A couple weeks ago, I got a kick out of a great Autostraddle post called “The Impossible Math of Gay Soul Mates.” It examines a great episode of This American Life through the lesbian lens. If you haven’t yet read it, please go do so. I’ll be here when you get back.
Are you properly dejected yet? If not, don’t worry! Just keep reading. We’ll get you there.
Jokes aside, I found myself nodding along as Erin slogged through the tragic equation that I knew from the start would only spit out a coefficient of hopelessness. I appreciated her insight, because it’s something I’ve tried to explain many, many times. More on that later.
I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow, though, when I saw that Erin lived in Portland. Ah, Portland. The mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of queerness. The Eden about which we all whisper in hushed, reverent tones. More or less Narnia.
I decided to try out Erin’s math on my new home of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. It’s a city (okay, two cities, but not really) that’s far smaller than Portland, and probably less gay. Oh, and if you’re double-checking my math, I’m rounding down. Because I’m a horribly jaded pessimist when it comes to love. Horribly jaded pessimists always round down.
125,176 — The number of people living in Champaign or Urbana.
62,588 — Half of those people have ladyparts.
31,294 — We’ll assume that half of the ladies are single. Aaaaall the single ladies.
5,476 — I used Erin’s age range factor, assuming 17.5% of CU’s bachelorettes are within my age range.
1,369 — The attraction scale. Maybe it’s naive, but I like to think I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to physical attraction. Instead of the 20% taken by Erin and Kestenbaum, I used a round 25%.
1,026 — Now the trickier ones. Like Erin, I’m not gonna make a lady furnish her diploma, but I do value education, self-improvement, career development, motivation, and a solid lady pantsuit. I’ll stick with Erin’s assumption that 75% of lesbos feel the same way.
853 — Here’s something Erin and Kestenbaum both left out: non-smokers. In 2014, that was 83.2%.
419 — You got to move it, move it. According to the CDC, 49.2% of adults met the official Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity in 2014. Those guidelines seem pretty reasonable to me, so I factored in 49.2%.
139 — Now, of course, there are a host of factors that are impossible to quantify. Sense of humor. Sensitivity factor. Common interests. I think a good way to judge this is to reflect on dates I’ve had in the past. Of all the women who have ever piqued my interest, what portion did I ultimately end up really attracted to? If I had to guess, I’d say about a third of the women who I’ve gone on a first date with really captivated me, enough to request a second date and seek a relationship.
92 — And finally, the factor that Erin brought up: are the feelings mutual? Again, I’ll base this on my past experiences in the dating world. I think I’ve been pretty lucky (or perceptive?) in not getting rejected too terribly often. Of all the ladies I have sought to build a relationship with, I’d say about two-thirds of them reciprocate, and agree to go steady with me.
So there you go: at this point in my life, in the city I live in, about 92 single ladies who meet a lot of my important standards are maybe interested in me too. Hey, that’s not bad!
Oh, wait. Did you forget why we were here?
That’s right! IT’S TIME FOR THE DRAMATIC EFFECT!! I haven’t yet added in the queer factor. And while I wasn’t able to find any statistics on the LGBT rate in Champaign-Urbana, I think it’s safe to assume it’s on par with the Illinois average. 3.8% it is.
Drum roll, please…
I’ve moved to a hip and happening new city, single and ready to mingle, thrilled to see what my new home has to offer. I plan to stay here for at least a couple years–say, till I’m 27 or so. I know that it’s silly to get attached to plans, and I’m not, but I’ll admit that part of my Grand Life Vision for the celebratory milestone of Age 30 includes settling in to start a family. So I think it’s reasonable to hope to have met the other half of that family equation by age 27.
All this to say: in a perfect world, this is the city where I’ll find my Person. And I’ve only got three options.
But of course, it’s not a perfect world. I might not find my Person by the date I’ve marked with cute little pink stars in my Lisa Frank trapper-keeper.
In fact, I might never find my Person at all–or I might find three of them. (This isn’t the time for me to digress about soul mates vs. life partners, but here’s an article I highly recommend.) And it’s obviously kinda goofy to try to fit anything as rich and complex and mercurial as love into a mathematical equation.
But on the other hand… it’s real. This is reality for lesbians, and for anyone else whose dating pool is constrained for any reason. It’s real, and it’s frightening, and it brings me to my Soapbox Moment for this post: it’s a really good reason to stop judging lesbians (or anyone) for “U-Hauling.”
Some time ago, I was talking to a friend after a particularly hard breakup. Conversation rolled around to the classic lesbian stereotype of moving in together way too soon, and she asked why I had done it (again). As Erin points out, it’s this impossible math. It’s the fact that as a queer person, the odds of love are stacked so against you from the outset that if you find someone who seems even the littlest bit like Life Partner Material, it’s only natural to want to plant your flag and set up shop. Because if that person gets away, you never know when or where another match might be found.
It’s also why we settle. It’s why my last relationship ended not long after a painful conversation in which it was revealed that my partner had never felt the same way about me as I did about her–and had never actually felt that strongly for anyone she had ever been with. Even if we find a person who we like a lot or maybe even love, but we know that it’s not that crazy-in-love that we’ve always been told to wait for… we settle. Because we’re afraid that it might be the closest we ever get, and we don’t want to pass up a “pretty great” because we’re waiting for a “truly incredible” that we might never bump into.
So sure, keep kidding about what a lesbian brings on the second date. But when you hear that your queer friend is looking for a new apartment again, don’t immediately jump to eye-rolls and tsk-tsks and “shouldn’t she know better by now?”s. First, pull out your trusty TI-83+ and crunch some numbers for yourself. Think about how it must feel to be single in a world where finding a match is like finding a four-leafed clover. And save your judgment. And offer to help your lesbian friend move because she’ll probably provide some really good snacks.