I found myself at the car dealership with four hours to kill, waiting for my car to be serviced, so I began polling people who were also waiting there how they want to fall in love–randomly or through an algorithm. I interviewed 29 people and 52% were married and 48% were single. Of the 48% who were single, 86% said they would want to meet their spouse randomly (e.g. going to a bar; talking to someone; running into someone; walking; meet at a church, school, or temple; being referred through friends and family) and 14% reported they would prefer an algorithm (e.g. online dating).
Why did so many singles choose random? One respondent said: “So for algorithms I think it’s the science of finding what you’re looking for and you’re able to pick and choose like when you’re doing online dating. Randomly is also good if you believe in love at first sight or quote ‘it’s meant to be’ end quote and things like that.” Even for the 14% who reported they prefer an algorithm, their ideal way to meet someone was through a church or through friends.
Although I categorized people who meet through friends and family as “random,” there seems to be something pseudo-random about meeting through friends and family. Of the 86% of people who said they would want to meet their spouse randomly, 42% said their ideal way to meet someone would be to meet through a referral from someone they already new. They reported that they wanted someone their family and friends already knew because then they could get some information about them and they could have some idea about what kind of person they were.
How did people meet before there was online dating? Of the 15 married people I interviewed, 67% had been married for 20 or more years. Of those who had been married for 20-plus years, 70% reported meeting totally randomly. One woman who has been married for 45 years said: “He was on top of the house fixing the roof. I was visiting that home and he looked down and saw me and I looked up and saw him and he came right down from the roof.” Another woman who has been married for 26 years met her husband while waitressing at a restaurant during college. Still another woman, who has been married for over 20 years, recalled: “So, he’s a firefighter and I was going to school to become an EMT and I did my ride-a-long in his fire truck. I got the cute guy in the uniform.”
The other 30% who had been married for 20-plus years said they were set up through friends and family. One man reported having an arranged marriage. Another woman, who has been married for 33 years, met her husband through her brother-in-law and his uncle. Another woman, who is divorced now after 32 years of marriage, said her father introduced her.
It seems that before there was internet dating, people were predominantly meeting randomly. But, is it true that there is something romantic and everlasting about people who want to meet randomly? The data suggest something different–namely those who prefer random are less likely to report they want someone to come home to, as opposed to someone to go out with or someone just for tonight.
I looked at the OkCupid public data set and coded people as “Random” if they answered “Yes” to the question: “Have you ever randomly followed a stranger because you found them attractive?” and “Randomness” to the question: “Which is more appealing–Order or Randomness”? There were 259 people who fell into the “Random” category.
People were coded as “Orderly” if they answered “No” to the question: “Have you ever randomly followed a stranger because you found them attractive?” and “Order” to the question: “Which is more appealing–Order or Randomness”? There were 969 people who fell into the “Orderly” category.
The headline result is that 49% of “Random” people reported they wanted someone to come home to versus 66% of “Orderly” people reported they wanted someone to come home to. 51% of “Random” people wanted someone to go out with or someone just for tonight versus 33% of “Orderly” people wanted someone to go out with or someone just for tonight. The data show people labeled “Orderly” want a commitment more than “Random” people.
|Figure 1. What Orderly and Random People want in a Relationship|
|Someone to come home to||66.36%||48.65%|
|Someone to go out with||32.20%||47.10%|
|Someone for tonight||1.44%||4.25%|
I ran a simple t-test, looking for a significant difference in means, to show that “Orderly” and “Random” people have statistically different purposes for dating. The t-statistic is 5.29 and the p-value is 0.00, which corroborates the finding that “Orderly” and “Random” people date for different reasons. In other words, the difference in dating purposes between “Orderly” and “Random” people is unlikely to be due to chance.
What would happen if an online dating service only allowed people to meet randomly? OkCupid provides some insight. On January 15, 2013, OkCupid experimented with removing everyone’s profile photos from the site for a few hours. Crazy Blind Date, the name of the app they were promoting, paired people up and selected a nearby place and time to meet. The only information it gave was a first name and a scrambled thumbnail photo, which made it nearly impossible to reconstruct how a person looks. According to Dataclysm author and OkCupid co-founder, Christian Rudder, “You were just supposed to show up and hope for the best.”
The result of matching randomly was that people paid less attention to looks. Attractiveness didn’t matter for whether people had a good time on their date. Women had a good time 75% of the time and men had a good time 85% of the time. Even though a quarter of a million people selected into Crazy Blind Date, it eventually failed because people insist on seeing who they are meeting (Rudder 2014).
People matching randomly goes against the conventional wisdom, provided by Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, that people marry for competitive advantage. So, for example, if the man is better at earning money and the woman is better at taking care of home and children, then they match ( https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-economics-of-marriage-and-family-breakdown/ ). The idea that there is a marriage market is confounded by people getting together randomly. In my interviews, no one mentioned competitive advantage as a reason for getting together.
Although people report that they want to find someone randomly, and random matches seem to produce a good time, the data suggest that people who look for random matches are less likely to want commitment. The result is statistically significant. If meeting randomly conveys a sense of romance and “love at first sight,” the preliminary research shows that it may not be everlasting.