Coffee Meets Bagel: The Online Dating Site That Helps You Weed Out the Creeps
You were right, Mom: I should have taken Econ.
I have nothing against Asian guys.
In fact, when my roommate told me the other night that he sometimes sees John Cho (Harold, of Harold and Kumar) at his gym, I squealed. I briefly considered joining the gym, but then I remembered I've Googled Cho's marital status so many times that I actually know off-hand he is unavailable.
And I swear I met my soul mate briefly in Japan. Daisuke, if you're reading this, our five-hour stroll around Kobe was the best date I have ever been on, hands down!
But when I checked the "No Preferences" box next to "Ethnicity" on Coffee Meets Bagel, an online dating site that sends you a match every day at noon, I didn't realize that would mean I'd receive a steady string of Asian men. In my first 11 days on the site, eight of my matches were Asian and three were South Asian.
Awkward. How did that happen?
The Kang sisters — Arum, Dawoon and Soo — started Coffee Meets Bagel almost a year ago in New York, aiming to attract busy young professionals who are looking for something in between a hook-up and a serious relationship and don't want to invest time weeding out messages from creeps.
Every day you have 24 hours to "Like" the match the site gives you (known as your "Bagel"), "Pass" on your match or "Give" your match to a friend. When you and your match Like each other, the site sets you up on a private texting line that expires in seven days, enough time to meet for lunch or a drink and decide whether your Bagel deserves to know your real phone number.
The service expanded to Los Angeles in late March and opens up to 11 additional cities this month.
Before starting their business, the diligent Kang sisters interviewed executives from eHarmony, OkCupid and several smaller, failed dating sites. (Arum, the CEO, has an MBA from Harvard, and Dawoon, the COO, has one from Stanford.) They read through all of the research about online dating. And they tweaked an existing marketing algorithm to connect users who have Facebook friends in common.
At least that's how the site markets itself: a good place to meet friends of friends, because research says you'll be 37 percent more likely to want to connect with them than with randos.
Except I've been on the site for almost three months, and fewer than a third of my matches and I have had friends in common. So how does the algorithm find the rest of these dudes? And why was I only getting Asian guys?
On Coffee Meets Bagel, your preferences for age, religion and ethnicity define your match pool. So much for the post-racial Obama era. Dawoon says that significant data supports the idea that online daters in the United States use ethnicity and religion to determine who they are willing to go out with. "[Race and religion are] very interlinked to your values and your upbringing," she says.
Coffee Meets Bagel's users skew white, Asian, Jewish and educated. The school with the second highest number of graduates on the site is Columbia University, followed by the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. (NYU is number one.) Only 17 percent of the site's 60,000 or so users are not white, Jewish or Asian.
OkCupid's fascinating and now-defunct research blog found in 2009 that more white women than any other demographic — 54 percent — responded "yes" to the question of whether they strongly preferred to date someone of their own racial background. Similarly, 53 percent of white women (and 74 percent of Jewish women!) told Coffee Meets Bagel that they only want to date white men.
So when I told the site that I was willing to date a man of any ethnicity, the algorithm perked up its ears. But signing up for a site that offers me only Asian men feels a little silly. It's tantamount to fetish! I was torn. I didn't want to tell the site that I refused to date Asians, but I also didn't want to get matches that were exclusively Asian.
This was starting to feel like the prisoner's dilemma, so I called a friend of mine who understands game theory and works in finance. She informed me that I was indeed feeling a game theory pressure to move towards what's called a "Nash equilibrium" since I was being forced to consider the preferences of all of the other "players" in this "game" — ie, the other white women on the site, who influence my matches.
She even drew me a fancy diagram to help explain!
Even the homepage seems to understand who this site is really for...
Coffee Meets Bagel
You see, if most other white women limit their matches to white men, there are very few white female matches for the many Asian men who include white women in their preferences. And since I was one of those few white women who allowed Asian men, I got tons of Asian men as matches. In order to have the possibility of connecting with anyone else, I had to give up my ability to see any Asians, just as the rest of these narrow-minded "players" had. Choosing "not-Asians" was the Nash Equilibrium, and I was couldn't stop myself from heading there!
Finally, I deselected "Asian" in my preferences. It's not like I'm being racist, I told myself. It's the economics, stupid! That was two months ago. I now get six bagels a week. All have been white except for three. Which is just weird because I thought I lived in Los Angeles, not Beverly Hills.
But I do like pretty much everything else about the site. You get a quick little rush of adrenaline each day at noon, when you get an email with your Bagel's age and university in the subject line. Might this be THE ONE? you wonder. And then you see that he has described himself as "stoic" and "adversarial" and you hit Pass and you move on with your life.
Over text message, some guys drip with desperation: "I'm so happy that you liked me back - there's a first for everything - I'm waiting at Starbucks right now in weho - where are you?" one wrote.
Others panic unexpectedly. This one guy started a conversation by asking for my favorite movies. I listed a few and then asked if film was a passion of his. He responded by falling apart:
"I don't know, did I embarrass myself in our movie discussion just now? Maybe I'm just lying to myself."
And I went on some dates with my Bagels, sure. There was the guy who told me he was getting us beers from his (parents') fridge and brought back glasses of orange-flavored, non-alcoholic Emergen-C instead. There was the guy who brought me to Mozza on our first date and planned us a romantic weekend getaway to Palm Springs on a Google Doc after our second. There was the guy who made me so uncomfortable at lunch that I made an excuse after less than an hour and ran out without validating my parking. So it goes.
Then, the other day, after I had rejected the latest dude (He lives in Fullerton! He's an actor! He likes "Eating marshmallows straight from the bag"!), a new box popped up.
Here are some Bagels that don't meet your preferences, the box said. Do you want to look through and Give some to friends? I clicked through.
Seven of the ten were Asian.
I closed the box.
Thanks for reminding me how racist I am, Coffee Meets Bagel. I feel great about that.
Amanda Lewis on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Twitter:
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