Should You Date a Mathematician?

The book How to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed by Graham Masterton has a chapter on how to choose a lover. It highlights red flags for men who need to be approached with caution. There is a whole list of potentially bad signs, including neglecting to shower in the previous week and talking only about himself.

The list of bad features also includes professions to avoid. Can you guess the first profession on the list? OK, I think you should be able to meta-guess given the fact that I am writing about it. Indeed, the list on page 64 starts:

Avoid, on the whole, mathematicians…

I am an expert on NOT avoiding mathematicians: in fact, I’ve married three of them and dated x number of them. That isn’t necessarily because I like mathematicians so much; I just do not meet anyone else.

When I was a student I had a theory that mathematicians are different from physicists. My theory was based on two conferences on mathematical physics I attended in a row. The first one was targeted for mathematicians and the second for physicists. The first one was very quiet, and the second one was all boozing and partying. So I decided that mathematicians are introverts and physicists are extroverts. I was sure then that my second husband chose a wrong field, because he liked booze and parties.

By now, years later, I’ve met many more mathematicians, and I have to tell you that they are varied. It is impossible and unfair to describe mathematicians as a type. One mathematician even became the star of an erotic movie. I write this essay for girls who are interested in dating mathematicians. I am not talking about math majors here, I am talking about mathematicians who do serious research. Do I have a word of advice?

I do have several words of caution. While they don’t apply to all mathematicians, it’s worth keeping them in mind.

First, there are many mathematicians who, like my first husband, are very devoted to mathematics. I admire that devotion, but it means that they plan to do mathematics on Saturday nights and prefer to spend vacation at their desks. If they can only fit in one music concert per year, it is not enough for me. Of course, this applies to anyone who is obsessed by his work.

Second, there are mathematicians who believe that they are very smart. Smarter than many other people. They expand their credibility in math to other fields. They start going into biology, politics and relationships with the charisma of an expert, when in fact they do not have a clue what they are talking about.

Third, there are mathematicians who enjoy their math world so much that they do not see much else around them. The jokes are made about this type of mathematician:

What is the difference between an extroverted mathematician and an introverted one? The extroverted one looks at your shoes, rather than at his own shoes.

Yes, I have met a lot of mathematicians like that. Do you think that their wives complain that their husbands do not notice their new haircuts? No. Such triviality is not worth mentioning. Their wives complain that their husbands didn’t notice that the furniture was repossessed or that their old cat died and was replaced by a dog. My third husband was like that. At some point in my marriage I discovered that he didn’t know the color of my eyes. He didn’t know the color of his eyes either. He wasn’t color-blind: he was just indifferent. I asked him as a personal favor to learn the color of my eyes by heart and he did. My friend Irene even suggested creating a support group for the wives of such mathematicians.

While you need to watch out for those traits, there are also things I like about mathematicians. Many mathematicians are indeed very smart. That means it is interesting to talk to them. Also, I like when people are driven by something, for it shows a capacity for passion.

Mathematicians are often open and direct. Many mathematicians, like me, have trouble making false statements. I stopped playing —Mafia— because of that. I prefer people who say what they think and do not hold back.

There is a certain innocence among some mathematicians, and that reminds me of the words of the Mozart character in Pushkin’s poetic drama, Mozart and Salieri: —And genius and villainy are two things incompatible, aren’t they?— I feel this relates to mathematicians as well. Many mathematicians are so busy understanding mathematics, they are not interested in plotting and playing games.

Would I ever date a mathematician again? Yes, I would.



  1. Sue VanHattum:

    Of course, the mathematician might be a girl / woman, the person dating the mathematician might be a boy / man, and the analysis might change accordingly.

  2. Vishesh Kumar:

    Lying in Mafia becomes really good (easy and thorough) if, for some reason, you actually misinterpret what role you’ve received. 😀

  3. Xamuel:

    Say, let me tell you about the research I’ve been doing. There are these sequences, Goodstein sequences, they grow really fast and… what? The article was about relationships?

  4. Tom:

    Did the Masterton book explain WHY they recommend avoiding mathematicians?

  5. AMS Graduate Student Blog » Blog Archive » Mathematicians are strange!:

    […] nice blog-post / article that I came across (and I’m sure many of you have already seen it): Should you Date a Mathematician? The author’s blog is also worth checking out as it is quite extensive with posts dating back […]

  6. Daniel:

    “Do you think that their wives complain that their husbands do not notice their new haircuts? No. Such triviality is not worth mentioning”. I particularly enjoyed this part. I’m not a “serious” mathematician yet (just finished my Bachelor in mathematics) but my dad is, he used to have an old car parked outside our house, like five years ago my mum sold the car, incredibly, my dad noticed that the car wasn’t there only after SIX months. He only noticed because one neighbour made a comment about it..=)

  7. Stu:

    I’m glad you haven’t given up on mathematicians entirely.

