The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

21 June 2004

Playing the numbers

You gotta love this. From Dawn Eden:

The other night, I ran into a woman I know who informed me she was so dissatisfied with the caliber of men she was meeting through her social circle that she had joined a personal-ad Web site.

Unfortunately, she added, the Web site — one of the biggest in the business — had thus far turned out to be a bust. The five responses she'd received in her ad's debut week ranged from the perverted to the inane. But what could she expect? According to a survey on the site, she was compatible with only 4 percent of its members.

Just a lonely little 4 percent. How sad. I gave her the requisite "poor baby" platitudes. It wasn't until I got home that it hit me.

Assuming that the Web site's statistics hold true for real life — which they probably do, given the large sample — and assuming what I learned in fifth-grade math still holds, Personal Ad Gal can theoretically walk into any room containing 25 men and discover one case of mutual boat-floating.

It boggles the mind.

The numbers being what they are — J. Random Guy being a 96-percent flop — it becomes a better-than-even bet that one of these fellows might do the trick once you get seventeen in the room. (0.96 to the 17th power comes in at 0.4996; in other words, the chance of a match is 1 minus 0.4996, which is 0.5004.) It never becomes quite a certainty, as Zeno might have pointed out, and there are always imponderables to figure into the mix, but by and large, it shouldn't take a pool of candidates large enough to fill the Albert Hall to come up with Just The One.

Still, it's probably a good idea not to get too enthusiastic about the odds. As Dawn says:

In the film Big Fish, a boy sees a vision of his own death. That knowledge gives him marvelous confidence throughout life. In his moments of greatest fear, he can reassure himself by remembering, "This is not how I go."

Single women are told to view single men with an open mind, as though each one might be The One. I submit that this is counterproductive. When the difference between the right man and the almost-right man is analogous to that between lightning and the lightning bug, and when one faces the daunting task of weeding out 999,999,999 million almost-right ones, the answer is not to keep playing the field.

Until lightning strikes, the answer is to keep remembering: "This is not how I go."

Is there a chapel in the pines, waiting for us around the bend? I don't know. But one thing I do know: respect the power of the storm. When the atmosphere is right, things can change literally within seconds.

Posted at 7:45 AM to Table for One

TrackBack: 8:35 PM, 21 June 2004
» Allowance for possibilities from It Can't Rain All The Time...
I've been seeing a number of relationship posts around the blogosphere of late. I'm probably the second to last person on earth who should be giving relationship advice, but I never could resist giving full reign to my "Dear Abbey" ......[read more]

I don't get what Dawn is saying. She said she humored her friend who was complaining about men, but didn't really feel bad for her. And yet, Dawn complains about men and about not having found the one to marry yet on her own site. Does she look down on someone who is trying to see whos out there, but is disappointed? It seems like she thinks magically finding someone by accident is the only way, and looks down on all others. But how can she blame someone who is trying a different way?

Posted by: Sue at 8:27 AM on 21 June 2004

I don't think she was blaming Personal Ad Gal for her choice, really; what I saw was more an effort to clarify her own philosophy, with her friend's experiences as the hook. (Since this philosophy is uncomfortably close to my own, I made a point of reprinting it in full.)

What works for one person will not always work for another, which is why bookshelves are full of contradictory advice. Does Dawn think her friend's approach will fail? I sense some ambivalence: she wants to encourage her by giving her the statistics, but there's clearly a sense of "This won't work for me."

And the key, I think, is in the phrase "marvelous confidence," as used in connection with the lad in Big Fish. For Dawn, the Lord will provide, when He sees fit. The rest of us? We should probably develop some marvelous confidence of our own.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:55 AM on 21 June 2004

I made two forays into Personal Ad Hell, and the second try got me hitched (which I still am, and to the same gal too). During the latter effort, I noticed how much the other participants seemed to be engaging in marketing -- trying to present themselves in terms that they thought would be attractive. Several actually made pains to tell everyone how honest they were.

It all impressed me as an exercise in inflating expectations to fatal levels. Of course, I owe my success as much to the fact Chris didn't play that game, as to my own refusal.

Posted by: McGehee at 11:24 AM on 21 June 2004

I greatly appreciate the way you characterized my views in your response to Sue, Charles. I would add that I currently have two ancient ads up on personal-ad networks [if you don't pay dues, the ads stay up until you take them down], so I'm not in any way disparaging that method. JDate, the Jewish service, in particular has led to many marriages, including two of people I know.

My message was that a 4 percent compatibility rate is nothing to cry about. My blog entry explains why.

Posted by: Dawn Eden at 12:03 PM on 21 June 2004