Chemistry of love: Using pheromones to find your match

By Nastaran Tavakoli-Far
BBC World Service

Media caption, Could pheromone dating help people find their perfect match?

It is evening at Stories, a bar in east London, and here men and women are huddled around a table full of plastic bags stuffed with t-shirts.

They are taking out the shirts, pressing them to their noses - and sniffing them.

Welcome to an event organised by the dating firm Pheromone Parties.

With the online dating market now worth over £2bn a year, it is among the firms turning to chemistry to create the perfect match between potential couples.

They are using pheromones - a scent we all give off and which some believe plays a big role in attraction - and are encouraging us to smell our way to true love.

The idea is that would-be daters first sleep in the same t-shirt for three nights, and then on their arrival they put these shirts into numbered plastic bags.

If someone then likes the smell of a shirt, they can have their photo taken holding the numbered bag.

These are then projected onto a wall, and the shirt's owner is then free to find the person holding up their number.

Image caption, Participants are encouraged to smell as many t-shirts as they want
Image caption, Could one of these really be Mr or Ms Right?

Breaking the ice

One of those taking part is Claire Selby. She says that for her, smell is an important part of attraction.

"I think once you start dating someone or being serious about someone it has to be in the top three.

"You can't sustain a relationship with someone who smells really bad - you can't!"

Another participant, Bruno Mayor, says the evening provides a good way of breaking the ice - as everyone is involved in what he calls an "awkward" activity.

He thinks for dating to work you need to meet in person to determine attraction, and this is where conventional online dating falls short.

"I'd say the worst thing about it is when you start looking at people like it's a catalogue, and you go 'yeah, yeah, no, no'.

"If you'd met them it would probably be different because they'd have talked to you and it's like 'Oh, I like this other detail about this person'."

Image caption, Love me, love my shirt can take on a whole new meaning

It's chemistry, baby

The drawback with online dating, says dating expert Christie Hartman, is one of high expectations.

"Usually you need to get to know somebody a little bit to form chemistry," says Dr Hartman.

The reality of online dating is that people will usually only met physically for the first time on an actual date, she says, which means that these can lack that vital spark.

"You're sitting there with somebody you know nothing about - so to then create chemistry with someone that quickly is a little unrealistic."

This lack of chemistry is an issue that Oxford genetics student Laurynas Pliuskys is trying to address - in the laboratory.

He is the founder of online dating website LoveGene, and is using his knowledge to incorporate biological information into the online dating process.

He believes biological factors play an important role in attraction, compatibility and dating.

"I think when we talk about chemistry, it is always a mix of several things," he explains.

"It's the conversation that you have, it's the personality types that match and it's also the biology."

Image caption, It may all be in the genes, but a nice smile can also help

Compatibility rating

LoveGene uses genetic testing to indirectly determine a person's pheromones.

As a result people can try to arrange dates with someone with whom they are likely to have good chemistry.

When users sign up they are sent a saliva sample collection kit and the company then tests this, looking at genes related to pheromones.

This information is used to determine how compatible people are when they click on each other's profiles, giving them a compatibility rating.

"With the rise of apps like Tinder and Grindr, there's this whole culture of people just going for a quick date without finding out who that person is," says Mr Pliuskys.

"They soon realise, even within the first couple of seconds when they see that person, that actually this is not who they're looking for, because simply the chemistry probably isn't there.

"With this service we're trying to bring the chemistry back into people's dating."

Image caption, Even if the science works, your relationship may not

'Not everything is rosy'

Yet no matter how reliable pheromones may or may not be in determining attraction and compatibility, some relationship experts warn about the dangers of using science in the dating game.

Therapist Sara Nasserzadeh thinks that relying on biological factors in the dating process will significantly alter courtship.

These rituals are important in showing potential mates our abilities, and in enabling them to get to know and to trust us, she says.

"But if you come together and say that 'Okay, we are matched by chemistry', that first step is bypassed," says Dr Nasserzadeh.

Furthermore, she worries that too much reliance on science will make people shirk their responsibility for their choices, including who they choose to have a relationship with.

"The reality of life is not that someone matches you with someone else and that everything will be rosy."

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