Apparently, there’s no problem math can’t solve. Mathematicians have found a way to determine the best way to take yourself out the dating game and settle down.
After all, this is an important matter for both people wanting to find that one relationship that lasts for the rest of their lives. Not only is the thought of lifelong commitment particularly daunting for some, but there’s also the matter of finding the right time to settle down. Settle down too soon and you might miss the chance to meet a more suitable match later on. Wait too long and you might end up doing just that: waiting.
And then there’s the matter of finding the right person. You don’t want to marry the first person you meet, but you don’t want to unrealistically hold out for the perfect person for too long.
Fortunately for single people everywhere, math’s here to provide a solution to this problem. This math problem has actually been around since the 60s and is known by a handful of names, including ‘the optimal stopping problem’, ‘the sultan’s dowry problem’, and the ‘fussy suitor problem’. The actual solution is attributed to different mathematicians, but it was introduced to the public in 1960. Math enthusiast Martin Gardner had written about the problem and its solution in Scientific American.
Let’s say you’re choosing from a given number of options; for instance, for your lifetime, you can expect to have a total of 11 mates you can seriously date and potentially settle down with. It would be easy to pick out the best among them if you could see all of them standing in a row.
Unfortunately, dating doesn’t work that way. Suitors or potential mates arrive in your life in a random order. You have no way of knowing in advance how a potential mate compares to the people you’ll have the chance to meet in the future. Is this person the best you can do or is he or she not going to be worth your time? Of course, another challenge is that once you reject a potential mate, there’s no undoing your decision.
So, what’s the answer? The short answer is: 37%. To ensure that you pick the best mate possible, date and reject the first 37% of your total group of potential lifetime mates. Once you’ve done that, you must pick the next person who is the best out of anyone you’ve ever dated.
Applying this method is understandably easier said than done. You’d have to know how many potential mates you can have or want to have, which is, at best, tricky to determine. There’s also the challenge of determining if the person you’re currently dating qualifies as a potential mate or is just a fling. The best you can do is to make estimates for these situations.
For instance, you assume that you’ll have 11 potential mates or suitors during the course of your life. If you don’t use the above formula and just choose randomly among those 11 suitors, you have only a 9% chance of picking the best partner out of them. If you use the method above, though, you get a 37% chance of ending up with the best possible person for you. Those are significantly better odds than just picking at random.
Why and how does this work?
According to mathematicians, this method works because it provides you with a great way to balance the risk of stopping your search too soon against the risk of searching too long. Of course, you want to start looking for your potential mate somewhere in the middle of your estimated number of suitors. You want to date enough people so you get a feel of the options you have out there, but you don’t want to wait so long on your decision that you miss out on your ideal partner.
The more potential partners or suitors you expect to have, the better are your chances with this method. When mathematicians tested the solution for bigger groups of suitors, they discovered that the ideal number of suitors you should review and reject before starting to look for the best possible partner converges more often on a particular number: 37%.
The premise of this method is based on the function of the mathematical constant e, which can describe the probability of success in a statistical trial that have only two possible outcomes: success or failure.
In a TED talk in 2014, mathematician Hannah Fry emphasized that the ‘37%’ method is not without its flaws and limitations. It discounts, for instance, the possibility that the first person you date is the perfect partner for you. Following the ‘37%’ rule, you’ll end up rejecting your first love and end up dating other people and waiting for nothing since no one will measure up to him or her.
Another possibility is that your introduction to the world of dating relationships is a string of horrible partners that lower your expectations of your potential boyfriends or girlfriends. Once you date a person who’s half-decent but still kind of terrible, you’ll choose to settle with him or her since he or she is better than everyone you’ve dated in the past. In this case, you’ve deprived yourself of the chance of meeting the great people you could have met in the future.
Tweaking the problem according to your preferences
The original goal of the problem was to maximize a person’s chances of getting the most suitable person from the bunch. However, as mathematician Matt Parker says, “getting something that is slightly below the best option will leave you only slightly less happy.” Meaning, you could lower your chance of ending up alone by settling with the second- or third-best of your potential lifetime partners. In that scenario, you’d still be happy.
In 1984, a version more suited for independent men and women was developed by Japanese mathematician Minori Sakaguchi. In Sakaguchi’s model, the person would prefer to remain single rather than to end up with anyone that’s not the best possible partner for him or her. In such cases, the person is open to dating far more people and gathering more potential partners, so they can have a better chance of meeting that ideal partner.
These models for finding ‘The One’ are theoretical, but they reflect some pretty sound ideas about dating and settling down. It’s usually a good idea, for instance, to date around before making the decision to get serious. How else are you going to make smart decisions about the person you want to settle down with?
These equations also prove that you don’t have to search far and wide that long to ensure that you’re settling down with your ideal partner.