Whenever someone says “Well that’s one date closer to the Right One,” I think about Zeno’s Paradox and asymptotic functions. A step may bring you closer, but that doesn’t mean you’re ever going to arrive.
I recently marked my 42nd gentleman caller — although that’s a bit of a misnomer as I had to go to him. (Driving 2 hours to date someone in NYC is normal. Driving two hours to date someone outside is to much to ask.)
The rate of gentlemen over the years has not been constant; there’s been a bit of an increase. Indeed, if this trend continues I think I may soon see my 50th “caller.”
That calls for a party, methinks. A Confirmed Bachelorette party, celebrating Half a Century of Men and Boys. Gifts not required, but welcome if they purr.
Does this signify anything? I doubt it. After all, my math shows that there must be hundreds if not thousands of bachelors in my range around. So this is more of an excuse to throw a party, and maybe get a cat, than anything else. But the big Five-Oh… surely that’s a number worth marking?
I have received a correction on the matter of the non-identifying caller from another reference of mine. Apparently, he wasn’t trying to hide his name from me so I wouldn’t know who had done the asking. He intended to hide the fact that he had called at all, so I wouldn’t be disappointed when nothing came of it. There must have been a miscommunication or misunderstanding, and it got passed along to me as “someone called, can’t tell you who.”
In other words, he wasn’t being creepy and evasive, he was being nice.
So I guess I owe him an apology for suspecting him wrong. While I do usually operate on the assumption that most people aren’t trying to be jerks, I have had enough experience with no-name callers to be predisposed to suspicion.
If we were back in summer camp, we’d say I owed him a brocha. So my wish for him is that he should waste less time looking into people who aren’t right for him.
But really, did he have to do that?
To be honest, I don’t care if I never find out that someone has looked into me. I assume it happens every now and then. But the idea of someone deliberately hiding the fact from me in order to preserve my tender feeling strikes me as, well, a tad condescending. I mean, I’m not a little kid any more. If I can’t handle rejection by the ripe old age of 27, I’m in trouble.
But that could just be me. I have objected to being treated like a child ever since I was a child. In fact, my very first memory, from when I was two and shouldn’t have any memories, was of getting upset at my parents for not taking me seriously. I then spent the proceeding six years resenting relatives who called me cute and pinched my cheek because that’s not the sort of thing you say and do to someone you respect. Clearly, I have taken myself a little too seriously for about as long as I have had a sense of self.
So I decided to find out via proper research methods: is this subterfuge necessary? Or does it just complicate people’s lives unnecessarily?
Study on the Dating Sensitivities of Orthodox Jewish Women between the Ages of 22 and 31 with Regard to Men They Have Never Met But Who Have Already Rejected Them
Methodology: Text messages were sent to all the singles in my Contacts list. In order to avert pool bias toward a Bad4-Friend-Type, I also contacted Good4’s friends. Singles were also asked to pass the questions along to their friends and return the results.
Singles were asked two questions, sequentially. The second question was only asked after the first had been answered.
The question were: “If a guy looked into you and said no, would you want to know, or would you rather not know?”
This was followed up by the question: “Would you be hurt to find out about it?”
Sample Size: 11 singles, 5 under the age of 24, and 6 over the age of 24.
Results: I’ve divided the respondents into “Below 24” and “Above 24” to see if there are age-related differences.
Results for the question “Would you want to know or would you rather not know?”
“Prefer not to know at all. Except for the occasional times that he said no cuz you’re too frum or something because then it’s flattering instead of insulting.”
“I don’t care. It probably depends on the person because some people want to know that people are suggesting things even if nothing comes from it. And some would be hurt to hear people said no. There’s no better way, in my opinion.”
“Rock and hard place. Probably to know he said no.”
“Yes I’d like to know if you aren’t asking this hypothetically. If I had no idea I wouldn’t care.”
“Don’t really care either way. If he said no, it’s not gonna go anywhere.”
“[I would want to] Know.”
“I’d like to know that someone tried to do something on my behalf. But given the above options [know or don’t know], I’d rather not know.”
