Love by numbers

How many days do you leave it before you call?

How long should you leave between relationships?

Can love survive over long distances?

How many dates before your first kiss? How many more before you sleep with someone new?

How big an age gap is too big?

How many sexual partners should you aspire to as a man? How many is it acceptable to admit to as a woman?

As spontaneous and romantic as we may want our love lives to be, it sometimes feels like a complicated process, governed by rules and regulations. The trickiest bit being of course that there is no rule book.

Becoming single again a month before I turned thirty, having been out of the game for nearly nine years, was hugely liberating and I don’t regret it for a minute. Two years on though, the novelty is wearing off and I’m ready to think about possibly letting someone in. Just a little bit. Maybe. But it’s scary. It’s an intricate dance, and I keep tripping over my own feet.

Maybe it’s just a side-effect of too many aborted wanderings into the world of online dating, but I feel like something’s not right – I want romance, and spontaneity, not ‘I’m looking for a man over 5′ 8″ within a 40 mile radius’.

Am I just being cynical? Maybe these things don’t matter. Maybe when you meet the right person it doesn’t even occur to you to think about how long you should wait before you do x, y and z. Probably they won’t care how many relationships you’ve already had, and maybe you won’t even notice that they are twenty years older than you.

The reality is though that we make judgements about people before we ever get the chance to know whether they might be the one. It’s one of the reasons I found online dating so difficult, the fact that I felt forced to narrow my search based on things that really have nothing to do with how likely you are to fall in love with someone. It’s all numbers – height, age, distance. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that I was passing judgement on people based on these things, or that they were doing the same to me.

I have lately developed a rather romantic notion of love – an idea of the whole of two people becoming more than the sum of the parts, something that flies in the face the most basic mathematical principles. Is this realistic though? Can real love exist separately from maths, or is it just a number’s game?



  1. 4 October, 2010 / 12:11 pm

    I’m not sure, some days, what real love is. I write that as someone who has been off the market since 1997. I’m not sure real love can exist separate from numbers- we humans are a very binary, ‘if not A, then B’ kinda species, but I have to hope that it transcends them.

    • 5 October, 2010 / 8:56 am

      That’s a really interesting comment – I love the idea of us as a ‘binary species’. Does that mean we’re not very good at keeping an open mind do you think? We like to have options, but not too many, and nothing too out of the box? We do seem to work well as a species with a clear, predefined idea of what is ok and what is not ok.

  2. Martyn
    4 October, 2010 / 12:25 pm

    Great question…

    Maybe love is what happens when you know each others’ equation, know the ways in which you do fit and the ways you don’t fit it, and love each other regardless? Maybe love is what happens when you both realise that the mathematics don’t really mean anything… Maybe love IS the transcendence of the numbers.

    • 5 October, 2010 / 8:58 am

      Hmmm…. All this talk of maths really makes me want to figure out some sort of love equation. Maybe I could do a bit of regression analysis to figure out exactly what factors are important and in what way…

  3. 4 October, 2010 / 1:58 pm

    I nearly didn’t click through on this post’s tweet as I thought it was about planning gaps between kids, and I was all ready to get wound up about the way ppl comment on the gap between nos 2 & 3 (no, it wasn’t intended, but 3 miscarriages will do that to you) and it wasn’t about that at all.

    I don’t particularly notice the age gap between me and dp (he’s 14 years older) and we met online but not via dating site or anything. (Just so as to comment on something relevant to the post!)

    • 5 October, 2010 / 9:01 am

      I have a seven year age gap between my children – one born when I was 17, the other 24. It isn’t ideal, but then what is??

      I think with partners, it depends a lot on where you are in your own life doesn’t it? if you are say 35, and your partner is 49, you are going to have more in common in terms of what you want from life than if he were 32 and you were 18. Probably borinng to say, as I’m sure people say it all the time, but it does seem to work better that way round, with the man being older. What with men being basically immature and all that :-)

  4. 4 October, 2010 / 2:37 pm

    Good for you girl! Very brave.

    I hope that it works out and you find someone amazing. I’ve heard online dating is great fun. Be careful (blah, blah, blah)

    Becca x

  5. 4 October, 2010 / 4:13 pm

    Absolutely it’s realistic! I left my partner of almost ten years (yes, I was but a child when we got together) fully aware that I might well spend the rest of my life alone. I decided that a life alone was better than an unhappy one. It was the best thing I ever did.

    I never expected that someone like Mr. Martini could exist – he completes my life. Yes, he may well lose car keys and give away my entire wardrobe to charity (by accident, but that’s another story) but five years later, I still get excited every day to be with him. And no amount of box ticking or search categories can do that – it’s just romance, pure and simple.

