How to make the best of the friendzone

Personally, I am a proponent of the friendzone. This isn’t because (as one rant in my inbox once claimed) the friendzone is a place girls never find themselves. I’ve written an entire post about its delights. But first, we need to give it a more dignified name. Because calling it the “friendzone” denigrates friendship. It implies that person you want to be in a relationship with isn’t worth being friends with. In that case, what you’re looking for is more like a craigslist casual sex encounter.

I prefer to call it unrequited love. So, preliminaries complete, how do we make the most of it?

Ask Dante. Renowned Florentine poet Dante Alighieri credits his life’s work to being inspired by the one great unrequited love of his life: Beatrice Portinari. He passed her in the street when he was 8. Then several years later, it happened again, and that time she greeted him. That was it. That was the sum total of their interaction. Sure, if she loved you back you might get to have sex and post pics of your shared Sunday brunch to Instagram, but would you have time (and the emotional angst) to be one of history’s greatest poets? I think not.

Friendships last longer. Perhaps the object of your affection claims it would never work out romantically between you. But is he interesting? Isn’t it so terribly hard to find interesting people in your life? If you remain friends with him, you will have an interesting friend for (let’s face it) longer than your relationship would’ve lasted anyway.

See it from the other point of view. Maybe she doesn’t love you back. Maybe she can’t love because the past damage was too much. She’ll find your feelings exhausting, so spare her. Remember what Oscar Wilde said: “There is always something ridiculous about the emotions of people whom one has ceased to love.” It’s that much worse if they never loved you in the first place. Confess one time, if you must. After, assume your words would be abhorrent.

Do not try to push it. Please don’t read stories about people who made it out of the friend zone by being flirty. This is obnoxious, desperate behavior that tells the other person “I don’t care what you’ve told me about your own (lack of) feelings, I’m pushing my agenda anyway because it’s what I want.” Doing this will probably make them a little ill. It’s offensive. Where will you be then? Down one interesting friend, and requiring that craigslist casual encounters section to satisfy your other needs anyway.

Don’t think of it as a transaction. This is a common refrain from those who complain about the friendzone. They say it’s a place of “wasted energies, unmet expectation and disappointment.” Feelings like these are a result of transactional thinking. “I listened to him go on about his bad day, now he owes me sex.” No! If he’s not interesting enough that you would gladly listen to him go on about lying on the floor and listening to The Smiths “Unloveable” because he had such a rough day, then just don’t talk to him. Problem solved. If it is transactional in your mind, then be clear about your terms. You don’t go into a business transaction giving the other side what they want and hoping that they reciprocate by giving you what you want, do you? You negotiate. You draw up a contract. The terms are clear to both sides. If you don’t want to negotiate, then only do those things that you would do with pleasure either way, with no promise of anything in return.

There. I hope that helps. Feel free to ask any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer.


The wrong way to blog

(hint: it’s how I blog)

I once read a helpful article by an established and successful blogger (I forget which one now) about how to blog. It was a list of advice for beginners. For whatever perverse reason, I didn’t take any of the advice. Whether from some misguided sense that I’m sui generis or just an inability to think of how to do some of it, I’ve pretty much failed.

This post will serve as a post-mortem of sorts. And maybe I’ll improve going forward. We’ll see. What did that article say? Here’s what I can remember:

Pick a theme. I don’t have a theme. Some people have cool DIY projects, or adorable kids, or some theme that attracts readers and keeps them. I honestly have nothing that I could write volumes about. Unless it’s trolling. But the internet needs an entire blog on trolling like I need an ass rash. (Which is not at all, in case that wasn’t clear.) If you’re a compelling writer or you have interesting random stories, it could work to have the theme be… your life. But then you have to be willing to share a lot about your life. Interesting stories, pictures, thoughts.

Update regularly. The blogs I like the most post 1-2 times a week. To be honest, my favorite blogs are Mormon family blogs. The regular updates make readers feel like they’re friends. A reader with an emotional attachment to your story is more likely to stay around. Plus, it’s more interesting if people comment, isn’t it? When I had a Livejournal, I remember looking at the world through a lens of “how can I tell this story on Livejournal?”

Know your audience. Me, I have no clue. I think my mom used to read. Now, it’s just people who find this through google searches on my more controversial posts. That’s fine, but I’ve had a hard time finding an appropriate voice or tone to use here. Which makes posts sporadic. If you can picture your audience (even if it’s just one person), you can pretend they’re sitting across from you and you’re telling them something. You can imagine them smiling as you tell them a story, or nodding along as you tell them something they didn’t know. It helps. Even if your audience is an imaginary person or a profile like “Older Englishmen who like to garden.”

The rest of the tips were about marketing and ways to boost viewership. Rest assured, I didn’t get involved with any of that. Monetizing a blog is a pipe dream unless you’re truly outstanding at something. Or unless you’re selling a pipe dream. Though I may be constantly judged for my lack of morality, even I have to draw the line somewhere. So I’m afraid I can’t tell you the 10 easy steps to replace your job with a blogging gig. Alas.



