the oneSince today is Valentine’s Day and so many tech people are single, I thought I’d talk about love. If you’re married or looking for a technology article, you can stop reading now.

For everyone else, “love” is perhaps the most loaded word in the English language. We define it in magical terms. It carries with it the unreasonable expectations of a lifetime of love songs and a thousand happily ever afters. We expect it to excite us, inspire us, and ultimately complete us. For many, it is the only religion they still believe in, and the last piece of magic in a world where everything is for sale. But all of these things we ascribe to love have elevated it to an unattainable level. Our ideas of love have become as mystical as a unicorn.

Love didn’t always look like rainbows and roses. For centuries, people understood that it required work and sacrifice. It was something two people built over time, something that took effort. People accepted that love wasn’t easily earned and had to be nurtured. But that version of love isn’t good enough anymore. Work on love? Don’t be absurd.

Today, we’ve all adopted the shortcut hacker mentality to finding love. Or worse, we expect it to just show up without trying. People give us horrendous advice such as, “you’ll find someone when you stop looking.”  Right, just like you’ll magically become a successful entrepreneur when you stop trying to start a company. That makes no sense at all.

Why do we work so hard on our professional lives, building companies and careers, and devote so little to our personal lives? Is it unimportant? Some would argue that we need a career to survive but we don’t need a love life. That may be true in the technical sense but what about what we want? Do we really want to go through life alone? As loudly as we may protest and make claims that we don’t need anyone, I suspect we all want someone with whom to share our lives. We might think we can erase our emotional needs with a Spock-like stoicism but unless you’re half Vulcan, it’s not going to work.

Despite the current cool factor of geek culture, it often seems contemptuous of love. Perhaps because love is fundamentally illogical and can’t be diagrammed on a whiteboard or explained using Boolean logic, many of us treat it as an optional, even foreign thing. Much of geek culture actually seems to be designed as a replacement for dating. Who needs dates when you can fill your Saturday nights with World of Warcraft? Who needs a love life when you’re married to your startup?

Contrary to popular belief, I’m a romantic and despite the bleak picture of dating I’ve painted, I don’t think love is impossible. I think we just need to look at it differently. It isn’t a magic unicorn dressed in a package that looks like George Clooney or Charlize Theron. It’s an endeavor, much in the same way a startup is an endeavor. It usually begins as a minimum viable product and requires a whole lot of pivots. Even then, there’s still a chance you won’t achieve a customer fit. But it’s too important not to try.

So if you’re going out tonight looking for love, let down your guard and take a chance. Don’t immediately dismiss somebody because they’re too short or use a Blackberry or some other silly reason. Think of it as day one of your startup, not the billion dollar company you dream about. Most of all, remember that love doesn’t always come wrapped in the perfect package. You might just be surprised by what’s inside.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]