Archives for posts with tag: Maclean’s

My latest story in Maclean’s is about the ubiquitous phenom that is Online Dating:

Online dating and the search for true love — or loves


Naturally, my favourite part of the assignment was learning about the history of the matchmaking industry.

Here were my findings (in their expanded, pre-editors’ cut version):

As the story goes, the first-ever matchmaker made his first-ever match in a village called Charan, in what is now Turkey. In the Bible (Genesis 24), Abraham sends the loyal servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac: who, at the ripe age of 40, wasn’t getting any younger. En route to Mesopotamia, Eliezer finds Rebekah drinking at a village well and—after subjecting her to a brief test of virtue—brings her home for Isaac. The two married; love ensues.

The semi-professional matchmaker has been at it for centuries. Priests, clergy members and rabbis have often been matchmakers on the sly. Elderly female neighbours lent a hand too—none more famously, perhaps, than the meddling Yenta of the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof, whose unappetizing buffet of mates inspired the now-classic song “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”

Computer-mediated dating predates Yenta herself. In 1959, a group of students at Stanford University developed “The Happy Families Planning Services:” as a final project for their undergraduate mathematics course. They programmed the world’s first mass-produced computer, IBM 650, to match up 49 men and 49 women—using their answers to a basic questionnaire, which collected information on height, weight, favorite hobbies and religion. The project—this first effort at computerized matchmaking—received an “A” and resulted in a single marriage. Soon after, Harvard University students launched their own version of the computer matchmaker: this time, sending questionnaires out to campuses nation-wide.

But computers didn’t gain a clear lead. The 70s saw the rise (and quick fall) of video-dating: facilitated by companies that would record and short video-clips of prospective daters, and then play them for other potential daters. The 1980s, by contrast, witnessed a resurgence of the printed personal ad—even as computerized bulletin boards were gaining ground.

In 1995, was live and the industry changed forever. The venture—which took the lead from a number of less-successful sites—had some serious backing: a Stanford MBA by the name of Gary Kremen, and his $1.7 million in venture capital. A year later, the US-based site had 60,000 users, though only 5% of Americans had Internet access. By 2012,, the world’s largest online dating site, claimed 1.8 million subscribers.

By some accounts, one in five relationships today begin online. Within the US market, an estimated 30 million customers (1 in 3 singles) use online dating sites. As of 2011, 18-29-year-olds made up 44% of that market, with 30-49-year-olds pulling in 35%. A 2009 study suggests that the average user spends 22 minutes a day online dating.

The online dating industry has worked hard for those numbers, evolving in what is sometimes described as three evolutionary phases. Phase 1, which began with, was about putting personal ads online. Those early sites worked via browsing: eventually, with the help of sophisticated search filters. Users had full control: to filter matches on criteria like religion, height and income level. Or to keyword search for favourite bands, books or travel destinations.

Phase II came in 2000, with the inception of eHarmony and its algorithms. A new class of dating sites was born, which touted “algorithm-based matching” and “science-based” compatibility spotting. These sites generally rely on extensive profile-building questionnaires. User control was, to varying degrees, handed over to mystery equations.

Phase 3, which began in 2008 when Apple Inc. launched its App Store, took everything from Phase 2, added GPS technology and made it mobile and social. We now at algorithmic-based social-network-linkable dating-on-the-run.

RIP kismet? 


The union flag waves in Belfast today, to celebrate the 31st birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Republicans – who, for the better half of a century, have been fighting to sever their ties to the British crown – are not pleased.

But loyalists too claim to be under siege. Last month, Belfast’s city council voted to reduce the number of days that the union flag would fly at city hall: from everyday, to just 18 designated days. That move inspired a typically Northern Irish response: parades, petrol bombs, dozens of police officers injured, and over 100 arrests made.

Each side claims that the recent unrest is sign of bolstered support for its cause.

Belfast riots

In September, I traveled to Belfast for Maclean’s to report on an uptick in sectarian strife. Again: protests, brick-throwing, injured cops, middle-aged fathers in jail.


Arriving at grad school, I was tickled to find that Brits sum up Northern Ireland’s decades of tangled internecine battling in a simple title: ‘The Troubles.’

What do you study?

Ah, I do The Troubles.

But beyond my vague understanding that Protestants and Catholics had long fought – and that their fighting had ended in a  ceasefire – I didn’t know much about The Troubles. And I certainly new little about how Northern Ireland functions (and doesn’t) today.

My piece from September paints a portrait of today’s Belfast. And it might help explain this kerfuffle over the Duchess’s anniversaire.

That notion—that the country’s Troubles have not quite passed—is hard to get away from here. Though almost 15 years have passed since the last ceasefire agreements were signed, Northern Ireland’s peace remains an uneasy one. Geographically, Belfast is even more segregated than it was in the 1960s. Woven through the city’s patchwork of religious enclaves are almost 100 “peace walls”: hulking stone barriers that separate Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods. Over 90 per cent of public housing is segregated, and the vast majority of Northern Irish children are educated in segregated schools, leading some academics to speak of a self-imposed national “apartheid.” As Northern Ireland sinks deep into recession, its government spends over $2 billion annually on duplicate social services—one system for Protestants, one for Catholics.