“To me it makes no difference. Unless I personally know the family/boy, I don’t care if he said no; he’s a stranger.”
“Nothing about it at all. Obv. You know about my low self esteem.”
“Probably know nothing.”
“Honestly I would not care.. I would assume looks, height or something superficial. Honestly if people are saying bad things and the idiot is listening, then forget that dude anyhow…”
Since everything looks prettier in a graph:
Results for the question: Would you be hurt to find out?
“Nope. Family policy is “one closer.”
“Depends if I knew him or was desperate to go out with him. But I will get over it.”
“That would depend on how I felt about the guy.”
“Depends if I would have wanted to go out with him. Not so hurt, but a lot of rejection over time is hurtful, yes.”
“More annoyed than hurt. But I’d also rather know the guy said no as closure. How often does someone suggest a possibility and then leave it hanging – did he say no? Did the shadchan just drop the ball?”
““Can’t be uber-offended if he says no without meeting me. I am not that fragile. And then I know not to pursue him in the future. And I know my friends were thinking of me.”
“It would bruise my ego a little but if I don’t know the guy that’s not the worst rejection in the world. Def not the same as being interested and then they say no.”
“Yes, I’d wonder what was wrong with me.”
“No, I am currently going out with someone. Even if I wasn’t, I have the philosophy that if someone doesn’t think I am right for them, it is nothing against me (it just means we wouldn’t be right for each other). One more down. ;-)
“No, I don’t recall that [ever] happening.”
“No, why should I care if someone I don’t know said no?”
In beautified form:
It appears that most women are not quite as delicate as supposed. Only one woman said she’d be upset to be “rejected.” The ones who said “It depends” specified that they’d have had to have previously agreed and truly wanted to date the gentlemen. Notably, these were almost all under the age of 24. A towering majority of the singles over 24 simply said “No.”
It appears that when dating a woman who has no prior knowledge that you are investigating her, you need not worry that she will be saddened by your “rejection” of her. If she has previously agreed to go out with you, and is of young and tender age, you may want to tread delicately. If she is old and hard boiled, forget it. She doesn’t care about you.
I am very lucky: my high school class has an excellent archivist. So when there was a sudden and unexpected flurry of engagements this year, I was able to request the data.
Here’s what I wanted to know: how many of us are still single?
There were 66 students in my graduating high school class. Of those, 59 are married or engaged. For those who don’t care to reach for their calculator, that’s 89%. Which is to say, 10.6% are still single.
Well, we all know the 10% statistic. So, as a member of the 10% of my high school class, I think I can officially give up.
Yes, I know, it’s a statistic, not a rule. Of course it’s not a rule! I have a friend who is the last in her class still single. Although, granted, at a class size of 15, that may not be a significant variance from 10%. I don’t know – I haven’t got the time to figure it out.
It should probably be disheartening to think that I’m now a statistic. But the truth is, everyone’s a statistic. If you’re not in the 10% single then you’re in the 90% married. Honestly, what’s the difference? We can all be distilled into numbers one way or another.
So I kept adding columns to my spreadsheet. This time I was curious about rate of marriage. Is it sort of bell-shaped, or is there a tail? That’s really what set off my quest in the first place.
As you can see, there’s a slow start, as most of the sample was in Israel, and had a delayed start entering the marriage pool. But those who stayed in New York City lost no time at all in engaging themselves to the local male populace.
Once the Israel-seminarians returned, they too threw themselves into the marriage market, marrying an astonishing 18 of themselves off in the first year alone! This rapid rate of pairing slowed only marginally for the next two years, before dropping precipitously. This may be due to the fact that a grand total of 71% of them were now paired off and busily reproducing themselves. The remaining 29% were slower and more circumspect. However, eventually another 20% of them also found a mate. These pairings were slower, more gradual, and illustrate undramatically on the histogram above.
You may be wondering: yes, there is a rapid marriage rate. But what about the divorce rate?
Well, I reassure you, the class currently stands at zero divorces, which is a rate of 0%.
