The Best Questions For A First Date

April 20th, 2011 by Christian Rudder

First dates are awkward. There is so much you want to know about the person across the table from you, and yet so little you can directly ask.

This post is our attempt to end the mystery. We took OkCupid's database of 275,294 match questions—probably the biggest collection of relationship concerns on earth—and the 776 million answers people have given us, and we asked:

What questions are easy to bring up, yet correlate to the deeper, unspeakable, issues people actually care about?

Love, sex, a soulmate, an argument, whatever you're looking for, we'll show you the polite questions to find it. We hope they'll be useful to you in the real world.

First—define "easy to bring up"

Before we could go looking for correlations to deeper stuff, our first task was to decide which questions were even first-date appropriate. I know each person has his own opinion on what's okay to talk about with a stranger. I also know that if I had to wade through hundreds of thousands of user-submitted questions like these verbatim examples:

If you were to be eaten by cannibal, how would you like to be prepaired?
do u own 3 or more dildos in your room?
Do you hsve a desent job?

I would go fucking insane. The basic currency of the Internet is human ignorance, and, frankly, our database holds a strong cash position!

So, instead of judging each question's first-date appropriateness subjectively, I turned to statistics. I decided our candidates were the ones that (a) most people were comfortable discussing publicly, and (b) were mathematically likely to tell you something you couldn't just guess. I sliced OkCupid's question pool like this:

That blue rectangle is our highest-quality, least-invasive questions, and we next examined each of them for interesting correlations. (If you're interested in knowing more about the above graph, you can drop-down an explanation here, complete with an interactive scatter plot that took me forever to make.)

Now let's get right to the results. This is the shallow stuff to ask when you want to know something deep:

Okay, if you want to know...

Will my date have sex on the first date?

Ask...

  • Do you like the taste of beer?

Because...

Among all our casual topics, whether someone likes the taste of beer is the single best predictor of if he or she has sex on the first date.

No matter their gender or orientation, beer-lovers are 60% more likely to be okay with sleeping with someone they've just met. Sadly, this is the only question with a meaningful correlation for women. For men there are a few others:

predictive question implied odds
of first-date sex
Q: In a certain light, wouldn't nuclear war be exciting?
'yes'⇒83%
Q: Assuming you were in the position to do so, would you launch nuclear weapons under any circumstances?
'yes'⇒82%
Q: Could you imagine yourself killing someone?
'yes'⇒82%

First, I have to give guys credit for logical thinking: in the post-apocalypse, THERE ARE NO SECOND DATES.

Also, I will never look at fingerless gloves the same way again.

If you want to know...

Do my date and I have long-term potential?

Ask your date (and yourself!)...

  • Do you like horror movies?
  • Have you ever traveled around another country alone?
  • Wouldn't it be fun to chuck it all and go live on a sailboat?

Of all questions appropriate to a first date, the three listed above were the ones couples most often agreed on.

Here's how we know...

When someone deletes their OkCupid account, they have these 3 questions correlated best to a real-world relationshipthe option of giving us a reason, and if that reason is 'I met somebody on OkCupid,' they can give us their significant other's username. Many hundreds of people a day go through the trouble of doing this, so we've compiled an excellent dataset of real-world couples. Agreement on these three questions correlated best to an actual relationship.

In fact, 32% of successful couples agreed on all of them—which is 3.7× the rate of simple coincidence. These questions as a trio even out-performs OkCupid's top three user-rated match questions.

Turistas: the best date movie of all time?

If you want to know...

Do my date and I have the same politics?

Ask him or her...

  • Do you prefer the people in your life to be simple or complex?

Because...

We were very surprised to find that this one question very strongly predicts a person's ideas on these divisive issues:

Should burning your country's flag be illegal?
Should the death penalty be abolished?
Should gay marriage be legal?
Should Evolution and Creationism be taught side-by-side in schools?

