Love can be glorious, life-affirming and blissful. Or, as any experienced dater will tell you, utterly confusing and frustrating.
The issue isn't just the parade of less-than-promising partners many daters confront. The problem is also figuring out what constitutes "good enough."
In a world of some nine billion or so people, how can you know when the nice guy or gal you're currently dating is the best you're going to find? Are you settling down -- i.e. making a wise and timely decision to live with the inevitable flaws of another human being -- or are you just settling?
For some lucky percentage of lovers, violins play, the heart beats fast, and the decision is blazingly obvious. You simply know you've found "the one." But lots of others agonize over this timeless romantic conundrum.
Maybe math can help.
A formula for finding "the one"
Wait, what? Math, you're probably thinking, you must be crazy! But at least one mathematician claims that knowing a little bit about the area of mathematics known as optimal stopping theory can help lovers decide whether to keep swiping right on Tinder or to get out of the game for good.
In a timely and entertaining post on the TED Ideas blog mathematician Hannah Fry explains that this type of math was designed to handle just the sort of challenges faced by those looking for love.
"If you decided never to settle down, you could sit back at the end of your life and list everyone you ever dated, with the luxury of being able to score each one on how good they could have been as your life partner. Such a list would be pretty pointless by then, but if only you could have it earlier, it would make choosing a life partner a fair sight easier. But the big question is, how can you select the best person on your imaginary list to settle down with, without knowing any of the information that lies ahead of you?" she writes, laying out the problem.
Deciding when you've seen enough of the dating pool to be sure of your choice is a common issue, but Fry's solution to the problem is unique. She offers this mathematical formula:
The magic number is 37?
If you struggled to complete high school math like me, the above is utterly meaningless to you, but Fry helpfully breaks down what the math means for the less quantitatively minded. Those who love numbers should click over for guaranteed fun (there are graphs comparing strategies for those looking for only a "good enough" partner vs. "the one"), but for the math phobic, here's the bottom line: the magic number is 37. Fry explains:
Say you start dating when you are 15 years old and would ideally like to settle down by the time you're 40. In the first 37 percent of your dating window (until just after your 24th birthday), you should reject everyone -- use this time to get a feel for the market and a realistic expectation of what you can expect in a life partner. Once the rejection phase has passed, pick the next person who comes along who is better than everyone who you have met before. Following this strategy will definitely give you the best possible chance of finding the number one partner on your imaginary list.
Of course, there's an obvious flaw to this formula. You could meet your absolute perfect partner right out of the gate and be so inexperienced (or intent on playing the field) that you miss your chance for securing true love (though, as this Onion article points out, the chances are a lot lower than many high schoolers imagine). Math, sadly, can never resolve this issue. It can only suggest the path with the highest probability of success.
Love, alas, will probably never be simple then. But Fry, also suggests that, while this formula can't guarantee you'll find lasting love, it remains a good strategy for deciding on your best choice in any large and uncertain field.
"Have three months to find somewhere to live? Reject everything in the first month and then pick the next house that comes along that is your favorite so far. Hiring an assistant? Reject the first 37 percent of candidates and then give the job to the next one who you prefer above all others," she suggests.