The Algorithm God of Small Things

Once upon a time, I opened an account on OkCupid. A friend had recommended it as a good tool to use to meet some new people. Being single, bored at my job, and a bit tipsy, I typed out a moderately-detailed profile that highlighted my love of bread1 and the film Robin Hood: Men in Tights. I uploaded a respectably-recent photo of myself in which I was smiling. Then I clicked into the questions, and I was hooked.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the algorithmic ideal of OkCupid, the process is such that even very small, somewhat inane and seemingly trivial questions can help a user to triangulate their perfect matches2. Users answer bunches of questions and a match percentage arises from in-common answers.

However, one fundamental, insurmountable barrier that was not (and could not have been) addressed by the hundreds of questions I answered stood in the way of a relationship with the only person I ended up meeting from this site. Even though we both correctly answered questions about Shakespearean syntax and logical analogies, several more serious, life-changing priorities kept us casual3.

Would things have been different if we had sat down and completed the “36 Questions that Lead to Love” from the New York Times? Could something have changed if we had simply stepped beyond the quirky and entered the realms of the serious? If he had known how I felt about my relationship with my mother (Q.24) or if I had understood his most terrible memory (Q.18), could we have been more?

Here’s what I’m going to do today: instead of getting all sappy and philosophical as is my usual tendency, I’m going to answer my own question with “I don’t care”. Instead, I’m going to give a voice to those little quirks that we all have, and shouldn’t be embarrassed about if they are what leads us to swipe right, send that first “hey” message, or wear nice underwear to a second4.

Here are a couple of OkCupid questions that I got a good giggle out of, and was happy to talk to someone who had the same answers:

“Does it bother you when someone says ‘PIN number’ or ‘ATM machine'”?
“How spicy do you like your spicy food?”
“In the line “Wherefore art thou Romeo?,” what does “wherefore” mean?”5

And here are a couple of my own small quirks that help me determine if a date is worth repeating:

“How long/how well would you have to know your date before holding hands?”
I have a small rule: no handholding in public (walking down the street, etc.) unless I know his surname. And preferably more than just that. I find it intimate, and a sign of trust that goes beyond even what is required before sex.

“What do you do if there’s a silence during your first date?”
To fill in awkward silences during my first ever Tinder date, I made up a game. “Hey,” I would say to my date, who I understood as not necessarily incompatible, or even a bad date, but possibly just a bit out of the groove after knowing each other for less than an hour, “let’s look around the bar and make up stories about the people we see.” I would usually offer to go first — “that guy’s name is something boring like ‘Vincent’, and he’s an accountant by day and a champion Starcraft player by night. He lives with 2 cats.” First dates can usually be awkward, but that doesn’t mean we should discount second dates. If a guy I’m with is willing to play along, then it’s usually a good sign6.

“How would you suggest to end a first date?”
I’m a fan of hugs, and I will always suggest a hug as a respectable goodbye gesture to a pleasant evening. What the date does in return to my hug is up to him — I’d accept anything from a gracious acceptance to a smooth line leading to a kiss. How a date responds to my hug request sounds absolutely minuscule in the grand scheme of love — but I’m going to irrationally postulate that it really does matter!

If we get to a second date, we can pick up our hand-holding, bar-game playing, and goodbye-hugging from where we left off. Hopefully the positive trajectory will continue.

1. I believe my exact wording was “bread — in both solid and liquid form. Because people who consume carbohydrates are happier than those who do not”.

2. I mentioned in my last post that I’m looking for a beer and Oscar Wilde-loving beagle owner. Of course, I care about the bigger issues too, but it doesn’t take a discussion of life ambition to build an intriguing foundation.

3. We had a 93% compatibility rate, the same taste in TV shows, and great sex. Oh well.

4. As a graduate student of a field that is not philosophy, I also refuse to engage with the hypothetical. Take your Trolley Scenario for moral ethics somewhere else. Be empirical, or go home!

5. a) It bothers me. It really, really does. b) Spicy enough that I can feel the burn, but not so spicy that the taste of the actual food is secondary. I’m not in high school anymore, and I will no longer participate in chilli eating contests to look cool. c) THE ANSWER IS ‘WHY’!

6. My favourite entry to date is “that guy’s name is Fabio, and he’s a failed tennis player turned coach. Lots of girlfriends. Speaks incomprehensible English but women find it a turn-on.” The more detail, the more conviction, the better.

All the world’s a daydream…

The Bean’s and my favourite bar in Hong Kong is a British-style pub, complete with leather couches, a few dozen craft beers, and substantial pies1 on the menu, set in a homey atmosphere. We have had drunken nights, work lunches, and even wedding receptions at this place; most recently, however, I have taken to perching myself in a bar stool and writing my latest thesis drafts. The people who would bring their laptops to a pub at 6 o’clock on a Monday2  are few and far between, and are nearly always IPA drinkers who look purposefully unkempt3 , but I always wonder if I would ever find myself having a conversation with one of them about our work, our choices of beverage, or mutual love of MacBook Air computers.

We all have fantasies about meeting the loves of our lives in our favourite places (or places in which we spend the most time), doing what we so often do. Perhaps it is a fantasy about two teenagers reaching for the same book in a library. Maybe two individuals will look up and lock eyes from across a crowded room4. When I worked the cashier at campus dining halls back in college, I had just the perfect daydream that along would come a well-intentioned, handsome, young future lawyer who would be acting as the sole caretaker for some fraternity brothers on student clubbing night. He would be sheepish that they were holding up my line again, and offer to buy me a coffee as an apology.

Every cafe, bar, and cold-pressed juicery we walk into is a place to meet our soulmates. After all, we can’t do any better than perfectly-aligned mutual interests, right?

It would be incorrect to say that I never meet anyone here — after all, I have been coming to this bar a couple of times a week for the past few years. But none of those interactions have ever checked all my boxes. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was asked, as I was carrying two pints of beer from the bar, “are you going to pay for those yourself, or is some gentleman going to do it for you?” I frowningly tried to enquire if he was offering to pay, and received the baffling reply “oh you look like a woman who makes enough money to pay for her own drinks, I’m sure”5.

I’ve reached the end of this post, and I just looked up from my position at my booth. The couple who was on the next table just walked out after an exceedingly awkward date, in which everything seemed off except for the physical contact. The place is half full with rowdy, middle aged, white businessmen, and a few friends I dragged here with me on the pretence of “hanging out”. No one new has approached me yet, but an old man at the bar did mistake my wave at the manager for himself as the recipient.

But despite the lack of mutually beneficial meet cutes6, this still the place I love to be. I may not be settled on one eligible bachelor, but at least I don’t have to date around for a favourite place.

1. I am talking meat pies here — juicy, savoury artistic creations that are topped with gravy and served with thick cut chips. Nothing screams comfort food more than good, old fashioned, steak and kidney.

2. Also known as “time for two drinks before happy hour ends”.

3. I believe that I also fall into this category, but my unkemptness often lacks the elegance of these hipster freelancers. My raggedy look comes from spending hours at a time translating old documents and taking notes — it’s something that I can personally be proud of, but will never become a fashion statement. (In other news, I’m awesome at drinking IPAs)

4. Recent works of popular culture have made use of this highly-cliched, but very sought-after, trope. Notable examples include the pilot of How I Met Your Mother. Also relevant: the music video for “Jizz in My Pants” by The Lonely Island.

5.This reply was baffling because I was wearing plaid and flip flops. Also, as a graduate student, receiving comments about my presumed affluence really makes me very sad. 

6.”Meets cute”? What’s the correct plural for this rather saccharine internet-age adage? Or is the term actually a verb? Please comment and reply!
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