wheedle noodle

For its Valentines Day episode in 2013, This American Life’s David Kestenbaum shared an anecdote of physicists trying to calculate the odds of finding a girlfriend in Boston. They began with the population of Boston, adjusted for the female contingent that they were searching for, adjusted for the fraction within ten years of his age who were single college graduates and finally guessed at the percentage of those who would be attracted to him. They reached about 2,500 people. And that’s before they considered anything personal. Kestenbaum concludes that it’s “like finding a needle in a haystack.”

When they re-calculated for a tall women physicist who prefers men taller than herself, the answer quickly became zero. “She’s still single,” he says.

How About In Seattle?

In May 2014, I wrote You’ve Got Male about Amazon’s rapid growth and male dominant hiring practices were impacting Seattle dating. The article went viral and generated a number of popular followup articles.

Recently, I decided to walk through Kestenbaum’s exercise for myself in Seattle. What are the odds of finding your ideal partner under the Space Needle?

By the way, the image above is from a book called, Wheedle and the Noodle. I very much enjoyed the Wheedle on the Needle series as a child and it probably played a subconscious role in my moving here. Apparently the Wheedle’s not real, whatever. Kittens are.

We’ll use census data for the first few calculations. There are about 608,660 people in Seattle. Of these, about 307,373 are women. About 75,571 of these are within a fifteen year age appropriate range.

About 57% of these are college graduates, leaving 43,378 women (if that’s your thing).

About 61% of these are single, leaving 26,504 women.

About 99% of these women are in the typical height range that date me (up to 5’10”). Women taller than that don’t seem to go for me.

I’d prefer to date someone with a job, that leaves about 18,086 women.

My ideal partner lives a healthy lifestyle, not overweight or obese. According to the CDC, that leaves about 31% or 5,607 women.

Estimating from here is more challenging. Let’s assume that 10% of these find us somewhat attractive (sure, might be high). That leaves about 561.

Let’s take away a quarter of these women due to the gender imbalance in Seattle which I wrote about in You’ve Got Male. That leaves 421. If you’re a female, multiple by 1.33 instead.

Then, let’s try to find someone who shares one of my three favorite interests yoga, snow sports or vegetarianism. Let’s guess that 20% of the remaining women share at least one of these. That leaves 112 women in Seattle that would be a good fit for me. If you’re less picky, your pool will be larger.

Finally, let’s assume that 10% of these will have that intangible chemistry with us where we’d hit it off on a date.


Ultimately, there are 11 women in Seattle that are perfect for me. Your mileage may vary.

On the bright side, we only need to find one of them, unless you’re polyamorous.

Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest.

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