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Piece of Mind: Choosing in a world of choice

Posted: Thursday, Feb 14th, 2013

Assume that there exists X. In this case, X is not the perimeter of a trapezoid or the number of minutes it takes train A to meet train B if train A is going 50 miles per hour and train B is going 35. In this case X equals a girlfriend.

That’s what David Kestenbaum and Ira Glass start off with in this week’s This American Life. Kestenbaum explains to Glass that while getting his PhD in high energy particle physics at Harvard University, he and his fellow classmates sat around one day to figure out the probability of any one of them ever finding a girlfriend.

Based on the Drake Equation, a mathematical equation used to estimate the number of planets in the galaxy that may contain intelligent life, Kestenbaum and his classmates begin with the population of Boston, about 600,000 people. With the help of Google, they know that half of those people are men, leaving them with 300,000 women. They want someone within 10 years of age, which cuts out 65 percent of the population. Now Kestenbaum and his friends are down to 100,000 women. Since they value education, they decide that they would only like girlfriends who have graduated from college cutting their pool by another 75 percent. With their remaining 25,000 women, they determine that half are already in relationships and that only one in five will be attractive. That leaves just 2,500 women. In the whole city of Boston — only 2,500 women! “That’s like a needle in a haystack!” says Kestenbaum.

In Boston, in Chicago, in Alamosa, how does anyone find love? Perhaps it’s never easy to find love, but finding yourself in a relationship is actually getting easier all the time. With the increasing number of online dating sites (Match.com, Christian Mingle, OK Cupid… just to name a few), all you need is a username and password and a relatively decent (and recent) photo of yourself. Dan Slater, writing for The Atlantic poses “The positive aspects of online dating are clear: the Internet makes it easier for single people to meet other single people with whom they might be compatible, raising the bar for what they consider a good relationship. But what if online dating makes it too easy to meet someone new? What if it raises the bar for a good relationship too high? What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?”

I can hear my single friends squirming — how could I possibly critique ANY means of meeting someone?? I get it; I am in a happy and committed relationship so I suppose all of this is much more philosophical to me, but I have to wonder what the future of relationships will be based on when, in general, people are more disposable.

Online-dating company executives agree. The following conclusions came out of an industry survey, “How Has Internet Dating Changed Society?”: “Internet dating may be partly responsible for a rise in the divorce rates.” “Low quality, unhappy and unsatisfying marriages are being destroyed as people drift to Internet dating sites.” “The market is hugely more efficient… Our pickiness will probably increase.”

In many ways, arguably most, those conclusions aren’t bad. People may have more broken or at least bruised hearts, but are happier overall. People no longer have to stick it out during the tough times that come with all relationships.

Societal values are always in flux, even if the changes are minute. But, no matter how acceptable it is now to move far away from where you grew up or for women to work outside of the home, the search and desire for authenticity and meaning in relationships has not changed. Analysis of social media has proven this point. We are more connected than ever before, but overall many people still feel lonely and isolated.

Finding authenticity and meaning requires that you care, that you give back and that you commit to making a relationship or friendship work. No matter how you meet someone, this is especially true when things aren’t easy. Today, as you affirm why you love those closest to you, be thankful that you live in a world of choice. Remember that to have the meaningful relationships, romantic or otherwise, that you are enjoying today, at some point you had to choose. On Valentine’s Day and every other day, don’t be afraid to slow down and invest in those around you.

Gena Akers can be contacted at gena.leneigh@gmail.com.

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