In each case, complexity-preferrers are 65-70% likely to give the Liberal answer. And those who prefer simplicity in others are 65-70% likely to give the Conservative one.

This correlation is for a nationwide dataset; it won't be as useful in places where one ideology is much more prevalent than the other. For example, in New York City there are lots of people who like simplicity and yet have Liberal politics.

If you want to know...

Is my date religious?

Ask...

  • Do spelling and grammar mistakes annoy you?

If your date answers 'no'—i.e. is okay with bad grammar and spelling—the odds of him or her being at least moderately religious is slightly better than 2:1.

As someone who is not himself a believer, I found it rather heartening that tolerance, even on something trivial like this, correlated with belief in God, although I should've figured out that religious people are okay with small mistakes. Next to intelligent design, what's a couple typos?

It's also nice when two completely independent datasets corroborate each other. Last summer, we analyzed the profile text of half a million user profiles, comparing religion and writing-level. For every one of the faith-based belief systems listed, the people who were the least serious wrote at the highest level.

Proper spelling and grammar. Teach teh controversy!!!

231 Responses to “The Best Questions For A First Date”

  1. Jacib says:

    For your next blog, can you do some sort of clustering algorithm so that you can identify certain types of users? Like a sequence analysis of how users interact with the site (messages sent, profiles browsed, time spent per profile, messages replied to, number of times signed in, times of day). You’re math people, I bet you can figure it out. If you’re worried about revealing a large proportion of inactive users, just make it among active users. But this could be a really useful tool, because right now I am trying to figure out the most effective strategy with imperfect information. From a game theoretical point of view, if I knew my “opponents’ behavior” (that’s a weird way to think about it) strategy, I could optimize my own strategy. Or maybe it would just be cool to figure out who uses it at work, who uses it at night, who uses it as a mix of the two, who uses it weekly, etc. If there is a type of user who waits to be contacted but then eagerly engages after that. You know, like I said, you’re the quants, I just want to see you guys use a clustering algorithm so I can know the types of people on this website.

  2. JesusIsMyHomeboy says:

    “This can’t be true. I’m a devout Christian and very, very smart so my personal experience wholly refutes this data.”

    I’m pretty sure this person was joking, guys!

    Made me laugh. Thanks :)

  3. Sahtor says:

    morel: “SO DOES THIS MEAN I HAVE NO LONG-TERM POTENTIAL”

    It only means you need to find a person who answers all 3 questions no. Horror movies seem to display one’s need to stay in control or perhaps just anxious personality. Traveling the country and sailing away both indicate whether you’re rooted in your home and if you’re spontaneous.

  4. Emily says:

    Morei, it just means that you’d be more compatible with someone who answers the same as you on those questions, regardless of whether that’s “yes” or “no.” So you might have more long-term potential with someone else who answers “no” on all three.

  5. NinkoD says:

    Damn I like statistics!

  6. Mc says:

    You are missing something. You have long-term potential with men who hate all those things. This article does not state which answers are more popular, as it’s not the point. I would imagine the group You’re looking for is not that slim.

  7. Meeghan says:

    You know what you guys SHOULD compare? Religion and seriousness to how much they care about grammar mistakes. Because it’d be really funny if people who “weren’t serious” about religion were really serious about grammar mistakes.

    The thing I find funny though is that Agnostics and Atheists who are more serious have better spelling – they’re the complete opposite. But it kind of makes sense because they don’t take part in any religion or like being a part of it.

    And who the hell skewed the Buddhism?

    Also, I think the beer thing is backwards. I think the more likely you are to have sex on a first date, the more you start liking beer. I didn’t start liking beer until I put out more easily.

