The End of Courtship, the Rise of Friendship

What does the ideal date look like? According to this New York Times article, it begins with a phone call from a stranger (initiated by the guy). A time is agreed upon (ideally a week or two in advance). The man shows up with roses, and he treats the woman to polite conversation at an expensive French bistro followed by dessert and a movie.

The article equates romance with financial expenditure. It views informality as a sign of indifference. It plays up the importance of gender roles and tradition. If that is courtship, then good riddance.

I suggest that we fill the void, not with the author’s much-maligned hookup culture, but with meaningful friendships. Viewed through the lens of meeting new people and establishing new relationships, a tardy “want to meet up for a drink or whatever” in the early hours of Friday morning, doesn’t seem so incriminating. A “hey, come join me and my bros at the froyo social.” doesn’t seem so dismissive. Spending time with someone in a casual setting (hiking, drinking, volunteering), allows you to learn about their values and how they allocate their time. Meeting their friends allows you to learn about the company they keep, which is one of the best predictors of their own personalities. Read the rest of this entry »

More on Dating

The topic of dating receives a lot of attention. People write books on how to do it. Websites design algorithms for it. Billions of dollars a year (in the form of rose petals and dinner bills) are spent in pursuit of it. All of this is misguided. All of this builds on the idea that dating and flirting and romance are somehow different from our regular everyday interactions, that we can somehow learn to date without learning to interact.

Ren and I have written a bit about flirting and dating, but we’ve spent most of our time reflecting broadly on personal growth and on basic social skills (conversation, honesty, decision making). There is a reason for this. Dating and socializing are the same thing.

For starters, the skill sets are the same. It is difficult to imagine someone who is a chirpy date but a lethargic conversationalist, or a bold flirt but a timid roommate, or a lively stranger but a monotonous friend (admittedly, it is possible to be simultaneously cute and dull). 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 »

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 »

Lessons from Bananagrams

Think of Bananagrams as a fun version of Scrabble. You fit letters together without a board, you have to use all the pieces, it’s a race. Here’s a common scenario. You have everything arranged neatly, and you are particularly pleased with yourself for spelling the word “stochastic.” Unfortunately, you have one remaining letter, a “Q” more often than not, that just won’t fit anywhere. So what do you do? The difficult truth is that, if you want to proceed, you have to undo your work. It requires a certain mental fortitude to tear down what you’ve built up, to sacrifice the progress you’ve made in the hopes of stumbling upon a better arrangement. But Bananagrams is a game of all or nothing and sometimes you have to make that sacrifice. I’ve seen player after player grow attached to their words, refuse to give them up, and lose as a consequence.

Life is a lot like Bananagrams. From your choice of partner to your choice of career, when you find yourself at a relative maximum, it is tempting to settle. It is difficult to take a step in what you know to be (locally) the wrong direction, even when you do so in pursuit of a better outcome down the road. Are we willing to leave someone, a boyfriend or girlfriend, whom we care about very much and whose company we enjoy, because we want to know what else is out there? Are we willing to trade guaranteed satisfaction for uncertainty? The answer is and should be highly dependent on where you are in life. But it is never easy. Read the rest of this entry »

Eligible Women

The lack of eligible females is a common refrain heard at Harvard (and everywhere else). Yet I look around and see plenty of girls who are beautiful, brilliant, and determined. Even assuming an overly-generous evaluation on my part, there still seems to be a major discrepancy between the supply of dateable girls and the male perception of that supply.

Some of that discrepancy can be chalked up to bitterness on the male end (as the women of Harvard will be quick to point out), but the result still seems surprising. If you’re a nerd, there’s no better place to find a girlfriend than a school where people enjoy debating the relative merits of Python and Ruby and the relative demerits of Livy and Cicero. Your chances for a meaningful emotional and intellectual connection should be higher. Your complaints, if any, should be over things like looks. Read the rest of this entry »

Handling Rejection

It is all too common for a guy to be interested in a girl, to spend a year pining over her without making a move, to finally get the nerve to ask her to a dance or on a date, and to be courteously let down. The rejection is hard because it is honest and it is personal. It is the disheartening culmination of a year’s worth of romantic investment.

What could have been done differently? Remember, “be proactive” is the first of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people. This translates to moving quickly. I’m not saying that you ought to move rapidly in the traditional sense (which only applies within the context of some sort of relationship), I want you to do so in the “get to know each other” portion. A year is a long time to dwell on anything, especially a static infatuation. I suggest taking steps early on to find out if she reciprocates your affection. Ask her on a date. Flirt with her. If she likes you, fantastic. If not, it’s good that you found out sooner rather than later. Read the rest of this entry »