Deal-Breakers and the Mathematics of Love

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Post by Caffeinated on Sat Feb 14, 2015 3:53 pm

I just read an interesting thing on Medium: https://medium.com/biblio/what-are-the-chances-of-finding-love-5cd5f5451f8d

The title is What Are The Chances of Finding Love?
An excerpt by Hannah Fry

From the article:
In fact, in 2010, mathematician and long-standing singleton Peter Backus even calculated that there were more intelligent alien civilizations in the galaxy than potential girlfriends for him to date.

...

In Backus’ paper (titled “Why I Don’t Have a Girlfriend”), he adapts a formula used by scientists to consider why Earth hasn’t yet been visited by aliens to instead work out how many women would meet his criteria for a girlfriend.

...

These were Backus’ criteria:

How many women are there who live near me?
(In London -> 4 million women)
How many are likely to be of the right age range?
(20% -> 800,000 women)
How many are likely to be single?
(50% -> 400,000 women)
How many are likely to have a university degree?
(26% -> 104,000 women)
How many are likely to be attractive?
(5% -> 5,200 women)
How many are likely to find me attractive?
(5% -> 260 women)
How many am I likely to get along well with?
(10% -> 26 women)
Leaving him with just twenty-six women in the whole world he would be willing to date.

Just to put that into perspective, that means there are around four hundred times more intelligent civilizations living on other planets than potential partners for Peter Backus.

Personally, I think that Backus is being a little picky. In effect, he’s suggesting that he only gets on with one in every ten women he meets, and that he only finds one in twenty attractive enough to go out with. This means he’ll have to meet up to 200 women to find one that fits just these two criteria. And that’s not even taking into account whether she likes him.

I think there’s room to be a bit more generous.

...

If Backus could relax some of his criteria just a bit, he’d have a much bigger pool of potential partners to work with.

...

Strangely though, opening our minds to all potential partners seems to be the opposite of what we do when we’re single. I recently heard of a gentleman with an even clearer idea of what he was looking for in a potential partner. This man had set up a profile on the dating website OkCupid, which offers a profile section where you can outline certain “deal-breakers”: things that you can’t tolerate under any circumstances. His list ran to over a hundred, and was so extreme that it became the subject of a popular article on the website BuzzFeed.

...

The reality is that when people are single and looking for a prospective partner, they often add in all sorts of must-haves or must-not-haves that dramatically reduce their chances. I have a very close friend who ended a potentially fruitful courtship simply because the gentleman wore black shoes with blue jeans to a date. I have another chum who insists that he cannot date a woman who uses exclamation marks! (That one is for him.) And how many friends do we all know who will not consider someone unless they are driven enough, or gorgeous enough, or rich enough?

Being good on paper doesn’t mean anything in the long run. There’s no point in restricting your search to people who match everything on your checklist, because you’re just setting yourself an impossible challenge.

...

Just ask Peter Backus. He beat his own odds; he got married last year.

The article is an excerpt from Hannah Fry's TED Book, The Mathematics of Love. Available here: http://www.amazon.com/Mathematics-Love-Patterns-Ultimate-Equation/dp/1476784884/

It got me thinking about deal-breakers and must-haves. When we're looking for someone to love, how many deal-breakers do we have? How many must-haves? And how many of them are we not even consciously aware of?

When I was dating, my deal-breakers list was pretty short. No one who was angry/negative/hostile towards women. No one who was too pushy or controlling. No one who said things to me that were mean, insulting, or contemptuous (there were certain keywords that automatically fell into this bracket, such as using the word "flake" as a verb as applied to me or to women in general. If I had heard of "hypergamous" at that time, it would have gone on the list too.) No piercings, especially ear gauges, because it's a massive turnoff to me visually.

My must-have list was also short. I was only interested in a straight man around my own age. When I was at the point where I wanted to start a family, then my list included someone who was also interested in having kids. My less-than-conscious list included a preference for someone with a similar background and education level as me.

Beyond that, it was up to logistics (hard to date someone you can never manage to actually see in person) and finding out whether we liked being around each other.

