NU Declassified: Unpacking the Marriage Pact — Data or Destiny?

Jordan Mangi and Madison Smith

One student matched with their ex-hook-up’s twin. Another found a platonic best friend. You thought the Marriage Pact hype was over, but you were wrong. NU Declassified sat down with the creator of the Marriage Pact to hear some of the wildest stories, learn how the algorithm works and attempt to answer the question: Can people find love through a compatibility survey?

PERSON 1: I matched with my current roommate’s ex-boyfriend. He also tweeted about me but never messaged me. Whoops.

PERSON 2: I matched with my roommate’s freshman year friends-with-benefits. Breakfast was awkward the next day.

PERSON 3: I realized we had talked on Tinder a while back. So I went to look for his profile. Turns out he had un-matched. Very cool!

PERSON 4: Nothing went horribly wrong. I matched with a guy who seemed nice! But in the period between filling out the marriage pact form and getting my match, I realized that I was a lesbian.

MADISON SMITH: Did you know that the inter-student marriage rate at Northwestern is well below the national average of 28 percent? For Wildcats, that marriage rate peaked at an abysmal 2.5 percent in 1979 for all graduate and undergraduate NU students in the same graduating class. 

JORDAN MANGI: But never fear! A group of college students have a solution. Enter: the Marriage Pact. No need to swipe through Tinder! This algorithm-based matchmaking project surveyed 2,976 NU students about everything from their religious values to their thoughts on meritocracies to whether or not they jaywalk across Sheridan. 

MADISON SMITH: And, in late November, students who filled out the survey were matched with the person on campus they were, according to the algorithm, most compatible with. 

JORDAN MANGI: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Jordan Mangi. 

MADISON SMITH: And I’m Madison Smith. This is NU Declassified, a look into how Wildcats thrive and survive at Northwestern. 

JORDAN MANGI: Communication and McCormick sophomore Annie Tsui heard about the Marriage Pact from her friends at Stanford who had done it on their campus. And she was recruited as an NU ambassador for the project. 

ANNIE TSUI: I was definitely super enamored with the idea. I absolutely loved it. So when I was asked to help bring into Northwestern, I immediately said yes. 

MADISON SMITH: The Marriage Pact was founded at Stanford in 2017, and has since spread to about eight university campuses and counting across the country. Although the match algorithm was created by Stanford programmers, the students running the NU Marriage Pact, Annie included, got the chance to come up with some of their own questions for the survey.

ANNIE TSUI: They had a base set questions already, and we actually were able to edit some whether or not we saw if they fit our, like, community atmosphere well or not — if we didn’t think they’d be a good fit, or if we, like, thought we would get some backlash from it, we just automatically cut it. I remember during one of our brainstorming sessions, we talked about how like Northwestern was kind of a big imposter syndrome school, and we wanted to somehow choose questions that like, didn’t necessarily like, reflect imposter syndrome, but, like, more questions about like self worth, and how they see themselves, how they see and value education and what they, like, necessarily prioritize in life. So in that way, it like was very customized towards Northwestern I think. 

JORDAN MANGI: Lots of people who took the survey received a very high percentile, you know, 98th, 99th percentile of all matches. But that doesn’t mean they had identical answers.

ANNIE TSUI: So I think part of what makes like the Marriage Pact so great is we’re not just like, “Oh, my god, you like orange juice and J Cole too? Wow, match is made in heaven!” Like, it’s based off of actual compatibility research, the most like current psychology relationship, like all this, like, cool like love research. Just because you both say, “Oh, I’m super spontaneous. I’m a seven,” on that doesn’t mean you’ll get paired up because of that. For example, there’s a question like, “I am super spontaneous.” We’re not necessarily going to match up a seven with a seven, because of compatibility research shows that, oh, like a seven would work better with a three to help balance each other out. That’s what makes a good relationship. 

MADISON SMITH: Not everyone got their perfect match, however. A disproportionate number of straight women filled out the survey, and there weren’t enough men interested in women to give them all matches. The Marriage Pact emailed participants pleading for people to send their survey to their straight or bi male friends, but 166 heterosexual women ended up on the Marriage Pact waiting list.

ANNIE TSUI: Across every single school we’ve had this happen before. We don’t exactly know why. Like, I have my very personal opinions on it, which is like, I feel like guys are just scared of commitment or they’re just less likely to do work. Like, if they see they have to answer like a 52 questionnaire, like they’re not gonna do it. But yeah, like there was just so much on Twitter.  “Dear people running the Northwestern Marriage Pact. If I could recruit men to fill out a marriage pact, I would not be filling out said marriage pact.” That was a good one.

