What the Duke Marriage Pact says about our dating culture

<p>The Duke marriage pact promised soulmates, but where was the soul behind the match-making?</p>

The Duke marriage pact promised soulmates, but where was the soul behind the match-making?

 Virtual love is nothing new. Technology is all about trying to evolve the human experience, and dating is part of that experience. Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and Hinge dates are nearly as common as traditional dates. These apps are all centered around making dating more convenient. Quantity over quality. Sometimes, it works. Usually, it doesn’t, but hopefully there’s at least a free dinner.

What if we could employ technology to find our one perfect, pinnacle-of-romance soulmate? No more guesswork. No more stilted conversations or ghosting games. No kissing frogs, only princes. If the thousands of “meet your soulmate” TikToks are anything to go by, it is a popular dream. Is such a utopia even possible?

While that isn’t exactly what the Marriage Pact claims, it is transforming dating. Since launching at Stanford, the concept has spread quickly among elite universities. The creators have discussed widening the scope and introducing it to different communities. It’s easy to see why – the Marriage Pact essentially streamlines the process of finding that potential soulmate. Unlimited mediocre matches (which were an unfortunate reality even before the advent of dating apps) encountered along the course of life are narrowed to just one possible forever partner. It seems like a natural progression in the evolution of dating. They’ve already created apps for customizable and deliverable skincare, shampoo and dog food: someday, finding that elusive “one true love” could come as easily as placing an order for delivery pizza.

It’s fascinating to imagine what that future might look like. Would dating become outdated? In a weird, roundabout way, we might return to an era where arranged marriages are general practice everywhere. Yet unlike current arranged marriages, where parents with their own agendas and emotional investments are responsible for the matchmaking, an impartial algorithm would take charge. Arranged marriages, though they oppose American norms, do have significantly lower divorce rates, so it’s not outrageous to envision success for these data-driven partnerships. They would certainly save humanity from an immeasurable amount of heartache. “Love at first sight” might become an indisputable fact, and unrequited feelings an ancient relic.

The algorithm as it stands now, though, is unlikely to create successful matches. Some students have pointed out that the Pact completely discounts the desire to connect with people different than you —  a 99.99% match will likely be just a little too similar. Now that the (disappointing) results of the Marriage Pact have rolled out, it seems certain that these pairings can’t account for personality quirks and that ineffable spark of chemistry.

However, that indomitable human drive to evolve has already appeared once again, spawning the Anti-Marriage Pact Instagram page and Fluke Marriage Pact, which mimics the model of the Marriage Pact with a more human touch. Though it has yet to prove itself against the original Marriage Pact, the Fluke Pact might provide not only a new and improved successor, but also evidence of the importance of human intellect in a world increasingly supplanted by artificial intelligence. Striking the balance between human emotion and technological efficiency is an issue present in more than online dating: it’s an emerging fact of our new tech-driven, data-centered reality.

This new reality and the implications of computer-generated interactions have become especially relevant since the toils of 2020 hit us.  Between a global pandemic, panic-buying toilet paper and revolts against the government, it often feels as if we are already living in a dystopia. Computer algorithms dictating your future spouse is just part of the genre, another sign of the times (see Matched by Ally Condie or the “Hang the DJ” Black Mirror episode). The dismal state of modern events has thus far supported Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will go wrong), and a software-engineered soulmate is no exception. Getting paired with an impossibly awful match – say, your best friend’s boyfriend, a future serial killer or even your own sibling – would undoubtedly constitute a bleak future. 

It’s probably too early to say whether these possible matches signal optimism or pessimism for the future of dating. For the Duke community, the Pact has largely been an entertaining social experiment to meet more people in a year where socialization is painfully restricted. Most matches — among my friends, at least — are platonic, if they meet up at all. But who knows? Maybe in twenty years, we’ll all reunite in front of the Duke Chapel for a spontaneous surge of machine-generated marriages. 


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