Monday, January 27, 2014

Love and math

Last week, I came across this Buzzfeed article about Chis McKinlay, a doctoral candidate who did his dissertation on a data harvesting and statistical experiment to help himself find a date on OKCupid. McKinlay used fake profiles to determine which profile questions to answer on the site's match questions, to increase his matches with women in his target profile. 

It worked for him - he ended up finding a future wife and wrote a book.

I read another article (that I can't for the life of me find now) that pointed out the flaw in this plan. Love doesn't work the way statistics work. The article compared the predictability of individual responses to questions to flipping a coin. No matter how many times you flip a coin, the odds of head vs tails is still 50/50. The results don't get easier to predict based on history. 

It's the same way with dating. You can't predict how two people will interact based on their responses to canned questions. Romance is about personalities and connections, not statistics. 

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to online dating is assuming that everyone is looking for true love. Of course, there are plenty of people on dating sites who are looking for a relationship - but they join the site hoping to meet people. After all, you have to meet new people if you're going to find that one true love.

It's true that every date has just as much chance of going bad as the date before. It's also true that if you never go on any first dates, you'll never go on your last first date. Some people come by dates easily in person - they have a wide circle of single friends, and a reason to network in person. 

Others use online dating sites to increase their chances of going on a first date that will actually lead to a second. This guy didn't hack his way into true love - but he did use statistics as a way to increase his number of dates and ultimately get a date with that person.

Love may not be a numbers game - but dating is. 

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