I encountered my first research subject, Billy Chumbers, in first grade. Our experiments were quite literally puppy love – I remember zooming around his living room with a sock in my mouth, pretending to be a dog carrying a pup. However, I thought of him quite seriously, and described him to everyone as my first boyfriend. He was a gentle, easy-going only child of a single mom. He had brown hair, brown freckles and a quick laugh. I never had to be anything but myself to delight him.
Starting so early with boyfriends, by the time I graduated from elementary school my “number” was four. In fifth grade I dated the co-president of the safety patrols until he ditched me for my best friend over spring break. Then I had a utilitarian rebound romance. Somewhere along the line came a one week afterschool fling with a long-haired bad boy from the neighborhood who was sent to boarding school shortly afterwards.
You can imagine my relief when I read recently, after decades of being quasi-ashamed of my double-digit boyfriends (plus two husbands), that scientific study has PROVEN that a girl needs twelve (count ‘em, 12) Mr. Wrongs to decide on Mr. Right. Dr. Clio Cresswell, author of Mathematics and Sex, has concluded that a woman needs data on approximately a dozen partners in order to determine who is her best match.
And all along I thought I was a desperate serial dater! Turns out I was a mathematician conducting my own personal research.
“Mathematics is the study of patterns,” Cresswell told Self Magazine. “Studying the patterns in your past relationships – traits your exes share, recurring problems and the things that went right -helps you better understand how to make the next one work.”
This explains everything, including my (relative) happiness in my current 15-year second marriage. Along my dating path, I discovered what I didn’t want in a man: a cheater (9th grade), gender issues (freshman year of college), or unresolved rage vented on my body (first marriage). By the time I was 30, I knew what I wanted and most definitely did not want in a man. I even had a written list of my top ten requirements on cardstock as fancy as a wedding invitation.
Evidence of the veracity of Dr. Cresswell’s hypothesis abounds. Who is born knowing what makes a good mate? Geese and Catherine Zeta Jones — maybe. But most of us need to conduct empirical research, and get smarter from making mistakes.
My 6th grade daughter experienced her own puppy love this past winter. For the first ten days, the relationship was filled with excitement. Then: heartbreak on February 14th. He neglected to get her a Valentine’s present or card. Clearly disgusted, she relayed the story on the drive home from school.
It sounded ugly.
“He told me Valentine’s Day is a stupid made-up holiday. He said if I expected something, I should have told him in advance what I wanted! What is the point of that?”
She shook her head as ruefully as a 39-year-old divorcee and looked out the car window.
“I wanted him to think of me. If I wanted to get myself a present, why would I bother with a boyfriend?”
She’s got one good data point. Eleven more to go! And she’s only twelve.