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Perspective

Chutzpah, unmatched

If you're single and searching (for condescension), maybe this new dating website’s for you.

By Shira Springer
November 14, 2010

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Attention single women: There’s a new dating website in town.

DateHarvardSq.com seeks to match career-driven Harvard men with “women who place a premium on intelligence, ambition, and love of learning.” Interested? Sound romantic? Wait, it gets better. When I first saw the site a couple months ago, it promised to “empower women in the dating process,” letting them choose from five new Harvard bachelors every week. For this opportunity, interested women are asked to pay a subscription fee, $20 to $50, depending on membership duration. Harvard men, either current students or graduates – and advertised as doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, academics, and professionals – participate for free.

As a Harvard alumna, I wondered if it was a joke. Sounds like someone with too much money spent too much time watching The Bachelorette. I’ve never been sure what part of sitting in a hot tub and choosing from a half-dozen lecherous men, as the TV bachelorettes do, is empowering or even appealing. (OK, unless Mad Men’s Jon Hamm is somehow involved in the scenario.) And I don’t see how paying for the privilege to date a Harvard man is empowering, either.

In fairness to the site, which continues to evolve, men can now sign up to date Harvard women. And registration was recently extended to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. So now in any scenario in which a non-Harvard single pursues someone with Crimson credentials, the non-Harvard party will pay. (Typically, dating websites with membership fees charge everyone who joins.) But make no mistake: This site began, and its success will likely hinge, on one premise – that a Harvard man is a catch worth the cost. Sexism, meet elitism. Talk about a match.

Far from a prank, the site is a disturbing look at what happens when you turn back the clock to a time when sexism and elitism were tolerated and couched in terms that made it sound as if such practices were in the best interest of those deemed inferior. The site, which is not affiliated with the university, sees its approach as progress and boasts of being a “first-of-its-kind online dating community.” Perhaps DateHarvardSq.com signals a tipping point for niche dating, a point at which all useful niches are taken and new sites with new membership criteria lead down a path to absurdity.

It’s hard to imagine that the site’s founders and supporters didn’t consider how the site’s approach might be perceived. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they believe love truly conquers all.

The founders, Beri Meric and Philipp Triebel, 2010 graduates of Harvard Business School, seem like nice enough guys. They like talking about their market research, proprietary matching algorithm, and responsiveness-rate calculator, all designed to create, Meric tells me, “an easy-to-use, effective dating service for women who want to meet educated, ambitious, successful Harvard men.” So far, they say, more than 50,000 people have checked out the site with hundreds of Harvard men – and hundreds of women who want to date them – signing up. At the time of this writing, the site was scheduled to begin making those matches tomorrow.

“What we do that’s unique is we match women and men who pursue the values inherent in a Harvard lifestyle,” Meric says. “That’s defined by love of learning, intellectual curiosity, drive, and determination.”

The qualities of the men to be found on the site, Triebel says, “are by no means exclusive to the Harvard community. But the professional and academic achievements of these gentlemen provide a verifiable indication that they possess those attributes.”

I’ve dated Harvard men. I count Harvard men as friends. And I can tell you a Harvard degree isn’t a “verifiable indication” of anything except that the person who has it completed the required coursework. Harvard men, like other men, come in all types, and for every world leader, Supreme Court justice, or Fortune 500 CEO, there is a murderer, an embezzler, or a corrupt politician.

There are no guarantees, not in love and not when it comes to Harvard men.

Shira Springer covers sports for the Globe. E-mail her at springer@globe.com.