By Kevin Plybon
Prove: The statement “Ted is single” is false.
Assume: Ted is single.
Because Ted is single (he’s on a break with Angela), he’s free to hang out with Celia, a work friend, alone at her place. He’ll go over for a drink, wondering what the invitation means. The apartment will smell like candles. They’ll watch Avatar on her blue plaid couch. Whenever he reaches for a piece of popcorn and brushes her hand, he’ll twitch. Celia will notice, but pretend not to. Ted will get overconfident. Eventually, he’ll reach straight for Celia’s hand. She’ll hold it, but she’ll say, “Aren’t you dating Angela?” Ted will try to say that he isn’t, that he’s single now, but the words won’t come. Because he can’t say, “I am single,” the assumption is false. Q.E.D.
Prove: The statement “Angela doesn’t want to get back together with Ted” is false.
Assume: Angela doesn’t want to get back together with Ted.
Because Angela doesn’t want to get back together with Ted, she’ll go out to meet some new people. No matter which girlfriend she goes with (say it’s a colleague, Emily), they’ll end up at The Trough, a steel-piped hot spot with a raw block of granite for a bar. They’ll grab a table in the corner and shout over the pounding bass. The waitress will set down two glasses of house red and point to someone at the far end of the room, a broad-shouldered man with spiked hair. Angela will meet his eyes. He’ll raise his tumbler. She’ll pull her own shimmering brown tresses back into a ponytail. She’ll finish the wine, order some shots, and try a strange, blue cocktail. She’ll totter onto the floor and dance beside the speakers with Emily for an hour, clutching a pearled handbag, getting more drinks (at least three). They’ll stumble laughing back to the table. It’ll be occupied by the man with spiked hair, who will raise his eyebrows and pucker his lips, so they’ll turn and sidle back to the bar, giggling. Emily will disappear into the back to throw up. While she’s gone, Angela won’t be able to stop laughing about the spiked hair guy. She’ll want to call Ted and tell him about it. She will, but she won’t be able to hear anything. She won’t even be sure the call goes through.
The next morning, Angela will check her recent calls and see that she really called Ted. She’ll think back to the breakup, to the night in his Jeep when they came back from Long Beach. She’ll try to reassure herself they did the right thing, but she won’t be able to remember their reasoning. Except for Ted wanting to see other people. He was clear about that.
Her friend Dennis will call. She’ll confess what happened, that she called Ted. Dennis will say, “Do you want to get back together with Ted?” Because she won’t answer, the assumption is false. Q.E.D.
Prove: The statements “Ted is not dating Angela” and “Ted is dating Angela” are not the only possibilities.
Method: Direct proof. Construct a third statement in the universe of dating states.
Step 1: Existence of a third statement.
By Proof 1, the statement “Ted is not dating Angela” is false. Since Ted and Angela officially broke up, the statement “Ted is dating Angela” is also false. It follows that a third statement must exist.
Step 2: Constructing the statement.
After Ted can’t move things forward with Celia, he’ll fall into confused nostalgia about Angela, watching Titanic and Bring It On: All or Nothing back-to-back, because those were “their” movies. He’ll be in the middle of an FX rerun of Poseidon (“his” movie) when she calls from The Trough. He’ll stare at her number. He can’t forget it, despite deleting her name. His thumb will tremble above the screen for four or five rings.
He’ll answer and start strong with “Hey, Ang, good to hear—”, but a blast of club music will force him to hold the phone away. He’ll make out the familiar timbre of her voice, the words indistinct. “Can you hear me?” he’ll say, but she’ll keep talking. He’ll wish he could tell what she was saying. Is she in trouble? Is she with someone? Does she need a ride home? (That wouldn’t be wise, maybe. They asked each other for time apart.) When she finally hangs up, he’ll eat a bag of Doritos. He’ll call his friend Simon and wonder if Clueless (“her” movie) should have won an Oscar. Simon will suggest he reason through the situation. Really think out his feelings. Ted will remember the first time he knew he was in love with Angela, when they were going up an escalator at Macy’s, and she blasted him with that knowing smile and he blurted “I love you.” He’ll realize, and Simon will agree, that the phrase “I am clueless” perfectly describes his situation with Angela. This is a third statement in the universe of dating states. Q.E.D.
Prove: Angela prefers some guys to Ted (someone > Ted).
Base Case: Angela prefers some guys to others.
Angela dated Ted. Angela would never date the guy she liked the least. Therefore, Ted > that guy.
