Andy's Brain Blog: Valentine's Day Edition

For those who have been in academia for nearly their entire life, the stage at which one is nearly done with their graduate work, around the time they are in their late twenties or early thirties, is a good time to start thinking about dating.

Luckily, whereas our ancestors were all a bunch of stiff-necked prudes who knew next to nothing about amorous affairs, today all of our race's available knowledge about love and relationships has been synthesized and condensed into the minds of a very few select sages, by which I mean: Pick-Up Artists.

These people, out of their generosity, have decided to share their wisdom and insights through various books, TV shows, and websites, in order to make their disciples as happy and fulfilled as possible. The fact that their advice seems to constitute what more old-fashioned people would call "narcissistic," "anti-social," or "I'm pretty sure doing that would get you arrested in most countries," should not deter you from following their instructions. Neither should the fact that they tend to dress up as, say, meth addicts.

Famous Pick-Up Artists

In any case, it is clear that following the advice of these people is better than doing nothing. Under no circumstances should you assume that you, some loser dirtbag, knows better than they do.

Fortunately, after reading through their books and listening to their lectures, I've been able to boil down their ideas into a few main points. Simply follow these, and then sit back and wait for the babe stampede.

1. Be assertive. Girls like guys who are assertive, which, contrary to popular belief, doesn't mean just being confident about who you are and forthright about what you believe; instead, it means being brash enough and loud enough to the point where anyone else around you who wants to talk either has to talk louder than you are or talk directly at you, ensuring your control of the conversation and your immediate environment; a technique, incidentally, that has been perfected on several political talkshows.

The reason girls are attracted to this can be explained by the theory of evolution, which states that females, being insane, prefer to copulate with psychopathic jerks, because it's good for the survival of the species, somehow. (Actually, to be honest, I have no idea why this is the case, and using evolution to explain it always seems like kind of a cop-out; similar to using natural selection to explain why humans have formed such horrifyingly self-destructive activities such as war, or home-improvement projects.)

2. Be Charismatic. Girls like guys who are charismatic. Having charisma means being able to persuade and influence other people into doing things they would not otherwise do, such as dating you, or eating a used tissue. Having charisma also means being able to attract people by the sheer magnetism of your personality, as exemplified by the following famous historical figures:

What do each of these people have in common? That's right: They're all murderous sociopaths! Having a few screws loose is, unfortunately, often highly correlated with charisma. But then again, everybody likes a little spice in their relationship.

3. Be Witty. Girls like guys who are witty. Ideally, you should constantly be making remarks that reflect your sophistication and vast erudition cultivated over the years by reading poetry and great works of world literature, and possibly one or two neuroscience blogs. Eschew lowbrow, vulgar subjects and try to keep your witty remarks limited to more refined topics such as classical music, literature, and competitive eating.

Example: "Nietzsche's √úbermensch is very much like Wagner's Siegfried, except that he knows Greek. Also, care to guess what my Chubby Bunny record is?"

4. Be Conspicuous. In order to be noticed, it helps to have some attribute that makes you stand out apart from the herd. It can be something as simple as donning garish clothing, sporting a new hairstyle, or developing a personality disorder. Be creative. I'm told that histrionic types are in style these days.

That's about it, and once you have all of these bases covered, success is all but guaranteed. Over time you may even find yourself in a relationship with this person you have managed to attract; and while it may be hard to determine whether you are, exactly, in a relationship, one or more of the following signs may mean that you are indeed in some kind of commitment:
  1. You find yourself celebrating a five-year wedding anniversary;
  2. You have just witnessed the birth of your third child with this person;
  3. You find you and your significant other frequently engaging in "committed relationship" activities such as eating together, sleeping together, and trimming each other's nose hairs.
On a more serious note, I wish you all have a wonderful Valentine's Day that isn't plagued by doubt, insecurity, and loneliness. Many people tend to hate on Valentine's Day, labeling it as a cynical marketing ploy by the nefarious Card Industry, the abominable Flower Industry, and Big Chocolate; however, this tends to obscure the fact that this holiday tends to occur on a typically dreary, cold, slushy day during which everyone is trying to drive to fancy restaurants, and that somehow the malefic Road Salting Union may be involved as well.

