On Probability (or: what’s a nerdy girl like me doing in a place like this??)

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So let me tell you how it’s been.

I’ve been “getting out there” as the saying goes, trying to live my best life, letting me be me, making an effort, but not trying so hard that I get in the way of love finding me when I least expect it,

Consequently, I haven’t had a proper date in months. The only action I can report is becoming pen pals with a guy from a dating site who’s either the man of my dreams (doctor, good-looking, based in this city but currently on some kind of service trip providing free surgical care to a village in Bangladesh, admits to reading, likes dogs, can afford a weekly cleaning service) —or is a con man living on some off-shore data-haven, patiently insinuating himself into my trust so as to lure me and my life savings to a field outside of Ashgabat (capital of Turkmenistan, obv.) where he and a gang of criminals will rob, beat, and rape me before selling me into white slavery.

Makes the single life sounds so glam, right?

I was checking my phone the other day by the library, and one of the homeless men there starts a conversation. He asks me if I have a boyfriend, and when I say no, expresses shock and dismay. “How is this possible?!” he cries incredulously. I reply that I really, really don’t know. Perhaps he has some theory? “I just can’t believe it,” he says. “With those eyes, that figure—you’re gorgeous!” I’m basking in the glow of this unexpected admiration. He goes on, “All a woman needs in life are looks, and you’ve got them, so I just can’t understand why you’re single.”

This conversation gave me much to ponder. First of all, I’m not happy with the logic employed by my down-and-out friend, which we can represent with a syllogism or two:

A woman’s worth as a human being is measured by her physical beauty.
Prof’s Progress (P2) is gorgeous.
Therefore P2 has worth as a human being.

Or try this one:
Beautiful women need no accomplishments in life other than their looks in order to get boyfriends.
P2 is beautiful according to the homeless man on the library steps.
Therefore, P2 must have a boyfriend (and can presumably quit her job since that’s just a waste of non-beauty-related energy anyway).

And yet, in defiance of this apparently unassailable reasoning, there was I, beautiful (and worthy!) woman, having no other man in her life at that moment other than this sidewalk philosopher. So much for those pretty syllogisms based on completely fallacious premises (well, I’ll concede the premise that I’m gorgeous; it’s the other claims about a woman’s value in the world that are shaky).

But once I’d worked my way through that little logic exercise, I was left with this vexing question: how is it that if I stand still in this city for 20 seconds, I’m guaranteed to have an elderly homeless man singing my praises—and yet I remain otherwise un-dateable?

Have you heard about the Drake equation? This is the formula for calculating the number of planets in the galaxy likely to support intelligent life—you start with the total number of planets, then start sorting into ever smaller categories by atmosphere, gravity, proximity to the right kind of star etc. The point, for this analogy, is that the resulting number is actually such a very small percentage of the total you started with as to be practically zero.

Similarly with dating: take all the men within a reasonable perimeter (about 312,000 in my city) and then start filtering by relevant criteria*:

