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Finding the perfect money match online

Diane Oraif lives in Tuscaloosa, Ala. She used to run a crane and a forklift in a steel mill. Life was good; she was making big money. She fell in love with a local guy, got married. That's when the problems started. Her mom got sick and Oraif had to head out of town to see her. When she got home, she found a boat in her yard. Turns out her husband had gone shopping.

"What is this? Why did you buy this boat? We don't need a boat," said Diane Oraif. "Oh, and that's not all. On top of the boat, there were the car racing parts. $6,500 for a supercharger for his Mustang. And then there was the racing calipers."

Not long after, they were divorced. Oraif did end up looking for love again... eventually. But this time she wanted to be more cautious -- to find a guy who shared her attitude towards money. So she went online. Digital daters will tell you one benefit of using a dating site is pre-screening. Oraif asked potential dates if they were spenders or savers, if they liked going out for big meals and worrying about the bill later.

"Sometimes it's not enough to be just in love. I was definitely in love with my ex-husband, but it didn't last. He ended up misusing money, and it hurt me very badly. It seemed like the ultimate disrespect," said Oraif.

eHarmony is perhaps the best-known site for questioning daters. As one of its commercial said, "At eHarmony, we pre-screen each and every member for you -- to determine your matches based on compatibility."

eHarmony says its method of matching is the ideal barometer for predicting healthy pairs, so it doesn't need to ask specific questions about money habits.

But Perfectmatch.com says you do need to ask. Dr. Pepper Schwartz created the matching algorithm for the site. She says money questions are so important Perfectmatch even offers a test called "Money and Economic Aspirations."

"'Now with the economic downturn, I need to think and worry about money much more then I used to.' That might be different than 'I like to buy really nice things and have often spent more money then I really can afford.' Those are two different kinds of people," said Schwartz.

How does Schwartz know which questions to ask?

"I don't pretend to understand attraction. But I do know that there's a literature that talks about long-term compatibility. I can tell you, for example, that we have very good social science information that if people don't pool all their money, they will fight about money less," said Schwartz.

Translation: Schwartz says her research shows if a married couple keeps separate accounts as well as a joint account, they tend not to argue about money as much. Schwartz says Perfectmatch asks questions to figure out what you expect financially in a relationship -- like, "I'd very much prefer to be with someone who earns more money than I do and is financially secure." True or False?

But can an online test score a perfect union? Eli Finkel is a psychologist at Northwestern University. And he says the success of these dating sites has yet to be proven. But he says one thing we do know is that actually daters don't know what they want. Especially about money.

Confused? Here's an example. A single woman, we'll call her Jasmine, participated in a speed dating study Finkel did.

"And she was at the very top of the scale in terms of her preferences for a man with good earning prospects even in a speed dating partner," said Finkel.

In other words, Jasmine wanted a man with money. But then, the classic story. Girl meets boy. Girl changes her mind. But since this is speed dating, Jasmine changes her mind really fast.

"Well, what he wants to do is play the trombone on a cruise ship," said Finkel.

Not exactly a guy with big bucks. Finkel says that's the danger with online dating, screening and money. People might think they know what they want but put the same group in a room together and pre-defined ideas, like Jasmine's, will fly right out the window.

"There's reason to believe that asking people what they want, is not the best way of getting at what they actually want," said Finkel.

So if you're single, Finkel says don't try to pick your own online match -- you might miss out on your trombone player. Or you can just remember the most important question you can ask about money in a relationship -- is whether someone is willing to answer more questions about money in that relationship.

Sally Herships: Diane Oraif lives in Tuscaloosa, Ala. She used to run a crane and a forklift in a steel mill. Life was good; she was making big money.

She fell in love with a local guy, got married. That's when the problems started. Her mom got sick and Oraif had to head out of town to see her. When she got home, she found a boat in her yard. Turns out her husband had gone shopping.

Diane Oraif: "What is this? Why did you buy this boat? We don't need a boat." Oh, and that's not all. On top of the boat, there were the car racing parts. $6,500 for a supercharger for his Mustang. And then there was the racing calipers.

Not long after, they were divorced. Oraif did end up looking for love again... eventually. But this time -- she wanted to be more cautious -- to find a guy who shared her attitude towards money. So she went online.

Digital daters will tell you one benefit of using a dating site is pre-screening. Oraif asked potential dates if they were spenders or savers, if they liked going out for big meals and worrying about the bill later.

Oraif: Sometimes it's not enough to be just in love. I was definitely in love with my ex-husband, but it didn't last. He ended up misusing money, and it hurt me very badly. It seemed like the ultimate disrespect.

eHarmony is perhaps the best-known site for questioning daters.

eHarmony commercial: At eHarmony, we pre-screen each and every member for you -- to determine your matches based on compatibility.

eHarmony says its method of matching is the ideal barometer for predicting healthy pairs, so it doesn't need to ask specific questions about money habits.

But Perfectmatch.com says you do need to ask. Dr. Pepper Schwartz created the matching algorithm for the site. She says money questions are so important Perfectmatch even offers a test called "Money and Economic Aspirations."

Dr. Pepper Schwartz: "Now with the economic downturn, I need to think and worry about money much more then I used to." That might be different than "I like to buy really nice things and have often spent more money then I really can afford." Those are two different kinds of people, you know?

I asked Schwartz how she knows which questions to ask.

Schwartz: I don't pretend to understand attraction. But I do know that there's a literature that talks about long-term compatibility. I can tell you, for example, that we have very good social science information that if people don't pool all their money, they will fight about money less.

Translation: Schwartz says her research shows if a married couple keeps separate accounts as well as a joint account, they tend not to argue about money as much. Schwartz says Perfectmatch asks questions to figure out what you expect financially in a relationship -- like, "I'd very much prefer to be with someone who earns more money than I do and is financially secure." True or False?

But can an online test score a perfect union? Eli Finkel is a psychologist at Northwestern University. And he says the success of these dating sites has yet to be proven. But he says one thing we do know is that actually daters don't know what they want. Especially about money.

Confused? Here's an example. A single woman, we'll call her Jasmine, participated in a speed dating study Finkel did.

Eli Finkel: And she was at the very top of the scale in terms of her preferences for a man with good earning prospects even in a speed dating partner.

In other words, Jasmine wanted a man with money. But then, the classic story. Girl meets boy. Girl changes her mind. But since this is speed dating, Jasmine changes her mind really fast.

Finkel: Well, what he wants to do is play the trombone on a cruise ship.

Not exactly a guy with big bucks. Finkel says that's the danger with online dating, screening and money. People might think they know what they want but put the same group in a room together and pre-defined ideas, like Jasmine's, will fly right out the window.

Finkel: There's reason to believe that asking people what they want, is not the best way of getting at what they actually want.

So if you're single, Finkel says don't try to pick your own online match -- you might miss out on your trombone player. Or you can just remember the most important question you can ask about money in a relationship -- is whether someone is willing to answer more questions about money in that relationship.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.
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That's a very interesting article. It's something that almost never gets brought up on dates, yet can lead to fights if the relationship moves on to that next level. On Match.com, there's a field for income that gets displayed on each profile, but who knows if that person is lying? I'm curious to see what my readers at my <a href = "http://www.onlinedatingmuse.com"> online dating advice</a> site think about this topic.

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