Friday, August 25, 2006

The Mathematics of Attraction

So I’ve officially beaten my old record – as of today, I’ve been married for six years, and I’m celebrating by draping cold cloths on my husband’s feverish brow while he battles the flu. (At least that’s better than our fourth anniversary, which I spent hurling into the sink. Something about this late August weather must be conducive to illness.)

So who is this man I’m married to?

It’s an astonishingly difficult question to answer. Part of my difficulty in selecting husbands is that I focus too much on the quality of the relationship and not enough on the quality of the man. Having made a disastrous first choice based on those criteria, I resolved that difficulty the second time around by relying on the superior judgment of my mother and best friend, both of whom gave now-husband the stamp of approval. A fortunate thing, really, since I was in love and thus was not only incapable of objectivity but possibly also incapable of heeding their warnings if he had deserved a thumbs-down.

The same principle holds true now: I find it nearly impossible to describe who my husband is, but I have little difficulty analyzing the state of our particular union. We have a working partnership: we can depend upon one another to pick up bread and milk at the grocery store, to wipe a runny nose, or to bring Starbucks home to perk up a bad day. (Okay, he’s the only one who does that. But sometimes I bring him a cookie – white chocolate macadamia nut – and I never eat more than half.) I worry that we’re too distant from one another, spending too much time with our noses buried in books. I love the way we laugh together about dozens of ridiculous things; I love the spontaneous games of twenty-questions that can be triggered in dozens of different ways. I miss watching Buffy and Lost and Survivor together, and I miss the inevitable post-show conversations even more. I would say that our relationship has followed the path dictated by my first-year psychology textbook: our commitment is high, our passion is low, and our intimacy is moderate.

But what about him? What’s he like?

This isn’t a question that many bloggers are able (or willing, perhaps) to answer. By and large, I know more about your mothers than I do about your husbands. Based on hints here and there, the occasional loving tribute or angry tirade, I know that some of you have hard, complicated marriages; I know of at least one who has put much of the bad stuff behind her; I know many who feel very lucky to be married to the kind of man who would get up in the night to launder a wet blankie. But I know very little of what these men are like themselves, as people rather than fathers and husbands.

Well, my philosophy as a blogger is: when in doubt, fall back on the old list of five.

Five Facts About My Husband
1) He prefers games to sports. Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, Settlers of Catan, Risk, card games, tabletop fantasy games, board games, role-playing games … if it’s a game he likes it. Especially if it has zombies.
2) Since he took over the duty of getting the Pie dressed in the morning, she has been wearing pretty dresses. Every day.
3) He will object to the inaccuracy of the above statement. Precision of language is important to him, and it’s an ideal I constantly violate. (People who exaggerate are more interesting, as my mother always says. Actually, she said it once about twenty years ago, and I’ve been quoting her ever since.)
4) He will refuse to see a movie if it (a) is described by reviewers as "heartwarming"; (b) focuses on an underdog football team that makes up for what they lack in talent with a whole lot of heart; or (c) ends with a romantic embrace while snow falls gently all around. He will make an exception, however, for films that are either (a) British, or (b) starring John Cusack.
5) A few months after we met, while we were officially "just friends" (but flirting outrageously), he sent me the following email in response to my casual, innocent observation that it is simpler for all parties concerned if it’s clearly understood that the man is responsible for making the first move to initiate a romantic relationship. He replied as follows:

Even when all the signs appear to be there, there's still a significant amount of risk, and when you consider the sort of risk it is (the rejection kind), I'm rather amazed at how often guys just go for it. Obviously we must be pretty nutso about the lot of you. Of course that's just my perspective I guess.

Here's a thought:

Let Dxy be the Degree of Attraction X (male) feels towards Y (female)
Let Dyx be the Degree of Attraction Y feels towards X
Let dx be the Datability Threshold of X
Let dy be the Datability Threshold of Y
Let Pxy be the Perceived Probability of Success of X
Let Syx be the Strength of Signals given by Y to X
Let Fx be the Fear of Rejection of X
Let By be the Base Flirtatiousness of Y

If Dyx > dy, then Syx = k * Dyx + By, for some constant k (often proportional to By)
If Dyx <= dy, then Syx = By

(Translation: If a woman likes a man enough to date him, she flirts more than usual; if not, she subsides to her base level of flirtation.)

Pxy = Syx * ou, where ou is the coefficient of over/underestimation

Fx varies positively with Dxy (i.e.. if Dxy < Dxy' then Fx < Fx', although it is not necessarily the case that there exists a 'c' such that Dxy = c * Fx)

(Translation: The more a man likes a woman, the greater his fear of rejection.)

If Dxy * Pxy / Fx >= Ta (Threshold of Action) and Dxy > dx, X will make a 'risk-move' towards Y.

(Translation: If a man likes a woman enough to date her, he will ask her out as soon as his perceived probability of success sufficiently outstrips his fear of rejection.)

As an interesting corollary, as Dxy increases, Pxy becomes increasingly insignificant. Hence in circumstances of intense attraction, actual signals may become insignificant. For a fellow with a fear function of O(n^2), the more attracted he is to a woman, the less likely he is to act, whereas a man with an O(log n) fear function is increasingly driven.

Which is to say not much of anything, but it sure amused the hell out of me.

That may tell you all you need to know about my husband – and if I add that the receipt of this email may in fact have been one of the most exciting and happy moments of my life, that may tell you all you need to know about me.


metro mama said...

