Monday, January 29, 2007

How The Brain Rewires Itself

The January 29, 2007, issue is full of articles about the brain and how it works. Funny that this appeared right after I had that revisit to the left-right brain science I used to know.

I found this particularly interesting. It speaks to all the theories about how the brain is a powerful placebo for healing. I've been noticing the topic of Tibet and Buddhism lately. The discussion about how the monks meditate about compassion and maternalism make me curious about the religion. I would like to find a basic book about the principles of Buddhism and meditation. I wonder if it would help me shape my thoughts and be more positive in my perspective about life and interactions.

How The Brain Rewires Itself
Friday, Jan. 19, 2007
By Sharon Begley

It was a fairly modest experiment, as these things go, with volunteers trooping into the lab at Harvard Medical School to learn and practice a little five-finger piano exercise. Neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone instructed the members of one group to play as fluidly as they could, trying to keep to the metronome's 60 beats per minute. Every day for five days, the volunteers practiced for two hours. Then they took a test.

At the end of each day's practice session, they sat beneath a coil of wire that sent a brief magnetic pulse into the motor cortex of their brain, located in a strip running from the crown of the head toward each ear. The so-called transcranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS) test allows scientists to infer the function of neurons just beneath the coil. In the piano players, the TMS mapped how much of the motor cortex controlled the finger movements needed for the piano exercise. What the scientists found was that after a week of practice, the stretch of motor cortex devoted to these finger movements took over surrounding areas like dandelions on a suburban lawn.

The finding was in line with a growing number of discoveries at the time showing that greater use of a particular muscle causes the brain to devote more cortical real estate to it. But Pascual-Leone did not stop there. He extended the experiment by having another group of volunteers merely think about practicing the piano exercise. They played the simple piece of music in their head, holding their hands still while imagining how they would move their fingers. Then they too sat beneath the TMS coil.

When the scientists compared the TMS data on the two groups--those who actually tickled the ivories and those who only imagined doing so--they glimpsed a revolutionary idea about the brain: the ability of mere thought to alter the physical structure and function of our gray matter. For what the TMS revealed was that the region of motor cortex that controls the piano-playing fingers also expanded in the brains of volunteers who imagined playing the music--just as it had in those who actually played it.

"Mental practice resulted in a similar reorganization" of the brain, Pascual-Leone later wrote. If his results hold for other forms of movement (and there is no reason to think they don't), then mentally practicing a golf swing or a forward pass or a swimming turn could lead to mastery with less physical practice. Even more profound, the discovery showed that mental training had the power to change the physical structure of the brain.


FOR DECADES, THE PREVAILING DOGMA IN neuroscience was that the adult human brain is essentially immutable, hardwired, fixed in form and function, so that by the time we reach adulthood we are pretty much stuck with what we have. Yes, it can create (and lose) synapses, the connections between neurons that encode memories and learning. And it can suffer injury and degeneration. But this view held that if genes and development dictate that one cluster of neurons will process signals from the eye and another cluster will move the fingers of the right hand, then they'll do that and nothing else until the day you die. There was good reason for lavishly illustrated brain books to show the function, size and location of the brain's structures in permanent ink.

The doctrine of the unchanging human brain has had profound ramifications. For one thing, it lowered expectations about the value of rehabilitation for adults who had suffered brain damage from a stroke or about the possibility of fixing the pathological wiring that underlies psychiatric diseases. And it implied that other brain-based fixities, such as the happiness set point that, according to a growing body of research, a person returns to after the deepest tragedy or the greatest joy, are nearly unalterable.

But research in the past few years has overthrown the dogma. In its place has come the realization that the adult brain retains impressive powers of "neuroplasticity"--the ability to change its structure and function in response to experience. These aren't minor tweaks either. Something as basic as the function of the visual or auditory cortex can change as a result of a person's experience of becoming deaf or blind at a young age. Even when the brain suffers a trauma late in life, it can rezone itself like a city in a frenzy of urban renewal. If a stroke knocks out, say, the neighborhood of motor cortex that moves the right arm, a new technique called constraint-induced movement therapy can coax next-door regions to take over the function of the damaged area. The brain can be rewired.

The first discoveries of neuroplasticity came from studies of how changes in the messages the brain receives through the senses can alter its structure and function. When no transmissions arrive from the eyes in someone who has been blind from a young age, for instance, the visual cortex can learn to hear or feel or even support verbal memory. When signals from the skin or muscles bombard the motor cortex or the somatosensory cortex (which processes touch), the brain expands the area that is wired to move, say, the fingers. In this sense, the very structure of our brain--the relative size of different regions, the strength of connections between them, even their functions--reflects the lives we have led. Like sand on a beach, the brain bears the footprints of the decisions we have made, the skills we have learned, the actions we have taken.


AN EXTREME EXAMPLE OF HOW CHANGES IN the input reaching the brain can alter its structure is the silence that falls over the somatosensory cortex after its owner has lost a limb. Soon after a car crash took Victor Quintero's left arm from just above the elbow, he told neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran of the University of California at San Diego that he could still feel the missing arm. Ramachandran decided to investigate. He had Victor sit still with his eyes closed and lightly brushed the teenager's left cheek with a cotton swab.

Where do you feel that? Ramachandran asked. On his left cheek, Victor answered--and the back of his missing hand. Ramachandran stroked another spot on the cheek. Where do you feel that? On his absent thumb, Victor replied. Ramachandran touched the skin between Victor's nose and mouth. His missing index finger was being brushed, Victor said. A spot just below Victor's left nostril caused the boy to feel a tingling on his left pinkie. And when Victor felt an itch in his phantom hand, scratching his lower face relieved the itch. In people who have lost a limb, Ramachandran concluded, the brain reorganizes: the strip of cortex that processes input from the face takes over the area that originally received input from a now missing hand. That's why touching Victor's face caused brain to "feel" his missing hand.

Similarly, because the regions of cortex that handle sensations from the feet abut those that process sensations from the surface of the genitals, some people who have lost a leg report feeling phantom sensations during sex. Ramachandran's was the first report of a living being knowingly experiencing the results of his brain rewiring.


AS SCIENTISTS PROBE the limits of neuroplasticity, they are finding that mind sculpting can occur even without input from the outside world. The brain can change as a result of the thoughts we think, as with Pascual-Leone's virtual piano players. This has important implications for health: something as seemingly insubstantial as a thought can affect the very stuff of the brain, altering neuronal connections in a way that can treat mental illness or, perhaps, lead to a greater capacity for empathy and compassion. It may even dial up the supposedly immovable happiness set point.

In a series of experiments, for instance, Jeffrey Schwartz and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can quiet activity in the circuit that underlies obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), just as drugs do. Schwartz had become intrigued with the therapeutic potential of mindfulness meditation, the Buddhist practice of observing one's inner experiences as if they were happening to someone else.

When OCD patients were plagued by an obsessive thought, Schwartz instructed them to think, "My brain is generating another obsessive thought. Don't I know it is just some garbage thrown up by a faulty circuit?" After 10 weeks of mindfulness-based therapy, 12 out of 18 patients improved significantly. Before-and-after brain scans showed that activity in the orbital frontal cortex, the core of the OCD circuit, had fallen dramatically and in exactly the way that drugs effective against OCD affect the brain. Schwartz called it "self-directed neuroplasticity," concluding that "the mind can change the brain."

The same is true when cognitive techniques are used to treat depression. Scientists at the University of Toronto had 14 depressed adults undergo CBT, which teaches patients to view their own thoughts differently--to see a failed date, for instance, not as proof that "I will never be loved" but as a minor thing that didn't work out. Thirteen other patients received paroxetine (the generic form of the antidepressant Paxil). All experienced comparable improvement after treatment. Then the scientists scanned the patients' brains. "Our hypothesis was, if you do well with treatment, your brain will have changed in the same way no matter which treatment you received," said Toronto's Zindel Segal.

