Dating [Calculus]

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.

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8 thoughts on “Dating [Calculus]

  1. It was when I hoped people cut me some slack that I realized I should do that for others too. I still judge. But I do a tally – was it one thing he said off? Or was it ten?

    For the former, second date is on the table. For the latter, he seems to have a trend.

    I always get frustrated when I tell someone a story of what someone did, and they respond, “That doesn’t mean she’s a bad person!” I wasn’t saying they were. I can view people as gray individuals, not merely “good” or “bad.”

  2. Chaim – I’m using calculus as a metaphor for jumping to conclusions. Statistics are conclusions arrived at after painful estimation. Calculus is far more fun. 😉

  3. I was thinking that you are committing logical fallacies. eg inferring a universal claim from an existential claim. but i guess it’s calculus too.

  4. Sorry – I mean that daters should give people more data points to work with. I think many daters tend to (through no fault of their own, often) give a series of data points from their somewhat distant past (HS, Seminary/Yeshiva, perhaps college), and then sometimes try to point that with very vague yet similar to one another data points for the future.

    This causes graphs that all look remarkably similar instead of showing what people are really like and where they’re really headed.

    Instead, people should talk more about what they’re really up to now, what they’re really like now, and what realistically they’ll be doing the next few months/perhaps a year or two barring a major change. Those are a lot more telling as to what a person is really like and what they’ll be doing in the future.

  5. I do somewhat disagree. There are situations in which everyone understands what they are supposed to be doing and failure to do so makes a bigger impression, whereas other situations are more ambiguous so no strong inference would be made. For example: everyone knows that a student coming into the classroom sits at a desk and a teacher will lecture from the front. But if a student comes in a sits at the teachers desk a strong inference about their character would be warranted.

    In dating, some people view a date as a strong situation, while the other a weak situation. The guy may have expected you to not say such a story early on, so when he made that inference, his mistake was misreading the strength which you took the situation to be.

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