A year after its initial launch at McMaster, the Aphrodite Project returns with updated changes

In 2021, an initiative known as the Aphrodite Project was introduced to McMaster University as a way of fostering community by helping students match with a potential romantic partner or platonic friend. Students would answer a number of questions and an algorithm would match them based on their responses. 

The project has returned to McMaster on Jan. 24, 2022.  

Maya Bozzo-Rey, the lead project manager at McMaster who is also a second-year honours biology student, explained that the project has become rather well known within the McMaster community. Many students have inquired about its return on Reddit and other similar platforms and Bozzo-Rey believes that the project adds a layer of community.  

“It just adds a sense of community, especially now, because we’re all at home and online and it’s hard to meet new people, so it’s just nice to even find a friend,” said Bozzo-Rey.  

“It just adds a sense of community, especially now, because we’re all at home and online and it’s hard to meet new people, so it’s just nice to even find a friend."

Maya Bozzo-Rey, Lead Project Manager

Last year, the algorithm that is claimed to be used has been critiqued heavily by many as the type to heavily favour one sex as opposed to the other.  

However, Bozzo-Rey said that the project has come quite far since last year. Even if last year had not turned out how one would’ve wanted, this year could go better. 

Angelina Zhang, a second-year honours sensory-motors student, shared her own experiences with the Aphrodite Project. She participated last year and was paired with someone who she is now friends with. She had gone in hoping to have a romantic match, but explained that the friendship she gained was just as nice.  

Zhang shared that the project’s questionnaire section about what personal beliefs mattered to her the most made her need to step back and evaluate. She shared how these kinds of questions aren’t as common on more popular dating apps that have traditionally prioritized physical attributes.  

“There are a lot of questions that ask you about your values, like what aspects of life you value the most. I think that’s a pretty interesting choice of questions because I feel like when we actually assess our relationships in real life, we don’t always think about that a lot,” said Zhang. 

“There are a lot of questions that ask you about your values, like what aspects of life you value the most. I think that’s a pretty interesting choice of questions because I feel like when we actually assess our relationships in real life, we don’t always think about that a lot."

Angelina Zhang, Honours Sensory-Motors Student

Between the previous and current year there have been updates to the Aphrodite project interface. One key change is the profile section on the page. Students can now add a profile photo and information that would be emailed to matches can now all be seen on their profile page.   

Jessica Cui, a member of the marketing and communications team for the project and second-year student at Waterloo University, explained that this was meant to make the site a little more interactive. 

“I think overall, we want to make it more interactive and so you can know a little bit more about your match before you speak with them. So, like adding a picture, I think it shows more personality and then maybe even a conversation starter,” said Cui. 

As someone who opted to participate once again in the Aphrodite project, Zhang talked about her thoughts regarding the new additions to the interface.  

She isn’t sure if the addition of a profile picture is absolutely necessary, considering that to her the main strength of this project was the questions themselves. She wonders if biases may present themselves because of this, stopping a potentially great match from occurring.  

Finally, she discussed that, to her, it’s hard to really say if the McMaster community is brought together for the best when looking at this project. She says that, at the end of the day, it is simply more dependent on who one is matched with.  

“I would say it depends on who you are matched up with, I guess . . . I think it’s pretty cool if you get matched up with someone that you kind of vibe with . . . It’s like even if you don’t end up dating them, you feel like you gained a new friend. However, I know that some people did not have a super great experience with their match for different reasons,” said Zhang. 

Overall, students at McMaster, like Zhang, find themselves with the option to try and see if this project is what they need to form connections. As the years continue, it will be interesting to see how projects like the Aphrodite Project pan out and if they will continue to garner the same level of student interest annually.  

C/O Jessica Yang

Students share how their existence within certain identities have rewired their approaches to romance 

With the release of season two of popular HBO teen-romance show Euphoria this January alongside the creeping approach of Valentine's Day, it appears as though romance is on the back of most Marauder’s minds.  

While many eager student romantics have been cruising the depths of Hinge and Tinder, or perhaps even decided to try their luck with the relaunched 2022 Aphrodite Project, there remain many cultural barriers in place for queer and racialized students to jump in on the dating apps craze.  

For many such students, romance, sex and intimacy are not solely categorized by a binary of being in a relationship, but is instead a radical journey of self-discovery and constantly questioning whether their vision and presentation of romantic love are valid.  

If the heteronormative expectations of romance were not enough, marginalized students often feel at a loss for how to navigate the intersections of their identities, which comes with countless cultural complexities surrounding romance which leads to vastly different experiences compared to mainstream portrayals. 

Mymoon Bhuiyan, a third-year material sciences student, is an active member of Engiqueers, the largest queer student-led group within the faculty of engineering. Bhuiyan identifies as a queer activist and draws attention to how queer romance is complicated as they bring forth with them institutional challenges to relationships.  

“As a result of added complexity to queer, gay and trans relationships, we see a lot of mental health crises. However, we also see positive attributes such as reduced rates of violence within queer and trans relationships,” said Bhuiyan.  

Besides having to navigate adulthood, queer students can often feel uncertain about which individuals and spaces are welcoming of their identities in the first place given the presence of less than five 2SLGBTQIA+ spaces on a campus of more than 25,000 students.  

Trans students particularly are disproportionately at risk of facing partner violence for their identities. Being queer while desiring romantic intimacy in the same ways that are accessible for heterosexual couples can therefore quickly become a questioning game of whether a romantic interest is safe to pursue in the first place.  

It is increasingly difficult for queer students to identify other queer students to date and have relationships with, especially as many of the ways queer individuals have traditionally used to identify each other with have been assimilated as part of popular trends.  

