Ivy Pride: The Next Trend in Meeting Your Mate

Pedigreed Dating vs. Online Matchups: Young alumni flock to networking group.

October 12, 2009, 6:58 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2009— -- In a world where online match-making, Facebook flirting and speed dating collide, is there any room for fate?

Maybe. But can fate strike in a narrow elite educational pool?

That's what a group of Washington, D.C., residents, many looking for love, were testing Friday night at the inaugural meeting here of the Ivy League Plus Society.

Requirements for membership in TIPS are strict. Attendees must have attended one of the eight Ivy League schools or a handful of other TIPS-approved institutions. The University of Chicago and the Naval Academy qualify for the list.

If you were a graduate University of Virginia School of Law graduate, OK, you can attend. But, if you studied at UVA only as an undergraduate, sorry. UVA doesn't make the grade.

"You can only be so superficial for so long," said one young college graduate at Friday night's event, who preferred to remain anonymous. He said he's tired of trying to meet potential mates at general admission bars and parties. "I would like to find people of equivalent educational background -- too dicey to go to a bar and find that. It's nice to know, generally, people are going to be closer to your intellectual range."

But Sam Yagan, co-founder and CEO of OKCupid.com, one of the largest free online dating sites in the United States, is skeptical about how effective a community like TIPS is for finding love.

"What school you went to is just not a great predictor of compatibility, according to our analysis," said Yagan, who was a math major at Harvard. Incidentally, the website's three other founders also attended Harvard.

Yale graduate Jennifer Wilde Anderson, the founder and chairwoman of TIPS, insists there is some flexibility in her social networking club.

"You know some people have e-mailed me and said, I can't find my diploma. Can I still come?"

Anderson, who also has a day job as a real estate development attorney, said the answer is most likely yes.

"If you hear about this party of Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago and MIT alums getting together, and you say that sounds like a lot of fun, and I could use a little smart, sexy fun in my life, I would venture to guess that you'd be a dynamic, engaged, fun person who would add to the party," said Anderson. "We just ask them to send us a quick e-mail, and I'm sure we'll welcome you."

TIPS is already thriving in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. At this week's launch party for the new Washington, D.C., chapter, some 450 college graduates in their 20s, 30s and 40s gathered at a nightclub in the area.

The strict rules weren't openly enforced at Friday's D.C. gathering at Lux Lounge.

"It's an interesting concept to bring people together that have a certain intellectual background," said Liz, who whispered that she went to Holly Cross -- not an Ivy. "I'm a Sagittarian, and I like to try something new."

Social Profiling

All attendees were asked to wear a name tag bearing their first name and the college they attended.

"Why a name tag?" asks a sign at the entrance. "To make it easier for all the lovely, brilliant people to chat with you of course!"

While Anderson said she does not market the organization as a dating service, she does acknowledge its match-making potential, adding that probably 80 percent of the crowd is single.

Matt Gorman, a Georgetown graduate who will serve as a regular co-host for future D.C. events, met Anderson at a Democratic Party dinner in 2004. He said when he heard about her plans for TIPS, he pushed her to allow other consistently ranked schools into the club.

"When she started it, I said, 'I went to Georgetown, we're up there in the Ivy League," recalled Gorman. "I don't know if I convinced her to do the 'plus,' but I said we're just as smart as Penn and Brown."

"Who doesn't want to meet people romantically? That's a bonus. Smart, interesting, ambitious people that you can also hold hands with. What's wrong with that?" asked Gorman, who described himself as a "connector."

The founder of OKCupid.com insisted that finding a connection takes much more than an Ivy League association. When people join OKCupid.com, they are asked to answer a number of questions according to their personal preferences, then answer the same questions according to how their ideal match would respond, and finally, weigh the questions and answers on a five-point scale of importance -- from irrelevant to mandatory.

"A generic algorithm allows people to specify their own preferences and their own customized matching system," he said. "What we see happening is that the questions people care about are things about lifestyle, whether you smoke, your religious preferences, your ambitions, how you spend your free time. They want to know that you have a degree … but, what we don't see people caring about at all is did you go to the same school that I did?"

So were any Ivy League love connections made Friday night? Drew and Emily, both graduates of Cornell University, who work together at a consulting firm but are just friends, called the party "average."

"There aren't that many good-looking women," said Drew. "I was going to say the same about the men," interjected Emily. Both agreed that the event's "Ivy" qualification "definitely" contributed to to the general ambience and makeup of the crowd.

But others felt the party was a little too lively.

Rebecca, who graduated from Williams College and obtained a doctorate in psychology from Princeton University, said she had attended other Ivy League events in the past that had a "much older demographic and a different vibe."

Finding the Right Vibe

"They were easier to hear, not as loud. This feels a little more like a fraternity party," she admitted. "I'd like something in between."

Yagan explained e-dating would continue to be popular in addition to in-person organized dating trends like TIPS, because it's more customizable.

"We provide the audience of users, so we're like the bar that attracts everyone together, and then we provide you with the analytical tools to filter through the millions we have on the site to find the people most compatible with you," said Yagan. "The thing about something like TIPS is that it's a very blunt instrument with which to filter ... If it really were that great of a way to meet someone, you'd see these people get together without a need for a club like TIPS."

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