Antiquated notions perpetuated by technical geniuses makes for rather unromantic wooing.
Love and Engineering
Recently a New York Times essay titled “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” went quite viral. In it the writer decided to give psychologist Arthur Aron’s theory of how to get two strangers to fall in love a practical try. She and a not-so-complete stranger sat down and asked each other a series of 36 questions and then stared into each other’s eyes for several minutes. The practice worked and they ended up together—which could be entirely coincidental. Or not. Love is a mystery. Attaining it, equally so. But if anyone felt they could boil it down to technical and practical elements, it’s an engineer. Thus we have Atanas Boev, a technical engineer and doctor of science in technology, who’s taken it on himself to discover what he calls the “love hack,” a way to bypass the complexities of falling in love by approaching it scientifically. Documentary filmmaker Tonislav Hristov follows Boev in this endeavor and the results are sweet, nerdy, and despite the new-fangled scientific approach, rather sexist.
With four difficult study subjects, Boev’s task seems slightly more difficult than throwing strangers together. These four men are all engineers, all on the more awkward side of the social spectrum, and most of them have very little experience dating. (One of them, a 30-year-old, has exactly zero experience.) Boev reasons that because he’s already found himself a wife, he’s the most qualified to lead these young men in their pursuit/computer experiment. In his first bit of advice he discusses starting conversations with women and describes a scenario in which a guy at a party could trick a woman into starting a conversation. “It’s like HTML,” he explains “She opens <> the conversation, you end it.”
Thus begins the documentation of a rather backward-thinking approach to invoke love between engineers and ladies. At first their efforts feel like a rom-com trope. Boev sits in a hidden back room at a hotel while two of the woeful engineers go on dates with two strangers, earpieces winding behind their ears into their collars as they are fed ideas for conversation from Boev. Then they do a series of actual scientific experiments. Blindfolded women are asked to rate the scents of the men they smell to gauge pheromone attraction. The men are coupled off with various women and have conversations with brain scanning hats on their heads. At one point the men tell bad engineering jokes and the girls rate their levels of humor. Often the guys draw bar graphs and sit around their classroom expressing their incredibly farfetched ideas of what love actually is. One young man finds it entirely reasonable that the perfect date would be someone who has the exact idea as he does for where to get a beer. That way he doesn’t need to do all the thinking and planning. And why wouldn’t two strangers know all the same places and have the exact same ideas when first meeting? Another of the men confusingly refuses to date nurses clearly believing his level of intellect to be far superior than that of the average nurse.
Hristov sails over some of these more egregious moments of sexism with romantic imagery and soft lighting. Peter Flinckenberg’s cinematography seems almost wasted on these silly boys and their horribly obtuse efforts. Many times throughout the film a beautiful woman—and one can only assume paid actor—locks fingers with one of the engineers floating romantically on a swing, her blonde locks shining in the sunset in a sort of dream sequence. It’s clearly contrived to evoke the lovey dovey feelings Love and Engineering thinks it’s positing, but only puts into perspective just how far off these engineers are. At one point one of them has a date cancelled moments after expressing how great the short romance has thus been. Disappointment fills the young man’s face and as he vents his frustrations and tears spring into his eyes. Only the cold-hearted would scoff at this recognizable romantic agony; however, more experienced individuals might also point out that this sort of a reaction comes from a lack of understanding the dating ritual and an unrealistic emotional investment on the part of a young man who assumed he had more “scientific control.”
Not once are the female subjects asked for their perspective on the tests that are being done to them, nor the dates of these men asked how they would prefer to be wooed. The observances of male behavior are, however, one of the more interesting aspects of the film. The group goes on a short party cruise at one point and one of the men gets quite hostile toward another at their morning-after debrief over the fact that he was awoken by this guy when he brought a lady into their shared bedroom the night before. It plays out like an episode of Jersey Shore, where the abused dude is clearly more upset by the lack of “game” he got than by being awakened, while the other bewildered engineer is clearly too pleased with his late night escapades to feel that bad about the affair. And for the record, nobody is really gaining bragging rights with any of their experiences here. In the end it’s less about who finds love and more about the lessons learned, the data culled.
The one woman allowed any real input on the experiment, an evolutionary biologist, laughs obligingly at the men’s work and then suggests they try being themselves and attempt some confidence as a way to attract a female. They scoff at her suggestion that their approach isn’t a good one. It’s a brief moment, late in the film, but it manages to taint the entire film. Up until then it’s easy to shake one’s head and laugh at the cute nerdy engineers and their funny robotic approach to love, but once an honest to goodness intelligent female points out their flaws it’s as though we’re suddenly reminded women are humans and this hasn’t been an extended Sim game.
Geek love is a cute and popular romantic idea these days, and timed so perfectly with Valentine’s Day there are sure to be plenty lured in by the cleverness of the film. But ultimately Love and Engineering is a reminder that there is some serious backwards thinking in this world and it’s sad to think it’s being perpetuated by those who are professedly at the forefront of intellectual pursuits.