But no. Depressed brains responded differently to the two kinds of treatment--and in a very interesting way. CBT muted overactivity in the frontal cortex, the seat of reasoning, logic and higher thought as well as of endless rumination about that disastrous date. Paroxetine, by contrast, raised activity there. On the other hand, CBT raised activity in the hippocampus of the limbic system, the brain's emotion center. Paroxetine lowered activity there. As Toronto's Helen Mayberg explains, "Cognitive therapy targets the cortex, the thinking brain, reshaping how you process information and changing your thinking pattern. It decreases rumination, and trains the brain to adopt different thinking circuits." As with Schwartz's OCD patients, thinking had changed a pattern of activity--in this case, a pattern associated with depression--in the brain.


COULD THINKING ABOUT THOUGHTS IN A new way affect not only such pathological brain states as OCD and depression but also normal activity? To find out, neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison turned to Buddhist monks, the Olympic athletes of mental training. Some monks have spent more than 10,000 hours of their lives in meditation. Earlier in Davidson's career, he had found that activity greater in the left prefrontal cortex than in the right correlates with a higher baseline level of contentment. The relative left/right activity came to be seen as a marker for the happiness set point, since people tend to return to this level no matter whether they win the lottery or lose their spouse. If mental training can alter activity characteristic of OCD and depression, might meditation or other forms of mental training, Davidson wondered, produce changes that underlie enduring happiness and other positive emotions? "That's the hypothesis," he says, "that we can think of emotions, moods and states such as compassion as trainable mental skills."

With the help and encouragement of the Dalai Lama, Davidson recruited Buddhist monks to go to Madison and meditate inside his functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tube while he measured their brain activity during various mental states. For comparison, he used undergraduates who had had no experience with meditation but got a crash course in the basic techniques. During the generation of pure compassion, a standard Buddhist meditation technique, brain regions that keep track of what is self and what is other became quieter, the fMRI showed, as if the subjects--experienced meditators as well as novices--opened their minds and hearts to others.

More interesting were the differences between the so-called adepts and the novices. In the former, there was significantly greater activation in a brain network linked to empathy and maternal love. Connections from the frontal regions, so active during compassion meditation, to the brain's emotional regions seemed to become stronger with more years of meditation practice, as if the brain had forged more robust connections between thinking and feeling.

But perhaps the most striking difference was in an area in the left prefrontal cortex--the site of activity that marks happiness. While the monks were generating feelings of compassion, activity in the left prefrontal swamped activity in the right prefrontal (associated with negative moods) to a degree never before seen from purely mental activity. By contrast, the undergraduate controls showed no such differences between the left and right prefrontal cortex. This suggests, says Davidson, that the positive state is a skill that can be trained.

For the monks as well as the patients with depression or OCD, the conscious act of thinking about their thoughts in a particular way rearranged the brain. The discovery of neuroplasticity, in particular the power of the mind to change the brain, is still too new for scientists, let alone the rest of us, to grasp its full meaning. But even as it offers new therapies for illnesses of the mind, it promises something more fundamental: a new understanding of what it means to be human.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Who's thinking about this already?

Can someone please tell me WHY Target is already stocking bikinis? Not that I'm planning to ever be seen in one again... it's January! And then I saw easter candy at the grocery store???

I saw the winter X Games on tv yesterday. Now I want to go snowboarding!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Left and Right Brains

After reading a posting about expressions on faces, I remembered this old topic I studied once in high school. I made it into a competitive speech that made it to state finals.

At the beginning of the speech, I would tell everyone to clasp their hands together (so that your fingers interlock) and note whether: your left thumb rests on top, your right thumb rests on top, or the two thumbs are side by side.

It was really fun to learn about how the two hemispheres control different physical and mental functions. As children we tend to lean rely more heavily on one side versus the other. For example, as toddlers, boys right brains tend to be larger because they develop physical skills earlier while girls develop their left brains earlier as they start talking sooner. This is not always true, however, and is also influenced by a variety of things. Handedness is an influence because each side of the brain controls the *opposite* side of the body. (And so the answer to the above clasping of the hands is that the top thumb indicates which side of the brain is supposed to be more dominant.) As we grow into adults, most will use both sides of the brain equally.

Many of these observations began by observing people with brain damage such as those who suffer a stroke and people who've received surgery for illnesses such as epilepsy or mental illness. Check Wikipedia for more details. I wish I had kept that library book I learned it all from... .

This quiz is not at all me... unless I have an alter-ego that I am unaware of. ;)

You Are 25% Left Brained, 75% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you're left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Always assume they'll run

Tim just rang me at work. The *second* day he drives his "new" car to work, he was hit by another car. He was rather sad. He whined that maybe he should continue to drive his old car for a couple more weeks, but who's to know when these things will happen.

While waiting at a light, he suddenly felt a jolt from behind the car. When he looked back, he saw a guy in a light truck. Tim's best estimate is that he got hit at 5-10 mph. Once the light changed to green, he moved over the to right with the truck guy behind. As he stopped the car, he saw the truck accelerate and take off. He got most of the license plate but isn't sure.

What a coward to pretend to be a good citizen and then run off! People are so bad. I've heard stories like this from other people. One guy even went so far as to pretend to exchange information but gave a fake name and phone number.

And the thing is, the damage is only to the car's bumper (small crumple), but it will probably mean spending over $500 bucks to repair or replace it. It's not worth reporting to the insurance company because it's basically the cost of the deductible. Tim also thinks it's not worth reporting the accident to the police because he doesn't want it to appear on his car's history report. That means the idiot truck driver is going to get away with this. That sucks. What can you do?

I can only hope Karma will get that driver back somehow.

What happens in time

While Tim was hanging out with me over the weekend, he lamented about girls not wanting to date him because of his height. Once again, I tried to lessen the impact of his comment by assuring him that he's a good man. He does have a girl in mind at work, but he's moving slowly on testing the waters given it is a co-worker (different department).

As we talked about dating, I admitted to him that sometimes I still wonder if I should have dated him longer to give us a chance. After all, we get along so well and enjoy each other's company. Tim chuckled an I-don't-think-so laugh as he said, "no."

When I asked him what he meant by that, he explained that there are things he likes about the way he lives his life. He said that it wouldn't have worked. We're different people. I couldn't get him to be very specific. Part of me thought that wasn't fair because how does he know we couldn't have found a compromise?

Moreover, the reason his response bothered me is because it felt like more confirmation that I'm unmarriable - no one can stand to be with me. Tim wouldn't say it, but I know that it sounded like if I hadn't broken up with him, eventually we would have broken up anyhow. That made me sad because I think about how excited and happy he was to be with me those four months we dated. Look how much it's all changed. I feel like that is what has and what will happen with every man I date long enough.

Of course, when my reaction went off the deep end, Tim tried to remind me that people care about me. They invite me to their parties. They like having me as a friend. He reminded me of all the fun things I have going on in my life. Still, it's no consolation when you've just been dropped on your head.

It's confusing because he says he enjoys hanging out with me. At the same time, when I complain about dating and share my fears about not being accepted by someone, he criticizes me for not trying to date and spending too much time with him. Sometimes, I still think he harbors some resentment and hurt towards me for the reasons I stopped dating him. (I learned a huge lesson about never giving specific reasons about break ups to anyone.) He questions how picky I am and my concerns about practical qualities (i.e. what's important to my mother). He knows me well enough that I recognize his points have some merit. Maybe he's being harsh, maybe I'm just too sensitive about this topic. I don't like talking about these things with him anymore.

Just last week, when I was feeling down about myself, I asked him if there's something about me that people don't like, he pointed out something that really stung. He said, "you're a bit self-centered. People probably wouldn't want to be around you after an entire week of traveling with you."