Considering the weather, I’d best not tip my hat to all the people who sent me emails informing me that the Drake Equation Boy is engaged.
The Drake Equation is an equation invented by a Professor Drake to estimate how many evolved civilizations might exist in nearby galaxies. Drake Equation Boy, otherwise known as Peter Backus, applied this equation to the UK to figure out how many potential girlfriends might exist for him in nearby London. (For the record, there is nothing especially brainy about this. It’s a simple probability equation, in which you multiply an incident by the probabilities affecting its occurrence.) He concluded that there are 10,510 women in London (0.14% of the population) who he might like to date.
Naturally, we all wonder: how does this apply to shidduch dating?
Well, I am here to provide the answer for you.
This post has taken a great deal of time and effort to write. This is because there are not too many statistics readily available regarding the Orthodox Jewish community. Most of it is estimations and guesswork. The United States Census, sadly, does not take down any information about religion. So instead, I had to rely predominantly on two studies of the Jewish American population. One by the Berman Institute’s North American Jewish Data Bank, and the Jewish Population Study done by the UJA Federation of New York. I also picked up a few commonly bandied about statistics from random websites, which I will cite as they come up.
So! The Drake Equation!
G = R x Fm x Fg x Fa x Fp x Ft x L
I am not going to go into what all these stand for in the context of interstellar civilization. If you’re interested, just click through to Peter Backus’s original report. Instead, I will dive right in to how I chose to define the terms.
G = The number of potential basherts out there for me. This is the solution we will solve for.
R = The rate of formation of Orthodox Jews (i.e. population growth). Some fun stats: The rate of formation of Jews worldwide is estimated at 0.4% annually; closer to 1% for Ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The Jewish population of the world is estimated at 13.3 million Jews, of which approximately 1.67-1.8 million are Orthodox. (That’s a generous estimate of 13%. Other estimates hover at 10%.)
But the number we really care about is how many Orthodox Jews exist in the world right now. I’ll go with 1.3 million OrthoJews alive in a given contemporary year, or 10% of world Jewry.
Fm = The fraction of Orthodox Jews who are male. Wolfram Alpha (and everyone else) assures me it’s 0.49, or 49%.
Fg = The fraction who are geographically compatible – that is, located in Northeastern United States. Why am I being geographically narrow? Because I’ve never had a successful long-term relationship. Besides, I think I’m being generous. One guy in Washington Heights refused to date me because it entailed driving to Brooklyn.
According to the Berman Institute, 43.7% of the American Jewish population lives in the Northeast. That’s 0.44, for our purposes. Since 46% of the world Jewish population lives in North America, the total fraction of Jews in the Northeast is approximately 0.46*0.44 = 0.20.
Fa = The fraction of men who are age appropriate. I have no idea how Peter got his 0.2 number for this one, but here’s how I got mine:
The average male lifespan in the USA is 76 (Wikipedia). If you take the total male population between 0 and 75 and break it into chunks of 15 years, you get 5 chunks. I am willing to date within a generous 15-year range, from a couple of years younger to more than 10 years older, so I date one 15-year chunk. One out of five population chunks is 1/5 or 0.20.
Fp = Mr. Backus used a university degree for this criteria. I do not demand a level of education from my potential spouse. However, since I rarely get set up with non-baccalaureates, this number would essentially be 1. For the yeshivish end, it would be zero. Obviously this not a good criteria for our community.
I should note here that this is a probability equation. You are not forced to use any given term just because Backus did. You can leave something out. Or add something in. If you’re really picky, you can introduce an infinite number of criteria.
So I’ll create my own criteria. Assume there are four main branches of Orthodox Judaism: Modern Orthodox, Centrist (encompassing the MO-machmir and yeshivish-liberal groups), Yeshivish, and Chassidish. I date only one of those groups. Although it’s a stretch to assume equal populations, for lack of data, I could use 0.25 for religious compatibility. Considering how people can be over matters of religion, this seems reasonable.
