Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Finding “The One”: A Statistical Analysis

Notwithstanding all the lamentation about how hard it is to find a great guy or girl, it’s really remarkable that a fair number of us find our “The One” that we fall in love with and end up spending a significant portion of our lives with. The odds are kind of stacked against us, yet the newspaper is filled with daily announcements of weddings and engagements.1

It’s kind of miraculous this happens—guy meets girl, girl meets guy, happiness ensues. When you think about it, what are the chances of one stumbling on the guy/girl of one’s dreams given the enormousness of the world and the number of people in it?

The numbers are disheartening to even the most hopeless romantic. There are roughly 7 billion people in the world. Approximately 70% of them are adults2, and there’s basically a 50/50 split between males and females.3 That means there are about 2.45 billion potential “The One”s out there for you.4

So, you’ve basically got a 1 in 2.45 billion chance of meeting your soulmate/lifelong partner/raison d'être/snoogie woogums. That’s way worse than your odds of winning the Powerball jackpot.5

Of course, you have better odds than that because you’re meeting more than just one guy or girl. But still, all these potential partners are spread out all over the world. You’re basically limited to the people in your immediate area, which seems awfully constricting. Logically, your best shot is to live in a well-populated place with a high population density, ensuring that you meet as many people as possible. A place like Mumbai, for instance. It has a population of 14.3 million and a super-high population density. That’s about 5 million (adult) guys/girls and you could conceivably meet them all. If you did, that would be about 0.2 percent of all the guys/girls in the world, or about 1/500th of the total number. One in 500…doesn’t sound like such bad odds. Of course, as we all know, not all guys/girls are equally desirable. You’d have a hard time in Mumbai if an affinity for Indian food was a deal-breaker for you.

But there’s something even more important than physical proximity when finding “The One”: Temporal proximity. We all innately know that timing is everything, especially in a relationship. For a spark to happen between two people, they have to be at exact points in their respective lives or that spark won’t happen. It’s a hoary concept that’s totally true, which is why we keep seeing movies that dramatize this idea, like Sliding Doors, The Lakehouse, and Déjà vu.6

What’s a little discomfiting is thinking about two people who were made for each other being seriously out-of-whack timing-wise. Like what if the person with whom you would click most has already lived his or her whole life and died? It’s one thing to narrowly miss running into someone at the deli, it is something else entirely to never see them just because they happened to have been born decades before you.

According to estimates, there have been roughly 107 billion human beings who have ever lived. Minus the 7 billion on the planet currently, that’s roughly 50 billion potential girl-/boyfriends7 that you never got the chance to meet, just because you guys didn’t happen to be born around the same time. Which sucks. Your “The One” could’ve died in the black plague, or been eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. Or they could’ve been Marlon Brando, or Joan of Arc, like that song. Which still sucks, but at least you have pictures of them.8

The real migraine-inducer is thinking of the possibility that you’re “The One” for someone in the future who hasn’t been born yet. Tough to crunch the numbers on this scenario since we don’t know when that ELE is going to hit, but suffice it to say that there’s a whole other big pool of people that we’ll never meet.

And yet, despite the long odds, most of us have found the one we couldn’t imagine life without. So I’d just like to suggest that the next time they ask you what you like best about them, just cut to the chase and say that you’re glad they didn’t live during a time when everyone thought the world was flat or a time when we didn’t have electricity or even a time when we have flying cars and personal robots to walk our dogs. Tell them, Yes, they are everything we could ever want. They have smiles that light up our days, and gazes that melt our insides. They are wonderful, beautiful, generous, intelligent, funny, amazing. But, most importantly, they are here, with you now, and you couldn’t be any more grateful.

And if that sounds decidedly unromantic to them, just remind them about the saber-toothed tigers.9

Or just kiss them. That usually conveys what you intend.

DHS

1- Is it any wonder that they’re printed on the same page as the lottery winners? I don’t even know if this is true, but it sounds right.

2- You have to be over 18 to play this game. The rest of you will “go out” and “break up” with 10 people by recess on Friday.

3- There are slightly more males. Apparently the ratio would be evener if the Chinese and Indian people would stop killing their daughters.

4- If you’re bi- then I guess the numbers double, but not really because not everyone you’d potentially like of the same sex would be gay. And then of course some of those 2.45 billion are gay so that eliminates them from the pool if you’re heterosexual…look, a couple areas of this get into some fuzzy math and I’m just trying to make an amusing little blog post here—oversimplified, yes, but amusing enough—so stop being a stickler on the math and just go with it.

5- (1 in 175 million)

6- Denzel Washington firing a gun at bad guys is also one of life’s verities.

7- Fuzzy math alert: not all of them attained adulthood, some are gay, etc.

8- Well, in the case of Joan of Arc, you have artists’ interpretations, at least.

9- If you want to double-down, say that being killed by a saber-toothed tiger and not knowing you seems like an especially egregious case of adding insult to injury.

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