He said it very factually and with all honesty, but it hurt. He explained that I prefer to talk about things I'm interested in and that I don't listen. I felt so small when he said those things. I could only think, "this is why I will always be alone." I thought I had been doing better about that stuff, but apparently nothing has changed. All I could do was start crying. This was over the phone with Tim, so all he could do is ask if I was okay. He suggested that I just go to sleep and I'd be alright in the morning. But I haven't been. I hate thinking that he puts up with me in some way. How am I suppose to be okay when my best friend says that I'm not a good person?

It makes me fear saying anything to people. I feel like I have to be on my best behavior for people to like me. I don't know what to do. How do you enjoy life knowing that... that you wouldn't be anybody's first choice... for anything?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Never practice on the real thing

I'm still experimenting with the new Blogger features. You can see I'm trying to go back through my posts for add tags. I tried to stick to a few main categories at first, but that obviously didn't stick. Going through all these entries is quite time consuming. And, as I create new tags, I realize that I need to go to posts I've already tagged and add more. Argh!

The features seem pretty nice. I converted the template which meant that I lost some old html customizations. It took me awhile to find where they had stored my "classic" template. I was panicking thinking I'd have to try to recreate code that I haven't looked at in two years. That's when I asked myself why I went ahead and converted this when I should have done a test run with my other, smaller blogs. I'd rather lose those than screw up this one. I used to be a programmer, you'd think I'd know to always work on a copy before toying with the production version. Fortunately, I pressed enough buttons to find my old template html. Panic averted, phew!


The weekend was great. I was supposed to spend Friday night at home getting some exercise and reading, but friends planned a last minute get together to play games. Tim picked me up and we headed over to their house. No one else showed until much later, so it ended up being four of us. We played a rather long game with everyone ganging up on Tim because he so often wins these strategy board games. In the end we managed to tie him. Ha!

Then, with some more folks we played a card game. I find if I try too hard, I just get stressed, annoying, and frustrated. Since I'd never played this game before, I just tried things. It seemed like everyone was hording cards for the final rounds of the game. I figured my only chance was to attack early. Surprise, it paid off. I actually won by one point! It really is better to try and have fun rather than win. My competitive nature gets the better of me too often.

Saturday, I went with Tim to pick up his "new" car. He bought a sporty luxury car with a manual transmission. Wow, it was so smooth shifting gears - ahhh. He offered to let me drive it back but I felt he should enjoy his car first.

To celebrate we stopped by college town for some yummy pizza and to pick up an alumni license plate frame for his car. It was fun to walk through campus on such a pleasant afternoon. As a "thank you" for driving his old car home, he to pay for a school t-shirt that I have been eyeing for a couple years .

When we got back to my place, we rented "Cars." It was a cute movie. It was particularly interesting to watch the extras and realize how the story line had been changed but some lines got recycled.

On the dating front, I have been exchanging information with a couple guys now. Nothing interesting to report. Some respond within a couple days, others take a week. I don't know what to do with guys who take a long time to respond and don't write or ask much. How are they expecting us to get to know each other?

I had one person delist me. The guys gave two reason, one "other" and because I had no photo he could see. Okay, that's fine. The second reason seems kind of stupid considering he didn't have a photo either. Hello? Maybe I would have revealed mine if you had one up!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The need for personal space

When I am contacted by a potential match, we exchange a series of introductory questions. The questions are selected from a long list of prewritten questions and choice of answers. It's an easy way to break the ice and try to learn about each other.

It's no surprise to me that I've frequently been asked to assess my sense of humor. Probably everyone likes the idea of having someone with a sense of humor. I'm not that humorous a person. Even though my dad's good at cracking jokes, our household was fairly serious when I grew up. I failed to develop a lighthearted or funny personality. Only once I'm comfortable with people am I usually able to crack a simple joke or two. People probably think I'm pretty boring and overly serious at first glance.

Another question I've repeatedly been sent by all of the men is this, "in a relationship, how much personal space do you generally find you need?"

My initial thought about this is that perhaps it is a reflection of an older single population. Many of us remain single for longer and therefore have a lot of free time to enjoy our lives. It's nice and, frankly, we get used to doing what we want when we want as the years move on. Many of these men appear to have multiple hobbies and activities - sports, music, poker, etc. I can't help wonder (and as always it's probably more so the negative part of my mind) how much they are concerned about retaining their independence in a relationship? How much do our expectations around retaining our personal style affect our ability to be successful in relationships?

Of course, no one likes a clingy partner. I can completely understand not wanting someone who demands 24/7 attention outside of work hours. Then again, who knows, maybe you'll come to like the person so much that it won't seem like a sacrifice because it'll be the better choice.

On the other hand, maybe some of these guys are clingy and want someone who's willing to spend lots of time as a couple.

I simply want balance. I hope that I meet someone who likes days of just being at home with me. We don't have to do everything together, but I like knowing he's nearby. I also like the idea of both of us having a couple interests that don't overlap. If he has a weekly class or sports evening, that's great. On the other hand, I'd feel like I just had a roommate if my future someone was out every night and gone half of the weekend due to his hobbies and friends.

It's nice to have these starters, but I also know that things can change. Unless their answers are extreme or strange, their guides not rules set in stone.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Was I insensitive?

Oops, I'm wondering if I lacked sensitivity in my response to someone. Whatever I said, he decided that he no longer wants to exchange e-mails with me. The guy wasn't ideal as he was quite tall, overweight (according to him), and not Asian. You know how I've been trying to keep an open mind about meeting men.

His profile sounded decent. Nothing remarkable, just "sweet," "funny," "kind," and intelligent. He mentioned not being much of a book reader and losing a significant amount of weight to make him comfortable with his appearance but needing to lose more. The weight thing made me wonder, but his picture didn't make it look like he was unusually large.

During our exchanges, he sent me three questions. I'm pretty sure my answers to two of the questions were fine. It was one personal question that proved tricky: "I've lost 70lbs+ so far and have about 60lbs to go. I workout most days and am steadily progressing towards my goal. Is my current weight an issue (as I have a strong desire to lose it?)"

Soon after I hit "send," I considered that my reply may have been a little blunt and not well thought out:
It's really difficult to say. I'd admire your determination and goal of being healthy. I guess I'd have to understand more what led you to be overweight in the first place and what encouraged you to change that. Being a petite person, I certainly would be a bit concerned about being with someone signficantly larger than me. I want to be open-minded, but I can't promise anything."

Isn't it fair that I wonder why he chose to lose the weight? Perhaps I should have mentioned that I thought his photos looked fine right after I said that I am open-minded. I don't want to guarantee that I'm going to find him attractive when I meet him by saying that his weight is not an issue. That to me would be making false promises. Should I have told a white lie to answer the question? This is why I fear no one wants me. I'm just trying to be honest, but it always seems to come off badly.

A couple things were on my mind at the time I wrote my reply was our exchange of dislikes. One, that we both had in common was that [we] "can't stand someone who is overweight." That he chose to put that on his list confounded me since he himself indicated being overweight up until recently. It seemed a little hypocritical to say that. He should be able to understand someone else who is struggling with their weight. Did I miss understand the information he shared with me?

Even more perplexing to me is that he wants someone who "cares about the way they look and dress and has a sense of personal style." Did he think this way when he was overweight? Does he think this way now because of his new found build? Okay, maybe I'm being a bit insensitive and inappropriate but that comment doesn't match his pictures. I'm not really sure if he's simply talking about not dressing slovenly or actually dressing in more fashionable, pressed clothing. It could be nothing.

I'm not really disappointed about this loss. Frankly, I've kept myself from getting too excited about any man. This guy wasn't ideal to begin with. The important thing for me at this stage is to figure out how to be myself and be interesting to these matches in hopes of improving my relationship skills. Hesistating after sending this indicates that I probably should have written out my answer and slept on it before hitting send. I do feel a little idiotic.

