Our Drake

Some months ago, This American Life had a fascinating episode. Not that this is news. The intersection between that episode and this blog is in the prologue. The summary from the site is:

NPR reporter David Kestenbaum tells host Ira Glass about the time, when he was doing graduate work in physics, he and his other single friends decided to figure out the mathematical probability that they’d find girlfriends. They wanted to know what the chances were that there was more than one person in the world for them.

They used a modified version of what’s called the Drake equation, a way of very roughly estimating the number of planets out there which support a civilization with which we might someday communicate. This can be adapted to estimate the probability of making any kind of connection with a shifting population.

I’ve mentioned the Drake in conjunction with dating before, but a friend’s journal on OkCupid brought it to mind again recently when he posted his own tongue-in-cheek equation:

N = P x L x S x B x E x T x H


N = the number of women who I would be interested in dating locally;


P = average number women born per year locally

L = total number of years in the age range i’m considering

S = fraction of the above who are unmarried(available) or stuck in unhappy relationships

B = fraction of the above who have similar life goals as i do

E = fraction of the above who have similar codes of behaviour, ethics, interests, etc as i do

T = fraction of the above who i am physically attracted to

H = fraction of the above i have sexual chemistry with

And it reminded me that those of us in open relationships are looking for partners (if we’re looking for partners) in an entirely different population. The S term above is inapplicable, and has to change to something like “fraction of the above who are interested in the kind of relationship I’m interested in”, which I think is likely a much smaller fraction. Of course, unless we’re looking for multiple life partners, term B can be dropped entirely. Perhaps it would need to be replaced with something like “fraction of the above who are not yet seeing all of the people they can or care to”.

In other words, we’re working with a much smaller group, but much more of that group is ultimately available.

Which is probably why it always seems like everyone in Boston is seeing each other, to at most one or two degrees of removal.

The Stupid Things You Do When Dating and How to Fix Them

In the experiments weve done weve shown that if you can date three people, and they all promise they can stay viable and you can keep on dating them, you very quickly pick one and just stay with that person. But if you date three people and two of them threaten you that unless you go on and continue dating them or they will go away and find somebody else, you keep on revisiting those options. We have a very hard time closing doors.

via The Stupid Things You Do When Dating and How to Fix Them.

So, being in open relationships is preventing us from making stupid choices about which partner we pick for the long term. Highfive!

This whole article is rather interesting. In particular, Dan Ariely’s video commentary is, as always, well work watching.