Monday, July 31, 2006

Weekend one in a million

A group of us spent our weekend camping. This was a trip I had reserved some five months ago because it's very competitive for the few campsites available.

To get there, we had to take a ferry. People go this island for hiking, biking, camping, and day picnics. Tourists go there if they know about the great views or are curious about the bits of local history on the island.

It was an overcast morning, but the guys wanted to see the views so we climbed to the top level of the ferry. The boat was full of wide-eyed people ready to start their day of adventures.

Almost immediately after we took our seats, Hula recognized a woman leaning against the railing across from us. What are the odds of running into someone on a ferry going to a tiny little island at 9am in the morning? It's the last place you'd expect to randomly run into people. Somehow Hula knew this woman through our friend, TJ, and had gone shopping with her once. She was part of a group of 20 that was going biking as part of some birthday celebration.

As they chatted, my eyes caught a glimpse of this guy walking around people on the deck. He wore shorts and a bright yellow windbreaker. His hair was black and short cut. Since his back was turned towards me, I couldn't be sure but his body type reminded me of KT. I reasoned that that was unlikely and began to talk with Chi.

Minutes later, I noticed in my peripheral vision that someone was approaching. I heard a "hi Pandax," as I looked up and saw none other than KT walking towards me. It was that guy I spotted earlier. Of all the damn places to run into someone you don't want to see. It's not as if there's much place to run when you're trapped on a boat for 20 minutes, and there's only one exit.

My mind was so caught up in thought - what the hell do I say to this guy - that I forgot about introducing Chi. I also, probably rudely, dropped the conversation I was having with the people next to me about backpacking on the island. After a minute of conversation with KT, her interpretation was that this was not someone I cared to introduce to her. She stood up and walked over to talk with the rest of our group standing along the railing.

"It's good to see you. How have you been doing?"

"Good, yeah, keeping busy with lots of activities."

"Are you still traveling for work?"

"I do have a short trip next week, but actually it's been slow. It's been really nice to be home. How about you? Is this a biking club you're with?"

"No, these are some new friends. Actually, I know this one guy from Mond and he invited me."
[Ugh, the "friends" angle again. Yeah, you're not meeting mine loser.]

"Nice. So, did you buy a house?"

"Naw, you know how it is? [garbled] Still looking."
[Gee, what a surprise. You like living at home with the folks, admit it.]

"What are you out here for?"

"Camping with friends. It's a convenient, local trip."


"Cool. Yeah, so I should give you a call sometime and we could do something"

"Yeah, that sounds good." [Yes, let's pretend to be nice, but I don't need to hang out with you.]

"Okay. Great, I'll see you around. Enjoy you're camping."

"Thanks, have a good bike ride."

"Which campsite are you at?"

"Camp #p" [Why do you want to know that? Please don't come visit.]

"Camp #p. Okay"

"Alright, good to see you."

Meanwhile, Chi had run over to my friends and told them what was going on. She vaguely recognized him from the picture I had shared with her when I first met him. Everyone got a good laugh out of it considering they all knew the stories behind his strange behavior and trying to use me to meet people.

Tim didn't say anything. I could only wonder if he cared or felt at all jealous. He showed no reaction to anyone's comments. Most of the time, people joked and apologized about encouraging me to give KT another chance those months ago. They laughed about being wrong. It was all in good spirits.

The rest of the weekend was great. We snapped plenty of pictures of the water views and visited some of the abandoned buildings. I wouldn't say we did much strenuous hiking, it was more of a leisurely stroll about the island. We even sat at the little beach for a time and wiggled our feet in the pristine sand.

For dinner we had a FEAST. I'm talking a bowl of mashed potatoes, 15 vegetable kabobs, two pounds of boneless chicken breast, and a 1.5 pound flank steak. The scary thing is that we ate it all. To top it off, Bear made some awesome smores. I guess the extra weight was worth carrying in.

At sunset, we made a climb up to the highest peak on the island (all 800 ft.). We reached it just in time to observe the sunlight reflect off the clouds. The upper atmosphere was first this pink color. A whispy streak of white made for a buffer between sky and sea. Contrasted against the blue waters, I felt like I was looking at layers of cotton candy. As the angle of the sun went lower, the clouds took on a golden-orange hue. The little popcorn clouds looked like an amber necklace with those colors reflected upon them. In another part of the sky, the bright crescent moon shined among a sea of pink clouds against a misty blue sky. We could have stayed up there all day to savor the views.

Even though we were there for just over 24 hours, it felt like we had taken a three-day vacation. Our tents had views of the water, and we had ample space. We didn't encounter any rodents, just your occasional yellow jacket. The trip gave us exercise, a history lesson, and bonding time. What more could you ask for?

A lapse in judgment

A question on a personality quiz last week read, "If you were guilty of a deadly sin, it would be?"

From the list, the most logical choice that came to mind was envy. Something in my upbringing, in my personality makes me think that everyone is smarter than me, happier than me, more accomplished than me, more loved than me, luckier than me. It's an awful mindset sometimes to live with because it's easy to go into a situation with a no-win attitude. And sometimes, the logic is to avoid trying because it's better than failing.

In that moment, when I thought about what I am envious of, my ex, Ryan, came to mind. Logically, I know it was for the best that we broke up, but it will always be a sore point for me. Within months of us breaking up, he met the woman he would marry. He moved on so easily, seemingly without a regret or moment to grieve. On the other hand, I suffered tremendously. The stress and depression produced the gray hairs on my head. It took probably a year to emerge from the sadness to a semi-normal mental state. Another year before I didn't catch myself thinking about him more than 10 seconds per day.

Early last year, I learned he was getting married by googling his name and hers. Vi has a unique spelling to her name which made it particularly easy to find them. Among the numerous google finds was a wedding page. In some strange way, knowing they got married helped me close the book on that lost life.

The envy question caused me to think again about them. It seemed logical they might be starting a family soon given her age. I tried looking them up in a couple places to see if they registered for a baby shower. Nothing. (Why do I torture myself with this cyberstalking?)

Next, I simply googled their names. A curious link appeared that listed a wedding album on a photographer's website. The names were correct though the wedding date was a week after their actual date. I knew it was probably them. The actual link I was directed to required a password. After some poking around, however, I found that I could see about 30 pictures without the password.

It was surreal. No doubt the photographer chose photos that reflected his style. The pictures showed the happy couple in a mix of engagement and wedding poses. Ryan still looked handsome. I haven't imagined his face in a long time. Some of the poses were very artsy. Cool, but not that appealing to me. Personally I like real photos, not ones that look like a fashion shoot with abstract poses, people out of focus, and poses at different distances and angles to each other. One or two might be interesting and fun, but when I think about looking back on them 30 years from now, they might seem silly. They had elated smiles on their faces. I was particularly mesmorized by a pose in the wedding attire where he was dipping her slightly and looking into her eyes. I felt sadness that love never developed in our relationship. What went wrong?

Seeing the pictures didn't make me cry. Instead I just felt pensive. It's hard for me to describe the emotions because I felt somewhat detached. Part of me thought it was too riche for me. She had perfect makeup and a lavish train on her dress. He wore long coattails. Maybe they fit well because they live a more yuppy life than what I prefer. While I like nice things, I suppose I never felt in his league because I just don't spend money like that. When I thought about it, I doubt I'd have planned a wedding like that. I wondered how much he wanted that wedding style or if it was all Vi's personality.

They looked happy, and that's good. I know I *should* forgive, and I try for my health. There are enough good things about the time we spent together that I have to appreciate meeting him. The little devil in me still would punch him if I ever ran into him.

It is what it is. I've told myself not to go there again. It serves no purpose to look at that stuff (and yet my curiousity got the better of me). I purposely waited to write about this because I knew I needed a little time. In fact, I forgot all about it this weekend with all the fun I had.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Late evening singles?

I was at the grocery store midweek. Typically, I go on weekends or immediately after work. This time, however, I was shopping after 7:30 until 9pm.

Most times I stop by on a weeknight, I dash in for a basic necessity like yogurt and leave. This time, I leisurely wandered the store to see what other foods my friends might want to eat. I don't know why, but it seemed like there were more single men roaming the aisles than normal. Sure, there were couples, some kids, and other single people. Living in a suburby area there's a broad mix of people. Maybe my radar was working funny. I felt like I saw more guys wandering around alone. Who knows if they were technically single, but that's another point.

This seemed to be the case at both Safeway and Trader Joe's. One guy who I saw walk into the store went straight for the deli counter. I thought about it for a moment and reasoned that these guys were probably coming in to buy themselves DINNER. Surely, this guy is single. Hmmm, could this be a way to meet new people? Not really my style, I'm too shy. I've never met someone randomly like that. But on the off chance, maybe I should start doing my grocery shopping on weeknights. ;)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bridal shower moments

We had a lunch time bridal shower for someone in the department. As the bride opened her gifts and thanked everyone for the wonderful surprise party, my co-worker turned to me and said, "and someday we'll be planning one of these for you Pandax."

Seven is the nicest gal. She is a smart woman who gave birth to a little girl last year. She's seen me go through some dating ups and downs and has been part of the cubicalland advice posse. People know her attitude is always friendly, caring, and optimistic.

The comment was meant in kind, but how am I supposed to respond to that. This is the unspoken pressure that makes me sick of being single. Maybe if I had a current, serious boyfriend, I would delight in hearing that. With nothing on the near horizon, however, I don't think she realizes how... unappealing... that is to hear.

In my very blunt, just the facts way that my head was operating, I said, "no, this isn't going to happen for me."

"Yes, of course it will."

"Maybe. Even if I do get married, I don't know that I need all this. Sometimes I think we'll just go down to city hall and be done with it."

"You don't want a wedding?"

"I know it's all nice, but frankly Seven, I don't know if I want to deal with all the planning stress. Why not just have everyone give me a cash gift that I can apply to a house?" (In Chinese culture, cash is a standard gift.)

Maybe it wasn't the most friendly way to react, but that's what was on my mind. It's me being honest, but I know sometimes I unintentionally put people off. (This is where I need to work on my presentation a bit.) Am I supposed to pretend to be excited and say "that's so sweet, I can't wait?"

It was fun to see the bride revel in the moment and show her genuine surprise and appreciation for the shower. It was fun to hear about their plans and joke about life ahead. I do enjoy seeing the excitement and joy this time brings to my friends.


Biker finally e-mailed me this week. Who knows why it took a week for him to respond. The title of the e-mail was "Thank you for responding from speed dating." I've never received such a polite greeting.

The e-mail was brief, but he seemed friendly. He said he was interested in continuing our conversation over drinks sometime and suggested a town. That was followed by him providing two IDs which I could use to IM him.

