Mmmm, Sweaty T-Shirts

question-mark-shirtYou exchange emails with someone, from friendly to flirtatious.  You like the way they look in their photos.  You finally arrange to meet in person.  And… nothing.  No sparks.  No “chemistry”.

But what is chemistry?  Why are you attracted to some people and not others? One piece of this puzzle is something called pheromones, which are chemicals we secrete.

As it turns out, we’re attracted to people who have a different MHC (major histocompatibility complex) than us–that is, whose immune systems are not the same as our own.  This helps ensure any offspring will have a better immune system than one from two people with similar MHCs.

You could do a blood test on a potential mate to check the 6 genes that will tell us this information, or, you could just trust your nose.  Pheromones will do this job for us–if you really like the way someone’s armpits smell, chances are they have a very different MHC than you.

There have been multiple experiments that bear this out.  Subjects wear a t-shirt for a couple of days, which is then placed into a jar or plastic bag, and then smelled by members of the opposite sex.  The people doing the smelling report on how pleasant or unpleasant the smells are, and the ones whose smells are pleasant have different MHCs.

There have even been pheromone parties, in which willing datees bring their own smelly t-shirts to be sniffed!

I say it’s time to bring this to the on-line dating world.  One way would be to supply a blood sample for your dating profile, so you could eliminate people whose MHCs are the same as yours (since you probably won’t like they way they smell anyway).  Another way would be to send in your sweaty t-shirt, which could then be analyzed and quantified.  People could buy a “pheromone tester,” a device which could reproduce the smell of a potential match and you could smell that person in the comfort of your own home.

(As I was doing some reading for this blog post, I found out I’m not the first one to propose using MHC matching in on-line dating profiles.)

On-line dating sites are using algorithms to predict compatibility, but we need something that predicts chemistry as well.  Imagine only meeting up with potential partners who you already know you’ll feel an attraction to.  The technology exists.  Someone just has to build it.

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