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Should we think more about EA dating?

by anonymoususer1 min read25th Jul 202049 comments

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Let's face it, many of us EAs are weird. Good weird...but weird nonetheless.

A lot of us don't like to spend much money...at all. Many of us forgo animal products on our plates. Some of us like discussing people who don't even exist yet, and pretty much all of us like to think more with our head than our heart when it comes to doing good.

In the eyes of many people out there this pretty much makes us "undateable". I mean, who wants to go out with a frugal vegan? Well...perhaps another frugal vegan?

The point I'm making is, maybe we'd be best shacking up with each other, and maybe there are things we can do to make this easier. We have the socials and events, but this brings me to another fact about EAs: we can sometimes be pretty socially awkward. How many of us have the social skills to find a partner at EA Global? Well, maybe some of us (that Will MacAskill is awfully dreamy).

So I do wonder if there's anything we can do to make it easier for EAs to find other romantically-compatible EAs. An EA Tinder/match.com? EA speed dating? EA singles events?

Or maybe I've gone off my rocker. Maybe the existing social events are good enough. Maybe we should go on regular tinder and find someone who can tolerate us. Maybe I get off the EA Forum, go outside and tell that cute girl I pass every day all about Peter Singer's drowning child thought experiment.

What do you all think? Am I off my rocker?

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9 Answers

Believe it or not, you're not the first person to think about this. There's an EA dating site made years ago called reciprocity.io, although I'm not sure it gets much use anymore.

Some arguments I've seen in favor of this:

  • Dating another EA might prevent value drift.
  • If a relationship with a non-EA goes sour, that person might have a negative association with EA as a result.
  • Having a partner is generally associated with more happiness, which is perhaps intrinsically good, and perhaps good for helping one feel more motivated to do good in the world.

Some arguments against:

  • The skewed gender ratio in EA might make this difficult. (I'm not sure how this plays out when you take LGBTQ+ people into account.)
  • Dating a non-EA might persuade them to become an EA.

Personally, I feel a bit icky about actively encouraging inter-EA dating, as it feels a bit culty to me, and I think it further insulates us from the rest of the world (which I think is bad, but I think others might disagree with me on). But, at the same time, a lot of different subcultures have their own dating apps and mingling events, and I don't think those are culty, so maybe my concerns aren't well-founded.

Another against:

I also find it very helpful to be very close to people who share a lot of core values but are not entirely aligned/identities aren't too similar. You end up with diversity of thought in your own life. Plus, it's a lot better to bounce off and model the general population when you have people near and dear to you who think differently.

2Evan_Gaensbauer10moStrongly upvoted. This is an approach I've taken to dating outside the EA community. Most of my dating is typically outside the EA community. I've not found success in long-term romance. I'm pretty confident that's due to factors in my private life unrelated to this specific approach to dating EA community members can take. I'd recommend more in EA try it as well.
If a relationship with a non-EA goes sour, that person might have a negative association with EA as a result.

For what it's worth, my guess is that this is a larger concern for dating EAs than for dating non-EAs.

This is very similar to the comment I was going to make.

I admit that it has crossed my mind that even a moderate EA lifestyle is unusually demanding, especially in the longterm, and therefore could make finding a longterm partner more difficult. However, I do resonate with that last bit – encouraging inter-EA dating also seems culty and insular to me, and I’d like to think that most of us could integrate EA (as a project and set of values) into our lives in way that allows us to have other interests, values, friends, and so on (i.e., our live... (read more)

5Evan_Gaensbauer10moI responded to Marisa with this comment [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/7vMb3RqAXezEjuqq4/should-we-think-more-about-ea-dating?commentId=qWwEgcMChGPnoZC4E] which pushes back on the notion that inter-EA dating is a particularly culty and insular phenomenon. Upshots: * Some public accusations of cultishness should be taken seriously, but EA should respond to them by doing what we do best: looking into scientific research, specifically about cults, in evaluating such allegations to ourselves. This is a more sensible approach than hand-wringing about hypothetical accusations of cultishness that haven't been levelled yet. To do so only plays into the hands of moral panics over cults in public discourse that don't themselves typically lessen the harms of cults, real or perceived. * Dozens if not hundreds in EA have dated, formed relationships, gotten married or started families in ways that have benefited themselves personally and also their capacity to do good. This is similarly true in its own ways of tens of millions of people who marry and start families within their own religions, cultures or ethnic groups, including in more diverse and pluralistic societies. While EA ought to be worried about ways in which it could cult-like, the common human tendency to spend our lives with those who share our own respective ways of life doesn't appear to be high on that list. * One could argue that that's a problematic tendency within societies at large and EA should aspire to more than that. Given my perception that those in EA who've formed flourishing relationships within the community have done so organically as individuals, there doesn't seem to me to be a reason to encourage intra-community dating. Yet to discourage it based on a concern it may appear cult-like would be to impel community members to a kind of romantic asceticism for nobody's benefit.

