The Sort: Part Two

This is the second half of a short story. The first half is here.

I move in that weekend. He lives in this sweet little town in the mountains and owns a house that looks cozy and big to my cramped city eyes. I fill out the transferal paperwork online for my job. Moving locations due to a sort is one of the few things they’re able to process basically immediately. That’s one of the reasons the system works so well. Congress made it really clear that the public-health benefits of everyone’s commitment to proper sorting would basically set the economy on fire. If we’re all happily coupled with the person that we all know is perfect for us, that takes away a lot of the romantic drama and longing and heartbreak that reduce productivity. It’s a win-win. 

It certainly feels that way for me. There’s a lightness in my heart of the kind I haven’t felt in years. My general sense of worry, of insufficiency, goes quiet, even as I’m packing all my boxes with Alex’s help and leaving the place I’ve called home since college. 

That night we have sex for the first time. Alex makes it clear that he’s happy to wait for as long as I want, because again, there’s no rush at all. But I pull him into bed, shaking my head, and kiss him hard. As I should have expected, it works out. Really well. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but really only a bit. The system works. We smile at each other like giddy co-conspirators before turning out the lights for the night.

A few weeks later, we introduce each other to our families. First mine come to our house, because they’re RVing around the country and it works out pretty well. I’m nervous about how they’re going to act, because they’ve always been a little weird around my exes. Alex squeezes my hand and I know what he means: It’s going to be okay, because it’s going to be okay. 

And, miraculously, it is. My parents are so relaxed and natural and afterward my dad takes me aside and says: “He’s perfect for you,” with this sense of amazement. 

“That’s how it works, Dad,” I say, and he shrugs. 

They’ll never really get it. Pragmatically, Congress made sure that people of older generations were grandfathered out of the sort, or else it never would have passed. There was so much fear-mongering during the debates about the fact that most marriages would be re-sorted, which obviously did happen, but older folks couldn’t accept that it was actually for the best. I mean, look at my parents. Are they happy together? They’ll never know for sure. It’s really sad.

Alex is over there packing some cookies for my mom for the road. God, I love him.

Then we meet his parents, who live a few towns over. They’re really welcoming, but they’re also a high-energy family. They have that kind of yelling-between-rooms vibe that I’ve never understood. A lot of them are hassling us about the sort, making it sound like it’s just more nonsense from the modern age’s obsession with oversharing. But then some of the older ones point out that it’s kind of like arranged marriage, and this view is extremely polarizing, raising the general volume of the room. Some seem to think this makes it more respectable; others find it monstrous. Alex is squeezing an arm around me and laughing quietly, so I do too. 

It doesn’t matter what they think. It just matters that he and I are safe together. Us against the world, if we want. Forever. I rest my head on his shoulder. 

Two months pass like this. It doesn’t even do it justice to say I’m happier than I ever have been, because it’s so much more than that. I’m safe and unworried, and there’s enough of me to go around. That’s something I didn’t even know about myself: until Alex I’d been living like there was only little bits of me and I had to parcel them out like crumbs, but the way I feel when I’m with him has taught me that I’m a whole-ass person, a real full woman with a lot to give. I’m more productive than I’ve ever been, working more and running longer and learning the guitar again, and even just content to sit there in the quiet of our house with him, watching the sun set over the mountains from the back porch sharing lemonade, our hands hooked by index fingers. 

We go to Rome together. He has the points, and I have enough saved to splurge on a nice apartment in the old city. We spend a week wandering the streets and churches and museums, eating massive plates of pasta in the piazzas, sharing carafes of wine the size of his head, talking about the future. It feels like it felt when my ex and I were on the way to getting engaged, although that’s of course an anachronism. Engagement, weddings, all that, it’s all more or less a thing of the past, because there’s no question to ask anymore. We’ve been committed to each other from that first moment we swiped the screens, or even before that, as soon as the system ran the process that optimized matches and put us together, and it’ll last forever.

But then there was a thought, and everything changed. 

I was holding my glass of wine, and he was telling me a funny story about this time he got lost on the way home from school when he was a kid, and I’m laughing at him, and I think: “I’m so glad this will never end.” At that very moment part of my brain wakes up and realizes: that can’t be right. 

Think about it: Alex and I are perfect for each other, but only out of the pool of people who can be sorted right now. That pool includes everyone who is currently alive and outside the exempt generations; and it excludes people who are too young to be sorted and those who have a temporary medical deferment. But those categories all change. 

