The Upsides of Peer Pressure

For better and for worse, we are the products of our social environments. The people with whom we associate affect our tastes, mannerisms, and activities, often negatively. Through their influence or by their example, our friends may introduce us to smoking and swearing. Or worse, to gaming, television, and other similarly unproductive endeavors.

But this is just one side of the story. Our friends may equally well pressure us to exercise more or work harder. Spend enough time with someone who is genuinely motivated, and you’ll find yourself deriving pleasure from the pursuit of knowledge. Forget alcohol and drugs, our peers can introduce us to fractals and infinities, or to hiking and the outdoors.

In general, I’d prefer that we minimize the influence of others on ourselves, that we shed the desire to impress our peers, and that we instead look inward for validation. However, undesirable as these tendencies may be, as long as they are there, why not get something out of them? If we’d like to become more fit, more outgoing, or more academically at ease, why not use peer pressure as a motivator? Read the rest of this entry »

Living a Drama-Free Life

I watched the movie Bridesmaids over the Thanksgiving break, and I couldn’t help noticing that if the main character had been emotionally stable, the story would have had no plot. I suppose the same can be said of Crime and Punishment, but either should serve as a reminder that being laid-back isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

This is understandable. We all have bad days; most relationships have low points. How can you chill out when your significant other may be flirting behind your back, when your roommates are growing distant, or when it seems that your friends don’t actually like you?

The first step is to give others some space and to give yourself some time. If in a burst of anger, your classmate tells you that she has no respect for you and can’t stand your vanity, explain politely that you aren’t interested in having that conversation and walk away. If it’s in a group setting, change the topic to last week’s problem set or something equally innocuous. Continuing the argument will upset everyone involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Formal Etiquette

Formal season approaches, and for those of you whose prom experience consisted of breathalyzers, forced poses, and tuxes that made you look like a cater waiter (that is, all of you), this is an opportunity to recoup your losses!

First off, formal is primarily about your date. Don’t let the House Committees, with their themes and live bands and ballroom dancing lessons, persuade you otherwise. It’s Harvard. If you wanted finger food you’d go to a recruiting event.

So who should you take? A debate that my girlfriends and I have every semester is whether to invite a romantic interest or a good friend. The pros of inviting a good friend are that it’s likely to be less awkward; if you plan ahead you may wrangle a good dancer, and since you’re not too worried about impressing him, you can just re-wear the obscenely shiny gold dress that you keep on hand for Gilbert and Sullivan parties. He’s also probably already friends with your other friends, and all in all, this could be another Saturday night out, with fruitier drinks. Read the rest of this entry »

Conversation: The Quintessential Social Skill

Dale Carnegie will tell you that the secret to being a great conversationalist is to be genuinely interested in the other person. This is a good first-order approximation. Sure, if your partner is in a chatty mood and wants to tell you about his current business venture or his latest casserole recipe, it won’t hurt to indulge him. But if everyone tries to follow this rule and listens attentively, eventually someone will have to say something. This post isn’t about conversation as a whole. I’m not going to delve into the details of calibrating body language or of judging when to change topics. Instead, this is about what to say and the content of enjoyable conversations.

Most importantly, if you want to tell exciting stories, lead an exciting life. Add variety to your routine: talk to homeless people and sign up for pole dancing lessons. Do things for the sake of the story, and then tell the more outrageous of your stories. Let everyone know about that time you woke up hungover to a call from Larry Summers responding to your interview request, which you forgot to prepare for but pulled off anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

A Modern Day Guide to Coquetry

You want to give her your particular attention without fawning, to pique his interest while presenting a touch of resistance, to treat her differently. So you target your words and you smile deliberately. When she turns to look at you, you let your eyes linger. In the world of flirtation, propriety is secondary to provocation, and conversational content is superseded by teasing and touching.

Teasing is contextual. For example, when your romantic interest exclaims that he hasn’t seen you in forever, explain that you’ve been avoiding him. When she groans for the fifth time about how cold it is, remind her that if she complains a couple more times maybe it will get warmer. When he starts talking about his career as a high-powered corporate lawyer, ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. These remarks need not make sense. Read the rest of this entry »

On Dating

The best way to improve your dating life is to stop thinking of dates as a means to an end, i.e. an expensive outlay of resources in exchange for possible sex. Instead, think of each date as a self-contained experience that would be well worth your time and money even if things don’t end up working out between you and the girl. I personally suggest Celtics games, strip clubs, and hiking. Be active. Be efficient. Specifically, don’t do things on dates that you wouldn’t want to do were it not a date. If you think a day looking at glorified silly string at the MFA with Hist&Lit girl is going to end with a blowjob, well, the blowjob would have to be fluffer caliber to compensate for the headache.

Dates should never be stressful. They should be exciting, energetic, creative, a chance to try something new and show off what an incredible person you are. That early dating stage is when you’re both still putting your best faces forward. Afterwards, the girl gains ten pounds and stops shaving her legs. You start reminiscing about your time on kibbutz and how at least then, love was free. No, but really. Dates are fun! Read the rest of this entry »

Plagiarism and the Personality

Very little is new when it comes to social interaction. Your handshake, your humor, even your laugh, are probably culled from those around you. So why not make it completely explicit? The best way to gain social skills is to look to people who have them. Look, and then steal shamelessly. Don’t worry about being original, don’t worry about being creative; in fact, when you’re just starting out, chances are the things you think are unique (that crazy tall-tale, that special t-shirt), aren’t. When you’re comfortable with the rules and mores that govern how we interact, originality and creativity will follow.

My own starting point was a high school friend, two years my senior. He was a charismatic theater guy who won monologue competitions and took the lead role in all the school productions. Every day, I heard his voice over the intercom reading the morning announcements and cracking jokes. So I signed up to read the announcements along with him. During the months of October and February, we would arrive together in the school office, divide the messages about club meetings and sports games between us, and pass the telephone back and forth as we spoke into it, ushering in third period. Read the rest of this entry »