What are the chances?

This post has nothing to do with bikes, wood or anything bike related but you might enjoy it if you’ve found any of the other posts interesting. I got married recently and the following post is essentially my grooms speech minus the usual thanks to friends and family. It went down better than I’d expected so I thought it might make entertaining reading and have reformatted it as a blog post.

Shortly after we got engaged, J turned to me, while we were having dinner one night, and said “We’re so lucky to have found each other. I mean, what are the chances of meeting THE person that you want to spend the rest of your life with?” I have to admit, I can’t remember how the rest of the conversation went after that but the question stuck with me and when it came down to writing me grooms speech I thought it might make an interesting subject. So, What are the chances of meeting your soul mate?

By soul mate I mean one person. The one. Your perfect match. With just over 7 billion people on the earth, finding your perfect match seems like an impossible task but a large proportion of married couples will tell you that they’re soul mates……at least they think that when they first get married! So, are they all deluded or is it easier than it sounds? The first thing I thought of when I started to think about this question was the 6 degrees of separation theory that you can connect any two people on the earth by an average of 6 social connections (a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend……). Interestingly this has more recently been calculated as 4.74 degrees of separation for the 721 million Facebook users. This means that, with the right chain of social connections we are all only 6 steps away from meeting our soul mate. Unfortunately, the probability of randomly finding the exact 6 people that will link you to your beloved is astronomically large (so large that I’m not even going to calculate it!) and I can’t see that it’s going to help me get any closer to answering the question.

Now, in my opinion, the group of people that you have to start looking for your soul mate in is fairly self selecting. You are only going to spend the rest of your life with someone that shares similar interests, views and philosophies as you, so they will almost certainly be in a vaguely similar social group to you. This means that we can start to reduce the population of people to chose from. I set up a set of social preferences that I thought vaguely described the groups that I hang out with with work, hobbies, family etc. I’ve tried to identify the total number of people in my extended social groups, that is if I met all the friends of friends of friends until I’d met everyone with similar interests to me. Here are some of my assumptions:

Location – I don’t travel much so I’m going to assume that my soul mate is UK based so that I could theoretically meet them. I mean there’s no use in having a soul mate that it is impossible to ever meet and I’m not about to start a world quest on the off-chance that my soul mate is living in a cave in Borneo. This brings my population down from 7 billion to 62,262,000 people (2011 Census). I’ve added a further 0.9 factor on this as, without being specific and without wanting to cause offence (!), there are some parts of the country that I can’t see my soul mate coming from.

– Age – My contact group through work and social activities is about 20-60 years old. Using the UK national census data shown in this graph, this cuts my population down by another 50%

– Interests – Like I said above, my soul mate is going to be from a similar sort of social/ interest group to me so i’ve put a 0.7 factor to rule out 30% of people that I won’t meet because they have completely different interests to me but it doesn’t matter because my soul mate wouldn’t be in those groups anyway.

– Intelligence – Now, you’ll already have realised, from reading my blog, that I’m a nerd. I can’t really deny that. The people I hang out with at work are similar (although they’ll try and deny it!) and the people I socialise with are generally well educated and I’d hope my soul mate would be too. So i’ve put a factor of 0.45 on intelligence. 15% of the UK population is university educated so I tripled that number for good measure.

Note that I haven’t included any phisical traits or male/ female as that isn’t something you chose in the people you meet on a day to day basis. Remember, we’re trying to calculate a total population of my extended social group. All of these factors leaves me with 7,354,699 people out of the original 62 million so the odds are heading in the right direction.

The next question I asked myself is how many of these people will I meet in my lifetime. Taking the UK average age of 77 for men I reckon I have about 62 years worth of meeting people that could turn out to be ‘the one’ or 22630 days. I think I probably meet around 7 new people per week through work and friends. By this I mean people that you actually speak to and get to know their name. There are plenty more that you speak to but never actually know their name and will almost certainly never see again. I’ve guessed that there are another 50 people per week that I talk to in this way but i’ve then factored that by 3% as I don’t count them as propper meetings. This gives me an average of 1.36 new people per day or 30,712 people in my 62 year period.