What about you? What's on your list of deal-breakers or must-haves?
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Post by UristMcBunny on Sat Feb 14, 2015 4:12 pm

I like that article - it does seem incredibly narrow to define "women I'm likely to find attractive" as being merely 5% of a given random population sample.  I mean, I find people all kinds of attractive all the time - and I find if I get to know someone and they're good people, they become more attractive in my eyes even if I wasn't into them before-hand.

That said, people get to have whatever standards and deal-breakers they want, so long as they are able and willing to graciously accept the consequences of them.  Like, I accept that my requirement that anyone I date must in principle agree with basic feminist concepts has an immense narrowing effect on my potential dating pool.  

I think my dealbreakers are...


  • Must not want children
  • Must not be a Militant Anything
  • Must be pro-feminism, equal rights, etc
  • Must meet basic standards of human decency and non-bigotedness
  • Must be basically competent at and/or willing to learn and participate in basic standards of home maintenance


Everything beyond that comes down to practicality and chemistry.  I don't need to have "no very athletic people" as a deal-breaker because, while I enjoy athletic activities, the difference in lifestyle between myself and anyone who was seriously into that stuff would likely put the kibosh on any relationship fairly quickly.  And if it didn't?  If our mutual chemistry and respect for each other allowed us to strike a good balance between our very different lifestyles without judgement or tension?  Then I'd feel like a fool if I missed out on the chance of meeting someone that awesome.

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Post by reboundstudent on Sat Feb 14, 2015 4:28 pm

The ironic thing is that I actually don't have that long a list of solid deal-breakers. No smoking/drugs. About my age. Financially stable (he can support himself, manage whatever bills he has.) Wants kids. Likes dogs. (Deal-breakers being different than would-prefer-to-have like: never been married, no current kids, college degree, etc.)

However, I find that I am picky. I just seem to be picky about things that are hard to quantify. For example, I don't actually find that many men attractive. I can look at them and say they're aesthetically pleasing, but it just doesn't connect. Just out of curiosity, I kept track of how many guys I found attractive at: -a gym -a sci-fi convention -a Magic the Gathering tournament. Each of these places had somewhere between 20-40 men, and yet I probably only found 2 or 3 guys that appealed to me physically.

I've also found that I don't connect emotionally with a lot of people. This is true for platonic connections, as well. I have to have something in common with someone for a conversation to go anywhere; the more we have in common, the better the conversation, the better the connection. I still try to be polite and engaged with everyone, but if we don't have at least one overlapping interest, I spend the whole time anxiously scrambling around in my head. It's exhausting. They could be the nicest, kindest, awesome-est person in the whole wide world, but being around them when there's no common ground is so taxing and bewildering I never enjoy myself.

I admit, the advice to "stop being so picky!"/ "if you lowered your standards, you'd find someone!" really gets under my skin. I do think it's advantageous to go through your list and decide if something is really necessary. But the suggestion that you're somehow full of yourself or stuck-up or deserving of your singledom kinda gets to me. I frequently see stories in the comments about how "I thought I needed this, but then I met person without this thing, and we live in eternal paradise!" Which is great for that person, but it also seems to be used as proof that somehow all deal-breakers are arbitrary or can be erased in the presence of "true love."

Captain Awkward had a letter a few days ago from someone going through their first break-up. The LW was sad, partially because they imagined they'd never be able to find anyone else who enjoyed their "weird hobbies." The comment section and the Captain's advice were filled with anecdotes about how hobbies totally don't matter, how it's all about how the person makes you feel. I frequently see advice that wanting similar hobbies or financially backgrounds should be the first deal breaker to "go".... and yet I myself have found I just cannot connect with folks of drastically different hobbies or class backgrounds. So the implication that holding onto these "not necessary" deal breakers is somehow preventing you from finding true love really irks me.

