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STRUCTURE EE_062016_general_layout.tpl - url: /opinion/Kathriona-Devereux-Go-forth-and-multiply-maths-chemistry-biology-love-bdff6fea-0e3b-4f58-a8e0-134c07f85402-ds

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MODERN ROMANCE: Dating apps like Tinder are now hugely popular among young singletons
MODERN ROMANCE: Dating apps like Tinder are now hugely popular among young singletons

Kathriona Devereux: Go forth and multiply... maths + chemistry + biology = love!

WHEN I first met my now husband he didn’t own a mobile phone. I was living in Dublin, he was in Cork and we rang each other on landlines and sent each other lengthy emails about what we did during the week.

We made dates to meet outside the Queen’s Old Castle and stuck to the arrangement because we didn’t have the means to immediately communicate with each other. Imagine! Don’t we sound like some quaint couple from olden days!

Admittedly, we are together a VERY long time and met when we were so VERY young, but when I describe this courtship communication to a twentysomething-year-old looking for love, they scoff.

Finding a mate is a central pursuit of many animal species and humans are no different. Why are we attracted to some people and not to others? Scientific fields like neuroscience, biochemistry and psychology continue to unravel the mysteries of love and attraction, but technology and computer programming play important roles in how we partner up these days.

For most of human history, our choice of mate was determined by location, class and parental instruction. Things relaxed a bit in the 19th and 20th centuries and the field of potential partners widened, but in the last 25 years technology has completely transformed dating.

It may sound unromantic, but many modern romances are the result of maths. Clever computer algorithms, written by programmers, sift through personal data and ‘match’ people based on interests, background, education levels and lifestyle habits.

Of course, there has to be chemistry when people physically meet each other, but according to U.S research online dating is responsible for more than a third of American marriages. Some 70% of same sex relationships start online and marriages from online dating relationships are reported as happier and last longer than their offline counterparts.

That’s great for those happy couples, but for singletons sick of swiping through unsuitable suitors, it can offer little solace.

Dating used to be confined to certain times and certain locations. With dating apps on phones, people can ‘date’ anywhere, anytime.

I find it fascinating to see people using Tinder out and about — waiting at a café, sitting on the No. 14 bus to Wilton — swiping left and right, choosing a mate.

It seems like the paradox of choice, having too many options to choose from, and the possibility that the next swipe right will be ‘the one’ is a real problem for dating app users.

Stress and anxiety can be unexpected side effects to digital dating. People have gone from encountering a small pool of potential life partners through friends, at work and in pubs, to the online dating world, where there are thousands and thousands of options in their pocket.

Perhaps this paradox of choice can explain why online dating is such big business.

According to The Economist, 200 million people digitally date and the online dating business is worth $4.6billion globally. Match Group, which started in 1995 with the first online dating website, match.com, now owns Tinder, Plenty of Fish, OkCupid and lots of others, and had revenues of $1.3billion in 2017.

I find it fascinating to think that just a few companies and their recommender algorithms dictate the life paths of millions of people.

I imagine the designers of these dating apps working in rose petal- strewn, perfumed romantic offices as they tweak the code to maximise love matches, when I know the reality is probably more of a conventional workspace with monthly progress reports.

The reality is that too many perfect matches would leave big dating businesses without users, ad revenue, subscriptions and profit.

The lack of transparency around how big dating companies work and what they do with users’ data is a cause for concern for some.

The Data Protection Commission just announced an inquiry into Tinder’s processing of users data. It will be interesting to see what the authority will uncover.

However, despite the concerns that data companies hold vast amounts of information on users, online dating offers people an efficient way of finding a suitable mate and is likely to keep growing.

Unthinkinglym humanity has been taking part in a huge sociological experiment the past 25 years. The Match Group claims to be responsible for the birth of one million babies to couples who met through their dating platforms.

Couples used to email pictures of babies to their offices, saying “thanks for the introduction — we made a baby.” Which is pretty nice work feedback for those romantic computer programmers.

But there’s only so much that technology can do. Biology still plays a big part in finding love.

Even though sophisticated computer code might be pairing people with their supposed ‘one true love’, biologists think that our noses have a lot to do with how attractive we find someone when we finally meet them in the flesh.

Scientists think smells given off by people reveal their genetic nature and immune genes, and we sniff out partners who have different immune genes to ours to confer the best biological advantage to our potential offspring.

Oh humans, we’re such sophisticated and basic creatures!

So, this Valentine’s Day, if you are cuddled up to a special someone thanks to a dating app, firstly be grateful for your sweet-smelling immune genes, and then raise a glass in appreciation of maths, algorithms and the computer nerd who brought you two together.