So, I’ll meet 30,712 out of a potential 7,354,699 people with my soul mate being one of those people. That gives me a chance of meeting them of 0.4% and, assuming other people have similar odds to me, it means that only 1 in 219 people will ever meet their soul mate. That sounds better than the 1 in 7 billion that we started with but still rather small. Especially, because I gave this speech to a room with only 120 people in it and seeing as i’ve found my soul mate that means that the chances of there being a second pair of soul mates in the room is down to 1 in 525.

I didn’t want to end on this slightly depressing note as there were plenty of happily married couples in the room, so I thought: What if you could be very happy for the rest of your life with your 99.9% perfect partner? I went back to my list of factors and edited it as if I was writing a specification for my soul mate. Here’s how it went:

Location – I stuck with the previous assumptions (90% of the UK) as I don’t want to limit the possible options purely based on location

– Sex and sexual preference – Female and straight. There are currently 49% women in the UK with 2% of them homosexual. So a factor of 0.48 overall.

– Age – I think a 10 year spread would be acceptable (+/- 5 years) which, using the distribution above would only include 12% of the population in the age demographic above.

– Ethnicity – Looking at the UK ethnic demographic I estimate that 90% of the population would be on my preference list.

– Height – I’m not particularly fussy about height but taking a large range of 5′ to 6′ still knocks off 5% of women from my list

– Appearance – I know I said SOUL mate but, lets be honest, appearance makes a big difference! I’ve taken 15% for facial appearance and a further 20% for phisical appearance. This may sound picky but, hell, I’m happy to be picky about this one!

– Mind – I’d like my soul mate to be intelligent so i’ve used 15% as the proportion of university educated people in the UK. I’ve also added a fairly random 30% for emotional compatibility.

– Interests – I’ve taken a factor of 30% for people with shared interests.

– Religion – I’m not religious so this isn’t a priority for me. But if it had been then it would seriously sway the selection process.

All these factors get multiplied together with the original 62 million people in the UK to give a final number of 932 possible near pefect matches in the UK (I know they’re not necessarily all mutually exclusive but I’ve ignored that). That is one out of every 32,742 women which makes me sound pretty fussy! The 932 matches are all contained within the group of 7,354,699 that I calculated above and I’ve got 30,712 chances to pick the right one. I’m not going to bore you with the calculation but, using converse probability, this gives a 98% chance of meeting one of these ‘ones’ in your lifetime. So you will almost definitely meet at least one perfect match in your lifetime and the balance of meeting one swings from unlikely (less than 50%) to likely (more than 50%) at about 5000 meetings or just over 10 years. So that’s a more positive note to end on.

Interestingly, if these numbers actually mean anything at all, this would explain part of the reason that most people meet or decide to marry a long term partner at about 30 years old after 10-15 years of meeting potential ‘one’s’.

All these numbers are entirely dependent on the choice factors that you use in the first place and I think i’ve been fairly picky. Which is even better news for the less choosy among us! But that does err further away from the concept of ‘the one’. It also means that rather than turning to my wife and using the cliché of “You’re one in a million” I now know that she’s even more special than that and is in fact “One in seven million, three hundred and fifty four thousand, six hundred and ninety nine”. It’s not quite as catchy though. Conversely, rather than being “The luckiest man in the world” I’m only the luckiest man in 219 people!

There’s one more thing to take from this (note that this wasn’t part of my Grooms speech!). If we take ‘fairly likely’ as being over a 75% chance, then it becomes fairly likely to meet at least one perfect match after about 22 years. So, it is fairly likely that you’ll meet at least 3 of the 932 over your lifetime which could go some of the way to explain the 1.5% divorce rate in the UK!

Some of the idea behind this speech/ post came from the Soul mate calculator. I used some of the same variables as they have in their calculation but changed my method slightly to work out how likely it actually was to meet your perfect match and the timescales involved for the different situations.


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