All right, it’s time for a confession: in addition to being a word-loving, fiction-writing, reader type of person, I love math. I’ve talked before about my love of spreadsheets and using them to break down and track writing progress with Excel commands. But it goes much deeper than that.
I loved math classes and even math homework. I spent my first year in college as a bio-chem major, and my favorite homework assignments involved stoichiometry – the expression of chemical reactions as mathematical equations. (If I’d had half as much love for the hands-on labs as I did for the equations, I might have become a biochemist after all.) I’ve even looked at theoretical math equations and wished I’d studied long and hard enough to interpret them for myself. In short, I’m kinda weird.
Given my weird math affinity, you can imagine my delight in hearing a TED talk about the mathematics of love (not to be confused with the love of mathematics). In this talk, Hannah Fry, a PhD in fluid dynamics, discusses how mathematicians working with experts in other fields such as psychology have come up with some math formulas to explain success in dating, choosing the best mate, and staying with a chosen mate long-term.
For example, psychologist John Gottman was able to correctly determine, 90 % of the time, which couples he met were going to get divorced by using mathematical equations to calculate the negativity threshold. Dr. Fry defines this threshold as “how annoying the husband can be before the wife starts to get really pissed off, and vice versa”.
And here’s where Dr. Fry’s mathematics talk came back to writing for me. Especially in romances, we strive to create the idea of HEAs for our couples, to convince readers that our couples are headed down the path of future togetherness. The data in these studies reveals that, perhaps counter-intuitively, it isn’t the couples with high thresholds for negativity (meaning they put up with a lot more negativity before confronting their partners) who are likely to stay together.
It’s those couples with a lower negativity threshold, those who are quicker to confront their partners, who are more likely to make it. It seems this is because that confrontation translates to constantly working on the relationship. It is, in a sense, an ongoing relationship repair process.
This finding got the wheels in my writer brain spinning. While readers are unlikely to realize there’s a math equation that can predict a couple’s propensity for a long-term HEA, they might intuitively interpret the couple’s ability to confront and negotiate with each other as an indicator of relationship success.
Galileo wrote, “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.” Mathematicians are committed to proving him right by discovering math equations to explain all things in the universe, including love. The math geek in me thinks they might be onto something. What do you think?