I waited a day and wrote back. Basically, my calendar is packed until the end of next week. I suggested that we could meet for drinks the following week. I also explained that my company blocks all IM networks, so we won't be able to chat via the Internet. (I admit while it's inconvenient not to be able to IM friends, I kind of like having that excuse so phone or face-to-face contact is required for dates.) We'll see.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What is marriage

I don't think I ever questioned the concept of marriage when I was younger. Growing up, parents and tv shows defined marriage. Those snapshots never explained the true meaning, just the American ideal or its extremes.

I had quick dinner with C3 last week. During the conversation, we talked about marriage. I expressed my growing confusion over what it means and how to identify the "right" person. When I asked her how she knew GPS was the person she wanted to marry, her answer was, "I didn't."

C3 admitted to being young at the time (23). There really wasn't a good answer from her. Whenever I see them together, they appear very happy. He embarrasses her at times, but they have a lot in common. Having similar childhood experiences and family expectations makes things easier. I know they've been through a lot, and it seems like they found a way to keep the bond strong. Marriages are work. She reminded me about Hula's remark that "you want to marry the person who annoys you the least."

It's a negative way to look at things, but she meant it half-jokingly. The conversation provided no enlightenment. After eight years of marriage, I thought she would have a better understanding.

Several years ago, I visited a friend, Buglet, who had recently moved in with her boyfriend. Her parents could not accept the situation, and she was distressed about the conflict between her and her parents. They were angry that this boy could be "disrespectful" to live with their girl but offer no tangible commitment (i.e. engagement). Buglet and Paddler had already been dating for maybe two years. She was feeling the desire to get more serious, but he was not willing to discuss marriage at this time.

The thought of freezing her eggs was on her mind. She was concerned about being able to have children someday. (She was 31 at the time?) Buglet seemed too young to be considering such a dramatic and expensive measure. I would guess that Paddler's reluctance to commit was forcing her to put off family until he was ready.

Then, she laid out the real question - why do we need to get married? I had never really thought about it that way before. If two people are committed to each other, what more does getting married offer? It is a good question. If you assume the two people love each other and want to stay together - marriage is simply a peace of paper. It's not a guarantee.

We discussed the institution in depth. I think she was asking a lot of questions to make herself feel better about just being a couple who lived together and to qwell the fears her parents had stirred up. Marriage is a societal expectation. The reason to make it official is to please those around you, such as family. It shouldn't change anything about the relationship itself (but it does).

As the discussion progressed, I exposed the real reasons - money and children. Because of our laws, you must demonstrate a legal connection to your partner. Otherwise, you can't visit them in the hospital, you can't easily inherit upon death, and it ties people with their children (i.e. the father). The financial complications of not being married can get hairy. (Of course, there are always exceptions.)

(And of note, Buglet and Paddler bought a house two years ago and married last year - four years after they started dating.)

Now that I've rambled for several minutes, where am I going with this?

Basically, I'm saying that I've have lost sight of what makes a marriage.

- Who is a good candidate for me to marry? How different is that from what I think I want in a man?
- How practical should I be? (i.e. How unromantic is the search for a husband at this age?)
- Do I really want to be married? Can I have a healthy marriage?
- How much do I want kids? Am I willing to raise one alone?
- How do you separate wanting to be with someone because you're lonely versus because you have genuine feelings for the person?
- At what point do I give up my "ideal" (attainable wants) guy and go for who's best, right now? What can I live with? What can I live without?

Maybe it's because I just attended Pku's wedding. It's terrible that I question her love for Bama. Part of me can't help wonder if she felt pressure due to her age and said, "he's not perfect, but he is good enough."

I'm so confused about what should be important. I've also lost faith that the person exists who will want to stay with me for the long-term. There are times I feel like I should just say "yes" to the next nice guy who likes me, regardless of how I feel. On the other hand, I don't want to settle. Also, I would feel that I wronged the other person because they deserved to be loved as much as they love the other person. I wouldn't feel comfortable that I would be able to give them that. I also fear that I would cease to be myself in either situation.

I want to be with someone for the right reasons. It just seems that I don't know what those reasons are anymore.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Added details

The conversation is a bit faded but here's a snapshot of a few conversational moments with Midwest the other evening... . Obviously, I can't remember exact words, but this should be pretty close.

P: So did you ask to work in Europe?

M: [shaking his head] No, not at all. I would have preferred go to Asia - Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan maybe. The company didn't have big production facilities there to justify sending anyone. But if you're company offers, why not. Does your company send people overseas?

P: No, our company doesn't currently sell outside the U.S. Our parent company does have programs for working abroad. It's something I wish I did when I was younger. Now... it's not a good time to go.

M: Yeah, I can understand. I was lucky I went when I was... around 28, no 30. Yeah. Of course, it's easy when you've got a company paying for everything. They gave me a credit card, and I never had to think about it.

M: So you've always lived up here?

P: No, I grew up in SoCal. I came up here for college and decided to stay.

M: So you've never left the area since?

P: Well, I did move down for two years of grad school, but I visited here every other month.

M: Where did you go to school?

P: AntHill.

M: AntHill... blah, blah, blah, those are all places I've heard of but never knew exactly where they were. I've heard that BabyBlueU is almost 50% Asian.

P: I think it is already over 50%. Most of the CA universities are more than half Asian. If you group all non-whites as one group, virtually all the schools will have white as the minority.

M: Wow... that's amazing. You know being here, I notice there are a lot of Asians.

P: Yes, it's nice. After you're here for awhile, you begin to think it's normal. Then when you travel elsewhere, you realize that it's not.

M: When I lived in DT, I hardly saw any other Asians. It was a rare thing. Now, they're everywhere, and I feel like I'm just another person. It's so different. People even segment themselves by neighborhoods. If you're Taiwanese, you live around here. North of the airport, it's mostly Cantonese.

P: Since you were in Europe for three years, were you able to become proficient at a second language?

M: [smile with embarrassment] You know, I must admit, I didn't. I should have with the intensive languages courses and private tutoring that my company had me take. It would have been nice, but I never needed to speak much besides English.

P: Everyone spoke English at the office?

M: Yeah. And if I needed something translated I'd just ask my secretary to do it for me.

P: What about when you went out?

M: Naw, most people knew English. If I needed to know a few phrases in French, Italian, or German, I'd give them to my secretary and ask her to translate them for me.

M: Italy is great. I spent a lot of time in the northern cities, places like Milan and Verona. I should have gone down to Rome. Never go there in the summer.

P: Oh no, I went in May and September.

M: That's good. The other thing is that in August, nothing gets done. We couldn't schedule anything because everyone takes vacations. And when the Italians go on vacation, they're gone. It's the same for most of Europe.

P: But didn't you get 4 weeks of vacation like them?

M: Yeah, but I didn't usually take my vacation. I would use the time to go back to the states. You know, pick up supplies from home that I couldn't buy in Europe.

P: And I'm sure your parents were happy to see you.

M: Yeah, I saw the family. I've never done big vacation things. I probably should try take more vacation.

M: I saw cities in Europe usually because we had plants there. Have you been to Spain?

P: Yes, I visited Barcelona on one trip and Andalucia for another.

M: Andalucia? Where's that?

P: It's southern Spain - Seville, Cadiz, and Granada.

M: Oh, I haven't been down there. I've visited Madrid and Pamplona. Those guys were great to hang out with. They'd always take us(me) out. I'd always make sure to schedule meetings there on a Friday so that I could hang around.

P: So what do you think of your new company?

M: [shrug shoulders] It's okay. It's very different from my old company. I didn't expect them to be so laid back.

P: Was your old company very conservative? You know, suits every day.

M: No, we'd wear shirt and tie everyday. They finally gave in on casual Fridays. It was an automotive company so they had a certain culture. This company gives us half-day Fridays, weekly lunches, blah, blah, blah. They give out these perks as a retention thing. You know, why stay with this company when there are all those high-tech companies to work for.

P: I guess that would depend on the department you work in because I would think the marketers like working on consumer goods. It's very different from working on B-to-B products.

M: That's true. You make a good point. Still, it's weird. I mean, you'd think people would stay until they get their work done. I thought people would leave maybe 1pm or 2pm today. But as soon as it was noon - gone.

P: It varies at my company. I think people work as long as they need to. Besides, it is going to be a hot weekend, so maybe people wanted to get out early.

M: Maybe. I wanted to come to California. I guess I need to get used to it and learn to take enjoy it.

There was also a conversation later about visiting AT&T Park. I told him how fun it can be to see a game there, even if you're not into baseball. Midwest said that his department just learned that in a couple weeks they'll leave at noon to go watch a game. He seemed disturbed by the idea that they were going out during work hours for a baseball game.

Another conversation was about visiting his brother in Hong Kong. He arranged a meeting in Taiwan, even though it was not necessary, so that he could make the trip into a business expense. I guess everyone does these kinds of things on occasion, but I got tired of hearing it from him.

When it comes down to it, it's a difference in lifestyles. I've been in California most of my life. I am accustomed to the slower, casual pace of things. Clearly, he's not.


Waaa... neither of the two guys I matched from speed dating have contacted me as of this morning. Could it be something got messed up. I did think it was strange I received two copies of the organizer's results e-mail. I can understand not hearing from maybe one of them but both? Maybe with all this record heat, their brain connections misfired. So, considering it's now been 5 days, should I send out a friendly hello e-mail? Would that set the wrong precedent by making the first move? Oh I hate this.

Meanwhile, Midwest still seems interested. I found an e-mail from him this morning:

"Would have called last night but was worried it was to
late. Hope you are staying cool. I was in [the area]
yesterday and it was miserable. I understand
now when you said that you wanted to do your work
early in the day and stay in the house and A/C after
lunch. This is SF and CA and this is what I wanted.

Have a good day at work. Will call later."

Boy, I wish I had A/C. I might have actually tried to clean my place rather than sit in front of the fan all afternoon.

Yipes, so now he wants to talk to me more? At least I have caller ID. Aaaagh. Maybe I'll answer and just let him talk while to see what he does with the silence. I want to be open-minded, but I feel totally clueless about how to deal with this (and men in general).

Times like this make me think about how I feel about Tim... but that's a whole other conversation.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Lesson learned

Okay, everyone was right. I should have tossed this guy after the second e-mail. I'll chalk this one up as practice.

The e-mail exchange to set up our meeting went roughly like this (with commentary inserted):

P: Meeting up for a drink sounds good. Maybe something cold given the heat wave we're in. Where exactly [in the area] do you think you'll be?

M: I need to visit my cousins in San and Gam
sometime Fri, Sat or Sun. I think you are right in
between. So whatever works best for you.

=> Hmmm, making me do the work huh? Well, he may not know the area well.

P: I was considering going to the mall, maybe we could meet around there.

M: My cousin lives on near the mall. Sat is fine, one issue is
I have someone coming to paint my apartment Sat at
10am and it will take a few hours. My guess is I can
be over that way around 2 or 3 at latest. Not certain
if this is to late.

One added benefit of CA working lifestyle. During
summer we get 1/2 days Fridays. I need to learn to

=> I didn't really want to be outside in the peak afternoon heat. He did mention Friday as an option.

