The grandfatherly co-founder of eHarmony is retiring, but the dating website he represented will continue to make matches even as he opts to spend more time with his wife.
Although eHarmony is not the largest online dating site, it still represents a sharp shift in how online dating has been used and perceived in American society. The company's outgoing chief executive officer, Neil Clark Warren, was a significant force behind that shift, helping to convince originally skeptical Americans that they could click – or today, swipe – their way towards love.
Grant Langston, the vice president of brand marketing and one of the company's original members, will now take the reins of "The #1 Trusted Dating Site for Like-Minded Singles," as the company brands itself.
eHarmony, which famously boasts two million marriages, first entered the online dating scene in 2000. Online dating had a wild reputation, but Warren insisted he wanted to match up people for the long-term. As Warren's wife told The Christian Science Monitor in 2005, they wanted something different.
"Our whole focus is on putting people together, making compatible matches that have the possibility of the long term," said Marylyn Warren, then the senior vice president of eHarmony. "If you want a date for Saturday night, we probably are just not the place to come."
Warren's grandfatherly appearance suggested a sensitive and concerned listener and advisor for all of courtship's woes, a kindly image the company latched on to, while his psychology degree lent legitimacy to the site's claims to match couples based on deeper compatibility measures than competing services. With the bespectacled Warren at the helm, eHarmony became a place not just to have fun, but also to find long-term partnership and marriage.
The key to this image was twofold: Warren provided a sense of stability and experience, with a Christian background that appealed to many users, while the site promised science would do the rest. eHarmony created a patented Compatibility Matching System, with over 400 questions designed to test someone's prospective compatibility.
This approach spawned competitors such as PerfectMatch and Match.com who used psychology, research, and the wisdom of the ages to try and find the cure the dating woes of their digital clients.
"With its patented Compatibility Matching System TM and its strict rules on who may meet whom, when and where, eHarmony was an attempt to impose structure and scientific rigor onto the unruly world of online dating," wrote Elizabeth Wasserman for the Atlantic. "As millions flocked to eHarmony to find soul mates, and thousands reported walking down the aisle with a Compatible Match, Dr. Warren's competitors decided to get into the scientific matching game."
Today, online dating has changed in more than just its approach to science. The number of online daters has soared, particularly among ages 18 to 24, tripling to 27 percent from just 2013 to 2016. Overall, 15 percent of US adults says they have used a dating site, and 44 percent agree they are "a good way to meet people," according to Pew Research Center.
"When we first studied online dating habits in 2005, most Americans had little exposure to online dating or to the people who used it, and they tended to view it as a subpar way of meeting people," wrote researchers at Pew. "Today, nearly half of the public knows someone who uses online dating or who has met a spouse or partner via online dating – and attitudes toward online dating have grown progressively more positive."
But in a world where online start-ups and app developers come and go, and only 30 percent of Millennials list marriage as one of the most important things in life, does all of this even matter?
For Dr. Warren, at least – and the future of his company – the answer is yes.
"Marriage is the most important social issue in America today," he told the Monitor in 2002. "If you get marriages right, you will change the whole fabric of our society."