How Math Can Help You Find True Love

By Carl Engelking | February 13, 2015 9:33 am


Valentine’s Day may have been invented by the greeting card companies but we think it’s been perfected by science. After all, what’s finding a mate if not basically an exercise in statistics? Attractiveness (like so many questions) can be answered by big data. And relationship happiness, well that’s nothing that a well-written formula can’t predict.

So put aside that mushy feel-good stuff and let’s get down to the real numbers of finding, and keeping, that special someone.

How Many Matches Are Out There?

It’s a question not unlike searching for alien life and sometimes it feels just as hopeless. But in both instances, math to the rescue.

As Joe Hanson of “It’s Okay To Be Smart” shows in the video below, an equation called the Drake Equation can help calculate the odds. In terms of alien life, the variables are the number of stars, the percentage of those stars with planets, etc etc. For dating, the equivalent numbers might be the percentage of people single at any given time, how likely they are to be attracted to you and vice versa, and how likely you are to make contact with them.

Hanson’s math for a hypothetical love searcher is 871 special someones out there in the world for her. Run your own numbers by following Hanson’s example here:

When Should I Settle Down?

But how many people should you date to get a good sampling of who’s compatible before you settle down? The answer lies with math.

The mathematical tool is called the “optimal stopping theory,” or the point at which you’ll maximize your likelihood of finding the perfect partner. It’s been applied to lots of questions, from hiring the right candidate to buying the right car. The central idea is, in a long line of possible options but which you can only see one at a time, how do you know when you should stop looking?

In 2006, psychologist Neil Bearden found the best working answer to this question. His approach, applied to a pool of 10 people, will on average get you someone about 75 percent perfect; in a pool of 100 candidates, the figure is around 90 percent.

Here’s quick summary of the math, from an article that appeared on Slate:

Step 1: Estimate how many people you could date in your life, n

Step 2: Calculate the square root of that number, √n

Step 3: Date and reject the first √n people; the best of them will set your benchmark.

Step 4: Continue dating people and settle down with the first person to exceed the benchmark set by the initial √n dates.

Mathematician Hannah Fry also explained this concept during a TED Talk last year:

So there you have it. Get out there and start meeting your quotas!

Will My Love Last?

Let’s say you’ve found someone, and you’re both getting along well. But what does the future hold? Luckily there’s some math for that, too. Scientists created a formula for future bliss based on a (dubiously scientific) relationship survey of 2,000 men and women.

According to their results, some heavily weighted factors include how important he thinks honesty is, how long the couple knew each other before dating, and how important kids are to both parties.

Here’s the formula, via The Telegraph:

L = 8 + .5Y – .2P + .9Hm + .3Mf + J – .3G – .5(Sm – Sf)2 + I + 1.5C

L: The predicted length in years of the relationship

Y: The number of years the two people knew each other before the relationship became serious

P: The number of previous partners of both people added together

Hm: The importance the male partner attaches to honesty in the relationship

Mf: The importance the female attaches to money in the relationship

J: The importance both attach to humor (added together)

G: The importance both attach to good looks (added together)

Sm and Sf: The importance male and female attach to sex

I: The importance attached to having good in-laws (added together)

C: The importance attached to children in the relationship (added together)

A quick note: All “importance” measures are scaled from 1 to 5, with 5 being “very important.”

And if you can’t be bothered to drag out the pen and paper then luckily someone has converted the formula into a handy online calculator that does the same thing.

If All Else Fails…

Have you run the numbers, filled your quota and have still failed to find your love? Well, Dr. Love has one more equation just for you:


Photo credit: Woman on bench: Superlime/Shutterstock; Equation: Bonee/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: mathematics
  • Uncle Al

    Women alternately seek a stud for reproduction then a CPA for nesting. Rinse, repeat. Those whose self-worth is based upon appearance will implode in their 40s. Our toxic society crushes productive classes, assigning reproduction to local and imported dregs, re opening of Idiocracy (2006).

    The foregoing is a smartless definition of society. Lust and reproduction are orthogonal, and both are orthogonal to love. Put a brothel on every high school and college campus, and abundantly at large. The world suddenly works, law enforcement withers. Nice.