Maybe some of us really can't get away from our deal breakers. Maybe there really are only 26 people in the world he can date. I don't get why it's always necessary to insist that a picky person is just being difficult/obtuse, instead of maybe admitting that there are some folks out there that really can't romantically connect with more than a few individuals. Why is there this idea that if you just abandon everything you think you want, you'll suddenly discover true love? Is it really true if it's nothing like what you want? Do we have so little faith in people's self-awareness?
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Post by eselle28 on Sat Feb 14, 2015 5:19 pm

My dealbreaker/must have list isn't that long, but if I tried to do a math-style analysis, I suspect the result would be that there are only a handful of men in my area who are potential matches (and, realistically speaking, I've probably dated them all already):

- Around my age
- Intellectually curious
- Attractive to me and finds me attractive in turn (though the former isn't a terribly high bar, as I'd say I'm attracted to maybe half or a third of men in my age group)
- Doesn't have children and doesn't want to have any in the future
- Not excessively religious or conservative
- Willing to be a fairly equal partner, especially emotionally and domestically

I very much think that people should be entitled to their dealbreakers and that people who let well-considered ones lapse often end up in unhappy relationships. That being said, I did find Backus's formula a bit off-putting. I think what turned me off is that it seems as if the numbers are masking something that could be stated more plainly in words: the thing he's most choosy about is appearance, and he's apparently not very appealing to the small number of women who meet his standards for attraction. While I wouldn't ever tell him to change his preferences, it's difficult for me not to judge someone at least a little for having that set of preferences in the first place, and I find it a bit irritating that he's chosen to frame them in a way that leans toward, "There's no one for me to date," rather than, "I want to date someone considerably more attractive than I am, and that makes dating more difficult for me."
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Post by Guest on Sat Feb 14, 2015 7:45 pm

Personally, I have more of a must-haves list than a deal-breakers list first.

Must:
-Be my age (preferably, ultimately it's irrelevant)
-Have a sense of humor (cruder the better)
-Appreciate the arts
-Be somewhat cultured (like at the very least know who Hemingway or Van Gogh are)
-Be respectful of *my* hobbies (and I of hers, if she has the same hobbies that's a bonus and +1 to her sexy score :3)
-Be respectful of my music (and I of her, unless all she likes is garbage like Brokencyde then we can't date all)
-Be able to be physical (what I mean is she isn't afraid to wrestle me & stuff)
-Be laid back & chill, like The Dude and smoke a J with me :3 (smoking a J is totally optional)


Aaaaand most important of all to me...

-Be honest, that's all I ask.

If she ain't into it, chances are I'm not gonna be into it either. I don't wanna force anyone into anything they don't wanna do like I have been in the past. It sucks. :/

As for deal-breakers... Must NOT:
-Be Superficial/materialistic
-Be trying to fix me
-Shove crazy ideas down my throat like not vaccinating kids
-Be any sort of -ist (racist or sexist and anything in between)
-Be disrespectful to *MY* friends and immediate family (unless it's someone i dont care about like my dickhead cousins, then idgaff)
-Be a liar (again I'm big on the truth no matter how nasty it is, because, ooh, if you lie to me, you may as well be dead to me)

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Deal-Breakers and the Mathematics of Love Empty Re: Deal-Breakers and the Mathematics of Love

Post by nearly_takuan on Sat Feb 14, 2015 7:47 pm

I've alluded to it before, but I do similar analyses from time to time. Hadn't thought about how similar that is to the Fermi Paradox before but it makes a lot of sense. So okay, here's mine:

How many women are there who live near me?
188975 + 52771 + 155817 = around four hundred thousand, generously grouping the nearest CCDs.
How many are likely to be of the right age range?
(19498 + 64129 + 26142 + 90294 + 9314 + 24170)/(462994 + 125084 + 404973) = 23.5%
->94000
How many are likely to be single?
I don't have a reliable source for this one; census data goes by household, and assuming only households with residents "unrelated" to the head or with exactly one count as "single" seems wildly inaccurate. If I'm going to pull numbers out of an ass, it might as well be Backus'.
(50% -> 47000 women)
How many are likely to have a university degree?
I don't know about using this as a hard "dealbreaker" but it seems like a reasonable rule to use if I'm doing estimates, because I don't think I come across well to people without a college education, and they usually don't make a great impression on me, either. Unfortunate.
(26% -> 12220 women)
How many are likely to be open to dating an asexual?
(5% self-identify as ace within selected demographic + maybe 10% genuinely willing to give it a try -> 1833 women)

