We all feel the pressure to settle down at some point, whether we want to or not. Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths poses this question: "When have you met enough people to know who your best match is?"
According to the book, the 37 Percent Rule (also known as "the secretary problem") is a mathematical solution to determine when to stop looking. The way to look at things in terms of this rule is to imagine interviewing applicants to hire. In the process, you can either make the mistake of stopping too early without discovering the best applicant or stopping too late and continuing in search for a better candidate while losing the others. The 37 Percent Rule helps find a balance between the two.
The same concept can be applied to love in the form of what Christian and Griffiths call the Look-Then-Leap Rule. When you have limited time to explore your options — let's say because of your biological clock or societal pressures — you'll make the best decision after looking at the first 37 percent of your options. "After that point, you enter the 'leap' phase, prepared to instantly commit to anyone who outshines the best applicant you saw in the 'look' phase," they wrote in the book. Committing to the next person who's better than the previous 37 percent of people you dated is the optimal strategy of marrying the best person.
If your search for love ranges from ages 18 to 40, the optimal age to settle down is 26.
The 37 Percent Rule can be applied to either the number of potential mates or the time spent in search of him or her. If your search for love ranges from ages 18 to 40, the optimal age to settle down is 26. If you marry someone before 26, you may miss out on better candidates. But after that age, your chances of meeting someone better than everyone you've dated up until then decrease.
Before you begin to panic about already missing your opportunity, keep in mind that this mathematical rule comes with many assumptions and oversimplifies things. There will always be exceptions, such as high school sweethearts or late lovers. But if you are nearing the "magical" age and looking to settle down, math says 26 is a reliable age to make that kind of decision.