Not a week goes by when I don't find a way to put my foot in my mouth. Perhaps I should learn to count to five before speaking. I feel like I need someone to hold my hand through this entire dating process and monitor every little step I take, but I also know that if I'm going to have a healthy relationship someday, I need to figure out how to "survive" on my own.

Ugh, I hate hormones. This combined with a bunch other things today is making me crazy. As I sat at work today feeling purposeless, I realized why - because that time of the month is coming. I do tend to notice a slight bit of depression during this time. As lucky as I know I have been in my life - right now I'm really hating everything. I hate my life, I hate myself especially, and feel like nothing's ever going to change. No one wants me. I suck. I think this is especially why nothing feels right to me. You can only imagine all the stupid ideas running through my head right now.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The 6 most annoying things kids say

I thought this might be something worth clipping for future reference. Whether or not I have kids, I think these suggestions might help me devise ways of better responding to people in general (and perhaps alert me to bad habits of my own). I can just imagine myself getting impatient and snappy with one of those smart-ass retorts or be whiny and speak an adult version of one of those childish expressions.

The 6 most annoying things kids say -- and the best ways to respond -

By Melody Warnick

Snuggling under her blankets at bedtime, Ella, 3, gazed up at me and announced longingly, "I want a new mommy." Not even four years into my tenure as Mom and I was already being edged out of the job. Even worse, Ella started announcing "I want a new mom" frequently, like whenever I failed to buy her a ring pop at the grocery-store checkout. Some days, it was all I could do not to retort, "Yeah? Well, I want a new kid!"

Developing the knack to verbally push your buttons is just part of your child's linguistic and behavioral development. The challenge is to teach her to be courteous while allowing her to assert herself ? and do it without responding like you're 3 years old. What to say (and what to skip) in response to these gems:


Whatever 18-month-old Weston Congdon has, his 3-year-old brother, Addison, wants, even if it's something that's collected dust in the toy box for the past six months. "What drives me crazy is that usually it's a baby toy, like a teething ring," says their mom, Sarah, of Ames, Iowa. "I think, 'What are you gonna do with it other than take it away from your brother?'" Now Weston, a beginning talker, walks around the house repeating "Mine, mine, mine" ad nauseam. His frustrated mom has been known to retort, "Well, then, the couch is mine and you can't sit on it."

A better way to respond: As tempting as it is to give little ones a dose of their own medicine, it won't help them see the error of their ways, and it may confuse them. Yet keeping your cool in the face of "Mine!" can tax even the most Zen-minded mom. "Ignoring the behavior is best, but even as a clinical psychologist, I can't," admits Ray Levy, Ph.D., a dad of one and the coauthor of "Try and Make Me!" "I'd rather have something to say in response that I can depend on." His solution: Toss out a "brain-dead phrase" -- a short-and-sweet sound bite that lets a persistent child know he won't get his way. With a child who insists that everything is his, simply keep repeating, "Sorry" or "It's nice to want things." End of story. Even if the empty phrase doesn't completely shut down the whining, having something -- anything -- to say will keep you from saying something that you shouldn't.

"It's not fair."

Attempts to pry her 4-year-old son away from one last episode of his favorite show usually turn into major bedtime battles for Anne Eide of Columbus, Mississippi. "William will say, 'But it's not fair!' Then he'll cross his arms and stomp down the hall, come back again, and repeat, 'Mom, it's not fair.'" That's when Eide sometimes can't help but let loose with "Listen here, Mister, you either turn off the TV now or you won't watch it for a week!"

A better way to respond: On nights when she's a tad more patient, Eide uses a kid-friendly example to explain why he doesn't always get his way. "I say, 'Daddy doesn't want to be in school all the time, but right now he needs to.'" Translation: Even adults don't get everything they want. The approach usually works. "He looks at me kind of like, 'Oookay.' Then he goes and gets ready for bed," says Eide. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, a mom of two and author of "Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles," recommends asking your child to start over and try again with less irritating words, such as "Can we please talk about this?" or "Mom, I don't like that rule." Next time he complains that something's not fair, you can say, "Remember, we talked about this before. What words are you supposed to use instead?" Giving your child new ways to express himself makes him more likely to abandon the annoying ones.

"You're not the boss of me."

Eleanor Petersen of St. Louis, Missouri, wants to do everything herself. So when her mom, Amy, was in a rush and buckled the car seat for her, Eleanor, 3, declared, "You're not the boss of me." Petersen had to bite her tongue to keep from answering, "You wanna bet?"

A better way to respond: "As a mom, you have to try not to get caught up in the words and instead connect with the feeling underneath them," says Kurcinka. "You can ask, 'What's going on here? What's the need she's trying to express, and how can I help her do it more appropriately?'" In a calmer moment, Petersen realized that what her daughter really wanted was control. When her mom gave her options (like "Do you want to do the top buckle or the bottom buckle?"), Eleanor was far more likely to cooperate. You can even head off "You're not the boss of me" by teaching your child to say, "I'd like a choice," instead.

"I want it now!" As I was starting to make dinner, my daughter asked for a cookie, and when I said she could have one for dessert, she launched a major whinefest. "But I want a cookie right now!" Ella demanded. None of my attempts at reason dissuaded her. She just kept insisting again and again and again. Desperate for the "I want it now!" noise to stop, I broke down and gave her the cookie.

A better way to respond: Though I usually stand my ground, giving in once can set you back light-years when it comes to nagging, says Paul Coleman, a dad of three and author of "How to Say It to Your Kids." "That's how slot machines work: Every tenth pull you get a reward. It's not a big reward, but it's enough to keep you putting more money in the machine." Instead, he says, I should tell my daughter no once or twice, then ignore future requests and get her mind on something else, like a silly dance or a knock-knock joke. The good news: Such dogged persistence can be a plus in the real world. "You can step back and say, 'When they grow up, at least they're not going to be pushovers,'" says Coleman.

"You never let me do anything."

Carl Mowry, 10, has been known to whine that he never gets to do what he wants. His mom, Carla, has a take-no-prisoners response: "You know what?" says the Omaha, Nebraska, mom. "You're right! I will leave your life alone. But I want $800 for the house payment, $200 for food...." Carl gets a full list, and he has to write it all down.

A better way to respond: Lecturing may shut down the grumbling, but it doesn't get at the problem. Find out what's behind the whine by saying, "Is something wrong? I get the feeling you're upset about more than just not getting to play at Brad's house." Whether or not your child wants to confide in you, at least you're opening the door to the conversation -- on his level.

"I don't like you."

I'm certainly not the only mom whose feelings have been bruised by a kid who demands a mom swap or says, "I hate you!" Greyson Kreis, 6, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, put in a request for a new mom when his mother, Kim, made him drop the latest Captain Underpants book to clean up his room and turn in early. Unlike me, she had a quick comeback. "I told him that he had better enjoy that night in his bed because the next day I would find him a new mom, and he could go live in her house -- but without his toys," she says.

A better way to respond: The unanimous chorus from experts: Don't take it personally. Kids say these things when they're frustrated or angry. It doesn't mean you're a bad parent. Of course, distancing yourself when your kid seems to be dissing your mothering skills isn't easy, but letting your child think that you're all too happy to get rid of him -- or worse, that you hate him, too -- isn't okay. Since the under-9 set are literal thinkers, they won't detect the reverse psychology at work, and you might end up undermining your child's trust.

