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Dating with science on your side
January 27th, 2011
11:24 AM ET

Dating with science on your side

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

Anyone who’s single and dating knows it’s a numbers game. All it takes is one person to set you on the path toward happily ever after - or to give you another dating nightmare story.

But how many dates do you have to go on to find “the one”? And how do you know for sure that once you do meet Mr. or Ms. Right, a more attractive, more compatible prospect won’t pop up right around the corner?

Science can help us streamline the process. Cognitive science all-stars Peter Todd, Ph.D., of Indiana University in Bloomington, and Geoffrey Miller, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico, used advanced computer simulations to determine the best approach to find lasting love.

Todd and Miller applied a well-known system of hypothetical decision-making called the “secretary problem” to dating. In this situation, a person must pick the best secretary from a group of applicants who appear in random order, drawn from a pool whose quality is not known. Once rejected, applicants cannot be recalled. It’s all about moving forward and making smart choices.

Todd and Miller found that the solution to the secretary problem - and potentially your dating problem - requires sampling a certain proportion of people, remembering the best of them, and then picking the next person who is even better.

So, what’s the magic number? In the secretary problem, the ideal percentage for sampling is 37% of a pool of 100 applicants. That means it would make sense to initially sample 37 people, remember the best of the best, and then pick the next candidate who meets or exceeds that standard.

Now, in the real world of dating there are many, many more prospects than 100 (at last count, there were nearly 100 million singles if you count all ages) and for many of us, even dating just 37 people would be far too tiring. You also might be thinking, “Please! I’ve already dated hundreds of people. I don’t need to sample any more candidates. I’m sampled to death!”

Going back to their advanced computer simulations, Miller and Todd raised the number of potential candidates from 100 to 1,000 and proved, to the relief of singles everywhere, that a little bit of searching indeed goes a long way. According to their research, in a group of 1,000 potential mates, only 1 to 2 percent needs to be sampled.

But you do need to set your “aspiration level” - your ideal mate based on a realistic view of who’s available and whom you can attract - and date those people you consider to be in the top 25%. That means you shouldn’t set your expectations too unrealistically high or low.

In other words, you have to go on roughly 10 first dates, with mates who are within your aspiration level. If after 10 dates there’s someone you want to go back to and he or she is available, then go for it. But give yourself those 10 first dates.

Want some other tips to date with science on your side?

  • Think before you potentially hop into bed on the first date. According to a poll by the National Opinion Research Center, only 1.4% of married couples had sex within the first two days of meeting. The pursuit of sexual gratification plays heavily into the brain’s reward centers. The more we pursue something, the more we want it.
  • If you’re really attracted to him or her, go to a dimly lit place and stare into each other’s eyes. Researchers at Stony Brook University found that men and women who stared into each other’s eyes for more than four minutes said they felt unusually attracted to each other. And enlarged pupils are a sign that we like what we see, and a sexual cue to like us back. Dim lighting causes our pupils to widen.
  • At some point, lean in and take a deep breath. Liking someone’s natural scent is an indication of genetic compatibility.
  • Be sure to compliment your date. People tend to be most comfortable and to live up to the expectations we place on them. So if you tell dates, “You seem so smart and funny,” they will be smarter and funnier and you’ll see them at their best.
  • Don’t let your sense of your own attractiveness hold you back. In many studies, men pick women of average weight as their ideal mate as opposed to super-skinny women, and many women find short men who are confident to appear a few inches taller than they actually are.

I personally believe that dating and finding love should be like buying a piece of art - you need to be captivated by someone you want to take home and frame. Yet all too often, we're walking around with our tiny frames trying to fit people into them. We're looking for something or someone rather than really seeing. So dismantle the frame, take some risks and give yourself 10 first dates! If you’d like more dating advice, please visit our experts at Good in Bed.


soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. becca

    Just find someone with the same values and outlook on life as you. Someone who is a soulmate, whose personality compliments yours and whom you're attracted to.

    January 27, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael

      While I disagree with the "soulmate" part (that Hollywood belief causes more loneliness than happiness), I'd agree that these aren't so much "how to get a girl/boy" tips as "how to help keep a boy/girl who already likes you" tips.

      For example: someone you like staring into your eyes – romantic; someone you barely know staring into your eyes – creepy.

