How Not To Be Alone

Jonathan Safran Foer, in a wonderful essay, laments how technology (phones, texting) has made us prefer to use the diminished substitute to communicate. And so:

The problem with accepting — with preferring — diminished substitutes is that over time, we, too, become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.

This is beautifully phrased:

We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. It’s not an either/or — being “anti-technology” is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly “pro-technology” — but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

A must-read meditation.

Why Developing Serious Relationships in Your 20s Matters

I’m not an entrepreneur, but this post by Elizabeth Spiers resonated with me:

There was this girl. This guy.

Eh, fuck it. You’re busy. You have more important things to do. Changing the world is a full-time job and if you don’t do it now, when will you?

Here’s the thing: I know you. You’re probably one of the many people I’ve mentored or hired. On multiple occasions, you’ve explained to me (as if I were your batty old aunt, but I’m not taking it personally) that you have no time to get to know anyone because you’re busy doing your work.

This is a complete fallacy. Work and relationships are not incompatible…

The Love Conductor, Matchmaker on the Subway

This is a great New York Magazine story about Erika Christensen, a matchmaker who roams the New York City subways:

Known professionally as “The Love Conductor,” the 31-year-old has the perfect personality for this line of work. She’s charming, spunky, and positive, like an overwhelmingly likable aerobics instructor from the eighties. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s approachable and pretty in a Wasp-dream-girl sort of way: ski slope nose, light hair and eyes. Within five minutes of hanging out with her, I lose all journalistic decorum and confess, “I really want us to be friends.”

Erika has been matchmaking (pro bono) since college, but went professional last year. “I set my best friend up with the guy she married and I just started thinking, ‘This is something I could really do.’” The prophecy was fulfilled when she sent a fan letter to her mentor, the advice columnist E. Jean Carroll. Carroll wrote back immediately and they ended up talking on the phone for three hours about starting a business and dating. Soon after, Erika made a business plan and Trainspottings, a boutique matchmaking business, was born.

I wonder if she can start a vertical for Atlanta’s MARTA. Then again, maybe that is a bad idea.

On Plasticity and Social Connections

Barbara Fredrickson’s op-ed titled “Your Phone vs. Your Heart” in The New York Times this weekend hits a nerve (so to speak):

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.

The gist is that by alienating away from human connection, your brain chemistry/structure changes (the concept is called plasticity). But it can be changed (for the better, in terms of how you feel) if you spend meaningful time with others. So step away from Twitter, slow down on the text messaging, and make plans to go out for dinner with a friend.

On Tortoises and Uncommon Love

Caroline Leavitt writes a beautiful Modern Love story about a beloved pet tortoise named Minnie, and how Caroline’s relationships were cemented in her adult life through Minnie. It is a story of finding happiness through uncommon love:

Because Minnie was so important to me, I began to measure my dates by how they treated him. If dates gave Minnie the stink eye, that was that. If they expressed interest or wanted to hold him, it made me warm to them. But sooner or later a date would ask, “Do we have to eat with the tortoise on the table?” or “This is a pet?” and my heart would shutter.

When I met Jeff, a smart, funny journalist who took me to a toy store for our first date, I was anxious about how much I liked him. I invited him to dinner, which I admit was more a dare than a meal. Minnie was on the table in a glass tank with us.

We were having spaghetti. Minnie was having live worms.

Jeff cautiously sat down. He looked from me to the tortoise tank and didn’t say a word. When Minnie lunged for a worm, Jeff flinched. But he didn’t get up and leave, and at the end of the evening, he asked for another date. He didn’t object weeks later when I told him I wanted us to take Minnie to Central Park, and he came with a picnic basket and a little wrapped gift. I opened it and inside was a little red rubber squid toy.

Read it for the ending. So touching.

Why Ambiverts Are Better Than Extroverts and Introverts

Daniel Pink, writing in The Washington Post, explains how ambiverts are at an advantage over introverts and extroverts in leadership/sales roles:

Ambiverts, a term coined by social scientists in the 1920s, are people who are neither extremely introverted nor extremely extroverted. Think back to that 1-to-7 scale that Grant used. Ambiverts aren’t 1s or 2s, but they’re not 6s or 7s either. They’re 3s, 4s and 5s. They’re not quiet, but they’re not loud. They know how to assert themselves, but they’re not pushy.

In Grant’s study, ambiverts earned average hourly revenues of $155, beating extroverts by a healthy 24 percent. In fact, the salespeople who did the best of all, earning an average of $208 per hour, had scores of 4.0, smack in the middle of the introversion-extroversion scale.

What holds for actual salespeople holds equally for the quasi-salespeople known as leaders. Extroverts can talk too much and listen too little. They can overwhelm others with the force of their personalities. Sometimes they care too deeply about being liked and not enough about getting tough things done.

But the answer — whether you’re pushing Nissans on a car lot or leading a major nonprofit or corporation — isn’t to lurch to the opposite end of the spectrum. Introverts have their own challenges. They can be too shy to initiate, too skittish to deliver unpleasant news and too timid to close the deal. Ambiverts, though, strike the right balance. They know when to speak up and when to shut up, when to inspect and when to respond, when to push and when to hold back.

Still curious? Daniel Pink is the author of To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, which I am currently reading. The basic gist: we are all salesmen, day in and day out, whether we realize it or not.

Tessa Hadley’s Short Story “Experience”

Tessa Hadley’s short story “Experience” is my fiction read of the week. It’s about a twenty-eight year old narrator, Laura, who moves into her “friend of a friend” Hana’s house while Hana moves away for a while. Rummaging through the attic one day, Laura discovers Hana’s diary. One day, Hana’s former lover, Julian, pays a visit and things escalate (but not in the way I expected):

I’d never have picked Julian out as a sensuous type if I hadn’t read Hana’s diary; he seemed too busy and prosaic, without the abstracted dreamy edges I’d always imagined in people who gave themselves over to their erotic lives. And yet, because of the secret things I knew about him, I was fixated on him the whole time I watched him cook, and then afterward, while we sat opposite each other eating at the little table he pulled up to my armchair. I told myself that, if he left without anything happening, then I had lost my chance and I would die. I wasn’t melting or longing for him to touch me or anything like that; the desire wasn’t in my body but wedged in my mind, persistent and burrowing. I didn’t even like Julian much. But liking people and even loving them seemed to me now like ways of keeping yourself safe, and I didn’t want to be safe. I wanted to cross the threshold and be initiated into real life. My innocence was a sign of something maimed or unfinished in me.

The ending is a bit anti-climactic, which is something I’ve come to expect from a lot of these fictional stories in The New Yorker.