The science of online dating

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I just read this fascinating essay by Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker that discussed the origins, developments and philosophies of the major online dating agencies, and how these can inform us about the evolution of the culture of dating itself.

Some interesting tidbits that were gleaned from the article: having similar political leanings serves Republicans better than it does Democrats, whether someone enjoys horror movies can be deeply revealing, and OKCupid has accumulated a treasure trove of data about attraction and romance that it now sells to researchers (what?!).

My favorite bit was this paragraph:

If the dating sites had a mixer, you might find OKCupid by the bar, muttering factoids and jokes, and in the middle of the room, conspicuously dropping everyone’s first names into his sentences. The clean-shaven gentleman on the couch, with the excellent posture, the pastel golf shirt, and that strangely chaste yet fiery look in his eye? That would be eHarmony.

I laughed aloud at work, where I am supposed to be creating a pivot table for a data set and not reading the New Yorker. ah well.

But what struck me the most about this article was the amount of research that goes into formulating questionnaires for users, creating the ‘match’ algorithms for the various sites, and crunching the data for a post-op analysis. I guess I always assumed that online dating websites were a simple showcase forum, like Facebook or something, but where since the rules were explicit about finding that special someone, it was socially appropriate to initiate conversations where that’s not the case on a regular social networking site. Yeah… no., which is affiliated with, has a biological anthropologist heading up its research team, who is renowned for her research in “human attraction and attachment”. She’s the brains behind Chemistry’s “four personality types, or “dimensions” (explorer, negotiator, builder, director), that correspond to various neurochemicals (respectively, dopamine, estrogen/oxytocin, serotonin, testosterone)”. One day, the team might try to see if their pairings sync up with pairings devised by, of all things, buccal swab tests. Here’s a foray, however seemingly tall-ordered, into looking for correlations behind the compatibilities of culture and genes.

Paumgartner didn’t draw a direct connection between this idea and a paper from Evolutionary Psychology that he nonetheless quotes in the article, but I will:

In 2004, Evolutionary Psychology published a study of this phenomenon titled, “Narcissism guides mate selection: Humans mate assortatively, as revealed by facial resemblance, following an algorithm of ‘self seeking like.’”

So basically all I have to do is find a tall, Indian man, and I’ll have a strong predictor of lasting success on my hands. Why, my mother would be so pleased to hear this.


A litany of misfortune

June 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

It occurred to me, shortly after I had nicked my leg with the shoddy razor that Holiday Inn Express had lent me and watched it bleed for three full hours, then burnt my right pointer finger while curling my friend J’s hair, and broke my beautiful leather watch’s strap because of a bizarre maneuver where I was lowering the toilet seat but it was so heavy that it crashed down and snapped on my watch, that I was the receptacle of all misfortune at my friend A’s wedding in Ohio yesterday.

It is appropriate in some sense. Better that it happen to me than the bride or groom or vital member of the wedding party, right? I told the minister that I needed a classical Greek counterpart to explain myself. In Hindu culture (and I suppose Jewish, Islamic, and Greek…) there is the superstition (no wait, it’s real) of the evil eye, and that I was probably accumulating all this bad luck because of an absence of a nazar or protective talisman on my body. I thought about running to the bathroom and using my eyeliner to draw a little black dot on my chin. I’ve seen mothers do this to babies in India. As I came to this decision, I took my seat at table 6 and realized that D, maid of honor at the party and one of my best friends from college, had spelled my name on the seating placard: Samyukti. I drank copious amounts of wine.

The disaster continues. I got roughly 22 minutes of sleep last night between coming back to the hotel room at 3 am and getting myself up shortly thereafter to make it from Cincinnati to Dayton, OH for a 6 am flight. But of course, my flight was delayed and I was reshuffled on to a 10 am flight. Ten minutes ago, before I started recording my miseries here, I breezily walked in, contact-lens-less but still very culpable, into the men’s bathroom.

It was not empty.

summer hols

June 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m in a liminal state right now, having finished my first year of medical school and gearing up to start my summer internship at MGH. I came home with a laundry list of to-dos, and have made it about half-way through. Tonight I pack all my clothes, new purchases, some books into my tiny carry-on and catch a flight at 6 in the morning for my friend A’s wedding in Cincinnati.