      Don't let pop-science run your dating life (it isn't really science anyway) – instead, learn to like yourself and enjoy the process. People can be awesome, even if you don't end up sleeping with them.

      January 27, 2011 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      I did a dating test every weekend for one year... went on a different date every Friday and every Saturday night, excepting holidays, wearing the same (or identical) clothes each time with the exception of jeans that were slightly tighter vs. jeans that were slightly looser.

      For one date night, I would have my "goods" in a nice package with the slightly tighter jeans when we first met, very visible. On the other date night, I would have them tucked away with the looser jeans and not really visible.

      At the end of the evening, we would trade numbers and go our way. I would not call back.

      Out of 96 dates, I received a call or text message within a few days 57 times. 39 of those were women from the first group, 18 were from the other.

      My data can be found online. But this tells that in my experience women were far more interested in a repeat date when they could clearly see the goods, and were much less timid about asking for it.

      January 27, 2011 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
    • Tricia - 34, single, and sick of dating

      I met someone like that. He changed his mind after a month.

      Joe, how on earth do you meet about 100 people a year to date? Holy hell.

      January 29, 2011 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
  2. Amy

    I think it all comes down to who you want to hang out with the most. Cause that's what relationships are – hanging out with one person... a lot.

    http://www.datingmryuck.com/blog/

    January 27, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Samantha

    Urrghh.... I am so tired of dating! I have dated for 25 years and I am ready to find the one already! I have had long-term relationships but they have ended. I am attractive, intelligent and have a great personality ... I don't know if I am too picky, but I have even started to lower my standards and I am still meeting jerks, which usually consist of guys wanting to just sleep with me and still play the field. The search for "the one" is very frustrating... I think I may start dating women!

    January 27, 2011 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TwoCents

      Samantha,

      Don't give up! The right guy is out there for you. As superficial as 'sampling candidates' sounds: the writer may be on to something. Try widening your spectrum as it were. If you're dating only guys from your college/work/town then get out there and travel. Enjoy life, you're at the perfect time in your life to find out who you ARE and who you want TO BE- which needs to be done before you decide who you want to be WITH for the rest of your life.

      January 27, 2011 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
    • BrotherJohn OfDallas

      After 25 years, ya gotta ask what are ya doing and what vibe are ya giving off to the guys. Are ya clingy or demanding? Do ya talk too much or are ya a good listener? do ya take criticism well? any body odor issues that anyone has been brave enough to tell you about? Are you mean, depressing or arrogant? Do you maintain yourself well?, presenting your best overall look without being too excessive or extreme?

      January 27, 2011 at 14:48 | Report abuse |
    • DRock

      Hey, Samantha!
      Give me a shot!!! I'm not too bad of a boyfriend, I think!

      January 27, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse |
    • Valerie

      Obviously you are doing something to only attract losers.........I am not picking on you, but think about it......

      January 27, 2011 at 15:11 | Report abuse |
    • displeased

      25 years? Perhaps it's you...

      January 27, 2011 at 15:13 | Report abuse |
    • ex Arizonian

      Sometimes love finds you when you aren't looking. But I agree with most the people before my post. Maybe it's time to look at your self and see what might be attracting these kind of people.

      January 27, 2011 at 15:19 | Report abuse |
    • Calif Girl

      Tell it, Sister! I am confident, intelligent, attractive, well-dressed, and for 30 years have attracted primarily men looking for a sugar mama. Apparently the men with jobs are looking for someone who needs to be taken care of and because I had a good job of my own, felt that I didn't need them enough.

      January 27, 2011 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      You are caught in a trap of only dating aggressive guys who you are physically attracted to, but those guys are also the ones only trying to get in your pants and who are not interested in anything long term. As a result, you are overlooking the "invisible" non-aggressive guys who are interested in a long term viable relationship.

      January 27, 2011 at 18:34 | Report abuse |
    • Peace

      Sounds like you tend to go for the "alpha male" type. Try dating the "nice guy next door" type. Also, I agree with asking people you trust for any tips on why they think your relationships aren't lasting in the long-term. Ask for total honesty, and don't get defensive, just think about the answers you get. I don't think it's your fault; you just might need a new approach.

      January 28, 2011 at 05:17 | Report abuse |
    • Tricia - 34, single, and sick of dating

      Samantah and Calif Girl – I am totally in the same boat. I have no clue why I attract morons. I don't act or look like a moron, I'm smart, in shape, good job....I just want the male version of me. Once I find him, he'll probably be gay. Ugh.