I’m also considering using a Myers-Briggs criteria. I’m an INTJ. I’m told I’m compatible with NFs, I respect NTs, and I’m tentatively beginning to think I could handle an SP. Using population estimates for Myers-Briggs types, I could get along reasonably well with about 33% of the personality population. (That’s a 0.33 for our equation.)
Ft = The fraction I find attractive. Backus assumed he’s attracted to about 5% of the female population. Doing the math on the number of men I’ve dated and the number I’ve found immediately attractive, that seems a sound estimate. So, 0.05 is the fraction of Jewish men I’d find attractive.
L = Length of time I’ve been alive, making such an encounter possible. I’m actually not a fan of how Backus defines this term. The number we need isn’t how long I’ve been alive, because obviously I haven’t found anyone in that time. Moreover, if I met my bashert when I was 10, well, I wasn’t paying attention. Rather, the number we need is how long I plan to be dating before I give up.
So I will use 15 years, the number of years from when I started dating (20) until I plan to throw in the towel, adopt a child, and start a spinster colony (35).
Let’s do the math now. Here’s a snip from my Excel spreadsheet:
And so, there are 1,524 OrthoJewish men between the ages of about 25 and 39 living in Northeastern USA who I could potentially partner up with. These possible basherts comprise about 1% of the total Orthodox Jewish male NE USA population.
So far, I’ve met 38 of them. That leaves me 1,486 men to meet in the next 9 years.
Wow. The world has never been so full of possibilities!
Of course, this doesn’t take into account how many of them are already married. And we all know that all the good ones are already taken…
Enpey sent me today’s link ages ago. It’s a rather bizarre xkcd post about soulmates. It takes a few leaps of logic that don’t strike me as very logical. All in the name of proving that the whole soulmate idea is kinda ridiculous. Too bad the agenda is too obvious to permit the post to be credible.
I didn’t post it because I wanted to do the math for frum Jews. Calculate how many Jews there are in the world. Where they live. How likely you are to meet them. How many you’d have to meet to find your soulmate.
But somehow, more interesting things kept getting in the way – like trying a new carrot ginger soup recipe, or attending a kayaking club meeting.
But a quick google right now brings up an estimate of 1.6-1.8 million Orthodox Jews worldwide. Maybe 500,000 of those are chasidim. Probably an equal number are modern orthodox, yeshivish, heimish, Mizrachi, or some other group you’d be able to share a life with in a million years. So take off 1 million.
There are about 550k in Israel and 120k in the rest of the world outside the USA. Let’s assume that most of those are in countries that don’t speak your language and who you’d be highly unlikely to communicate with. Nix another 600,ooo.
Let’s say about a third of the population is too young for you and a third too old for you. Divide by three. That leaves 133,333 people that you’d have to date to find your soulmate.
If you have 15 years or so for dating (on the assumption that when you hit 35, if you don’t add “froze my eggs” to your profile, you won’t get any more dates), that would be 8,889 guys per year. If you freeze your eggs or find open-minded guys, that’s 5,333 guys per year.
Wow. I am so behind.
Sadly, people and relationships cannot be reduced to mere equations. As Dostoyevsky points out in Notes from Underground, if we did come up with an equation proving that people always behave in their best interest, people would do the opposite just to prove their free will.
(I know what you’re thinking. In that case, we can say that people will do the opposite of what’s in their best interest because the equation says so. But then people might contradict that prediction, and you’d be left saying that people will either do what’s in their best interest or not, depending on whether they’d rather stick it to you or just get on with life. And then you’d need an equation to predict who would do what, and we’d be right back where we started.)
This post left me musing about the things people look for in a mate.
I should start by saying that I don’t know the statistical basis for the 0.2 number. It seems rather small to me—so far to the right on the bell curve that it would be indistinguishable from its mirror on the left. But I’ll use it here as a synonym for “extraordinary people” so I’m in sync with PNN’s meaning.
What he seems to be saying, if I read the post right, is that extraordinary people need extraordinary spouses. This is why they have a harder time getting married.
