Tag Archives: awesome-graphs

Taking My Own Advice- A Timeline

Over the last few years I’ve accrued a certain experience with consoling friends who newly got out of relationships. I don’t think of myself as a particularly emotionally tuned in or apt at dealing with other people’s crises, but most of the time being online late at night and not being a complete dickhead is sufficient to be approached by friends and acquaintances in distress.

Either way, I’ve talked to a lot of people who’d just been broken up with. And in a way, each one of these people had a unique story. A story about long-term partners, recent dates or fuckbuddies. A story about cheating, fighting or slowly fizzling out. A long, drawn out, painful epic, or a quick text on a Thursday night.  The uniting element is that someone, in some way told them “What relationship we have will end here”.  And however unique the circumstances are, however unique the pain feels, there is something fundamentally universal to being broken up with. This means that the limited helpful advice that can be given will be almost insultingly similar to every victim of a breakup. I’ve dealt out this stuff verbatim for years.

The two rules that stick out are:

1)  Stay away from your ex.

and

2) It will take time, but you will be ok

2011 was the first time I had to put this advice into practice myself.

The first rule  is very straightforward and practical, a clear guideline for behaviour and questions. Should I call him? Should I go to his best friend’s BBQ? Should I let her know that I downloaded that program she likes? Should I set my facebook status to “thinking of you…”? Please refer to rule 1.  No, you shouldn’t.

Don’t call, don’t visit, don’t hang out where your ex hangs out. Don’t provoke “chance” meetings, or organise awkward run-ins at third-party friends’ karaoke parties.

In my case this was relatively easily achieved by not living on the same continent as my ex. Changing some settings in my favourite chat protocols was all that was needed for successfully avoiding my ex and not talking to him for the next 6 weeks.

Rule 2) is a bit trickier, as it doesn’t present any clear-cut advice, but some rather vague reassurance that at some point in the future, life will suck less than it does right now. There’s no deadline, no definite answer. There’s also no consequence to your own behaviour, no guideline apart from “hang in there, dude”. It’s undoubtedly true in almost all cases (after all, due to natural fluctuations in happiness, at some time things will be better, and you’ll overcome the local minimum you’re experiencing right now). However, it’s not immediately helpful to hear, especially when no-one can tell when this magical ok-ness will happen.

Ever the social scientist, I’ve volunteered for my own little case study and took detailed notes.

This is highly subjective, I’m not aiming to replicate the results anytime soon, and of course your timeline might be vastly different from mine. But if you’re at a local minimum, and asking all your friends “WHEN THE FUCK WILL IT BE BETTER ALREADY?” maybe you’ll take a little consolation from this tale.

Perceived Happiness over Time from Day 0 (Break-Up)

Interpreting the graph should be easy. X-axis represents time in days, Y-axis represents level of personal well-being and contentment. For future reference: it took me about a two weeks to a month to be fully functional in daily life again, two months until things were normal 90% of the time, and three months until I could genuinely look back on the relationship without pain.

And yes, sticking to my own advice was the right strategy for me. Following the first rule and not being around my ex let me appreciate that my life without him is as colourful and complete. Instead of dwelling on what was missing I filled the empty space with old and new friends. The second rule became a mantra that brought me hope. In future, I will update it to “It’ll take time (approx. three months) but you’ll be ok”. It might be universal advice after all.

Although all my friends were helpful and supportive throughout this experience, this post is dedicated to K.

You’re wonderful, and everyone can only wish for a friend as caring as you are. Thank you.

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The Right Kind of Signal

or: How to Avoid Accidental Dates

After I posted about how I have accidental dates and then have a hard time maneuovering out of a second date,  a friend asked me the valid question how I end up on these accidental first dates. I’m not entirely sure, but I blame it on a mix of culture, personality and general naiveté. This post looks more closely into the details.

Firstly, one has to identify who the accidental date is likely to happen with. Simply put, it depends on the relation of the strength of my attraction to him to the strength of his attraction to me. Because I love visualising data, and can’t get enough of that in my day job, I have compiled this problem in a graph.

The fine line in the middle represents equal levels of attraction. As you can see, the main danger for accidental dates rests in the top left zone – where you reasonably like the person, but they like you quite a bit more. This disparity causes situations where you are quite comfortable having them around  and don’t suspect anything when they suggest outings. As you aren’t that attracted to them it maybe hasn’t even crossed your mind that there might be a subtext.

