How to not be Arrogant

A high school classmate once told me that I was arrogant and that nothing I said or did could convince her otherwise. This all changed one weekend when I ran into her at the rock climbing gym. She was working through some of the more challenging paths while I was struggling to figure out the easier ones. I finally asked for her help. She relented and gave me a demonstration. And the more she showed me, the warmer we both became. Her attitude toward me visibly changed.

My grandfather once told me that if you want to relate to someone, ask him a question. Ask him to explain something to you, to teach you how to do something. By doing so, you acknowledge that you have something to learn from him. And by demonstrating that you are eager to learn from others, that you find others interesting, you communicate openness and respect for what they do. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


Summer Camp

PRISE, Harvard’s undergraduate science research program, is full of smart kids, grant money, and cutting edge experiments. But deep down it’s still summer camp. And summer camp has always been a time-warped, over-sexed, over-scheduled version of real life. So there’s the quiz bowl, the mandatory celebrity lectures, the repetitive dining hall back-and-forths, the awkward allusions to instances of PRISE-cest. Go forth and cross-pollinate!

Summer camp is often a fascinating social skills incubator. You’re forced to meet a hundred supposedly like-minded individuals, socialize with them, and walk away co-authors. If you don’t, you suffer the consequences, which may include sitting alone in the cafeteria or “not having a good time.” Both are fatal.

But seriously. I read an article in The New York Times that reported a recent spate of mothers bringing their 12-year olds in for leg and bikini waxes as preparation for summer camp. I saw it and thought, that’s bullshit. If they need any preparation, it’s this: 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 »


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 »


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 »