Falling in love is a chemical reaction.
Just ask Kaya Rubio, twenty-five year-old molecular genetics graduate student and research assistant. Fed up with her spinster aunts’ relentless reminders and unsolicited advice regarding her Single Since Birth status, she designs a scientific, evidence-based methodology to find her a suitable partner in time for her cousin’s wedding. As any good scientist knows, any valid experimental design requires a negative control. Enter the most unsuitable candidate for a potential boyfriend: the messy, easygoing, café owner Nero Sison. Her null hypothesis? Going out with Nero would establish her baseline data without catalyzing the chemical reaction she seeks.
But when Kaya’s recorded results refuse to make sense, she is forced to come to the conclusion that there are some things in life that are simply, by nature, irrational and illogical. And that sometimes, chemistry doesn’t always happen inside a lab.
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“The standard dating paradigm is flawed and inefficient.”
Eugene raised a brow.
“I have at least five citations to back that up,” I added. “I’ve heard about it, I’ve read about it. And you cannot deny that it’s a valid generalization.”
“Okay. Let’s agree that it’s a lot of time and effort for a very low probability of a successful relationship. For some people, it’s not a justifiable pursuit, but so is academia. I’m guessing you want to take a more scientific approach?”
“Your guess is correct.”
I proceeded to explain that in an effort to save the precious resource of time and effort, I did a simple elimination of the processes individuals undertake to meet potential romantic partners. I am uncomfortable in large crowds and unfamiliar areas so it is unlikely that we would rely on a random encounter in a traditional setting to lead to a more traditional date. Furthermore, there are a number of variables that cannot be controlled and the probability of success is very low.
The paradigm of speed-dating addresses the large sample size and presence of spectator variables not actively seeking romantic relationships by gathering interested and available individuals in a focused group and initiating the dyadic process. However, this process of relying on first impressions is inefficient. (Eugene had found it relevant to mention that I was also lacking in the social skills department.) An individual may appear suitable until proven otherwise at a later date—a wasteful use of precious resource.
Online dating was simply unreliable as it required field validation. Though there may be merit in algorithms and statistics as the platform provides the mathematics and the analytics, I was better off applying the generalizations than participating.
What I needed was a strategy that would filter out unwanted individuals.
“What counts as an unwanted individual?”
The question was posed by what can be considered as an intruder in the conversation. An intruder, but not a stranger. Eugene and I had spent a significant amount of time at In Lab, and socialization was inevitable with repeated encounters. This in turn had acquainted us with the staff and crew. Particularly the graveyard shift.
I looked up from the sheet of paper I had been writing on— writing on paper helps me think clearer. It wasn’t even the intrusion that knocked me off my train of thought. I wasn’t annoyed that he was there at all, his presence was unavoidable, an inconvenience at most, but dismissible. Rather, there was something about his voice, something ironic, that irked me. As if he were mocking me. Or, as it occurred to me as I looked up, as if he were challenging me.
When I first met Nero Sison, I did not know then that he owned In Lab, nor would I have been able to deduce it. It wasn’t until much later that I found out through Eugene that he had been an art major at the university and worked as a graphic artist for three years before taking over the cafe. His appearance had partially dispelled the impression that he was more than he presented. Let’s just get it out there: Nero is conventionally attractive. Strikingly so. An evolutionary lottery winner: tall, physically fit, and sufficiently hirsute indicating ideal testosterone levels. But it wasn’t just his features, though they are pleasingly and symmetrically arranged on his face, that made him remarkable. He was often dressed in a plain V-neck shirt and torn jeans; with dark hair short at the sides and at the back and the longer front swept upwards and back; and a seemingly permanent five o’clock shadow. On both his arms are a sleeve of tattoos, and yet he managed to look dignified almost. In a rebel without a cause sort of way. From the start, Nero was foreign to me. While I inhabited a laboratory, and have a life bound within the College of Science, Nero belonged to a world that rarely collided with mine. A world that valued aesthetics and feelings more than they did fact and evidence.
Nero was as alien to me as the experiment I was to subject myself to.
“An unsuitable individual, for example, would be one afflicted with dangerous psychological disorders, sociopaths and psychopaths, or someone with sexually transmitted diseases, frequent alcohol consumers, smokers, substance abusers, someone with poor hygiene, poor dental hygiene, liars, cheaters, someone who is perpetually late, disorganized, a habitual complainer, someone indecisive, overly emotional, a carrier of endless emotional baggage, a horoscope fanatic, any kind of fanatic, the scientifically illiterate. The list goes on.”
“Yeah, you’d attract sociopaths for sure. You know this perfect personality-less non-person doesn’t exist, right?”
I couldn’t discount Nero’s input as he was certainly more experienced than I was in the field of dating and relationships. He lived at the café, in the attic, and on several occasions have invited his dates upstairs. As much as it pained me to admit, Nero might provide the insight beyond mine and Eugene’s combined expertise.
I asked Eugene, “What do you suggest? We need to trim down the sample size and standardize the population. A method to filter in those who qualify against the minimum standard while avoiding selection bias.”
Nero leaned against the countertop, a move that made himself comfortable enough to overstay. “What are we looking for anyway? What are my two favorite masterminds up to?”
Amused, Eugene answered, “Kaya is looking for a date.”
Nero’s reaction was all agog. “You sure it’s not a human sacrifice? Date for what?”
“Just dating in general,” said Eugene, reaching over for the milk tea Nero had prepared and brought over. “This is a milestone, don’t ruin it.”
“You’ve never been on a date?” I refused to respond to his query, though it was an understandable response. “That makes sense, actually. So what now? You’re looking for a dude?”
He pushed my matcha milk tea closer towards me. The sides of the cup were already slick with condensation so I wrapped a paper napkin around it and folded another to use as a coaster.
“A suitable dude,” said Eugene before taking a sip of his drink.
“And doing this the normal person way is unacceptable because, after all, you’re mad scientists and you don’t do things the normal person way.”
“The traditional dating paradigm is flawed and inefficient,” I said. “We’re designing a protocol that would make the process more cost-effective.” I’ve grown accustomed to, even a fondness for—though I would deny it out loud—Nero referring to us as his mad scientists.
Eugene continued, “Our objective is to find an ideal partner for her and see if it leads to a romantic relationship. Possibly sexual. We’re including sexual relations in the scope and limitations, aren’t we?”
I had not previously considered sexual relations, but it would be best to be as comprehensive as feasible. “Complementary major histocompatibility complexes is an evolutionary advantage.”
This seemed to please Eugene but confuse Nero.
“Major histo-whatnow complex?”