The mathematics of love—fantastic TED Talk by Hannah Fry

Finally, a TED Talk about online dating that I wholeheartedly endorse! I actually heard this talk first on NPR’s How to Do Everything podcast; I’m glad to see it’s getting a wider audience.

Hannah Fry has done an amazing job of presenting online dating data in a realistic and fun way. Her TED Talk “The mathematics of love” is seriously fantastic!

Fry tackles three topics: online dating pictures, when you should settle down, and how to avoid divorce. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Online dating pictures should be quirky

I’ve been nudging my clients about this for a LONG time, so I’m very happy to learn of independent research that backs it up, haha. Basically, you don’t need to go out of your way to look amazing in your dating pictures—a better strategy is to look *different* than everyone else.

It’s helpful to showcase whatever quirk or differentiator you might have thought of as a downside (say a giant tattoo, or an atypical hobby). Instead of hiding it, show it! The data backs you up on this! There’s a TON else about your pic that ought to be great in order for you to be wildly successful on dating sites, which Fry doesn’t get into here—but her point still stands. (You can read my online dating photo guide for all that stuff.)

And hey, some of you might notice that the research uses an OkCupid feature that’s now deprecated. You used to be able to rate people’s attractiveness on a scale of one through five—and if you both rated each other a four or five, OkCupid would send you both a message indicating so. But (I suspect) OkCupid changed it to a simple “Like” a few months ago, (I also suspect) because so many people just blasted four- and five-star ratings in order to game the system.

Therefore, the data set in question may not be perfectly indicative of what we *actually* think is attractive—but given the scale of the site’s entire user base and during the time the data were likely gathered, the conclusion stands that quirky pics work to your advantage.

The Math of Beauty

Here’s my favorite quote (emphasis mine):

“When people choose the pictures that they use in an online dating website, they often try and minimize the thing that they think some people will find unattractive. …actually, this is the opposite of what you should do if you want to be successful. you should really, instead, play up to whatever it that makes you different, even if you think that some people will find it unattractive.”

Reject 37% of possible partners, then get married

This model was based on starting to date at age 15, and wanting to be married by age 35. I think many people’s timelines are shifted from that, but it’s still an interesting concept. So basically, when you meet someone who is “marginally less boring, dull, and terrible” than everyone you’ve met prior, and you’ve rejected the first 37% of your available dating pool, you should cut your losses and settle down with that less terrible person. Food for thought.

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Avoid divorce by sweating the little stuff

Now this is fascinating, especially because it seems to fly in the face of some traditional relationship advice. I had actually heard of Gottman’s research years ago, but I hadn’t heard the broader conclusions that couples who sweat the small stuff and communicate constantly to make sure negative interactions don’t become habitual.

“…one of the most important predictors for whether or not a couple is going to get divorced was how positive or negative each partner was being in the conversation.”

Have you ever been uncomfortably shifting around one of those couples that’s always undermining and picking at each other in a little subtle ways instead of big yelly ways? Me too, and it sucks. I find it fascinating that the research actually shows *not* to let little jabs and shitty comments and behaviors slide, but rather, to address those things and sort of always be herding your marriage to a positive place.

The fact that they were able to predict divorces with a 90% accuracy rate is pretty crazy.

Take it all with a grain of salt!

Of course, as Fry acknowledges, you can’t JUST date via math(s). But these are all interesting concepts that bear out more interestingly than I had expected. And I like her approach to crunching OkCupid’s numbers much better than the guys who founded that site, haha.

What was your favorite point? Anything you disagree with? I’m dying to hear!

Oh, and this is partly a tie-in to Hannah Fry’s new book, which we should all go buy. For a more in-depth sampling fo the book and its math, read Maria Popova’s terrific piece on Brain Pickings. Cheers! [icon-heart]


Comments 1

  1. Rachel

    I enjoyed the Ted Talk and found it entertaining. I agree with her statement on the ‘unique is better than beautiful’. I tend to pass by the typical profile and find interest in the more unique ones. There are also those guys who seem to look ‘too good for my blood’. So that piece of advice spoke to me.

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