JORDAN MANGI: But if your match never DM’d you, or it just didn’t work out, don’t worry! There will be more opportunities to find your future spouse. Annie says the Marriage Pact has plans to return next year.

MADISON SMITH: Wow, the Marriage Pact really came to Northwestern at the right time. After many of us spent two whole quarters away from campus, it was a lot of fun getting to know, or, at the very least, know of a new person. And so many students came out of it with some great stories. 

JORDAN MANGI: Oh, totally. We really wanted to hear as many people’s Marriage Pact stories as possible, so we put out an anonymous confession form for students to share their experiences. 

MADISON SMITH: At the start of this episode, you heard a few of those confessions read by some fellow Daily reporters. Now, here are a few of the best responses. 

PERSON 5: My match and I have spoken virtually every day since we got our results, and we are even taking a class together. It’s totally platonic and we even help each other navigate dating.

PERSON 6: I got a 100 percent match with someone, but I was in a relationship at the time. Fast forward a couple weeks, I’m now single, and we’re working together. I can’t help but laugh about the fact that we’re a 100 percent Marriage Pact match with a strictly friend and business relationship.

PERSON 7: My boyfriend and I filled out the Marriage Pact because we were bored and thought it would be fun to see our results. We took the quiz separately and made sure to put that we were single so they would match us with other people. Yet somehow this “algorithm” matched me with my actual boyfriend. Which is cute, but also made me really suspicious about whether it was actually an algorithm deciding these matches. The odds of us matching just seem so low. Or maybe we’re just meant to be.

MADISON SMITH: I’m blushing, those stories are too cute!

JORDAN MANGI: Maybe true love at NU is possible? 

MADISON SMITH: While it sounds like some people did have some romantic tension with their matches, other people found platonic friendships. 

JORDAN MANGI: We spoke with Medill sophomore Leila Darwiche about how the Marriage Pact may have not found her a future hubby, but, instead, brought her a great new friend.

LEILA DARWICHE: I think our match was like 99.99 percent, like, match or whatnot. So it was very high. So I was like, kind of a little bit concerned. Because I was like, I don’t feel like I would like someone who is exactly like me. I feel like, sometimes, if you see someone who’s the exact same as you, sometimes you clash, sometimes it does not work. But quickly I realized it was kind of fun, just because we were kind of the same level of openness about like, oh, like, this is a new person, but we’re both really willing to just, like, share things that some people would feel uncomfortable sharing right away. I remember we kind of sat through and like, dissected a lot of our answers, like at least like the hot takes or whatnot. I think it was a similar range of answers, we were both on the same end of the spectrum for most of the questions. I think that that’s kind of like why we ended up matching. 

JORDAN MANGI: Do you guys talk often?

LEILA DARWICHE: So, we’ve talked almost every day, I think, since we matched. But it’s not just like, “Hey, what are you doing? How are you?” Like, it’s more just like, answer this really intense question for me, please. 

MADISON SMITH: Why do you think you matched? Do you actually have a lot in common? 

LEILA DARWICHE: It was kind like of weird, there are certain things that we had in common too that were just so random. We both ran cross country in high school and we’re runners, which was weird. But there’s just like other things too that I just was like, wow, this wasn’t a question they asked about but somehow we both have that in common. So maybe, maybe it does work to a certain extent.

MADISON SMITH: Hey Jordan, did you participate in the Marriage Pact?

JORDAN MANGI: Yeah, I did actually! Before they sent out the matches, that night they sent everyone their match’s initials, and there was like, panic on NU twitter with everyone trying to find their match. And I got my initials — MY — and was like, “Huh ‘Y’ is, like, kinda unusual,” and then my friends were all sending the initials they got, and one of them had my initials. So we were kinda like “Wait, did we match with each other?” Because her name is Meher Yeda. And we found out an hour later that we actually did match! 99.99th percentile. We live together now, so we joke that we, like, maybe are gonna get married one day. 

MADISON SMITH: Oh, I remember the initials dropping — NU Twitter collectively lost its mind. There was so much anticipation once people knew the matches were about to drop, everyone was trying to figure out who had who!

JORDAN MANGI: Yeah, it was crazy! One of my favorite tweets I saw was, like, “Everyone’s first mistake was wanting to marry someone from this school.”

MADISON SMITH: Oh no, I saw one of my friend’s matches tweet, “Not my marriage pact having Taylor Swift as his profile picture. Who cursed me?”

JORDAN MANGI: The Marriage Pact definitely made a huge splash in the Northwestern student body this fall quarter, but you may be wondering: if a Northwestern student didn’t write the infamous algorithm, who did? Good thing we were able to sit down with one of the Marriage Pact’s co-founders Liam McGregor. Liam, why start a Marriage Pact for college students?

