Approaching a decade, there appears to be either a deepening or a drifting, and I feared the drift.
Approaching a decade, there appears to be either a deepening or a drifting, and I feared the drift.

'I tested my marriage on a dating site'

By Gina DeMillo Wagner Time of article published Mar 4, 2016

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Washington - “It's over,” my friend cried through the phone.

Her 10-year marriage had imploded. I could hear the clanking of glassware being packed in boxes in the background as she recounted the painful details, as she searched for an answer, for a rewind button.

Hers was the sixth breakup I'd heard about in as many months. Couples I admired, whose lives seemed shiny and perfect, whose marriages appeared bulletproof, suddenly announced that they were splitting.

The news rattled me. My husband, Kris, and I were approaching our 10-year anniversary, and the problems these divorcing couples faced weren't radically different from our own - the stress of raising children, career changes, waning intimacy. Our friends were part of a gloomy statistic: Sixty percent of divorces happen within the first 10 years of marriage,researchers say. The median length of first marriages is about eight years, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Approaching a decade, there appears to be either a deepening or a drifting, and I feared the drift. Kris and I still felt very much in love - we held hands, he wrote sweet notes and tucked them between the pages of my Moleskine planner, we shared the same sense of humour and a love of indie rock bands - but there were nagging issues.

We both worked too much. We argued over dirty dishes and unfolded laundry. The “dream house” we had recently bought was more like a money pit, serving up costly repairs every few months and straining our savings (and our patience). It had been a year since we'd hired a babysitter and gone on a real date. In the wake of having two children, my libido had flat-lined. Most nights, we collapsed into bed exhausted, watching Netflix or scrolling social media until we fell asleep.

Maybe it was just a phase. But some of the most common reasons people give for divorce - arguing, unrealistic expectations - seemed frighteningly familiar. I didn't want to ignore the warning signs, trudge forward and blindly step off a cliff into the marital abyss.

There was another, deeper layer to my anxiety. My parents' marriage had collapsed after 10 years. My mother unraveled and never really recovered. The legacy of their split slept quietly inside me, like a genetic predisposition to cancer. I feared eventually it would awaken.

I wanted an insurance policy, some concrete evidence that our partnership was built to last. So I turned to technology.

I made a plan: Kris and I would open profiles independently on the same dating site. I chose eHarmony because it puts matchmaking in the hands of an objective third party. We wouldn't actually meet or interact with anyone else on the site; we'd simply register on the same day, fill out our profiles and take the compatibility quiz to see if its “scientifically proven” algorithm matched us to one another.

Besides fudging a couple of demographic details, we'd answer every question as thoughtfully and honestly as possible - no gaming the system by answering the way I thought Kris might respond. Then, we'd wait and see if we were matched. The site claims that 438 members get married every day. Maybe the same forces that inspired those marriages would fortify ours.

Kris agreed, but only to humour me. “Sounds like an interesting experiment,” he said.

“It beats couples counselling, right?” I joked. I didn't want to let on how anxious I was, how much I was banking on the outcome of the test.

We marked the day of our “online date” on the calendar. That morning, after Kris left for work, I poured myself a cup of coffee and got down to business. At first, the questions were fun. (“What was the last book you read?” Gone Girl.)

Then they grew more probing. “How important is sexual compatibility?” (Very, though obviously Kris and I hadn't made it a priority.) “When it comes to differences of opinion, do you try to accommodate the other person's position?” (I thought about arguments with Kris, how I am so focused on being right that I often fail to listen to his perspective.)

I reached the end, took a deep breath and clicked “submit.” Within seconds, a pop-up message appeared: “Your Matches are Ready!” I clicked and discovered a dozen surprisingly attractive and successful bachelors within a 30-mile radius. There was Matt, 38, ruggedly handsome in a Patrick Dempsey sort of way, who worked in medical sales and shared my love of travel and books. Gary, 36, was “spiritual, but not religious,” like me, and, as evidenced by his broad shoulders and chiselled arms, enjoyed CrossFit. The matches continued to roll in via email, five at a time. Soon, my inbox was pinging with requests from men to chat, to answer more personal questions, to meet up.

Kris was nowhere on the list.

My heart raced and my fingers trembled as I scrolled through my matches, hoping to see his familiar blue eyes gazing back. I felt confused, unmoored. What did it mean that all these guys were compatible with me? Was it possible that I could be just as happy with any of them as I was with Kris? And why hadn't he made the cut?

I texted Kris, “How's the matchmaking going?” After a few agonising minutes, he replied, “We're not supposed to talk about it, right?” My stomach knotted. The duplicity suddenly bothered me. I assumed the worst - he was window-shopping for other attractive women and planning his escape.

That night, I couldn't sleep. As Kris lay in bed next to me snoring, I revisited my matches. I began to fantasise about Gary's strong arms wrapped around my waist. I imagined how Matt's perfect-looking lips might feel against my neck. I thought about how easy it would be to send either of them a quick message: “Want to meet?” I felt turned on, and guilty. In an effort to avoid my parents' fate, to be more grounded in my marriage, I'd taken a wrong turn - straight off the cliff.

The next morning, I tried to confess my fantasy to Kris. “So, about the eHarmony thing...”

But before I could finish, he said: “Yeah, about that. I didn't do it. I never signed up.”

“What? I thought we agreed.” I felt the sharp sting of disappointment followed quickly by relief, like he'd injected me with soothing serum.

“It's ridiculous,” he said. “I don't need an algorithm to tell me that you're the right woman for me. I just know. Don't you?”

His words were a light in the fog. I was so anxious hearing other people's stories, I'd let them dictate mine, and I'd lost myself in the process. Once I turned down the white noise, I heard the truth: Kris wasn't even tempted to see what other women were out there. He was secure enough for both of us.

I went back online and deleted my account. In an instant, all the men who could have been disappeared into the ether.

What was I left with? A real person, flesh and bone, who loved me despite my fear. I thought about the adventures we'd had in the past 10 years. We'd gone sea kayaking in Thailand, lounged on scorching beaches in Mexico, had two beautiful children. I loved making him laugh. He intuitively knew when I needed space and time to write. These were details that would not fit into an online dating profile.

That night, instead of collapsing on opposite sides of the bed, we made love. Afterward, we talked about the future - trips we wanted to take, new restaurants we wanted to try, our dreams for our kids and for each other.

I didn't need an insurance policy. I had him. When I tuned out technology, I was reminded of something he never forgot: We aren't perfect. But we are perfectly matched.

Washington Post

* Gina DeMillo Wagner is a writer and blogger living in Phoenix.

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