Compatibility is traditionally treated like the biggest X factor of life. It’s something that you can’t quite pinpoint, but you know it when you feel it. We’ve all heard the phrase, “When you know, you know,” as if it’s a feeling that happens passively and randomly—bestowed upon only the exact right people at the exact right time.
But… what if it isn’t?
After an interesting online dating experience in which Amy copy/pasted her professional resume into her dating profile to test the algorithms—listing her favorite hobby as “monetization”—she realized there was some powerful logic involved in love. After all, she still “matched” with men who wanted to take her on dates, but she felt horribly incompatible with all of them. How can I optimize this process? She thought, probably whilst coding a website for fun or playing World of Warcraft.
So she sat down and listed 72 factors against which to judge her potential suitors, ranging in importance. 72 unique data points to plot her perfect man. Steamy.
These ranged from the big compatibility checkpoints, like religion and quality of life, to things as seemingly insignificant as “must be willing to force our child to begin piano lessons at age 3.” She assigned each a value and determined a point system that would prescribe her behavior. If someone couldn’t crack the 900-point barrier, she wouldn’t even consider a date.
I’m sure you’re all reading this thinking this woman is absolutely nuts. I would argue she’s absolutely brilliant.
She makes the point, in her TED Talk, that most people have a handful of qualities they’re looking for a in a mate but “grocery lists that are three pages long.” If you’re attempting to find a partner, why would you enter that metaphoric grocery store blind and uninformed? (Or, alternatively, you can take my approach and head straight for the candy aisle.)
Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Excel or algorithms to auto-populate my perfect match. But I do think there’s value in being intentional about the way you date.
Let’s pick Amy’s story back up and see what happened…
So Amy hit a bit of a roadblock in her data-driven quest for love. She found her perfect man (his username was JewishDoc75) and decided she had, in fact, cracked the code. She had formulated the perfect strategy for finding your soulmate.
Her conclusion proved false when she realized he did not like her back.
*Cue gasps.* For most women—nay, most PEOPLE—this is the most common tragic ending. You find someone marvelous, beautiful, talented, fabulous, only to realize that they don’t feel the same way about you. And isn’t that the real challenge, after all? To find someone who you’re amazed by, who just so happens to be amazed by you, too?
Sidebar: I have this theory that the only relationships that work are the ones in which both people think the other person is a little out of their league. I know this is in direct contradiction to the popular How I Met Your Mother theory, in which there’s a “reacher” and a “settler” in every relationship, but I think the only time when someone decides to settle down is when they think, “Sh*t, I’m not going to do better than this.” That’s why when someone says, “I just don’t want a relationship right now,” what they’re really saying is, “I think I can do better than you.”
Anyway, TI-82 in hand, Amy was not discouraged. She plugged on, deciding she’d have to do a competitive audit of the eligible bachelorettes on the site to figure out where she ranked. You know, some standard market research. Checks out, right?
After clicking through a few profiles of women who described themselves as “silly” and “nice,” she realized she need not consider these women who varied so significantly from her. She needed only compare herself to the competition who would also want to marry the men she wanted to marry.
It’s at this point in her story that I become a little confused; she somehow came to the conclusion that, in her self-defined subgroup, she was the “most popular” woman. I’m not sure if she hacked Match.com or merely collected some vanity data from others’ profiles, but regardless, she felt assured that she was a competitive player and moved on.
She met a second man. He accumulated 900 points by the time she had scrolled to the bottom of his profile. The date was on, people!
They talked for 14 hours, dated for the next year, and now they’re married.
This was the first person she dated after developing her list. She cracked the code.
To me, Amy’s story begs a really interesting question.
Are we approaching dating in a fundamentally wrong way?
I’ve lost count of the amount of hours I’ve spent contemplating my career path, perfecting my resume and strategizing my way into my dream company, because my career is important to me.
I spend at least half an hour daily exercising because my health and my body are important to me.
I carve out time to see my friends during the work week because our friendships impact my life positively—I’ve also given serious consideration to the people I’ve cut ties with, because they weren’t.
In short, I devote time, energy and forethought to the important things in my life. And I’m sure you do, too.
Why do we treat dating like it’s such a radically different process? Is it because we’re afraid being analytical will spoil the magic?
Your lifelong partner arguably affects your life more than any other singular decision you’ll ever make, short of having children, but—surprise!—they’re directly tied to that one, too.
Why are we so comfortable leaving it up to chance? Why are we so passive about it?
Maybe that aphorism, “When you know, you know,” is wrong (not to mention semantically null).
After all, the aphorism that states “opposites attract” is incredibly wrong. Social psychologists have been trying to prove or disprove this one for years, and it turns out there’s absolutely no data that suggests this to be true. In fact, in studies where they showed men and women false profiles of other people they could choose to date, almost all the people chose the option that was most like them. In short, you want to date yourself. As you should, because you’re awesome.
Anyway, I’m not suggesting you hire a data scientist or learn how to code (although, you probably should still do that for your own economic vitality). All I’m saying is, know what the heck you want before you start looking. If you shuffle through men or women waiting for some “feeling” to strike you dead before you jump on it, you’ll probably pass up a lot of great people. Or worse, settle for the wrong one.
And what is that “feeling,” anyway? Some scientists who study the brain chemistry behind love believe that the “butterflies” feeling is actually just a vestige of our primal instincts that is cued when we’re in unpredictable (read: dangerous) situations. If you’re with someone who’s exciting and thrilling and you feel those ‘butterflies,’ it’s likely just your caveman nervous system saying, “I don't know what to expect right now in this situation because you're a wildcard and that's scary.”
(I’m way oversimplifying here, but you get the point.)
Most of us have these lists (or “love maps,” as biological anthropologist and chief scientific adviser to Match.com, Dr. Helen Fisher, calls them) on some subconscious level. But many of us don’t employ them at large.
Her anthropological research was interesting to me, because it suggested that energetic, creative people tend to be attracted to people like themselves. They find their own qualities to be compatible. She found the same about people with traditional values.
But she did find, interestingly enough, two cases in which opposites attracted. People who are analytical, direct and decisive typically find the opposite qualities to be attractive: People who are imaginative with good verbal and people skills. Conversely, people who are imaginative and sociable tend to be attracted to the analytical, direct qualities.
While this contradicts social psychology, I suppose it makes sense. In some ways, you're looking for your complement. Maybe that's why I find people who are good at math to be so impressive, because I always found it so difficult. Perhaps there's a component of respect or admiration at play.
I’m fascinated by these questions because of their basis in science. It’s easy to rattle off stupid aphorisms you’re told your whole life about love and compatibility—a lot of which are in frustrating direct contradiction—but there’s no substance behind their familiarity.
But data and science? That makes it real. That makes love something you can actually understand and, eventually, find for yourself. You can be like Amy and work smarter, not harder, to find your perfect match.
I hope I’ve sufficiently confused you. Happy Tuesday! :)
I'm probably just as confused as you are: my thoughts on love and relationships.
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