Up Taipei 101 for free*

*Okay, it’s not really free, but at least you’re not paying just for the elevator ride.

You’re visiting Taipei with friends and they want to go up the Taipei 101. Cool. But the elevator ride is NT$600 (about $18 USD). What to do? You probably did a search for “Taipei 101 free” and found blog posts about the wonderful Starbucks on the 35th floor. This is another one of those blog posts, but with one bit of new information.

I did this search and got my information from Daniel Food Diary. The basic directions are:

1. Call the Starbucks for a reservation at least a day in advance at: +886 2 81010701
2. Be sure to write down the reservation number you are given over the phone, and bring it with you for your reservation.
3. Be in line ON TIME. Be first in line. They have changed the procedure and give numbered tickets. They let people in to the Starbucks according to this order, so whoever was first will get the best seat. This is a new procedure so you may see the opposite advice in other blogs posts from before the change in policy.

I recommend going around sunset, if possible.

Each person will be required to order at least NT$200 (about $6 USD) worth of Starbucks treats, but at least you get something other than an elevator ride for your money. The matcha cheesecake was good, but not a cheesecake. I recommend the rose latte (not pictured).


Mental decluttering

I’ve done a decent job over the last year decluttering my apartment with guidance from my bible (more on that here). But now that I’m done distracting myself with tidying, I’ve found that it’s my brain that’s cluttered with minor annoyances that keep me from accomplishing anything useful. Usually this causes me to rant to anyone who will listen, and that’s even worse because now I’m wasting someone else’s time too.

Basically, mental decluttering is a formalized version of the Serenity Prayer. Here’s what you do.

First, identify pointless trains of thought. I know, easier said than done. For me, these usually come from minor annoyances throughout the day. For example: a double parked UPS truck blocking the road. I get irritated and start fantasizing about policy changes like meter maids following UPS trucks around and giving them a ticket each time they stop. If it’s a deep dive kind of day I even start pondering what the fiscal implications of this would be and how UPS might respond by producing ad campaigns showing sad children who didn’t get Christmas packages on time to sway voters. Right. So. How to identify a pointless train of thought? Ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to change this?” If the answer is “No” or “Only if I put in a lot of effort that I’m unwilling or unable to commit” then it’s a waste of your time to keep stewing over it.

Now that you’ve identified the pointless thought, you’ll have to find some way of distracting yourself from it. Here’s where it gets fun. You could try:

Having a to-do list. When you see that you’re obsessing over something useless, do something from the list.

Read. Read things from your reader, or keep a book handy. I don’t know about you, but I never regret time I’ve spent reading.

Treat yourself. Positive reinforcement for identifying and distracting yourself from going down the rabbit hole. Do this enough and you’ll associate positive feelings with breaking away from pointless obsessing.

Ignore. Sometimes it’s not a solo act. Maybe you have friends that you go back and forth with over politics or policy. Maybe they have opinions you can’t stand and you feel the need to “call them out” on it. It’s a waste of your time. You probably won’t ever convince that person they’re wrong. But eventually they’ll see that no one is responding to them and stop saying the same things over and over. Any response only lengthens the amount of time you’ll spend thinking about (and being annoyed by) it.

Screen saver. I like the idea of keeping a few pleasant thoughts or memories at easy grasp to function as “screen savers” of the mind. To free yourself from brain clutter, hold on to a few of these that bring you joy. When you find yourself getting worked up over something you can’t fix anyway, think about one of these things instead. Maybe it’s a memory of your last beach vacation. Or your cat purring on your lap. Or something completely made up involving vampires and unicorns. Is this a better use of your time? Maybe not, but at least it doesn’t take up as much mental energy and it’s not as bad for your mood. Plus, once you get bored of the beach, you’ll have distracted yourself from the annoyances enough to get on with something else useful.

Yeah, you should quit your job

Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in life coaching and no, you shouldn’t be taking advice from a stranger on the internet who doesn’t know you or your situation at all.

Lately several friends have asked “should I just quit my job?” They tell me they’re unfulfilled, bored, frustrated with management. I always tell them “If you can afford to, then do it.” Note: I don’t ask them if they have plans. I don’t ask what they would do instead and whether they’d make the same money. I’m just an enabler. Here’s why.

There’s a guy I knew, let’s call him Ol’ Mac. He’s the father of one of my exes. Ol’ Mac was a responsible family man with two kids, so he stayed for years at a job he hated. He woke up every morning at 5am to drive about an hour to work and would get home pretty late most nights. He hated his job so much that his wife would sometimes find him staring at his socks in the morning. When asked what he was doing he’d miserably say “I’m thinking about which one goes on which foot.” He stuck it out until his official retirement day so he could get a full pension. (Yeah, I know this isn’t sounding like a story about quitting your job. Just wait for it.)

