By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com March 31 2010 8:20 PM ET
As I clicked through the mammoth-size compatibility survey for Compatible Partners, a few thoughts raced through my mind. Would my fiancé, whom I have been with for seven years, get a glimpse at my e-mail that evening and see a message welcoming me to a dating website? What if I am completely delusional about how awesome I am, and thus unmatchable? Should I declare that I’m agnostic — my Roman Catholic mother would have a conniption — even if it were for the sake of this story and not actually finding my mate? Would I end up running away with some 26-year-old woman who loved pugs and The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then appear in some lovey-dovey commercial with Natalie Cole singing in the background?
Clearly this online dating thing is slightly daunting to me. I’ve done minimal dating beyond group dates at the mall food court — I’ve been with the same person since I was 18. But out of curiosity, and to check out Compatible Partners on the first anniversary of its launch, I decided to give it a whirl.
After about 35 minutes, I was paired with about a dozen women who were compatible, according to our surveys. And a few of those women within a hundred-mile radius of my house should know they’ve made me think at least a little bit.
But just a year ago, I would not have been matched up with those dozen
lovely ladies by the folks at eHarmony. That site, eHarmony, Compatible
Partners’ parent company and sister website for straight daters, was
founded in 2000 by Neil Clark Warren. You may know the practicing
psychiatrist for his warm, happy television commercials on television,
featuring a handful of the many (hetero) couples who were matched by
Warren has said in the past that he personally was not
attuned to the dynamics of gay and lesbian relationships and therefore
would not know how to match gay people properly. So the company elected to
not offer compatibility tests to gays and lesbians, despite conjuring
countless successful relationships for straight people looking for
long-term love. In an interview with National
Public Radio's Terry Gross in 2005, Warren said, among other things,
that he consulted others on how to possibly set up a similar site for
long-term gay dating. It just wasn’t eHarmony’s bag.
But one single gay man just wasn’t buying it.
In 2005, Eric McKinley filed a lawsuit seeking to force eHarmony to help gays and lesbians to find suitable partners. In November 2008 the company agreed to launch a same-sex dating site by March 31, 2009, the result of a settlement reached with the New Jersey attorney general’s office.
So here it is; 200,000 members later, Compatible Partners is celebrating its first birthday. Nancy Suh, director of product, says it really didn’t take a ton of changes to make the compatibility test applicable to gays and lesbians, but a few adjustments had to be made.
“For example, on eHarmony, we have a question that talks about your potential partner’s attitudes toward opposite-sex friendships,” she says. “We figured that wasn’t relevant to gay and lesbian singles using Compatible Partners.”
Suh and Paul Breton, director of corporate communications, say they are also in regular communication with users to ensure that questions are appropriate and make sense.
While there have not been any shiny, happy gay couples on television
commercials for Compatible Partners yet, Suh and Breton said their
rapidly growing brand will focus on an advertising push and events at
your local pride celebration.
Suh said that garnering 200,000 users with a minimal marketing push in the site’s first year has been astounding, and so is the caliber of clientele. Because of the price tag and the emphasis on long-term relationships (as opposed to some oh-so-popular hookup sites), Compatible Partners’ users are seen as quite desirable — most users are between the ages of 30 and 50, earn more than $60,000 annually, and have at least a bachelor’s degree. What mom wouldn’t like those odds for her son or daughter?
Breton also was kind enough to give me a tour of the eHarmony offices, which feature walls plastered with photos of satisfied couples from around the world ... including a few same-sex couples.
Sprinkled among the photos are Brian, a teacher, and Amir, an associate producer, a couple of guys in their mid 20s who found each other on the site and fell in love. They were matched up in the end of May, and by October Amir moved about 40 miles south into Brian’s condo in Long Beach, Calif.
“Around our third date, Brian came by my job late at night one time to surprise me, to just say hi,” Amir says. “That could have been really risky. If it was a different person, I would have been like, ‘Why is he at my job?’ But I thought it was the sweetest thing ever.”
Neither would describe himself as a barfly, so it's likely that without the site, they would have never met. “We’re more about having an at-home dinner party and hosting with friends,” Amir says.
Personally, I'm not much of a barfly, and neither is my fiancé. We prefer cheap bottles of champagne and watching Lost. And because of this, I decided to delete my profile within 24 hours of creating it. The experience was fun, but I guess it wouldn't be good for my marriage to start getting flirtatious e-mails from women like Rebecca, a 29-year-old who likes dogs, wants kids, and enjoys long walks on the beach.