A Mathematical Solution to Choosing the Right Spouse?

I’ve always been a fan of how math and science can be applied to romance (see related articles here). So when a friend linked me to Krulwich’s article “How To Marry The Right Girl: A Mathematical Solution” on NPR, I was immediately intrigued. To summarize, Krulwich describes a dilemma in which Johannes Kepler is troubled with choosing the right wife among eleven potential mates. For the best decision-making process, Krulwich introduces ‘The Marriage Problem’ solution as explained by Alex Bellos.

The Rules

Here are the rules of the game. You have a finite number of choices. Each mate is evaluated sequentially one by one. Once you pass on a mate you cannot go back to that person. Once you’ve made an offer, the game ends. While this is a simple example of an optimal stop model, (i.e. it’s missing transaction costs for each evaluation), the results are interesting nonetheless.

The Strategy

The strategy that Krulwich highlights is relatively easy. Pass on the first 36.8% of potential mates. Next, when you meet a potential mate that’s better than ones in the first group, propose marriage. Note that you may run into a problem if the best potential mate was in the first group. Krulwich says if that happens you will at least get the second best pick (but that is untrue). Think about it, you will keep passing on people until you reach the nth potential mate in your queue. The nth mate may be riddled with character flaws or hideous (to you at least– everyone’s beautiful to someone, right?) Right. Anyhoo, what is true is you will indeed optimize your decision-making.

A Simulation

I decided to simulate the model for myself to determine the probability of outcomes. I ran the simulation for 1000 trials. The probability of landing at least an 8 hovers near 71.8% with a median score of 9.75 (see histogram above). Feel free to review or enhance my code here (myGithub).

A few caveats to my model (pardon any technical jargon): First, I used a random uniform distribution when in reality a lognormal curve would be a better fit. Thus I imagine a more precise estimated median will be closer to an 8. Second, I used the strategy described in the NPR article and didn’t go into the nuances for a complex optimal stop. The model also assumes attraction levels and other ranked traits stay constant (obviously not ideal assumptions). Finally, realize that this model illustrates optimal choice and not optimal outcome as there is a bit of game theory involved when you figure the preferences of whom you’ve chosen.


How about other applications to this model? Should you accept the first offer on your home? B-School? Job? Figure out the average amount of offers for your specified timescale and you’re on your way to optimized decision-making.


Optimize Your Dating Potential

Data analytics collected from information/communication technologies (ICT) is revolutionizing what we can learn about crowd behavior. We are now able to glean real-time data from subjects who for the most part believe their actions are unobserved. Patterns in the data are often revealing. Let’s dive in to see how we can use statistics to optimize your dating potential!


OKCupid has an interesting blog where they make the case for an older woman. According to their data, woman are most desirable between ages 20 and 26, while men are most desirable between 26 and 31. Because men are more inclined to date much younger woman, OKCupid believes finding your potential mate can be optimized if you target this sweet spot:

*Green indicates high messaging activity, red indicates low messaging activity, while yellow sits in the middle. The solid blue lines indicate user-set thresholds of age ranges that they will consider dating. Source: OKCupid


Facebook also aggregates user data that bring forth interesting conclusions. According to Facebook, prime days people get into a relationship are:

Feb. 14: 49% net gain in romance
Dec. 25: 34% more
Dec. 24: 28% more
Feb. 15: 22% more
April 1: 20% more

Beginning a relationship on April 1st (April Fools Day) is not recommended however. Mysteriously, those relationships do not last very long (haha). The other dates mentioned are clustered around Valentines Day and Christmas. I’m willing to bet that these days are optimal because people feel a bit lonelier during the holidays. Here is a poll result I found to help support that intuition. On the other hand, most people are in relationships weeks or months before making it ‘Facebook official’. So the holidays could just be a good time to share good news. Continue reading

Online Dating


Online dating is slowly beginning to become less taboo. I first warmed to the idea during a free show Aziz Ansari did for Johns Hopkins students. He asked how many people have tried online dating when one of our professors, who sat in the front row, admitted to finding his wife on JDate. When pressed a little harder as to how the connection was made, the prof simply replied “I just typed in Jewish and my zipcode.” Aziz now uses this story as part of his comedic routine.

On the benefits of online dating: “He typed in Jewish and his zip code. That’s how I found a Wendy’s last week. He found his wife the same way.“
– Aziz Ansari (as reported by The New Yorker)

So I decided to take a closer look at online dating sites. There are so many different types based on your interests or demographic and social characteristics. The most interesting one I’ve found is GenePartner. GenePartner will analyze and match your potential dates according to your DNA. Another notable site includes IvyDate. IvyDate seems promising due to its exclusivity. They prescreen each member based on intellectual curiosity, passion and drive, education, accomplishments, career, and interests. If you are looking to go where there are the most people however, some of the more popular sites include Match.com, eHarmony, and OKCupid.

While online dating may extend your reach, it doesn’t necessarily increase the richness of your communication. Handicapped people for example who face dating discrimination in real life may see their disability become a focal point in the online world. A blog at OKCupid that deciphers information about message-sends and reply-rates shows how racism is alive and well. For bonus reading, take a look at this piece from writers at Time evaluating the up and down sides of online dating.