Primer on Dating: Science and Math of Online Dating

Primer on Dating: Science and Math of Online Dating


Finding the right partner is always a tough task.  Dating has been an ardous mechanism where some get lucky. People have found their dates in all sorts of places – bars, schools, work, social gatherings, places of worship and parties.  With the advent of internet and specifically the social networking, dating took a whole new life.  Now, one could find another from the confines of one’s home – without having to venture out day (or night) after day.  Also because of a level of anonymity that online dating provided, it was easy to handle rejection.

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As the rate of divorces increase in the societies the world over, people end up looking at dating at any age.  It is fairly common now for people to look for dates between 40-50.  The avenues and manner in which dating could be done at age 20 or even 30 possibly cannot be done at say, age 46.  So tools and mechanisms are evolving.

Offline vs Online: How the Dating World is changing

Online dating has become a great option for people of all ages to explore opportunities with partners-to-be that could have never met socially or personally.  But does that push the offline mechanism aside?  The answer is no.  Even today, as per a study by University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, 65% couples meet offline.  That is changing though.  A Pew Research Center study now says that by 2040, 70% of the couples could be meeting online!

Here are some interesting statistics from the University of Chicago study

The Pew Research study shows, however that the opinions and people’s perceptions on online dating are changing.

Some Useful Tips

Don'ts of Online Dating from Mashable
  1. Don’t go crazy over the pictures
  2. Don’t obsess about the details
  3. Evaluate the tone of the profile
  4. Ignore claims about personality
  5. Don’t get attached based on profile
  6. Don’t construct a fantasy after two dates


How to create your online dating profile
  • Do include a photo. People who’ve uploaded a photo get 15 times more attention than people who don’t have a photo.
  • Make sure you smile in your photos. That sexy face you’re making? It may come across to some people like your scary face.
  • Don’t hide your face behind a pair of sunglasses or a hat. Potential love interests will want to be able to see your beautiful face.
  • Don’t show too much skin. Nobody wants to see you pose seductively in your kitchen in your tighty whities.
  • Do make your headline a grabber. Think of all the great advertising slogans you’ve ever heard. They’re imprinted in people’s minds. You want to do the same thing with your profile.
  • Consult your friends and family for help in writing your online profile. There are things that they love about you that you might not otherwise think about for yourself.
    Don’t use clichés. You may love long walks on the beach, but who doesn’t? Say something interesting about yourself that is unique to you.
  • Don’t forget to run spell-check. If you have misspelled words in your profile, it tells the world that you just don’t care about what you’re doing.
  • Do respond to every e-mail that you get. If you were walking down the street and someone said hello, you’d probably say hello back. It’s the same protocol online. Respond, even if the answer is a simple, “No, thanks.”
  • Keep it light. Your first e-mail should not be a rant about how expensive gas prices are. Keep it lighthearted in tone and keep it simple.
  • Don’t reveal confidential information in your e-mail exchanges. If you were at a local coffee house, you wouldn’t give out your home address to just anyone standing in line.
  • Don’t meet in person until you’ve actually talked on the phone. You know voice and sound are great way to judge chemistry.

From Jim Safka, CEO (source)

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Mathematics and Science of Dating

During our earlier human history, the interaction of a normal person was with groups averaging around 150 members.  Of which, only 35 would normally be in the reproductive age.  If options is what we are after in the dating “game”, then more numbers mean better chances.  That is where online dating has made a serious change.  Now, the “group” goes into millions.  And so do the potential candidates.

Once we take away the limitation of numbers and related opportunities, it all boils down to how one finds the right mate – attractive enough – for oneself?

It turns out that mathematics has a lot to do with who becomes popular and more sought after in the online arena.  In an interesting study by Christian Rudder, Co-founder of OkCupid, of 5000 female users where he compared attractiveness scores with the number of messages received, he found that attractive rating did NOT translate into popularity.  Why?  Well, its Game Theory at work here.

“Let’s say that you think somebody’s attractive, but you suspect that other people won’t necessarily be that interested. That means there’s less competition for you and it’s an extra incentive for you to get in touch. Whereas compare that to if you think somebody is attractive but you suspect that everybody is going to think they’re attractive. Well, why would you bother humiliating yourself, let’s be honest?”

In the end, “the people who fancy you are just going to fancy you anyway, and the unimportant losers who don’t, well, they only play up to your advantage,” Fry says.

This is significant.  Because, people interact more with members of opposite sex in whose context they think they have less competition – or better chances – as opposed to more attractive person with whom the fear of rejection or loss may be higher.

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This now leads us to another very interesting study.

Is Online Dating Really Worth it?

Psychologist Alison Lenton from the University of Edinburgh, Barbara Fasolo from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and cognitive scientist Peter Todd from Indiana University wrote in an issue of IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication about their study on the impact of choices in satisfaction in a dating setting.

When the researchers gave options to their participants of how many profiles to choose from, to their astonishment they found that participants who selected from 20 profiles had almost the same experience and satisfaction as those who had to choose from just 4 profiles!

As the researchers summarized, “the expected preference for the larger set-size in terms of more enjoyment and satisfaction and less regret did not materialize.” Instead, there is a significant mismatch between what people think they will feel and what they actually feel, the team concluded.

So then the obvious question is – Are more numbers of options better than less in dating? Or in other words, is Online Dating that much better and satisfying than offline dating?

The myth of “more the better” in terms of choices has been burst for consumer product choices as well.  More choices have not been found to enhance satisfaction.  Maybe this is due to the fact that when our brains were developing, the choices we as human beings encountered were much less.  So, our brains – irrespective of the information onslaught during the internet era of last 3 decades – are not yet wired to deal with more options.  We can do pretty much as well with less options than with more.

Or maybe better with lesser options, if you were to compare the longevity of marriages and love affairs in your parents or grand-parents generations to the number of options they had available to them in their youth.  More options – even after the marriage has been completed – available so easily may actually end up working against the real goal of dating – a permanent and wholesome marriage!

Featured Image: Flickr

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