Keep your eye on your life’s road

When you’re planning a trip, it is more efficient to focus on the roads you want to travel, not the ones you want to avoid. Sure, you may make decisions to skip certain routes that are too long, too dangerous, not interesting enough, or ones that are simply impractical. If you’re driving from Los Angeles to Denver, you generally don’t want to go by way of Orlando. You can waste a lot of time if you worry about routes that include Orlando once you’ve decided to not go there.

You have many options for how to move through life, and you can waste a lot of time worrying about where you don’t want to be or what you don’t want to do. That’s energy and effort that could be used to get you to where you do want to go.

Don’t want to get into a relationship with someone like your parent/you ex/a person who hurt you? Fantastic to have that knowledge. Focus on the positive traits that you seek. “Not a liar” becomes “truthful and open,” and then get specific on how you’ll be able to recognize that. What does “not an alcoholic” mean in terms of drinking or abstaining?

Don’t want to end up in a dead-end job? What does the opposite mean to you, then? Do you need a job with the chance to keep earning more and more money? With more promotions? With greater opportunities to express yourself intellectually or creatively? What are the positive traits of the job you’re seeking?

Thinking about starting a new endeavor, but you’re worried it won’t be a success? Define what success looks like. Instead of focusing on “not being a failure,” figure out what you can accomplish that defines “not a failure.” And don’t convince yourself that doing things perfectly is an adequate definition.

If you want to lose weight and are not going to eat highly refined foods, what will you eat? No ice cream for dessert? What will you eat?

If you don’t know where you’re going, then how do you know when you get there? You could waste a lot of time driving around side streets or zooming down the freeway in the opposite direction. Success via avoiding Orlando is not a good road map to Denver. The same is true of where you want to go in life.

Getting specific will help you to figure out the route that will help you get there. You may chose and discard routes along the way, have to consult your GPS again to get back on track, but you’ll improve your ability to do that if you don’t spend so much time worried about ending up in Florida when where you really want to be is in Colorado.


Be more than a bystander

I was driving on the freeway on a mountain pass when I came around a curve and spotted a crash. The car was off of the freeway on the right-hand-side bank, facing the wrong way, hazard lights flashing. I didn’t have time to see if anyone was in it before I was headed into the next curve, but it was pretty clear from first glance that it was wedged into the bank pretty solidly and would at least need some help getting unstuck.

Driving alone, I was surrounded by vehicles that I reasoned surely had a passenger who could call about the crash. With passes, it’s not positive that whoever had been driving that car would get cellphone reception, providing that person had a cellphone. Maybe it was an old crash, I reasoned, and the person had already been helped. Was I sure someone was in the vehicle? Someone would call. Someone would stop.

But I’d recently seen this video about the importance of men as bystanders or active participants in changing the culture of acceptable violence in society. It’s an excellent talk that has nothing to do with car crashes.


Watching the video had reminded me of the “bystander effect,” a phenomenon where having others around dilutes the feeling of responsibility in individuals. In it, people who might otherwise act hold back because they figure that someone else will do something. Just like I was thinking in my car on the interstate.

I pulled off the freeway at the next ramp so that I could safely dial 911. I told the dispatcher where the crash was and what details I’d seen, and she said they would send someone if the crash had not already been investigated. That told me that she hadn’t heard about the crash from any of the other drivers just then. Moments later, I was back on my way north. Not long after that, I saw a state trooper, lights flashing, speeding to the south. Could have been to help with the crash. Could have been going to another call. I’ll never know. I don’t need to know. I wasn’t calling just for the driver of the crash. I was also calling for me and for us.

If it were me in that car, I’d want someone to call. That’s the social contract that makes it possible for me to get into a vehicle all by myself and travel hundreds of miles from anyone I know who has any personal reason to help me if something happens. A compassionate society must be made up of more than bystanders.

Want to read more the bystander effect in society? Consider Kathleen Parker’s opinion on rape convictions in Steubenville and this in-depth piece from the Greater Good Science Center exploring altruism and inaction.

— Patricia S.

I took over my friend’s online dating profile

Inspired by a article where the writer had a friend take over her online dating account, a friend asked me to give the experiment a try. We agreed that we didn’t like the idea of me taking over her account to the point that I was impersonating her in correspondence with men. It didn’t seem quite fair to the guys, and it raised questions about when and how to admit the experiment if a lasting relationship developed. Instead, I took charge of her profile and pictures for two weeks, searched for potential connections, and drafted messages that she could approve (or change) and send. I picked up some perspectives along the way that will change my approach if I ever go back to online dating.