Happy Anniversary. Hope he feels better soon! We have a knack for getting sick on special occasions too. We both got food poisoning on our honeymoon.

penelopeto said...

happy, happy anniversary.
sounds like a wonderful man.

if you don't mind me saying, my husband is also a nerd. our courtship including me giving him a handmade wallet-sized periodic table of elements (laminated) as a gift.

and i won't play risk with him anymore, because batting my eyelashes and looking cute no longer stops him from invading penelope-owned territory.

Em said...

Congratulations on 6 years! He sounds very sweet :0

Christina said...

Happy anniversary!

Your husband and mine have several things in common. Mine is also a gamer - City of Heroes online, tabletop RPGs, live action games, etc. He hates sports, but loves zombies. Does your husband have the Zombie Survival Guide?

They both hate the same movies, too. Aaron doesn't have a preference for dresses though, although he often dresses Cordy in them, just because that was what was in the top of her drawer when he was grabbing clothes.

That e-mail was hilarious, though, and very sweet. Even my nerd of a husband couldn't have thought of something that creative.(although he might have tried showing me how the stats change for a male character in a game if he's attracted to a female).

Mrs. Chicky said...

Happy Anniversary! He sounds like a complex man so it's no wonder why you love him. I love that he brings you Starbucks and puts your daughter in dresses (everyday, every other day, whatever). Here's to many more happy years!

Minnehaha Mama said...

Aw, despite all the math I bet he would still be willing to stand outside your window blaring "In Your Eyes" on his boombox.

Jeez, you write well. How did I never before realize that all my romantic relationships have been based on the relationship more than the man. Chemistry packs a punch.

Happy Anniversary!

Her Bad Mother said...

My husband calculates the precise total of items in our grocery cart before unloading cart, and then announces the total to the cashier. He thinks that this is flirting.

Here's to nerds.

Happy Anniversary!

Mayberry said...

That email is priceless. Who says the love letter is dead? Happy anniversary!

Piece of Work said...

I love that you kept this email. ANd I love that you told us this story of the two of you.
Happy ANniversary.

Kvetch said...

From this math moron I'd like to say that this is the first algebraic equation that made me smile. Ever!

mamatulip said...

Happy Anniversary!

(I hope he feels better soon)

sunshine scribe said...

Swoon. That email was perfect. You two sound like a wonderful couple.

Happy Anniversary to you!! Hope your mathematical man gets well soon :)

And on an unrelated note...there is something I have been dying to say to you. So many times in your writing I have noted a notion or sentiment that felt so very "Anne"/kindred spirit to me. I love it. Today this was my favourit pick: "People who exaggerate are more interesting, as my mother always says. Actually, she said it once about twenty years ago, and I’ve been quoting her ever since." I know you are a huge fan of the Anne of Green Gables books (as am I) and I hope you take it as a compliment that I could totally imagine you in one of those books ... sorry I know that was totally unrelated but I have been waiting for a relevant time to say it and haven't.

something blue said...

What a wonderful and loving post. Happy Anniversary!

Along the same lines, I imagine it says a lot that the first gift my husband gave me was a mathematic text book. He had written a note in black marker over a few pages and upon opening it further I discovered that he had cut out some pages to hide a CD that I had wanted. Slanted & Enchanted by Pavement. I was over the moon.

Blog Antagonist said...

Happy Anniversary! Too bad husband is sick. Nerds rock. I married one too. He would get a huge kick out of that email.

Kristen said...

I love it - it's so sincerely unique and honest. Happy Anniversary!

Emily said...

That robo-tronic talk is SEXY. It's so foreign to me as a "humanities person."

crazymumma said...

Happy anniversary, you sound quite content....

Oh, The Joys said...

Sounds like our husbands would have a good venting session together as my Grandfather taught me "never to let facts get in the way of a good story" and my RAGING INACCURACY drives my husband nuts.

Great post.

Mary-LUE said...

Happy Anniversary! The email is great although he lost me at Dxy equals... Math is my archnemesis. (My daughter's favorite word.)

BTW, I have started Rilla. I love how she writes about talking in italics. Somehow, with all the blogging and how we indicate tone, send hugs, etc., it seems especially funny to me. I still want a sarcastic font so it is really clear when I am being sarcastic.

I could also use a family tree. It seems like Gilbert and Anne had a big family and I'm having a hard time sorting everyone out. Whatever happened to Diana? I'm on my way to a beach house for a few days and am looking forward to finishing it there.

kittenpie said...

Happy anniversary! How lovely to meet you, Mr. B&P.

I got letters, not being email-ready yet during the courting phase, but letters typed out and printed and mailed from Western to Trent. When he should have been finishing up school work.

And then the next year, to show this geek was in love, he lent me one of his computers for the remainder of my degree.

nonlineargirl said...

My mathematician husband laughed when I showed him what your husband wrote. How great that your man wrote that, and even better that it worked on you!

Nancy said...

Happy Anniversary (a little late!)

It sounds like you two have a great relationship.

And I love the e-mail on the mathematics of attraction. Sounds like something that my hubby would have sent (and that I would have enthusiastically received, as you did.)

Aliki2006 said...

What a sweet post...after my husband and I went out on our first date eleven years ago, he was heard telling his family, "I'm experiencing a paradigm shift in my life"'s that for a nerdy romantic?! But I love him incredibly...

Happy Anniversary! Here's to many, many, many, many more years...

Eric said...

This sheds some light on things. Are you sure it's not Bub and Pi? Happy Anniversary!

lildb said...

I'm married to a geek, and I am one. so I get it. and it's fabulous.

congratulations on another year, doll! :)

Pieces said...

Thank you for the translations. Otherwise I would never have gotten it. My eyes started to glaze over at the first Dxy.

Congratulations on finding such a keeper. I agree that the family stamp of approval on the man in question is important. I was lucky enough to have that as well.