I’ve never had much of a head for numbers. My long division was more than long – it was endless. My simultaneous equations coldly agreed that they had nothing in common. And in terms of probability, both I and my much maligned teacher, Dr Secker, would agree that the likelihood of me passing the GCSE was that rare mathematical probability of ‘over our dead bodies’.

We tried valiantly: each lesson saw my best friend (and fellow numerate numbskull) and me try with our best concentration face (similar to how a how a baboon would look if you punched it in the mouth, then gave it constipation) and the good doctor pacing a nervous Pythagorean triangle around our classroom. “Baby steps, ladies, baby steps” He’d sooth softly – before retiring to scream maniacally and tear out his hair.

Numbers are important.

Almost ten years on and I still find myself guiltily reaching for the calculator when I receive the bill at a restaurant. But even when I’m punching number keys with one hand, and frantically counting the tip on the fingers of the other – one thing has become steadily, painfully, empirically clear. Numbers are important. And nowhere more so than in the equations of dating.

My friends Jake and Kim, since a Spice Girls Karaoke evening sparked some unexpectedly romantic results, have had a pretty solid formula for a perfect relationship. They have the number of years they’ve been together (6). The number of bedrooms in their shared apartment (1). It’s a pretty basic case of mental arithmetic: somewhere down the line, the 4×4 and the 2.4 children are waiting to morph from hypothesis into reality.

…“it’s just that I don’t think that either of us have slept with the right amount of people”.

Does sleeping with lots of people mean you're less compatible with someone who hasn't?

This overwhelming influx of integers daunts neither of them in the slightest. Or at least, none of it except one magic number that sprouts fast multiplying insecurities, and in Kim’s case, a fast multiplying bill at a cocktail bar in Angel one girls’ night out. “It’s not that I don’t think Jake’s the one”, she imparted, in the hushed tones of a priest about to denounce the bible, “it’s just that I don’t think that either of us have slept with the right amount of people”.

Six years, a joint tenancy and a shared games console all pale in significance next to this blinding terror of miscalculation. As the society we live in becomes more sexually open and sexually liberated, it seems those who are in a committed, and, ironically, regularly sexual relationship, are gripped by this fear that somehow, they must be missing out.

But too much number crunching is not necessarily a sequence for a healthy balance.  According to an alarmingly precise survey from purported relationship and communications academics Steve Duck and William Dragon, the ideal average number of previous sexual partners is 4, yet “9.5% of women would not be willing to sleep with a man who had more than 10 sexual partners”. Chastity ranked 10 out of 18 in a list of important attributes for a potential partner; however, “84.3% of men and women would not be willing to marry someone not interested in sexual relations”.

…what is the best amount of megapixels?

Do we dream in quantities? Or should we be looking for quality?

It’s a mind boggling algorithm, and unfortunately, it isn’t just in our love lives that we’re quenching our uncertainties with a thirst for statistics.  Type ‘what is the best…’ into a search engine and technology calculates a googleplex of possible answers: ‘what is the best number of children to have?’, ‘what is the best number of credit cards to have?’, what is the best amount of megapixels?’. This is what apparently haunts the mind of the average web surfer: quantities – from your ideal number of offspring to your favourite number of teeny tiny little computerized squares.

No matter how diverse and bizarre these questions may seem, the answer to all of them is actually the same, and that is “well, it depends, really”. That should be, not only an acceptable response, not only in all social situations that force you to self evaluate, but also in all national curriculum Maths exams.

…it’s the connection…

Because the final figures show that for most people, what makes the most satisfying sexual relationship is not whether your bedpost is that sleek chaste sapling or as well knotted and passed around as the Olympic torch – it’s the connection with the person actually in the bed that can produce the real eureka results. And that’s something you can never truly pre-calculate: not even with the fanciest technology – with the perfect number of megapixels.

And, contrary to all expectations, I got an A* in that GCSE in the end. Dr Secker shed a tear of pride (or maybe just a tear). I guess, whether in the classroom or on the dating scene, when it comes to summing people up, the best thing is to have people you can count on. 


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