Penny for your Thoughts

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 9.06.57 AMAna Swanson, on the mathematics of choosing your mate:

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So how do you find the best one? Basically, you have to gamble. And as with most casino games, there’s a strong element of chance, but you can also understand and improve your probability of “winning” the best partner. It turns out there is a pretty striking solution to increase your odds.

The magic figure turns out to be 37 percent. To have the highest chance of picking the very best suitor, you should date and reject the first 37 percent of your total group of lifetime suitors. (If you’re into math, it’s actually 1/e, which comes out to 0.368, or 36.8 percent.) Then you follow a simple rule: You pick the next person who is better than anyone you’ve ever dated before.

To apply this to real life, you’d have to know how many suitors you could potentially have or want to have — which is impossible to know for sure. You’d also have to decide who qualifies as a potential suitor, and who is just a fling. The answers to these questions aren’t clear, so you just have to estimate. Here, let’s assume you would have 11 serious suitors in the course of your life.

If you just choose randomly, your odds of picking the best of 11 suitors is about 9 percent. But if you use the method above, the probability of picking the best of the bunch increases significantly, to 37 percent — not a sure bet, but much better than random.

This method doesn’t have a 100 percent success rate, as mathematician Hannah Fry discusses in an entertaining 2014 TED talk. There’s the risk, for example, that the first person you date really is your perfect partner, as in the illustration below. If you follow the rule, you’ll reject that person anyway. And as you continue to date other people, no one will ever measure up to your first love, and you’ll end up rejecting everyone, and end up alone with your cats. (Of course, some people may find cats preferable to boyfriends or girlfriends anyway.)

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