Dating advice for young people

Any moment you spend anxiously worrying about what you are going to text them is a moment you are not having fun. Have fun.

Instead of anxiously pouring over messages realize that life is short and there are lots of people out there. If they don’t want to date you because you texted too quickly or sounded too desperate or because you weren’t perfectly witty, someone else will. Have fun. Meet lots of people. Someone will like you.

Overanalyzing your text messages will not do much for your attractiveness in the grand scheme of things, but it will make you anxious right now. It will feel bad right now. So stop.

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Fallacy of the slipped bike chain:

I tell people that I used to be socially abysmal. And it’s true that I was ostracized, bullied, and heavily disliked as a kid. It’s also true that I taught myself social skills by paying close attention to subtext, and I became more likable.

However, I sometimes feel there is something wrong with this narrative and the fact that I use it to persuade others that they can learn social skills too.

I was already extroverted, funny, confident, and genuinely interested in people. The only thing missing was my ability to notice subtext. I had a slipped bike chain. It’s impossible to ride without a bike chain, but my bike was in pristine condition otherwise.

But some people have slipped bike chains, and other people have broken bottom brackets, a stuck seat post, untrue wheels, a cracked frame, *and* a slipped chain.

(I googled difficult bike repairs.)

Some people’s problems have multiple simultaneous causes. Not everyone’s bike is as easy to fix as everyone else’s. It’s good for people to have a growth mindset, but remember that the bikes of the people around you may have more than a slipped chain.

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Conflict

Eloise and I have all sorts of complicated conflict resolution norms:

– You aren’t allowed to criticize people’s preferences, only their actions.
– If someone is crying, you have to console them before anything else even if you think they are wrong in the disagreement.
– If possible, grievances should be framed as “I’m sad right now“ not “I’m angry at you right now.” (Anger encourages defensiveness, sadness encourages empathy.)
– We take turns. If someone got their way about a thing last week, it’s the other person’s turn to get their way this week.
– We switch sides in arguments to make sure we understand the other person’s side.
– We often let third parties decide who was right in a disagreement between us.
– We often make and write down contracts with each other. These usually have rules built in for what happens if the contract is violated.
– We flip a coin if conflicts are taking too long to resolve.

But the more I think about it the less I think particular rules are important for relationships. What matters is that you have conflict resolution strategies *at all,* not that you have any specific ones.

As an analogy: It’s much more important that you eat food than that you eat any specific food.

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Honesty

I’m against honesty fundamentalism—the idea that lying is always immoral. (Now if I wanted to make my life easy, I’d just talk about lying to save lives. But I don’t want to make my life easy.)

Here are two considerations to take into account:

(1) There is a spectrum of how much people want to know stuff.

At one end of the spectrum: “Are you cheating on me?” “Do you have HIV?”

At the other end of the spectrum: “How’s your day going?” “How was your trip?”

If I just had horrible diarrhea, and you ask me, “What did you do today?” I’m allowed to say, “Not too much, I just watched some TV.” I don’t have to tell you about the particulars of my bowel movements. I don’t even have to merely omit it. I’m allowed to claim or imply that I didn’t just have a horrible bathroom experience. Why? Because you don’t particularly want to know, and my preference for you not to know is stronger than your preference to know.

(2) There is also signaling balancing. You have to balance the accuracy of the literal thing you are saying with the accuracy of the thing you are signaling. For example, if my grandma asks me how she looks, if I don’t tell her she looks great, I have signaled I don’t care about her feelings which is inaccurate. Sometimes literal statement truth has to be traded-off against signaling accuracy.

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Jewishness and Gender

When I get asked, “Sam are you Jewish?” I often go, “Do you mean culturally, religiously, or genetically?” Why? Because I’m a pedant, but also because my answer depends on what the person wants to know.

– I’m somewhat culturally Jewish. I had a bar mitzvah and know my way around a seder.
– I’m somewhat genetically Jewish. Both my father and grandfather married non-Jews. (I followed the time honored family tradition and married a non-Jew too.)
– I’m not at all religiously Jewish. I assign a very low probability to God existing, and I don’t go to temple.

This is not an exhaustive list of all the things a person could be asking me when asking if I’m Jewish. For example, there are also the questions of how I self-label and how other people tend to label me.

It’s a little bit odd to discuss my Jewishness without clarifying the question. There just is no answer to the question of whether “I’m *really* a Jew.” In some senses I’m a Jew. In other senses I am not. It depends on what you mean by Jewish.

I think some of these lessons carry over to gender. Here are some things a person could mean by gender:

– Gender as self-label
– Gender as what chromosomes you have
– Gender as macroscopic physical characteristics
– Gender as mental characteristics, i.e., having interests, preferences, emotional dispositions, and/or intellectual habits that are labeled feminine or masculine
– Gender as behavioral characteristics, i.e., dressing and doing things that are labeled feminine or masculine
– Gender as hormone balance
– Gender as your mind’s mental map of your body
– Gender as a hard to pin down “feeling that I am a specific gender”
– Gender as social role you tend to be placed in
– Gender as social role you prefer

I think a lot of discussions of gender would be a lot much more productive if people clarified themselves in this kind of way. If they deconstructed what people could mean by gender and ignored questions of their “true gender.” That being said, I can see why people don’t do this. What gender you are matters in society: People treat you differently. There are different social expectations. There are different bathrooms, dressing rooms, and sports leagues. So I can see why people would want to say, “No I really am gender X” as opposed to saying, “What gender I am depends on what theory of gender we are using in this context.” If there were actual social or psychological consequences for being Jewish, I wouldn’t be so unconcerned about how I was labeled.

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Emotions

When is criticizing other people’s emotions appropriate? Is it ever appropriate? Should you criticize someone who’s upset about a small thing? Should you criticize someone who’s afraid of non-poisonous spiders? Should you criticize a pedophile for being attracted to children? Someone who’s ungrateful? Someone with an anger problem?

Here are my heuristics (adapted from my comment on this post):

* Ought implies can, and people have limited (but non-zero) control of their emotions. It would be ok for me to say “you should try doing thing X to help you not have destructive emotion Y as much”, and criticize them for not doing *that*. X might be something like ‘try antidepressants’ and ‘try not obsessively stalking your ex’s Facebook’.
* I can also say “you are feeling emotion X because you have false belief Y”, and then criticize them for poor epistemic practices
* I can also say “It’s not morally criticizable for you to feel X, but I am going to criticize you for expressing X in way Y”. (X and Y might be having a crush + committing adultery, or feeling anger + going on a violent rampage.)
* It’s also my prerogative to say “it is not morally criticizable for you to feel emotion X but also it is unpleasant so I’m not going to hang out with you anymore”

Besides the above cases, I think the correct response to someone’s emotions is pretty much always acceptance and empathy.

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Talking

I hate when people say, “The problem with politics is there is too much talking and not enough action.”

It’s too safe. It doesn’t commit the person to any particular course of action. Specific proposals might be controversial, but “doing something” is basically never controversial.

It’s too easy. It’s the sort of thing anyone can say in a conversation to seem wise. And because it’s a risk free way to seem wise, it will be brought up way more than is appropriate.

Yes, paralysis by analysis is a thing. Yes, it can be a problem. But it’s rarely the case that in politics the problem is “too much deliberation.”

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