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The Sheldon Cooper Guide to Relationships

on Mon, 07/09/2012 - 00:00

Sheldon Cooper of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory is not the type of person who has a large number of friends. His egocentric nature, lack of social skills and controlling eccentricities do not endear him to many people other than the small group with whom he already interacts—his roommate Leonard Hofstadter, professional colleagues Howard Wolowitz and Raj Koothrappali, and Penny, his next door neighbor. In the season two episode “The Friendship Algorithm,” however, Sheldon attempts to expand this limited circle by adding Barry Kripke, the obnoxious and annoying fellow scientist from Caltech. “It’s true Kripke lacks the basic social skills that we take for granted,” Sheldon tells his current comrades, not realizing the statement refers as much to himself as anyone. “But he also controls the new open science grid computer that I need to use to run some simulations of structure formation in the early universe.”

Since Kripke only allows his “friends” to use the computer, Sheldon decides to forge just such a relationship with the plasma physicist. The first attempt is to approach Kripke directly. “What would you say to the idea of you and I becoming friends?” he asks. When the response is negative, Sheldon adds, “That seems rather short sided coming from someone who is genuinely considered altogether unlikable.” Since the direct approach doesn’t seem to be working, the scientist in Sheldon quickly takes over instead. “It’s a questionnaire I devised,” he explains to Penny of the multi-page document he later hands her. “I’m having some difficulty bonding with a colleague at work, so I’m doing a little research to better understand why my current friends like me.”

The questionnaire itself has 211 questions. “Don’t worry, in deference to you I’ve kept them all at a high school graduate reading level,” he tells Penny. She in turn proposes that there are better ways to make friends—including being “pleasant”—but Sheldon merely replies that she should use the suggestion as the subject for her essay.

“If you want to learn how to make friends then just go out to a coffee shop or a museum,” Leonard offers when Sheldon frustratingly realizes that no one is taking his questionnaire seriously. “Meet people, talk to them. Take an interest in their lives.” Sheldon silently stares at Leonard before responding, “That’s just insane on the face of it.” Rather than embracing Leonard’s advice, Sheldon forces his roommate to accompany him to the mall in order to find a book on friendship instead. The sales clerk explains that the only ones they have are for children, but Sheldon finds this to be acceptable. “I assume the skills can be extrapolated and transferred,” he replies. Ironically enough, Sheldon soon finds himself making a new friend at the bookstore by following Leonard’s advice of simply talking to someone and taking an interest their life. Unfortunately, the prospective companion is a little girl and Leonard whisks Sheldon away before anyone misinterprets his intentions.

Sheldon eventually purchases Stu the Cockatoo is New at the Zoo and exclaims afterwards, “I believe I’ve isolated the algorithm for making friends.” He even goes so far as to draw a flow chart outlining his new found theory, starting with calling Kripke on the phone and asking, “Would you like to share a meal?” If the response is no, the next question becomes, “Do you enjoy a hot beverage?” A negative response to that query leads to asking about a “recreational activity” and what type of hobbies Kripke enjoys. The flow chart then follows with “Do I share that interest?” and if the response is again no, the question is to be repeated.

Sheldon falls into an infinite loop at that point, but Howard Wolowitz is able to come up with a solution by adding “a loop counter and an escape to the least objectionable activity.” The recreation that Sheldon finds least objectionable, however, is rock climbing at an indoor facility. “What would you say is the minimal altitude I need to achieve to cement our new found friendship?” he asks when he sees the actual structure they are meant to climb. While Sheldon starts off fairly well, he faints half-way up after making the mistake of looking down and realizing that he is afraid of heights. All of his efforts are for naught, however, as Kripke eventually reveals that he has no control over the scheduling of the open science grid computer after all.

While the scientific approach did not result in the desired reaction in “The Friendship Algorithm,” Sheldon again utilizes his academic background in another season two episode, “The White Asparagus Triangulation.” During the installment, roommate Leonard Hofstadter has entered into a relationship with Dr. Stephanie Barnett. Because he has little faith in Leonard’s ability when it comes to women—or most anything else, for that matter—Sheldon takes it upon himself to ensure that the relationship is a success. Of course Sheldon has no idea how dating or relationships actually work, so most of his tactics stem from what he has garnered through research, as well as the little information he can gather from the rest of the group.

Sheldon’s first step is to “assist” Leonard on his dates with Stephanie. He joins them for dinner in the apartment so as to ensure stimulating conversation, for example, and later tracks them down at a movie theater. “If you fail at this relationship, and history suggests you will, then we risk losing the medical officer that our landing party has always needed,” Sheldon explains to Leonard as to why he keeps interfering, “You’re Kirk, I’m Spock, Wolowitz is Scotty. Koothrappali is the guy who always gets killed. And now we’ve got McCoy.”

Sheldon later becomes distressed when he discovers that Stephanie’s Facebook page lists her as “single” instead of “in a relationship.” The scientist in him takes over at this point, concluding that matters of the heart can only be resolved by some derivative of the scientific method. Since finding the root cause of experimental failures often leads to successful future experiments, Sheldon approaches Penny for assistance. “Leonard is failing in yet another relationship,” he explains. “If I have any hope of keeping them together, I need data. Specifically I need to know exactly what Leonard did that caused you to pop an emotional cap in his buttocks. So what is the down and the low, and don’t worry this is all entirely confidential, so feel free to include any and all shortcomings in the bedroom.” Obviously Penny doesn’t answer the question.

Becoming more and more desperate, Sheldon again shows up at Penny’s door later in the episode. “Where are you in your menstrual cycle?” he asks. “I’ve been doing some research online and apparently female primates—you know, apes, chimpanzees, you—they find their mate more desirable when he’s being courted by another female. Now this effect is intensified when the rival female is secreting the pheromones associated with ovulation. Which brings me back to my question—where are you in your menstrual cycle?” At that point Penny simply slams the door in his face.

Continuing with his anthropological studies, Sheldon attempts to showcase Leonard in a masculine light by having his roommate open a jar of asparagus in front of Stephanie after being unable to do so himself. “When I fail to open this jar and you succeed, it will establish you as the Alpha Male,” he tells Leonard. “When a female witnesses an exhibition of physical domination, she produces the hormone oxytocin. If the two of you then engage in intercourse, this will create the biochemical reaction in the brain which lay people naively interpret as ‘falling in love.’”

Leonard proves incapable of opening the jar as well, however, and cuts his hand when he attempts to break it against the side of a table. “It’s a shame it won’t scar,” Sheldon tells him at the hospital. “The war wound is a time honored badge of masculinity.” Believing that Leonard’s chances of remaining with Stephanie are rapidly declining—especially since his roommate cried at the hospital when she administered a needle in his arm—Sheldon attempts one final act to keep them together by changing Leonard’s Facebook status to read that he is in a relationship with the female doctor.

“Are you insane?” Leonard angrily screams at Sheldon. “Now she’s going to think I’m desperate. You’ve destroyed this relationship and you know what the worst part is? You don’t even understand what you did wrong because you can’t conceive of something that you are not an expert in!” At that moment, however, Raj Koothrappali notices that Stephanie has changed her Facebook status as well. Instead of “single,” it now states that she is “in a relationship with Leonard Hofstadter.”

“If I am permitted to speak,” Sheldon rhetorically asks. “Dr. Sheldon Cooper for the win.”

Anthony Letizia (July 9, 2012)

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