Can Science Predict Your Romantic Future?

There's such a wealth — some might call it a glut — of online dating sites, apps, and services out there that every time I hear of a new one, I can't help but think, "Is this really necessary?" But the new dating site Nanaya might actually fill a void that hasn't hitherto been addressed, largely because of the way it functions. It isn't a matchmaker, and it isn't just a wacky personality quiz; rather, it aims to predict your romantic future based on what it knows about you now.

Is it magic? Nope — it's science. Nanaya was created by former NASA engineer Rashied Amini, who first got the idea for the site after his girlfriend of two years broke up with him. According to New Scientist, she told him she'd "need to see a cost-benefit analysis before she would consider taking him back" — but although he laughed the idea off at first, eventually he started to think that maybe there was something in there worth looking at. The Daily Dot reports that Amini's work with NASA involved "casting scenarios for Lunar and Martian base building and forecasting NASA's demand for nuclear fuel for use in space nuclear power systems"; as such, it was a fairly natural extension for him to apply that knowledge to something seemingly less quantifiable, like love.

Nanaya is the result of that initial thought. Again, it's not a matchmaking site; as Amini puts it in the site's hilariously retro promo video (with bonus cat!), it's there both before matchmaking to help you increase the odds of finding a match in the first place, as well as after matchmaking to help you navigate some of the tricky decisions you might come across in romantic and social situations. To put it simply, it doesn't try to figure out the best version of who you are and then try to match you with what it thinks the best version of someone else is — it tries to figure out what kind of situation in which you'd likely be happiest and help you act accordingly. Look at it less like a Fiddler on the Roof-type scenario and more like a weather forecast.

Like most online dating sites and apps, Nanaya relies on user data collected via quizzes to build its picture of humanity. I'm in a long-term relationship, so I'm not dating right now; I did, however, take the Nanaya "Core" quiz, partially for and partially so I could guineapig myself out for you, Gentle Readers. As you might expect, it starts with the basics: It asks you your age, location by zip code, gender, orientation, religion, cultural background, educational background, and job industry. Then, it presents you with a whole bunch of images with a word or phrase at the top. They could be anything from this:

To this:

All you have to do is think about each one for a minute, then click whether or not it sounds like you. Once you get through it all, it will sort you into one of six different types, as well as tell you how you scored on all of them:

And if you sign up for an account, take a survey, or share your results on social media, you'll be able to see your complete report, which includes rankings on a huge (and I do mean huge — I was scrolling down for ages) number of personality elements. The most important thing, though, is to be honest. There are no right or wrong answers; there are only answers that are you and answers that are not you.

What ultimately makes Nanaya so different from most other dating sites and apps is the context it applies to its analysis. Said Amini to the Daily Dot, "Matchmaking looks at a couple. Nanaya looks at the couple and everything that romantically affects their lives. Because Nanaya looks beyond the couple to analyze the whole system and how user psychology impacts a long-term behavior and happiness, [we] think Nanaya will provide far more accurate outcomes." It even takes into account the fact that most people don't have their future mapped out: Continued Amini, "A major part of our algorithm takes into account that future life decisions aren't set in stone.... This lets us incorporate uncertainty and also help people make decisions about moving if they're partly driven by meeting friends or finding romance." Remember that whole thing about it trying to figure out the circumstances in which you'd be happiest? Location is a big part of that. Interesting, no?

Of course, there are also some more problematic sides to the whole thing that might be worth examining. For example, one of the things Nanaya can do is to assess whether or not you should stay in an existing relationship — that is, predict whether there might be a better match out there than the person you're currently with. As the Daily Dot points out, "The idea raises a different question: Just because the algorithm can suggest a person could be happier, should it?... Nanaya may acknowledge that there is no 'the one,' but by suggesting there may be a better one, it's essentially encouraging the same chase." On the one hand, I can understand how this aspect of relationship optimization might be appealing; but on the other, it sounds like it has the potential to be a carrot dangling on a stick in front of you: It might keep pushing you forward, but as long as it's there, you might never reach a stopping point, either. Whether or not you're OK with that will depend on you individually.

There's also always the danger of relying too much on data alone. I suspect the trick for getting the most out of Nanaya won't be blindly doing whatever it tells you to do; it's looking at what it's telling you to do, thinking long and hard about it, and then consciously deciding whether to go with its suggestions or to discard them. Indeed, that's actually the final word on the site itself: After all of the information about how the site works, it asks the question, "Should I let a computer pick my partner?" — which it answers as follows:

"No. Not at all! Nanaya is not here to make decisions for you. Nanaya is designed to provide you with additional information that may help you look at a situation in a new way. Even in engineering, these types of models are where the real work begins - not ends.

"There is so much of the human experience, especially love, that cannot be made into a number. Even so, sociologists and statisticians have been quantifying personality and compatibility for many years. Millions have used personality testing and compatibility-based scoring to find love through online dating. Nanaya leverages the same personality data along with user details, such as life goals, to provide a romantic forecast."

In that way, Nanaya is similar to other online dating sites: Use it, but use it wisely. It's still in its early days, so it hasn't hit worldwide beta yet — but the more its user base grows, the more data it will collect, and the more data it collects, the more accurate it will be. Head on over to Nanaya's website to check it out.

Images: Ryan Smith Photography/Flickr; Nanaya; Giphy