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The Mathematics of Love

Patterns, Proofs, and the Search for the Ultimate Equation

By Hannah Fry
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The Mathematics of Love by Hannah Fry

Love is full of patterns – from the number of sexual partners we have to the way we select potential mates from dating websites. In The Mathematics of Love (2015), Hannah Fry sheds some light on these patterns and teaches you how to calculate your chances of finding The One, make a mathematical argument to justify approaching someone in a bar, and to use a mathematical trick to plan your wedding.

Key idea 1 of 10

We can calculate our chances of finding a partner – but we shouldn’t be too picky.

The search for romantic love can sometimes leave us feeling somewhat hopeless – as though the odds are against us. One such discouraged bachelor was mathematician Peter Backus. In 2010, Backus went so far as to prove that there were more intelligent alien civilizations out there than there were potential girlfriends for him!

His conclusion was based on calculations led by the following questions:

How many women live near me? In his case – in London – four million.

How many are likely to be of the right age range? This came to 20 percent, or 800,000 women.

How many are likely to be single? This amounted to 50 percent, or 400,000 women.

How many are likely to have a university degree? This would be 26 percent, or 104,000 women.

How many are likely to be attractive? He calculated this at five percent, or 5,200 women.

How many are likely to find me attractive? Again, this was calculated at five percent, or 260 women.

Finally, how many am I likely to get along well with? This came to ten percent, or 26 women.

This left Backus with just 26 women to date. In contrast, scientists currently estimate there to be around 10,000 intelligent alien civilizations in our galaxy.

But if Backus had been a tad less picky and relaxed his criteria a little, he would’ve had a substantially larger pool of potential partners. For example, he assumed that he would only get on with one in ten women he met. Yet if he increased this percentage to 20 percent, along with increasing the percentage he found attractive to 20 percent, and the percentage of women who would find him attractive to 20 percent, he would be left with a far more optimistic total of 832 potential partners.

In love, it pays to be moderately flexible with your criteria.

As luck, or perhaps math, would have it, Backus eventually tied the knot in 2014.

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