My first impulse is to snark, “How do you know which 0.2 you’re a part of?” After all, it’s safe to assume that the extraordinarily pathetic also have a rough time hitching up. It’s comforting to tell yourself that you’re not married because you’re special, but “special” can be used to describe Charlie Gordon at both ends of the Algernon experiment.
But what about people who really are extraordinary? They can’t marry just anyone, can they?
Well, no. I mean, think about, say, Richard Feynman. Fun to read about, but a potential pain in the neck to be married to. At the same time, though, you can’t have two R. Feynmans in a family—it wouldn’t function. Nor would a Feynman married to an Einstein or a Spielberg or a Lance Armstrong. Or, to make it gender appropriate, to a Clara Barton, Sarah Schneirer, Annie Oakley, Sandra Day O’Connor, or Sarah Palin.
It’s no accident that highly successful people are usually married to less-successful people. You can’t have two stars – they wind up in competition with each other, if only over who comes first. Usually, one person will wind up taking the supportive role. This is most obvious in cases like Annie Oakley, whose husband gave up his career to launch hers, or the Roosevelts or the Gilbreths, where the couple worked as a team, with one spouse contributing to the work of the other.
In fact, if you look at the best teams and partnerships, you’ll often find that it’s not an all-star lineup. Think Warren Buffet and his partner Charlie Munger (what? Haven’t you heard of Munger?), or the 1980s US Olympic hockey team.
The idea that great people need to be surrounded by ordinary but supportive people is not a new one. The Belbin team role theory grew out of a management training exercise where teams were formed and a game was played. Belbin, who ran the games, couldn’t resist throwing all the most brilliant managers into a single team, called the Apollo team, to see what happened.
What happened was that the Apollo team lost. Always. Placing third was the best an Apollo team ever did, but ninth was more typical.
Brilliant people, Belbin found, are drawn to and respect other brilliant people. They enjoy discussing ideas with people who understand them and can match wits in debate. They also spend most of their time pointing out flaws in other people’s ideas while refusing to recognize the holes in their. Instead of working as a team, Apollo worked as a group of individuals. And they failed.
In short: people who are 0.2 for brains have disastrous instincts when it comes to picking their partners. But it’s probably safe to say that being a 0.2 for anything and looking for another 0.2 is a poor strategy in general.
So what does a 0.2 need?
I would posit that truly extraordinary people need ordinary spouses with one extraordinary trait: patience. And if you check out the spouses of some historical luminaries, you will find that forbearance and respect for their spouses were their most shining characteristics.
In other words, if you’re a 0.2 then what you need most is someone who will put up with you.
Regardless of where you fall on the gaussian curve (because who really knows where they land?) I think it’s always worth pausing and reevaluating, especially when you’re about to dump someone. Are you looking for what you like, or for what you need?
People often do calculus in their heads, projecting from a point, sometimes with or without the line.
The simplest example I can think of comes not from a date, but from a college bake sale. A bunch of students volunteered to bring in baked goods, but one student’s big plans flopped and the cake was kind of… crusty. The committee leader immediately projected a line: “Kim can’t bake.” And for all the future, as far as the committee leader was concerned, Kim was useless for all things baking.
On a more common, interpersonal level, one commonly hears complaints that starts “You always…” and end with something like “leave your dishes in the sink” or “take my stuff without asking.” Often, a proper examination of the facts reveals only two datapoints for the accusation. Good enough for P&G, but not for my high school math teacher.
Snap judgments are a necessary cognitive shortcut. We can’t always wait to collect three data points on a person before coming to any conclusions about them. Instead, we have to recognize behaviors, make connections, and come to conclusions.
In short, when a person does something (guy comes late for a job interview), that’s a datapoint. We then find the generalized equation for that behavior based on our experience or mass wisdom (people who come late to job interviews) and take the derivative from that point (if he can’t come on time for an important interview, when will he come on time?). It happens at job interviews, it happens at chance meetings, and it happens on shidduch dates.
