The Most Beautiful Woman

Further to my previous, unedifying post at the end of a bad day, I have resolved to tackle the subjects I couldn’t deal with last night.

So. Serendipity. Let’s start with that. Nice word, anyway. The word that lots of people choose as their favourite. I wonder what mine would be? I digress. Maybe one day I’ll write a post listing my favourite words….I like words.   But for now: serendipity. Or, more prosaically: chance.

I had been kind of obsessing about this for a while now. Therefore I was pleased when it came up, even though part of me felt like saying ‘I thought of that first!’. (This blog is revealing me to be extremely immature, isn’t it? Well, all I can say is, you should have seen me before, when I was a married, middle class mother. Very sensible and all that, but screaming inside; a mewling infant on the inside. If I’m a toddler or a teenager now, it’s progress, and I am at least learning to vocalise.)

On the one hand, venturing out from my four walls and computer is reaping enormous rewards – in terms of interest: invigorating, intellectual material, not just job specific. This began the day my x walked out on us: I was forced to take in lodgers and do other things I had never done before, all of which was fascinating, made me new friends and taught me new skills. And, now in this course, with every new idea, my head is turned. As I said in the previous post ‘Ooh! I wanna be an artist! I wanna be a spy! I wanna be a train driver! A radio producer!  A restaurateur!’

On the other hand, this is presenting me with a problem (quite apart from the one of unrealistic expectations). If every time I meet someone (or open a newspaper, or listen to the radio, or trawl the internet) I make a valuable connection, then, jeepers, I’d better go on doing this. And if each time, it adds another random data point with no known connection to the others, how long will I have to do it for? I feel like I can’t stop!  We were warned about the unrealistic yearning for the light bulb moment: the idea that is THE ONE.  But how will I know when I have enough little fairy lights?

When I was at business school we were taught something rather sexist-ly (what is the right word?) called ‘the most beautiful woman in the world problem’. I have since heard it described by other mathematicians. The idea is framed thus: if you want to marry the most beautiful woman, but you don’t want to have to size up every one (hang on, I think this may just be out of a population of 100), then what you should do is this. Have the first 37 women parade before you. Decide which is the most beautiful of those. Then, as soon as you seen one of the remaining women who matches or exceeds her beauty – pick her.

Now, I am a million miles away from being a mathematician (and I may have told the problem all wrong). But I recognize in myself a tendency to think: what if the next one is better? I can drive myself wild reading reviews on Tripadvisor looking for the ‘BEST’ hotel. Countless hours are wasted in this way. My husband used to say ‘they are all fine, just pick one’. And I would think ‘If they are all equally fine, HOW do I pick one?’  And 37% of career ideas is a meaningless notion.

The phrase ‘embarrassment of riches’ comes to mind.

I remind myself about the theory that a pattern will form. I hope so. But I don’t have all day.


Photo is of padlocks on a bridge in Cologne.


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Florence Feynman

I am a middle aged, middle class woman, thinking.

One thought on “The Most Beautiful Woman”

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