D&D: Dating and Decisions

An analytical approach to finding a mate — or even a date — at the GSB.

Source: Imagined MBA2 estimates. n≠800. n=1. Graphic courtesy of Daria Gonzalez.
n=222 / n=93. Data courtesy of Konstantine Buhler and Lingke Wang.

Switch careers. Start a company. Travel the world. Build a network. Students at the GSB arrive here with hopes and dreams all over the map. But what about finding a mate — or, at least, a date?

Given the amount of discussion on the topic — whispered rumors of couplings, analysis of a possible ambigudate from across the Sports Cafe, focus groups in support of a LOWkeynote — your editorial staff took it upon ourselves to unpack the dating world of the GSB. Using our best MBA skills — data analysis, user interviews, grand conclusions drawn from surveys sent to Blast — we left no stone unturned.

An outside observer (our mothers, say) would imagine the GSB as the land of abundance, ripe with talented, ambitious, good-looking people drawn together for two years. Given the number of couples that do meet at the GSB — 18 in the MBA2 class at last wine-fueled, Facebook-facilitated count — there’s truth to this perspective. But on closer examination, the question: “to date, or not to date?” is more complex than these outsiders might imagine.

A roadmap to romance.

Who’s single?

First things first: is there even anyone to date at the GSB? Is the entire class already spoken for?

No. In a survey of 334 GSB students — primarily then-MBA1s — last year on the now defunct polling app Tally, half were not in serious relationships.

n=334.

Are the singles looking?

Things are looking up. Let’s first tackle the newly single.

For 100 Tally respondents, coming to the GSB cost them a relationship and perhaps starting another was not top of mind.

n=396.

Assuming those newly single aren’t quite ready, those single on arrival must be on the prowl, right?

Maybe not. For many, coming to the GSB simply made life too busy, and other priorities eclipsed dating. Three MBA2s opined:

  • “For the first year, I didn’t prioritize dating. I thought it was a virtue to work on myself and work through personal issues.”
  • “There’s such a high opportunity cost to dating at the GSB. I was dating a guy outside the GSB and it didn’t work out, and I just thought, ‘I wasted so much time!’”
  • “I think of my weekend as prime real estate. Being so busy here, do I want to give up that real estate to a first date or spend it with my friends here?”

These responses to prioritizing during this two-year window are common and commendable. Surely, though, some subset of classmates came with finding a partner in mind? Absolutely.

Out of 186 recent survey respondents, 80 came to the GSB specifically seeking a partner. This demographic skews female, with half of all women responding yes, vs. only one-third of all men.
n=186.

Accounting for relationship status upon entry, the numbers remain skewed, with three-quarters of women identifying as single or “sort of” in a relationship upon entry seeking a partner vs. half of similarly identifying men.

n=111.

This doesn’t bode particularly well for one MBA2 woman who admitted:

  • “It feels crazy to say, but I think I’m looking for a husband! Before I was just passing the time while working on business school applications.”

A single MBA2 man explains what might account for this gender gap:

  • “I have found that some guys are willing to date down in intelligence because they value attractiveness so highly. And if your self-value, your ego, is tied to being a provider and being the one who has the answers, then if that’s encroached upon that can make them very insecure. They’re not irrational by trying to choose a lesser partner.”

Unfortunately, he’s not alone in this assessment. Last year on Tally, a user posed the question, “Is it a much better deal for a GSB woman to date a GSB man than the other way around? (GSB man can get younger and hotter, women not so much).” Of 103 respondents, 54% agreed that women get a better deal. Sigh.

Are those singles who are looking doing anything about it?

Alright, so maybe the women of the GSB are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a partner. But if our friend is right that those men drawn to an unequal partner are rational, those unintimidated by an intellectual equal should jump at the opportunity to turn a classmate into a romantic mate, right? As it turns out, the men and women of the GSB don’t see eye-to-eye on the appeal of the dating pool.