      January 29, 2011 at 15:20 | Report abuse |
    • Roj

      My wife and I are one of those Eharmony success stories, but never made it onto their commercials :). I will say, without a doubt, it helped me find a wonderful partner, friend, and mate. We agreed on so many of the fundamentals it was uncanny, but still found each other to be different in perfectly fine ways that allowed us to still discover one another at the same time. I would recommend a site like Eharmony because it seems to have been a great way to sort through the 'types' of ladies that I knew wouldn't be a very good match for me. I still got to meet some nice ones along the way, but didn't get swept off my feet until I met my wife. It doesn't cost much, and it was actually a fun process the whole way through.

      March 10, 2011 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
  4. David

    This is beautiful: "dating and finding love should be like buying a piece of art – you need to be captivated by someone you want to take home and frame. Yet all too often, we're walking around with our tiny frames trying to fit people into them. We're looking for something or someone rather than really seeing".

    Nice job!

    January 27, 2011 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jamie

      I couldn't agree more! Very, very well stated...and I love the visual it gives me! 🙂

      January 27, 2011 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
  5. Sam

    It's the optimal stopping problem! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimal_stopping

    January 27, 2011 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. ROCK

    Snooki just gave it up for me again. Who wants a life long partner when you can bang orange broads that have hit tv shows?

    January 27, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. carol

    Interesting.. sort of. But at what point is enough enough, and dealing with enough being enough a rational and realistic adjustment? At what point is just not looking any longer appropriate? Seems few columnists want to address that part of the equation. And at 67, all I find is men wanting 1) a nursemaid, 2) a housekeeper, 3) an income, or 4) a surrogate baby-sitter when they get tired of or from the grandkids. There are painfully few men of an appropriate age who are living in the present, relish their lives, and have maintained a sense of wonder.. and those I've met who have those characteristics are quite happily involved with a mate.

    January 27, 2011 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Valerie

    My husband has a huge penis and great job. That's why I married him. : )

    January 27, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ex Arizonian

      so you going to leave him if he loses that job and goes limp?

      January 27, 2011 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
    • Valerie

      No Arizonan...I won't ....why are you asking? Does it bother you that I am happy?

      January 27, 2011 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
    • ex Arizonian

      LOL why would it bother me? I'm not married to you. Was just curious.

      January 27, 2011 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
    • kthnxbai

      EXACTLY. Which goes to show you, women are only interested in schlongs and money. THAT is what they are all about! lol

      January 27, 2011 at 19:09 | Report abuse |
    • dee dee

      Hi

      hi

      March 2, 2011 at 18:46 | Report abuse |
    • dee dee

      Valerie, good salary yes, bigger is not better

      March 2, 2011 at 18:47 | Report abuse |
  9. Michelle

    @ Valerie

    LOL My husband has both of those things too and that's why I married him.

    The huge brain and huge heart and great sense of humor and great smile don't hurt either. 🙂

    January 27, 2011 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michelle's hubby

      Thanks, sweetie.

      January 27, 2011 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
    • Valerie

      Agreed Michelle...did you notice, It didn't take long for some loser to bash me.....like men don't look for an "attractive" woman to marry.....yeah right! LMAO!

      January 27, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
    • displeased

      Marrying somebody only because they are attractive or rich is shallow. Bashing is justified.

      January 27, 2011 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
    • ex Arizonian

      @Valerie. Sensitive much? I wasn't bashing you. LOL You sound very secure with yourself. Now that was bashing you.

      January 27, 2011 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
  10. Borat

    Great! When I uh, buy my wife, at the start she was uh, cook good, her vazhïn work well, and she strong on plow. But after three years when she was fifteen, then she become weak, her voice become deep: , eh, she receive hair on chest, and vazhïn hang like sleeve of wizard.

    January 27, 2011 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scooby

      ::: takes almost-empty gallon og Gin away from Borat and allows him to sleep :::

      January 27, 2011 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
    • pisaas

      OMG this is hilarious!!!

      January 27, 2011 at 16:59 | Report abuse |
  11. Ron

    Try dating squirrels. I tried and have been happy for the last 7 months. You get awkward looks at first, but I think people are catching on to the squirrel movement.

