whole eHarmony-bigotry showed up a little while ago, but since I was thinking about it today, I decided to write a post about it.
If you aren't aware of what I'm talking about, I'll fill you in briefly: a number of people are upset that eHarmony does not match same-sex couples. There is also something out there about a misleading commercial, but I don't know much about that.

Today I decided to play a game, which I call, "Let's pretend that the organization/company/government/justice system isn't doing what they're doing because they're stupid and mean, but instead have a solid reason for what they're doing from their point of view." I don't think the game will catch on (maybe the name is too long?), but I like playing it.

This is what I came up with:

eHarmony is essentially a business. Unlike most dating websites, it has its customers fill in a questionnaire and then uses your input to match you with a prospective partner. This is more complex, as I understand it, then taking a woman who likes ska, is passionate about the environment, and doesn't care too much about cleanliness, and matching them with a man who also indicated that he likes ska, is passionate about the environment, and doesn't care too much about cleanliness. No, in actuality they've done years of research, and read generations worth of research, to determine what factors contribute to a successful relationship. Due to the money, brains, and plain-old time they've poured into this project, they can boast about extraordinarily high success rates. eHarmony is a marriage-focused business, and so they measure success by the percentage of matches who get married, stay married, and are happy with their marriage. As I said, eHarmony is a business. This is all statistical for them. I am sure they care that their customers are happy with each other; otherwise, they wouldn't be in this business. However, they do need to sell their product (which is the matching process), and so take a particular amount of interest in their accuracy.

Here's the catch. That accuracy relies on expensive, time-consuming, brain-consuming research that has been done exclusively on heterosexual couples. So if eHarmony were to suddenly open the floor to same-sex matching, they wouldn't have a whole lot to go on. I'm no expert on the dynamics of a same-sex relationship, but I'm going to say that the statistics for a heterosexual marriage do not neatly apply to a homosexual relationship. I'm also going to say that eHarmony doesn't have any statistics for same-sex compatability. So eHarmony would be sacrificing their reputation as accurate if they allow for same-sex matching. At least, their accuracy for those couples would be lower, but I'm sure that the eHarmony team is at least nervous that that would drop their popularity. If the percentage of all couples' success (homo and hetero) is several points lower, then fewer hetero people will use their site.

Perhaps you will then say that eHarmony should do that research to get those statistics to get acheive that accuracy. I say, do you remember when I mentioned how expensive it is? Do you remember when I pointed out how much time it takes to accomplish that? I'm sure you'll get the brains for it: queer theory is fairly popular these days, picking up where race theory and, to a lesser extent, feminist theory are starting to peter out. The point, though, is that not only will it take a long time to accomplish this, it will take a lot of money. So when it does come out, eHarmony will have to charge more to cover those substantial costs. Does eHarmony charge everybody more? But why should heterosexual couples need to pay for a service that they don't need, want, or use? But then do the homosexual patrons have to pay more than heterosexual patrons? Consider that the eHarmony team is likely concerned about a lower number of same-sex users compared to heterosexual users. This means that the homosexual patrons would likely have to pay far more than the heterosexual ones if they bear the start-up research costs all on their own, since there are fewer of them to divide it between. You can imagine how well that would go over. Those people complaining now that the service is not available will certainly be complaining that eHarmony makes them pay more for the "same" service (even though the cost in providing that service is at least at the beginning more expensive for the company).

To some degree, all of these concerns will have to be dealt with by eHarmony on a financial level. Can they afford (in terms of both expenses and lost revenue) to offer this service? It's like any company thinking about providing some new product. They have to balance the cost of preparing for, obtaining, advertising, and selling the new item/process/information, with how much they think that item/process/information will bring in. At this point in the game, I'm going to say that eHarmony has decided that, at the moment, they cannot afford to provide the service.

NOW, this does not make it any less disappointing, frustrating, and perhaps embarrassing for homosexual people who would like to use eHarmony. Hopefully, though, this indicates that it is less offensive/insulting than some people seem to make out. And of course I realize that there may also be other factors contributing to this decision, ranging from bigotry to fear to ignorance. But in the end I think that we ought to at least gesture to the benefit of the doubt while still arguing--when reasonable--for respect of people's basic rights.