P: If you prefer tonight, I could make that instead. My goal is to avoid the heat as much as possible this weekend. This is my laid back weekend. I'm trying to head home by 2pm. Maybe we could meet at the Whole Foods?

=> Making this too easy for him aren't I?

M: Tonight is fine and Whole Foods is not far from my
cousin, so works out good. Is 7:30/8 ok, hope not to
late. If good, shoot me back a mail.

=> Damn, didn't get to ask him for a better picture of himself. What if the picture he has posted doesn't look like him? What if that picture is old and he's gained twenty pounds and drools?

P: I'll probably aim for being there just after 7:30pm. There's a patio on the left side of the store.

Considering how hot it felt, I didn't try too hard with makeup or anything. I threw on a blue skirt and a purple, sleeveless top. I wanted to leave my hair down, but it was too hot, so I clipped it up into a short pony tail.

My stop at Target to buy toothpaste lasted less time than I expected. I parked at Whole Foods around 7:15pm. I decided to wander the (refrigerated) cheese section. The selection of gruyeres, goudas, emmis, cheddars, and stiltons looked scrumptious with their marbling, infused flavors, and unique colorings. I was especially mesmorized by the small jars of imported double cream tucked in the corner. (scone please) Maybe I'll have a cheese party so I have an excuse to sample some of these fine cheeses. Yum!

Just as I finished rounding the cheese display, I notice a guy with a very intent expression speed by me. The guy was nicely dressed, wearing a dark blue dress shirt and black slacks. As he steered himself back through the cheese and food displays, it was clear he was searching for something. I wondered if it was Midwest.

I checked my watch and saw it was only 7:25pm. If it was him, why did he look a little panicked? My e-mail had said I wouldn't be there until after 7:30pm.

I casually strolled through the rest of the store. Just as someone had noted the other day, the store patrons were mostly older or single people. Unlike the average grocery store, there were few small children in the store. Three baskets of organic strawberries for $9.99 - yikes. It's too expensive to feed a family relying primarily on Whole Foods.

When I did finally step outside, I spotted Midwest sitting at one of the patio tables. He, in fact, was the guy I saw careening through the aisles earlier. Upon closer look, he did look like his photo, minus the glasses. I would consider him attractive and fit. But somehow, I knew that his personality wasn't going to match the impression his online photo had suggested to me.

My first impression was that he seems rather hyper and may have a short attention span. As I feared, it was mostly about him, or so that's how it felt. I recall him asking about where my family lives and where I work. I think I asked a lot more probing questions like where he traveled while living in Europe, what he learned in cultural sensitivity training, and how he would describe the culture of his new workplace.

Maybe he didn't feel like he needed to ask me questions since I would provide some opinions and information on my own. It would have been interesting to just sit there nodding my head and seeing what he would do. I think he would have just said something else about himself and how he used to have a secretary to do things for him when he was in Europe.

An hour of chatting passed and he didn't even offer to buy me a drink. I finally had to say that I was feeling thirsty and he then agreed to head inside to get something claiming he had been meaning to ask me. At least he paid for my $2.50 iced tea. (Has this been worth a half of a tank of gas?)

Much of the conversation was about him discovering California living and culture. I honestly don't think he realized how much the conversation was about him. (Gosh, how often am I like this?) He's clearly spent much of his life focused on work. I didn't get the sense he was really interested in using much vacation for its intended purpose. Some he cashed out. When he had visited a place, it was usually tagged onto a business trip or to visit relatives. Midwest seems really disturbed by the laid back culture here. He doesn't understand how people come and go as they please at work. I think he expects people to work harder and longer like he had at his previous company. He needs time to adjust.

I can't really provide any other elements of the conversation that could convey my impressions. Words that perhaps come to mind are - nervous, fish-out-of-water, oblivious, one-dimensional, single-minded. It's really hard to say. I'm sure he's a smart and capable person, but I have no idea what makes this guy tick.

Around 9:30pm, he finally looked at his watch. I had been wanting to end the conversation for at least 20 minutes but could never find a good point in the conversation to make it happen.

Once we reached my car, he paused and thanked me for a pleasant evening. He reached out his arms and gave me a hug (which I didn't expect). He then thought through his words and said, "Well, we can meet up again the next time I'm in the area."

I politely said, "Yeah, sure, that sounds good. Good night."

I suppose that comment was a relief as I really wasn't looking forward to giving him another chance. Damn, he has my phone number.

His online profile seemed normal if short. I have no clue how to read these writings and discern which guys might actually be interesting enough to meet. Plus, I had my profile posted on one site for two weeks and received ONE e-mail. Screw this all... I'm now going to delete all of my online profiles, permanently. This just isn't working for me.

Friday, July 21, 2006

MONEY Magazine: Best places to live 2006: Top 25 Most singles

A piece for the weekend... stay cool out there!

These lists are always good for thought and discussion - MONEY Magazine: Best places to live 2006: Top 25 Most singles

It would be nice to have a little more background on how they define "single" for this survey. Could someone shed some light on New Brunswick for me please? Many of these cities look suspiciously like college towns. How about us singles who are in the real world?

Most singles
Here are the cities with the highest percentage of singles.
Rank City % population single
1 Bloomington, IN 58.2%
2 New Brunswick, NJ 54.6%
3 College Station, TX 54.3%
4 Ames, IA 52.5%
5 Iowa City, IA 52.0%
6 Cambridge, MA 52.0%
7 Somerville, MA 51.3%
8 Boston, MA 50.4%
9 Berkeley, CA 50.3%
10 Champaign, IL 50.2%
11 Davis, CA 49.6%
12 Gainesville, FL 48.7%
13 Boulder, CO 48.4%
14 Washington, DC 48.4%
15 Ann Arbor, MI 48.4%
16 Tallahassee, FL 48.2%
17 Athens-Clarke County, GA 48.1%
18 Greenville, NC 47.6%
19 Lawrence, KS 47.1%
20 Jacksonville, NC 46.9%
21 Camden, NJ 46.6%
22 Minneapolis, MN 45.8%
23 Syracuse, NY 45.6%
24 Kalamazoo, MI 45.5%
25 Santa Cruz, CA 45.3%

Source: Census, OnBoard projections

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Minor note H2GG

So sad, ABC's website has almost completely stripped away any reference to "How to Get the Guy." Barely anything works on the show's homepage. Would it have killed them to show that last two episodes?

A friend said she heard one of the women on the show talk on a local morning radio show. She recalled the woman revealing that near the end of the show, she met someone through an Internet dating site. Her feeling was that his profile was written specifically for her, and he felt the same upon reading hers. So apparently it's going well.

I don't care so much about the details of the show (I most enjoyed seeing the shots of San Francisco), but it would be nice to hear a follow-up from the women to know if they learned anything from it. And obviously, it's be nice to know if they've had luck in love since the show. Just my curiousity (in case someone from the show is reading).

The potential

I finally received information back from the speed dating event. I guess you could say it was a 100% success rate as I matched with the two people I circled on my worksheet at the end of that night. Being old-fashioned when it comes to dating, I'm waiting to hear from them. Now comes the true test of whether they just marked me for kicks or really want to get to know me.

Commenting on blogs

When I started blogging, my take was to regard it as my personal learning pad. It's a place for me to sort out my thoughts and try to learn something about the way I conduct myself, how I interact with the opposite sex, and what I want to be when I grow up. It's also a great way to reflect upon changes in personality as one moves through life.

The blogs are public because I thought that even if it helps one person learn something for themselves, I'm satisfied.

I left myself open to comments because for several reasons:

- to test whether or not I'm making sense
- to get opinions on things I'm not sure about
- to get confirmation that I'm doing the right thing

I prefer people identify themselves for comments because:

- I don't like random people who try and post advertisements disguised as comments
- if you're going to comment on my personal life I think it's only fair you give me an idea of who you are

I didn't start reading other people's blogs until this year. It's been a very eye-opening experience to reach outside of my safe, little world and see how other people live and breathe. I especially enjoy reading comments on those blogs because it helps me to see other perspectives (whether or not I agree or understand their point of view).

The thoughtfulness and time people invest into comments is impressive. Sometimes I don't feel worthy of posting a comment because I lack detail and the ability to concisely articulate my rationale. I think a lot, maybe too much, yet I don't feel like I have as good a grasp on the realities of human behavior. On the other hand, feeling inadequate has challenged me to think more carefully about what I say and how I say it. (I've been working on this entry for a couple days and still am not happy with it.)

I was shocked, however, to observe how nasty and bitchy people can get over opinions. My assumption was that commenters would be respectful of people's opinions and express oneself in a constructive manner. It's not something I'm necessarily good at, but I think it's good behavior. Disagreements are to be expected but let's be fair about it. The Internet really has loosened people's boundaries of etiquette.

I don't pretend to be an expert about anything. I know that my life has had few ups and downs compared some others. Everyone has an opinion, but I don't understand why people have to get so defensive and mean. We all have been shaped by different experiences. Perhaps I'm naive and simple, so be it. I like being a generally nice person.

The other day, I went back to see that someone had commented on my comment. Honestly, at first, I thought they were being mean. Now, I'm not sure if they were just trying to joke around a little. (Yes, I'm that clueless and tone is impossible to accurately convey in writing.) I was purposely vague because I don't claim my definition is everyone else's, but apparently being vague leads to people filling in the blanks and stating that you're a bad cliche. In another case, my attempt to look at the bright side of things was put down by one reader as some excuse for bitchy people. I remind myself that I shouldn't take personal offense at these, and that I need to toughen my skin. Still, it stings a little.

These are examples of how the Internet creates anonymity. Anonymity emboldens people to say and do things they normally wouldn't. On a positive note, it frees people from societal and self-imposed limitations. From a negative standpoint, it encourages dangerous and destructive behavior. Is there enough balance?

As for my own blog, I certainly would never discourage comments. Constructive criticism is welcome. It's hard to hear, but I know it's a good thing. Partly, my hope is to get some honest answers; things my friends would not feel comfortable saying to my face.

I do request a modicum of etiquette. That means no personal attacks, no monologues about unrelated subjects, and I prefer generalizations be accompanied by some amount of evidence. Is that so unreasonable? Even I have days where I'd like to lash out at someone, but I don't feel it's healthy for anyone.

If you have issues, go see a therapist, don't take it out on other people.

And isn't it funny that Blogger's spell check doesn't recognize the word "blog."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Now he asks

Huh... so I was joking around and sent Midwest a blah e-mail Monday. And? He actually replied (though still using incomplete sentences). It was mostly about his weekend with a brief mention of work and being tired of eating out. In the end, he was not in my neck of the woods last weekend. He went north to help a relative. There were still no questions posed of me. However, he did say this:

"I know you said that you are not a big phone talker,
but how about lunch or coffee sometime this weekend. I
need to visit your [neighborhood]. If you have time
we can meet up.

Let me know."