To stay calm, try to pinpoint the real reason your kid is lashing out: For 7-year-old Shaun Herock of De Pere, Wisconsin, it was frustration and fatigue. He snapped, "I don't like you! You're not my friend!" when his mom, Mia, refused to grab hamburgers on the way home from a two-hour football practice. Her measured response: "That's fine. You're entitled to feel that way." Shaun stewed for a while, but by the time they got home, the whole thing had blown over. Herock recognized that her son only said "I don't like you" when he was overtired, and that helped her keep her temper. Easier said than done, of course, but if you're upset, wait until you've calmed down to say anything. "When you get emotional, you lose 50 IQ points," says Ray Levy. "But later on you can say, 'It hurts my feelings when you tell me you hate me.' Usually when kids are calm, they're pretty remorseful."

My daughter's requests for a new mom have died down recently, but now she likes to say, "You hurt my feelings," when I refuse yet another visit to her bedroom at night. While most of the time I manage a response like, "Thanks for sharing," I'm not always as calm as I'd like. "We all lose it and say the wrong thing," says Levy. "But it's good for parents to apologize or change their behavior, instead of thinking they have to be right or perfect all the time." In other words, it's always okay to say "I'm sorry" to your kids.

Melody Warnick is expecting her second daughter, who will no doubt want a new mom someday, too.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Acquaintance spam

I received three group e-mails in the past few days. Nothing big, just makes me think about the difference in people's level of... comfort? communicating with people. Based on my interactions with people and feedback I've gotten about my reactions to things, I'm a pretty conservative person (or totally clueless). Maybe everyone else would think these things are fine.

I'm not agitated about these e-mails, it's easy enough to hit "delete." I'm just curious about how technology has changed the way we behave. It allows people to reach out to others they don't know well. I suppose my question is more about how much one should know a person to include them in one's universe and how many levels of familiarity a person's universe has. That probably varies from person to person. I'm not trained enough in philosophy and psychology to explore this discussion with any academic insight.

Anyhow, here are the e-mails:

One from someone I haven't seen or talked to in five plus years whom I didn't know well in the first place. The e-mail was a narrative update of his life projects about dance. He now lives in Asia but lived here about five years ago. Amongst female friends who've met him, the opinion is generally shared that he was weird and creepy. He got into this cultish type of life philosophy. I think it was called "The Forum." He sent out huge life realizations by e-mail that were pages long to hundreds of people. My cousin had just moved here at the time and met him briefly at a party. She was freaked when she opened his life declaration. He liked to touch people in odd ways (not overtly inappropriate or anything). I don't pretend to understand his lifestyle, but I guess he's doing well. But really, I don't ever expect to see him again, so it's odd to suddenly hear from him.

The second was from KT and inquired whether there was anyone interested in forming a group for a 5K run next month. After I ran into him on Angel Island, I've never talked to him. Heck, I haven't spent an extended period of time with him since that last dinner in April 2006. The e-mail was sent to some 50 people, so it seems a bit random. Obviously, KT doesn't realize that I'm not interested in being friends. Another thing, I don't run.

Finally, my friend's girlfriend sent out an e-mail detailing her desire to change jobs, describing what types of qualifications she has, and indicating the type of jobs she is interested in. Of course, she is asking a favor for anyone to send her leads. I see her when there are parties, maybe less than once per month. I may talk to her for five minutes each event. I don't really know her. Sure, it's always potentially beneficial to network with people, but I guess I still don't get spamming dozens of people about your job search. Honestly, my work and her interests have little overlap other than maybe the overall department name we fall under. I'm terrible at networking, but I still think that personal notes directed to relevant people are more meaningful than a generic spam. I guess I'm old and out of touch.

Profile triggers

Some observations from new profiles that have popped up...

Leisure activities you enjoy: Motorcycling, Mountain biking, fishing, hiking, and other outdoor activities
Personal choice, I'm just NOT into guys who ride motorcycles.

I like kids, but I'm not convinced that my life would be unfulfilled without them. A couple of current/future biological/step/adopted children are welcome, but not required.
I appreciate his honesty. Originally, I considered putting something my profile that emphasizes my interested in having a family someday. That idea was nixed as it would scare away men. In this case, he's not completely against the idea, but I guess I really want someone is enthusiastic about having children. Raising a child is not an easy task and I would not want someone who might see it as an obligation rather than a life experience.

People who type portions of they're profile in capital letters.
If it's used too much, it's just annoying. Don't people realize that USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS IMPLIES THAT YOU ARE SHOUTING?

Who has been influential in your life: My College girl friend. She helped me realize what I don't want in a relationship.
Is this okay to say when you are 40+ years old? Perhaps it was a very significant turning point in his life. I guess I just find it a little weird to mention an (college) ex-girlfriend on an introduction page. It seems like there could be other people to mention since college was twenty years ago.

I was deleted from someone's match list because a statement I made helped him decide he was not interested. In his profile I noticed, "I can't dance, and shy about dancing. But if you get me drinking, I may start dancing."
Do you suppose he was intimidated by the fact I mentioned that one of the things I most enjoy is dancing and posted a picture of me dancing? ;)

My picture is visible to about 20 of the 30 men who I have matched with. Basically, anyone who has a picture posted (visible or not) can see it, except for guys who had incomplete profiles or no picture available. I have another 10 or so matches that I haven't had much time to look at. Among those who can view my photo, I haven't received any new communications. A few of them have come back and indicated they aren't interested or aren't looking to meet new people right now. And my next question here would be why are you still receiving matches if you're not "available?" There is a setting so that you are no longer in the pool.

I have received three e-mails from guys who *haven't* seen my picture (nor can I see two of theirs). Go figure. Posting a photo doesn't seem to have made any difference in my hunt or it's filtering out people who think I'm not attractive. I wish I knew what some of the other women look like who are similar to me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Women live without a spouse

I know this should seem somehow consoling... but it doesn't address the issue of children. I can't help think about those who are divorced or widowed and stay unmarried "delighting in their newfound freedom." What a laugh! They realized what a pain men can be.

The benefits issue is a very good question. I often realize that I miss out on a lot of offerings my company provides because they are designed for families.

51% of women live without spouse / Shift reflects trend toward later marriage, staying divorced longer or never wedding

Sam Roberts, New York Times
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.

In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Coupled with the fact that in 2005, married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape a range of social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits.

Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods of time. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.

In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared to about 49 percent of Latino women, 55 percent of non-Latino white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women.

In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military or are institutionalized. But while most women eventually marry, the larger trend is unmistakable.

"This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people's lives," said Professor Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research group.

William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a research group in Washington, described the shift as "a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women. ... For better or worse, women are less dependent on men or the institution of marriage."

Emily Zuzik, a 32-year-old musician and model who lives in the East Village of Manhattan, says she's not surprised by the trend.

"A lot of my friends are divorced or single or living alone," she said. "I know a lot of people in their 30s who have roommates."

Zuzik has lived with a boyfriend twice, once in California where the couple registered as domestic partners to qualify for his health insurance plan. "I don't plan to live with anyone else again until I am married," she said, "and I may opt to keep a place of my own even then."

Linda Barth, a 56-year-old magazine editor in Houston who has never married, said, "I used to divide my women friends into single friends and married friends. Now that doesn't seem to be an issue."

Among the more than 117 million women over the age of 15, according to the marital status category in the Census Bureau's latest American Community Survey, 63 million are married. Of those, 3.1 million are legally separated and 2.4 million said their husbands were not living at home for one reason or another.

That brings the number of American women actually living with a spouse to 57.5 million, compared with the 59.9 million who are unmarried or whose husbands were not living at home when the survey was taken in 2005.

That Alaskan cold front

Burrrr! Wow, that was a cold weekend.

Friday night, I met up with friends to talk about our May vacation. We've got some good ideas for the itinerary we'd all prefer. Monday I need to call the travel service to check on discounts and add-ons to the tour. I just love thinking about vacation.