  8. WHAT:

    it sounds really weird to recommend dating a certain type of person by saying you have married and divorced three of them. on top of that you say that you date them because they are the only people you ever meet. a lot of abused women could justify dating violent men with the same argument.

    if you only date mathematicians then recommending them is unscientific to say the least.

  9. OlasojiPeters:

    Mathematicians are magicians. I have no clue about them. Give me a calculator and I will have no business with mathemnaticians

  10. Stuart:

    As a zoologist, who wishes he were a better mathematician, it is interesting that whether mathematicians or not, women tend to have the same complaints about their husbands. Perhaps, this reflects limits intrinsic to men and seemingly an excellent topic for interdisciplinary research or perhaps the greater ability of female mathematicians to better appreciate ideals. I did very much love the joke about the difference between introverted and extroverted mathematicians. I am sure many women might want to stay away from zoologists as well, but perhaps for an entirely different reason. The only thing many of them want to think about is sex. Thank you for the wonderful post.

  11. Re: What:

    “if you only date mathematicians then recommending them is unscientific to say the least.”

    Yes, let’s all date “scientifically” (whatever that means). A little quantification clears this one up.

    For all X such that X = the set of all people dated by the author

    for all Y such that Y = all mathematicians dated by the author

    it is not the case that there exists no X such that X is not a mathematician. Also, X does not equal Y in that X may not be extensionally equivalent to Y.

    The author may have dated other people- perhaps the author met others in the past before entering a period of life as a professional mathematician and then only met mathematicians

  12. Re: Stuart:

    Who says women don’t want to date people for sex? Also, I have no idea how you think that being a zoologist tells you squat about women and husbands. You don’t subscribe to evo psych do you? (shudder), because a biologist should know it’s been thoroughly discredited.

  13. Steve:

    Shouldn’t these traits have popped up before you tied the knot? Seems you need to change your approach if you’ve goofed three times already.

  14. Rob:

    Regarding scientific calibration, as usual xkcd has a lovely take:

    Regarding the post itself, I sadly recognized many of my own characteristics in those descriptions (ouch!).

  15. The fuck:

    You clearly should not date anyone because you don’t seem to be able to have a stable relationship or discern twats from normal people(you didnt notice he didnt know your eye color before marrying him?).

  16. Chaz:

    Not sure I would date this mathematician…

    Math genius explains $1M prize refusal SERIOUSLY!$1M_prize_refusal_(SERIOUSLY!).aspx

  17. Chaz:

    Not sure I would date this mathematician…

    Math genius explains $1M prize refusal SERIOUSLY!

  18. ron:

    Depends on her physical attributes remember I can get a computer to calculate things…(grin)

  19. Hein:

    That was a very nice post, especially your second point. I’m not a mathematician but a political scientist and many people with or without Ph.Ds are certain that they know the answers to simple (?!) questions better than somebody who has spent twenty years thinking about them, my dear sister for one.

    So, next time I’m in Cambridge, which is fairly often, I’ll make a point of checking whether you have a talk scheduled around that time.

    I promise I won’t ask you to marry me.

  20. David B.:

    I like to think about mathematics and other
    theoretical subjects. I got my PhD in math.
    many years ago now.

    When talking to women, say in a friendship,
    it seems better if we can talk about math.
    and other “geek” subjects at least some of
    the time.

    It’s pretty interesting to read about
    women mathematicians and their (frequently)
    mathematician husbands, boyfriends or dates…

  21. rebekkah:

    Thanks for this enlightening read. I found it quite amusing. My husband is a pure mathematician, currently neck deep in trying to finish an acedemic text book with some Russian collegues. WE CANT WAIT FOR IT TO FINISH – we want our life back. :)) I found your page because I went looking for a support group for mathematicians partners!! Definately a place for one! ;))

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  23. Eugene Veklerov:

    I have a comment on this part:

    “My third husband was like that. At some point in my marriage I discovered that he didn’t know the color of my eyes. He didn’t know the color of his eyes either. He wasn’t color-blind: he was just indifferent.”

    I am guilty of the same thing, but I would not characterize it as indifference. There are different types of memory. I am good at remembering facts, figures, events. I remember what someone said 50 years ago. But I don’t remember what my girlfriend wore yesterday. And I need to meet a person several times before I am able to recognize him or her.

    The ability to instantly capture images and keep them in your memory is great. But if I had to choose just one type of memory, I would choose mine!

  24. Lenny:

    Where could I meet female mathematicians?

  25. Sammy:

    I believe anyone can date mathematicians as long as you are…..not a serious type of person, very patient, very understanding, not competitive,love to avoid arguments, love to agree with what he says and having a mother-like attitude!!! But problem is… would he want to date you

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