Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Just not that into you?

(A dance of nurses, but the dance I attended was more exciting than this one appears.)

The call came on a Wednesday and on Friday night my college roommate and I jumped into his red Chevy convertible and headed off to the nursing school down the road.  We met the two girls who had invited us, but they were so short.  It just wasn't going to work.  So we politely cut it off, split up, and reconnoitered the room full of dancing nursing students. 

Within an hour we were each dancing with a freshman student nurse who turned out to be roommates at the school.  Later, we went out for a hamburger in the convertible, which must have been impressive, and by the end of the evening it was obvious that the girl my roommate had been dancing with and I were muy sympatico.  I called her the next week, we went to the OSU homecoming dance the following month, and we were married in three years.  Simple.  Now, four dogs, six cats, and three children later, we are still married 44 years after that Friday expedition.

Meeting the right person seemed so easy then.  But last night I watched "He's Just Not That Into You" on tv for the first time, and I was reminded of how difficult it seems to be for young people to develop satisfying relationships in recent decades.  And finding that ONE right person is nearly impossible, or so it would seem.  My conclusion is also supported by dozens of conversations I have had with my students over the years.  I won't be so pretentious as to offer a solution for these difficulties, but my observations suggest that the older you get and the more experience you have with potential partners, the more difficult this all gets.  It is like trying to choose a cell phone.  There are simply so many models that come with so many different plans that it is difficult to settle on the package that is right for you.

But let's analyze this fundamental issue of human ecology a bit more.  There are two aspects to the "problem".  First, you have to encounter that right person and, second, you have to recognize the right person after you have encountered them.  I'm betting that #2 is a more common problem than #1, given that most of us encounter hundreds of people every month.  There may be dozens of Mr. or Mrs. Rights all around us; we just don't know which ones they are.

But maybe I've made that too simple.  We "encounter" lots of people every week, but we don't really "meet" most of those whom we encounter.  You would never know who the right one is if you sat next to them at Starbucks if neither of you uttered a word.  I used to talk a lot more than I do now, and my wife has always given her words away freely, so this was not an issue for us in 1965.  We opened up completely with our thoughts and goals and hopes; we hid very little.  What's the point of false advertising, given that the other person will eventually learn the truth anyway?

So that is how it went.  In hindsight, it seemed simple and easy, but I am sure there was a bit more to it than that.  There was a huge dose of serendipity involved as well.  If that short girl had not called my roommate, if we had not gone to that dance, if my roommate had not had a convertible, if I had not worn that sexy cranberry sweater, if they had not played the Bristol Stomp at the dance, if she had not moved her hips in exactly that way, if, if, if...........  But I wonder if the movie that I saw last night had been made in the '60s, would we have even understood it?  I just don't think we would have been that into it.


  1. Tom,

    If you want to see another interesting movie about a similar topic, definitely get 500 Days of Summer off NetFlix or OnDemand (so much easier than going out to Blockbuster and getting...what are those things called? VHS?). You'd like it and I'm sure you'd find it hilarious.

  2. So I've started thinking about finding someone in terms of mark-recapture (amusingly enough, this tendency is probably also reducing my chances of finding someone). The probability of encountering someone is a combination of the probability that the person survives/exists (has the set of traits that one is looking for), is present in your vicinity (fidelity), is available (the right sexuality, single, not a priest or a nun...), and the true encounter probability (given that they are there to be met, that you meet them/recognize them). So given all that, I think it's best to keep expectations really low.

  3. Emily, I will check it out. But Franny, your comment is almost a perfect example of what I am observing. In my day, we made this decision on 90% heart and only 10% practical considerations (like what career will the other person have). Today, it seems more like 50-50. Are you overanalyzing this?

  4. I look at it more as a way of breaking down your "serendipity" into its confounding factors. And then that actually validates my not over-analyzing or going out of my way to meet someone.

  5. funny -- as I started reading this, my random music playlist started playing "Crocodile Rock" by Elton John - serendipity does exist!