I tried to look him up online. He's still posted on the Internet dating site. It's weird though, one day I'm able to read his profile details, the next day, he'll hide it. He seems to be fickle?

I can't help think that he's only contacting me because he's met all the other women he lined up through the Internet, hasn't had any luck, and is lonely. At least, this time, he took the initiative. Hmmm... it can't hurt right? I'm being lame (and desperate) aren't I?

And if I do agree to meet up, should I take him up on the whole lunch or just coffee? (Maybe he'll just talk my ears off, and I'll want a quick escape.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dating Randomness

Despite my better judgment, I replied to Midwest. I figure my chances of ever meeting the guy are almost nil. At this point, it's just entertainment to see what he'll do with my inane e-mail:

"Hope you had a good time at the benefit. I assume you were somewhere near Ord. It's been weekends of catching up with friends and running errands. Keep hydrated and stay cool these next couple of days."


I received an offer to attend a speed dating event last week. My girlfriends could not attend with me. I wasn't sure I wanted to make the long drive alone, but I made myself go. I left early to avoid traffic which gave me an hour to do a little shopping.

At around 5:30pm, I parked in a perfect spot that was labeled a commercial loading zone. The parking meters run until 6pm, but I've generally heard that the meter maids are rather lax in many neighborhoods. There was a woman reading in the red Camry parked ahead of me. She was likely waiting until 6pm to ensure she didn't get a parking ticket. I, however, didn't want to lose 30 minutes sitting around. Every car I walked past showed an expired meter. I prayed that the parking gods would be kind.

Two hours later, I headed over to the speed dating event. I don't think I've ever been to the same location twice with this organizer. It's an interesting way to get to know where the nightlife is located.

I pulled up and parked next to what I thought was the entrance to the club. A guy sat in the Corolla next to me. When another fellow walked up to see if the gate was open, the guy in the car got out to chat. Since it was apparent the place was not open, I chose to stay in my car and read a book.

A women then walked up to the two guys. They stood around for several minutes talking. Every so often a confused person would ask them about the speed dating event. I felt a little lame sitting in my car with them standing right in front of me. In my mind, I scolded myself a little for being anti-social. I also realized that maybe parking near the entrance wasn't a good idea since everyone could see me and would know what car I drive. (Noted for future reference.)

The doors to the club opened finally at the time we were supposed to start the speed dates. Instead, we sat around for another 30 minutes. I thought it was rather inconsiderate of them to keep us waiting when the confirmation was clear that our participation was contingent upon us arriving on time.

The turnout was low compared to previous events I attended. I estimate there were 18 women and 25 men. (Compared to the 80+ they have at more successful events. Ouch.) When I checked in, I peeked at the list and observed that at least one third of the women participated in the event for free (myself included).

As I sat waiting for the dates to start, I thought about how to improve the conversations I was about to have. It becomes pretty boring when every single guy has the same questions:

- Do you live around here?
- What do you do?
- Have you done speed dating before?

I purposely sat back a little this time to assess the guys' abilities to drive the conversation. (I have a habit of taking control if it looks like the guy is flailing or boring.) ARRRRRGH!@! Surprise, surprise; every single guy asked me these questions. Some guys stumbled to even mutter these basics. For some reason, I was particularly annoyed by the string of canned questions more than past events. But then, sadly, what can one expect from an Asian speed dating event.

With a couple guys I tried to move things along by asking what they had for lunch. It seems like a very innocuous question, but it helped move the conversation a different direction both times. It was much more fun talking about cooking or good restaurants near work.

Half the men said they were finance heads. I always manage to meet one dentist and one physician. One guy was preparing to join the police academy. Another had just moved back after a two year stint in Korea. Some of the guys lost my interest when they couldn't demonstrate having a life. There's something wrong when the first thing I hear is that you watch DVDs at home when the questions is what you like to do in your free time.

Whereas there was clearly chemistry with people I met at previous events, no one stood out this time. Of the 11 guys I talked to, I ended up circling two that I wanted to contact in the future. I question whether I need to be more open-minded. There may have been a few that I felt guilty about not circling. Some just seemed too young and one was also rather chubby. Another guy didn't have a college degree and was considering going back to school. If there's one thing I've learned from speed dating, it's that I judge people quickly on rather superficial traits. I wonder whether I've missed out on some decent guys because I couldn't see beyond their chubby cheeks or quirky accent.

Date #6 (Biker) was my longest "date" because of some confusion. After introducing ourselves to one another, he sat down, paused, and said, "let me give you some basics about myself. I'm 38, divorced, and originally from Maryland."

I wouldn't exactly give him high marks for that opening statement, but at least he was honest. At that point, the couple next to us walked away from their table. I turned and asked people still sitting what was happening. Apparently, the organizer called for a five minute break.

Biker asked if I wanted anything to drink. I declined and thanked him for asking. From there, we continued our conversation despite the break. The conversation went from talking about Maryland to living in California. We chatted about biking to work (because he does that now and I may start once my company moves). We also talked a little about traveling and hiking at national parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone.

So rather than a five-minute date, we had 10+ minutes to talk. I wouldn't say there were any fireworks, but it was a nice chat.

Date #11 (Henry) was one of the men that stood on the sidewalk in front of my car. Generally, he just seemed more socially adjusted than the other dates. He's an engineer in product management which probably explains his better people skills. He said he belongs to a street hockey league. Later, he mentioned that he's originally from Canada, so I teased that that explained his hockey interest. ;) I don't remember much else; it was good enough that he could carry a conversation.

No results have come back yet. I'm thinking I'll at least match up with Biker. I have to admit that part of me thought that maybe I'm getting too old for speed dating. Who knows. At least I picked up a cute skirt at H&M and a hot top at Nordstrom's on the trip.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Social finesse

I couldn't help focus in on a comment Nicky wrote about an allergist she knows.

"He really doesn't have very nuanced social skills, but he's a nice guy. We had a pretty good conversation about it. He's smart, and although socially abrasive, has decent instincts."

At a distance, I couldn't help wonder if this is how people view me. I say that because I feel like I still struggle with making good conversation. I don't know anything about the allergist, but guessing he studied more than socialized for many years of his life, I could empathize with not being polished.

I still can recall times when I have spoken in a most awkward fashion. One example happened during my high school graduation trip to Europe. I tried to make conversation with this British couple by saying, "They say people should visit the U.S. before the killer bees spread further north."

This comment came from the fact that six months earlier, the news had talked about the migration of killer bees from Mexico into Texas and how people feared their spread because of their integration into the local bee hives. Of course, I haven't heard much about killer bees since, but they made it sound pretty serious at the time. My logic? It seemed like reasonable advice to share. It's unfortunate that I thought that would be an good conversation starter.

In fourth grade, we were having a show and tell session. When our teacher asked if anyone else had something to share, Kristen rushed excitedly back to her desk and raised up a coloring book she had been given as a prize for having a creatively disguised turkey drawing (Thanksgiving drawing contest). My immediate reaction was to downplay her achievement by saying others of us had received the same prize. The light in her eyes disappeared. I wasn't trying to belittle her. In my own mind, it wasn't a significant achievement (in the eyes of my parents), so I couldn't comprehend why she would share this. Come to think of it, maybe this explains why my citizenship grade was never an "A" in elementary school. Did my parents ever learn from my teachers that I needed guidance?

Absolute horror crawls through my veins when I think about instances like these. The nuances of social etiquette were never something taught to me by my parents. It took years for me to understand the inappropriateness of those comments. I learn as I live, and the delayed awareness adds to my frustration. Old habits are difficult to change. Hence, why I still struggle with the little details. It doesn't come to me naturally, and, at this age, people expect good social skills. It's not something people think to tell you or help you with unless you ask because it would appear rude to point out. It's awkward.

So if no one is willing to tell you you've committed a faux pas and you don't realize anything is wrong... how is one to become a better person?

This is what I struggle with constantly. I know I need to think before I speak. People don't want to hear my opinion when they're not seeking advice. This is why I fear people will misunderstand me and not befriend me for long. I am doing better. It's a slow process.

I pray that I will find a man who can overlook this and see the better things about me (like Tim). Ideally, he would also be patient and help me overcome this social handicap.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Love and trauma... I mean drama

This weekend was Pku's wedding. She and Bama met two years ago, May, at a speed dating event. (Yes, it can work for some people.) During the first nine months, they went through a lot of ups and downs. They had many opposing points of view that didn't seem reconcilable. She wasn't sure he was the one but stuck it out. Somewhere in the following three months, she fell in love.

On Saturday, we gathered at a rose garden, in the shadows of a half circle of redwoods to witness their wedding. It was a very lovely summer day for the ceremony. I am happy for Pku. She's put in several years of meeting people through online dating, speed dating, and various clubs and activities in search of a man. Although she's never said it, I'm sure seeing her two younger sisters get married in the past two years put some pressure on her.

Weddings are full of mixed emotions for me. I do get caught up in the moment. How can you not feel happy at the idea of two people celebrating love. (sappy, sappy) As Pku passed my aisle, different thoughts went through my mind:

"What a beautiful train, now I see why she picked that dress even though she didn't want a strapless. A train would be nice..."

[silent sigh]"I'm never to going to get to this day."

"I hope a took a good picture."

"I wish I could shoot myself in the head."

Even now, writing this makes me want to pound my head against a wall or the desk. It's impossible to describe what drives that urge. It seems like a good distraction to avoid dealing with the emotional pain. Weddings are about the happy couple, but it's hard for me not to wonder about my own life in the middle of it.

She did a wonderful job planning her wedding. There was no detail left to chance whether it was the directions to the reception, the place card holders, or the first dance. They actually had a rather light-hearted set of vows. Instead of a cake, they had a chocolate fountain and fresh fruit.

Overall, everyone had a fun time. The seating was mixed, so I sat at a table where I knew only half the table. I took it as an opportunity to meet new people and worked on my conversational skills. If there was a grade attached to the socializing part, I'd give myself a "B." I got off to a slow start with SwissBos and NoTea. The conversations were polite but I wouldn't say they were engaging topics. It was a good thing SwissBos was not a local guy otherwise I might have been distracted with trying too hard to impress him. (My therapist always reminds me to think about why I've been unsuccessful with previous boyfriends like Ryan and how close a relationship I have developed with Tim. The explanation is simple - I'm not myself around men (particularly Chinese ones) to who I am attracted.)

Afterwards, I gave Tim a ride back to his car.

"So what did you think? Did you have fun tonight?"

[pause, remembering not to talk about myself] "Yeah, it was very nice."

"I thought it was the best wedding ever!"

"I can't wait to see how the pictures turned out."

Little did he know that I was thinking about how I wanted to crush my head at that moment. I didn't want to ruin his good day with my whining. It was fun. We all had a great time over dinner and the hour of dancing.

TJ is the original hub of all the friends in the group. In fact, you could say he's the reason many of us became friends in the first place. In the past few years, he and I have grown apart. It comes partly from changing priorities and from our history.