So, you’d think he’d be delighted with retirement, right? Well, after watching golf on tv and snoozing most days for a while, Ol’ Mac began to feel bored and restless. He took on odd jobs to get him out of the house. Then word got around that he was looking to come out of retirement, and he was offered a job doing the things he liked about his old job (hands on technical stuff) with none of the parts he didn’t (bureaucratic managers who didn’t know what they were talking about). It was a more relaxed schedule: one week on, one week off. It even paid better than his old job.

What can we learn from this one anecdote? We all know that the plural of anecdote is not “evidence” but that being said, I’ve heard variations of Ol’ Mac’s story repeatedly. People quit their jobs without knowing exactly what comes next, but they figure it out. And in all cases, they’re happier than before they quit. So if you’re miserable or frustrated at your job and you live for the weekends, save money until you can live without a job for a few months, then quit. You’ll figure it out too.

Velib in Paris

Velib (a bike rental service) is my favorite way of getting around Paris. You see so much more than by metro, and as a bonus there’s much less contact with the bodily fluids of others. It’s faster than walking, but I guess entering and re-entering a code and pin can get pretty annoying. Here’s how to get around that.

1. Show up at any city hall in Paris and ask for a “Velib Express” card. They’re free.

2. You can sit in the lobby of city hall and use their free wifi to access the Velib website (instructions on the back of the card) to subscribe to the service. Here are the prices:

  • 1.70 € for 1 day
  • 8 € for 7 days
  • 29 € for 1 year*

3. Visit any Velib bike station. There’s an app that shows you where they are, but usually you’ll find them near any metro station. Enter your information into the screen just the first time (to activate your card) and then you’re good to go! In the future you can just use your card to check out bikes by placing your card against the locking mechanism pictured here:

Now, time for a funny story. You are perhaps concerned that you’re not the best biker, and Paris is too busy and scary of a city. Believe me, you couldn’t be a worse biker than me. I never took the training wheels off my first pink bike with streamers at the handles. I didn’t see the need. The first time I tried biking in Paris, we had to stop at a red light and as I was wobbling to a halt, I crashed into a police riot van. With actual police officers in it. I took off again a moment later and saw the police officers staring out to window trying to see who was attacking. I gave them by best sheepish-sorry look and said sorry (yes, in English). The officers looked 2/3’s confused and 1/3 amused. Luckily, it was France. If it were America, I would probably have been shot for ramming a police vehicle.

* Important note: when I was sitting at city hall trying this, the 1 year option was only available on the French version of the website. If you choose English, it disappears. So pretend to be French, I guess!


A life worth living

Believe me, I am not an expert on this. What I realised about  year ago while working for a startup was that somehow, despite earning more money than I ever had in my life, being able to buy just about anything I wanted and having plenty of opportunities to socialize with my quirky, crazy-brilliant friends, I didn’t really think my life was worth living.

Everything was a dark grey, especially on Sunday night. Worse on Monday morning. Dread filled me. But it was confusing. My income was above the 95th percentile for my age group. I had a boyfriend (a very good person!) I had been dating for a couple of years. Everything looked excellent on paper. Who was I not to be happy? On top of everything, guilt. So many people had it worse than me. What did I even want?

I wanted a life worth living. But I made the mistake of using everyone else’s definition. I never asked myself the question “what do I want” because I assumed that having what everyone else wants for should make me happy too. Wrong.

There is a story I’ve read in passing: a professor presents a container filled with rocks and asks his students if it’s full. “Yes,” they respond. He then pours pebbles in, until the spaces between the rocks are filled too. He asks again. They respond “yes” again. He repeats this twice more, with sand, then water. The point of his demonstration is that if he had done this exercise in any other order, not everything would fit. This story has been used as a metaphor for life: what we put in first should be of primary importance to us.

That was my mistake. The things I spent the most time on were the things I valued the least: my job, Tumblr, playing flash games on Facebook, watching TV shows. The latter 3 made time pass more quickly. But there was nothing I was looking forward to… I was squandering time until my eventual death, I suppose.

I hesitate to tell you my conclusions because I’m sure they won’t be yours. The point is that you have to ask yourself what the rocks are. What are the most important things in your life? It may be counterintuitive, but you probably don’t treat them that way. Suppose you’re a math graduate student (this was once my story) and you have obligations in decreasing importance to you: your research, studying for your quals, your homework, and your teaching obligations. However, the less important something is to you, the more urgent the deadlines are, so you spend time doing those things first and neglect the more important things.

Life is similar! It maybe be extremely important that you paint or write or travel, but none of those things have “urgent” deadlines. So you put them off, sometimes forever. Meanwhile, what gets your attention? That work email to fix a build. Doing the laundry. Once you’ve taken care of all the things you have to do now, you’re too drained to even think about reading Dostoyevsky or practicing Liebestraum on the piano, so you end up playing Candy Crush with the rest of your time.

tl;dr — the first step in having a life worth living is figuring out what is important to you.

North Beach at sunset, before cioppino at Sotto Mare

For me, of course, it’s the Bohemian ideals. Perhaps they’ll each get their own entry one day: Truth, Beauty, Freedom (and above all else) Love.