I am a 32 year old man. My brother, sister, and most of my contemporaries have long since settled down and started procreating. But, here I am, still prostituting myself to the gods of interwebs dating, trying to find "The One." Or even just "The One who doesn't annoy the shit out of me the first time we meet." So, are there special impediments to dating as a scientist? (Or, can I at least tell my mother that there are, so I appear to have some sort of excuse?) Sure! Here are a few:
- Time. I know everybody's busy, and there are plenty of jobs that require just as much time commitment as being a researcher. But scientists have a special relationship to time. We have to work when the instrument is available. We have to be there to watch our gel. We have to come back in at 9PM to take the cells out of the incubator. Want to go out Wednesday night? Sure! Except that I have trap time Wednesday night, and then I have to be in at 6AM to start an incubation. Trying to set up a date around these constraints is like trying to color between the lines, whereas love is like scribbling all over the page with a red sharpie. They're not compatible. You can have your cells, or your romantic weekend in Tahoe, but not both.
- Location. Most universities are in shitholes. Take it from me: I spent seven years in Urbana, IL. Dating in a town like Champaign-Urbana is not pretty. That's why most graduate deparments with a reasonable gender ratio are incestuous to the point of nausea. By year three, everybody has slept with everybody. (Luckily, the physics department generally doesn't have that problem, since the gender balance is so skewed that "dating" within the department is only slightly better than "dating" in a prison.) And, if you're a postdoc, kiss even that goodbye. I don't take classes, I don't get invited to student functions, and if I did, I would be the old man in the room anyway. But even here, in Palo Alto, which is a cosmopolitan mecca compared to Champaign-Urbana, location is a problem. You live in San Francisco? Sure, I only live a 40 minute drive away (if it's not rush hour.) Wednesday night? Sure, I can take off from work at 7, meet you there at 8, we can spend all of two hours together, and then I can go home. Oh, that's assuming I don't have the trap that night. (See "Time" above.)
- Social Retardation. This one kind of speaks for itself. Because, seriously, if you had an ounce of charm, would you have majored in physics? No, you'd have been having way too much sex in college to have the time to study for that kind of shit. This one does get better with age, though, fortunately. Silicon Valley, for all its flaws*, is full of women who think nerds are hot. But, the average Silicon Valley nerd is a BSE working at a software company, and, as nerd cred goes, the physics Ph.D. is pretty much the trump card. This helps compensate for the fact that, at parties, I would rather stare at my drink and try to calcuate the Reynolds number in my head than risk the potentially devestating consequences of talking to a woman I've never met.
- Inability to Lie. I know this is one of my problems, and I think it's a problem for scientists in general. Example from a recent date: a girl tells me she likes acupuncture. The correct response would have been, "Oh, that's interesting." The response I gave: "Acupuncture is bullshit." She gamely tried to describe her positive experience with it, to which I responded, "Yeah, well, the placeob effect is very powerful." She said, "Well, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree." This, for a normal person, is a red flag to change the topic as fast as possible. Not for yours truly, though! I proceeded to explain that there is no empirical evidence supporting acupuncture, no scientific model for how it should work, and basically tell her that she is wrong, wrong, wrong. Why would I do this? Simple: I cannot tell a lie. Faced with a factually incorrect statement, I am constitutionally incapable of letting it drift off into the aether uncorrected. Other things I am unable to lie about: how much I like you or don't like you, how much I disliked the restaurant that you chose, how annoying your best friend is, and how much I want to sleep with you. (On the up side, I don't really want to date somebody who thinks acupuncture is for real anyway.)
*The huge imbalance in the male:female gender ratio being the most obvious. The usual trope about dating in Silicon Valley, from a woman's perspective, is "The odds are good, but the goods are odd."