Next year, there will be new 18-year-olds aging into the sort, and there will be some number of people now eligible for the sort who will have died, and there will be some number of people whose medical deferments end. For this reason, there are rumors of periodic re-sorts. It’s not the kind of thing the government provides much information about, but logically it has to be part of the system. Otherwise, you’d get all kinds of terrible results. By 20 years from now, there might be dozens of women who are actually better matches for Alex than I am, but who had to be sub-optimally sorted with other people just because we happened to get sorted first. Or, maybe there’s someone out there whose wife will die a month from now, and with her gone, he and I would actually be the best match. Now, this kind of situation is rare by design—that’s why they put so much work into the actuarial side of the system design, making sure that untimely deaths are rare. It’s supposed to be the case that you’ll die around the same time, with a high degree of confidence, so it’s almost not worrying about. 

But in either of those cases, to allow better matches to stay apart just because worse matches were already sorted would mean to let failure creep into the system, which would defeat the whole purpose of the sort. It would inject doubt into its core. It has to be the case that a period re-sort can potentially happen, and that way we know that we’re always sorted with the right person. I believe in the system. It’s what I voted for. 

Now, no one talks about re-sorting. It’s rude, for obvious reasons, just like it would be to pry about people’s love lives for any other reason. And for the most part it doesn’t matter, because the models all show that it will be vanishingly rare. All the wonks who’ve studied it say that we can expect something like an 0.5% re-sort rate, which is almost nothing. And so far, no re-sort has been called, so I have nothing to worry about.

And yet.  

My stomach drops in dread and I try not to let it show. I sip my wine. 

But in this moment, feeling the wine warm up under my hand, I cannot imagine anything ever making it okay, if something happens and we get separated. 

I don’t want to spoil the moment so I don’t say anything. He notices that I’m not acting like myself, though, and by the time we’re in bed together I finally say something: 

“Alex, it occurred to me that a re-sort could come.”

“Oh?”

“It’s freaking me out.”

“But they haven’t called a re-sort.”

“I know, but someday they’re going to have to, right?”

He sits back and rubs the back of his neck with his hand. “I guess I just haven’t thought about it. But yeah, like they’ve said, they’ll have to make periodic adjustments.”

“Right,” I say. “So, what if we get…adjusted?”

He leans over and kisses me on the forehead. “Don’t worry about that at all, my love. We’re meant to be together.”

“I know, but what if we’re not? Like, what if someone else got hit by a bus and their partner is better for you? Or,” I try to laugh, “what if my real soulmate is 17 right now but soon I’m supposed to meet him once he ages in? You know?”

He pretends to look offended. “What, you’re already ready to trade me in for a younger model?”

“Never,” I smile, and kiss him. 

He pulls away after a moment and holds my head close. “We’re happy together, Cara. The system isn’t going to re-sort a match as good as this.”

“I know, but what if…”

He pulls me into a tight hug. It sort of helps, but I’m annoyed that he’s not talking. 

“I know you think it’s not going to happen,” I say quietly, wishing I could just let it go, “but what if it does?”

“Then we’ll fake our deaths and flee the country like anyone would, okay?” He’s actually kind of annoyed. “Go to sleep, Cara. I love you more than anything. I literally can’t do any better than you.” 

“I can’t do any better than you.” I smile, because it’s one of our little jokes. I know we both mean it. 

I really wish that were enough to calm me down, but it’s not. Instead, it makes things worse. I lose sleep all that night wondering if this is all proof that we’re not optimally sorted. If we were, wouldn’t we be having the same level of anxiety about this? Did he respond the way he should have, after all? And then every little thing from the last few months is replaying in my head and I’m wondering about all of it. Was it normal that we moved in together so soon? Do other people date longer after the sort? Did that show that there was something wrong with one or both of us, did we rush it? Or maybe, on the other hand, did we not go far enough? Should we have had a wedding? Most people don’t anymore. But should they? Maybe most of us aren’t optimally sorted yet because the older generations are all opted out, and maybe there’s going to be lots of re-sorting before the system settles out. Maybe that 0.5% figure is just a pipe dream.

And then it gets worse, because I realize: as much as I believe the system works, because it does, the system is only as good as the information it has. It has all our old data, but Alex and I have really gone off the grid in our little love puddle since we sorted. So as far as the system knows, is it going well? Or not? Should we be texting more often? Should we take more pictures? If we’d planned a wedding, that would be evidence for our being perfect together. What, after all, do they have to go on to know that it’s working well and doesn’t need adjusting?

