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The 3 first date questions that will predict your romantic compatibility

Editor’s Note: OkCupid co-founder and president Christian Rudder speaks to Paul Solman on Making Sen$e Thursday tonight about online dating. He’s the author of “Dataclysm,” filled with observations about human behavior gleaned from data people share — consciously or not — through social media profiles, “likes” and “shares” and Google searches.

OkCupid’s database hosts a treasure trove of data about what works and what doesn’t in online dating. But digging into that data first requires knowing which matches turned into real relationships. Below, Rudder explains to Paul what he’s learned about the couples who report their romantic success to OkCupid.


CR: We don’t have that much information about the successful couples we’ve created, but there are a few that come back. Maybe 500 a day come back and say, “You know, look, I found my long term partner from OkCupid. Thank you – here’s my user name; here’s his user name.” So we do have some data on these people.

And I went back and I looked at the questions that those people had in common, and I wanted to find the questions you could ask on a first date, so not the super heavy stuff, not like: Do you want to have kids? Do you believe in God? Is abortion a sin? Obviously those are very important questions to agree on, but you can’t sit there across the table from someone you’ve just met and rock them out at them.

So I looked at the more frivolous stuff. And I found some amazing things like the question, “Do you like scary movies?” These successful couples agree on that question about 75 percent of the time. So it seems predictive, or at least reflective.

PS: So there’s a high correlation between people who feel the same way about scary movies and their eventual success as a couple.

CR: Exactly. Disproportionately high percentage there. And the same with, “Have you ever traveled to another country alone?” And, “Would you like to ditch it all and go live on a sail boat?”

All three questions, now that I say them out loud, are kind of indicative of being an adventurous person – even horror movies, I think. They’re more subtle, less awkward ways to ask if someone’s adventurous. If I ever became single again, those would be the questions I would ask on a first date.

PS: How important is it that you agree about politics and/or religion?

CR: One summer, we got an intern, a stats PhD at Columbia, to look through our entire database for the most important single question asked. It wasn’t, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” Or, “Do you believe in God or not?” Or, “Do you want to have kids?” It was how important politics are to you, regardless of the particulars of your belief. So if you’re passionate about politics, Democrat or Republican, or if you’re ambivalent about politics – that is what matters in terms of your compatibility as far as we’re able to measure it.

PS: So it’s the James Carville/Mary Matalin example?

CR: Exactly. They both care a lot.

PS: Even though they disagree.

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