Everyone close to TJ knows his logic is unique when it comes to women. Part of that logic in his younger years was to spend time with women he found attractive but not technically date. It was more friends with benefits combined with pretend dating. Needless to say, he left many confused and hurt women in his wake, including myself.

While I still consider him a friend, his questionable practices with women and money (pyramid schemes) have strained the friendship. However, I don't think he realizes that some of us have issues with him. We don't mention it to him; we act as if everything is fine. It's old news and I suppose there's nothing to do about it.

What gets me is that Karma doesn't seem to affect him. Despite the handful of women he's used, he hasn't been burned. I know I shouldn't be concerned with or compare myself to other people, but TJ frustrates me. Within months of deciding he was ready to seriously date, he found someone. They've been together for a year and a half now. I just find it frustrating that someone who could treat women so badly could pay no consequences. Meanwhile, I have a field of battle scars to show for my years. What is Karma making me pay for?

Today was no help when he mentioned his older sister is expecting any day. TJ implied feeling somewhat behind in family development (he'll be 33 soon). Someone reminded him that he's fine since his sister is having the first grandchild. The unintended stab for me came when he observed, "yeah, but she's starting late and I'm not even married yet."

F*ck, your sister is two weeks older than me! Thanks. I really needed to hear that.

I'm just a wreck this weekend. Even watching an old episode of "Gilmore Girls" made me cry. I miss the days when I could simply enjoy partying with my friends and weddings were just fun.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Your guess is as good as mine

Remember Midwest guy? He was the guy with whom I exchanged a few e-mails. His last e-mail reply was July 3rd. I stopped writing him because he would never ask any questions of me.

Today, I log into my e-mail and see a note from him sent last night.

"Long time no talk. Just wanted to see how you are
doing. So far so good with me. Still getting set up
and adjusted to new job, home and area. Was thinking
of you as I will be over your way this [weekend at the]
theater for some Benefit.

Talk to you soon,"

Do I write back? See how there's still no questions in his (incomplete) sentences. You'd think since he's going to be in the area that maybe he could ask about catching up for coffee right?


Friday, July 14, 2006

Thankful for

When I stop and look at my life, I am thankful for:

- a place I can claim as my own
- friends that care about me despite my faults
- my intelligence
- knowing I have the tenacity to survive almost anything
- the ability to play a musical instrument
- my health
- a job that keeps me challenged
- my bargain hunting skills
- vacations to travel the world
- parents that gave me the opportunity to develop into a successful person

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Transsexual tackles sexism in sciences

A very thought-provoking article. I remember back when the whole controversy over Summers comment spread over e-mail.

It must be fascinating to have a chance to see both perspectives.

STANFORD / Transsexual tackles sexism in sciences

- Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2006

The debate over men's and women's roles in scientific research is drawing insights from an unusually well-qualified source, a Stanford scientist who has lived on both sides of the gender fence -- Ben A. Barres, a female-to-male transsexual.

In January 2005, then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers caused a brouhaha when he publicly suggested that women are naturally, perhaps genetically, less inclined than men to seek scientific careers. The furor climaxed with his resignation in February.

In an essay published in today's issue of the journal Nature, Barres charges that Summers' suggestion is sexist nonsense that exposes public and academic insensitivity to the severity of discrimination against female science students and scientists.

Barres, a neurobiologist at Stanford Medical School, knows what it's like to be a female scientist and a male one: He is a former female named Barbara who underwent a sex change nine years ago.

Since he became male, "people who don't know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect. I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man," Barres writes in his Nature article.

Now 51, Barres grew up in New Jersey, where "I'd dress up like a football player for Halloween." The daughter of a salesman and a housewife, Barres recalls her mother gently smacking her legs to encourage her to sit more like a girl -- demurely, with her legs snugly together -- than like a boy with his legs and arms sprawling all over the chair.

As a girl, Barres sensed she was somehow different from other people. In retrospect, he said in an interview, he is amazed that he didn't realize he had something in common with the many highly publicized transsexuals of the 1960s through the 1980s, such as male-to-female transsexual tennis player Renee Richards and Caroline Cossey, a fashion model and James Bond girl.

"I thought these people were freaks," Barres admitted thinking at the time.

A decade ago, Barres developed breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. When a surgeon advised her she could undergo surgery to regain breast tissue, she fired back, "No way!"

"I was so delighted to have my breasts cut off," he recalled as he lounged in an easy chair in his Stanford office Tuesday.

For decades, the most highly publicized transsexuals have been males to females. They include such notables as former top computer scientist Lynn Conway of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, who is now a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, Stanford biology professor and author Joan Roughgarden, and University of Illinois economist Deirdre McCloskey.

The big turning point for Barres came in 1997, when she "got really excited" while reading in The Chronicle about James Green, an Oakland native and female-to-male transsexual. Inspired, Barres consulted with a local specialist on sex reassignment, who began treating her with testosterone to masculinize her body.

She became he: With dark body hair and some thinning on top, Barres would be indistinguishable from most any middle-aged man except for one notable difference: He looks more like 31 than 51.

At Stanford, Barres is a tenured professor of neurobiology who studies cells of the nervous system. He also acts as a mentor to students eager to pursue scientific careers.

So he was flabbergasted by Summers' remarks in early 2005. Barres was even more stunned when some well-known male academics either defended the president's remarks or accused those who criticized him of repressing his free speech.

"Like many women and minorities ... I am suspicious when those who are at an advantage proclaim that a disadvantaged group of people is innately less able," Barres wrote in his four-page essay for Nature.

He said he's haunted by memories of sexist bigotry during his female youth: "As an undergrad at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," Barres wrote, "I was the only person in a large class of people of nearly all men to solve a hard math problem, only to be told by the professor that my boyfriend must have solved it for me. I was not given any credit."

In his essay, Barres calls for specific efforts to improve science opportunities for female students and academics, including running fair job searches, improving women's chances of winning research grants, and making it easier for women to cover day care costs for their children.

It's also helpful to cultivate male supporters, he said. "It has been 30 years since I was a medical student," Barres recalled, "but I still recall with gratitude the young male student who immediately complained to a professor who had shown a slide of a nude pinup in his anatomy lecture."

Barres also treasures memories of his Harvard doctoral supervisor, David Corey, who encouraged the shy Barres to imitate aggressive male students by approaching distinguished scientific lecturers and asking them questions. Barres said such forthrightness pays off in any career, including science.

"Life, even in science, is a popularity contest," Barres observed.

E-mail Keay Davidson at

Sometimes I wish

Sometimes I wish that...

- I could be three inches taller
- I didn't have so many freckles
- that little girl I babysat years ago never called my thighs "pillows"
- things could have worked out for me and Tim
- my family had stronger bonds
- I could speak a second language *fluently*
- people would take more responsibility for themselves
- I was more athletic
- I had sharper social skills
- I could keep my place organized
- it didn't matter what other people think of me
- I could just be happy

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Have I mentioned lately

Have I mentioned how much I hate being single? For some reason, it's been really apparent lately and it sucks! (My hormones must be out of whack or something.)

Over the weekend, a friend had a birthday party. He'd scheduled it a month ago, inviting a large list of people. In the end, he turned it into a friendly, backyard BBQ at their house. I didn't bother to reply until the last minute.

Runner and PlainT are good friends of my friends. I don't necessarily see them regularly or know them well, but they are nice and good people. We invite each other to occasional events. I attended their baby shower last year and have seen them a couple of times since the baby arrived.

I didn't know what to do about the party because, frankly, they're a married couple with a child. When I looked at the invitation, the eight people coming appeared to all be couples, some with children. It's not the type of setting I look forward to these days. Admittedly, it's hard for me to enjoy something that I can't have. I would have been completely depressed seeing all the lovely, happy children running around and listening to the parents talk about things to which I can't relate. It's just a reminder that I've become this lost soul. I fear there will be fewer and fewer parties for me to attend in the future as my friends start their families. (It's that or hang out with people who are years younger than me.)

Saturday was a day spent completely alone. I ran errands and talked to sales people but no one else. I sat around in the evening, surfing the Internet and wondering why my online profile has attracted not ONE SINGLE RESPONSE during the week I've had it posted. (Doesn't any one appreciate a co-dependent, self-centered, control freak?) Seriously, I thought it was a friendly, outgoing, and active description of who I am. Perhaps it was a little trite, but that should have earned me a few nods.

Today, my friend sent out an e-mail asking we all stay behind after the wedding ceremony for group pictures. Pku even listed out how she wanted everyone grouped - high school, college, dance, sports, etc. There are so few of us single people left. For some silly and annoying reason, I felt teary seeing all the people she listed as "[friend] & family." What's wrong with me?

I see friends who are making an effort to meet people. I read about all of you out there who are dating or trying to date. It's encouraging to see people persevere. Rationally, I know there's hope; I know it's p-o-s-sible, but I'm mentally exhausted with the process.

I'm tired of pretending everything is fine and dandy, especially when people ask me about my love life. Stop telling me I'll find him and show me where he is. Don't lie to me and say I have plenty of time - you don't believe that any more than I do. Hearing these reassurances makes me feel better (momentarily), but it doesn't change anything. If I'm such a damn great person, why have I been single for so long?

Too bad I'm not the slutty type, at least that would keep me entertained. I'd start becoming the neighborhood old lady with a dozen cats, but I'm allergic.

I'm going to scarf down a bar of dark chocolate now. They say it helps with mood right? Thank goodness my therapist is back from her vacation.

Dear Abby for July 11, 2006

You've got to be kidding... . How could anyone be like this? I realize there is a subgroup of the population who is missing the parental gene. From the mother's perspective it sounds as though she was trapped in an unhappy situation and has just been pretending all these years?

Parts of the story are contradictory to me. If you don't care for the kids, why write to them or have them visit? (Maybe the explanations were lost in editing.)

It seems in this situation these two boys were lucky to grow up with any social skills. There are always multiple sides to a story, but this just seems so sad on so many levels.

I may not have a solution to my man issues, but at least I'm sure I want kids. What drives people to live lives they don't want?


DEAR ABBY: You advised the 16-year-old girl who said she had been "replaced" by her mother's dogs that you could guarantee that her mom loved her and her brother more than the dogs. Don't be so sure! When I first met my husband, one of the first things he told me was that the only family member that received any attention from his parents was their dog. I laughed, thinking it was funny, but it proved to be true.

This was an extremely dysfunctional family. Both parents ignored my husband and his brother and fawned over the dog. They took the dog for walks, special ice cream treats every week and rides in the car. They didn't even bother to attend my husband's college graduation. Over the years, we'd receive detailed letters about the dog's activities, but never once did they call to wish my husband "happy birthday." Both brothers needed years of psychotherapy.

After 33 years of marriage, my mother-in-law was finally widowed. After meeting the "love of her life," she confessed she had never loved her husband, never wanted kids and neither had he, and announced to her sons she would "no longer require them"!

