How to use math to pick “the one”

How to use math to pick “the one”

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This is for those who are thinking about settling down but keep delaying the process, hoping to find more. This isn’t for those who already found someone they are perfectly happy with. This also isn’t for those who prefer to spend their lives without ever setting down. No matter what your current dating goal is, if you plan on settling down at any point in the future, this article is for you. It’s a mathematical walkthrough of when to stop playing the field and focus on finding the one instead. It’s a formula for success when the quality of suitors you meet is as random as…life! It’s the balance between settling down too soon and waiting too long. I think you get the point.

Some of us are very happy marrying our high school sweetheart, and sometimes (not always) that’s just perfect. Others aren’t so lucky to meet “the one” so early. For those who date extensively, if you master the art of 1) becoming a better person, 2) learning from the past to refine what you want and who you’re looking for, and 3) finding exactly what you want, you might become a dangerous machine of perfection. In the dating world, perfectionism = never settling down. If you do want to end up with someone, perfectionism is dangerous because although there seems to always be a chance of finding someone better; if you wait too long before making a selection, you might see yourself going downhill at some point due to already passing the peak of the best partners you’ll ever find. At that point, there may never be one who measures up to the “one who got away”. So where is the balance between marrying the first person you meet and waiting too long and risking staying alone forever? Believe it or not, we can answer this question with simple math, so keep reading!

The 37% rule

“Optimal stopping” is a subfield of probability theory that is concerned with “when to stop”. Given a sequence of random variables, when is the time to take action that will maximize payoff and minimize cost? A key example of optimal stopping problems is the secretary problem or the Sultan’s Dowry Problem, solved by the 37% rule (36.8% to be precise). In our case, the random variables are your dating prospects; the payoffs are your list of must-haves in a partner (fulfilling the reason you’re dating); the cost is a mixture of inconveniences, red flags, and deal breakers; and the action to take is settling down. 

TLDR : You can read about the 37% rule here, but here is a summary: you should reject the first 37% of the total number of people you date, and then pick the next person who is better than anyone you’ve ever dated. Of course you can stretch this rule according to your risk tolerance and perfectionism, but 37% is a proven method for making the best selection out of a randomized set of data.

When is your magical 37% mark?

This all depends on the total number of partners you expect to have in a lifetime. Parker says that the 37% rule will get you someone who is 75% perfect if your total number is 10. The same rule will get you someone who is 90% perfect if your total number is 100. Keep these numbers in mind but also try to be realistic about what makes sense for you. To find out your expected total number of suitors, think about how many people you typically date every year and then ask yourself how many years of dating can you realistically undertake. Once you have these numbers, use the calculator below to find your 37% mark! 

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Is this rule perfect?

Simple answer: no, not for dating. Below are just some examples of times you should not follow the rule.

Example 1: do not settle

If you found someone after the 37% mark who is way better than anyone you’ve ever dated, but they display any form of deadly redflags (like being abusive); please think about seeking psychological help. Try going to therapy to see if you can potentially work on yourself and grow into someone who attracts better options. 

Example 2: settle down

If you found someone who is objectively great for you, you’re a lucky one. There is no need to play the field just because you haven’t yet reached the 37% threshold. 

Example 3: wait

If you are honestly very comfortable with the idea of staying alone for the rest of your life unless you find exactly what you seek, you can sit back and reject 50% or 60% of your potential mates. I wouldn’t suggest waiting longer than that but this will give you better chances than stopping at 37%.

Example 4: settle down

If you are less of a perfectionist and prefer to settle down sooner, you can reduce the 37% mark to 20%. This is essentially what you’re doing when you maintain the 37% but decide to date a smaller amount of people. 

In short this is just a formula for those who over analyze. It gives us a way to gauge what our options are and a logical nudge to overcome our reservations and settle down on time.

Fun reading and video material

I've always loved this Ted Talk on how to hack online dating. I hope you enjoy this and the other links below.

The Mathematics of love by Hannah Fry

The Secretary Problem by Matt Parker