General Case: Assuming Ted > some range of guys, someone else > Ted.
Because Angela prefers Ted to other guys, she’ll think about him. By Proof 2, she may even want to get back together. Two days after the unfortunate phone call, she’ll confess it to Emily, at work. She’ll say she’s thinking about calling him for real. Emily will smirk and say, “Honestly, I never thought you and Ted were quite right.”
Angela will redden. She’ll turn back to her desk, to a story she’s editing called Goblin Bomb. She won’t be able to focus. What does Emily know, anyway? Angela liked Ted. Loved, in fact. (Loves?) She’ll stare out the window at staggered skyscrapers and think back to the Jeep again. Ted suggested they take some time. Why did her heart agree?
She’ll be honest with herself: even at the start, thinking about him sometimes made her anxious. It will happen now, watching the traffic snarled on Third Avenue. She’s never been sure where it came from, a dark itch, a suspicion that something’s wrong. Maybe Emily’s right.
She’ll imagine a higher power (or a quick, inner genius) speaking, telling her that sometimes, two fine people are together—not cheating or arguing much or hurting each other—and then they aren’t. She’ll highlight a relevant phrase in Goblin Bomb (“The heart is fickle.”) and add a comment (“True.”). She’ll feel like she can’t trust her feelings. She’ll mutter at the window, “There must be some guy better.” Q.E.D.
Prove: Ted’s probability of getting what he asked for is around 90%.
Method: Expected Hookups (EH).
By Proof 3, Ted is clueless. Drifting in half-singleness, he’ll trail after female faces like a fresh-cut teenager. Each day, Ted sees around 200 different women. After the breakup, he’ll be attracted to 175 (87.5%) on sight, on average. Almost every time, his mind will sprint forward, past their first kiss, marriage, vacations, and retirement, to their eventual deaths, their burial in Michigan, in his family’s plot, covered in sparse, yellow daisies. Of the 175, it’s only feasible to ask two per day to dinner or drinks. Factors like the marriage rate, willingness to be approached, and Ted’s concern for his looks that day mean that he has a 25% Date-Acceptance Rate (DAR) per day (0.5 women). Past data indicate that Ted’s Chance of Hooking Up (CHU) on a first date is about 2%. Multiplying DAR by CHU yields 0.01 hookups per day, on average. Therefore, in a 90-day period, Ted’s EH is 0.9, or 90%. Q.E.D.
Prove: The existence of a guy better than Ted doesn’t imply that Ted is a worse fit for Angela.
Method: Direct Proof.
By Proof 4, there’s a guy better than Ted for Angela. There are three cases.
Case 1: Angela doesn’t know he exists.
If Angela doesn’t know this guy exists, Ted is still the best she knows.
Case 2: Angela knows of his existence, but doesn’t know where he is.
Assume Angela goes to a palm reader and learns of a decisive, clean-shaven man with a membership at the Museum of Natural History. Angela will try to find him. If she does, skip to Case 3. If she never finds him, there are two solutions:
a. She’ll live forever with the knowledge that this guy exists and is more incredible than Ted. At the movies, she’ll always wonder if she’s in the right seat.
b. She’ll reason (correctly) that it’s unlikely she’ll ever find him. She’ll move on with her life, a.k.a. Ted. Wouldn’t her heart just go stale again, if she found the clean-shaven man? (This is equivalent to Case 1.)
Case 3: Angela knows the guy.
His name is Verne. Emily will set them up. He’ll look directly into Angela’s eyes when she talks. He’ll text her three days after that first lunch, asking if she wants to get drinks. For two weeks they’ll text throughout the day. He’ll be completely different from Ted. He’ll invite her to go rock climbing (she’ll go). She’ll find herself comparing her connection with Verne to the one she has with Ted. Can she quantify it? She’ll start thinking about her history with Ted and the consequences of abandoning everything. Her friendship with his hippie parents. Their plans to go to Peru. The time he rushed to the hospital to meet her when she had a heart murmur, and sat for hours beside her bed in the cutting light.
Eventually she’ll wonder why she’s thinking so much. The heart isn’t some oiled machine, diagrammed and proved out. And this thing shouldn’t be so hard. It either is, or it isn’t.
She’ll break it off with Verne after three weeks. Q.E.D.
Prove: Ted’s heart is fickle.
Method: Direct Proof.