Saturday morning, I went car shopping with Tim. His car is more than ten years old now. The engine is so noisy that I can hear him driving towards my house before he turns onto my street. He's looking to upgrade to an even sportier car like a BMW. Given the price tag of a new car, he's interested in finding a young, used one. We found one used car that he could potentially buy. The question is whether he's okay with the 45,000 mileage (he was looking for something under 30,000). I hate buying cars, pricing is so nebulous and impossible to correctly assess. He's been somewhat excited at the idea and collecting advice and opinions from friends on pricing and options. He proposed we play good cop, bad cop if he decides to go back and negotiate on price. It'll be fun to play the thrifty, skeptical girlfriend. ;)

I sat on my couch on Saturday afternoon watching the Ravens versus Colts game while snuggled under a throw blanket. I was so comfortable, I almost considered not going to my friends' birthday parties. But I has already RSVPed, so I bundled up in my down jacket and wool scarf and drove out.

Fortunately, the two parties were in neighboring cities so it was worth the drive. It's becoming the only way I see some of my friends as they're so busy with work or coupledom. The second party I attended had a little added fun since there was a theme. I had a little fun dressing with a bit of attitude. The crowd at that party was very different, so it was nice to meet some new faces. It's really refreshing to know that I can make new acquaintances who don't know my core friends. It reminds me that there are so many more people I can meet and learn from. It's always the same thing, the momentum needed to get out of the house is huge, but once you're out you have a good time.

Sunday, I make Rice Krispy treats for our NFL playoff gathering. They always make it sound like such a simple process. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but it always get so sticky that I don't feel like the marshmallow cream gets evenly mixed with the rice. And the pot is soooo hard to clean afterwards. Despite all that, they are quite yummy eh?

Alas, my beloved Chargers couldn't handle the pressure. The Patriots have so much more experience. I knew it would be a close game. If you look at the Chargers' playoff history, it easy to guess that they'll struggle. I've become very patient about them after many years of watching them come not close enough. Sigh... .

The cold is still lingering around here. I really got a kick out of seeing cars on the road covered in frost and ice this morning. My sister-in-law must be miserable given she's never been in weather this cold for more than a couple days a year.

Time to call the travel service to inquire more about my May vacation plans. I've got my fingers crossed that the add-on we want comes through at a reasonable price.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Thankful for a man with a scruffy face

When Tim came over the other night, he asked if I had any New Year's resolutions. I told him, "no," though my mind had wondered if technically the dating thing counts. I turned to question around on him. He didn't really seem to have an answer either.

Then I suggested, "gonna find a girlfriend?"

"Yup, that's what I'm gonna do," he responded with a hint of sarcasm. "I'm gonna ask a girl out and say, 'hey babe, wanna be my ex-girlfriend?'"

I can't tell if he's serious about dating. He mentioned something about a girl at his company last week. It's always hard to tell what he's really thinking when it comes to dating.

Later, he commented that he doesn't expect anyone to want him. When I asked him why, he explained that during the Vegas trip, the gals were talking about their requirements. Sable had a very specific set of attributes she was looking for: tall, plays volleyball, [blah, blah, blah]. Tim observed, "I'm not very tall. Girls don't want a short guy because then the kids will be short."

I tried to reassure him he's fine. Tim's on the cusp of being short versus the low end of average height for guys. Sadly, I know he's right. When I've scanned women's profiles on Match in the past, I've notice that the majority of Asian women in the 28-24 range wanted men 5' 10" and up. It wasn't a very scientific study, but I definitely recall less than 20% being open to guys shorter than 5'8". One woman even wrote "DON'T WRITE ME IF YOU AREN'T WITHIN THE HEIGHT RANGE LISTED." Note that most of the women I scanned were Asian and under 5'4".


When I reflect upon the past year, the one thing I am most thankful for is Tim. Except for times when one of us has been sick or out of town, we spend a couple nights each week hanging out. It's nothing special, just watching tv of playing video games. We also vacationed together.

What comes most of out of the time together is simply talking. It can be about average work happenings, an interesting news article. or making a major purchase. There is no specific moment or topic that comes to mind. My appreciation comes from knowing that I have someone with whom I am comfortable being myself. I can't say that I've ever had such a close relationship with a man. He is someone I am happy to see and do things with.

It's taught me about what I want in a relationship in terms of communication and intimacy. I can joke with him about the silliest things. We have our disagreements. I can act snippety, he can be dismissive with me. Regardless of how much we upset each other, eventually, we address it and move on.

Granted, it's different with Tim because I don't feel the pressure of being in a dating relationship. But I think that's the point. I believe the reason some of my previous relationships with boyfriends failed because I feared being myself. My preoccupation with making the relationship "successful" blinded me from seeing that the relationship wasn't growing.

I have to remind myself that it's not all my fault. Certainly, I can think of when my boyfriends failed to acknowledge a problem when I gave them the chance. Sadly, the problem probably got past the point of repair.

There's no way for me to describe in words all the love I have for Tim. He is a great friend. I can't imagine not having him in my life. For whatever reason, we have found a way to enjoy each other's company and work through our differences. No one is perfect. I know my rants of self-pity get annoying (like fussing about a broken spoon). His humor often turns a frown rather than a laugh from me (making fun of why my ex dumped me). We know these things about each other because we call each other on it.

I understand why friends find it strange we aren't a couple. I question it myself at times. Am I tricking myself into believing differently than why I feel? My gut says I'm doing the right thing. I know Tim would question any change in my feelings as being about my biological clock ticking rather than a sincere desire.

Ignoring all that confusion and endless discussion, I am happy to have this experience. I hope that I can apply the growth I've achieved from this friendship to a healthy, long-term relationship someday.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

If you were browsing

So if you saw these comments in someone's dating profile, what impression would you be left with?

(Note these are excerpts so it could look worse than it seems. He did mention friends, working on more balance in his life, and being hard-working.)

Posted photo comment: This was taken last year, but I've lost a few pounds since then.

Type of person you'd like to meet: I'm a technophile and don't really do much outside of that. Not that I'm opposed to that, it's just that I lack self-motivation to do other things. I'm looking for a counterpart to my current way of life.

Activities you enjoy: I used to spend more time doing outdoor activities but I haven't had a partner to go with in while.

Other things about me: I tend to be a bit of a hermit, which is why the internet is one of the things I'm thankful for.

Here's an example of why it's important to look at other people's profiles and seek the opinions of friends. This guy is rather open with his thoughts. My interpretation was that he's lonely and looking for someone to change his life. While I can understand that to some extent, I would not want to be his lifeline. I definitely hope to find someone with whom I can share interests and do activities. However, I don't want to feel like the other person's happiness and enjoyment relies on me. Maybe something happened in his life that would explain this, but these seem like topics to discuss later, not up front when you're trying to make a good first impression.

I'm sure he was just trying to be honest, but it comes off as a bit unappealing. He seems like a thoughtful guy, just a little too shy and introverted for me. I can only wonder if I sound like this sometimes. It makes me want to look over my profile again. I might think this, but I hope would never share this publicly (except in an anonymous blog ;)).

P.S. I'm not ignoring anyone. I apreciate and certainly am considering everyone's input. I just might not directly respond to comments for a little bit. I may want to write about some things which I know will invite questions and comments that I won't be prepared to address.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A pick me up

Part of my horoscope today -

Daily Overview for January 10, 2007

Take an extra moment or two to remind yourself that you have a wonderful life.

That I do... when all is said and done I really can't complain too much.

Hoarding is a losing proposition

I'm a hoarder. I like having that sense of backup. I never use all my vacation because I like the idea of having a buffer in case of an emergency or spontaneous trip. If I have some scent I really like in a shampoo or lotion, I sparingly use it, hoping to make it last. I end up with all these half-used bottles strew about my bathroom. I am sitting on over 200,000 airline miles because if I find a cheaper airfare, I'd rather use that than spend the miles.

