Is Love Really Stronger Than Gravity?

In fictional story Gravity’s Whispers by Gregory Benford, we follow a nameless data analyzing protagonist (whom I shall call Alex) and a romantically apathetic LIGO scientist named Sam during the discovery of the unambiguous SETI signal.

This story is an example of the science fiction background that has heavily influenced SETI thought. This piece can be seen as using the medium of fiction to communicate new SETI ideas, and is one of the few pieces of common literature with the suggestion of SETI messaging via gravitational waves. While incredibly difficult, gravitational waves could be one of the best ways to send a SETI beacon over the largest distances because the amplitude of gravitational wave signals only decreases as a function of 1/r instead of 1/r^2 like most other methods.

In summary: Sam gives Alex a noisy signal which they decode and find a prominent mathematical sum (the Riemman Sum) and a highly sought after mathematical proof (to the Riemann Hypothesis). On the way to the bar for beers, Alex kisses Sam and he remarks that maybe its a good thing we can’t communicate back to this ETI.

The story was a bit confusing to me. It is hard for short stories to pull the reader into the characters and make them investing, but I feel like the whole romance angle wasn’t well put together. It honestly gave off a creepy vibe for me. Alex has been interested in Sam for a long time, but it has so far been unrequited interest up until this point.

“I wondered whether Sam the Slow had finally decided to make a date with me, in his odd way. I’d been waiting half a year.”

“‘I gave him a smile he didn’t notice'”

The picture of pining, unrequited lover. Even after they discuss the absolutely world-changing signal, Alex’s comment is

“Maybe, just maybe, this could be more important than at last getting Sam to date me.”

Then, they proceed to kiss Sam without solicitation in a car ride where it is “a long drive back to Socorro”. While there is a line where “He kissed back, his eyes flickered, he grinned”, that is the only indication that this type of behavior was okay. It seems like a strange time to make a move on a collaborator and longtime friend (when they are trapped in a car and coming off such a big discovery). The quote continues “but he didn’t look happy. He grasped the steering wheel and peered ahead into the starlit darkness.” Alex believes he is thinking about the aliens, and the author suggests this as well, but the whole romantic interplay throughout the story felt unnecessary and seems to encourage harassment-y behavior.