Can mathematics help people find true love?

Jared Talavera

Photo Credit: Greg Rakozy via Unsplash


I remember reading Romeo and Juliet in high school. It is the classic romantic story of two young lovers who find each other through fate. Finding that special someone in this day and age may not come as easily to some people as it did for Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. So, what can people do in finding and maintaining their love for a romantic partner?

Science and mathematics could offer revealing patterns in the way people attract love and maintain a relationship with a romantic partner.

For Peter Beckus, a former PhD student at the University of Warwick’s Department of Economics, he was determined to use mathematics in assisting him in finding his ideal partner. He wrote a research paper entitled, Why I don’t have a girlfriend.”

Peter was particular about finding love in the UK. Of all the women that lived in the UK, he wanted to look for a potential girlfriend who lived near him, had a university degree, was likely to get along with him, be attractive, but found him attractive as well.

He used an equation called the Drake Equation (no, it was not named after Hotline Bling Drake but astrophysicist Dr. Frank Drake). 

Peter had stated that the equation was not specifically designed for finding love, but rather for estimating the number of “highly evolved civilisations that might exist in our galaxy.”

He adapted the equation and used it to find his “perfect” partner. He came up with an estimate of 26 women in the whole of the UK.

According to Dr Hannah Fry, a mathematics professor at University College London, that is 400 times less than the best estimates for finding intelligent extraterrestrial life. On any given night he has a 1 in 285,000 chance of finding the right lady.

Humans, and in particular our emotions and behaviours, are not always rational nor predictable. That is where mathematics comes into play. “Love, as with most of life, is full of patterns” said Dr Fry.

Numbers and equations can be valuable in discerning the patterns in something as mysterious as love.

There is a piece of mathematics called the ‘Stable Marriage Problem’ which uses the Gale-Shapley Algorithm. Essentially, the scenario is you are at a party in which there are groups of single men and women.

Each person has an ordered list in their head of who they would most want to date at the party. Every time each person attempts to attract a potential love interest they eventually end up finding a partner. If the men did the approaching they always ended up much better off.

It is common for people in real-world situations to evade approaching someone they are interested in because of the risk of embarrassment and rejection. Being proactive in meeting new people is not just logical, but statistically increases a person’s chances of finding true love.

So if you have found the perfect partner, the question then becomes when to settle down?

There is a theory in mathematics called the ‘Optimal Stopping Theory.’ Dr. Fry explained this as, “you start dating when you’re 15 and ideally want to be married when you are 35.” Thus, once you get married you cannot look ahead to see who else you could have met nor can you change your mind.

Optimal Stopping Theory suggests that people should reject the first 37 per cent of people they go on dates with as serious potential marital partners.

I always thought of this theory as being unempathetic, but also how does a person know when they have reached 37 per cent? Anyway, if the perfect partner does cross paths with you in your first 37 per cent, the method suggests that they would have to be rejected.

Saying to your partner “you are marginally better than the first 37 per cent of people I dated” would not come across as romantic by any measure.

There are particular types of fish that do follow the method of Optimal Stopping Theory. Dr Fry has stated, “I also think that subconsciously, as humans, we sort of do this anyway.” She continued by saying, “we get a feel for the marketplace or whatever when we’re young. And then we only start looking seriously at potential marriage candidates once we hit our mid-to-late 20s.”

Clio Cresswell, a mathematician from The University of Sydney, has a slightly different approach.

Her principle is called the ’12 Bonk Rule.’ If singles wanted to increase their chances of finding true love they would need to reject at least 12 potential partners before settling down.

According to Dr Cresswell, “the divorce rate in Australia for first marriages is 35 per cent.” However, as she has stated, by following her principle “you raise the chance of making it work by 75 per cent.”

Once people are married the intent would be to stay married. 

John Gottman, a psychologist at The University of Washington, observed and recorded the conversations couples had with each other in a study he and his research team conducted.

They recorded the participants’ skin conductivity, heart rate, blood pressure and their facial expressions.

Gottman and his research team found that the greatest predictor of divorce was how positive or negative each partner was during conversations. The research team were able to predict with 90 per cent accuracy if a couple was going to get a divorce.

When Gottman teamed up with the mathematician James Murray at The University of Washington, they began to understand more greatly what caused the negativity in the conversations.

The research team adopted equations for their study that were exactly the same as those that describe what happens when two countries are in an arms race.

Dr Fry has said that according to mathematics, “the most successful couples are the ones with a really low negativity threshold.” These types of couples do not allow problems to go unnoticed. They allow each other to voice their opinions and continually work on improving their relationship.

In the end, mathematics is only a tool. Finding true love and making relationships work comes from the lifelong dedication two individuals have for each other. Now that’s a love story for future high school students to learn about!



What was your favourite piece of mathematics?

What advice would you offer singles who are looking for true love?


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