In any case, I hope that the preceding advice works, and if it doesn't, I even more sincerely hope that you don't come running after me with a machete. Remember that this is the distilled advice of literally half a dozen or so self-described experts and possible drug abusers - and they can't all be wrong, can they?

Andy's Brain Blog Advice Column: Should You Date In Graduate School?

Dear Andy's Brain Blog,

I am midway through the second year of my graduate program, and over the past couple of months I have gotten to know a girl in my cohort very well. At first we started just by hanging out a lot, but one night we both got pretty jacked on some Nutella spiked with Smirnoff Ice and before I knew it things got out of control. It quickly escalated into kissing, necking, holding hands, and heavy petting, although we kept it PG (-13). Although I had the time of my life that night, and although I have had this same scenario happen with several girls before, something feels different about this one; it doesn't feel like just another fling, but possibly the prelude to a full-on relationship. 

However, I am conflicted: How much should a man dedicate himself to a relationship, if at all, when there are the pressing concerns of classes, teaching, writing, and research? Would it be best to break it off before it becomes too serious? Or, if it is to be pursued, how should it be approached?



Dear Brad,

Let me begin by stating it is perfectly normal, and not weird at all, for a manboy of your age to begin experimenting with odd cocktails of sugary products. But first let me address an unasked question: Why should you trust me with relationship advice? Well, not to brag or anything, but I have run a (half) marathon, I have no major diseases, and I have read over a dozen novels, including the complete oeuvre of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beverly Cleary. The depth and breadth of my reading, combined with extensive travels throughout the upper American Midwest and two provinces of Canada, has granted me unique insight into prepubescent sororal relationships, the finer points of horse trading, and how to recover from crop damage following a hail storm. Most important, I have become an observant scholar of relationships between the sexes - as Tolstoy would put it, the tragedy of the bedroom - and this endeavor has granted me an eagle-eye view over the landscape of your squalid desires.

To illustrate the deleterious effects of falling in love, a peculiar phenomenon of which you seem to be at risk, I share with you a letter - ladies and gentlemen, an honest-to-god, handwritten letter! As though you need any more evidence of the madness wrought by such primitive emotions - recently received from one of my colleagues at a neighboring university which described his sinking into the turbid ocean of his own lust, the unfortunate result of a series of trysts and resulting hanky-panky with a post-doctoral student working in another lab, which, instead of draining the cisterns of his lust, whipped him into a frenzied passion. Besides the irritation provoked by the omission of any question as to how I was doing - the letter was, in a sense, one prolonged, histrionic soliloquy directed toward an uninterested audience - I was shocked to hear of the level of absorption and mindless passion to which he had fallen (he would have said risen). He enumerated, in painstaking detail, the features and mien of his lover; the slender, supple, opalescent skin of her bare arm; those vermilion, pillowy, textured lips rising to meet his upon awakening from a fitful, sleepless night; and above all, serving as two bright nodes in a trinity of passion, a pair of milky peaks bedighted with brilliant orbs; incarnadine, inexhaustible wellsprings of his bliss, the very thought of which was enough to send a rill of excitement down his spine and terminate in a limpid jet of love.

Exhibit two has no ocular evidence, but rather rests on a memory; old, but still intolerably vivid. An acquaintance of mine in college, living in an adjacent room, once let down his guard and fell completely, hopelessly, stupidly in love with one of the first girls that he met. He once had the gall to stop me on my way out the door to a morning class merely to tell me of his first kiss shared with the object of his desire; he described how, as they talked one night, he had gradually pulled her closer to him, as if by the force of God, and how she began to talk more rapidly and at a higher pitch the closer they were drawn together, before a brief and pregnant silence; and then - a thousand comparisons between the expectation and the reality, a bubble of ecstasy bursting in slow motion - their lips met.

