The Rules of the Love Doctor

Piers YoungNotes, Thoughts8 Comments

In this morning’s Independent there was an article about maths, sex and dating. Clio Cresswell, a maths whiz at Australia’s University of New South Wales, has written a book on the subject – aptly called “Mathematics and Sex“.

The book’s backcover states that

Revealing the ways in which math can help unlock the secrets of love, lust, and life’s search for the ideal partner, this intriguing text covers topics such as dating services, dating as game theory, the mathematical logic of affairs, and the numbers behind orgasms.

Now, the article I read gave five “love doctor” rules. While these may be of interest for those trying to find leurve, my first reaction when I read them was “Hmm, relationships, the rules might apply to feeds too”. (My second, quickly after, was “Shitbags, not everything is about social software”.)

Anyway, the Rules of the Love Doctor (and some knee jerk reactions to they might apply to feeds and the like) are as follows:


Sleep with 12 people. If you then take the next best person who comes along, whether they are number 13 or number 113, you have a 75 per cent chance of having a lasting relationship. Then again, if you’re on number 113, you may have done too much research.

I thought this could be interpreted in a number of ways. The first was “Read twelve opinions on subject. The next one you agree with has a 75% chance of being balanced and reflecting your views. If you haven’t found one by the one hundred and thirteenth (or in time), then it’s time to give your own. Equally, your first “love” – or the first opinion you hear, is going to sway you mightily.

On a related note, I remember an old maths teacher of mine coming up with a similar statistic. He was explaining the Poisson distribution – that buses come in threes one – and used it to show the way to maximise your odds of choosing the best option from a range of unknowns. If there are a number of different “x”‘s (in the Cresswell analysis this might be “women”, the second time you see a preferred “x” (good looking woman) then that is the “x” you should choose (ask out). Of course, my teacher was a long term bachelor, which might well be telling …


There is an inverse relationship between empathy and future happiness with a partner. Studies on newly-weds revealed that those who are quickest to voice their annoyance are much more likely to be together six years down the road than their teeth-gritting counterparts. So, if he farts in his sleep, tell him.

For this I read, “don’t be afraid to voice dissent”. This may be me imagining this, but there’s a tendency towards what you might call “fluffy bunny” talk in blogs, i.e. spread the love, tell people how fantastic they are, and if you disagree don’t say it, just rein it in or ignore it. A while ago Johnnie Moore wrote well on similar lines:

” … being ignored is often harder than being challenged. Anger can be seen as distancing, but it can also be framed as a move towards, a way of engaging. A good thing to think about when dealing with conflict”

I liked it at the time, and I still do. Now I don’t think voicing every complaint is necessary helpful, nor is there enough time to comment on everyone’s posts, and equally there are ways and means of doing it, but affable disagreement is usually the most helpful advice I get. You don’t have to agree with the disagreement, but it helps to be aware of it.


The Cornwell mathematician Steven Strogatz formulated the evolution of Romeo and Juliet’s love affair, showing how Romeo’s love depends on Juliet’s responses, and vice versa. Put simply, new love is always a rollercoaster: get used to it.

Or simply put, you need to engage, comment on, reciprocate – all those buzzwords. And you need to accept the fact that there may be some rough before you get the diamond. (Having said that, if someone you read stops posting, don;t go to the apothecary.)


Dusting off the chat-up lines and polishing up the charm may be worth it for your long-term prospects of happiness. This rule states that a serious effort at propositioning as many people as possible reaps dividends. More attempts yield more results, but the attempts themselves help you to come to a better idea of your perfect partner.

Subscribe far and wide, follow the links, take the time to do it. Seems on first appearance to run slightly contrary to the “12 Bonk rule” but on reflection suspect it’s a way of improving the twelve. I.e. you don’t really know what you’re looking for until you start looking. Anyway, I have yet to see “Bond. James Bond” in a blog’s comments, just as I have yet to see “Lost. Get lost” in the reply.


There’s no perfect partner out there, so stop looking for “the one”. The formula is derived from Darwinian theory, and proves that there are multiple partners with whom we could be equally happy. You need to stop hanging on for the Brad Pitt lookalike with a six-figure income and a heart of gold, as this approach is both unhelpful and statistically unlikely to occur. Unlikely, though not impossible…

i.e. Satisfice. Find information that is good enough, and move on. Find feeds that are good enough, and move on. Dump things that are not good enough, and move on.

Now, having said all that, personally, something about the numbers game feels wong. And it’s wrong, I think, because it depersonalises, strips of passion, ignores the specifics of the situation, and ignores, for that matter, any preferences held by the object of your desire. As general guidelines and comforts for the lost and lonely, they may well work, otherwise I’m not sure. And, as ever, what “is” is not necessarily what “ought”, and the means qualifies the end.

[There’s a similar interview to the Independent one with Clio here and a Salon article on the book here]

8 Comments on “The Rules of the Love Doctor”

  1. Awesome post Piers! Don’t really have any dissent to add of my own, but recently I’ve come across two other posts in the blogosphere on the mathematics of love that I think you might be interested in, here and here. Engaging stuff indeed. Cheers!

  2. Thanks, platocave – and thanks for the links. Had a look and they look interesting – and fun. Especially liked the economists’ approach πŸ™‚ !

  3. Yet another excellent post.

    But, I can’t assume that there isn’t a “one” for me. Some of the reason why is that it’s not provable either way. So, being an optomist.

    If we assume that there IS a “one”, and I know by name between 140-200 people. Considering that each individual is a “one in a million”.

    All I need to do is find the person I know who knows someone who knows them. And I’ll have found my “one”.

    Ten years ago, I wrote a list of all the people I know to talk to (even if it was just “hi”).

    Next to each person I guessed (or used my intuition – whichever you’re happy with) to judge whether this person would know my “one”.

    The person I figured would know them I socialized with more.

    And bizarrely enough I did find my “one” and am still with her. And very happy we are too!!

  4. i am in love with some one but she doesnt love me. i can handel that but i cant stop thinking about her. i want her love bad enough to bleed. but i want her to be happy even more. but i still cant let go. why? is there anything i can do?

  5. Erm, well for starters make sure you don’t bleed! And I suppose if you’re going to follow the maths Dr Cresswell outlined, then you’d be in a rule of one situation. So if I *had* to give an answer I’d suggest holding on tight to your self-esteem and moving on. It worked for me.

    That said, I’d take anything I say with a pinch of salt – I would like to stress I’m not an agony aunt, and in no way have a track record that’s 100% πŸ™‚

    Anyone else better able to help AJ out?

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