  • Availability (single, straight)—conservatively, about 30% of the total, or 104,000
  • Age—more or less the same age/generation as me; not determined to date someone 10-15 years younger; either already has all the kids he wants or is content to be child-free. Let’s make that 20% (generous and optimistic), or about 20,800.
  • Educational level—according to the census bureaus, about 43% of the population in my city has a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of available men my age, that’s about 8944. But: trust my years of experience in higher education when I say that it’s quite possible to graduate from college and still be barely literate and as dumb as a rock. Sorry, that sounds really mean, but as Polonius (more or less) observed, “that they are dumb, ’tis true: ‘tis true ’tis pity; and pity ’tis ’tis true.” I could just narrow it down to the percent with a master’s degree or higher (about 10% of the US population), but that wouldn’t guarantee compatibility and would also make my pool pathetically smaller than it already is. So I’ll stick with 8944, but knock off a couple thousand to be on the safe side—let’s make it a round 7000.Now here’s where I start to get problematically fussy.
  • Ideological Tolerability—about 60% of the population of my city is liberal, which brings the eligible man total to 4200. But, from my own anecdotal experience, I can report that many men who consider themselves liberal and open-minded are cluelessly racist and homophobic (appalling, really). Moreover, a recent survey confirmed what I’ve observed (with reactions ranging from bemused to running in the other direction) that as many as 40% of Americans subscribe to backward, paranoid, ill-informed conspiracy theories; or believe that the poor deserve their own misfortune; or think that vaccinations are a nefarious plot by the government to implant us all with surveillance chips. I refuse to spend a second of my life with such asshattedness if I don’t have to—which brings me down to a dating pool of about 2000.
    • And let’s not forget all those liberal, progressive, forward thinking fellows who are overflowing with toxic, vitriolic hatred and fear of women. I’ve met plenty of them too: the ones who just launch, apropos of nothing, and without enough interest in, or respect for, anything I might think—into extensive diatribes on the evils of feminism. Or who consider themselves feminists as part of their myth of themselves as Nice Guys—but who frequently start sentences with “You women always…” or “The problem with all of you women is….” Or who get insanely, frighteningly jealous if someone ogles me on the T and will spend the next 2 hours talking alternatively about how he should have called those guys out for looking at his woman, and how I should be careful about wearing skirts in public. I’m not sure what % of the population is misogynistic, but in my personal experience it’s been about 30%, so to be safe (and I mean literal as well as statistical safety) I’m now down to a pool of 1200.
  • Minimum Threshold for General Suitability (or Triple-S: sexy, sane, and solvent)
    • interests, accomplishments, and values—I’m sure we all agree that it’s unhealthy to have *everything* in common with one’s partner—you need your own life, your own activities, and the space to pursue them in. But it seems completely reasonable to me that Prince Charming would 1) have some way to occupy his free time in addition to sports; 2) that he would voluntarily choose to see a dance performance without fretting for a second that he was surrendering his masculinity; 3) that he’d like art or classical music; 4) that he’d like to read for pleasure.
    • life skills—I shouldn’t even have to have this as a category, but apparently it’s necessary. I tried to be open-minded and tolerant, I really did. I’m a big fan of non-conformity. But there’s a difference between choosing to flout convention and being absolutely incapable of following it ever. Moreover, and as I should have learned by the time I was 8, you can’t bring home every pathetic stray that you find, because they might look cute, but they might also be carrying diseases, and won’t be house-broken. My friend A. has forbidden me from going out with men living in squats with their ex-girlfriends, or living in communes waiting for their alien overlords to show up, or living with roommates while they “advocate” for medical marijuana by smoking as much of it as they can all day etc. A. recently said (for which my poor worried parents can’t thank her enough), “I think, P2, that you deserve to be with someone who is at least as successful as you are. He doesn’t have to buy you dinner every Friday, but he should be able to.” And she recently had to add, “Along with ‘employed for real’ we must include ‘no advertised fetishes’” in response to the (tempting?) offer from a very nice-looking fellow to give me foot rubs, cook for me, anticipate my needs, and “perform other submissive acts.” Thus it is that I now require explicit, empirically-observable evidence of sound decision-making ability and causal reasoning, sanity, and dental insurance if I’m going to accept a date with a person. What’s a fair estimate for the prevalence of Triple-S? Given what I attract (and must be attracted to, heaven help me), 50% is generous. We’re now at 600.
  • Physical attractiveness: my ideal (for your reference, if you’re in the position to do any matchmaking) is what I call “Slimline Euro-Detective”—think current Sherlock Holmeses (Miller, Cumberbatch), Luther (Elba), most of the male cast of MI-5, and a few Dr. Whos. These are fellows who are not necessarily knock-outs in the conventional sense, but whose looks I approve very much. Moreover, they know how to present themselves to the world with some style and panache. It’s not coincidental that many of them know how to dance (and, in some cases, fence, which makes me feel a little woozy). This is what I like. But based on what the algorithms of internet dating sites actually match me with, 1) I’m too fussy and wildly unrealistic to be trusted to know what I want and so must be forcibly thrown together with schlubby guys in Bruins jerseys for my own good; 2) I’m not good-looking enough for the likes of them (a thought which haunts me in the small hours of the morning); or 3) this physical type is actually so rare—in my city, from what I’ve observed, maybe 1 in 10—that I’d have better luck trying to date a passenger pigeon.By my calculations, I’m down to 60 hypothetical prospects in an urban area of over a half a million people—out of the 312,000 male residents I started with, that’s a really, really small result (0.0002). And of course, the flip side is that I’m one of maybe 3 results in my potential Prince Charming’s own equations (which, presumably, includes “familiarity with Drake equation vis-a-vis dating” as a criterion). And neither of us has the first clue how to actually find one another. If I were a conspiracy-theorist myself, I’d suspect the dating algorithms of being designed to actually thwart the attempts of Triple-S’s to get together. If online dating really worked, those sites would’ve gone out of business a long time ago.In other words, the answer to the homeless guy’s question, how is it possible that I’m still single?!? —is that it is almost mathematically impossible for me to be anything but.

    This is why I never liked studying math—you can do a lot of work just to end up with results which are either meaninglessly abstract or seriously disappointing. Actually, I take some perverse consolation from those dismal numbers, because they give me odds which are both ridiculously bad, and, for that very reason, exculpatory. I’m not trying too hard, or sending off weird vibes of loneliness, desperation, and maladjustment; I’m not too old, too plain, too fussy, too eccentric, too this or too that. I’m just me, one little integer, roaming the big world of data, doing the best she can, until the day Probability brings me together with Prince Charming, aka Mr. 0.00019231 (0.0002, to keep things simple).

    *I’ve been sloppy with math my whole life. But if you feel the urge to correct me, and mansplain why I’m wrong, 1) you’re kind of missing the point and 2) refer to the “General Suitability” category above.

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2 Responses to On Probability (or: what’s a nerdy girl like me doing in a place like this??)

  1. Dating Games says:

    Good article. I definitely appreciate this site. Keep writing!

    Like

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