If your online dating efforts of late have been dismal and you also have a few thousand hours to spare, you might want to try what mathematician Christopher McKinlay did last June, according to a new profile in Wired.
Tired of sending dozens of unanswered messages and feeling uninspired by the few dates he did go on, the UCLA PhD candidate had the idea to use applied mathematics to boost his less-than-successful online dating endeavors. McKinlay created 12 fake OKCupid profiles, each powered by bots he programmed to trawl the depths of OKCupid, collecting data on women all over the country to find patterns in the way they described themselves. He also collected tons of data on how these women answered hundreds of OKCupid’s signature questions, like “How long do your romantic relationships usually last?” and “Have you ever had a sexual encounter with someone of the same sex?” OKCupid uses the answers to these questions to label each user you run across on the site with a percentage that represents how statistically compatible that person is with you.
Six million answers and 20,000 women later, McKinlay answered 500 of the most popular OKCupid questions (without the help of his bots), watched the messages begin pouring in, and identified two statistically distinct groups of women based in L.A. and San Francisco he’d be most interested in dating. All that was left was to start going on actual dates, which he did with gusto, sometimes cramming two into a single day. But 87 dates in, McKinlay had only had a handful of dates that translated into second dates, and only one of those led to a third date.
On date 88, however, he met a 28-year-old L.A.-based artist named Christine Tien Wang. He was so comfortable with Tien Wang he told her all about his online dating experiment on their first date—thankfully, she found it amusing.
“I think that what I did is just a slightly more algorithmic, large-scale, and machine-learning-based version of what everyone does on the site,” McKinlay tells Wired. And in a way, he’s right—with or without the help of bots, anyone who’s ever online dated knows the feeling of trying to mentally crunch tons of information about dozens of potential dates to suss out someone who maybe, just maybe, might be more.
But, as Tien Wang says, McKinlay’s hacking of OKCupid was just the prelude to the real relationship hacking that every couple, on- or offline, experiences every day.
“People are much more complicated than their profiles,” Tien Wang says. “So the way we met was kind of superficial, but everything that happened after is not superficial at all. It’s been cultivated through a lot of work.”
By the way, McKinlay has written a book about how you can hack your own OKCupid profile. Get to work.