Someone might here object that even businesses must be concerned with ethics, and I would absolutely and without hesitation agree with that someone. People speak of business being an amoral feild; I, however, think that the phonetic similarity between "amorality" and "immorality" is not a mere coincidence semantically (ie. there is no such thing as amorality, and those who claim to be acting in an amoral feild are most likely acting immorally in a moral feild). Yes, corporations should ensure that they do not do actual harm while pursuing a profit. No, corporations shouldn't shave off bits of their consciences so that they can also shave off expenses. However, consider this: I walk into a 'free-thinking' bookstore (they exist) and then make a fuss when I can't buy a Christian-audience Bible companion there. "It's a book," I say, "so all bookstores should sell it! Not to sell it is discriminatory!" And then you say, "But, Christian, look, they can't reasonably be expected to sell every book in existence. So you can't just walk in there and then get angry when they don't happen to sell a book you want. You can't even get angry when they don't sell any book that fits your lifestyle. It's their store. You can't expect that they simply must sell your sort of book, even if they don't want to or it would damage their reputation as a 'free-thinking' bookstore. That just doesn't make sense." And you'd be right. As far as I'm concerned, it's the same thing here. Yes, I agree it's a shame that homosexual people do not have access to a dating site as comprehensive and reliable as eHarmony. (There are same-sex dating sites, but as I understand it, like any dating site that requires you to do your own profile browsing, they're not as good as eHarmony.) But that doesn't mean that we have any place to blame the company. If they were matching same-sex people with straight people just to be devilish, then, yeah, get angry. If they say, "We don't match same-sex people, not only because they're demon-spawn and communists, but also 'cause it's icky," then, yeah, get very angry. But that's not what's going on here; what's going on is that they are providing a service which doesn't help some people. For the final analogy on this point, it would be like getting mad at an autobody shop because they don't have foreign car parts available in-store. It's a foreign car; how can you possibly expect a domestic garage to stock parts for every foreign car?

Lastly, if this were a government-organization or maybe even a not-for-profit organization (though only a very large one, I think), then that would be a different story. If I went into a store that was commissioned by the Government of Canada to be the Official Bookstore of Canada, and I couldn't find anything on Bible interpretation (or queer experience or Aboriginal spirituality or women's rights or Quebec separatist philosophies), then I'd have a right to complain. But eHarmony is not sponsored by the government, and the government would have to be stone moronic to get into that sort of thing (remember Trudeau on the government's place in people's bedrooms?). It's a privately-owned business, and we have to treat it like one.

So, if you want eHarmony to provide same-sex services, I'd suggest you write them and get your friends to write them, saying that you'd be willing to cough up the extra for said services. If they get enough letters, maybe they will be confident enough of the customer base to provide an "orientation-optional" edition of eHarmony.

Anyway, I Googled the issue and found out that eHarmony implies in some official statements the sorts of things I've said here, as well as giving some (in my opinion) less convincing reasons. This link I'm providing (http://www.pinoy.ca/eharmony/339) also has some on-line commenter opinions which you may or may not want to peruse.
Caveat: I do not want to imply here that I am either for or against homosexuality as a lifestyle. I know that I have readers that will be upset if I indicate that I do not "agree with homosexuality" in some way or another, and I know that I have readers that will be upset if I indicate that I do support homosexuality in some way or another. As far as I see it, your sexuality is between you and God, and no one else. I don't really take the time to formulate opinions on what I think God thinks about homosexuality, and that's the bottom line, as far as my public voice goes. As far as society and politics are concerned... well, I think non-judgementality, equality, and above all love ought to be the standards of our decisions, and that's the bottom line for now.

Last caveat: I am aware that there is more to this issue as regards the commercial, which I have not seen. There may be actually justifiably upsetting things in that advertisement; not having seen it, I don't know. What I am discussing is only the upset about the fact they don't provide the services desired, and why eHarmony is justified in not providing them. If that company has done anything else offensive, please DO NOT take this post as an endorsement of those actions. Obviously if I had a large readership a number of people would do precisely that, even with this caveat, but I am sure that you, my regular readership, will in fact use both your eyes and your brains before you use your fingers (on the keyboard). Thanks.

1 comment:

Christian H said...

Yo, eHarmony guy: you have permission. I'm not sure whether my comment went through on your blog, so I hope you look back here.

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