This week, however, I discovered that my hoarding habits just cost me. On another airline that I haven't flown in three years, I was dismayed to learn that my almost 40,000 miles expired two days ago. Doh! Even more tragic, I will be flying on that airline tomorrow. ARGHHHH!

I really did try to use the miles for a free ticket. However, in each situation either the fares were cheaper than redeeming the miles (the breakpoint is around 1.5 cents per mile for me) or I was traveling with others and ended up flying a different airline (again, for price).

My mother used to build up an insane amount of supplies at home. As a kid I remember having a cabinet full of toothpaste tubes, bottle of shampoo and lotion, Kleenex, and other notions. This was before the days of CostCo so I'm pretty sure it was all purchased on sale and with coupons.

At some point when I was a teenager, I think my mom realized that we had too much stuff. She stopped buying and we began trying to use things up. Unfortunately, the lotions weren't meant to sit on the shelves for that many years. Upon opening a "new" bottle of Vaseline lotion, I remember wondering if the formula had been changed. The lotion was very watery, not creamy like my bottle of Jergens. I checked another bottle to find the same consistency. Later, my mom commented about how she thought all the lotions had gone bad. From that experience, I don't do the same. I never have more than one extra bottle of anything around. The only thing I have multiples of is lip balm, but only because they get misplaced so easily. Thankfully, I don't have or rent any storage outside of my own place (unless you count a couple boxes at my parents' house).

It seems I still have things I need to stop hoarding. I've been working on using up the various bathroom toiletries. Part of the issue is that I hate wasting hotel supplies. If I've opened a bottle of shampoo, I take it home and use it up. The whole idea of all those detergents being thrown away every day in thousands of hotel room is very wasteful and bad for the environment. I no longer take home the ones that sit unopened on the bathroom counter (unless I *really* like the brand).

It's such a bummer that I lost a ticket. I was hoping to get up to 50,000 miles so that I could give my parents a set of roundtrip tickets for a vacation. I can still do that with my other airline miles. I'm just feeling stupid about losing some that I've had three years to use. :( Live and learn!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Are you serious about this?

So it's been over a week since I paid for my subscription. I've had three people contact me after seeing my profile. For two of them, I expressed no interest. I had issues with height and looks. Another guy mentioned in his description that he has children.

It's frustrating because you'd think that the best chances of meeting someone come when you first log into the system. I know it's just after the holidays, but this weekend would have been the time for people to catch up on their e-mails and stuff, right? I'm trying not to let this lower my self-esteem.

Admittedly, my picture is not shown to all people. I have chosen a setting where I can decide who gets to see my photo. If I feel comfortable with their profile and photos, I'll usually share mine. Eight guys can view my photos. If a guy asks me to share mine, it seems to fair to give them as long as I get to see him. I even put in a comment to that effect. Guys who have no photo posted, however, I'm not comfortable giving mine out. Chi's philosophy when she was online was to see who would take the first step site unseen. She felt it was a way of being sure they were serious about dating and not weighing too much into looks. I tend to agree with the idea. How much am I limiting myself?

I can't help wonder how many of these guys are fishing. You know, they signed up to look but haven't actually subscribed, so they can't do anything. I wish there was a way to know if these people are truly active. It sucks that I could be hoping to communicate with people who aren't really there.

In another week, I'll have to ask myself if I want to make first contact. Honestly, I've just never had luck in the past. It always felt like if I made the first move, they weren't that interested in me. I don't want that. Then again, I've been told by a couple people that I should consider meeting these people as practice dating. Perhaps I could contact some of these guys with that idea in mind though that feels dishonest.

Sigh... thank goodness for business trips, class, and football playoffs. That should keep my mind off this tortuous process.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Marketing schmarketing

Hula worked with me on my profile. My consultant has a profile template that I populate with various comments and descriptors. I filled out every section with something that I thought was honest and positive or neutral.

Hula's first reaction to reading it was, "that just doesn't describe you."

Basically, she didn't think I was doing a very good job of giving the guys reason to contact me. She felt that my answers were very vague and didn't sell all the varied interests I bring to a relationship. I was selling myself short. Hula has been with Drummer since before online dating became mainstream, so she was unfamiliar with all the questions and information that people are asked to share. As I walked through some of the elements of the process I think she realized why I found it overwhelming at times. She agreed with most of my self-descriptors but wanted to expand upon them. We spent the next couple hours playing with the wording.

For example, I wrote that I enjoy "spending time with friends, cooking, watching tv, dancing, and casual hiking." Hula wanted to see more active descriptions. I resisted a little as I've never been one to boast about myself but I saw her point.

So, after a couple of small adjustments, my answer now reads: "I enjoy watching 'The Amazing Race' with friends, trying new recipes, ballroom dancing, and hiking on weekend mornings."

She really wanted me to add some additional "hooks" including that I enjoy college football, my alma mater is EB, and that I play video games. I pushed back on those ideas. While I beat any of my girlfriends on a sports quiz, I don't want guy thinking of me as an activity buddy. When she wanted me to mention college, I pushed back because I've dated almost exclusively (unintentionally) other alum. I confided in her that I don't want that be a compelling element. Dating Ryan ruined certain associations for me. I rarely watch college basketball now because it reminds me of him. There's no guarantee that the alum thing won't come up eventually, I just don't want to go there until I'm invested more in the relationship. It probably sounds strange, but I love my school and I don't want bad memories to ruin that.

Another statement of mine that bothered her a bit was my answer to "What is the one thing that people don't realize about you that you wish they would?" I had a tough time answering this one. I probably should have just left it blank because she felt what I put down was a negative.

"Despite my outgoing nature, I can be a little shy at times."

I really don't think it's bad to show a little vulnerability because it is the truth, Again, Hula felt that I should reveal something more interesting and good about me. This is what initiated the whole college football topic. Being the literal person I am, I didn't feel it really answered the question posed. I'm probably being silly, but talking about football is not on my mind when I meet guys. Nothing came to me until we talked more. I finally came up with the idea of expressing that I'm just as happy going out to parties as I am sitting at home relaxing. I think this is a good way of showing that I'm not a party girl or homebody.

There were moments when it was very frustrating to have my personal comments criticized. I kept reminding myself that doing this was a good thing. I just felt so lost and hopeless. Throughout our "work" I really felt that I'm out of touch with how to play the game of dating. I'm not talking about being deceitful or anything, just how to frame things properly whether it be written word or face to face interactions to engage people. There are probably times I'm too straight forward which can be kind of boring. Her understanding of how to interact makes me think that's why she's so attractive to men and why she's married while I'm not.

I'm really glad she was so enthusiastic about helping. It was good to talk to someone about all this who knows me well.

Up until this point, only a couple of men showed interest. Hopefully the revamp will help more come flooding in!

Friday, January 05, 2007


These are probably little things, but here are some comments on profiles and the thoughts that pop into my head:

"I am looking for someone who is has a "good heart", physically attractive, spontaneous, and has a good sense of humour."
It's honest but saying he's looking for someone "physically attractive" just sounds a bit superficial, especially adding "physically." He's a decent looking guy buy I wouldn't call him a hunk or anything.

"One thing I can't live without: my cell phone"
Ugh, I saw this on several profiles. My friend said it's just a guy thing. A couple people I know who are heavily attached to their cell phones just drive me nuts. It's not a big negative, but certainly it means I'm going to be watching to see if the guy knows the proper phone etiquette (i.e. ignore it or answer and quickly tell them to call back later) if I ever meet him for coffee or dinner and it happens to ring.

"One of his best life skills: Keeping physically fit"
Hula friend *hated* this comment. Out of all the positive traits one could say about themselves (e.g. being organized, cooking for friends, saving money, etc.) she thought this was pretty low on the totem pole. Yeah, it's not the most interesting comment in my book, but I didn't see it as negatively as her.