“Queer aesthetics and culture are being co-opted, the same way much of Black culture has been normalized and co-opted by other non-Black audiences. They are using our words, they are talking like us, but they forget about us,” explained Bhuiyan. 

The queer community at Mac is far from being heterogeneous, with organizations such as the Queer and Trans Club of Colour acting as an avenue for racialized queer students to form community with one another. However, due to complicated cultural understandings of queerness across different demographics, Bhuiyan expressed much of dating for racialized queer students remains hidden underground on hook up apps.  

“There are little to no outlets for queer folks to experience sex in a manner that does not jeopardize their safety. There is a very big difference between celebrating kink positivity and partaking in dangerous acts with strangers. Queer people don’t feel safe being open to dating in the public eye because in the end there is only a notion of acceptability in our culture. If you are a queer brown couple holding hands, you will still likely get ‘the look’,”

Mymoon Bhuiyan

As a Bengali woman, Anisah Ali, a second-year health and society student and the equity, inclusion and diversity officer for the McMaster Bengali Student Association, uses her lived experiences to characterize the perceptions of love within the Bengali community.  

“There are certainly fewer open conversations about romance, intimacy and sex within Bengali households relative to Western cultures. Such discussions are considered very private and are not necessarily talked about openly unless it is being talked about in the context of marriage,” explained Ali.  

The persisting relevance of marriage within Bengali culture comes as no surprise given the countless multi-day intricate celebrations weaved within traditional Bengali weddings. However, due to this strong emphasis on settling down clashing with more casual approaches adopted by North American dating, Bengalis in the diaspora are usually unable to hold conversations about dating, boyfriends, and girlfriends with parents and other family members. While romantic relationships are slowly becoming a normalized rite of passage among newer generations of Bengalis, such relationships are typically held in secret, and are commonly frowned upon by more conservative older Bengalis.  

It is not uncommon for diasporic children of immigrants to learn about sex, romance, and intimacy from other communities, sources, and the internet as it can be uncomfortable to approach parents or older members of a cultural community. Consequently, young adults from communities such as the Bengali community outsource education about intimacy from outside sources to gain knowledge of it.  

“I simply wish that more Bengalis, especially our parents’ age, would talk amongst each other about romance. Maybe it will manifest into something beautiful for each and every single one of us to be fulfilled by this understanding of love to a greater degree,” hopes Ali.  

Whether it is because of our sexual orientation or culture, our identities shape the communities that we are involved in, and in turn, affect our experiences with intimacy. Though love and romance may seem straightforward, the reality of it is much more complicated than what meets the eye.  

How an online dating initiative offered Mac students a chance at love. Kind of.

C/O Dan Gold

As Reading Week came to a close, we also experienced everyone’s least favourite holiday: Valentine’s Day. I am just joking, of course. After all, what is not to love about enviously eyeing a happy couple as you munch on your discounted Valentine’s chocolates and revel in your own loneliness?

Despite the seemingly impossible odds, it turns out that love is indeed in the air for both our single and “it's complicated” McMaster University students after all.

The Aphrodite Project, named after the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, has made its debut to hundreds of hopelessly romantic McMaster students.

This mainly experimental and student-led initiative matches you to an algorithmically perfect soulmate or to a platonic friend if you so wish. This left me thinking about an interesting question regarding this project on our campus: will the Aphrodite Project be successful?

This left me thinking about an interesting question regarding this project on our campus: will the Aphrodite Project be successful?

On one hand, this opportunity seems harmless and too good to pass up, but on the flip side, there is the possibility of facing cold, hard disappointment. Personally, I hold the latter view, given my ever-growing disenchantment with online dating apps despite the current situation of students’ social lives.

The Aphrodite Project at McMaster was doomed to begin with given the uneven ratio of the sexes that have signed up, as well as how it did not play out as planned among other larger universities which even led to students even organizing their “post-Aphrodite project” dating profiles using other platforms.

So far, the student opinion regarding this initiative resembles the time-tested issues that are common with online dating in general. The Aphrodite Project, or otherwise presented at McMaster as “Match at Mac,” claims to use a Nobel Prize-winning algorithm, which happens to be the exact same algorithm already being used in other existing dating platforms such as Tinder: the Gale-Shapley algorithm for predicting stable marriages. 

However, there is a reason why all modern online love stories have not necessarily ended in long-term happiness in real life. The Gale-Shapley algorithm is proven to be heavily biased in favour of one sex over the other with the flip of a couple of variables but traditionally remains male-favoured as originally programmed.

The algorithm envisions a scenario where one sex is “married” to their top choice of partner, whereas that chosen partner is “married” to their last choice, proving its clear bias depending on how the algorithm was initially set up.

While the Aphrodite Project has not shared the specifics of its match-making technology for one to assess the exact impacts on the majority of the dating population, the outcome could not have been optimal at Mac given the noticeably high female participation rate compared to male.

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Posted by Mac Confessions on Monday, February 8, 2021

Students were destined to lose out either way as the variables needed for projects like this were already skewed and do not foster an environment for the algorithm to have worked to its full potential. 

Thus, the clickbait of the Nobel prize-winning algorithm was slightly misleading and perhaps raised the hopes of many a love-lorn Mac student too soon.

I believe a further inherent problem behind such initiatives is that it gives whatever matches were made what seems like an already established connection. That way, participants feel even more disappointed going into interactions with their matches when enthusiasm is not reciprocated.

Regardless of its flaws, the Aphrodite Project provided an opportunity of light-hearted fun and possible love for Mac students stuck at home, which if anything, brought a smile to our faces in these dark times. If you did not find your soulmate through Mac’s Aphrodite Project, fear not, as a world of romance awaits you once our sexy campus is up and running again.

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