    In response to Morei, I think what those three “long term” questions mainly answers is, “Do you have the courage to be spontaneous and go with the flow?” Traveling alone means you have to like yourself enough and be happy enough (initial attraction, because people like to see other happy people). Liking horror movies is liking to face the world when it’s uncomfortable and staying to watch the outcome of things. And being able to chuck it all and living to live on a boat can determine many things: adapting to dramatically different situations (because when you join with someone, your life will change and you need to adapt to that), enjoying the moment while it lasts, not taking other things in the material world too seriously, and not needing much feedback from everything else in the world.

    In other words, these three questions highly exemplify confidence and courage and adaptability to vulnerable situations, which are key things to make a relationship last long term. If you think about how distracted and insecure the US is alone (the people contained in it), a lot of people don’t have LTP. Just look at the divorce rates.

  8. Xrafice says:

    @morei I’m pretty sure the result is based on AGREEMENT on those questions, pending the likely resulting discussion that would take place. In other words, if you both don’t like horror movies, have never traveled alone in another country, and don’t want to live on a sailboat, you two are more likely to succeed than two people that disagree on each point.

  9. Fraydo says:

    I really enjoyed the subjects in the article, and would be interested in knowing what other questions could be asked that correlate with various personalities.

    I do question some of the assertions given, however.

    I myself do my best to be literate, but am at the height of faith in God.
    Of course, my friends from a few years ago would be surprised, saying:
    “You…? You…? You hate organized religions!” That’s true, I did,
    until I asked God if He was real, and for faith, and He showed me that He is real, in an indisputable way, which was necessary for me since I was such a skeptic.

    I think perhaps the data gets skewed by there being lots of people on this site from countries that are predominately Catholic or Christian, but that may not have the best educational system when they were growing up, plus English is not their first language.

    Now, the one about liking the taste of beer may have an explanation: At least for women, alcohol raises the level of testosterone , which affects the libido.

    I’m wondering what the liberal answer to flag burning is?

    Caption under photo of Kevin Costner in Waterworld, I believe:
    “Also, I will never look at fingerless gloves the same way again.”

    I didn’t get it; is that a reference to the apocolypse, or does that relate to something else, perhaps sexual?

    (Are you a woman who loves God? Search for me on here and send a message if we are a match)

    Fraydo

  10. UnStopAbleEd says:

    you can ask any question on a first date as long as it is respectful.

  11. Adinamarie says:

    It’s still OK to ask about beer. Over 30% of women who say they like beer also said they would not have sex on the first date. I DO like the taste of beer, and for the sake of propriety I lied and said I would NOT have sex on the first date. That’s still my official position.

    On the three couples questions — only about 1/3 of the couples agreed on all three. It’s way more than chance, but disagreement is still more likely than agreement.

    Liberal and Complex? What do 2:1 odds mean? I think it means that of all the people who like complexity, 2/3 were liberals and 1/3 were conservatives. (And vice versa for those who like Simplicity). These are definitely patterns, and it’s fun to play around with the implications, but calm down, People!

  12. Zarggg says:

    @tripseydaizey: Apart from a few misspellings and misplaced commas, what part of his reply was not using “complete sentences?”

    @beauxq: You can’t cure stupidity.

  13. Josh says:

    Awesome post.

    Suggestion: I met my new girlfriend on OkCupid (thanks, OkC!), but rather than deleting my profile, I changed my status to “seeing someone”. I’d be happy to tell you who if you gave me a way!

  14. Adrian says:

    I’m not at all a beer drinker and much prefer rye/whiskey. But I’ll tell you now that a first date roll in the hay would not be out of the questions at all! Stats are just that statistical, they are not set in stone facts. Grain of salt people.

    It was interesting though.

  15. Common sense says:

    I think you are all a bunch of idiots…. wake up people it’s just a simple DATE!

  16. dragonheart79 says:

    this post does not help at all with determining first date questions. the questions stated are in no way an opportunity to find out what a person is really like. religion has nothing to do with spelling/grammar. every woman that i have ever known that was was religious could not spell worth a lick. and every woman that i have known that was in no way religious were the most compitent and could also spell and correctly use grammar. this article is full of crud and should have been written by a professional instead of a 9th grader still in love with himself. if you want to know the other persons thoughts on sex, ask about their thoughts on sex. if you want to know the other persons political views, ask. dont ask the stupid random questions that are listed in this article. you will only look like a fool when and if you are able to bring up the real conversation later.

