The chance of you breaking up with me right now is 19.67%.
That’s lower than the chance of a long-distance relationship failing but higher than the chance of rolling doubles on two dice.
We stand around awkwardly. This is the last time I’ll see you for an undetermined amount of time, as if you’re just another high school friend that I lost touch with after graduation. We spent the whole day together but now that you’re leaving, all I can think of are questions, not goodbyes.
In some ways, this is like the end of our first date all over again, when the chance of you texting me the next day was 16.33%, lower than the chance of me dying from heart disease. Was this all just a mistake? I thought back then. You walked me to my door, now what? What do I have to do to keep you?
Finally, you ask, semi-casually, “So what’s the probability that I’ll see you again?”
I look down at my doormat and see again the numbers that have haunted me since the thought of long-distance became a likely and then a definite. “What’s the probability of rolling doubles on two dice?” I reply.
You lift my chin up. “You know I suck at those kinds of questions.”
You start to pull out your phone to Google the answer, so instead I throw myself at you for one last long hug before I scurry into my apartment and lock the door.
I hear you sigh and try the doorknob without success. The chance of you asking to come in is 5% since you’re already running late, and soon enough I hear your footsteps fade away.
I’ve always seen probabilities. I’ll wonder to myself a question – the chance of a pay raise or the chance of catching the 5:40 bus – and then little black percentages will flicker in my vision like the channel number on a TV screen.
They’re not definite but they’re quite helpful. After all, what’s the point of getting sweaty running toward the bus stop when I can see the low numbers in front of me and know that it will be a wasted effort? Although sometimes they lead me astray, like the time I saw a 90% chance of passing an exam, got cocky, and the less said about that experience, the better. Unfortunately failure is always a possibility.
I can’t see absolutes. I can’t see black or white, yes or no. If I ask myself groggily in the morning the chance that it’s Tuesday, no numbers appear besides the time and date on my phone. If I ask myself anxiously during an exam the chance that my answer is correct, no numbers appear besides my calculations.
If I ask myself hopefully any time, any day, the chance that you’re the one for me, I get nothing, nada, zilch.
Probabilities make first dates interesting. Observing proper social niceties while fielding get-to-know-you questions on my career and hobbies and culinary tastes is dangerous enough without considering that 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce.
A coin flip, essentially. That’s what it comes down to.
And having my brain go into overdrive calculating all the possible worst-case scenarios is not exactly reassuring.
You are not an exception. The numbers I see on our first date are low, like they were for all of the people I dated before. I suppose the difference is that being with you makes me feel like I’m six years old again, wrapped up in a puffy purple scarf and sledding down a huge snowy hill, arms thrown up as I scream excitedly.
I can’t believe I’m banking on a coin flip.
You finally learn about the probabilities because I keep staring at you for far too long with a frown on my face.
Something on your mind? you ask, and I keep processing numbers while denying No, just looking at you, before you finally have enough and call me out about trust and communication and is it someone else? and when I see the probabilities plunge to the chance of rolling doubles on two dice three times in a row, that’s when I tell you in a desperate gamble to keep you.
You have a hard time believing me at first, but my agitation and correct answers to a few probability questions finally convince you. (Or maybe it’s also because days later I purposely leave out my phone unlocked, and you find nothing suspicious besides my brother’s last text of hey, how many doos are there in baby shark. I think you feel guilty afterwards, because you let me koala you for a whole week without complaining.)
You start joking that I shouldn’t go to Vegas.
You start holding my hand when I stare at you for too long.
But the parade of questions in my head never stops.
Probability of me getting through this date without saying something stupid?
Probability of you liking this Valentine’s Day gift?
Probability of you canceling movie night to work overtime being an obvious sign of buried resentment and frustration?
Probability of me regretting this relationship in ten years? Probability of you regretting this relationship in ten years?
Probability of our relationship working long-distance?
Probability of you meeting someone skinnier than me? Someone prettier than me? Someone less neurotic than me?
Probability of seeing you again?
You’ve been spinning me in your web and now I’m waiting for the thread to break.
Because luck runs out. Because no coin lands on heads every time except a weighted one, and I weigh less than you.
Our relationship has always depended on you.
A week before you have to leave, I ask Do you really love me? and when your forehead wrinkles a bit and you squeeze my hand tighter before saying Of course, I wonder about the chance that you’re lying. But I don’t see any probabilities.
I sit with my back against the apartment door. My mind is surprisingly blank.
A few minutes after you leave, you text me.
I miss you. I love you, you say. Don’t listen to the numbers.