“Have you ever thought about optimising love?”, she asked, after a few drinks. We were in a quiet Victorian bar with a high ceiling, wooden and leathery decor.
“I don’t think this is a rather appropriate topic.” hesitantly, I replied. “Setting morality asides, there are too many factors to play and this problem is too vaguely defined to be solved properly.”
“Come on, just consider this as a lighthearted thought experiment.” She ordered another drink. “How do you construct such optimisation, if it was a hypothetical exercise?” The soft drift of someone’s perfume – perhaps of the waiter just as he approached us – pleasantly distracted my thoughts for a moment. It was a sophisticated sandalwood scent.
“Yes, if we construct it right, we can optimise it”, muttered I. The quiet, distant background music playing, the exquisite drift of a brief fragrance encounter, and the third drink served, encourage me to tackle such a question.
“There are two processes to optimise for: searching for love and deciding whether that is the one. Which one do you want?”, asked I.
“Entertain me”, she laid back against the soft leather sofa sipping her drink.
I continued “So for the searching process, we can construct it as an Optimal Stopping optimisation.” With this, I referred to the research done by Peter Todd, professor of informatics and cognitive science at Indiana University. There is even a term for this, satisficing, or a combination of satisfy and suffice. According to Prof. Todd, the searching process for an “ideal love” is boiled to this: “Do you keep searching and hope someone better will come along, or do you stop searching and settle down when you find someone that overall is pretty good?”
A similar concept is expressed in the book Algorithms to Live By, regarding optimal stopping. How do you know when to stop searching, and whether the person you decide to settle on is a good enough outcome when you lack complete information about your options?
As per this book, the optimal strategy involves exploring and rejecting the first few suitors no matter how good they are. This allows you to set up the baseline first and then to choose the next best option right after. This optimal point turns out to be 1/e or about 37%. Reject 37% of the choices to establish an understanding of a baseline, and then choose the next best one that exceeds this baseline.
Prof. Todd has a more practical translation of this 37% figure. He agrees that the best strategy is to date enough people to establish some baseline standards, then settles down with the next person you meet who exceeds the bar. According to Todd, you should have a baseline after dating roughly 12 people. If you’ve dated fewer than 12 people, you should feel free to keep looking and settle with the next best person that exceed your baseline right after.
“Nice,” said she “I’ve surely exhausted this threshold”. She raised her almost-empty glass with a smile. “What about the process of deciding that this is the one?”
“Then you can use Triangular theory of love by Robert Sternberg“, I said, while finishing my drink. Prof Sternberg’s research believes that there are three components of love: an intimacy component, a passion component, and a decision/commitment component.
“So consummate love is the most optimal relationship if we could choose,” said I.
“Can we?” asked she, mischievously, as she finished her drink.
“Of course not. Sadly, it is pure luck that determines the slim chance of consummate love. What the majority of people has is companionate love, which isn’t a bad thing in itself.” I claimed, with a brief flashback to all the relationship mishaps of mine.
“Guess we need to make our own luck then”, smirked she “What about the guy who sat behind you? He smelled like heaven. Sandalwood heaven”. So that’s where the drift of perfume came from. With a mischievous smile, she asked me to turn my head to glance at him discreetly.
Coincidentally, the background music started playing “Luck Be A Lady” as Frank Sinatra’s words blend into the night.