Just Friends

A friend of mine, newly in a relationship, posed this question: how do you maintain friendships with members of the opposite sex when you’ve left the realm of singledom?

A lot of times, the short answer I hear is, “You can’t.” Romantic relationships are tough enough as it is; there’s no shortage of potential stumbling blocks even before you add in the cute gym partner. Toning down the friendships that your significant other might see as a threat seems only considerate.

But I disagree with the view that relationships should be ascetic. Having a boyfriend might mean no more food fights at the Delphic and no more sleepovers with the convenient grad student, but it doesn’t mean you have to sit at home and plead the fifth. Turning into a wallflower is the least constructive thing you can do because it makes both of you less interesting. Read the rest of this entry »


Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

If I only did things that I knew I would be good at, I never would have started swimming with the club team. I never would have taken an acting class. I never would have gone on a date. And I certainly never would have started a blog.

Trying new things and embarrassing ourselves as a consequence is so easy when we’re young. As a child, such “failures” are practically the status quo. In sixth grade, walking around the schoolyard during lunch, I came across a boy juggling. I had never juggled before, but I knew I wanted to learn. I approached him, and he began coaching me. It didn’t matter that I was standing in the middle of the playground dropping beanbags left and right. Over the subsequent months, I learned to juggle, first with two balls, then with three, then under the leg, then behind the back, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »


Being Literal

I value the people whose words I can take at face value. But many situations require you to interpret words that are not meant literally. When people tease you or joke around, they often mean the opposite of what they say. When they don’t want to hurt your feelings, they use white lies or outright lies. When they tell stories, the quality of the story generally trumps its veracity. So whether you want to avoid accusations of gullibility, know what people really think, or not be misled, it is important to know how to decipher what others say.

When you add a little skepticism to your world view, social interaction begins to make sense. You start to understand what people really mean. I can picture myself way back in high school, a little too earnest. If I asked a girl on a date and she responded with “oh, well I’m actually kind of busy this month,” I might have marked my calendar and called her thirty days later. I took things way too literally. Many variants on this like “I don’t think I know you well enough” or “I’m not interested in dating anyone right now” ought to be translated as “I am not attracted to you.” People will say things they don’t mean so as to avoid hurting your feelings. Read the rest of this entry »


Thinking Ahead

The two of us were jogging past the MIT chapel today, so we dropped in to catch the tail end of the service. The priest was talking about sinning. The upshot was that rather than trying to fight temptation, we should simply avoid it. For instance, alcoholics probably shouldn’t go to bars. People in long distance relationships shouldn’t go to stoplight parties. A friend of mine who has the bad habit of ordering the most expensive entree on the menu, saves money by eating exclusively at Dunkin’ Donuts.

This is good advice, and it comes up over and over. A recent TED talk mentioned that people are overly-optimistic about their capacity for self-control in the future. If an individual is asked whether he would rather have a banana or a chocolate tomorrow, he will probably opt for the banana. But when tomorrow comes and he has to make the decision, he chooses the chocolate. The same is true in the context of saving money. We think we will save, but we don’t. The speaker’s solution then, was to get people to commit ahead of time to saving future income. Read the rest of this entry »


Meeting People

The top concern for a lot of anxious undergrads is the fear that meeting people will only get harder as they get older. It makes sense. On the surface, college is designed to facilitate your social life. You work, eat, and live with thousands of young, eager individuals. You have roommates. You are forced to do group projects. Clubs and social groups besiege you with invitations. Yet meeting intelligent, fun, perhaps datable people is still hard. So what do you think will happen when you’re living in an apartment, working full time, and eating lunch at your desk?

It will be tough, but with some thought, you can come out ahead in your post-college social life. Meeting people through common friends is of the utmost importance. A long-time friend of mine shared this concern. After graduating from MIT, she moved in with three friends from her sorority. Now, when they throw the occasional Friday-night party, they mingle with people from four different companies. Read the rest of this entry »


Attitude

Negativity can ruin the atmosphere faster than a can of freon, mostly because being around gloomy people is a miserable experience. One guy used to ask why I never invited him to play basketball with me. He’d see some of my friends shooting around and comment about how he hadn’t been included. Later that week, if I asked how things were going, he would mention that things would be better if people didn’t exclude him all the time. So why didn’t I invite him to play basketball more frequently? The answer is pretty clear. Not only was every interaction with him sour, he clearly did not like me.

Before you complain about how “there are no attractive women at Harvard,” recognize that it sounds a lot like, “women don’t want to date me, so there must be something wrong with the women.” The trouble with being negative is that you come across as bitter. My most romantically successful guy friends rarely find fault with their love interests, even after rejection, and my smartest friends are the least likely to grumble about a bad professor or an unfair class. No one misses the fact that you are trying to justify your failure by blaming someone else. Read the rest of this entry »


Valentine’s Day

I love Valentine’s Day. It’s about as emotionally mature as guys are going to get short of growing boobs and hyphenating their last name. And since it’s coming up on Tuesday, I’d like to provide some quick words of advice.

Do not buy her jumper cables. Do not buy her cable TV. Do not buy her anything that contains the words “Decline”, “Fall”, and “Roman Empire”. Valentine’s gifts aren’t mandatory. If you can’t think of something clever and specific, don’t get anything at all. A two years supply of hand lotion from The Body Shop on Mass Ave is not an acceptable default.

So what is acceptable?

The answer is something she can show off. Rather than expensive, it should be thoughtful. Whether you’re looking for gifts, flowers, or dinner reservations, keep that litmus test in mind. Read the rest of this entry »