eHarmony Seeks Scientific Edge in Uncertain Game of Love

It looks like any other date: A couple shares a romantic meal in the course of getting to know one another.

Hilarie, a 28-year-old attorney, uses words like perceptive, hard-nosed and skeptical to describe herself. She's focused, curious and outgoing.

Tony, a 32-year-old software engineer, describes himself as fair, sensible and rational. He's also focused, curious and outgoing. That's according to an exhaustive, 320-question self-evaluation that both Hilarie Link and Tony Bako have filled out to join eHarmony, the online dating service that paired them.

Formula for Love
Formula for Love

It looks like any other first date -- except Hilarie and Tony's rendezvous is being watched over by multiple cameras and a Ph.D. in relationship studies.

Watch the full story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

The Ph.D. is Gian Gonzaga, who conducts research for eHarmony. Hilarie and Tony have agreed to the strange setup to test the company's ability to match people.

"They seem[ed] to fit very well," Gonzaga said of the couple's eHarmony profiles. "There are a couple of things in there that are special highlights for them in terms of their personalities, which tend to indicate that they might have some things in common that really drive the getting-more-connected in a relationship."

The computer matchup was being put to the test over dinner.

"He shows a lot of gestures with his hands, and they'll also move into leaning in and out toward each other as the conversation goes on," observed Gonzaga. "All of those things are indications of the emotional connection between the two of them."

eHarmony claims it is responsible for 236 marriages a day -- marriages that have already produced 100,000 babies in this country, the company says.

eHarmony: Is There a Formula for Love?

eHarmony CEO Greg Waldorf showed "Nightline" some of those happy newlyweds plastered along a wall at the company's headquarters. All of the relationships were born of a secret computer algorithm that matches people.

"I've talked to many of our success couples and, frankly, some of them are my friends," said Waldorf. "One of my closest friends from school got married to his wife through eHarmony. When I went to their wedding and said I'm the CEO of eHarmony, a woman said to me, 'Do you go to every wedding?'"

But how does one capture the intangible chemistry of a true love connection in an algorithm or a formula?

"I think of our algorithm as a starting point," said Waldorf. "It's a way to say to the user, 'Here are a whole bunch of matches that you're compatible with.' I wouldn't presume to tell anybody that I know exactly which user they're going to be interested in. We're giving them a really good set of users to start with, and then it flips to that very personal approach of, 'Wow, I think I have something in common with this person.'"

eHarmony: The Joy of Cancellation

Waldorf says eHarmony is different from other online services because it's not in the dating game but in the business of long-term relationships.

It is a business with a huge pool of customers.

eHarmony's call center measures success in a way that would make most company's cringe: by cancellations.

"We appreciate you and once again, thanks again for trying out our service," operator Joe Sebo was saying when "Nightline" paid a visit to the call center. "And congratulations."

Sebo explained what had happened.

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