Jensen walked into the speed dating event and flashed his cell phone to check in. The location based tracking system engaged. He knew this because the phone buzzed with that warning per his privacy settings. The matchmaking site said they needed this information to determine his true preferences based on distance and exposure to key people. He allowed it. He had to, if he wanted to be allowed to stay.

There was a mixed crowd at the event. He wondered if they’d do the classic speed dating style of interviews. That was always a frustrating waste of time, since the system catered to extroverts and he was an introvert. He circulated for a few minutes before heading to the snack table. He was promptly met by a facilitator. “We’ll be starting in a couple of minutes. Just remember to be yourself. And give feedback on the app after every session.” Jensen nodded silently given the mouthful of grapes. Be yourself is such tripe advice, but it couldn’t get worse that trying to fake being perfect by the ever-changing standards of the ideal man.

He got the clear notification through the app. Pick a spot. He chose a table with two seats. Others checked their phones, and one person went straight for him. He briefly wondered if she’d been a high match on personality and values, because she did not meet his preferences on appearance. “Hi,” he said. “Hello,” she replied. They exchanged pleasantries, but Jensen waited for her to broach any serious topic. “Tell me about yourself,” he finally asked. She went through the standard list of likes and dislikes, some of which clashed with Jensen’s. Then she started talking about her social life and employer. Jensen couldn’t keep his face neutral when he heard the employer’s name. She saw the reaction and promptly entered feedback on the app. Jensen wondered if this was better or worse than being ghosted at a date later on. “I guess I don’t need to tell you about myself,” Jensen said. “So do I move or do you move?”

“I’m deciding whether or not I need to break your biases,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“There are so many people refusing to consider partners who don’t share their demographics or preferences. You’re obviously one. I just don’t know whether or not I want the emotional labor of breaking you of those preferences.”

“I thought you were a match. We obviously aren’t –“

“You don’t even know what I believe,” she said.

“You don’t, either. I’ve hardly said anything about myself.”

“It’s all in your profile.”

Jensen blinked a few times. He pulled out his phone to see if there was a full profile on her in the app. He’d already look like a fool if he hadn’t bothered to look at her bio while she looked at his. Unfortunately, there was nothing about her beyond a face, name or handle, and a rating option. How could she have more information on him than the other way around? Actually, there was no information about her like age, race, faith, politics or anything. He asked, “Can you see my dating bio?” She showed him her phone screen. It had his face, legal name, age and tons of information. There were even details he didn’t put on social media that could have only come from the dating site’s detailed profile.

“I don’t see how this is fair. How do you have all that information on me but I don’t have the same?”

“That’s the system.”

“That makes no sense.”

“We’re here to break down our biases and cross the divide.”

Jensen wondered if there was something in the terms and conditions he’d missed. “I think I see the problem. I’m here for a dating service, not some debating –“

“Same thing.”

“Very much not. Well, maybe there is such a thing in some Meetup, but that’s not what I signed up for.”

“The service wants to break up people’s silos and social boundaries to help them cross divides. Romantic and personal relationships are the last place people discriminate.”

Jensen was now certain she was not a match. “How did you get matched with me?”

“It is pairing people who have the greatest need to have negative barriers torn down and –“

“That’s not what I signed up for. How do I find people compatible with me?”

“That’s unfairly exclusionary. You need to consider far more possibilities. And you need to stop interrupting me.” The girl gave him what he could only guess was another down vote. At that point, he realized it was probably racking up time he was spending arguing with her. He got up without a word and started circulating. “We’re not done!” she said. He ignored her.

As Jensen made a loop around the room, he heard everything from stimulating conversations to sullen silence to full arguments. He had a flashback to movies that had main characters fight at the beginning before falling in love. Those were usually comedies. But this is real life.

Jensen started looking for the facilitators. One of the facilitators was refereeing a full argument. Another was camped out by the door, though he had no idea why. A third was by the food table. Jensen sought him/her/it out. “Hi,” he said. “Can you help me?”

“Sure. What do you need?”

“I was matched with someone who clearly isn’t a match. Uh, different values, I think would be the polite way to describe it. How can I find someone compatible here?”

“We try to help people who have trouble finding matches to stretch themselves and break through to a new population of potential partners – “

“OK, I remember the description. But I don’t need to be lectured by someone I clearly disagree with, and something’s wrong if others are outright fighting.”

“We can send you someone else, if there’s a major conflict. We just ask that you be open minded.”

“I’m here,” Jensen retorted.

“No, that’s not enough. Everyone needs to have their horizons expanded so we can create new relationships.”

“Look, I thought this was for dating, you know? Finding people I’d like. People who’d like me.”

“You’re probably a good person that others would like, if you are willing to set aside your preconceptions.”

Jensen grimaced. Had he ended up signing up for a political group that was doing de facto missionary dating? If he’d wanted that, he could have actually gone out with girls who were honest about doing missionary dating. “Can you tell me what is going on?”