Secondly, I think that my non-verbal communication skills must be deeply flawed. Part of it might be that I’m foreign, and have different cultural values –  however, this is a feeble excuse seeing that my home country is not really known for its touchy feeliness, so it must be my personality. I’m extremely tactile, and will happily hug even people I have only just met. With my friends this becomes more pronounced, and I like to show my affection by touching their arm in conversation, walking with locked arms and hugging when greeting or saying goodbye. The way I was raised, affective touching is not necessarily sensual but can also be friendly and comforting.

However, I’ve learnt the hard way that especially among British born-and-bred males friendly touches are almost exclusively construed as coming on to them. So once you have identified your vulnerable accidental-date population, stick to the following:

Rule 1) No unnecessary touching.

Walk somewhere?  – Walk on your own!

Meet someone in the street? – Nod your head and say “You alright, mate?”

Have a quiet conversation somewhere? –  Keep your hands to yourself!

The next part is a bit more subtle, but also concerns my personality. I have the tendency to be very enthusiastic about things, and express this enthusiasm quite vocally. When I like something, I’ll probably tell you. And I like a lot of things. I also laugh out loud at jokes that I find funny. Again, I get the feeling that this natural enthusiasm and my way of showing it is not widely spread in England, which leads to my friendly interest looking like I’m way into someone. In reality, I’m just way into people in general.

Rule 2) Be cool.

Don’t squeal “OMG, me too”, at every second utterance of the other person. Don’t fall off your chair laughing. Don’t suggest seeing this absolutely cool band you’re sure the other person would just love.

The last one is crucial, so I’ll make it its own rule.

3) Don’t ever suggest a date-type outing to someone in the accidental date danger zone.

Ever.

Even though it kills you because you know you could have a great time making cookies together, or there’s this vintage café you really want to try out. Don’t expect someone who’s a little too into you to mindread that “Oh hey, let’s spend more time with just the two of us” actually comes with the implied caveat of “…as friends only!”. Sure, you know what you meant- you want to hang out, you think the other person would be fun to hang out with, and it all seems breezy. But from the rose-tinted view of someone with a crush it will almost certainly sound like you’re asking them out.

Date-type outings will include (but aren’t limited to) the following, if just the two of you are present:

Any type of sit-down meal, any type of event that requires tickets (cultural, sporting or other), any activity that takes place in one of your houses (absolutely no DVD nights!), any kind of trip or any nighttime activity outside. Come to think of that, I think any nighttime activity with just the two of you present is a date-type event, so best to avoid evenings altogether.

Grey areas are shared interests such as working out together, any of the aforementioned with another couple present (could be construed as a double date) and meals that are eaten while standing up or moving (only the truly desperate will consider a late-night trip to the kebab shop a date).

Safe events:  talking in your coffee break, time spent in a common group of friends, time spent on public transport.

See how this list is much, much shorter than the first list? This means suggesting events in general is probably a bad idea.

It is not fair to assume that the person with the massive emotional bias will sort out your ambiguous signals, so try to be as clear as possible.

Good luck.


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Drawing the Line

Inspired by many stories. I think we might all have been there. At least that’s what I tell myself when I make the same mistakes over and over again.

Do you know when someone asks you out that you think is perfectly nice, but you have no romantic interest in whatsoever? Maybe they are a friend, maybe the friend of a friend, maybe a work colleague. In any case, you like them, you don’t want to hurt their feelings, you wouldn’t mind at all to spend an afternoon with them, so when they ask you whether you’d like to go for coffee sometime you agree.

Maybe you weren’t even sure whether this constitutes a date. Maybe you genuinely thought that this coffee date is about the coffee, and not about the date. But sometime during the conversation about why your mum can’t have cinnamon buns it hits you- he thinks that this is a proper date, and this is why he wants to get to know you (and your mum and your cinnamon buns).

And now there is no real return, because you have already agreed to going out with him. Hell, you’re already on the date with him. Well done. And what’s this? Oh, he’s asking you out for dinner. Great.

If you want to escape unscathed, you now have several options, all depending on your morals, degree of diplomacy and how ruthless you are. As there are several factors, and I’m sort of geeky, I have compiled the options in this handy bubble chart. Size of bubble refers to likelihood of option being taken (as infered from personal experience and girltalk with friends).

I’ve taken all of these routes at various points in my life, and abstain from judgment.

Good luck.

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