    When you do let someone else in, it will be totally worth it. Numbers have nothing to do with it. MM xx

    • 5 October, 2010 / 9:05 am

      That’s what I want, someone who I really do feel excited to see everyday. I love to hear about relationships like yours – it reassures me that I’m not being an idiot waiting for something that just doesn’t happen!

  6. 4 October, 2010 / 4:58 pm

    I agree … love isn’t really about numbers, and it’s tough to reconcile that with the mathematical parameters that define searches within the world of online dating. But I know people who’ve succeeded … and perhaps, as a writer, I should interview them and write an article about how they approached it.

    What really matters to each person is different, I suspect part of what lies behind being successful at online dating is openness to discrepancies in the “numbers” while you let yourself discover and get to know someone who seems to value what you value. Of course, you have to be attracted to them (but that doesn’t necessarily mean “one glance and I knew right away”).

    That being said, I think different “numbers” are important at different stages in your life. It’s one thing to fall in love with and marry a man 13 years older when you’re in your 30s and spend three decades or so deepening your relationship (whether you raise a family or not) … and entirely different matter to become involved with a man 13 years older when you’re in your late 50s, knowing that you might very well be serving as a nursemaid within 5-7 years. Likewise, someone who never considered leaving career, friends, and relatives for a relationship with someone who lives hundreds of miles away might very well be open to relocating with parents gone and career winding down or interrupted.

    Don’t let the fact that you’ve tripped over your own feet a couple times keep you out of the dance!

    • 5 October, 2010 / 9:11 am

      Can I just say Jane, how much I love getting comments from you – they are always so thoughtful and interesting :-)

      I totally agree about age gaps depending on your life stage. With the onine dating thing – you’ve got me wondering how much blame I can really place on the medium itself. You are right that successful online dating probably comes from and open mindedness about the numbers, and maybe that’s why I’m no good at it, maybe I get TOO hooked on the numbers. They are optional after all – I don’t have to try and categorise people do I? At the same time as saying how much I hate judging people, I clearly am…

  7. 4 October, 2010 / 6:07 pm

    Go back to college to study creative writing. You will be in love within a month.x

    • 5 October, 2010 / 9:12 am

      I’m sure you’re right – I did fall in love with Mark Haddon after about 36 hours after all…

  8. 4 October, 2010 / 6:38 pm

    Indeed love has nothing to do with numbers. The problem with online dating is that you have to define your love perameters mathematically. Also as you say online dating kills spontaneity stone dead. I’d be more tempted to do stuff like you did before go on a creative writing course away from the kids now and then where you will meet people who are fun and you have something in common with in which intimacy can flourish in a stimulating environment.

    • 5 October, 2010 / 9:17 am

      You’re so wise. I do LOVE the Arvon writing courses. My plan for when the kids grow up a bit more:

      – Work three weeks of every month in some kind of amazing, fullfilling, well paid job
      – Spend the fourth week of every month on some kind of inspiring, creative holiday/retreat/writing course
      – Have string of passionate relationships with intelligent, witty, creative men

  9. 4 October, 2010 / 8:15 pm

    A question I will have to look into myself once my divorce is finalised! Its a bit of a trickier one when you have kids in tow too isn’t it?

    Not only do you have to find “Mr Right” and he reciprocates but if he doesn’t get on with your kids then it throws everything up in the air.

    Not looking forward to dipping my toes back in the dating pool but don’t want to be single all the way through my 40s and onwards…

    • 5 October, 2010 / 9:20 am

      It IS tricky with the kids in tow. I worry less about the whole ‘introducing’ thing though and more about the logistics – when you work at home and spend most nights at home being a mummy, meeting people in the first place is hard enough, but then how do you carve out the time to properly get to know someone? It’s a tricky one.

      Good luck!

  10. 4 October, 2010 / 8:52 pm

    If you want some guidance back into love the best book I have ever read on the subject is called “Calling in the One” by Katherine Woodard Thomas. It doesn’t give you a checklist or numbers but it will help you know when things are right. When you’re right. When he’s right. There’s something magical about the book. I don’t know anyone who started the book single and finished it single. By the time I made it through chapter ten I was in an incredible relationship.


    • 5 October, 2010 / 9:21 am

      Wow! That’s a pretty big claim! Sounds like a book I need to get myself a copy of :-)

  11. 5 October, 2010 / 9:16 pm


    p.s. Wish I was clever enough that that actually meant something. Ooh, perhaps it does! Perhaps I’ve just figured it all out for woman-kind if only we had a clever programmer to decipher it…*sigh*

    • 6 October, 2010 / 12:56 pm

      Dammit – how infuriating would it be if that was the secret to eternal happiness and we couldn’t decode it??

  12. 19 October, 2010 / 6:47 pm

    It is very realistic, although I’m not sure if I believe in having a soul mate or meeting “the one”. But I don’t like to think math has anything to do with love

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