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Science Connection Member Polylogue, part 11

Coordinator's Pearls of Wisdom

Limitations of the format | People take offense too easily | Age and physical appearance | Overuse of arbitrary criteria | Non-replies in perspective | Science Connection: the process|

My background is in the natural rather than social sciences, but having coordinated Science Connection for ten years, I am inclined to make a few observations.

  1. It is difficult to convey one's personality or essence in a mini-profile and biographical profile. Mini-profiles tend to be not very distinctive, and biographical profiles can be dry reading. Members are often reticent in filling out their form. But when speaking with members on the phone or via e-mail, I have noted with interest how much more articulate and personable they seem. Do bear this in mind while reading profiles.

  2. Many people take offense too easily. More tact and better manners would help, but even with perfect manners, some people will take offense when they shouldn't.

  3. One of the chief matters giving offense and one of the greatest sources of controversy involves stated preferences regarding age or physical appearance. I have three observations:

    1. Discrimination based on these criteria is unwarranted with respect to friendship and just about anything else other than selection of a mate. Here one is subject to deeply felt preferences that are not, as is frequently asserted, "superficial", but a manifestation of powerful evolutionary forces, culture and experience. These preferences simply exist and are virtually beyond one's control.
            I regret that members are offended that others seem to rule them out unfairly based on age, weight, or appearance. This does not mean that they would fail to appreciate your many wonderful qualities, which are indeed the most important qualities in the larger life context. a name="">
    2. People tend to be less particular on these very matters - age and physical parameters - than they consider themselves to be. The reality is that one often falls in love with someone who is not one's "type" or not the most "appropriate" age.
            This comment does not really conflict with the one preceding. The physical attraction involved in pair formation is complex and largely subconscious and extends well beyond age and physical build (recent studies demonstrate that even smell is important in human sexual attraction and may be linked to genetic compatibility). And intellectual and personality compatibility are also hugely important in the development of physical attraction. So preferences for a physical type can be overridden, and narrow criteria are probably ill-advised.

    3. It seems as though most of us, particularly those over 40, feel we are young for our age! Perhaps we're right, or perhaps our image of what a given age is like is off. In any case, a lapse in logic commonly occurs, by which such members (of both sexes) rule out members of the same age in preference of younger ones. But if you are young for your age, why can't others be as well?
            The problem particularly affects women members over 50, who are sometimes ruled out as being too old by men the same age or older, whereas they find that when they meet similarly aged men in person, they are not perceived as being too old.
            It has been interesting for us to note that despite all the comments about middle-aged or older men desiring much younger women, the matches of members meeting via Science Connection tend to involve members similar in age, especially with members in their fifties.

  4. More generally, people are too apt to go overboard applying all kinds of arbitrary criteria when screening potential partners on paper. These include educational level, geographic location, marital status, existing children, specific interests, and age, weight, etc. One can too easily conjure an image of one's desired mate that is absurdly idealized: he/she is irresistibly attractive, smart, funny, nice, articulate, and outgoing, and just happens to like all your favorite authors, have the same taste in music, and share several hobbies and interests. The reality is that when people fall in love, much about the object of their affection surprises them. So keep an open mind!

  5. Both sexes report that members often don't reply to their initial contact by letter or e-mail. Some members are bothered by this, others not. It seems that men in particular often prefer a negative response, no matter how brief or blunt, to a non-response. However, it seems that many women (and men?) consider a very brief "thanks for writing, but I'm not interested in pursuing a relationship" to be unkind, and feel that a friendly and tactfully discouraging letter is in order. This feeds the tendency to procrastinate, which is very strong with correspondence (even between family members and close friends). One sets aside a reply until one feels inspired to produce a thoughtful, personal and friendly letter, and this can easily lead to indefinite procrastination. (Generally, though, if an initial contact has sparked interest, a reply will be made.) The point I wish to make is that the failure to reply is often seen as inexcusable rudeness, yet it is quite likely that the recipient appreciated your letter and wishes to respond but has not and may never find time to do so in a manner he/she considers sufficient.

  6. Joining Science Connection is a left brain process. It's a logical, sensible thing to do. But once you're a member, don't neglect your right brain. You are not screening applicants for a job. Picture yourself at a conference with other people who have similar interests to you and who also happen to be single! You would not walk about handing out detailed personal histories and asking for theirs; you would simply chat up people, engage in ordinary conversation. In my view, contacting other members (and, for that matter, composing your biographical profile) is about initiating conversations. And as in real life ("RL" in geekese), there are no short cuts to getting to know someone. It's a gradual process and one best undertaken in a gentle, easygoing fashion. So, in your initial contacts with another member, don't overwhelm them with information about yourself, nor confide in them in ways you wouldn't with someone you'd just met in other circumstances. And refrain from writing an impersonal form letter, whether long or short. Try to enjoy the process of getting acquainted with other members without undue expectations that any one connection will pan out.

    Contacts that do not go beyond the initial exchange of email, letters or phone calls should not be considered a personal rejection or failure. On the contrary, one-time contacts can be enjoyable and worthwhile, just like meeting someone at a party with whom you have an interesting conversation without any thought of meeting them again. In fact, as each of us has many ongoing social commitments to friends and family, we simply have limited time for developing friendships and acquaintainceships.

    Enjoy the group. You are in good company.

- Anne Lambert, January 2001

Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved.

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