Some things that I learned this week:

1. Eating a slice of pumpkin pie every day for breakfast is not good for your body, but great for your soul.

2. One can actually kind-of-sort-of forget how to swim.

3. Sometimes a haircut can be a great thing, and sometimes you have to hope that you grow into it.

4. When you go to the store, and find that everything you try on fits you perfectly, and there’s a SALE, and you have your mother’s credit card on hand, don’t question it. The universe is looking out for you.

A friend from college is getting married tomorrow! She is my age! She is also in medical school! I really should stop eating this pie.

Vermeer to Wiener

June 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

I was thinking back to an essay I once read, though I cannot remember its exact origins, that smartly remarked on the importance of history and place in art appreciation. The essayist offered the example of Hans van Meegeren, the notorious Vermeer forgerer, whose 1937 recreation of Supper at Emmaus was once hailed by art critics as the finest Vermeer they had ever seen. When the Nazi war criminal Hermann Goring discovered that the Vermeer in his possession was actually a van Meegeren forgery, it is said that Goring was incensed beyond belief, even on the eve of his death. So the essayist noted that we value the story of a work of art as much as we value its particularity, or its stylistic merits.

How American is this idea though? In politics today, Obama has finally acknowledged Wienergate and suggested on NBC that the beleaguered representative resign from public service. It’s total deja-vu. It seems like a story we’ve heard time and again, where one unfaithful politician after another is outed, faces a large hue and cry, and the public and the media decides that someone’s personal life is everyone’s business. Why is it that we care so much about someone’s story when it may or may not, and probably won’t be relevant at all to how that person does their job? Why do we make it so comprehensive a judgment on the merit of the thing?

When I moved to the United State from India, this insistence on personalization was what surprised me the most in the cultural transition. I was from a culture where we catalogue pop music not by singer but by composer. We eschew designer clothing brands in favor of our homespun, familiar tailor down the street.We vote parties, not people. After all, our prime minister is this guy

Manmohan Singh

Do you think that he could have passed the kind of superficial scrutiny we subject our politicians to in the USA?


June 3, 2011 § 5 Comments

An essay that I wrote for my school’s Anatomical Gift Program Ceremony has just been published in Pulse!


It’s wonderful to write to new readers, and to continue to think about medicine and the liberties that it gets to take with the world around us. We are such a unique profession!



One-fourth MD

June 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

Today, the class of 2014 took its last exam of the year. We filled the TMEC amphitheater, took a 60 multiple choice question test on viruses, parasites and fungi, and went to go see X-men in the afternoon. I told my mom last night that I expected people to exit the lecture hall in hysterics, falling to their knees on our marble floors and weeping at being 25% closer to becoming a doctor.

None of that happened. We exited quite calmly. I sought out our professor and shook his hand to thank him for a great 11 weeks. Then I went running, took a long shower, and did some laundry. I called my mom to let her know that the test went well. I wasted some time on Facebook. I played some music and read the New York Times. Nothing was out of the ordinary.

I’m not sure when it will hit me that I just finished the hardest year of my life. To think about the fact that I have grown up so much in such a short span of time. Or to the fact that it will only get that much more intense.

I feel like I’ve run a dozen marathons this year. My body aches at the thought of it, and my mind feels bewildered and wild and so much vaster than it was just ten months ago. My friend J and I were having a late night gossip sesh in my room earlier this week, when all of a sudden, she reached out to clasp my hand and said, as a complete non-sequitur, “This year has been just tremendous, hasn’t it?”

I laughed at her then, because she’s given to these sorts of histrionics every so often, but I think that it’s true. I’m waking up to the idea that no, medical school wasn’t just another step in the long sequence of higher education. I didn’t take time off after college, and I have to admit that for a long time, I continued to think of this experience as just that, albeit with heavier reading schedules.

It’s not true. It was never true. Yes, I went to my room after my exam and ran some errands as though it was any other Friday afternoon. But if I stood down the street and stared up at the glossy marble buildings and Harvard’s magnificent quad, and the hustle and bustle of the biggest and busiest medical district in the world, I’d think differently. Gotta remember that.

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