Millions of people own dogs, and their children don't feel unloved and want to sit and cry. This young girl senses her mother doesn't care for her. We had a dog, and I KNEW my mom loved us more because she told us every night and spent time with us. This mom must not be doing that. -- WIFE IN SEATTLE

Monday, July 10, 2006

H2GG - not scheduled?

Aw... there's no episode of "How to Get the Guy" tonight. I wonder if this means ABC has given up on the show. Come on, it's only two more episodes. How much better can reruns of "Super Nanny" be? Maybe they're frantically trying to recut the episodes to make them more dramatic, and dare we say interesting? (even if it means distorting reality) Too bad for the four gals, I'm sure they wanted this to result in something positive for everyone.

Eh, that's fine. I'm becoming addicted to watching How I Met Your Mother. It's a funny show - kind of a new incarnation of "Friends" from the guy's perspective.

Curious living situations

One of the criteria that you can specify for online dating is the person's living situation. It's not something that comes to my mind immediately. But then, there is that whole stereotype around mama's boys. The implosion of the dot-com era also changed conventional assumptions about kids living on their own after graduating from college. So the question today is - should a guy's living status matter? What does that imply about him?

I mention this because Is is dating a guy, HardHat, who lives with his sister and her husband (there might also be kids). They have been dating for around three months. She's told me bits and pieces about him. He generally sounds like a decent man - tall, handsome, beard (which he temporarily shaved off because she hinted she wanted to feel his bare face), attentive. Initially, her biggest dislikes had to do with his car and living situation.

If I remember correctly, HardHat is a project engineer. Because he manages construction teams, he drives a pick-up truck. She told me that his reason for choosing a pick-up was to match his workmen. It makes sense that he would want to build respect and a sense of equality with his workmen. Driving up in, say, an Audi or Honda Civic would not make a favorable impression. Because Is grew up in the South, she has negative stereotypes about people who drive pick-ups. She's embarrassed to be seen in HardHat's car. A couple times, she has asked him to drop her off across the street so that she would not been seen emerging from a truck by co-workers. Several of us have tried to explain that the image of a pick-up owner in California is different. In Southern California, many guys think they're cool and convenient for surfboards. She knows it's a very superficial thing, but it bothers her.

The greater sore point is his choice of living situation. Is would like to see him be more independent. (She may also be factoring in the knowledge that HardHat is a native of the area. Besides never living beyond a 20-mile radius of his birthplace, HardHat's never really traveled outside of California except for a few business trips. It's the idea that he's not very worldly.) She doesn't understand why a man in his 30s would choose to live with family (versus alone or with roommates) when there's no obvious need (and I can't remember what reason he provided to her).

In her most recent e-mail to me:
"... long story short, they got kicked out of their house b/c the owner wanted to sell the house and instead of moving out on his own, he signed a lease to another house with his sister and family. can't date someone who lives with this sister/family. i said if things progress further b/w us, he needs to change that arrangement in 6 months. otherwise, things won't work."

I haven't talked to her yet for more details. I can understand why it seems odd. I certainly would question why a 30+-year-old man lives with his parents in a non-temporary situation (think KT).

- Is there a family need such as a disabled child?
- Are they an unusually close knit family?
- Does the family have financial reasons?

This is a topic she'll need to tread carefully about. I don't think she should or could force this issue. He will need to decide this for himself. I'm not sure what I would do in her shoes.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Suspicious True

A couple weeks ago I was surfing a couple different online dating sites. One of the sites I explored was Their unique marketing angle is that they run background checks on anyone who registers at the site for a paid subscription. I had made an attempt to log in so that I could perform a search. I don't think I was very impressed with the site and forgot about it.

A few days ago, I noticed in my mailbox (I have one e-mail address dedicated to online dating) a couple e-mails saying that so-and-so had winked at me. I didn't recognize the source of the e-mails. At first, I thought it was from this other website I had posted on.

When I clicked on the link to one of the guys, I found myself at The main page said that I had 2 e-mails and 83 winks (since June 25?). Strange... how come only now am I receiving e-mails to alert me?

I went back to my e-mail account and realized that the spam filter had diverted all the e-mails to the spam folder. There were dozens of e-mails about winks, e-mails about messages, and e-mails from the site about potential matches.

When I looked at them more closely, however, I was very turned off. I had entered the basics about myself in terms of preferences, lifestyle, etc. I also posted what I was looking for in a man. This is why I was very disturbed to find that probably a third of the winks were from men who were divorced with children. Another third were from ethnicities I did not specify. The final third were from men who were WAY out of my age range... we're talking people claiming to be under 25 and over 45. Did any of these guys read my profile before winking?

Now, in previous times when I've put myself through online dating, I accepted that a handful of e-mails were from men outside of my preferred box, usually men a few years above my posted range. This time, however, once I threw out all the undesirables and those who had offered absolutely no information about themselves (not even their ethnicity or marriage status), I was left with maybe 8 guys who may have been okay. A ten percent hit rate? Eeck. I was hesitant even with several of them because they indicated they were religious and implied they were semi-regular attendees (and I am not really religious).

I considered signing up to find out more about these men, but an alarm sounded inside me. I went back through some of the profiles I deleted. I hadn't made much analysis of the profile names the first time around - inca7777, 1dream4u, etc. That's when I started noticing a few like "ridemehard" and that was the last straw (I don't care to mention the other few).

Maybe my mind got a little too creative, but I couldn't help wonder if this site was known as some unspoken place to hook up for one night stands or something. It especially seemed odd that in several cases, the men with children did not indicate their marital status. Why fill out one field and not the other. Why else would 20-year-olds subscribe to an online dating site? They're too young to need this. Then again, there are more obvious websites to go to for those types of rendezvous. Perhaps these are just bored losers trying to make trouble.

Who knows... it's just that I've not recently encountered anything so bizarre.

Friday, July 07, 2006

My take on sibling influence (or lack thereof)

I finally got back around to dissecting the comments made in that Time magazine article I mentioned the other day.

It's a decent, mainstream magazine piece. Naturally, I was attracted to the analysis around elements of my own personality. I've always attributed much of my inability to relate to others to growing up as an "only child"... because my brother came along almost ten years later.

I know I struggle with certain social skills. I notice it often. I feel like an outsider with my friends because of it. At times, I probably come off as self-centered because that's what I knew growing up. It's why I've ALWAYS sworn to myself that, barring a medical reason, I must have at least two kids who are no more than four years apart in age. I want them to develop good interpersonal skills and have a strong bond with each other.

1) Childhood fighting

Yeah, so it would obviously be unfair for a 12-year-old to pick a fight with a toddler. The baby doesn't understand that you are upset they scratched your favorite record or that it's not okay to coat your things with gum. I learned to just accept that he could do whatever he wanted or that I had to hide things I didn't want him touching.

Therefore, I never developed the skills to cope with conflict. I shy away from confrontation or anything that feels remotely like it. Because I avoid it, that translates into not having developed the means to properly resolve issues. I never reacted well to kids that teased me. I was unprepared to deal with kids who treated me badly. I know I tend to bottle up things that bother me until it emerges as some passive-aggressive comment or incident.

2) Playing favorites

Because my brother and I are so far apart in age, it's not clear who is the favorite. He is the youngest, and he is the *boy*. Since we are Chinese, I accept the fact that he is favored for traditional reasons. My grandmother certainly gave her two grandsons with the family name marginally better inheritance. What can anyone say?

On the other hand, I've always been a bit more responsible, more outgoing, and driven. Without any obvious encouragement from my parents, I involved myself in clubs with leadership positions, I volunteered, I was an editor for the yearbook. It was never a contest for attention with my brother.

Maybe that's why I don't play the game well when it comes to the office. It's not clear to me to use people to my advantage. I don't care for the politics and positioning at the office. I am used to working alone, so I miss out sometimes on the socializing. The bonds among the male executive is very obviously because of their ability to joke and jab with each other. I feel left out sometimes when people go to lunch together because I wasn't invited... but maybe it's my own fault. I never learned those intangible skills. It doesn't occur to me to stop by people's cubes and say "hello" for no reason. (And some of it is glass ceiling issues, damn it, that can't be helped.)

3) Gender modeling

The article talks about how having a sibling of the opposite gender can accentuate gender-linked stereotypes. Well, that would explain quite a bit of why I've never felt like I could strongly identifying with either women or men. There was no one growing up to mirror or oppose. I remember always wishing I had a twin sister growing up. I needed a playmate. It's not natural for me to play with another gal's hair or do makeovers. I hung out with both boys and girls as a child. I would never call myself girly (though I've started to buy more skirts the past couple of years).

"By having a sibling who is one way, you strive to be different."

Okay... so... is this why I call myself a jack of all trades?

4) How bonds grow stronger

The first paragraph of this section mentioned some key things I constantly need to remember.

- "siblings become more emotionally skilled" (I have a hard time expressing myself and understanding my own feelings. Everything is too analytical at times.)

- "it's important to listen to others" (I can't tell you how much I interrupt people because I'm busy trying to say something before I forget rather than finish listening to what they have to say.)

- "people who disagree are not terrible" (I get annoyed and defensive sometimes at people who want to disagree with me. I feel like people are attacking me or complaining when they might just be trying to help.)

- "people get over their anger" (I'm *always* worried about what other people think of me. Sometimes it probably keeps me from doing what I want to do. You can't please everyone... I need to keep that in mind.)

There was a small little excerpt about only children or "singletons." Basically, it said that these children eventually catch up. Sometimes, it can take a little longer or require a certain life event to spark the learning. It was a very polite way of trying to include everyone and provide assurance that we'll all be okay. Trite but true (hoepfully).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

APB's Dating Advice for Asian Men

First, I guess I shouldn't be surprised this world exists. After all, if you can learn how to make a bomb on the Internet, why wouldn't you be able to get some dating tips. There are all these relationship workshops for women, so why not a pickup session for men. It might even give some guys a needed boost of confidence. I just don't like the fact they use the term "game."

The question is whether I want to know about any of this... . Maybe it would be a good lesson for me so that I understand non-verbal cues better. (I'm a totally clueless girl. Who knows how many guys I missed out in my early twenties because I wasn't paying attention.)

Then again, considering how much I overanalyze things, knowing this stuff could turn me into a basket case. 8-}

Site Map: APB's Dating Advice for Asian Men

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Needing purpose

Overall, the extended 4th of July weekend was quiet. I went shopping for an entire day which was exhausting. Shopping takes on a very different tone when you're actually looking to find something specific. I was supposed to spend some time cleaning the house, but I didn't get to far. What a surprise. ;)

Each day during this long weekend, I noticed people. I'd see couples at the mall. The guys either patiently waited in chairs or gave opinions on the girlfriend's outfit each time they stepped out of the fitting room. In the parking lots, families were getting kids in and out of their strollers and car seats or buying them a treat at the food court. Near home, I always observed families at the park - exploring the play equipment, shooting off toy rockets, having picnics, playing tennis. I've never noticed so many groups of people biking through the neighborhood streets together, such a wholesome family activity. I like the idea of the simple pleasures. I think this was a wonderful time for a lot of people.