I can’t help myself now that I’m thinking this way, so at 3am I send him a long text about how much I love him as he sleeps next to me. 

And then when we go home, I know he doesn’t want me to keep fretting about it, but I can’t stop. So I go behind his back and do more research. Research usually calms me down. I go deeper on the Reddit threads than I usually do, and I download some questionably legal software that gives me access to various banned discussion boards where people really let loose. It’s unsavory, but it’s like a car crash, I can’t stop scrolling. There are all kinds of ridiculous conspiracy theories about the age-mismatch thing, that the whole point is a secret plot to Children-of-Men us and reduce our fertility rate by matching fertile young men with women over childbearing age. I roll my eyes at this. 

But there are some other ones that give me pause: I know I should have, but I’d never thought much about how the system works for LGBTQ people. Anecdotally, in my friend group, it seemed to work fine so far. But some people online wonder openly about the wisdom of giving this power to the government, because if the next administration is homophobic, they could tweak the algorithm and make only heterosexual matches. 

Or, some people say, what if a foreign government hacked into it and made terrible matches and everyone killed each other? That sounds far-fetched, but, you know, what if?

I’m basically addicted to reading this shit now. I read about what has happened to kids whose parents got sorted with other people far away. I wish I hadn’t.

And I know I shouldn’t, but I go on the threads where people are leaking classified information about the algorithm. Because here’s the thing: staying with Alex at this point is up to the algorithm. I need to know how it works. 

I won’t share what I learned with you, for obvious reasons. But here’s what I do: I start sending him a lot more messages. I start interacting with all his posts. I listen to a lot more jazz. I make a photo of us my phone background. I get him into running without telling him why, but he’s so goddamn nice that he doesn’t question me pushing him to get up with me at 5 to run up into the mountains. I take a picture of us up there and put it on my social.

I make sure to keep my phone on me all the time. I talk to him a lot about everything he does all day. I repeat stories he’s told to me, to make sure I’ve gotten them right. I agree with him on everything, even when my inclination might be to push back on some stuff. I can be insufferable that way, but now I’m not. 

And then I start to wonder, am I ruining it by changing? So I start being contrary again. He laughs at the change and dances with me around the living room while hot chocolate heats up on the stove.

Two days to go.

I cry myself to sleep one of the nights because I’m just so scared. I’m not sure if what I’ve done was enough. If it never was enough, because there’s someone else out there, then not a goddamn thing I could do would fix it. So I just have to hope that I’ve given the system enough information to know:

This is right.

Don’t change it.

We’re so happy. 

Leave us be.

But then, a few months later, they call a re-sort. I knew it. 

On the night it happens, we’re sitting together on the couch watching our favorite murder mystery series together. I’ve got my feet in fluffy socks on his lap. We’re sharing a bowl of popcorn he made on the stovetop. Our fingers keep knocking together in the bowl. His thighs are so warm under my feet and I want to die, right precisely now, so I don’t have to know what happens next.

Our phones ding simultaneously at 8. 

YOU HAVE A MATCH.

The sound effects, the goddamn fake fireworks on the screen. I feel like I’m going to chew right through the inside of my cheek. I don’t want him to see.

SWIPE TO REVEAL.

He’s not even looking; he’s got one hand of popcorn up to his lips and his eyes on the screen where the cop is closing in on the killer. With his blind left hand he swipes. And that’s when I see it, before I swipe on my own phone:

My face, on his screen. My name. His match. I start crying. 

“Honey, oh no, what is it?” he asks, pausing the TV and moving closer. “Come here. Are you okay?”

“We matched,” I say into his shoulder.

“Of course we did,” he laughs. “You poor thing. Didn’t you know we were going to?”

I’m too choked up to speak. 

“I bet you’re tired from getting up so early to go running, right? Maybe we should sleep in tomorrow, run at lunchtime instead.”

I can’t speak so I just smile and nod. 

It should all be over. But I still can’t sleep that night. If we stop running in the morning, will it change next time they re-sort? Do I have to keep up this pace of engaging on his social? Maybe we should make a joint bank account, and that would give us some points on that end so I could ease up on the texting. 

He’s the one for me. He’s next to me sleeping easy. 

I need to make it last. I need to find out how. 

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