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Bruch's team devised a statistical model that maps the "decision rules" people follow during the first two steps.

Bruch and her team divided the rules into two broad categories, "deal breakers" and "deal makers," used to exclude or include people for the next level of contact.

Not according to a study of more than 1 million interactions on a dating website published this week in the .

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Those 30 million people have generated billions of pieces of data.

And because most dating sites ask users to give consent for their data to be used for research purposes, this online courting has played out like an enormous social science experiment, recording people's moment-by-moment interactions and judgments.

"That men care about height at all is, we suspect, a function of their realizing they may get rejected if they aren't quite a bit taller than their potential mates," she adds.

But when it came to body weight, men were less likely to browse the profile of a woman who was heavy-set, whereas women showed little aversion to—with some showing even more interest in—heavier-set men.

Bruch wondered: Is mate selection like a job interview process, where the person with the best combination of positive factors wins?

Or is it more like a -style reality show, where contestants are picked off one by one for a single failing?

These patterns also generally held for the second step, messaging, but with smaller effects. The results convince Ken-Hou Lin, a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who also studies online dating.

"The science is absolutely solid." He suspects that deal breakers are more important at the early stage of mate selection when people are winnowing down a pool of candidates.

When it comes to the early stage of dating, it seems to be all about the deal breakers.

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