Many of my friends were busy with family matters - parents visiting, future in-laws arriving for wedding, recently engaged couple preparing the new house for the parents' visit next month, boyfriend taking girlfriend for a getaway weekend.

Chi loaned me one of her books to read, The Between Boyfriends Book. I managed to read a few essays from the book over lunch the other day. I think she's hoping this will lighten my spirits and help me build the courage to try some more online dating. So far, reading has inspired me to consider different ways to write and incorporate my thoughts better.

I did spend a little time with friends on Monday night. We did our usual chatting before playing a game of "Bang!". The game is a little like "Mafia," if you have ever played. In "Bang!" there are several different strategies playing out. The sheriff and deputies want to kill the outlaws. The outlaws want the sheriff dead. The renegade has the toughest challenge in that he wants everyone dead, but the outlaws must die before the sheriff. (Got all that? ;) ) To make things even more challenging, you only know who the sheriff is at the start of the game. You must determine everyone else's identities based on their actions during the game. Ig made the bold move of trying to shoot the sheriff early in the game. Unfortunately, that also meant that within only two turns, the sheriff and two deputies managed to kill off him AND another outlaw - a very rare occurrence. We laughed while Ig sat stunned at how he could go from full health to four bullet wounds (life points in the game). Making the first move can make you a HUGE target.

Tuesday I went out to learn how to throw a Frisbee before attending a BBQ. Tim plays ultimate and was teaching Ig and me how to throw better. Boy, I'm out of shape. Who knew I could feel so tired just running after a Frisbee.

The BBQ was pleasant and mellow. It was nice to visit EJP's new home since I missed the housewarming. The only thing was that I felt like I was the only single person there. Later, a few other singles showed up, but year after year, the couples and families have begun to dominate the crowd.

I went home to meet up with Tim to watch a couple episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" before calling it a night. It's a very funny show. I also can't help like the fact that there are Asian people behind the scenes like someone named Kourtney Kang who has written some of the episodes. I wish I that good at identifying and retelling the humorous moments and the adventures I've shared with my friends over the years.


In those moments of quiet at home, I realized that life has slowed a bit in the past few years. Ig joked that it's only because TJ is not here to organize a big party. Did he not want to admit things are changing? Still, I feel like something is missing.

Spending so much time alone also reminded me of this holiday, three years ago, the first weekend after I broke up with Ryan. It was a weekend of crying at home all day or going to friends' parties where I pretended to be fine after people would innocently ask, "hi, where's Ryan?"

I don't know why that memory came back to me. I think of him so rarely these days. Part of it was probably because I spent the 4th this year at EJP's, something I did that year, watched fireworks from the same hill where I watched that fatefull year EJP now live up the street from my old place, and because I wasn't with Tim who has been present the past two (one as a date, one as a friend).

Sitting on my couch, surfing the Internet while watching a old movie on Monday morning, I couldn't help look down the hall and up the stairs thinking there should be somebody there (like a toddler trying to stand up). I should feel lucky that I have the freedom to do what I want. I know I'd complain just as much if all my time was consumed by cleaning, cooking and diapers, but it all sounds so much more blissful right now. I always have this desire to feel needed, wanted, and that doesn't exist.

When it comes down to it, I've lost focus in my life. I feel like I'm just living day to day. I'm lonely; I just happen to keep busy enough to not notice. This is not where I expected to be. What is my purpose now? I know some people would say that I should forge my own path and not feel subject to society's (and my own) expectation that I should be married. Others reassure me that I will meet my man. (I suppose it's nice to hear that people think I'm a good person.)

The fact is that it's what I want NOW. I have my college degree; I earned an advanced degree; I bought a new car; I've had a few long-term relationships; I own property; I've had three careers; I've traveled every year. I feel like I've had my fun and had the opportunity to explore. Sure, I take classes for fun, but they're really just a time filler - a way to forget what's missing from my life. At this age, I expected to be raising a family. That was supposed to be part of my identity. My current instincts include cultivating and nurturing, but I am being denied the ability to act upon it.

It's not that I haven't tried to find a man to marry. I've been at this for some ten years now. There's no good explanation or excuse for the lack of success. But let's face it, if I could read the minds of my mother, her friends, and my aunts, they'd all be thinking the same thing. (Insert your own family's thoughts here.) I know they all think there's something wrong with me. I tend to wonder myself more and more. This is why I have a therapist.:->

I honestly feel like I'm about to reach a dead end. (I know... I'm being overly depressing. And though some say you shouldn't dwell on the negative, but I think it's important to acknowledge it, otherwise it's like ignoring a nail sticking out of your skull.) I feel desperate because I no longer want to be alone. Now, when I spy a nice guy at the store or at some event, he is usually too young or taken. Where can I go to meet people (in real time, not in cyberspace) who I can get to know them in a natural setting who are eligible and interested? (Ah, the holy grail of dating questions.) How can I rationally choose the right person?

From the archives: Alright, since Tony asked.

An interesting post about why boys need to make the first moves, courtesy of Nicola's blog.

Midwest guy is free to philander with all his other ladies... I'm headed back to the watering hole.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

E-mail dating

I'm still communicating with Midwest via e-mail. Each time, he promptly responds to my mail the next night. The one thing I've been noticing, however, is that while he answers all the questions I ask him, he never asks me any questions (other than a couple early "what are you up to?"). At first it was fine, but now I'm starting to wonder.

Am I reading too much into it that not asking anything about me indicates he's not that interested? Usually when you meet someone new, shouldn't you be curious about them?

I don't know what to do next. He gives me nothing to say to him. Am I expected to randomly ramble whenever I reply? The end of his messages is always "will talk later," making it sound like he has more to say.

Sigh... what am I doing? Is this worth my time? Do I say something about the one-sidedness of the conversation? (In a more subtle, polite manner of course - not my passive aggressive, "hey dork, do you want to get to know me or what?") Should I give him my phone and allow him one last chance to demonstrate some interest?

Monday, July 03, 2006 The New Science of Siblings -- Jul 10, 2006

I am curious to see this week's Time magazine. Since I'm always trying to understand how my personality and habits were shaped by my childhood, this might shed some light. (Although, how much influence can your kid brother have on you when you're almost a decade older - wouldn't key behavior already have formed?).


Sunday, Jul. 2, 2006 The New Science of Siblings
Your parents raised you. Your spouse lives with you. But it's your brothers and sisters who really shaped you. Surprising research reveals how

There are a lot of ways to study a painting, and one of the best is to get to know the painter. The splash or splatter of color makes a lot more sense when you understand the rage or whimsy or heart behind it. The songwriter, similarly, can lay bare the song, the poet the poem, the builder the building.

So what explains the complex bit of artistry that is the human personality? We may not be born as tabulae rasae. Any parent can tell you that each child comes from the womb with an individual temperament that seems preloaded at the factory. But from the moment of birth, a lot of things set to work on that temperament--moderating it, challenging it, annealing it, wounding it. What we're left with after 10 or 20 or 50 years is quite different from what we started out with.

For a long time, researchers have tried to nail down just what shapes us--or what, at least, shapes us most. And over the years, they've had a lot of eureka moments. First it was our parents, particularly our mothers. Then it was our genes. Next it was our peers, who show up last but hold great sway. And all those ideas were good ones--but only as far as they went.

The fact is once investigators had strip-mined all the data from those theories, they still came away with as many questions as answers. Somewhere, there was a sort of temperamental dark matter exerting an invisible gravitational pull of its own. More and more, scientists are concluding that this unexplained force is our siblings.

From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales. They are our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride. They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them. Sisters teach brothers about the mysteries of girls; brothers teach sisters about the puzzle of boys. Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us. Our siblings may be the only people we'll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life. "Siblings," says family sociologist Katherine Conger of the University of California, Davis, "are with us for the whole journey."

Within the scientific community, siblings have not been wholly ignored, but research has been limited mostly to discussions of birth order. Older sibs were said to be strivers; younger ones rebels; middle kids the lost souls. The stereotypes were broad, if not entirely untrue, and there the discussion mostly ended.

But all that's changing. At research centers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and elsewhere, investigators are launching a wealth of new studies into the sibling dynamic, looking at ways brothers and sisters steer one another into--or away from--risky behavior; how they form a protective buffer against family upheaval; how they educate one another about the opposite sex; how all siblings compete for family recognition and come to terms--or blows--over such impossibly charged issues as parental favoritism.

From that research, scientists are gaining intriguing insights into the people we become as adults. Does the manager who runs a congenial office call on the peacemaking skills learned in the family playroom? Does the student struggling with a professor who plays favorites summon up the coping skills acquired from dealing with a sister who was Daddy's girl? Do husbands and wives benefit from the intergender negotiations they waged when their most important partners were their sisters and brothers? All that is under investigation. "Siblings have just been off the radar screen until now," says Conger. But today serious work is revealing exactly how our brothers and sisters influence us.

•Why childhood fights between siblings can be good

THE FIRST THING THAT STRIKES contemporary researchers when they study siblings is the sheer quantity of time the kids spend in one another's presence and the power this has to teach them social skills. By the time children are 11, they devote about 33% of their free time to their siblings--more time than they spend with friends, parents, teachers or even by themselves--according to a well-regarded Penn State University study published in 1996. Later research, published last year, found that even adolescents, who have usually begun going their own way, devote at least 10 hours a week to activities with their siblings--a lot when you consider that with school, sports, dates and sleep, there aren't a whole lot of free hours left. In Mexican-American homes, where broods are generally bigger, the figure tops 17 hours.

"In general," says psychologist Daniel Shaw of the University of Pittsburgh, "parents serve the same big-picture role as doctors on grand rounds. Siblings are like the nurses on the ward. They're there every day." All that proximity breeds an awful lot of intimacy--and an awful lot of friction.

Laurie Kramer, professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has found that, on average, sibs between 3 and 7 years old engage in some kind of conflict 3.5 times an hour. Kids in the 2-to-4 age group top out at 6.3--or more than one clash every 10 minutes, according to a Canadian study. "Getting along with a sister or brother," Kramer says dryly, "can be a frustrating experience."

But as much as all the fighting can set parents' hair on end, there's a lot of learning going on too, specifically about how conflicts, once begun, can be settled. Shaw and his colleagues conducted a years-long study in which they visited the homes of 90 2-year-old children who had at least one sibling, observing the target kids' innate temperaments and their parents' discipline styles. The researchers returned when the children were 5 and observed them again, this time in a structured play session with one close-in-age sib. The pairs were shown three toys but given only one to play with. They were told they could move onto the next one only when both agreed it was time to switch and further agreed which toy they wanted next.