    • zlop

      “Women, Beauty, Voting and Tyranny!” uTube

    • chomps

      Weird. I’m both reproducing (4 kids) and nesting with a fine young software engineer. Man, it really sucks when someone disproves your insanely sexist post.

      • Guest

        If You Want Extra Money of about 50 dollars to 300 dollars each day for doing basic jobs from Your home for few h each day then check this out

      • Alyson Irvin

        No offense, but one exception does not mean there is not actually a tendency for women to prefer to breed with one kind of man and nest with another.

        Not saying he is “right” but, there certainly are women who do that, and it has been proposed as a reproductive strategy. (Cad and dad theory)

        Male and female animals often do have differing strategies for reproduction as they have differing levels of costs and energy associated with that, it is “sexist,” in a technical sense, but not everything that is “sexist” is “bad” or “wrong” or in error.

  • Cognitive

    It miscalculated my last relationship by 144%(22 years vs 9 years)
    Not very impressive :p

  • daqu

    “After all, what’s finding a mate if not basically an exercise in statistics?”

    No offense, but that’s horseshit.

  • Captain Slog

    RUBBISH!! I am the only one of my kind in this entire UNIVERSE and there is DEFINITELY no-one for me. Sorry, but its TRUE!

  • Jerry Moore

    Your derivation of the quadratic equation in the accompanying photo has an error in it. In the third step, the equation should be equal to 0 not c.

  • Rafael Tercero-Saint.- james

    No now,I´m medical doctor and I´m goiing to the hospital in this moment.All can I say is thanks for the oportunity to be in the communities,just may be I can find someone( a woman )single and to be a friendbut relly friend with her,if fshe wants ,Now I´m really alone with no one…..I want to see if this what yiou say works or not .But anyway,I´m alredy here.and but even when I don´´t see ttogether the “mats” with any emotional area,but let me see, I am open mind because –I have to be –´couse I´m md.PhD ( neurologia–Psiquiatria ) it means nerve sistem an emotional and mental health, This what you say It´s new It¨s not, a long time ago some people aleady had invented and din´t ´work, but may be this time …but only just may be can be different.Thanks for reading this..Hi! to all

    people of this communities may you have a relly good mornig and for the women a relly good mornig ad add a lovealy day full of love whatever you are

  • Rafael Tercero-Saint.- james

    YOU did not let me to end my ny data,my story,what´s going on with you are you youtube or what?you cute ny page or the mistake is my computer,or my hands or some Virus,or what?,whatever but if you really want me here as you say,let me know the name iof the blond hair girl ithe picture or girls so preetu y as she is,OK D-brief! !? HeeYy D.brief,one more thing,I just see men in this community,and the women! where are?

  • marc

    And where is feeling in all this ? Pleasure of a rendez vous,pleasure of talking,sharing something with the other ……. Where is LOVE in all this ?

  • rilwen

    What’s ROC or Gini coefficient for L?

  • Bill

    Math gives me headaches.

    Marriages work because you make them work.

    Love dies, no matter what you do.
    Your mind will get bored with anyone and everyone eventually. Marriages last because of the respect each has for the other person and what you’ve been through together
    PLUS, and an understanding that if you divorce and remarry, you’ll eventually get just as board with them.

    We are all human, toys, all toys eventually loose their charm. PERIOD.
    Your brain will become used to their impulses, just like drugs.

    Grow up and face reality. Be content with a good life.

    The other lawn is rarely greener when you lie in it and get a close look.

  • cat007

    if I was a robot
    Would you still love me?

  • Alyson Irvin

    I actually came up with a similar formula (also based on the Drake equation) independently back in my teens (~1980) and realized at that point I was statistically very unlikely to find a suitable partner.

    My formula also included dm or the fact that men do not mind a significant difference in IQ as long as the female is the dumber partner, but that they DO mind a significant difference in IQ if the female is the more intelligent partner.

    Any “love” formula which ignores intelligence is incomplete, imho. Its a big factor.


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