Digital Life

Finding The Sum Of True Love On The 88th Try

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Mathematician Chris McKinlay wasn't having any luck finding love, so he used an algorithm to crack the dating website OkCupid. After a mountain of data mining and more than 80 first dates, he finally met his fiancée.


The website OkCupid says we use math to get you dates. But the algorithms weren't quite adding up for Chris McKinlay, who was a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at UCLA when he signed up for the site. OkCupid matches users based on their answers to survey questions, and there are thousands of them, like: Do you have any tattoos? And: How long you want your next relationship to last? You get a compatibility rating based on how closely your answers match for each prospective date.

Chris McKinlay answered lots of questions, sent some messages, went on a few dates - but not a lot - and there were no love matches. So, he says, he started to approach OkCupid like a mathematics thesis.

CHRIS MCKINLAY: I realized that I could, you know, apply tools that I understood very well to OkCupid if I could only gather enough question data from users on the site.

SIMON: He used software to create phony profiles so he could collect answers from thousands of women and analyze them. He divided the women into seven groups based on the questions they chose to answer, then decided which group he found most engaging. And then he answered those questions that they found most compelling. Once he did, his dating life took off.

MCKINLAY: At first, I was kind of trying to make them like the classic sort of romantic first date to remember, to tell your kids about. And that turned out to not be a good approach.

SIMON: First dates take time, after all. They create expectation. They can be exhausting. So Chris McKinlay decided to just meet for a cup of coffee and hope that was long enough to detect in person what OkCupid and its algorithms couldn't - if two people felt a spark. Chris McKinlay had 87 first dates. And on the 88th, he met Christine Tien Wong.

MCKINLAY: It was a real relief when I met Christine and, you know, on the first date. I was saying yes very strongly at a gut level.

SIMON: About a year later, Chris McKinlay proposed. They're planning to be married next year. Finally, romance entered the equation.


SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News.

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