Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Game Theory of Online Dating

I just learned this morning that John Nash, the famed economist/mathematician, passed away.  I know of John Nash mostly through the famed "Nash Equilibrium" taught in most beginning economics courses and the theories I learned in a game theory class I took in college.

The game theory course I took in college is one of my favorite courses from college.  Not so much in that I used the class in my career, but I liked the principal that you could try and apply mathematics/game theory to everyday normal life.  And if you view life through these principles, it might help explain life in better (or minimally different) ways.

One of the ways I applied game theory in a conversation sometime ago was online dating.  Myself and many of my friends have done online dating to various degrees of success (... or failure depending on your perspective :-|).  One day I came up with the following conversation/theory.

(To anyone that I don't know reading this, please take this with a grain of salt.  It is just a way to think about things.)

So this conversation/theory only applies to people looking for a relationship.

Assume all people in the world are classified in two groups:
  • A person wants to be in a relationship/get married
  • A person does not want to be in a relationship/get married

However, nobody knows what group anyone belongs in, including themselves.  A person may believe they want to be in a relationship, but they don't.  A person may believe they don't want to be in a relationship, but really do.

Online dating, while becoming more socially acceptable, is not the traditional first route for dating.  There are gajillions of other ways to meet people: school, church, work, your neighborhood, general social activity, etc.  Online dating, in my opinion, is second or third order.  Something people try when the other ways haven't worked out.  I could be wrong about this, but I get the strong impression it is for most people.

So here in lies the question.  If all people in the world are classified in the two groups I list above, who are the people doing online dating?

As I state above, online dating is second or third order.  So, presumably, all the people that want to be in a relationship are already taken.  Since there are a gajillion ways to meet people before online dating, they've presumably already met someone.

So are the people doing online dating a whole bunch of people who don't want to be in a relationship?

Now the above is just the setup and way to think about it.  Reality is really different.

People aren't in the two classifications I list above.  Instead, everyone's personality and desires falls along a spectrum like the below:

I'll be single forever! <------> I want to get married now!

Everyone in the world is in this spectrum.

People who want to be single forever, they probably are not doing online dating at all.

The people that want to get married now, they are already taken.

The people doing online dating are in between.  There will be those who broke up with someone and really want to be in a relationship again.  They are going to be towards the right side of the spectrum.  There will be those who may have the attitude, "ehhh maybe I'll meet someone".  They may be towards the left side of the spectrum.

But what does the population of people doing online dating look like?

I don't know for sure.  But based on my theory on the two classifications, I speculate there are many people more towards the left side of the spectrum than the right doing online dating.  In other words, there's perhaps a reason why a person is still single.  This isn't meant to imply that a person is single for a terrible reason.  It's for very normal reasons: career, location, commitment, what makes you happy, etc. etc.

So, what kind of questions can be gather and think about from this thought process.

If you're someone that really wants a relationship, is online dating the right avenue?  Perhaps not.  Or perhaps its the best out of a lot of crappy options.

If you're doing online dating and think you really want a relationship?  Do you really?

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