Software, Hardware, Silverware

Set Theory of Relationship Design

It was a Saturday morning and I was seated on a bench in the park opposite a girl I’d been stealing glances at for fifteen minutes. I had no idea who she was, but she was reading and I was thinking.

You have a finite but vast set of potential life-mates. These people share your interests and your sense of humor; you get along well with them and they’re easy to talk to. Any one of them could be someone you fall in love with, but most of them aren’t. You’ll never meet most of them, but so far you’ve met many of them even if you haven’t realized it. For so many things in a row must go right for you to end up with one of them that when it finally happens it feels predestined. The truth is destiny is bullshit; there is no single person you’re waiting for.

In high school our set of potential mates was limited to the like-aged people we are in contact with. For most of us, this was only fellow high school students. Some others’ sets might have included people in extracurriculars, but for the most part we dated those within our high school. This presented an interesting conundrum, since the people we were interested in dating were also the people we saw almost every single day of our lives. To make peace between these facts, we spent energy and time getting acquainted with people before we went out with them. In high school, this strategy made sense. Time was of little concern. Few had anything truly pressing to get on with, and if you didn’t ask that cute girl out today well, she’d be there tomorrow. Leaving a trail of failed one- or two-date relationships would get messy quickly; awkward encounters with former suitors would be common and unavoidable. For a few lucky couples, the high school strategy worked. They found people within their sets and all the parts that had to go right went right; that’s well and that’s good.

Outside of high school, such a strategy is insane. Personally I have moved from a high school with 2,000 students to a university with 50,000 in a city with 70 colleges. If there were just 25 potential mates for me in high school, there should be over 600 just at NYU. That number ignores the millions of people who live in New York City and don’t attend NYU and it ignores that NYU students — intelligent and driven students, I would like to think — will have more aligned interests in general to mine than the people I was randomly thrown into high school with. And yet, 600 is still more people than any one person could date in a lifetime.

So we must adapt a new strategy. The game’s no longer about vetting every potential date, it’s about betting that that girl you can’t take your eyes off in the park is in your set. I got off the bench, sat next to her, and asked her out.