The ’37 per cent’ rule of online dating

The rule is to set aside 100 people you’re interested in, swipe left on the first 37, then choose the next person you come across that beats all the previous ones.
It’s crude or calculated, depending on your perspective.

But with 91 million people around the world using dating websites and apps, many think that using maths to improve your odds is simply smart.

“I know, just as well as all of you do, that love doesn’t really work like that,” said mathematician and lecturer Hannah Fry in her 2014 Tedx talk.

“Human emotion isn’t neatly ordered and rational and easily predictable. But I also know that that doesn’t mean that mathematics hasn’t got something that it can offer us because, love, as with most of life, is full of patterns and mathematics is, ultimately, all about the study of patterns.”
Psychologist and dating expert Melanie Schilling is inclined to agree.
“The idea of using maths and science to predict love may be hard to swallow, especially if you are one … who believe[s] ‘the one’ is going to come into their life serendipitously,” Schilling said.

“But there is a touch of both art and science in the quest for love and maybe it’s time to try something different?”

One mathematical trick to maximise your chances of finding long-term love is the “37 per cent rule”.

Basically, set aside 100 people you’re interested in, swipe left on the first 37, then choose the next person you come across that you think beats all the previous ones.
The idea is that – from a statistical perspective – if you shoot too early, you could miss a better match later on, while if you wait too long, you’ll miss the goodies.

BBC presenter Dr Xand van Tulleken tried it out on Tinder and his verdict was lukewarm.

“I won’t lie – it wasn’t easy rejecting 37 women, some of whom looked pretty great,” he said. “But I stuck to the rules and made contact with the next best one. And we had a nice date.”

Not quite lightning bolts. But, he added: “If I applied this theory to all my dates or relationships, I can start to see it makes a lot of sense.”

Perhaps, but it’s not without its problems.

“Now unfortunately, I have to tell you that this method does come with some risks,” Fry said.

“For instance, imagine if your perfect partner appeared during your first 37 per cent. Now, unfortunately, you’d have to reject them. Now, if you’re following the maths, I’m afraid no one else comes along that’s better than anyone you’ve seen before, so you have to go on rejecting everyone and die alone. Probably surrounded by cats nibbling at your remains.”

Risk of being a cat lady/gent aside, van Tulleken still thinks it’s worth a shot and says that it’s given him food for thought while looking for the one.

“The maths of this is spectacularly complicated, but we’ve probably evolved to apply a similar kind of principle ourselves,” he said. “Have fun and learn things with roughly the first third of the potential relationships you could ever embark on. Then, when you have a fairly good idea of what’s out there and what you’re after, settle down with the next best person to come along.”

Besides, it pays to have a plan.

“You don’t leave your career or health to chance – you set goals, strategies and tactics to ensure you get results – so why not apply this to your love life?” Schilling suggested. “Whilst I’m no mathematician, as a psychologist I encourage my clients to apply a strategic approach to dating.

“This starts by dating themselves, then building a positive dating mindset, clarifying their personal dating brand and finally, developing an authentic dating strategy. I even have a few formulae and the odd spreadsheet that helps to validate the art side of things.

“It’s all about using the best techniques you have access to, to get the best results possible.”

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