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A scientist’s guide to Tinder

From the LabLit short story series

Rebecca Nesbit 18 October 2015

Increasingly inaccurate versions of my cat-related chat-up would spread like a meme through London’s dating community

The colouring of a Siamese cat is because of a temperature-sensitive mutation. That dark pigment denatures at higher temperatures, so it’s only dark at the paws, and the nose, and other cold places. New born kittens, they’re all pale.”

“Right?” My date didn’t look up.

“It’s because the kittens are warm underneath their mother.”

Why was I saying this? Surely I had a better chat-up line than a genetics lesson. But what kind of Tinder date happens in a cat café anyway? Maybe he thought I would melt at the sight of kittens and be an easier target. Or maybe, and perhaps this is worse, he just likes cats. Certainly he was spending the whole time fussing over them.

Anyway, there weren’t any kittens and I was glad I’d borrowed my housemate’s perfume because it did something to mask the general smell of urine.

His entire attention seemed to be taken by the tortoiseshell he was petting, so I had no choice but to continue. “You know, tortoiseshells are all female…”

When we’d first met, a little over half an hour ago, I’d been disappointed that he seemed less attractive than his photos, more spindly than slim. But I’d been struck by how sexy his voice was, deep and smooth. I just hadn’t heard much of it since. However, this changed when the waitress came over to talk to us, and I was forced to abandon the ‘he just likes cats’ hypothesis in favour of ‘he just likes cats more than he likes me’.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a second date.


In retrospect, my trip to the cat café wasn’t entirely a waste: when my cousin came to town I knew exactly where to take her. This time there was no talk of genetics, and no excessive focus on cats or waitresses. We were in the middle of gossip about my sister’s boyfriend when my attention was caught by a deep, attractive voice behind me.

“The tortoiseshell colour is because some cells are ginger and some are black. It’s due to the sex chromosomes. Boys just have one X, girls two. So girls only need one that’s, like, switched on in each cell – some cells get the black and some get the ginger.”

I grinned at what I’d started. Increasingly inaccurate versions of my cat-related chat-up would spread like a meme through London’s Tinder community. Barr bodies would be described not as ‘a condensed, inactivated chromosome’ but as ‘like, switched off’, making a polite yet effective way of ensuring this date was your last.

This could be the closest I’d come to changing the world.

My cousin saw my smirk. “What?”

I turned round to draw her attention to the scene unfolding behind me. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. My spindly cat-lover had his date enraptured, leaning towards him with a gaze which might mean ‘I can’t believe how smart you are’.

Maybe, just this one time, my science chat-up lines had led to love.