Friday, February 13, 2009

On the Blending of Love and Science

Oh sweet rainbows. Could there be any more chick flicks on TV this weekend?

I have been thinking today about the blending of love and science. Does the scientific approach have any place in relationships, and as women in science do we have a different experience?

In thinking about the various relationships and adventures in love I have observed in my friends and colleagues, there are two things I want to discuss. One is the difference I see between those in the sciences and those not, and the other is the difference I see between college and graduate school.

The difference between college and graduate school is pretty obvious. Holycrapeverybodygotmarried. I think this partly has to do with the fact that I did my undergrad in the middle of the bible belt. It doesn't have so much to do with religion, but I think in the South/Midwest the average marrying age is younger, and it is quite common for people to get married quickly out of highschool and college. I have bought an incredible number of wedding gifts for my friends from undergrad in the past three summers - I am thrilled that they are all happy, but selfishly I must say that I hope some cosmic tallybook is recording all of that for use when I get married someday. I recently passed a milestone on Facebook, in that 51% of my friends are now engaged or married. Nothing like going back for homecoming to find your boyfriend from freshman year is married with a one-year-old to make you feel like people have moved on without you. :)

But I can see the difference being married makes on those in grad school. There are several guys in my lab who are married, one who is engaged, and several who are in long-term relationships. As an aside, one of the married guys has a newborn, and his wife brought in the wee one wrapped in blankets to lab one day to introduce. My maternal instincts kicked in so strongly it wasn't even funny - I nearly decided to quit grad school and adpot....

The common thing I see among these friends is that they seem more balanced, more grounded. Being married has given them a better perspective - school doesn't mean any less to them, but they realize that there is more to life than the science. I think it also helps to go home to your significant other at the end of the day, because you get unconditional support and reassurance from them, recognition that yes, even if your science flopped that day, you are still amazing. This doesn't mean single people can't be grounded and confident, I'm just staying I think it's a bit harder.

Now, a point about the difference I see between those in science and those not. I honestly expected as a freshman in college that girls in engineering would have less drama in their love lives. We are supposed to be logical, right? Some of my best friends from college were girls (most definitely not engineers) I met in the dorm, who I grew very close to and who provided an outlet for me outside my school and science endeavors. These girls and I supported each other, and I was there with them for many an ice-cream binge after a breakup, or comforting sessions after somebody fell apart crying in the bathroom. What I am saying is, there was drama a-plenty. One of these girls is now married, and another is engaged.

I fully expected that the girls I knew in engineering would handle their love lives differently. They would make better choices, I thought, because they could rationally weigh their decisions. Well, as you can guess, a big 'ol "HA!" to that idea. There was just as much drama if not more than with my girls outside the sciences. Same thing in grad school. I suppose no matter how rational you think you are, the emotions will get you every time. Perhaps, even, the girls in engineering were less prepared to deal with the emotions - we get very little practice in our field at the emotional side of things.

So back to my original question: Does the scientific approach have any place in love, and as women in science do we have a different perspective or experience of love?

Well, gees, who am I to say?

I am going to propose that yes, scientific approach does help in love, as does education of any sort. Being able to take a step back and think for a minute does wonders to guard against rash decisions. I am going to cling to my perhaps naive notion that you can save yourself a world of hurt if you just take a minute to evaluate what you are doing, no matter what the area.

Do women and men in science experience love differently? I know for myself, I appreciate the people in my life who love me even more because I know it's not logical - and I love them back without having to explain it, or to justify it. I pride myself on being logical, but when a boy came along I really fell for I threw all of that out the window. So I guess what I'm saying is I think love is universal, and you can't do a flippin' thing about it.

So what do you think, internet? Am I just young and nerdy and have no idea what I'm talking about? What have been your experiences - has science affected the relationships in your life? Or does just asking that question kill the romance?

Oh, and a Happy (now that I have completely over-analyzed it) Valentine's Day to you -


  1. I pride myself on being logical, but when a boy came along I really fell for I threw all of that out the window. So I guess what I'm saying is I think love is universal, and you can't do a flippin' thing about it.

    I can't agree more. Being a fellow young nerd I definitely can relate to a lot of what you're saying. Right now I'm advancing into the stage of where my friends are engaged/married and its a little weird. A few years ago I was set on scooting through undergrad and potentially grad school without much time spent in the relationship department. I also swore off long-distance relationships too. But now I must eat my hat, I've gone and done a total 180.

    It definitely helps finding a nerdy counterpart (Theo for me). I believe that my love of science and ambition has grown while I've been dating Theo. Its funny how he can get me motivated about different sub-fields of biology that I normally wouldn't have taken a second look at (and likewise).

    Happy Valentine's day! And awesome XKCD comic... one of my favorites... (outside of the statistically significant relationship one and killer cuttlefish...)

  2. It's kind of hard to resist biology - when someone comes along who just *smells* right, it's damnably difficult to hold on to your senses.

  3. I don't know if it has to do with science and engineering and being logical, per se, or just the bitterness that often seems to be bred after years and years of being chained to a laboratory bench, but while us scientists may be just as prone to falling head-over-heels in love... I feel like many of the people I deal with in science are more grounded and practical for the future. I love my husband. I love my husband more than anything in the world. I would give up my career and all the sweat and tears and occasional blood when I inject myself instead of a mouse or drop heavy equipment on my toe that I have put into my Ph.D. for my husband if need be. But I also know that there is a 50% divorce rate in this country, and I also know that no matter how much I love him, we could very well wind up divorced someday. I know that, and I accept that, and I use that knowledge to remind me that every day I have to work hard at my marriage. My fellow scientists seem to understand that too -- they can look through the head-over-heels side of love, and look at the hard cold facts. But when I talk to my friends over there on the social science and humanities side of things, and talk about how I accept that my husband and I may wind up divorced someday, they freak out. They say that it sounds like I'm already planning on it... that anyone who was truly in love wouldn't think that divorce would be a possibility.

    They think I'm not truly in the relationship with my whole heart. I know my whole heart is in this, but I can't ignore the data, and have to use the data to not become a statistic myself. That's how I view the role of science in love.

  4. Hahaha, no drama in the love lives of engineers?!? I guess I've experienced enough to go around...

    Science in love? Maybe I didn't feel as scientific when I first met my husband, but now that we are past the ga-ga phase, I think it's all science. There is a logical, rational approach to take to marriage if you want it to work. Spend time together, have fun together, and keep those oxytocin levels up!