Do the math! 1+1=3!

A coworker was sharing with a group of us recently her date from hell. A high school friend had set her up on a blind date with a guy from her gym. The date started fine enough — my coworker learned that her date and her shared an interest in classic cars — but things went south when he was rude to the wait staff and ended with her spilling wine on her new outfit.

On paper my friend should’ve hit it off with her date, but the two ended up being oil and water. My wife and I have been married for close to thirty years, but I still remember my first blind date. Like my coworker’s experience, my blind date and I should have been a great match. We were both neat freaks and liked simple things.

Unfortunately, we got off to a rocky start and things never got better. When she gave me her number, I transposed the third and fourth numbers. When I figured out the problem, she had already moved on to multiplication and division and I was left in the dust.

Oh, I’m not talking about the dating scene or blind dates, I’m talking about math class. I should love math and the structure and organization that it brings. I should love the black and white nature of math and that there is always a right and wrong answer, which are both right up my alley. I should love that you need evidence for everything you put down on paper. Finally, I should love math because as my engineering, data science, and actuary friends like to tell me: It’s everywhere in life. It shows up in everything we see and touch.

Never the right answer

I get all those reasons, but my frustration with math started at a young age. I came home in tears one day in first grade frustrated that I couldn’t answer a problem that we were working on in school. I vaguely recall the teacher being frustrated with me for daydreaming in class, but I couldn’t complete the problem and I was scared to death.

I worked and worked on my homework and couldn’t solve it. I was adding when I was supposed to be subtracting, I was subtracting when I should have been adding. After coming up empty, I put away my homework and got ready for dinner. I didn’t say a lot, I sulked by myself and when dinner was done, I went straight to bed.

My mother must have known something was up. When she checked up on me later, tears of frustration came pouring out. She told me to grab my homework and we would see if we couldn’t figure out the answer together. Sure enough, my mom showed me what I was doing wrong. We went over the homework a few more times and then she rocked me in my favorite rocking chair, calming the last bit of anxiety percolating inside of me. (When I think of peace and calm today, that moment is the image I get in my head, my mom rocking me back-and-forth and me in my onesie-footed PJs. I think of that image today and I still get a tear in my eye.)

A short-lived achievement

I couldn’t’ wait to show the teacher. I ran into the classroom the next morning and pulled out my homework to prove that I could do the work. I forget her reaction, but I remember math’s dirty trick, just as I had finally figured out how to solve the problem, when it came time for math class later that morning, we were off to the races again learning something new. I didn’t even have time to savor my win. I was back to Square One and just as lost as before.

Oh, math we could have been great together! We could have been a great team. Unfortunately, it was never to be. Oh, I tried to keep a positive attitude about math. I even tried to get back in math’s good graces. I took advance classes and dared to ask math out on another date my senior year of high school. I thought I might catch her attention by taking Calculus, but it wasn’t to be. My love went unrequited, I barely survived in one piece, bringing home low Cs.

Of course, in time, I found other things to love, like English, history, and even science. They have all meant more to me than math. Thank goodness for choices! I’ve found my true loves and it’s not math!

“Number rules the universe.”


“As long as algebra is taught in school, there will be prayer in school.”

—Cokie Roberts

51 thoughts on “Do the math! 1+1=3!

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  1. I think math is the reason some of us turned to writing, Brian. I had similar experiences to you at school and was glad for the invention of the calculator. On the oil and water subject, my wife works in a science background. Many conversations end in , ‘Oh, you writers,’ or ‘Oh, you scientists.’ It makes me wonder, don’t scientists have to use words in order to explain their theories?

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  2. I’ve been out of high school for 49 years. I have yet to use the geometry, algebra and calculus maths I was forced to learn in my three years there. However, being this old means that I can do a lot of addition and a bit of subtraction in my head, so there’s that.

