There’s a theory of mathematics called the optimal stopping theory which, according to scholarly articles, is concerned with the problem of choosing a time to take a given action based on sequentially observed random variables in order to maximise an expected payoff or to minimise an expected cost.
Got that? Me neither. Maths is hard. But so is love. If you put the two together would it make any difference?
It was a TED talk by mathematician Hannah Fry, which looked at the mathematics of love, that inspired author Elodie Cheesman to write her debut novel, Love, in Theory.
Cheesman, who grew up in Canberra, before heading off to study law at the University of Sydney and later the University of Oxford, heard Fry talk at Oxford and was fascinated by the whole idea.
“As well as Hannah’s talk, I was exposed to other lectures and ideas, by anthropologists and the like, and it was really interesting when people from academia applied those approaches to something we normally think of as magical and mysterious, and nothing to do with data.
“When it came to writing the book it was fun researching some of the scientific and mathematical ideas about love. Some very brilliant minds have devoted a lot of time and effort into researching all the aspects of love.”
Love, in Theory follows the quest of 24-year-old lawyer Romy, who learns she is at her “optimal stopping point”. To dumb the theory down, and apply it to love – it is often applied to gambling – it’s the designated point at which one should select the “next best person” who comes along in order to have the best chance at happily ever after.
Romy’s a practical, data driven kind of girl, so will she settle for “next best” engineer Hans, or mess the whole thing up by choosing graphic designer and bad boy James. Will she go with her heart or her head?
“When you’re dating and looking for a relationship there is that battle between the romance and the ideas that we’ve been fed by books and movies and the reality of it.
“Romy’s not me but there was a point in my early 20s when I was dating where I did think do I need to be a bit more strategic about this, should I have a plan. I took it with a grain of salt but it was great to come up with a protagonist who maybe did rely a little heavily on that structured approach.”
Cheesman, who now lives in Sydney and works as a lawyer, attended Canberra Girls Grammar School, her parents Sim and Neil still live in Chapman, her older sister Trudy is the head of science at Gungahlin College. She drew inspiration from her parents’ marriage – Romy’s parents are two of the most lovable characters in the book.
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“It is a work of fiction,” she laughs, “but I did base some of them on mum and dad, they’re currently reading the book, I hope they take it the right way. Dad is a jokester and I’d never talk to him about my love life in any serious detail. Mum’s the more analytical and pragmatic one.”
What would they say the secret for long lasting love?
“I think they would say having that baseline compatibility, having common values, is really important, that’s what’s made their relationship so successful and strong. They don’t necessarily have very similar interests, but they have those common values and similar ideas about what they wanted from life and how they wanted to raise a family.”
Cheesman is engaged to be married. She met Jonathon via Tinder five years ago. Her mother’s first reaction was not good. Jonathan works in advertising, her mother suggested her daughter was only interested in him because he was “creative”.
“She reminded me that my past romantic relationships, where I’d hankered after rakish extroverts, had all ended in tears,” says Cheesman, in an article she wrote for Vogue Australia.
“She suggested that I was repeating the same mistake – privileging chemistry over substance, following my heart instead of my head.
“She said if you’re serious about finding someone, you need to be sensible.”
But Cheesman, perhaps like the rest of us knows that love just sometimes does add up, and that’s what makes our hearts swirl.
- Love, in Theory, by Elodie Cheesman. Macmillan Australia, $32.99.
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