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Special Valentine’s Day Archive Post: Tit for Tat

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Casting about for an appropriate blog post for Valentine’s Day, Jen-Luc Piquant dug up this snarky humor piece from 2008, riffing on an earlier piece that went on to spawn even more versions.

Good Internet humor never really dies; it just languishes for awhile in the dusty archives until a new crop of browsers stumbles upon its cheeky goodness. Such is the case with Simon Dedeo’s “Physical Theories as Women” essay on the McSweeney’s Website, which keeps making the rounds of the science every few years. Far be it for us to take umbrage at the amusing characterizations of our gender contained therein. But I do think, in the interests of fair play, the women should have their own version while we’re having fun with the battle of the sexes.

Ergo, I offer today’s frivolous blog post: “Physical Theories as Men.” And I offer it with a disclaimer: Any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead, is sheer coincidence, and greatly exaggerated for comic effect.

0. Newtonian gravity is that guy you had a crush on in high school. You never really dated, but you spent a lot of time together, and once you even made out in the science lab after school over a partially dissected fetal pig. It didn’t go well. Things were kinda awkward after that, but you remained friendly from a distance.

Or so you thought. Years later, you find out he told everyone you were a frigid lesbian — even though he was the one who wouldn’t go past second base because he “respected” you too much. To paraphrase Whistler, the helpful demon from Buffy (Season 2): “Newtonian gravity is like dating a nun. You’re never gonna get the good stuff.” You suspect he may have been gay.

1. Electrodynamics is your first real boyfriend, and all your friends swear he’s quite the catch: well-educated, ambitious, clean-cut, amusing, great chemistry, plus you love his mom. Alas, he is Mr. Traditional Family Values, and you are still going through your experimental “finding yourself” phase — frankly, you’re just not ready to settle down.

Sure, opposites attract and make the sparks fly, but there has to be some complementary areas, too. You think he cares too much about what other people think. Your electro-shock blue Mohawk and multiple body piercings pretty much take you out of the running for Long-Term Potential, given his conservatism and career ambitions. When your differences become too great, you chalk it up to life lessons learned and move on to greener pastures.

2. Special Relativity is the wild, free-thinking rebel intent on smashing all those outmoded “rules” that say he can’t go faster than the speed of light — preferably while listening to the dulcet tones of The Sex Pistols and Rage Against the Machine. He’s colorful, exciting and just a wee bit dangerous after the rather plodding predictability of Newtonian gravity and electrodynamics.

So you fall for the flash — at first. But after awhile, his inability to sit still wears thin. It seems the more he rushes about, the more constricted you feel, and your “dates” just seem to stretch on for eternity. The sex isn’t all that great, either, frankly: you’ve never been a size queen, but a girl’s still got standards, and length contraction has clearly taken its toll.

3. Quantum Mechanics is that weird, nutty counter-culture guy who’s always got his finger on the pulse of the Latest Thing, before it hits the mainstream and “sells out.” He just can’t commit — not to you, not to anything. Sometimes you’re not sure you even know who he is, because every time you try to study him closely, he changes.

Is he a particle or a wave? Aquarius, or Pisces (he swears he was born on the cusp)? Good guy or spherical bastard (or perhaps an asymmetrical asshole)? Gay or straight, or rabidly omni-sexual? You spend months, sometimes years, fretting over this romantic superposition of states. When the wave function finally collapses, it’s never in your favor. He makes you feel hopelessly mainstream.

4. General Relativity is the solid salt-of-the-earth type of guy that you know you should probably be crazy about — especially after that jerkwad quantum mechanics shattered your heart into a million pieces. You have a good time with him: he’s smart, orderly, disciplined, and can bend and warp with the flow when life gets too heavy. But there’s just no romantic spark there, and a dire lack of physical chemistry.  Face it: you’re not in love. It seems a cruel, cruel irony.