  17. SarahMC says:

    Good one, Duckumu. At least a couple people got the joke.

  18. Andrew M says:

    hey, what if I want to know if the person is libertarian? What correlational question can I ask?

  19. Ari says:

    Absolutely amazing. This data is organized so well, it literally blew my mind.
    Awesome use of user data. I’m happy.

  20. MSC545 says:

    What would be interesting would be to run a little study using a LOT more independent variables (you sure seem to have enough of them) with whatever dependent variable you want, using stepwise non-linear discriminant analysis. You could actually derive weighted regression equations that we could use to decide what the probability is that she is going to sleep with us..or not.

  21. Meeghan says:

    In response to Fraydo, seriously… what the hell is the use of fingerless gloves? Think about it: Why cover up a palm and not the fingers?

    Clearly, you’ve never fingered anyone.

  22. jerry says:

    need someone to love for aver and aver don;’t no one hare !!!!

  23. Sinestrale says:

    As a Christian who tries her best not to mess her spelling and has often dismissed many an offer due to spelling and grammar mistakes, have you thought about re-evaluating the Christian-Religious/Spelling-Grammar divide along gender lines as well as belief lines? I’m sure you’d find that many of the religious/Christians that dislike bad grammar and spelling are probably women, since much of the female brain is attuned to verbal communication.

    But hey, if you want to continue to discourage and marginalize Christians/religious people on your site by playing to the same old tired stereotypes, it’s your party.

    *Sine*

  24. Katie says:

    I believe I buck the trends – I’m conservative but I prefer complexity, and people would consider me very religious but spelling and grammar mistakes really annoy me!

  25. Paul says:

    I think this is fascinating…who knew that seemingly “innocent” questions would mean more than we think?

  26. Taylor says:

    So, the correlation between highly religious people and being tolerant of spelling/grammar mistakes was by the author politely attributed to tolerance… the last time I checked those people are the worst example of human tolerance. Isn’t the obvious connection that these tend to be less educated people? At best, they’re not hypocritical about others’ poor writing ability. You can simply read through angry user comments from religious people for proof.

  27. Dymara says:

    Andrew M: “hey, what if I want to know if the person is libertarian? What correlational question can I ask?”

    Try ‘Do you like / have you read Ayn Rand?’ or ‘What do you think of the Tea Party?’ or ‘What do you think of Ron Paul?’ Sure, a lot of people who don’t like politics will probably be dissuaded, but this is likely to be a problem anyway if you’re quite political; might as well get it out of the way, if it’s something you’ll want to bring up.

    … for that matter, try ‘Do you sneer at people ‘beneath’ you?’ ;P

    Ooh! You could also try ‘What do you think of taxes?’ If they say something about how they’re the price we pay for civilization, it’s probably one of us eeeebil ‘statists;’ if they say something generically negative, they’re probably fairly politically moderate or uninvolved; if they launch into an uninformed rant about how all taxation is theft, you’ve almost certainly found someone like-minded, with whom you can happily elope to a country like Somalia without one of those pesky gubmints! ;P

    (I keed, I know I’m playing off the Objectivist stereotype.)

  28. Broheim says:

    So, what questions can you ask to find out if someone is financially stable, or at least what question or trait correlates most with a financially stable person? High credit scores can be attractive too.

  29. felix says:

    i think this will help the guys?

  30. Maurog says:

    Lukewarm Buddhists – raising the literacy plank since 5th century BCE.

  31. Nico says:

    Hey OKCupid, Why not help your users out by making it possible to search specifically for other users who answered those three relationship predicting questions the same way!?!