Yes. Basically the answer to "Should EAs date each other?" is "If they feel like it", but they answer to "Should we think more about EAs dating each other?" is "No".

2Evan_Gaensbauer9moSummary: There are multiple reasons why, in my opinion, we in EA should not encourage intra-community dating beyond how it arises organically in the community. Yet that's not the same thing as not thinking about it. A modicum of public discussion about intra-community dating is probably not 'culty' compared to much of what the EA community already engages in regardless. One solution may be for those of us who are personal friends with each other in EA to make greater effort to provide support to each other in our mutual pursuits of romantic partners amenable to an EA lifestyle, especially including outside the EA community as well. I agree the EA community should not systematically think about us dating each other. By "systematically," I mean that I don't think the EA community ought to try seeking a programmatic way for us to date each other. There are multiple reasons I expect doing so would be a poor choice for the EA community. The concern we've discussed in this thread in that is that it could make EA look 'culty,' which I agree is a legitimate concern. One issue I've got with how the EA community tends to think about brand management and public relations, or whatever the social movement equivalent for those concepts are, is that we tend to reflexively care about it only when it comes up at random, as opposed to thinking about it systematically. That's relevant because, relative to much more significant aspects of EA, whether we openly "think about dating each other" is not that 'culty.' There is some op-ed in a semi-popular magazine, print and/or online, about how communities concerned about AI alignment as an existential risk amount to doomsday cults. Much of the population perceives veganism as a cult. I've met a lot of people over the years who have told me that the phenomenon of widespread adoption of common lifestyle changes among community members still makes it gives off 'culty' vibes. Meanwhile, plenty of cultures within global society publicly and
3anonymoususer10moI do think you could compromise, but I worry that some EAs won't want to. If you take Peter Singer's drowning child thought experiment seriously you may not want to placate your non-EA girlfriend by going on that holiday abroad. Taking that thought experiment seriously for many people really will entail a high degree of demandingness without much room for compromise.
8Khorton10moI see the underlying idea here that everyone involved in EA is a "frugal vegan". I haven't been able to find any data, but my impression is that less than half of people involved in EA are vegan. Similarly, you talk about not wanting to compromise on your spending habits, but the job you do and where you live probably make more of an impact than whether or not you eat cheese or go on holiday. If you meet someone at EA Global and end up taking foreign holidays to visit them in their country or moving to be with them, how is that more "right" than taking your non-EA girlfriend on a holiday? All this to say that whether or not your girlfriend is an "Effective Altruist", you'll need to respect her beliefs and preferences and make some major compromises to have a healthy relationship.
4anonymoususer10moI didn't mean to make it seem that the underlying idea is that everyone in EA is a frugal vegan, that was meant to be a somewhat humorous example to illustrate a point. I think my core idea is that a significant proportion (but not all) EAs are sufficiently different to the average non-EA person as to make dating outside EA difficult (but not impossible). I actually am someone who can compromise to a certain extent, for example I went to Singapore for my friend's wedding in January, but I am thinking of those who don't feel they can. I accept that one can more than make up for going on a holiday by doing good in their job, but taking a Singerian view seriously still means not going on that holiday in the first place and will probably entail aiming to find a girlfirend who lives nearby and not one who you have to fly to to visit. Absolutely agree. My point is that if two similar EAs are dating these compromises may be less likely to seriously conflict with core ethical beliefs. Of course there will always be more personal compromises to make.
3Khorton10moMy point about the girlfriend in a different country is that the majority of EAs don't live in your city, so if you decided to use an online dating service you'd be disproportionately likely to meet someone who lives a plane ride away.
1anonymoususer10moFair point. Overall I think I'm more positive about singles events / speed dating than a dating website. But I accept concerns over being able to find the right numbers and coming off as slightly cultish

Some more considerations:

  • If you have a bad experience dating EAs, that might cause you to sour on the EA movement. (Personally, after getting rejected by some EAs, part of my brain pointed out "hey you're putting a lot of effort into this EA thing and it doesn't seem to be helping where survival or reproduction are concerned." Since this isn't something I want my brain to think, I no longer ask EAs out.)
  • There's also the possibility of general awkwardness that could interfere with professional relationships.
  • For heterosexual dat
... (read more)

I appreciate this informative comment. I've got a couple of relevant points to add.

