I’ve never been great at math. Sure, the average arithmetic and algebra make (enough) sense to me, but anxiety sets in when the subject turns to statistics. Ask me to convert a z score to an x value given a certain probability or what the degrees of freedom are from an F-distribution, and I only know F-bombs.
Math + me = a f*$k!ng disaster.
So when I was perusing my local bookshop and saw that someone had bravely matched math with another subject area I’m completely inept at — love — I was instantly intrigued/terrified.
Based on her TEDTalk of the same name, mathematician Hannah Fry explores the hidden formulas for finding a special someone and reveals the “top mathematically verifiable tips for love” in The Mathematics of Love. I doubted it would all add up but then I thought, “What the fuck do you know, self? You’ve been single for nearly a decade,” and read on.
Turns out that love, much like math, is full of patterns that can be dissected and studied to improve, or at least better understand, the end result.
Some of Hannah’s calculations are crystal clear (the more times you ask someone on a date, the more dates you’ll inevitably go on) while others are cringe-worthy (bring a less attractive friend to the bar and your odds of getting hit on increase). To be fair, Hannah is also clear that her perspective should be taken with a grain of salt — after all, human emotion isn’t predictable and math can only take you so far. Still, some of the numbers are mind-blowing.
As a seasoned singleton, I felt the need — nay the responsibility — to rebut or rejoice in some of the more polarizing findings:
The universal definition of beauty is bullshit.
Screw you, perceived notions of standardized beauty. Some folks believe that there’s a conclusive answer to what makes a person beautiful known as “the golden ratio,” an irrational number equal to 1.61803399… According to this geometrical concept, the ideal face “should have a mouth that is 1.618…times larger than the base of the nose, eyebrows that are 1.618…times wider than the eyes, and so on.” Pretty unrealistic, huh? The good news is that the golden ratio isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Data from OkCupid (the online dating site famously founded by mathematicians) shows that having a few people think you’re unattractive, as opposed to universally cute, can actually work to your advantage online.
The more consensus of your beauty (everyone thinks you’re a 10) actually results in fewer messages; while a higher deviance (some people think you’re Beyonce while others think you’re Borat) means more messages. Why? If you’re perceived as having less competition from other suitors, more men are likely to engage—that’s a little something called game theory, ladies and gents. So, yeah, I’m crushing this one.
Pick a polarizing profile picture for online dating.
Based on the theory above, you should play up the features or attributes that make you standout—even if they’re considered “flaws”—because you’re more likely to increase the aforementioned attractiveness spread. Bring on the wide-angle lens.
Ask people out more.
Mathematicians have adapted the Gale-Shapley algorithm (the same one used to match doctors in the U.S. to hospitals since the 1950s) as a method to secure a stable relationship. If you take initiative and ask someone out, working your way down from a list of suitors (and possible rejecters) in order of preference, you’ll always end up with the best possible person that will have you. On the other hand, if you wait around to be asked out, you’ll end up with the least bad person who approaches you. Easier said than done but I do like the logic here; and for some reason, being armed with an algorithm makes the risk of rejection easier.
The more deal-breakers you have, the less likely you are to find love.
Essentially, it makes mathematical sense to be more open and deviate from any particular “type” when searching for a boyfriend simply because the sample size of men will be larger. Yet, as Dr. Hannah notes, opening your mind to all partners is the opposite of what we do when we’re single. Guilty. Okay, I need to work on this one.
But you should also reject everyone for a little while.
When is the right time to settle down and stop playing the field? Optimal stopping theory explains that the probability of ending up with the best partner is directly linked to how many potential lovers you reject first, by the below formula:
P = best person possible N = potential lovers R = Rejection
I refuse to recount or attempt to predict how many lovers I’ll have in my lifetime so thankfully Hannah uses a second version of the equation that only requires you to know how long you plan to continue dating before saying “
I do” “Fine, sure, whatever.”
The math gets complicated but boils down to one important number: 37. You should reject everyone in the first 37 percent of your dating window (using a timeline of 15 to 35 years old) and then pick the next person that comes along that is better than everyone else you’ve previously dated. This, she says, is proven to maximize your chances of finding The One.
To this, I really only have one response: Who the hell wants to date for two decades? Sounds exhausting.
All in all, economics is the worst.
For a book about love there are some pretty heartless pieces of math in here, and this the worst. Using an economic theory known as “the decoy effect,” which demonstrates that the presence of an irrelevant or lesser alternative changes how people view choices,” you can manipulate people’s perception and easily appear more attractive without putting in any effort. All you have to do is invite a friend that looks like you but a bit more busted and you’ll instantly seem like the better option. Although, you may be a bad person. Thanks, math. I’ll try not to be the decoy effect.
Shit, am I the decoy effect?