It started as a joke. Will Butler, the synth wizard who, alongside his brother Win, plays in Arcade Fire, the world’s biggest theater-kid rock band, was at a grad student party in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where, during a break between albums, he was earning a Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He found himself talking to a group of students from the storied M.I.T. Media Lab, an "antidisciplinary research lab" where technology and culture meet.
“We were talking about how online dating has turned all of us into hype men for ourselves,” Butler recalled. “To meet people online, you have to be an expert at self-promotion. You’re forced to pretend to like yourself.” In general, people who are into themselves are weirdos, the group reasoned. Why not make a dating site for the rest of us—for people who are realistically pessimistic about how we stack up in the grand scheme of things?
Two years later, the result is We Don’t Deserve Love, a dating site co-created by Butler, his bandmates in Arcade Fire, and the grad students in the Media Lab’s “affective computing” program. Unlike traditional dating websites, WDDL doesn’t encourage account holders to pretend they’re confident, secure, and happy. Instead, users make profiles by listing the things they like least about themselves. “Beneath every source of security in life lies a source of insecurity,” Joi Ito, the director of the Media Lab, explains. “On a normal dating site, men who are insecure about their masculinity post photos of themselves flexing their muscles. Women who fear they are too introverted post pictures of hangouts with friends. WDDL cuts out the middleman. As a result, it’s simpler and more truthful.”
Creating an account on We Don’t Deserve Love is simple. You can’t upload a profile picture; the site simply uses Google Image Search to collect pictures of you (or your doppelgangers). You don’t waste time listing your favorite books, hobbies, or bands; instead, the site’s profiles revolve around fill-in-the-blank questions, such as “I wish I were more _______,” “My biggest regret in life so far is _______,” “When I’m alone, I think about _______,” “The truth about me is _______,” and “I’m deeply uncertain about _______." A proprietary algorithm, created in-house at the Media Lab, matches profiles by finding complementary weaknesses. “We’re convinced that our approach is fundamentally more accurate,” says Sergei Yang, a psychologist who works on the project. “We just have better data. On other websites, people are pretending to be people they’re not: it’s garbage in, garbage out. On WDDL, they’re honest about themselves.”
Not many couples have met during WDDL’s private beta. Butler says he hopes that will change now that Arcade Fire has launched its world-spanning “Infinite Content” tour. “At each show, there’ll be a ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ tent, where members of the site can meet up,” he said, last week, before soundcheck at Brooklyn’s Grand Prospect Hall. As the site grows and the pool of available data deepens, the developers expect its accuracy to improve.
“It’s a little ironic, obviously,” Butler continued. “We all deserve love. And there’s more to people than their weaknesses. But our theory is that the invisible parts of a person can be way more meaningful than the visible ones.” WeDontDeserveLove.com will be launching later this summer.