1. As a community coordinator for EA, a few years ago I was aware more in EA were interested in dating others in the community. I shared a link to reciprocity.io around in EA Facebook groups like EA Hangout. This got a few more hundred people to get on reciprocity. I talked to Katja Grace, who originally had the idea.

Reciprocity.io was written to support the much smaller Bay Area rationality community, which had the time had over 100 people but not too many more than t... (read more)

Summary: Concerns about apparent or actual cultishness are serious but ought to be worked through in a more rational way than is typical of popular discourse about cults. EA pattern-matches to being a small, niche community on the fringe of mainstream society, which is also a common characteristic and tell of a cult. Yet there is widespread cognitive dissonance in society at large about how social structures involving tens of millions of people also have harmful, cult-like aspects to them as well. It's perhaps the majority of people in even more diver... (read more)

Thanks for your response which seems to have resonated with others. Skewed gender ratio is a difficulty, although it is possible to equalise the number of men and women at singles events by making them ticketed. I am also not taking into account LGBTQ+ here, but in theory you could have LGBTQ+ EA events.

It may feel culty and that may well be a valid reason not to pursue it. I do wonder if this will still be a concern when EA has grown further. We tend not to think of vegan events as culty (well I suppose a lot of people do...). Perhaps EA is just a bit too small at this moment in time to make encouraging EA-dating viable, but when it has become more mainstream it may be a natural progression for the movement.

I just want to add my experience is that "Maybe I get off the EA Forum, go outside and tell that cute girl I pass every day all about Peter Singer's drowning child thought experiment" has worked really well for me so far.

4Peter_Hurford10moNot sure what you mean... Number of long-term relationships? Number of dates? Number of times I've talked with a cute non-EA girl about EA and perceived it as going well? Regardless not sure I'd be comfortable revealing that info in public.
3Linch10moI meant number of LTRs you tried that strategy with and it working. In my head I was imagining this happening once, so I was amused at the idea of its generalizability! Totally understand your unwillingness to share that information in public!
8Evan_Gaensbauer9moThe value of n is so high that Peter wouldn't want to embarrass the rest of us with how smooth he is by disclosing that information. Yet I've got access to it! It's a well-kept secret that 8% of all historical growth of the EA movement is due to Peter bringing cute girls into the movement by way of telling all of them he passes by about the thought experiment about the drowning child[citation needed].

Marisa's answer seems great to me.

Two small things I'll add:

  • Here's a hilarious article on "marrying to give", written as a parody of 80,000 Hours
  • It could be interesting to learn what proportion of EAs date/form long-term relationships with other EAs vs with non-EAs, and whether there's a notable difference between those cases in how successful the dating/relationships are
    • But I'd guess that that information would be much less valuable than a lot of other information we could spend our resources gaining, and I'd also worry about becoming/appearing navel-gazing or cult-like

Funny article!

I actually think getting that sort of information might be quite useful. I'm not saying we should have an independent research project on "Romantic relationships in EA" but perhaps the next EA survey could throw a few questions in regarding how being an EA has impacted on social/romantic life. We don't want to completely neglect the how "nice" it is to be part of the EA community angle. Making progress on this could help us grow the community in the long-run.

3MichaelA10moYeah, I'd feel more positive about some questions on this as part of a larger survey than about an independent research project just on this. And the question of how being an EA has impacted people's social/romantic lives seems perhaps more important and less weird/weird-seeming than the specific questions of whether EAs date other EAs vs non-EAs and how that affects their experiences. (But these are just my quick, largely-intuition-based two cents.)
1anonymoususer10moI agree!

I think it's a great idea. For me it's impossible to have an intimate long-term relationship with someone without shared worldview and values, and I'm sure it's the same for many people. Both of my partners are EAs. One of them lives on a different continent, and there's a reason I had to go so far afield to find someone compatible. Having a dedicated website would make it that much easier.

