Not So Impressive

It’s easy at Harvard to feel overwhelmed by your peers’ accomplishments. Your friend is a published author, your roommate played at Carnegie Hall, and your classmate is representing the United States in the 2012 Olympics. Your boyfriend knew number theory before you knew numbers. Some people get so overwhelmed, they start to wonder if their admission was a fluke. Everyone else is so amazing, I can’t believe they wanted another Asian from California!

Stop right there. Allow me to dispel some illusions for you. Seemingly impressive people fall into three categories:

1) They’re not actually that impressive, but know how to fake it.
2) They’re actually impressive, and worked really hard to get there.
3) They’re impressive, worked really hard to get there, and are indeed five times better than you at everything. Read the rest of this entry »

Minor Changes

Changing your personality can be difficult. Here are some easy, surface-level things you can do.Talk Slowly – The problem with talking rapidly, as efficient as it may be, is that you come across as unable to hold other people’s attention. Why else would you be rushing to get everything out?Don’t Be Inquisitive – Whether you are conversing or flirting, it isn’t about you interviewing the other person. Talking to you shouldn’t be a chore. Good conversation has more to do with people taking turns making interesting statements (each related to the previous).

Don’t Be a Downer – If you want to enter a conversation, you have to maintain the energy level. If people are laughing hysterically over the story someone just told, you aren’t allowed to butt in with a complaint about your upcoming midterm. Read the rest of this entry »

Not My Best Moment

Embarrassing episodes are an inevitable part of social interaction, but given the right attitude, they can be transformed from a source of humiliation to a source of humor. There are two messages that I want to convey about embarrassing moments. The first is that when you embarrass yourself, other people don’t care that much. The second is that much can be gained by embracing these moments.

On the first point, even things that feel devastating in the moment are often forgotten ten minutes later. Sophomore year, newly placed in Adams House and eager to make friends, I made it a point to share meals with as many people as possible. One time sitting down at a full table of unfamiliar faces, I knocked over my glass of milk, spilling it all over the table. Mortified, I picked up my tray and left. It wasn’t my best moment, but ten minutes later, I was three tables over joking about the incident with some newly made friends. Read the rest of this entry »

Stop Looking for the Glass Slipper

Scene: you’re chilling with your guy friends, chatting in the dining hall about contrived ethical thought experiments, or working through a power hour at a pregame. The night is middle aged and everyone is feeling pretty good. Now enter a hot girl: blonde, boobs, babe. All of a sudden, the dynamics have changed. It’s no longer just about drinking beer and having fun. It’s about the girl, and what you can say to make her laugh, whether she likes one of the other guys, how you can impress her with your manliness. Suddenly, nothing less than a “your place or mine” at the end of the night seems quite sufficient. And if the clock chimes two and there’s not even a glass slipper left behind, the whole evening is ruled disappointing.

I’ve always seen this as one of the bigger deficiencies of the Harvard (and more generally the college) social scene, that, crudely put, it’s motivated by sex. This is true not only of Mather Lather and Incest Fest, but also those events deemed more classy. Read the rest of this entry »

Stop Doing Favors for Attractive People (Unless You’re Getting Something Out of It)

A spate of studies has confirmed what we already know: attractive people benefit from their attractiveness. What the studies fail to mention is how complicit the rest of us are in allowing them to leverage their looks into favors, homework help, or plain cash.

To illustrate, the pretty girl in your math class wears spaghetti straps when asking her TA for a better grade because it’s effective. She probably wore short shorts and extra mascara to finagle the chem test answers last time. So whose fault is it that she keeps getting preferential treatment? Unequivocally, the TA’s. He has reinforced her behavior by consistently (perhaps even unconsciously) making allowances for her, despite the lack of reciprocation.

This happens everywhere. The last time I got my hair cut, my hairdresser was a cute woman in her late twenties. When I went up to the register to pay, she leaned over the counter, giving me a generous view of her cleavage. It was clear that she wanted an equally generous tip (or maybe she was just tired from standing all day and wanted to take some weight off of her feet). I gave her the same tip that I would have given her regardless, though in my younger days I might have tipped less. Read the rest of this entry »

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Harvardians are Hitchhikers in the Galaxy

To the layman, or the freshman, descriptions of the Harvard romantic scene must read like charges in the Khodorkovsky trials – completely contradictory. Here are some of the things that have been written about our other set of extracurricular activities:

1) Recreational sex is like women giving out free samples.
2) Our school plays porn to students.
3) You’re single, or you’re married.
4) Harvard is indeed a barren waste-land of sexual destitution.
5) Everyone needs stories to tell at Sunday brunch. Read the rest of this entry »

On Creepiness

“I was just walking to class and he kept trying to talk to me. We exchanged numbers and now he texts me all the time. It’s so creepy.” Guys and girls alike have probably heard these refrains from their female friends. I can think of several explanations. Perhaps she’s upset and wants your consolation. Perhaps she’s frightened and wants your advice. Or maybe she just wants to let everyone know how much attention she receives from guys, and what better or more modest way than to phrase her boast in the form of a complaint?

For guys who haven’t caught on to this, think about it from the girl’s perspective. When she tells you “I went over to his place at 2 am just to watch a movie and hang out, and he tried to kiss me. Isn’t that creepy?”, the answer is probably no, which is why she still goes over to his place every Friday night. There is a line between being creepy and being forward. Real creepiness implies physical danger. OJ Simpson is creepy. Calling every day for a month is creepy. Persisting after being flatly rejected is creepy. But when a guy awkwardly tells you that he likes you? Or his body language reveals his interest? That doesn’t count. Read the rest of this entry »