If the warm glow of Valentine’s Day has got you thinking about taking your love to the next level, it might pay to factor in some maths before making the leap.
Journalist Brian Christian and cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths, co-authors of Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, argue that following what they call the ‘37% Rule’ you could save yourself a lot of headaches.
The decree basically says that when you need to screen a range of options in a limited amount of time — be they candidates for a job, new apartments, or potential romantic partners — the best time to make a decision is when you’ve looked at 37% of those options.
At that point in a selection process, you’ll have gathered enough information to make an informed decision, but you won’t have wasted too much time looking at more options than necessary. At the 37% mark, you’re in a good place to pick the best of the bunch.
So, if you’re looking for love between the ages of 18 and 40, the optimal age to start seriously considering your future husband or wife is just past your 26th birthday (37% into the 22-year span), say the authors.
Before then, you’ll probably miss out on higher-quality partners that could still come around, but after that, good options could start to become unavailable, decreasing your chances of finding a good match.
In mathematics lingo, searching for a potential mate is known as an “optimal stopping problem”.
Over 1000 possibilities, the authors argue that you should get serious with that special someone 36.81% of the way through. The bigger the pool of options, the closer to exactly 37% you can get.
The 37% Rule isn’t perfect, caution the writers, since it borrows from the cold logic of math.
It assumes that people have a reasonable understanding of what they want in a partner by 26, but doesn’t account for the fact that what we look for in our partners may change dramatically between 18 and 40.
What the 37% Rule does tell us is that 26 is the age when our dating decisions are most trustworthy.