After that, he was a changed man; his grades went to pot, he claimed to see the world in a different light, and he began to go so far as to read and write poetry under her intoxicating influence. It was, from my perspective, a silly and infantile episode in his life; and lest the reader think that this was some innocent, puppy-love affair, let him know that I was, on several occasions, rudely awakened early in the morning by the sounds of strenuous intercourse. After they broke up - as inevitably happens under the demands and expectations of such powerful emotions - he was a wreck for months. His personal hygiene fell into desuetude, his appearance became slovenly and repulsive, and one could see, at a glance, that where he was once brimming with untamed eros, he was now spiritually detumescent. I hardly talked to him since that catastrophic episode, although one time he did manage to corner me and, still under the influence of a fevered mind, tell me that what had transpired - kiss, relationship, breakup, all - was one of the best things that happened to him. To this day, I cannot help reflecting on that puerile outpouring without a feeling of contempt.

As has been shown, love can lead to such dangerous feelings as inklings of the Eternal or the Infinite, along with all of their concomitant inspirations to do simultaneously heroic and stupid things; feelings that there might be, in fact, a deeper and greater reality beyond the pale of the daily grey. All of this, of course, is pernicious nonsense, and should be avoided accordingly. And, lest anyone forget, falling in love also leads to a pathological form of self-forgetfulness, spawning powerful and conflicting emotions such as a deep concern for someone other than the self, painful feelings of both tenderness and possessiveness, and the stirrings of insensate jealousy. How is it, I ask, that any serious student is supposed to concentrate on their work with all of these inchoate feelings spurring them to blind insanity?

However, if you have already crossed the Rubicon and find yourself increasingly enthralled to another, there is still hope to break the emotional ties before they become so entwined with your own being that to sever them would be, in effect, an amputation of the soul. After all, what the composers and poets and painters seldom mention is that, in the beginning at least, one can fall out of love as quickly as they fall into it; and I therefore recommend that, during one of your more lucid moments of reasoning - perhaps when the clouds of your mind have been dispelled after a particularly vigorous congress - it would be both fitting and proper to bring up a sensitive topic likely to introduce divisions between you and your lover; politics and religion being the two examples that most readily come to mind, although I am sure you can find others. It is best to exploit these divisions early on, as I have observed several miscarriages of the natural order of relationships in which two individuals, having known and cared for each other for several years, no longer find these differences to be grounds for breaking up, nor do they even find these differences to be of much importance at all; instead, these differences are seen petty and trivial compared to the emotional and physical well-being of their partner.

By all means, do not let this happen to you. Reader, I have seen men and women worked up into a passion - literally, a sensuous passion, far more intense than that effected by the most possessive jealousy or the most animal lust - over differences such as those described above. For maximum effect, of course, it is helpful to have an entire group of people, and instead of a difference per se, have them all hold more or less the same opinion in solidarity against an invisible opponent; as I have observed such groups, with their perceived moral superiority and righteous indignation serving as a highly volatile fuel, require only the faintest of sparks to overthrow their vaunted reason and ignite a general conflagration of directionless emotion. I once read somewhere a dull intellectual describe such events, in which each individual has a similar opinion, lightly adopted but firmly held, as arising from a combination of ignorance, dishonesty, and a pusillanimous desire for social acceptance; but in any case, the point here is to tap into that same atavistic, tribal mentality, in order to alienate and distance yourself from another, lest you find yourself so emotionally involved with this person that you are unable to easily assign them to a category.

In all, best to nip this in the bud straightaway, and immerse yourself in your readings, research, and teaching, lest you lose sight of what is really important. Relationships, love, marriage, et al. is for saps, as is self-evident to any reasonable observer; and if any of this is to be engaged in at all, it should only be for health purposes, without any resulting attachment, similar to a day at the spa. One of my friends recently sent me a copy of a book called The Red and the Black, by a man named Stendahl, saying that it would help me understand such trivialities; but in my hands, it was merely a lump of valuable matter. I hear that several young readers entering college are beginning to 'discover' Stendahl; I wish them joy.