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By Charlotte Roberts
It's difficult to put into words how single you are when you are single in lockdown,” a friend in her early thirties recently told me. After a year without a relationship, the question of when she might meet someone had taken on an urgent quality.
Now an algorithm called Nanaya claims to answer that very question, using a combination of quantitative psychology, systems modelling and data analysis to predict how long we’ll remain single.
Nanaya has been developed by NASA systems engineer Rashied Amini, who was inspired to create the algorithm when his now ex-girlfriend was vacillating between staying or leaving the relationship. In order to help her decide, she asked him to do a ‘cost-benefit analysis’ of the relationship, testing how compatible they were long term. He built a proto-type, “mainly because I wanted to distract myself,” he says, and thus Nanaya was born.
Studying data from more than 50,000 users worldwide and using a highly complex set of values, Amini says that how attractive you are has little impact on how long you are likely to remain single, nor does past romantic experiences.
So what does make a difference according to his algorithm? Here are five factors that might surprise you as we all gear-up to date again.
“People who frequently take public transport typically have shorter rebound times between relationships”
“This is one of the most critical aspects in terms of sociological modeling of how long people stay single,” says Amini.
Simply put, the longer you’re in education, the longer you’re likely to be single. Amini’s data suggests that, on average, every additional year you’re in education adds one month to you being single after a relationship. This is because there’s an increased probability that if you further your education, you will move to a bigger city.
People living in smaller communities have a smaller pool of potential mates, so settle down earlier, unlike those crippled by the breadth of choice in larger metropolitan cities. With too many options we become looped in a continual search, constantly waiting for something better to come along.
How you use public transport
According to Amini’s data, people who frequently take public transport typically have shorter rebound times between relationships than those who don’t. Amini rationalises that people who take public transport are more likely to meet someone, as being in a confined space with different people seems likely to increase your pool of potential matches.
“The data showed that for people who don’t take public transport, who are, say, locked in a car by themselves, they’re not really getting the same exposure to other humans. Think of someone in Los Angeles, they're spending an hour and a half a day, on average, not surrounded by people. While walking in the street, or taking public transit, you are invariably around other people, which, even if you pay no attention on public transport, well, there is a chance that someone might approach you.”
Instant gratification and independence
Unsurprisingly, those with a stronger need for instant gratification are likely to be single for the shortest time.
“People who can’t delay instant gratification are single for about 1.2 years between relationships versus those who can delay gratification, who are typically single for about 2.4 years,” says Amini.
He argues that if you’re frantically looking for your next fix, “you'll just want to be with someone on some level. Even if they’re not super-compatible, you deal with the lack of potential compatibility.”
Conversely, people who describe themselves as ‘independent’ are likely to find a new relationship faster than those who classify themselves as ‘dependent’. Amini speculates that this is because independence is a “projection of your confidence as an individual. People seek that. It seems sexy.”
Those who express extreme political views spend more time single, according to Amini. Instead of using a binary axis of political values – liberal or conservative – the algorithm examines responses to around 20 key issues, such as private healthcare, taxing the rich, and abortion. Amini’s analysis is that the more polarised your political views, the more likely you are to be single.
So those with more ‘neutral’ political views are more likely to be single for less time?
“Yes, essentially there are more potential romantic candidates if you’re more on the fence. Simply put, you appear more compatible to more people.” But overall, “traits associated with empathy and sociability have the strongest impact”, so people who hold political views that are commensurate with lacking empathy will typically spend over half a year longer single than others.
Expressing desire for a relationship
Dating apps facilitate swift connection and almost constant communication. With limitless options, we can become listless and seem disinterested or overly ‘chill’.
But can being too chill be a problem? Yes argues Amini, who suggests that those who express a desire to be in a relationship are likely to find one faster, compared with those that are more vague or opaque about their intentions.
This eschews the common notion that in order to appear desirable you have to maintain a veneer of free-spirited ‘chill’. Instead, Amini’s data suggests being upfront with what you want is, refreshingly, likely to find you a relationship more swiftly.
Science says independence, honesty and getting the bus give you the best chance of meeting someone sooner.
By Charlotte Roberts