The concerns about "cultishness" are IMO overblown, and ironically some of those concerns feel *more* "culty" than the thing they are concerned about. If there is a significant subset of the community that feels like they would benefit from something that would help them date other EAs, it's not something other people should have the right to veto. Probably this is unintentional, but to me those concerns sound much too dismissive of serious challenges some members of this community face in their personal lives.

Btw, reciprocity.io is not a good solution since it only helps you to find dates among your Facebook friends.

Glad to hear you think it's a good idea! How do you feel about events such as speed-dating / singles events versus websites?

1Vanessa10moPersonally I prefer websites since they seem to be more efficient in terms of time and travel distance. Especially in the COVID era, online is better. Although I guess it's possible to do an online speed-dating event.

I don't think this idea is very practical -- atleast for the next few years. EA is a very global and spread-out community. Directly quoting the EA Survey 2019 Series: Geographic Distribution of EAs:

In the figure below it is clear that the number of EAs in the top “major hubs” is dwarfed by the number of EAs in “Other” cities which are not named in the figure below due to having fewer than 10 EAs.

Link to the figure they were talking about.

Let's take an extreme case, where you happen to live in the city with the highest number of EAs (i.e. San Francisco Bay Area). Even that is like 150 EAs, divided into ~100 males and ~50 females. Even this is a "barely enough" selection pool -- due to low number of people.

Ofcourse, if you're fine with long-distance/virtual dating, then that's a different story.

Yes.

Addition: I think this is a serious need for many people and it would save a lot of time and energy to make the process more effective. I think worries about cultishness are quite overblown; there are dating sites for various kinds of groups. Solutions could look like either intra-EA dating or a consultancy solving the dating problems for particular EAs, matchmaking them with people outside the movement. Working on this would also be a great way to create a startup that could scale to millions of customers (see also Roam, which started out catering to individual EAs and is now a fast-growing success).

Would you mind please sharing a link to this startup 'Roam'? They sound interesting but I've not heard of it. I'd look it up myself but I doubt I'd know how to find the right website just by searching the word "roam." 

4Elizabeth9moroamresearch.com
2Evan_Gaensbauer9moThanks!

Hypocrite 101 here as I am dating / have dated EAs, but anyway...

The problem this post is trying to solve is "EAs are a bit too weird for other people", and the proposed solution is "let's pair up romantically". This solution would, in my opinion, aggravate another significant problem which is best laid out by this post here about risks of insularity within the community from excessive value alignment. The writer makes a much more rigorous than I am about to, but I think one element of it applies to this case: the quote "EA will miss its ambitious goal by working with only an insular subset of the people it is trying to save."

Having friendships / relationships outside EA would diversify your own thought as well as potentially diversifying the pool of people interested in EA / EA thinking. So if you accept the arguments of this post that insularity / strong value-alignment is a threat, then friendships / relationships outside of EA are intrinsically valuable. Dating other EAs does not in itself create cultural and community insularity, but encouraging it as a solution to a problem of EAs not being great at external social integration would entrench community insularity.

The best counter-argument is that promoting friendships / relationships / any social interaction outside of EA won't go far enough, and that the real problem is insularity at leadership levels within EA, that's what we should break and give the non-dating a break. Which I think is fair. But withstanding that, still benefits for individuals or local groups (e.g. city-based) around external integration.

Other counter-arguments:

Most liberals marry liberals; most cultists marry cultists; people marry those from their fellow religion (and hunt them on dating apps) this is normal for humans to assortatively mate?

Or why can't we have friends who bring us diversity instead?

Yes. On reflection I am tending towards thinking that, given the numbers involved, if you don't have interactions with a wide enough range of people outside of EA meetups to have some interactions that lead to dating, then you probably don't interact with a wide enough range of people outside of EA meetups.

I loved this post and its comments. I'd add:

1. You should totally tell that girl (and maybe everyone else) about the drowning child, the real challenge is to find the best way to do that. Now, instead of emphasizing how having a significant other aligned with your goals might improve your prospects, I wonder how it affects your own personal happiness. People don't have to identify as EAs to support you or share your ultimate goals, but it sure helps; this might be demanding, as other people emphasized above, but actually the effect of your personal lifestyle is usually not so big, so you can compromise a little bit if your acquaintances do it, too. The real problem, in my opinion, is that you'll probably live way better if your significant other understands why something is important to you, instead of just accepting it as some sort of peculiar hobby. Now if that significant other loves you because of that...