Converges to a not-so-bad number, really. I think Backus kind of massaged the numbers to make things look worse than they are.
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Post by BasedBuzzed on Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:35 pm

I dunno, I usually go more by feeling than by list:
-Trollish(in personality, not in looks)
-Has leisure time and hobbies
-Lives close enough by
-Not looking for serious relationship
-Age range that does not look skeezy
-Not overly attached
-Variety of looks(I get bored of people who always dress the same)
-Communicative, works on troubles in a constructive manner
-Backs up worldview with data/reasons why it works for them

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Post by PintsizeBro on Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:17 pm

An ex of mine decided (shortly prior to breaking up with me) that he could only be in a relationship with someone taller than him.

He's 6'4".

He hasn't had a boyfriend since 2006.

I'm in a relationship, so I beat those odds. But then, we were living in different states when we met, so we would have excluded each other from the get-go using this formula.

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Post by The Wisp on Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:42 pm

I'm very uncertain about what my musts and dealbreakers are. I think they would depend a lot on the kind of relationship. My standards for a fling, a FWB, a casual relationship, and a long term relationship, would all be different. Also I'm inexperienced which leads to inherent uncertainty. Here's what I think would be my must-haves and dealbreakers for a casual relationship so far (I'll likely have more/different ones in the future when I know more what I'm talking about):

Must...

...reasonably close to my age (roughly 19-23 ish), and/or in a similar life stage
...be attractive, and find me attractive
...be assertive and independent, but also not to such an extreme that I don't feel like a priority at all
...be intellectually curious
...be sexually open and sex positive
...generally kind and compassionate
...respect my interests, hobbies, and goals

Dealbreakers:

- Obviously, the negation of any of the "musts" Razz
- Smoking of any kind (asthma, plus I doubt I'd like the smell and taste of smoke)
- Heavy drinking of alcohol or hard drug use
- Is so invested in particular hobby/political cause/career track/academic track to the point that they aren't rounded at all

I'd probably add a few to both lists for a LTR, and take away a couple for shorter-term thing.
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Post by InkAndComb on Sun Feb 15, 2015 6:03 pm

Deal breaker (for romance)
-poor hygiene
-socially conservative (I'm a social worker to be, so this just wouldn't work in a romantic sense)
-lack of empathy/kindnesss. Usually set on snark 24/7
-doesn't like books
-lack of awareness of their own actions; may be threatening, doesn't apologize,etc
-impatient with me, likes to test boundaries
-hates animals (I have 3!)
-can not mesh or refuses to interact with friends or people in a social setting (this has since lee way depending)
Appearance wise, I honestly don't have set preferences. I'm pretty small so as long as someone larger than me is aware of this and gentle, anything goes! Also hopefully they'd be attracted to me, haha. The stuff I want in a partner is different than what I want in a friend. I love snark and sassy peeps, but when I tried dating one it....it didn't go well. Guess I'm too mushy :I
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Post by WJMorris3 on Mon Mar 02, 2015 10:46 pm

I only have one dealbreaker for a relationship and that's wanting to commit that vile act that I consider tantamount to assault even if consent is involved. Not when dating, not when engaged, not when married.

Mind you, I'm starting to think that I shouldn't tell anyone else (other than those who have already been told) because it seems to be a not very common goal. No matter - if the lady really desires that disgusting act, they can always do that with something else.

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Post by eselle28 on Mon Mar 02, 2015 10:51 pm

<mod>WJMorris3, you've been dialing up the heat level in your comments lately, and I'm going to ask that you turn it down. I understand that you don't desire to have sex and also have negative emotions toward it, and that these feelings make your search for someone to date frustrating. I'd ask you to in turn try to remember that many other community members have different opinions about whether sex is disgusting.

In particular, I'd ask you to step back from any implications that sex is assault even with consent.</mod>
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Post by nearly_takuan on Mon Mar 02, 2015 11:22 pm

I suspect I implicitly filter against short-term interests without really thinking about it, because in most of the rest of my life the long-term prize is what I want and shooting straight for it is how I get it. I've considered changing that many times over, but always leave off not knowing what exactly I would be changing.

