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Love by the numbers

| Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Forget dating apps, SYRs or meeting someone at a party. Imagine meeting a potential romantic partner, or even your future spouse, by taking a 10-minute survey. 

Originally created by two Stanford students in 2018, the Marriage Pact is a 10-minute questionnaire that creates pairs of college students based on their shared values preferences in a romantic partner. The mission: to use data to help college students meet “the one” or at least a suitable fallback option, and thus create a “marriage pact.” 

Statements on the survey include “It’s OK if my partner does drugs” to “Social activism is important to me” to “Would you rather be left at the altar or leave someone at the altar?” Respondents mark their preference on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. 

Last spring, the Marriage Pact was brought to Notre Dame and it returned last week. After over 3,000 submissions, thousands of students from the tri-campus received information about their “optimal match” in their inbox last Wednesday.  

Most students were paired with someone they didn’t know at all, while others were surprised to discover that their match is in one of their classes, their friend, or worse, their best friend’s girlfriend or boyfriend. For some matches, there was a brief conversation over text or an invitation to meet in person. For others, they never got in contact with their match, or worse, were blocked by their match on social media. 

But what is compatibility really about? How does one determine compatibility? Can a 10-minute survey, assuming both participants answer truthfully, be a determinant? How important is it for a relationship to work? Is compatibility the key ingredient to a successful relationship?

This question was explored in one episode of the Netflix series “Black Mirror.” The episode “Hang the DJ” is about a dating system in which couples are paired by “The System” and told how long the relationship will last at the outset. The featured couple in the episode choose to run away together and rebel, despite being told that their time is up by The System. It turns out that The System is actually a Tinder-like app that runs simulations to see how compatible a couple is in the real world. Here, compatibility is a couple’s likeliness to run away together and rebel against The System. This couple is a 99.8% match, meaning that in 1,000 simulations, the couple rebels in every simulation except two. The message is that compatibility is not about being complementary or a good couple. Rather, compatibility is about a couple’s willingness to be together despite what the world, or “The System” is telling them about their compatibility.

Maybe compatibility, or a successful match, is not about shared interests or morals, and rather comes down to each individual’s desire and urge to make a relationship work and succeed.

What if there is no data-based algorithm for the ND Marriage Pact? What if matches are assigned randomly? Maybe the percentile compatibility as assigned by the Marriage Pact is the likelihood that a couple will choose to be together, like in “Black Mirror.” After all, the Marriage Pact included questions about how disappointed you would be if you never got to meet my potential match and how single you are.

So far, my theory appears to be true. One of my friends feels compelled to meet up with her match simply because she received notification that she is in the 100% percentile of potential matches. Meanwhile, my friends with matches of a lower percentile of compatibility have had limited contact with their matches. It’s possible that because two individuals are told they are highly compatible, they proceed with that belief, and thus engage in a potential relationship. In this case, each individual is acting with confirmation bias: the tendency to search for and favor information in a way that confirms one’s prior beliefs.

In all of these cases, the success of the match so far has come down to simply the willingness of each individual to meet each other and discover if there is an opportunity for a potential relationship or even friendship.

I do not want to discount the importance of shared values and stances. There is no doubt that clearly communicated needs and desires are imperative to a happy and fulfilling relationship. Ultimately, however, none of those commonalities matter if one or both individuals do not want to be in the relationship.

I don’t think that love, or even compatibility, comes down to numbers, attractiveness or shared views on politics and religion. I think it comes down to a choice. In every relationship, there are countless choices that need to be made: to make sacrifices, dedicate time, be loyal and more.

Sometimes, the choice to not continue a relationship is actually the most healthy and productive choice. I would even go as far as to say that a “successful relationship” can actually be a relationship that ends. The success is found in the relationship’s ability to promote an individual’s growth and ability to identify a better partner and relationship if they choose to pursue one. If nothing else, a relationship that does not last and ends in heartbreak is an opportunity for learning and something greater to come along. Maybe the only “failed” relationship is the one that never happens or is never given the time and attention it deserves.

A successful relationship and compatibility, to me, are about the choice to love oneself and one another, despite what the world, or a survey, might be telling you.

Claire Miller is a junior majoring in political science, with a minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She is a proud resident of Flaherty Hall and the state of Texas. She can be reached at [email protected] over email.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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