The Game Theory of Dating

16 02 2012

So, where were we before I was so rudely interrupted by Valentine’s Day? Oh yeah, I had promised to write about the game theory of dating.

Last week, in Rom Com and the Blog, I briefly hinted at what seems to be a tendency for friends to only want to set me up with their friends if they think it will result in an exclusive relationship, and I stated that I see no reason to limit myself to one man if I’m not dating a man who wants to be exclusive with me.

Seems fair, right?

So, this got me thinking about game theory and dating and inspired me to do a little internet research on the subject. (Because, of course, EVERYTHING on the internet is so accurate.)

First of all, for anyone not familiar with game theory, let me just say that game theory is certainly not limited to games like poker, chess, or Risk. Game theory uses mathematical models to consider the strategic decisions in situations of conflict or cooperation, and it’s used primarily in economics, political science, and psychology. It is the stuff of John Nash’s genius/insanity. (Remember “A Beautiful Mind” with Russell Crowe?) For example, if Company A decides to expand operations into Asia, the already existing Company B in Asia has to decide whether to fight or accommodate Company A’s expansion. Managers on both sides would consider the effects of the possible outcomes to both companies and strategize accordingly, and this can be done mathematically.

Whoa! That sounds heavy. And you thought this was just a simple dating blog.

Well, while I’d like to say I’m not someone who plays games in my relationships, it turns out that we are all playing games all the time.

So, in my internet searching, I found that various authors have covered the topic of game theory and dating from different angles.  For example, there’s the “What should you do if your date leaves you hanging at the last minute” question, which is covered in this HuffPost article aimed primarily at women. Now, you might think these HuffPost scenarios would play out equally regardless of sex, but then along comes this discussion of the “Eligible Bachelor Paradox” where it all appears to come down to “strong” and “weak” bidders and the element of female choosiness. As it turns out, as a woman, being more choosy might actually work against you when dealing with a limited pool of eligible men. Basically, less choosy women will come along and snag the best guys before you can get back to them, (which also explains why dating after 40 is so difficult.)

I’ll be honest. Given how picky I’ve been lately, that last one scared me a little.

Then I happened upon another article, which broke out the numbers for me. (This, I like.) According to the author, if I want to date only 100 total men, I should reject the first 37 and then accept the next man who comes along who is better than the previous men. This ups my chances of success to 50% instead of 33.333…%.

However, if I TRULY do as my therapist says and date 100 men without getting serious with ANYONE, thereby rejecting the first 100, I will need to date 270 men too keep my chances of success at 50%.

Excuse me while I go hyperventilate in a paper bag.

These numbers just make my therapist look batshit crazy!

I had my suspicions…

…but I’m deep in it now, so I might as well muddle through.

Why do I bring all of this up? Well, I feel I’m coming to a point where I’ve started to get a good sense of the attributes I want in a partner. Essentially, I’ve had a chance to “look at the first pitch” (or at least the first 24 pitches so far in this case) and get a good sense of my “must-haves” and my “deal-breakers.” It might be time to start assessing these guys a little more seriously.

I haven’t decided yet if I will “reject” the first 37. Mathematically, it offers me the best chance for success, but, ultimately, my decision will come down to factors that have less to do with calculus and more to do with my dating endurance.

Plus, I really enjoyed my date with Man #24, which I still need to recap…soon.




4 responses

17 02 2012
Separated Dad

I can’t remember if it is in one of the Freakeconomics books or another book about probability, but the same analysis is presented there too. I wonder which was first to discover this general approach.

The interesting thing for me is the principle that you do need to date enough to figure out whether or not you’re dating someone good or bad. The actual number of people itself is not important.

Further, statistics like this show how a *group* of individuals best approach dating but not what is best for a specific individual. I have found that people often struggle with that concept — how to take a statistical ideal and apply it personally. In your own case, you seem to have covered this with your declaration that, if the right guy were to show up (and you’ve presumably enough experience to know that by now), you’d drop the goal of 100 different dates and focus on that guy.

17 02 2012

I agree. The exact number of “rejects” only becomes important if you are potentially trying to stop at a specific number (like 100), because the sweet spot is 37%. So, looking at the first pitch in baseball makes sense, given that a batter has three strikes and getting a sense of what the pitcher is like and swinging at pitches that look better than the first one will up your chances of success.


Most of these dating game theory calculations are designed with specific rules that are skewed in my case. First, in the designed problems, it is assumed that you can only date one person at a time, and once you have rejected them, you can never get them back. So, we know I’m going to continue meeting men until I find someone who wants more, and secondly, it is rare for me to totally burn a bridge. I still have old boyfriends as friends who I have know for years. Will they ever be more again?

Hard to say.

15 04 2012
Man #25, The Karaoke Kripple « My Dating Prescription

[…] I liked his laid back vibe and I could definitely see myself hanging out with him again. I know my game theory calculations say I should reject the first 37 men outright, but Man #24 was a good one. Let’s face it; […]

26 05 2012

I would never introduce my child to somenoe I wasn’t serious about myself. So, keep the introduction at bay until you feel that the person is special to you. You don’t want people running in and out of your child’s life. Also, it helps if you date somenoe who is in the same boat, somenoe who also is a single parent. When you feel the time is right to introduce your child to the person you are dating, don’t bring them to your home. Make it a casual, short meeting, maybe over pizza. Then gradually bring them around more. Personally, I would never have the person spend the night when the child is there either. Other than that, it’s not too much different.

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