## Math as an Aphrodisiac

In my life as a female mathematician I have quite often encountered a mathematician’s wife who, despite not knowing me, already hated me. It was clear that it had nothing to do with me personally, so being clueless and naive, I assumed that most men were cheaters and that their wives were extremely insecure and jealous.

Then one day one of the wives decided to be frank about her feelings. It wasn’t about cheating, she told me. It was that she felt distant from her husband. He lived in a world of mathematics from which she was excluded. I on the other hand shared this world with him.

It was very sad. It meant that I incurred their jealousy, not because of my sins, but because I am a female mathematician.

Let me tell you another story that helped me realize how all-encompassing this world of mathematics can be for some people. Once I had a very close friend who we will call Jack. I do not want to name him as he is a famous mathematician. Jack told me that the strongest emotions he feels are related to mathematics. He can only feel close to someone if he can share a mathematical discussion with them.

Now I understand the wives better. Husbands like Jack invest so much more in their math world and their colleagues than they do in their home life, that it is not surprising the wives are jealous. Because women mathematicians are scarce, when I appear in their husbands’ world, it adds another layer of worry.

Another thing that Jack told me is that he gets such a euphoric feeling when he discovers a new math idea that it is better than any orgasm. Of course, this statement made me question the quality of Jack’s orgasms, but in any case, for some mathematicians math is an aphrodisiac.

If math is an aphrodisiac, then tattooing a formula on the lover’s body may well enhance the orgasm. I just remembered the movie by Ed Frenkel. But I digress.

If math is an aphrodisiac, then I understand jealous wives even better. Without sex I can give their husbands pleasure they can’t.

## Pavel Litvinov:

It does not have to be mathematics. it can be any all-consumung profession or hobby, but I agree that mathematics is special because majority of people cannot even come close to sharing passion for it.

18 July 2011, 8:58 pmI reposted it on my facebook, I hope you don’t mind, but let me know if you do. Love your blog.

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20 July 2011, 4:49 am## Joseph Hertzlinger:

I don’t think I have ever heard of mathematicians with groupies.

20 July 2011, 9:17 pm## Marvin:

Something doesn’t add up for me in this story. If those wives don’t feel connection to their husbands why did they marry them? Most mathematicians I’ve seen do not look like Brad Pitt and do not make much money. There are exceptions of course but let’s ignore them for now. Assuming it’s not the looks or money there has to be something else that attracted their wives. And yet you say that they feel disconnected from their husbands. So my broad question is who and why marries a regular mathematician?

3 August 2011, 8:26 am## infopractical:

Joseph, then you’d be surprised. Some mathematicians may not communicate well enough to have groupies, but some mathematicians have quite the following. Mathematics is an art after all, and artists are always sexier.

I’ve never felt a lack of interest from women (at least since freshman year of high school). More often I’ve had trouble figuring out how to navigate through so much attention. I have a box of letters written to me by women over the years who knew me only in the context of being a math geek — some love letters and some merely flirtatious. Some written by people I’d never met. Maybe I’m just really good looking, but I don’t think that’s the case — I didn’t get nearly so many letters passed/mailed to me from girls/women who knew me in any other context.

I’ve always assumed that the reason mathematicians are the butts of social jokes is that (a) a few are truly withdrawn and that brings the force of stereotyping, and (b) other people are truly jealous of mathematicians for their art and their power in this world. In fact, I feel jealous of people who’ve had better educational opportunities than I have had in mathematics!

6 August 2011, 9:22 am## Bill Angel:

A excellent piece of writing. I am a photographer, and I used an excerpt from it to explain one of my images, See: http://flic.kr/p/bBfEqe

8 March 2012, 9:39 am## David Wheeler:

In my humble opinion (and in a burst of rare irony, I actually MEAN that) mathematics is far more pleasurable than sex. Apples and oranges, of course, even the most delectable chocolate cake does little to quench a thirst, you might say. The intimacy that close physical proximity engenders (did I intend that pun? Oh, if only I had a psychoanalyst on speed-dial…) pales for a man like me with the prospect of a deeper intimacy of the mind, which is where the lion’s share of my being actually resides.

I have never had a girlfriend, or a wife (I was married once, for 26 years) who shared my passion for mathematics: we shared similar taste in music, perhaps, or politics, or even philosophy. Perhaps this is for the best: I think it possible to be too close to another, to the detriment of both parties. That said, I have never once in my entire life (which is well past the half-way mark as I write this) known someone who inhabited that world of the mind WITH me, and as such I have suffered a kind of alienation I find difficult to describe. Outwardly, this is a minor thing: I am not given to thoughts of suicide, or bouts of deep depression….physically, the feeling is less than say, a minor headache, or the stiffness of a touch of arthritis. Inwardly, however, it is huge: the only solace is that mathematics itself (herself? I am confused…) does not require company to reveal her secrets.

I have never felt the compulsion to seek mathematically-gifted women as potential mates, but I can relate the following incident from the flip side of Tanya’s tale:

At one point in my life, I had the opportunity to pursue participating in an experimental mathematics educational program. The invitation came from a beautiful young mathematician (who perhaps was also named Tanya, perhaps. I honestly do not recall, but it would make for an interesting coincidence). My wife at the time was vehemently against this, so much so, that I passed on the opportunity. Her reaction seemed all out of proportion to the situation at hand at the time, but now…maybe not so much,eh?

31 December 2013, 1:08 am