Unlikely Love

Never tell me the odds. – Han Solo

There’s a friend of mine, who I care about a lot, and who I’ve known for years, who used to be sure he would live his life alone. He knew he was a nice guy, he was successful at his job, but he figured that the odds of finding someone who could match his particular set of quirks and also find him attractive was so amazingly small that, realistically, it just wouldn’t happen. Being a very smart man, he devoted his time to figuring out how to be happy without a love interest in his life, because why worry about something with no chance of ever occurring?

He was absolutely right – about the odds, that is. Via Maria Popova’s blog we can find a great little video on the likelihood of anyone finding a love interest, in fact. The scientific formula has a whole lot of “N’s” and “subs” in it, delineating the various factors that go into the imagined partner, some of which are controllable (like residence and education) and some of which aren’t (like biological gender or sexual preference). What it comes down to, though, is a lovely little realistic quote:

“The more rules you make for how you define love, the fewer special people there are out there for you to find.”

…which is why my friend is now happily married with children. Because while he’s great with words, he apparently sucks at statistical love analysis. He’s not alone in that; there are lots of other videos and articles about the idea of scientifically attempting to figure out love. This one is my favorite, and a digital strategist named Amy Webb actually succeeded.


However, one of the problems with taking a statistical approach is that it commodifies the un-commodifiable. While it’s useful to try and find the love in places where people you love are likely to be, that’s far more a reflection of you being in the places you enjoy being rather than trying to make someone fit into a mold. In fact, knowing too much about your potential partner can be a very bad thing, as you learn in the article Why You Should Stop Googling Your Dates:

“Technology makes it very easy to eliminate people on the basis of what, in the grand picture of a relationship, might end up being a pretty negligible point,” says Nicole B. Ellison, Ph.D., an associate professor of information at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who explains that the treasure trove of data available via social media sites has encouraged people to treat their dating options like a shopping experience. 

“You’re trying to suss out: Will this person and I have a connection? Actually, there is no evidence that we can assess that online,” says Eli J. Finkel, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, whose research on online dating shows that misconceptions are rampant. “You think you know what you want, but what you really need is to sit across from each other and get a beer.”

All of the same things that trigger our “fear of missing out” come to bear when we look at people through the filter of their online presence. You have many options, you focus on the one thing that you don’t like and overlook the things you do or the reverse. You create what a past girlfriend and I used to call the “head-you.”

At the time we were dating long-distance, and during the times apart (this was pre-text message days) we often would have hypothetical conversations with each other in our heads. We didn’t have time for many phone calls, either, so often when we did reunite there was a jarring time while our imagined ideas of each other reconciled with the real people we were. When you’re looking online at someone you don’t know well, you get all kinds of facts and impressions with no holistic context.

In short, someone who seems totally unsuitable on screen may be a beautiful love. And someone who seems perfect according to their profile may be completely unsuitable in person. The only way to know is to take the chance and find out. Yes, it’s a risk; you have to take the chance of being hurt to get the chance of being loved. Most of the time, though, I think it’s worth it.

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