In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is "an effective method expressed as a finite list of well-defined instructions for calculating a function." Algorithms represent well-honed steps taken to solve well-defined problems.
Marriage is the most amorphous and nebulous problem set of them all, much more complicated than even the most sophisticated theorem or esoteric piece of code. The inputs change daily, hourly, minute by minute. The personalities mesh for the most part but never completely, leaving points of friction that provide areas for growth. It's a situation entirely unsuited to the development of structured algorithms.
Well, maybe not. 2.5 years ago today Pi Wen and I went on our first date, at the Beanery on College Avenue in Berkeley. By this point we'd met, I was smitten, was still living in SF but wanted to return to Berkeley. That day I went to look at an apartment near Cal, then we had our date.
It turned into a 3 hour event, including a walk from Beanery to campus and then yet another coffee at the Free Speech Cafe. Over the next six months we had our ups and downs, the very model of a tempestuous romance. But at the end of that six months we were engaged.
So there it was, the promise and delight of a lifetime of happiness together. Two years on we are well on the way, and we continue to refine our algorithms to smooth out the rough spots.
No matter how futuristic and techie we all become, the most meaningful things in life--love, purpose, devotion, affection, grace--will never be susceptible to the cold logic of the algorithm. But the daily ebb and flow, the many micro-decisions that fill our days, do lend themselves to algorithmic refinement.
- I used to set the snooze alarm twice, sometimes even three times, every morning. But that's very disruptive to Pi Wen's sleep. Not cool. These days I barely hit the snooze button.
- Pi Wen enjoys the comforts of home, I like to go out. Well, that used to be the case--now I just like to be wherever she is. But sometimes we attend social gatherings, which introverted Pi Wen finds draining. Algorithm time! We'll go out with other people, as a couple, no more than six times a month.
- Weekday dinner--we've got this one down. I pick up anything needed on the way home, Pi Wen cooks, I set the table, and then do the dishes. Just tonight we further refined the algorithm, clarifying who contacts who to determine what food is needed for that night's meal.
At work I find all this negotiation and clarifying exhausting, but I'm getting better. At home it's a sign of courtesy and care. True, algorithms can't replace the heart. But they can be one expression of love.