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  3. Very clever Brian! For years I felt much the same way so I get how this love affair fell flat for you. I kept myself in that dating scene though, even when I met and married another much closer to my heart named Sociology. I felt I just had to dig until I understood why math and I weren’t successful. We’ve become friends over the years and keep in touch on occasion but I just had to let go of the idea that we were ever going to be any closer than very puzzled friends 😉

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  4. I feel your pain, Brian; although I could just about do maths, give me English Literature and History, and I shared exactly the same fears about them as you did with maths. My Mum would try to help me, but like you, the class was on another topic by the time I’d got my homework done. I had a lot of time off school because of illness, and find that I was still reading Jane Eyre while they had moved on to Macbeth. They were painful days! I’m glad you found some subjects that appealed to you more. And how lovely that your mom rocked you in your favourite rocking chair. Those sort of memories stay with us forever. I bought a rocking chair from a charity shop many years ago, but rather than finding it soothing, I felt awful motion sickness instead! I gave it back to the charity shop. I know that sounds unlikely, but it was absolutely true.

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  5. Oh goodness…your story is giving me 4th grade flashbacks/PTSD about a ‘math episode’ — LOL! You have many talents, Brian — and I can surely relate to the math-phobic stuff you shared. And the Cokie Roberts quote? OMG — LOVE that! 😉😉😉

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  6. I hated math. I much preferred history, English lit, etc. And being 45 I really wish I could travel back in time and tell my 5th grade teacher that “Yes, I do have a calculator with me everywhere I go.” My math (algebra, etc) has been replaced with my endless knowledge of Excel formulas now…

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  7. This is so funny, Brian! I was en extremely nerdy kid, so I studied for fun and LOVED all the subjects, but especially Math. I was a Mensa kid, scored in the top 1% nationally on standardized math tests throughout high school… and then failed Calculus three times (once in high school and twice in college) before finally developing that universal hatred for the subject. Hahaha!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow Esoterica! That’s really cool! Sounds like an interesting blog or two on your experiences if you haven’t already written about them. Calc was just so different, I’m not surprised by your story. I had a really bad teacher but it’s just such a strange world. You think you have the answer and you’re miles off. Crazy!

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  8. Brian, I’m one of those people who simply does not have a head for numbers and my school days during math class were horrible. I would get so anxious before math class that I would get physically sick. It was an awful time for me and my teachers as well. It got so bad that in my sophomore class in high school, the principal took pity on me and allowed me to drop math and double up on another subject. I chose English. I have the dubious distinction of being the only student in my school to drop math!
    Regarding the subject of blind dates, I only had one and it went very well. We hit it off great and got married four years later; we celebrated our 50th anniversary last June. And wouldn’t you know it – my husband majored in math in college❗️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Enjoyed your post. I didn’t do bad with math, but I failed miserably when it came to geometry. Fate being fickle and all, I had to revisit the math of squares, triangles, parallelograms and such when I became an avid quilt- maker.
    When my sister was fifteen she went on a blind date arranged by friends. He was eighteen; they married the next summer and had a long and happy marriage. Sometimes….

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  10. OMG Brian, you’re singing my song! I started out doing just fine with arithmetic, but when they changed the name to math, things went south quicker than a waterslide at Disney, It was pathetic. No, it was torture. It left a lasting mark and the resolve to never be in a place without a calculator close at hand.

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  11. You’re singing my song! I spent almost every evening my junior year in high school grinding my teeth and often crying over my pre-cal homework. I just could not. I barely passed college algebra, but I did and I never looked back! I often wish I could really understand math….but it ain’t happening in this lifetime. 😜

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  12. My son started college as a Theoretical Math Major. After about three years and falling in love with a poet, he switched majors to Lit. He said he was tired of spending an entire year proving the existence of zero and that it was so much work he had no social life. As a Lit major with his girlfriend, it was fun and they’re still together.

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    1. Wow! I’m always amazed by folks like your son who can mix the mathematical and English (be it the comms or Lit side). I had a good friend who was a Chem E (tons of calc and science) who could also write an interesting 20-page paper like nobody’s business or explain the difference war and peace and other tomes of its day, his skills always made me jealous! So happy for your son that he found what he loved!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He uses both math and writing in his career and found the love of his life! He writes algorithms and does comms work . My husband is the math guy. I’m the writer. He got a little of each. Enough of proud mom bragging 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Love the second quote. I don’t love math. I barely made it through as well, yet ended up in pre-calculus my sophomore year in high school.😫 Interestingly, my son is awesome at math, but not so gifted in the language arts department. Awesome how God gives us each our own gifts. I just hope I don’t get asked to help with algebra.❤️

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