1 = terrible, 5 = amazing. n=165

The women of the GSB view their on-campus prospects more favorably, with 80% of the women ranking the dating pool a 3 or higher vs. only 57% of the men. Despite the women’s more favorable outlook, the willingness to hook up with a classmate is more consistent among the men. A single MBA2 woman told us, “I find that my female friends have more dealbreakers than my male friends.” The survey data appears to support this assessment:

Three of eight women who ranked the dating pool as “terrible” would still hook up with a classmate, while seven of eleven men with the same dim outlook would be down to hook up.

“Looks are table stakes but not a differentiating factor,” said one MBA2 man. For some of the men of the GSB, though, looks might not even be table stakes. Still, though, there are at least some interested potential partners of both genders. Are those interested parties taking advantage of the available opportunities? Not really.

n=78.

There are students who seek partners and would date classmates, but are not making the leap to actually go out. It’s the Homejoy of romance — a product with proven demand that simply can’t convert customers. Do those “not a great idea” dates scare classmates away? Are they afraid of the reputational repercussions of dating within a small community? Are they dating and they don’t even know it?

The “ambigudate” is the stuff of GSB legend — notorious for both its ubiquity and its difficulty to define. Early last year, Tally users attempted to define the nebulous concept but failed to add much clarity.

n=117 / n=105.
n=139 / n=117.

More recently, only 16% of survey respondents could definitively say they had not been on an ambigudate during their time at the GSB.

n=185. No, MBA2 male respondent 154, the survey was not an ambigudate.

Despite their ubiquity, ambigudates are a major pain point in the GSB dating experience:

  • “I find the ambigudates really strange. I’m someone who really values being straightforward. I haven’t found a ton of that here — it’s the middle school dance around one another and I don’t have time for that crap.”
  • “I think people hide behind the ambiguity.”
  • “The best way to disguise an ambigudate is to put a notebook on the table.”

So if the ambigudate is such a hated institution, why does it persist? For one thing, romantic risk tolerance is going-back-to-Bain low:

  • “I think I came thinking I’d find my husband at the GSB. Everyone was so cautious. I haven’t had anyone express interest and I haven’t expressed interest. There’s been a lot of friend-zoning, I think it’s hard to test the waters.”
  • “I’ve been friendzoned and I’ve put people in the friendzone. And I feel like, if we were outside this environment it would be so much easier.”
  • “Friends back home were so insistent that I was going to find a husband — to get my M-R-S. I rebelled and actively friend-zoned. The rumor mill makes it hard to even remain friends, though.”
  • “If we go out, it better be 15 miles out!”

It’s not you, it’s GSB.

Over time, it appears many interested parties become frustrated with the GSBubble:

  • “I’m done. I’m ready to leave and go back to the real world, where people are more normal.”
  • “I was more interested last year. It might be familiarity factor, I don’t know.”
  • “With classmates I proceed with great, great, great caution. At this point I’m just like, ‘If you’re cool, hit me up after we graduate if you’re in the city.’”

From a 49% singledom rate upon entry for current MBA2s, how many of those classmates are left to “hit us up” after graduation? Among the MBA2s, perception is… not many. Two-thirds of MBA2 respondents believe 60+% of the GSB community is in a relationship vs. only one-third of MBA1 respondents.

n=175. Responses rounded to the nearest fifth percentile. MBA2s responding with 69%, I’m sure your mothers are proud.

Confirming this ticking clock perception as the second year winds down, an MBA2 laments, “Last fall, you had FOMO if you were in a relationship. Now, you have FOMO if you’re not.” As mentioned before, there are, by one count, 18 newly formed relationships within the MBA2 class since Colombia. Despite a gloomy analytical outlook, that datapoint is compelling.

Assuming half the MBA2 class was in a relationship upon arrival, that’s ~112 single men and ~88 single women. 18 new MBA2 couples; 18% of singles off the market and in relationships with classmates. And for those hopefuls approaching graduation without having found a partner? Switch careers. Start a company. Travel the world. Build a network. And, if you think someone’s cool, hit ’em up after we graduate.