    January 27, 2011 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • EmeraldCity

      That reminds me of a Jack White song.

      January 27, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse |
  12. razzlea

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    January 27, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Vera

    Don't forget to read Dr. Ruddy's blog! It includes excellent information regarding the Pink Virus and breast cancer vaccine as well as other breast cancer prevention methods. http://breastcancerbydrruddy.com/

    January 27, 2011 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. holly

    There is no such thing as "The One". I am happily married and I think my husband would say the same. But there have been other boyfriends in my pre-marraige life with whom I could have also been happily married to. It is all about where i was in my life, not just physcially, but emotionally and mentally. Was i ready for that type of commitment? Was i emotionally mature enough to be a wife? Probably not, and thats why it didn't happen. There was nothign wrong with those guys, it was all about timing. I love my husband dearly, becuase i am able to love who i am and where i am in my life. When all emotional baggage and past issues are resolved ( the best the can be) is when i was able to meet my life mate.

    January 27, 2011 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Salley

      What a great comment! Thank you for sharing :)!!!

      February 18, 2011 at 13:04 | Report abuse |
  15. Michael Johnson

    there is a reason mathematicians suck at being musicians most of the time even though the 2 are linked. It is because when you try to apply everything with numbers and models and all kinds of good **** you dont get any real feelings out of it in return. Its just data entry at that point. No emotion or anything.

    If i find someone who is COMPLETELY for me well. there is not much effort going into that relationship. its just scientifically supposed to work.

    Relationships must be approached not with science but by push and pull emotions. a constant struggle to find balance. I do not want a relationship for example with no ups and downs. The boredom would lead me to kill myself.
    http://thedayiquitsmoking.blogspot.com

    January 27, 2011 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. meh

    I think I should just accept the idea that there is someone for everyone is false and just give up, personally.

    January 27, 2011 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tricia - 34, single, and sick of dating

      Meh too.

      January 29, 2011 at 15:13 | Report abuse |
  17. www.lotstoclick.blogspot.com/

    Uggghhh.. I need a girlfriend..

    January 27, 2011 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Satirev

    "In many studies, ........ many women find short men who are confident to appear a few inches taller than they actually are."

    If by some miracle you read the comments Mr. Kirner, I would love to see those studies. Preferably in their entirety explaining their methods, sample size, and sample population. To be blunt, I'm very "confident" it's hogwash. Many men will date women that are average weight, overweight, and even obese. Very few women, even the obese, will ever accept a man that they deem to be too short, regardless of his other traits. This could be easily confirmed by data from dating sites and dating services if they were willing to share that information.

    January 27, 2011 at 19:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Tricia - 34, single, and sick of dating

    I love how they say, "Go on 10 dates", like you can just drive to your local mall and do it.

    January 29, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Tricia - 34, single, and sick of dating

    Satirev – I have never once cared how tall a guy is. I'm 5'3", maybe that has something to do with it, ha.

    January 29, 2011 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. billy

    I found a really awesome chick, lets hope she don't go crazy like most other women. It's like they can't seem to stay on track and live a nice healthy balanced life. They get to this point where they think they are some bad B and want to just w-hore it up and get obese, very strange...

    February 19, 2011 at 04:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Evan

    If only it were that easy (sigh).

    February 20, 2011 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. pants

    men just want to get in me.... and i dont blame them....

    February 27, 2011 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. morgan vinson

    don't give up !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 1, 2011 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. dee dee

    I been married to the first man i ever dated. Wish I would have played the field. We do have the same interests, but not really soul mates. I look at other men that hold wives hands, put coat on them and help her across an icy street. Kiss her in public ( not teen mashing) and say honey. I tried all that and suggested it but it full on deaf ears. Not an easy man to live with but he makes over $200.000 ayear or better and I love the confort of having THINGS that I never had before. I had foster parents, treated me like hell, never had nice things etc... so here I am happy but not IN love.

    March 2, 2011 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • yo yo

      And you have no idea how many women would kill for a guy that you have. He gives you comfort, be grateful.

      March 13, 2011 at 21:50 | Report abuse |
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    The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country. The most common idea is two people trying out a relationship and exploring whether they're compatible by going out together in public as a couple, who may or may not yet be having sexual relations. This period of courtship is sometimes seen as a precursor to engagement or marriage...*

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