It’s always easiest to become indignant when you’re on the receiving end. (“Okay so I arrived late! There was a tractor-trailer jackknifed across three lanes!”) I took it rather hard when a date informed our shadchan that I was “anti-bais Yaakov.” All I’d done was tell him a rather traumatic story from 12thgrade to illustrate what I thought was a weakness in the system.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t criticize the senate,” I complained. “He would have thought I was an anarchist.” And heaven knows what he might have thought if I’d told a good Israeli taxi-driver story. Probably that I’m full of sinas chinam.
But, bitterness aside, I can see how he reached that conclusion. It’s just calculus.
Point: Bad4 says something critical about a bais Yaakov high school.
Line: The last person who told me something like that was virulently anti-orthodox, off-the-derech, etc.
Derivative: Bad4 is covertly anti-establishment.
But I’m not one to criticize. I do it too. I’ll come home after a date with a vaguely negative impression. When I try to pin down where it comes from, I’ll have a hard time. What it boils down to is:
Point: Guy shows up without a plan for the date.
Line: Many of my dates who did this exhibited lack of drive or maturity.
Derivative: I’m dating yet another “boy.”
Ah, but didn’t this guy mention successfully launching a startup? That doesn’t sound so clueless. People aren’t mass-produced plastic figurines. You can’t assume that because this one appears to be a little green soldier, he’s got his feet glued to a plastic oval.
Which is why I’ve got a dating motto: When in doubt, go out (again). Because derivatives are for finding the instantaneous rate of change, not for making predictions. And whatever P&G might think, two points don’t make a line. Especially when you’re dealing with people—imperfect but self-correcting wonderful and awful human beings.
When I was in high school, my math teacher warned against the foolishness of projecting a line from only two points. Two points, she explained, could easily lie on a curve. But you’d never know unless you had at least a third point plotted.
When I got older, I applied to Procter & Gamble for an internship. To determine whether you’re smart enough to work for them, they give you a reasoning test with questions like this (only harder):
It flummoxed me the first time I saw them and I flunked. But I went back and studied the questions and I realized they were testing only one skill: the ability to predict a complex pattern based on only two datapoints. And, like most mass-produced standardized tests, there’s a limit to how many permutations can arise, so it was easy to study for. I passed the second time.
So now I can say that I’m smart because I can project a line from only two points.
It might seem to follow that it would be even smarter to project a line from a single point. Indeed, this is (sort of) what is known as calculus.
When you take the derivative of an equation at a given point, you are essentially saying, “If the line proceeded straight from this point, it would have this slope.” In this example, the two derivatives taken are lines with slopes that continue forever downward.
But the function doesn’t really behave that way. It bends. At zero, the derivative suggests a flat line.
That isn’t how it happens either. You probably recognize the function as y=x^2, and it’s parabolic.
It isn’t exactly projecting a line from a single point, because the point itself must be on a line. But it’s as close as you can reasonably get.
Derivatives are very handy tools when you want to know the behavior of a system at an exact point. But projecting those lines and assuming they hold in the future is clearly unsafe. It is also the stuff of Malthusian doomsayers.
Malthus was the 18th century philosopher who took a look at population growth and found that it looked something like this:
Then he examined food production capacity, and discovered that it plotted something like this:
And of course he freaked out. Because it seemed patently clear that the world was going to starve in just a few generations.
Of course Malthus was wrong. He didn’t take into account that family size reduces with prosperity and that scientific farming would spur huge leaps in agricultural output. But that has not stopped other doom-and-gloom prophets of the past from foreseeing us all dying of famine, drought, resistant bacteria, superviruses, and various energy-related disasters by the year 2000.
It is also the sort of mental math used by social doomsayers who gloomily predict that at current rates of moral degeneration we will be bonobos in a mere generation or two. They look at the trend from the Victorian era, project a line from the most recent point, and get something steeply negative. Clearly these people are unfamiliar with the Restoration period in England. Or almost any other non-Victorian era in world history. We’re relatively chaste and exceptionally ethical by comparison. Morality, I would posit, is more of a sine curve.
And this is because people are not (gasp) equations. We have the ability to self-correct based on feedback from our environment. (Including, for example, doom-and-gloom predictions.)