The guy is handsome, very athletic, 6'1", and a fireman.
Yes, that's very appealing. He'd probably look good in a calendar spread or something. Hula and I agreed that while he's attractive for many reasons, it's almost too good. It's hard for me to explain, but our feeling was that he's going to get dozens of e-mails. Neither of us were enthusiastic about contacting him. Is it because we don't like the amount of competition or the impression that because of his profile that he'd be somewhat of a player?

The guy doesn't like people who are always critical of others.
Hula was a bit worried here because he may become unhappy with me. I'm very hard on myself and he may dislike my nitpicking. I get it from my mom. I'm not as bad as her, but certainly I do it a lot without realizing. People's perception of criticism is relative. Sometimes I think I'm just trying to help but it's not taken that way.

None of these thoughts translate into deal breakers. My therapist would remind me that I'm jumping to conclusions about these guys without even getting to know them. Rather than assume bad things based on a statement, she wants me to ask these guys about my concerns in a non-negative way. But realistically, I'm trying to filter through some 20+ potential matches, I have to make cuts somewhere. And, of course, there are multiple attributes to weigh for each guy. They're all on my list for now. I don't really have time to focus right now so they'll have to wait for the weekend.

On an unrelated note, I was looking through another dating site and happened upon KT's profile. One of the thumbnail pictures of him reminded me of the jacket he wore when I ran into him over the summer. So I clicked on it. Sure enough, it was a picture of him from that very weekend. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the three people in the background, behind his right shoulder, to see that it was me, Chi, and Hula!

If you want a picture of yourself with the water and land in the background doesn't it make more sense to get *behind* other people so that you have a clear shot? The suspicious part of me is wondering if he was trying to sneak a picture of us. People shouldn't be allowed to post pictures that include other people in their profiles without asking permission. We laughed about it. Hula's going to tell Drummer (her husband) that she has her picture posted on a dating site. ;)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Apparently there are other plans

It would seem as if I wasn't meant to do much these next three months.

First, I am hoping to take a foreign language course in preparation for my potential vacation in May. That means two nights each week I must sacrifice my leisure time to memorize, write, and converse. In addition, there will homework that I will madly rush to do in the hours before class starts. Going directly from work to class will also mean saving a little lunch to eat later in the day, buying some unhealthy processed food package from the nearest market or vending machine, or desperately scrounging around my purse and glove compartment for any uneaten, forgotten morsels. But, it's all for a good cause, and it's by choice. I'll meet new people, stimulate my brain, and possibly feign speaking a foreign language with some competency.

Second, it's snow sports season. In past years, I would have already had a couple trips on the calendar. Strangely, nothing yet. TJ's annual trip is MIA. With this year's El Nino, who knows if there'll even be that much snow. I keep wondering if I should leave my weekends open for a few trips, but it's been quiet. Maybe it's a good thing I missed out on the six-ticket discount in September.

To complicate matters, I have quite a bit of work travel lined up. This is not normal for this time of year. It would seem I am making up for my light travel schedule last year. I wrote out my calendar for January, February, and March, marking the days I will be out of town. Overlapping that, I noted the days I have language class. Out of 24 class meetings, I'm missing at least six (including the class before the final exam) and could lose another two. Aack! Since language classes weigh a portion of the grade on participation, I don't know if I can even earn a "pass." At least the cities I'll be visiting are not boring or in the middle of nowhere. I'm looking forward to one of them since it's supposed to be a lovely, historic town that I've never seen.

Then, as you know, I'm trying to meet men through my "consultant." Yeah, this'll be interesting. I'm not available two evenings per week, I'll be traveling every other week for two to five day trips, and I might be gone a couple weekends for skiing. You know how it goes, after being away from home for awhile, you just want to stay in when you get back. I'm wondering if some element of fate is telling me that this isn't the right time to be dating. Well, they say making yourself unavailable can make guys more interested. This will be a good test of that theory.

I'd better get some major house cleaning done this weekend. I might not have time to pick up a brush or pull out the vacuum again until April!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Is there such thing as honest feedback?

So you may recall that during the summer my friend, Packer, asked her Asian friend to see if he had any single friends with whom he could set me up. They talked a little about my personality and preferences. He seemed to have a couple people in mind.

He even sent me an e-mail telling me the name of the guy who would be shown my profile. Well, I never heard anything. Another man not interested.

Packer and I haven't really discussed it since. We've been having more fun exchanging e-mail about Survivor and K.

Today, I guess I've been questioning my general desirability with the opposite sex. I honestly don't understand why I can't get anyone to notice me. (Okay, heavy makeup, 3-inch heels, and a low-cut hoochie-mama top probably would get me some attention, but that's not really me.) I'd say at least two of the men I've dating were handsome and you'd think they would consider me decently attractive since humans tend to seek those who are similar or better looking than themselves. (Does that sound right?) This dry spell combined with the "eh" impression I have of the few people who've contacted me so far is making me feel like an ugly duckling and don't know what to do.

So I sent Packer this e-mail:

"I have an odd request for you. You asked D to try and set me up with his single friends in the area. Since I've never heard anything back, I assume the guys to whom he passed my profile had no interest. Do you think you could ask if there was anything about my profile that was unappealing? Too cute? Too plain? Need more catchy information? It would help to know if there's anything I can improve."

Am I being weird? I don't want to put her in an awkward position but I'm just feeling so lost.

Hula is hanging out with me tomorrow night. Maybe I'll show her my profile and see what she thinks. I don't know that I trust her opinion though, she always so positive and nice. How do I know that she's being honest with me?

Bouncing everywhere

Just venting today...

What is it about 2007 that's causing so many people to be pregnant? I don't think it has anything to do necessarily with the Golden Pig year, though I'm sure people are happy about it if their family is Asian.

I'm happy for them all, just a little sad inside for me. I hate always feeling like I've been left out. I don't want to believe that I'm never going to have children because it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it just feels that way more and more.

Jan: Les (2nd)
Feb: Professor (1st), EV (1st)
March: Sister (1st), Eeyore (2nd), Bragh (1st)
May: Bball (3rd), EH (2nd)
June: Nvy (2nd)

And I'm thinking there will be another three in the second half of the year (all firsts). [sigh]

I have three birthday party invites and one offer to go skiing for the next two weekends. All of which are from couples. Whooppeee (you can't see my face but it's a smirk). I feel like an outcast because the majority of the people who attend these things are now couples. I hate it, but I feel like I should go to the parties because they are my friends. It's lonely despite the smiles and laughs they see when I'm there.

Enough self-pity, I've got work to do. (Note, when you move a meeting up by a day, you might want to tell the presenter before you decide to move it so that she'll have it ready in time!!)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Don't you know someone with a camera?

Here's another pet peeve of mine about online dating. It's about posting pictures.

- I've been browsing dating profiles off and on for many years. Let's face it, I'm bound to see some of the same guys eventually if their dating doesn't work out and they repost online. What gets me are people who *never* update their photos. I have come across guys who are still using the same photos from several years ago. It's fine if you ADD a newer photo and leave a few of the old ones. But it bugs me that all I can see are two or three photos that are clearly not current. You may think you still look exactly the same and haven't changed at all, but YOU HAVE. Update your photos!

- The other thing that really bugs me are people who provide one picture - one grainy picture or image where the person is poorly lighted, wearing sunglasses, or so small that you can barely see any of details of their face. Great, I know your of human form. You might as well have not posted a picture.

I don't like being judged soley by my photo any more than the next person. However, it's the reality of online dating. It seems only fair (but then I'm assuming a lot with that word) to put a decent picture of oneself up for viewing. If people are going to be so superficial as to ignore a decent looking person without meeting in person, then they were never worth it to begin with.