5. Quantum Field Theory is that scruffy wannabe Irish artist spending the summer in New York City mooching off various acquaintances and far-too-trusting females. He actually brags about being on the dole back in London. That should have been your first clue. But he’s cute, and smart, with a lilting Irish brogue, and makes you look at Rauschenberg with fresh appreciative eyes, although you still think Ellsworth Kelly is a crock. You decide he’s worth a tumble, because it’s been awhile, plus he assures you he’s going back home in a couple of days and you need never see him again.

Alas, he gets so drunk telling you all this, spinning his web of deceit, that when you finally get down to business, he literally passes out on top of you — in flagrante delicto. This, after you paid for all those drinks because he didn’t have any cash and his credit cards were maxed out to the limit. You console yourself by recalling that the same thing happens to Liv Tyler’s character in Stealing Beauty.

Two weeks later, you run into him at an art-house film festival with another girl in tow. He pretends not to know you. It’s not like you were all that into the guy, but your pride takes a bit of a beating. Quantum field theory is a cheap, lying bastard. And they’re saving a chair for him in Alcoholics Anonymous.

6. Analytical Classical Mechanics is the self-absorbed, older intellectual that you date because you’ve decided you’re tired of immature physical theories who refuse to grow up and take some responsibility. He’s a bit pretentious and likes to pontificate about science as a social construct. He’s also a snob: he listens only to classical music, and despises all popular culture (excepting the films of Ingmar Bergman). You know, the type that brags about not owning a TV whenever one of your pals mentions their favorite program.

This gets awfully tedious very quickly and you start to get snippy and irritable. Sensing your boredom, he dumps you first, condescendingly assuring you that “one day you’ll understand,” and get over the heartbreak. In fact, you feel liberated and celebrate with pitchers of margaritas and a marathon viewing of MacGuyver.

7. String Theory is the sensitive, complex emo guy with an impossibly brilliant mind and lots of emotional problems. In fact, he’s been in therapy practically since birth. He constantly complains that nobody understands him, and he’s right: sometimes it’s like he’s speaking an entirely different language. You’re fascinated because he’s got so many dimensional levels and seems to vibrate with a mysterious energy. Besides, you think you can help him overcome his intractable problems.

You are deluding yourself. His interest in your simplistic three-spatial-dimensioned presence wanes in record time, and he starts passively-aggressively acting out. You suspect he wants to break up with you but just doesn’t have the balls to say so. He denies this when you confront him, insisting you can “work things out,” but then you find out he’s been having a fling with Loop Quantum Gravity, after swearing he hates her GUTs.

8. And Cosmology? Well duh. That’s the guy you marry. Because you know he sees the Big Picture, and he’ll be in it for the long haul.

Jennifer Ouellette About the Author: Jennifer Ouellette is a science writer who loves to indulge her inner geek by finding quirky connections between physics, popular culture, and the world at large. Follow on Twitter @JenLucPiquant.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Petra 5:26 pm 02/17/2012

    Sadly, all to true.

    After baring my soul one to a fellow colleague about my heart-throb geo guy she gave me her best advice, “don’t talk, questions lead to arguments; don’t touch his house plants or the garden one’s either, as those are his sacred territory; just have drink wine, whistle into the bedroom, smile a lot and make him feel like he’s the master of the universe and in time you’ll learn it will save your relationship.”

    Of course at that point one has to ask, what is a relationship?

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  2. 2. voyager 8:34 pm 02/17/2012

    I think you were weak on justifying rejection of General Relativity Guy but never mind because I, English major and underwater treasure hunter and take-one-out-and-shoot-him political philosopher, have everything you need as opposed to the things you just think you need because Liberation told you so. I’m also a bottomless pit of tact. You are self-supporting, right?

    If you actually did marry Cosmo Guy, best wishes to you both.

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  3. 3. Jennifer Ouellette 9:24 pm 02/17/2012

    @Voyager: Clearly you missed this post. :) http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics/2011/09/29/love-among-the-equations/

    Link to this
  4. 4. voyager 11:42 pm 02/17/2012

    Well, what’s life without a little angst? But don’t worry about me, I’ll be alright, a mere flesh wound. Just keep on writing, it’s great stuff.

    Link to this

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