That, as any parent knows, is a scenario trip-wired for fights--and that's what happened. The experimenters ranked the conflicts on a five-point scale, with one being a single cross word and five being a full-blown brawl. The next year, they went to the same children's schools to observe them at play and interview their teachers. Almost universally, the kids who practiced the best conflict-resolution skills at home carried those abilities into the classroom.

Certainly, there are other things that could account for what makes some kids battlers in school and others not. But the most powerful variables--parents and personality--were identified and their influence isolated during the course of the two-year-long observations. Socioeconomic status, an X factor that bedevils studies like this one, was controlled by selecting all the families from the same economic stratum. Distill those influences away and what is left is the interaction of the sibs. "Siblings have a socializing effect on one another," Shaw says. "When you tease out all the other variables, it's the play styles that make the difference. Unlike a relationship with friends, you're stuck with your sibs. You learn to negotiate things day to day."

It's that permanence, researchers believe, that makes siblings so valuable a rehearsal tool for later life. Adulthood, after all, is practically defined by peer relationships--the workplace, a marriage, the church building committee. As siblings, we may sulk and fume but by nighttime we still return to the same twin beds in the same shared room. Peace is made when one sib offers a toy or shares a thought or throws a pillow in a mock provocation that releases the lingering tension in a burst of roughhousing. Somewhere in there is the early training for the e-mail joke that breaks an office silence or the husband who signals that a fight is over by asking his wife what she thinks they should do about that fast-approaching vacation anyway. "Sibling relationships are where you learn all this," says developmental psychologist Susan McHale of Penn State University. "They are relationships between equals."

• How not being Mom's favorite can have its advantages

MULTICHILD HOUSEHOLDS CAN BE NOTHING short of palace courts, with alliances, feuds, grudges and loyalties, all changing day to day. Perhaps the touchiest problem in most such families is favoritism.

Parents feel a lot of guilt over the often evident if rarely admitted preference they harbor for one child over another--the sensitive mom who goes gooey over her son the poet, the hard-knocks dad who adores his tough-as-nails daughter. If favorites exist, however, it may be not the parents' fault, but evolution's.

The family began as--and remains--a survival unit, with parents agreeing to care for the kids, the kids agreeing to carry on the genes and all of them doing what they can to make sure no one gets eaten by wolves. But the resources that make this possible are limited. "Economic means, types of jobs, even love and affection are in finite supply," says psychologist Mark Feinberg of Penn State. Parents, despite themselves, are programmed to notice the child who seems most worthy of the investment. While millenniums of socialization have helped us resist and even reverse this impulse, and we often pour much of a family's wealth and energy into the care of the disabled or difficult child, our primal programming still draws us to the pretty, gifted ones.

Conger devised a study to test how widespread favoritism is. She assembled a group of 384 adolescent sibling pairs and their parents, visiting them three times over three years and questioning them all about their relationships, their sense of well-being and more. To see how they interacted as a group, she videotaped them as they worked through sample conflicts. Overall, she concluded that 65% of mothers and 70% of fathers exhibited a preference for one child--in most cases, the older one. What's more, the kids know what's going on. "They all say, 'Well, it makes sense that they would treat us differently, because he's older or we're a boy and a girl,'" Conger reports.

At first, kids appear to adapt well to the disparity and often learn to game the system, flipping blatant favoritism back to their shared advantage. "They'll say to one another, 'Why don't you ask Mom if we can go to the mall because she never says no to you,'" says Conger. But at a deeper level, second-tier children may pay a price. "They tend to be sadder and have more self-esteem questions," Conger says. "They feel like they're not as worthy, and they're trying to figure out why."

Think you're not still living the same reality show? Think again. It's no accident that employees in the workplace instinctively know which person to send into the lion's den of the corner office with a risky proposal or a bit of bad news. And it's no coincidence that the sense of hurt feelings and adolescent envy you get when that same colleague emerges with the proposal approved and the boss's applause seems so familiar. But what you summon up with the feelings you first had long ago is the knowledge you gained then too--that the smartest strategy is not to compete for approval but to strike a partnership with the favorite and spin the situation to benefit yourself as well. This idea did not occur to you de novo. You may know it now, but you learned it then.

•Why your sibling is--or isn't--your best role model

IT'S NO SECRET THAT BROTHERS AND SISTERS emulate one another or that the learning flows both up and down the age ladder. Younger siblings mimic the skills and strengths of older ones. Older sibs are prodded to attempt something new because they don't want to be shown up by a younger one who has already tried it. More complex--and in many ways more important--are those situations in which siblings don't mirror one another but differentiate themselves--a phenomenon psychologists call de-identification.

Alejandra and Sofia Romero, 5-year-old fraternal twins growing up in New York City, entered the world at almost the same instant but have gone their own ways ever since--at least in terms of temperament. Alejandra has more of a tolerance--even a taste--for rules and regimens. Sofia observed this (and her parents observed her observing it) and then distinguished herself as the looser, less disciplined of the two. Sofia is also the more garrulous, and Alejandra eventually became the more taciturn. "Sofie served as their mouthpiece," says Lisa Dreyer, 39, the girls' mother, "and Alejandra was perfectly happy to let her do it."

De-identification helps kids stake out personality turf inside the home, but it has another, far more important function: pushing some sibs away from risky behavior. On the whole, siblings pass on dangerous habits to one another in a depressingly predictable way. A girl with an older, pregnant teenage sister is four to six times as likely to become a teen mom herself, says Patricia East, a developmental psychologist at the University of California, San Diego. The same pattern holds for substance abuse. According to a paper published in the Journal of Drug Issues earlier this year, younger siblings whose older sibs drink are twice as likely to pick up the habit too. When it comes to smoking, the risk increases fourfold.

But some kids break the mold--and for surprising reasons. East conducted a five-year study of 227 families and found that those girls who don't follow their older sisters into pregnancy may be drawn not so much to the wisdom of the choice as to the mere fact that it's a different one. One teen mom in a family is a drama; two teen moms has a been-there-done-that quality to it. "She purposely goes the other way," says East. "She decides her sister's role is teen mom and hers will be high achiever."

Younger sibs may avoid tobacco for much the same reason. Three years ago, Joseph Rodgers, a psychologist at the University of Oklahoma, published a study of more than 9,500 young smokers. He found that while older brothers and sisters often do introduce younger ones to the habit, the closer they are in age, the more likely the younger one is to resist. Apparently, their proximity in years has already made them too similar. One conspicuous way for a baby brother to set himself apart is to look at the older sibling's smoking habits and then do the opposite.

• How a sibling of the opposite sex can affect whom you marry

FAR SUBTLER--AND OFTEN FAR SWEETER--than the risk-taking modeling that occurs among all sibs is the gender modeling that plays out between opposite-sex ones. Brothers and sisters can be fierce de-identifiers. In a study of adolescent boys and girls in central Pennsylvania, the boys unsurprisingly scored higher in such traits as independence and competitiveness while girls did better in empathic characteristics like sensitivity and helpfulness. What was less expected is that when kids grow up with an opposite-sex sibling, such exposure doesn't temper gender-linked traits but accentuates them. Both boys and girls hew closer still to gender stereotype and even seek friends who conform to those norms. "It's known as niche picking," says Kimberly Updegraff, a professor of family and human development at Arizona State University and the person who conducted the study. "By having a sibling who is one way, you strive to be different."

But as kids get older, that distance from the other gender must, of necessity, close. Here kids with opposite-sex siblings have a marked advantage. Last year William Ickes, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, published a study in which he paired up male and female students--all of whom had grown up with an opposite-sex sibling--and set them to chatting with one another. Then he questioned the subjects about how the conversation went. In general, boys with older sisters or girls with older brothers were less fumbling at getting things going and kept the exchange flowing much more naturally.

"The guys who had older sisters had more involving interactions and were liked significantly more by their new female acquaintances," says Ickes. "Women with older brothers were more likely to strike up a conversation with the male stranger and to smile at him more than he smiled at her."

If siblings can indeed be as powerful an influence on one another as all the research suggests, are all siblings created at least potentially equal? What about half-sibs and stepsibs? Do they reap--and confer--the same benefits? Research findings are a bit scattered on this, if only because shared or reconstituted families can be so complicated. A dysfunctional home in which parents and siblings hunker behind barricades alongside the ones they're biologically closest to does not lend itself to good sibling ties. Well-blended families, on the other hand, may produce step- or half-siblings who are extraordinarily close. One of the best studies on this topic is being conducted in Britain with a large group of many different kinds of nontraditional families. In general, the researchers have found that the intensity of the relationships closely follows the degree of physical relatedness. No hard rules have emerged, but the more genes you share, the more deeply invested you tend to grow. "Biological siblings just get into it more," says Thomas O'Connor, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "They are warmer and also more conflicted."

• How those early bonds can grow stronger with age

ONE OF THE GREATEST GIFTS OF THE SIBLING tie is that while warmth grows over time, the conflicts often fade. After the shooting stops, even the fiercest sibling wars leave little lasting damage. Indeed, siblings who battled a lot as kids may become closer as adults--and more emotionally skilled too, often clearly recalling what their long-ago fights were about and the lessons they took from them. "I'm very sensitized to the fact that it's important to listen to others," a respondent wrote in a recent study conducted in Britain. "People get over their anger, and people who disagree are not terrible," wrote another. Even those with troubled or self-destructive siblings came away with something valuable: they learned patience, acceptance and cautionary lessons. "[You] cannot change others," wrote one. "[But] I wasn't going to be like that."

Full-blown childhood crises may forge even stronger lifelong links. The death of a parent blows some families to bits. But when older sibs step in to help raise younger ones, the dual role of contemporary and caretaker can lay the foundation for an indestructible closeness later on. Wayne Duvall, 48, a television and film actor in New York City and the youngest of three brothers, was just 13 when his father died. His older brothers, who had let him get away with all manner of mischief when both parents were in residence, intuitively knew that the family no longer had that luxury. "I vividly remember them leaning down to me and saying, 'The party's over,'" Duvall recalls. "My brothers are my best friends now, though they still consider me the little brother in every imaginable way."

Such powerful connections become even more important as the inevitable illnesses or widowhood of late life lead us to lean on the people we've known the longest. Even siblings who drift apart in their middle years tend to drift back together as they age. "The relationship is especially strong between sisters," who are more likely to be predeceased by their spouses than brothers are, says Judy Dunn, a developmental psychologist at London's Kings College. "When asked what contributes to the importance of the relationship now, they say it's the shared early childhood experiences, which cast a long shadow for all of us."

Of course, that shadow--like all shadows--is a thing created by light. Siblings, by any measure, are one of nature's better brainstorms, and all the new studies on how they make us who we are is one of science's. But the rest of us, outside the lab, see it in a more primal way. In a world that's too big, too scary and too often too lonely, we come to realize that there's nothing like having a band of brothers--and sisters--to venture out with you.

See what famous siblings have said about one another at
With reporting by With reporting by Jessica Carsen/London, Wendy Cole/Chicago, Sonja Steptoe/Los Angeles