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How I met your mother
In the summer of 2042, my girlfriend Sara was on a trip to Mexico with her sisters, so I took the opportunity to see a relationship counselor. Although it was common to see one in the weeks leading up to a couple’s re-registration date, I was still nervous. I remember walking into the waiting room thinking about how much it looked like my dentist’s office with its dated magazines, its fake plants, and its tiny television.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t see myself with Sara for another year. We had settled into a pleasant place in our relationship where we didn’t have to worry about long silences over dinner or spending time with each other’s families. But even after nearly four years together, I couldn’t help but feel anxious for our upcoming re-registration date. For one, there was the cost of hiring a lawyer to help with the paperwork. On top of that, there was the long wait at the DMV and the awkward, fifteen minute interview with the government officiant.
It wasn’t any specific part of the process that stressed me out at the time, but the collective sum of their parts. Questions that lurked in my subconscious seemed to spring up in the weeks before re-registration. Were we too comfortable with each other? Were we holding each other back in some way? Were we settling?
I tried to communicate these vague uncertainties of mine to the relationship counselor.
Look, this is actually something I’ve worked on with a lot of people. You’re not alone here, she assured me. Now, I’m not here to point you to the right decision per se, but I do want to make sure you’re making an informed decision. I’m guessing you’ve heard of data consultancies?
I had, I responded.
I knew where she was going. With the billions of data points that the government had, data consultants could come up with a fairly accurate prediction for any given relationship. Because the government wanted to promote improved decision-making in relationships, appointments at data consultancies were fully covered by universal health care.
So, the counselor said. Shall I pencil you in for an appointment later this week?
Sara and I were both old fashioned and had never considered going to a consultancy. But maybe now was different, I thought.
The rest of that week passed by like a blur. I normally went into the office every day, but that week, I worked from home, anxiously pacing the apartment in between meetings.
By the time I was at my appointment at the data consultancy, I was a nervous mess. It didn’t help that the boyish looking data consultant had an “In Training” sticker next to his name tag.
An average of 1.8 years and a median of .8, the data consultant muttered half to himself as he viewed the results on his computer. I stared at him blankly.
He turned to me and cleared his throat. We have this predictive model that’s been trained on tons of couples, and there’s thousands of them that are reasonably similar to you and your partner: couples between the ages of 25 and 30, Chinese male — Korean female ethnic combination, similar responses to the questionnaire, 4th time re-registering, the whole works. And on average, their relationships last 1.8 years or a median of .8 years after the 4th re-registration.
I frowned. That doesn’t sound too good to m-
The consultant interrupted. My job here isn’t to make a value judgment one way or another. Anyways, I’ve just emailed you the exact distribution of potential outcomes for your relationship. You can look at that later.
I pulled out my watch and began looking over the summary statistics and visualizations that he had sent me.
Um, is that it, I asked.
Ah, he said. The consultant pulled out a worn, wrinkled pamphlet that he began to read from. While it’s not my job to provide you with a recommendation, it is my fiduciary duty to help you gain as much possible information before making this re-registration decision. Now, there’s a lot of data out there that can help you see how good of a fit you and insert partner name here…
Sara, I said.
Yes, Sara… Anyways, using your social media data, I can help you find a set of highly compatible potential partners that are in reasonably close proximity. You can then view the compatibility scores of these potential partners alongside the compatibility score that I assign to Sara. With that information in hand -
By then, I had tuned out. If I were to find out that Sara and I had an absurdly high compatibility score, would I feel more confident in our relationship? And if we didn’t, did that mean we should move onto new partners, to be with people that we shared a higher compatibility score with?
Then, it clicked. I got up and began walking out of the office. The consultant must have thought I was upset about the results he had shared, but as I left the office, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Sure, there would be other people that I would have a higher compatibility score with. And it would be the same for Sara. After all, there were billions of people in the world.
But a compatibility score was a static measure of something inherently dynamic. Over time, Sara and I were converging. I found myself going to church with her more often, and Sara was learning to make some of the more obscure Chinese dishes I grew up eating.
Forty years from now, when Sara and I were both wrinkled up like raisins with a lifetime of experiences together, who else was going to be a better match? Eventually, Sara and I would become the most compatible people for each other - it would just take time and effort.
I got into my car and sat there, grinning to myself. Better get started on that re-registration paperwork, I thought.
When Sara got back from her trip with her sisters, she was dead set on not re-registering. She had also seen a counselor and a data consultant, but had reached different conclusions than I did.
“Jack, look at me,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes. “I promise you, this will be the best for the both of us.” For over an hour, we sat there in silence on our apartment floor holding each other’s hands, wondering if we would ever see each other again.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the next year was the hardest of my life. I lost my job and moved back in with my parents. I cried most days. But at the end of the day, Sara was right - things did turn out for the best.
A year after the break up, I ended up going back to that data consultancy. With data from the government and my social media accounts, the data consultancy identified 24 suitable partners around the area who were deemed “extremely compatible”.
It was on one of these dates that I met a woman with long brown hair and a smile that reached her eyes. It’s a smile that you and your brothers are all familiar with by now.
All that said, I still stand by my realization in that summer of 2042: Give a happy relationship enough time and effort, and you’ll naturally become the best possible partners for each other.
I just think that people need to be honest about evaluating their relationships. I was honest with myself, and I think Sara was too. Honesty just brought us to different conclusions.
In hindsight, I really can see where the government is coming from with re-registration policies. Back in your grandparents’ time, people rarely ever made decisions about relationships. They would often float along in mediocre relationships unless some drastic event forced a decision from them. But with re-registration norms, your mom and I are forced to evaluate our marriage, and every year, we’re forced to choose.
We’re never complacent because we’re forced not to be.
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