Q&A with Rachel Machacek, author of The Science of Single
- February 22, 2011
It was impossible not to do something about “love” in February. February is the month of romance, isn't it?
The Science of Single: One Woman’s Grand Experiment in Modern Dating, Creating Chemistry and Finding Love
by Rachel Machacek
Washington, D.C., resident Rachel Machacek has been dating since her teenage years, and she still hasn’t met the right guy. After years of hoping to make a connection, Rachel couldn’t help but wonder if there was another course of action. Perhaps a more dedicated, less slipshod, more scientific way of finding love.
With warmth, insight, and a terrific sense of humor, Rachel tackles the world of dating with a journalist’s eye and a scientist’s curiosity.
Q) How much does a year of dating actually cost?
A) Emotionally or financially? I kid. I spent close to $4,000, with the larger purchases of matchmaker, dating coach and traveling to other cities making up the majority of expenses.
Q) You use the word “epic” often in the first part of the book. What do you mean by “epic” e-mails, dates and so on?
A) I mean it in the vein of epic tales that take three hours to tell, and your bladder nearly bursts because you’ve been holding it for so long trying to get through the story. Like epic movies (Gone With the Wind, War and Peace), epic dates push the three-hour mark and require at least three pee breaks. Epic e-mails are at least 500 words long and you go back and forth trading this type of e-mail for days, sometimes weeks. You get to know someone before you meet them, which is not always bad, but definitely can set a certain expectation. There’s something to be said for saving something for later, and a slower reveal of information about yourself versus dumping everything out there all at once in one sitting. Pacing is key. I was not very good at doing that at first.
Q) What happened to love, this supposed magical feeling that we’re always trying to manipulate? It still seems to be the mysterious sister/brother that resists all invitations. Is this true?
A) Love. I believe in it. The invitation for it is always there, but you have to be willing to notice it and to accept it for what it is, not what you want it to be. I think we spend so much time shoving love into a certain template (see cultural imperative question below), manipulating it, controlling the process of finding it and what happens when we do, that we forget that it’s something that you truly do fall into when you loosen your grip.
Q) Does seeing an inanimate picture on a website ruin all possibility of “love at first sight”? Can it happen with a computer?
A) Love at first sight can happen on a computer, but the person on the screen that you fall in love with might be different than the person you meet in real life. An online profile is a projection of how you want to be seen, so it isn’t fully reliable. And it can’t account for the X factor ― the chemistry that occurs between two people regardless of looks, age, race, height, star sign, desired number of offspring and salary. Sometimes, there might be a picture of someone you feel lukewarm about but go out with anyway, and come to find out they are even better than you imagined. So, in this case, an inanimate picture doesn’t ruin the possibility of love at first sight.
Q) Does chemistry still really matter in this day and age? Is it immediate, intractable? Have you ever been able to change its opinion?
A) I think chemistry matters maybe even more than ever in this day and age. It’s the X factor we are all looking for because nothing feels better than all those chemicals coursing through our bodies. The trouble with chemistry is that it becomes this Holy Grail ― the only thing people look for, sometimes without thought to whether the person would actually be good for them. And we tend to look for immediate chemistry, forgetting that chemistry really can grow. I don’t believe it can grow from an absolute void, but if there are flickers, that’s worth paying attention to. I don’t think I’ve changed chemistry’s opinion, but I’ve definitely given it some space to grow. Some things are worth waiting for.
Q) You seem to prefer the online services. Are they better than attending wrestling matches and car repair classes?
A) Not necessarily. I think the best approach to dating is to diversify your portfolio of how you meet people. Online dating should always be part of this because it is so dang easy and so many people date online now. Why would you pass up such an easy way to put yourself out there? At the same time, you don’t want to solely rely on online dating or just having your friends setting you up, or just a matchmaker, or just singles’ events, and I think going out and being social doing the things you love is another crucial part of the pie.
Q) Do you have recommendations for improving any of the dating services?
A) Yes, if they could do some sort of magical testing that would be able to determine when chemistry would be present and with whom, that’d be such a time saver! Seriously, I think they all do well for what they are ― though the marketing promise of long-lasting love/marriage is frustrating from a consumer perspective. Perhaps they should stick to the promise of “We can get you to the date and help you with how to date,” but ease up on promising the things they can’t technically guarantee. I’d also like to see lower costs. Profiting on the lovelorn seems like bad karma.
Q) Is there a difference between your dating now that the year is over? The book seems to begin and end on a similar note.
A) I disagree. I feel like I came out on the other side of this. How I find dates didn’t necessarily change, but my perspective sure did. I have a much more realistic outlook on dating ― I enjoy getting to know someone regardless of outcome, and I don’t crumble at every rejection. It’s fun for me because I stopped being so damn intense about it. That was certainly not the case when I started!
Q) Are there any cultural imperatives that should be considered when dating?
A) Yes. The Hollywood ideal of romance. It does not exist in real life. Period. A typical RomCom is, what? ― a 90-minute script of two-dimensional characters that live in unbelievable situations. Yet the way that characters meet and develop relationships in movies has become our template for romance and what we’ve come to expect.
Q) Does music and room temperature fit somewhere into the choice of a mate? (Most couples that I know never agree on music or whether the room is comfortable.)
A) I personally don’t think so. I’d like to see people choose mates based on more basic needs like “he’s kind and supportive” rather than “he listens to The Arcade Fire.” Common interests are indeed important, but I’d throw on a poncho and headphones for someone who loves and cares for me the way I need him to, rather than be with someone whose taste in music is critically acclaimed but who doesn’t want the same things out of life that I do.
Q) Should we let our parents arrange our love lives? (That is, if they get our details right.) Might they be better at it?
A) If my parents set me up with someone, I would most likely go out with him. I don’t know that my mom and dad would be any better at it than anyone else, though. Someone who knows and loves you is always biased. And, really, would we listen to our parents anyway? We spend our whole lives bucking their system.