“We found that too many people were biased in their selection of potential dating partners, and the false perception that there was an endless dating pool led to them adding ever more requirements. This was hurting many people on many different fronts. The popular candidates would take advantage of those seeking the perfect person, never settling because they didn’t have to. The middle tier candidates were going out with hundreds, getting burned out if they didn’t have their hearts broken. This caused emotional pain while contributing to isolation and depression. They were literally not good enough, because too many potential partners were too picky. Those at the bottom tier struggled to be accepted by anyone and were too often excluded. Thus we include a diverse mix and seek to maximize diversity in pairings while breaking down barriers.”

“I’ve been on interracial dates,” Jensen said defensively. “I’ve dated international students as well as citizens –“

“We just call everyone documented or undocumented residents. No need for nationalism. It is unfairly exclusive and the legal status is so transitory these days …”

“OK, I am really concerned about the diversity angle in this.”

“You’re not racist, are you?”

“I just said I’ve been on interracial dates.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re not racist. Even parents of interracial children may harbor racist views.”

Jensen was torn. He didn’t want to be publicly labeled a bigot, since even false accusations could ruin your life. Leaving at this point might get him smeared with a phobic label, too. “I need to move on to the next candidate. That woman is too … argumentative. Confrontational.”

The facilitator brought up their tablet and entered a few things. Jensen’s phone buzzed. “Your next candidate will be available shortly. Please wait over there.”

Eventually, one of the women who had been in an argument with the man she’d been assigned with left that table and joined Jensen at his new one. She was obviously flustered. Initially, she seemed a more likely prospect. She was a 6 out of 10, whereas the first was a 2 out of 10. From the argument he’d heard, she wasn’t in agreement with him but wasn’t as far as the first candidate. He offered to get her a snack, but she declined. She spent five minutes criticizing the first candidate but moved on to general chit-chat with him over nothing. Some of the other tables had progressed to intense political, religious or lifestyle debates though there was more than one angry rant. This was not really a dating service, he decided.

As Jensen talked to her, he kept a lot of personal information back since he assumed she had his profile. It was promising so far, since she hadn’t voted on the app one way or the other. He finally shifted from casual conversation to outlining what he believed. “Oh, I can’t date you”, she interjected after the third sentence. “I won’t date anyone like you.”

“Isn’t that bigotry?”

“No, your worldview is bigotry. This is discretion.”

“No, it is discrimination. You’re refusing to even consider dating someone like me because of my beliefs.”


Jensen decided he didn’t even want to try a third time. “They say this is about taking down barriers and breaking misconceptions. May I share my observations with you?” She got up and left after one full sentence, pausing after rising only to vote on the app.

Jensen sat alone for a long time. He wondered if they were trying a third time’s the charm approach to dating or trying to wear him down in general. He debated talking to the facilitator or just leaving and complaining on social media. There was a privacy agreement and censorship AI to enforce it, but he might get the word out. While he was mulling his options, one of the facilitators approached him. “It looks like you need a lot more work before you’re suitable for the dating pool.”

“It sounds like your definition of inclusion doesn’t include me. And no one I’ve talked to is willing to consider their own biases or institutional barriers.”

“We’re going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Oh, good,” Jensen said. He deleted the app from his phone, cleared the cache and double checked tracking before he went any further. “I’ve been matched with two different people so far from my views they’re incompatible. The only thing that didn’t come up was if they were homosexual and I’m hetero.”

“Oh, no, we’d never do that. We don’t mess with innate characteristics like that. And we have a different service if you were interested in such experimentation.”

“I’m not interested.”

“Pity.” The facilitator didn’t really mean it. “You know, they’re talking about just randomly matching assignments.”

“That would explain the horrible matches.”

“No. I mean, at a social level. Match people based on desired family size, fertility and sexual preference but nothing more. Randomly assign them so that no one is discriminated against on appearance, personality, ethnicity or income. We’d get a more just society that way. We’re a trial run, really, to get the algorithms right.”

“You want people to be assigned their husbands or wives?” Jensen asked, mouth agape.

“That’s too exclusionary. It would be lovers or breeding partners, depending on each’s desire for children. That makes it fair, so that no one has a child they don’t want and isn’t stuck with someone who can’t or won’t have children.”

“Excuse me,” Jensen said. He left the rented diner and raced out into the street. He wondered how far the censorship AI extended. It could track calls, interfere in social media posts and interfere in video conferences. He decided to walk over to his friend Kayla’s apartment. If he talked to her, she might listen. Anything she posted might be read. Maybe he’d find someone who understood. And he needed support right now.

He knocked on the door. As he’d hoped, she opened it. “What are you here about?”

He couldn’t say too much on the public street. The cameras recorded everything. He asked her, “Have you heard of Harrison Bergeron?”

“Maybe. Is that science fiction? Or is that some other genre?”

“Can I talk to you? Can I come in?” They talked hours into the night in person, where no AI or app could reach. Not when Jensen had made certain all the smart devices were not just off but unplugged. Privacy mattered, especially at times like this. As he fell asleep on her couch, he wondered if the third time might indeed be the charm.


image via  QuinceCreative (Pixabay)