By Proof 5, it’s likely that Ted will go on a few dates. Assume that a few of them even go well. One girl in particular (Jocelyn) will be beautiful and sly. She’ll be an escape room designer. Ted will mention his recent breakup in the first five minutes, but it won’t bother her. She’ll say, “Maybe there’s a key for you.” They’ll end up kissing over their veal parmesan; Ted will be shocked at the shape of her lips.
On his way home, he’ll pass the cafe on 86th where he and Angela went for their one-year anniversary. His memories are softly lit, happy, with music and the sounds of silverware. He’ll take out his phone to call her, but her face will appear in his mind, her real face, and her real eyes. He’ll put away his phone. Later, at home, he’ll watch a TV drama about a forbidden romance. One of the characters will say, “I can’t imagine myself with anyone else.” That’s a feeling Ted had today, about Angela. Does that mean it’s a correct feeling? It’s one that real people have. He’ll sigh and stretch out with a novel in bed, reading about another couple in love. The heroine will be on assignment in Mumbai, wishing her wife were there with her. She’ll miss the unique mole on the wife’s neck. Ted will think about Angela and wonder why everyone in every movie knows exactly how they feel at all times.
The next day, he’ll call Celia, the colleague from Proof 1. She’ll ask if he wants to come over. He’ll hesitate. Q.E.D.
Prove: Love is an action.
Assume: Love is a feeling.
Because love is a feeling, Angela will call Ted and ask him to meet her at the cafe on 86th, so that maybe, once and for all, they can resolve this thing. She’ll get there late. She’ll see Ted inside sipping a tall glass of seltzer. Because love is a feeling, it’ll rush into her.
When she walks in, past the chipped red hostess stand, he’ll rise and hug her with affected calm, though his mind is riven with doubt. They’ll sit and try to start. Angela will wonder if Ted rebounded, maybe with Celia. To grease the rails, Ted will ask how she’s been feeling. Angela will confess (truthfully) that she doesn’t know. She loves him, but she’s worried about something. About what? he’ll ask. She doesn’t know. Ted will embark on a long, prepared soliloquy on the same topic, his love and fear, stabbed so deep he can’t locate it.
Angela will interrupt him to ask where the waiter is. She’ll order a bacon cheeseburger (“the most deluxe one you have”). Minutes later, before Ted can work back around to what he was saying, the burger will arrive, sprawled across a fist-sized pickle and a mountain of sweet potato fries. Between bites she’ll start to speak, explaining her angst since they took a break and her worry that she’ll never make sense of her feelings. He’ll wince at the sound of her chewing. She’ll confess that she knows what she’s worried about: she can’t guarantee that she’ll prefer him to every other guy until the end of time. She doesn’t know if he’s right for her. She might lose the love. Ted’s eyes will flash with panic and she’ll take satisfaction in the weight her words still hold for him. Ted will say that it seems like neither of them knows what they want.
Angela will murder the pickle and disagree. It’s clear, actually, that they both want to want each other. And love is there already, planted. It can be tended. Ted will have no idea what to say, but he’ll look at Angela with something approaching newness. He’ll wonder why he’s never thought of it that way. He’ll think of Jocelyn’s lips, so much thinner than Angela’s, and feel his cheeks warming.
Angela will peer for a moment at a painting of a giraffe on the wall behind him. She’ll remember staring at that exact spot before. All we have to do, she’ll say, is make a choice.
“Choice.” The word will ring in Ted’s heart. Maybe that’s what he was missing, before. He’ll imagine himself choosing Angela every morning when he wakes up. Not letting that bizarre, fickle river inside him sweep him away, but grasping his life with his own hands. Deciding to love.
His heart will swell, and he’ll realize he’s ready. His future with Angela will align before him in perfect clarity. He’ll say she’s right. She’s convinced him. He’s sorry for the grief he’s caused. He doesn’t know what he was thinking, throwing it all away. He hopes she feels the same. Does she?
Angela will swipe the last fry across the ketchup on her plate. She’ll wipe the corners of her mouth. She’ll know what she needs to do, but she’s arrived at the moment. After this, she can never go back. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? To choose. She’ll savor the raspy feeling in her throat. The room will contract, the air thickened with grease. She’ll take a deep breath, meet Ted’s eyes, and scratch the itch.
She’ll say no. Q.E.D.
© Copyright 2019 Kevin Plybon
Kevin Plybon is a technical writer and author based in New York City. He taught high school math for three years, and still misses proofs to this day. He’s currently shopping his first novel, a steampunk fantasy about an immigrant engineer trying to save the city that hates her. You can find him at kevinplybon.com and on Twitter (@kevilknc).