Plus, the opposite is also true. You may fall in love with someone for their charm, wit & beauty, but passion fades; now if you're with someone because you love what they do and you can in some sense feel a part of it...

I'm definitively outside of my expertise here (I can only provide negative examples); I'd not say "Nuca Zaria: Effective Dating", but I'd advise young people to seriously entertain the idea that their choice of partners might be comparable (from a personal POV) to some decisions on career paths.

2. This problem extrapolates to friends, though in a milder way. I'm profoundly grateful to my EA friends for the way they make me feel comfortable. I've always felt sort of an outsider in my personal social life, but now, with other people, I'm often that guy who stops in the middle of a sentence to refrain from quoting The Precipice or shedding some tears for human suffering and dreams, etc. I don't want to be the one who lends EA a cult-like appearance.

3. I'd totally welcome EA tips on social life in general; not about how to be charming (that's useful, but I learned one trick or two), but focused on how to be happy with this. Besides my own welfare, I believe it could make me more effective; even if I'm not always trying to "convert" my acquaintances, I want to have a positive impact on / through them. Personally, sometimes I admit to my old friends - at least those who I think can sort of understand it - that I'm trying to "use" them to maximize something like general expected utility through our interactions. I don't think that's the optimal strategy, but it's hard to lie to smart friends, and I sort of see this as a higher form of friendship; so they might forgive my lame or cynical comments like "Wow, this wine is totally worth 20 bednets", or "Now you face Global Warming, the Red Dragon, Destroyer of Worlds; roll initiative."

4. MacAskill is just too handsome, it's counterfactually more effective to pick less dreamy characters. I'd be prefer Toby Ord, which sees the present as a more hingey moment.

What's our gender ratio?

The gender distribution is 71% male, 27% female and 2% other, according to the most recent EA survey.

I thought that's why a recent EA Global theme was "Stay Curious" ;)

1anonymoususer10moNot surprising, but perhaps a slight issue both for the dating idea and more widely. Putting dating aside I wonder if we need to do more to attract women. Whilst I don't think diversity is intrinsically valuable, I do think it can be instrumentally valuable in that it promotes a wider range of viewpoints and can attract more people to the movement in the long-run.
8MichaelA10mo(Regarding diversity in EA and the pros and cons of diversity, you or other readers may find posts tagged Diversity and Inclusion [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/tag/diversity-and-inclusion] interesting.)
3anonymoususer10moThanks. I'm someone who has historically shrugged off diversity as a low priority issue but I'm becoming more open-minded about it. I'm not particularly well-read about it but would like to change that
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Just a point on inclusiveness: throughout this post, you implicitly assume that the average effective altruist is a heterosexual man-- the sort of person who would find a girlfriend at EA Global, has Will MacAskill as his competition, and who might tell cute girls about the drowning child thought experiment. That kind of thing tends to be really alienating to women and LGBT+ people reading! It's the same way you would feel kind of alienated if you read a post assuming that you are a woman and you'd be getting a boyfriend at EA Global. One easy way you can make posts like this more inclusive is by gender-swapping things: for example, you might keep your drowning child example, but say "social skills to find a boyfriend at EA Global." (Will MacAskill should probably be kept as it is, because for better or for worse calling prominent men dreamy is much less socially laden than calling prominent women dreamy.)

Agreed. I thought the framing in the OP was more than a little jarring, despite being a mostly heterosexual dude.

you implicitly assume that the average effective altruist is a heterosexual man

Over 70% of EAs are men (according to the 2019 survey), and probably most of those are heterosexual (though I don't have the statistics to hand), so that would be an accurate assumption.

More importantly, I think the meaning would likely be altered by changing the sex. The gender imbalance probably means that men have a much harder time finding a girlfriend at EAG than women would finding a boyfriend. Also, my impression is that male EAs have, on average, worse social skills than female EAs.

Rather than sacrificing accuracy, I think a better approach would be to include an explicit note about the different issues facing women. But as this is a casual, spitballing type of post, I think that even this suggestion might be over the top.

Thanks fair point. Although "throughout this post" is probably a bit harsh. The cute girl thing was explicitly mentioned to be relevant to me specifically. I certainly could have said "find a partner at EA Global" though.

P.S. Will MacAskill is the most dreamy EA of them all and this is coming from a heterosexual male.

P.P.S Dale also makes some good points

The EAForum has an edit function. :)