An Algorithm for Love? Marriage Pact comes to Bowdoin
October 1, 2021
At 6:35 p.m. Thorne dining hall was abuzz with students checking their email, screams were heard on the first floor of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library and FaceTimes were ringing in as the Bowdoin Marriage Pact released the initials of the ideal match of each student who participated.
“It was definitely fun to see the moment that the initials came out. I could tell that everyone was checking their emails,” Jackson Rho ’24 said. “There was a lot of intensity and excitement.”
Over the course of the past few weeks, 1,150 Bowdoin students filled out the 50 question survey with varying expectations—a good laugh, a soulmate, a fun meal companion—but all with the same goal of finding their ideal match. Not only did students surpass the survey organizers’ goal of including at least half of the student body in the survey pool, Bowdoin had the highest percentage of the school to enroll in Marriage Pact as compared to other schools who have participated in the project.
Marriage Pact was started in 2017 at Stanford University by two undergraduate students with the goal of pairing students up from a large sample size—like a college campus—to find their ideal match.
Since its original pitch, the program has reached 55 college campuses across the country, and most recently, Bowdoin College.
Caity Berry ’23, who is from Palo Alto, CA, home to Stanford University, had heard about the program through both her hometown and a friend at Colby College, where they did the survey last year.
With the aspiration of bringing it to Bowdoin’s campus, Berry filled out a form on the website and reached out to people involved in Marriage Pact. Since then, organizing the program has been a collaboration between three Bowdoin students—Berry, Nothando Khumalo ’23, and Elise Hocking ’22.
The Marriage Pact website claims that “College is the best time in your life to find someone to marry,” but Berry argues that marriage isn’t the only motivator for wanting to participate in the survey. Instead, she sees it as an opportunity.
“I felt that we’re at a time right now where half of the school doesn’t know the other half of the school. Especially when we were in Yellow, it felt like a lot of people were feeling lonely and unhappy,” Berry said. “It felt like Marriage Pact would be a good way to meet new people in a low stress way.”
Right after the project was announced here on campus, students responded with both curiosity and apprehension.
“At first, the first question I would always get was, how many people have filled it out? Everyone only wanted to fill out if like other people were doing it,” Berry said. “I think more often than not, people were excited.”
Despite any initial ambivalence, some matches have proven to be shockingly successful. Sophomores Jillian Horton and Jackson Rho who have been dating for the past 11 months completed the survey separately out of curiosity and ended up receiving each other as 96 percent matches.
“I had no idea what to expect when people were saying that the initials had come out,” Horton said. “When I opened it my first reaction was ‘Oh, I need to call Jackson and see if he got my initials.’ It was pretty crazy.”
“Honestly, I thought it was not a random algorithm because what are the odds that we actually got each other,” Rho said.
The two agreed that the questions made them answer in context of their relationship, which may have inspired the match in their answers.
“A lot of it I did answer personally, but it was kind of incorporated with thinking about how I operate or how I think in our relationship, so that definitely had some influence and probably had some impact on our answers being similar or being compatible,” Horton said.
Regardless of its accuracy, students agree that the Marriage Pact provided a conversation topic and funny reference point for peers.
“I just like funny things, and I figure it’s a funny way for people to connect to new people,” Khumalo said.
Marriage Pact has inspired campus-wide discourse in classes, in person and on social media sites such as the recently resurfaced anonymous forum app YikYak.
“I’ve been surprised by how much people talk about it on YikYak. People are always sending me screenshots that are like, oh, look what people were saying about the Marriage Pact,” Berry said. “Today at dinner, every conversation I walked past was people talking about who their initials were, which was so fun to see.”
An overwhelming response from the student body highlighted how this opportunity to connect with new people brought novel excitement to campus.
“Dang, these kids must be lonely as hell,” Khumalo said.
Despite the excitement that echoed throughout campus, Berry also received a number of people requesting a new match, something impossible given the algorithm and one-to-one ratio of the Marriage Pact.
“Some people are like, ‘I already know my marriage pact, can you do it again?’ Unfortunately, the algorithm is based on who you’re most compatible with, so if you happen to be most compatible with someone you already know, that’s it. You can’t really you can’t change your match,” Berry said.
While many students expressed enthusiasm toward the Marriage Pact, underclassmen comprised the largest percentage of participants.
“I’m not sure if it’s because they were already in relationships or because they don’t have their set social groups already,” Berry said. “It was definitely, in the beginning, significantly more popular among younger underclassmen, as the forum was open for longer, the gap started closing between the grades. But I think that in the end, there were still more freshmen and sophomores than juniors and seniors.”
The students involved hoped to make the Marriage Pact something fun for campus and a way to boost feelings of connection among the student body, however students choose to use the newfound information.
“I want people to understand that there’s no expectations for your Marriage Pact,” Berry said. “It’s just about having fun.”
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