The great thing about math is that it can quantify the intangibles. For example, a person’s life may be expressed in numbers. Often, these numbers are part of our first easy impression of someone.
Age is probably the most common measurement we think about of a person when meeting someone new. How old are you? Someone somewhere always asks. Typically expressed in years, there is no reason why it cannot be in months or even minutes to make us feel more significant. I’ve not run into ageism professionally yet, but I expect fewer opportunities as I get older. All online dating apps ask for age as well as height. Some people habitually lie about both, presenting a virtual image that’s younger and taller. I was asked about my hair when I mentioned I was almost fifty. “Do you dye your hair? You don’t have a single white hair.” I don’t, and I’m content and comfortable with soon hitting fifty.
Money has a lot of numbers for us to think about—net worth, debts, credits, gains, salaries, and expenses. Unless famous, these are numbers that we grade ourselves in private. Sometimes harshly. They show how successful we are and how far we still must go. Right now, I’m fascinated by what it takes to retire and what lifestyle I want. Single or not, everyone has to figure out what’s enough.
The numbers that I show up as zero are for husbands and children. I stand by myself as one, while a small number of friends - research shows we only need three to five close ones - makes me very happy. My parent-friends are always counting teams. There are two of us and one of her. We should be fine! Or, we are having a third and will soon be outnumbered. Behind taking care of a family, it's about the hours of sleep, play dates, and trips to the ER.
Health-wise, steps have become a common measure enabled by trackers. Everyone knows that 10,000 steps are the daily recommendation. Less common is the number of pills taken daily. I realize the importance of this measure from my 96-year-old grandmother and 70-something dad. I have seen both of them arranging their pill boxes cautiously and precisely. Embedded in these pills is the hope that one will continue to live healthily. Right now, I take two, but if the number goes up, I would be happy that whatever maladies I have and will have are treatable by modern science.
For schizophrenia, a key measure is the number of hospital stays. I was at McLean hospital once. Others I met there had more. Our goal is to stay out of the hospitals. Going to the hospital is trouble escalating out of control. Going back repeatedly and often, like going through a revolving door, is usually a bad sign.
Social media brings us a count of friends and followers. I don’t care much about them. However, opposite to that, I treasure the contact list for my holiday card, the guest list for my housewarming, and the friends at my dinner dates with whom I don't mind being embarrassed in front of and sharing stories of how I poured my heart out on my blind date. Yeah, we don’t want to chase queen status on social media. These popularity numbers are fuzzy and not to be taken too seriously, in my opinion.
I could go on and on about all the kinds of numbers when I think of my life. What about you? It’s fun to play this game.
Finally, I have a unique number in mind for life: the number of words, pages, and books. Imagine we can all put our lives in words in books. What would our books say? Are our lives eventful? Are we wordy or concise? What would we include and leave behind or leave out?
Numbers have no judgment, but people do. Their simplicity should not be the only way we see each other. Being a single mid-age woman doesn’t always mean being sad. What's essential is the life that happened, the story in the book. Let's be curious about each other beyond simple numbers.
For my single friends, one can be an equally powerful and whole number as any others. We may be defined often by being one, but don’t forget that our lives comprise many small and large happenings that make up the “one.”
This is article #1!