So, via the might of science, I am now able to answer the recurring question(s) that is: “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”, “Are you gay?”, “You must have a tiny schlong”.
The answer – The Drake Equation! The Drake equation is used to estimate the number of highly evolved civilizations that might exist in our galaxy. And with a little bit of tweaking where necessary, I can use it to find out the number of potential girlfriends for me.
The equation is generally specified as:
G = R ⋅ fP ⋅ne ⋅ fl ⋅ fi ⋅ fc ⋅ L
- G = The number of civilizations capable of interstellar communication
- R = The rate of formation of stars capable of supporting life (stars like our Sun)
- fP = The fraction of these stars that have planets
- ne = The average number of planets similar to Earth per planetary system
- fl = The fraction of the Earth-like planets supporting life of any kind
- fi = The fraction of life-supporting planets where intelligent life develops
- fc = The fraction of planets with intelligent life that are capable of interstellar communication (those which have electromagnetic technology like radio or TV)
- L = The length of time such communicating civilizations survive
Using this equation Prof. Drake estimated that 10,000 communicative civilizations probabilistically exist in the Milky Way alone. Astronomers estimate that there are between 200 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. Let’s call it 300 billion. This makes the probability of a star chosen at random supporting life capable of interstellar communication 0.00000003%.
Another way to think about this is that this is the probability of the conditions necessary for us to communicate with an alien civilization being satisfied. These seem like slim odds at best, but the probability is positive (There is a chance!) and this approach is widely accepted by astronomers (This isn’t science fiction!). The idea that there could be 10,000 civilizations that we are capable of communicating with is very exciting indeed.
While extraterrestrial civilizations may be rare, there is something that is seemingly rarer still: A girlfriend. For me. What might the approach employed in the estimation of the number of alien civilizations tell us about the number of potential girlfriends for me? A somewhat less scientific question, I admit, but one of substantial personal importance.
The parameters are re-defined as follows with the values in brackets:
- G = The number of potential girlfriends:
One can easily substitute boyfriends in here but as I am a heterosexual male I will focus on the search for a girlfriend.
- R = The rate of formation of people in Kenya (i.e. population growth):
This is about 1,000,000 people per year over the last 60 years.
- fW = The fraction of people in Kenya who are women. (0.51)
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics puts it at just over half of the population.
- fL = The fraction of women in Kenya who live in Nairobi. (0.09)
I would like my girlfriend to be nearby so that we can see each other. This makes it easier to get to know each other, avoids the difficulties of a long-distance relationship and saves me the bus fare.
- fA = The fraction of the women in Nairobi who are age-appropriate. (0.19)
I am 27 years old (Thank you, I know I don’t look it). I would like my girlfriend to be near my age. I don’t want to feel older than I am by not being able to keep up with a spritely eighteen-year-old, or because I haven’t watched Purple Hearts and I don’t know who Olivia Rodrigo is. Nor do I want to fall prey to a voracious cougar or to be regaled with stories of the fight for multiparty democracy. Let’s say I am looking for a woman between 23 and 29 years of age.
- fU = The fraction of age-appropriate women in Nairobi with a university education. (0.01)
I am not trying to be an elitist or anything, but I would like my girlfriend to have a university education. I think we would have more in common and I would like someone I could discuss my work with sometimes. I know that there are many intelligent people who don’t go to university, so don’t get all righteously indignant. Everyone has preferences. How many women out there have dated men shorter than themselves? I rest my case.
- fB = The fraction of university-educated, age-appropriate women in Nairobi who I find physically attractive. (0.05)
Physical attractiveness is important. It is often the first thing people notice about each other and it makes sex easier. Not that my potential girlfriend need be considered attractive by anyone else, but I must find her attractive. This is a tough parameter to estimate. Let’s be generous and say I find 1 in 20, or 5% of age-appropriate women in Nairobi with a university education physically attractive.
- L = The length of time in years that I have been alive thus making an encounter with a potential girlfriend possible.
27? Good lord, I am old.
We can simplify the above specification by recognizing that the number of people who have ever lived in Kenya is related to the population growth rate by:
N = ∫0T R(t).dt
where T is the age of Kenya. If we assume that R is constant over the period T then N = R ⋅ T. While this simplification is often used for the Drake Equation’s intended purpose, it is not a good assumption when adapting the equation for our purposes here. Instead, we use N*, the population of Kenya as of mid-2023, where:
N* = 55,100,586
With this simplification, we can re-specify the Drake equation as:
G = N* ⋅ fW ⋅ fL ⋅ fA ⋅ fU ⋅ fB
If we plug in the above values we get:
G = 55,100,586 ⋅ 0.51⋅ 0.09 ⋅ 0.19 ⋅ 0.01 ⋅ 0.05
G = 240
So, what this means is that 240 people in Kenya satisfy these most basic criteria for being my girlfriend. That is 0.00044% of Kenyans and 0.0047% of Nairobians, which does not seem so good. On a given night in Nairobi, there is greater than a 1 in 10,000 chance that I will meet an attractive woman between the ages of 23 and 29 with a university degree. Of course, this does not take into account the fraction of these women who will find me attractive (depressingly low), the fraction of these women who will be single (falling with age) and, perhaps most importantly, the fraction of these women who I will get along with. Including such factors would greatly reduce the above figure of 240. A rough estimate puts the number of potential girlfriends accounting for these three additional criteria (1 in 10 of the women find me attractive, half are single and I get along with 1 in 10) at 2. That’s correct. There are only 2 women in Kenya with whom I might have a wonderful relationship with. So, on a given night out in Nairobi, there is a 0.000045% chance of meeting one of these special people, about 1000 times better than finding an alien civilization we can communicate with. That’s a 1 in 27,550,293 chance. Not great. At all!
Make of this what you will. It might cheer you up, it might depress you. I guess it depends on what you thought your chances were before reading this. But how do you think I feel? I spent aeons perfecting this formula, only to prove that I am the highest note in a sad song.