Answer: Love, obviously
With that, he created two profiles, one with a photo of him rock climbing and the other of him playing guitar at a music gig. “Regardless of future plans, what’s more interesting to you right now? ” went one question. But for the younger A cluster, he followed his computer’s direction and rated the question “very important.” For the B cluster, it was “mandatory.”
When the last question was answered and ranked, he ran a search on OkCupid for women in Los Angeles sorted by match percentage. At the top: a page of women matched at 99 percent. He scrolled down . and down . and down. Ten thousand women scrolled by, from all over Los Angeles, and he was still in the 90s.
He needed one more step to get noticed. OkCupid members are notified when someone views their pages, so he wrote a new program to visit the pages of his top-rated matches, cycling by age: a thousand 41-year-old women on Monday, another thousand 40-year-old women on Tuesday, looping back through when he reached 27-year-olds two weeks later. Women reciprocated by visiting his profiles, some 400 a day. And messages began to roll in.
“I haven’t until now come across anyone with such winning numbers, AND I find your profile intriguing,” one woman wrote. “Also, something about a rugged man who’s really good with numbers . Thought I’d say hi.”
“Hey there-your profile really struck me and I wanted to say hi,” another wrote. “I think we have quite a lot in common, maybe not the math but certainly a lot of other good stuff!”
Sex or love?
The math portion of McKinlay’s search was done. Only one thing remained. He’d have to leave his cubicle and take his research into the field. He’d have to go on dates.
On June 30, McKinlay showered at the UCLA gym and drove his beat-up Nissan across town for his first data-mined date. Sheila was a web designer from the A cluster of young artist types. They met for lunch at a cafe in Echo Park. “It was scary,” McKinlay says. “Up until this point it had almost been an academic exercise.”
By the end of his date with Sheila, it was clear to both that the attraction wasn’t there. He went on his second date the next day-an attractive blog editor from the B cluster. He’d planned a romantic walk around Echo Park Lake but found it was being dredged. She’d been reading Proust and feeling down about her life. “It was kind of depressing,” he says.
Date three was also from the B group. He met Alison at a bar in Koreatown. She was a screenwriting student with a tattoo of a Fibonacci spiral on her shoulder. McKinlay got drunk on Korean beer and woke up in his cubicle the next day with a painful hangover. He sent Alison a follow- up message on OkCupid, but she didn’t write back.
The rejection stung, but he was still getting 20 messages a day. He could ignore messages consisting of bad one-liners. He responded to the ones that showed a sense of humor or displayed something interesting in their bios. Back when he was the pursuer, he’d swapped three to five messages to get a single date. Now he’d send just one reply. “You seem really cool. Want to meet?”
By date 20, he noticed latent variables emerging. In the younger cluster, the women invariably had two or more tattoos and lived on the east side of Los Angeles. In the other, a disproportionate number owned midsize dogs that they adored.