Otherwise... Well, fetishizing me is a deal-breaker. So is racism, or at least any unwillingness to learn and course-correct on that sort of thing. Willful scientific illiteracy. That's pretty much it, as far as things that would make me immediately reject a person.

But the list of reasons I would be unlikely to get along with a person is far longer. Willful political illiteracy, for instance, is fairly common and somewhat justifiable, so I can't really rule it out, especially given that several people I do know and respect are generally apolitical. I find that very few of the people I meet are truly stupid, but I do generally find it difficult to interact with those. I see myself having difficulty committing to a relationship with someone who was vehemently against ever raising a child; participating in that one day, even if I have to fight the uphill battle of adopting as a single male, may rival or exceed finding a partner in importance to me. Recreational drug use is generally fine by me (which is good because it's incredibly common) but only if I don't have to participate (which is substantially more restrictive).
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Post by reboot on Mon Mar 02, 2015 11:36 pm

For me there are a few deal breakers for all relationships and then 2-3 that are specific to sex/dating

For everyone
-Dogmatic believer in anything. Double negative for zealotry
- Any sort of bigot
- Unkind to those they have power over
- Unethical
- Xenophobic
- Lacking courage/unable or unwilling to stand up for what they believe to be right

For sex/dating
- Not reciprocating desire
- Not sex positive

Must haves
- Attraction on my part, lack of repulsion on theirs
- Likes animals
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Post by Guest on Mon Mar 02, 2015 11:48 pm

Dealbreakers, eh? Off the top of my head...

- Boundary pushing (this one is BIG because this kind of thing makes me default straight to anger)
- Drug use (Recreational or otherwise, but I think I'll have a tough time avoiding pot users)
- Binge-drinking
- Clingy-ness
- Super-duper extroverted coupled with a social butterfly streak (I can only handle this in my Dad and no one else, lol)
- Wanting children (for now, at least)
- Zealousness

Must haves coming up...

- Deep interest in music and appreciation for lots of different music
- Not averse to a quiet night in by default
- An interest in politics and being happy to discuss them (obviously nice if we overlap mostly, but I'm totally concerned with that)
- Physically attractive to me

When it comes to actual physical traits, I've found what I like is far too broad to bother listing things anymore when asked about it.

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Deal-Breakers and the Mathematics of Love Empty Re: Deal-Breakers and the Mathematics of Love

Post by WJMorris3 on Tue Mar 03, 2015 1:25 am

eselle28 wrote:<mod>WJMorris3, you've been dialing up the heat level in your arguments lately, and I'm going to ask that you turn it down. I understand that you don't desire to have sex and also have negative emotions toward it, and that these feelings make your search for someone to date frustrating. I'd ask you to in turn try to remember that many other community members have different opinions about whether sex is disgusting.

In particular, I'd ask you to step back from any implications that sex is assault even with consent.</mod>

I can only promise I will try to refrain from posting on that subject, as they are honestly my beliefs.

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Post by eselle28 on Tue Mar 03, 2015 1:48 am

WJMorris3 wrote:
eselle28 wrote:<mod>WJMorris3, you've been dialing up the heat level in your arguments lately, and I'm going to ask that you turn it down. I understand that you don't desire to have sex and also have negative emotions toward it, and that these feelings make your search for someone to date frustrating. I'd ask you to in turn try to remember that many other community members have different opinions about whether sex is disgusting.

In particular, I'd ask you to step back from any implications that sex is assault even with consent.</mod>

I can only promise I will try to refrain from posting on that subject, as they are honestly my beliefs.

<mod>That's fine. People don't need to parrot the party line, but there are some claims that just aren't up for debate here, no matter how sincerely held someone's beliefs about them might be. Dropping the subject is always an option when it's not possible to navigate the space between being honest about feelings and following the forum's rules.</mod>
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Post by LadyIkaros on Tue Mar 03, 2015 8:43 am

- No children, now or in the future.
- No more than ten years older or younger than me. I think.
- Atheist with the same political leanings as me. (We don't have to agree on absolutely every issue, but our basic values must align).
- A reasonably strong and independent personality with a sense of humour.
- Physically attractive to me and vice versa.

And I would strongly prefer a non-smoker.
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