LIAM MCGREGOR: There’s this conventional wisdom that college is the best time in our lives to meet or find someone to marry. But unlike our grandparents, we don’t go to college to find someone to marry. Like, that is so far out of mind. At least it was for me, I was like, “I’m never gonna find someone in college.” But I think I had this feeling like in the back of my head, that there was somebody, there was somebody who would be good enough, not like the perfect person to marry,  but at least good enough. Like, there’s definitely someone from like my school, who would be like, a great person to, perhaps spend the rest of my life with, at least one. But you know, at a place like Stanford, or a place like Northwestern, right, where you have thousands and thousands and thousands of students? Like, what are the odds you’re gonna meet that person? Like, I wonder if we could find that person?

JORDAN MANGI: And how did you even go about starting something like the Marriage Pact?

LIAM MCGREGOR: It came out of this class called Market Design, which is a field of economics, which is all about matching and auctions. And basically, we knew that we wanted to do this sort of matching, but the way that it works in market design, is they traditionally as like a mechanism designer, you would have all the people who show up, just rank their preferences to say like, “Okay, well, I prefer, you know, A to C to B,” but the whole thesis of the Marriage Pact was that you don’t know the person. You might, but you might not know it’s them. I dunno. And so, basically, we were like, well, we can’t just have everybody rank all the other people on campus. That doesn’t work. And so basically, we said, “aha! but people can answer questions about themselves.” And so we developed a questionnaire about what matters for long term relationships. And yeah, combined those and create an algorithm that could go on, say, a first date on your behalf, or really is sort of the topics that come up are like really not first date material — maybe like a fifth or a 10th date on your behalf and do it with everybody.

MADISON SMITH: When you first launched the Marriage Pact at Stanford, was it a hit?

LIAM MCGREGOR: What we were really hoping was that like, more than 15 people would sign up. I mean, if you look at something like Tinder, for example, only one to 2 percent of matches actually meet up in person. But pre-pandemic at Stanford, 30 percent of all matches meet up in person, which is kind of crazy. And we have actually a couple hundred people who are from previous years, like not even the 2020 marriage pacts, but like previous years of marriage pacts, who are still dating.

JORDAN MANGI: We’ve heard some crazy stories about Marriage Pact matches here at Northwestern. What’s the craziest match you’ve heard of?

LIAM MCGREGOR: One of the first years we did it, we matched a number of like, sibling pairs. Yeah I felt so bad for them. But also inside, we were sort of like, “It works.” In terms of like, who’s gonna be compatible with you along life long perspectives and values? Yeah, I mean, that’s not even the craziest story though, which is funny, actually out of Northwestern, somebody emailed us because they matched with the twin sister of the girl they had previously been hooking up with. We were dying when we got that email. And we were like, “Are you okay? Are you alive? Did you make it?” But no, I mean, shoutout to that guy. If he’s listening, or to any of the girls involved, I feel so sorry for you. What a weird situation. We hope it worked out okay.

MADISON SMITH: Liam, as the co-founder of the Marriage Pact, you’re uniquely qualified to answer this question: What makes two people compatible?

LIAM MCGREGOR: I think it does come down to values, you know, in some way. And the things that you hold near and dear because look, your interests change. And your interests aren’t even like a good metric by which to evaluate relationships, because I have plenty of friends who like different music that I like, right? And my girlfriend loves the Jonas Brothers, and I didn’t really listen to the Jonas Brothers before this, but like, I think like, we’re still great together. And so if we had tried to select each other based on what bands we listened to, we would never have found each other. And so I think it does sort of come back down to some of these deeper things that speak more deeply to who we are as people and what we value than the things that will change over time.

JORDAN MANGI: Do you really think people can find love through the Marriage Pact?

LIAM MCGREGOR: I think ultimately, the matches turned out pretty well. And so yeah, were we hoping that something might work out? Yes, actually I’m still hoping for an invite to a wedding at some point.

MADISON SMITH: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Madison Smith. Thanks for listening to another episode of NU Declassified. This episode was reported and produced by me and Jordan Mangi.

JORDAN MANGI: Our anonymous marriage pact submissions were read by Alex Chun, Molly Lubbers, Jacob O’Hara, Ben Rosenberg, Maia Spoto, Emma Yarger and Meher Yeda.

MADISON SMITH: The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Alex Chun, the digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Olivia Yarvis, and the editor in chief is Sneha Dey.

Email: [email protected] and [email protected] 

Twitter: @madisonlorsmith and @jordanrose718

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