Logan Ury (Photo/Ryan Lash-TED)
Logan Ury (Photo/Ryan Lash-TED)

Q&A: How this dating coach uses science to make the best matches

Logan Ury, 31, is a behavioral economics researcher and dating coach in San Francisco. She’s currently writing a book on how to make better decisions in romantic relationships. She formerly co-ran the Irrational Lab, Google’s behavioral economics team, and was a TED resident.

J.: Let’s start with behavioral economics. What is it, and how did you decide to study it?

Logan Ury: Behavioral economics is the lovechild of psychology and economics. It’s the study of how and why we make decisions. Economics assumes that everyone is rational and that they make decisions that are in their best interest, but psychology understands that the human is complicated. If we don’t make decisions as rational actors, then how do we make them? I studied psychology at Harvard and went to work at Google after I graduated. I spent two years on a behavioral team there. I worked closely with Dan Ariely, an Israeli professor who is one of the [team’s] leaders.

J.: Why does a tech company like Google need such a thing?

LU: There are really interesting lessons any company marketing its products can learn about how people make decisions.

J.: What was the genesis of your becoming a relationship and dating expert?

LU: While I was at Google, I had been hosting these talks, bringing in interesting people to speak to the employees, so I had this platform. I had always been really interested in dating and relationships; lots of us are at this age. We were at this interesting moment. Tinder had come out a year before, and I realized that even really smart people have so many questions, so I started bringing in [relationship and sex] experts like Esther Perel and Dan Savage. They were really well-attended. I realized I have a passion for it and could have a unique impact on relationship science through my background in behavioral economics.

J.: You’re quite young to be offering advice in this area.

LU: I try to be humble about what I know. Obviously, I can’t know what it’s like being married for decades, but I do know how it feels to be ghosted, or to have to package yourself in this online dating meat market. I don’t bring years of perspective, but I have a real understanding of what’s going on. I have gone through online dating enough myself to understand what it’s like. No one else is applying behavioral economics to dating.

J.: How did you meet your boyfriend?

LU: We originally met in college in 2007. We were Facebook friends but not actual friends. We met again years later when we both worked at Google and he recognized me at a shuttle stop. A few months after that, I organized an alumni lunch with Google employees and interns. I mentioned that I was trying to learn R [a statistics programming language]. He’d just dropped out of a Ph.D. program in applied math and offered to tutor me in it. After several tutoring sessions, and many lunches at Google, I not so subtly suggested he ask me out that weekend. Four years later, we’re happily dating and living together. We say R is our love language.

J.: You do both relationship coaching and matchmaking. How are they different?

LU: The dating coaching is a specific thing, coaching people who are frustrated with past relationships or feel frustrated by modern dating. We work through a boot camp curriculum, looking at what bad habits they want to break, who’s their ideal partner, how they can present themselves by putting their best foot forward.

I started the matchmaking very recently. Originally I asked people to fill out a form on my website and submit their information to my dating pool. I collected profiles from friends, friends-of-friends and eventually friends-of-friends-of-friends, and tried to set them up on dates. Before each setup, I asked everyone to promise to follow my eight dating rules:

1. Must contact each other within 24 hours of being matched.
2. First date can’t be coffee or drinks (should be something quirky and fun!).
3. First date should be within one week of being matched.
4. I suggest zero to minimal Googling in advance. Meet the person, not the online presence. I promise you’ll have plenty to talk about.
5. Be honest about what you’re looking for.
6. Consent (duh).
7. Feedback to me is appreciated.
8. No ghosting except on Halloween.

After about a dozen dates, none of which turned into second dates, I decided to try a different approach. Instead of guessing who would get along, I figured I might have more success if I put all these interesting, eligible people in a room, provided some structure and activities, and let them decide for themselves who they liked. With this in mind, I’m hosting an invite-only singles party two weeks before Valentine’s Day. The tickets sold out in four days! I’ll let you know the results of that experiment.

J.: Why do you think so many sex therapists and relationship experts are Jewish?

LU: I’ve actually talked to Esther [Perel] about this. I saw a play about Dr. Ruth Westheimer once, and before that I hadn’t realized that she escaped the Holocaust. Esther, too, is the child of Holocaust survivors. Last year, I researched my own great-great-aunt who was killed in Auschwitz; she was a famous children’s book author in Germany. Esther has spoken about growing up in a community of survivors in Belgium, and how among them, despite having survived, they still had to decide whether they were going to live or die. Living means embracing life fully, and in that element of thriving, sexuality is included in there.

Another big relationship expert is John Gottman, an observant Jew who lives near Seattle. We wrote an article together about how one of the key elements in the Passover seder is asking the Four Questions, and how the core of a good relationship is asking questions and knowing your partner and staying involved in her life. I’m interested in what I can learn from Jewish spirituality and how to apply it to relationships. One of my favorite Jewish concepts is kavanah, intention. You can always ask yourself what’s the kavanah that you want to greet your partner with at the end of the day.

“Talking With” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to [email protected].

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."