And I was going to connect this to dating, but I’m at my word limit, so to be continued.
Is there a shidduch crisis, or it is a ploy by the ultra-orthodox to take control of defining orthodoxy? And if there is one, is it caused by conservatism, shallow expectations, or American culture? Do you think about this subject ever? Well, so does the Washington Post, now.
The paragraph I found most interesting:
Orthodox Jews make up less than than 10 percent of American Judaism, with an estimated population between 300,000 and 750,000 people. Being unmarried into your mid-20s in this world can be isolating.
Mein Gott! Only 750,000? And assuming half are female, that only leaves me 325,000 to choose from! Hashkafically in range, 200,000. But of course that includes married people and people who are too old and too young, so you can probably chop that down to only 50,000, if not far less.
Now do the math. You go out with 10 guys, of which maybe 1 or 2 you really liked. So we can say that only about a tenth of the men out there are likely. We’re down to under 5,000.
There’s an argument for settling if I ever heard one. There are 750,000 American orthodox Jews, of which 50,000 are datable, and 5,000 with which I could conceivably get to a fourth date. If I go out with 6 guys a year, how long would it take me to find my bashert?
…at risk of making my statistics professor cry, I’m going to answer “A large number of years.”
So basically, if you can hook one that’s half decent, don’t worry about the other 4,999. Just grab him and keep him.
Don’t you love the way people always have the perfect guy for you… and don’t know a thing about him? I sometimes feel like certain people just automatically think “smart, offbeat – hey, let’s set him up with Bad4!” That might be enough for them, but it’s not really enough for me.
Person: I have a guy for you, Bad4.
Me: So tell me about him.
P: Well, he’s really smart.
Me: Really. How?
Now, I ask this because experience has taught me that “really smart” can be roughly translated as “ability to talk about things I don’t understand.” The exact smartness level indicated is then a relative variable dependent upon the knowledge base of the speaker. For the average special ed teacher, for example, “smart” can mean “he took Intro to Physics and won’t let anybody forget it.”
P: At the bar mitzvah where he met my brother, he was talking about how the band could save money by turning the vibrations from their music into electricity.
I say “Hm” because I’m not exactly impressed yet. What kind of obsessive geek subjects a captive audience to his hair-brained electricity-saving scheme? And if he were really smart, he would have spent the bar mitzvah sketching the final blueprint on a napkin and avoiding red wine so his shirt would still be white for his meeting with the venture capitalists the next day.
The truth is, I’m sorry to say, too many people with science and math degrees are just big-mouthed show-offs. I’ve heard solid C-students brag about impressing girls at the bar by telling them that their glass of beer is really just a triple integral. If these girls had taken the multivariable calculus course they’d know that this brilliant line about beer glasses is the most basic piece of information you can come out with – liking “cells are the building blocks of life” from bio class. But they haven’t, so they think these guys are uber-clever.
P: (sees I’m unimpressed) He’s getting a PhD at Cooper Union.
On the one hand, “Cooper Union” is a pretty decent indication of smartness. On the other…
Me: Cooper doesn’t have a PhD program.
P: Well, he’s doing something advanced in anthropology there.
Me: They don’t have an anthropology department.
P: Well, it’s something like that. I’ll find out for you. So do you want to go out with him?
Me: Um… Well… you haven’t really told me anything about him.
P: Well, what else would you want to know?
Me: Is he a mentch? Does he learn? What does he want to be when he grows up? Where’s he from?
P: Oh, I’m not sure. But that’s research stuff – you can find out after he’s looked into you.
Me: Then what exactly are you asking me here? Would I be willing to consider a guy who is smart and who may or may not be pursuing an advanced degree possibly in anthropology or else in Cooper Union? Yes. I’d also consider a guy of average intelligence pursuing a degree in advanced vocal arts at the Julliard School. That’s not make-it-or-break-it information.
P: Okay. I’ll get back to you then.
P is never heard from again. Possibly it’s because I’m being a difficult, unreasonable single. Or maybe she couldn’t find him again.