  1. Keep an open mind. I eliminated potential dates based on a few critical elements (no smokers, no one who wants children) and a basic red-flag assessment about the guy’s profile. I knew my vegetarian, animal-rights-loving friend wouldn’t be interested in the guy who posted a photo of himself riding a small goat. However, I realized going through profiles that it’s hard to tell if a man would be a good or bad match for her based on his ability to market himself on his profile – especially if his job isn’t in advertising. And if his job is in advertising, he might do a good job of glossing over his negative aspects. Screening for my friend, I realized how difficult it is to see the full picture of a person in the catalogue format of an online dating site.
  2. Don’t get hung up on someone before meeting. When I was using online dating for myself, I would pour over the details of a potential match, excited about wanting to know as much as possible about him before we met. It is easy to build up the fantasy of a guy based on his profile, then have that image shattered when you finally sit down together and listen to him blather on about his own life, never asking a question about yours, before he expects to slither off to the bedroom with you. You may end up trudging home, disappointed in the evening and in your own judgment.  Or perhaps you create an image of him based on who he says he is and look for reasons to reinforce those perceptions on the date, only to find out months into dating him that his actions are not consistent with his words. Either way, don’t forget that observing actions is the best way to understand a person, and you can do that only in person. Sure, get excited about the possibility of meeting someone, but keep the heavy imaginings in reserve until the guy earns the right to space in your brain. When I was selecting potential dates for my friend, I wasn’t imagining that she would end up with ANY of the men; rather, I thought she might have an enjoyable or interesting experience that may or may not lead to a second date and a third and so on. If she didn’t enjoy the date, I didn’t feel a sense of disappointment; I knew she just hadn’t found her guy yet.
  3. Don’t look for perfection. Some dating websites promote sharing a huge volume of information about oneself. This can create the illusion that looking for someone who answers questions the same way is a good match. In the real world, I know happy couples who have different perspectives on a variety of subjects and different hobbies. What makes it work is that they function according to their rules and their values and their decisions when and how to compromise. Your perfect match may not be nearly as much like you as you imagine. Know your hard limits, things such as smoking or racist jokes, and be flexible on the rest.
  4. Chill. New daily matches! Fresh email! Instant messages! Online dating can inspire or enhance a sense of urgency. The truth is, the person on the other end is someone you haven’t met yet, and he isn’t worth dropping everything you’re doing and instantly responding. Or stressing about. Or chasing down like limited-edition shoes at a one-day-only sale. That was one of the things I found most annoying about the experiment, someone that stood out especially because I wasn’t personally caught up in the find-love frenzy. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my friend to meet someone; I just didn’t have any reason to believe that waiting until it was convenient for me to log in would hurt her chances.
  5. Sometimes it’s him, not you. My friend and I have different tastes in men, different personalities, different interests, different “packages” that we present to potential companions. We’re alike enough that we can have a lot of fun together, but I can’t see us ever competing for the same man. One of the surprises of taking over for her is that she got the same type of annoying behavior and comments that I’ve had on my profiles. Some men don’t read the basics or don’t put much effort into coming up with questions. “What do you do for fun?” is pretty much answered in the “about me” section of any profile you might visit; read yours and see if it’s there. If you’re allergic to cats or hate them, don’t contact a woman who owns them. “Hi” is not a sufficient introductory message because prying an email exchange out of a man is not a pleasant task. Anyone who insults someone who isn’t interested in going out is not worth your bad feelings. Be glad you avoided getting stuck on an in-person date with him. Sometimes, it can be you. You may have an approach to life that doesn’t mesh with others. But don’t conclude that’s the case without running it past people who know and understand you.
  6. Assume he’ll like you. Don’t look back if he doesn’t. I selected several men for my friend to contact, and I didn’t think any of them would not want to go out with her. I thought about who SHE might like when I picked them. I didn’t pay attention to who did not respond because they became irrelevant to the process. I didn’t care why or why not. I know that my friend is going to be who she’s going to be, and if she wants to change something about herself, it had better be because that’s what SHE wants, not because she’s trying to please some unknown stranger based on the possibility that he might pay attention to her. I want my friend to be happy with herself, and I want her to find a good match. I know that isn’t going to be just anyone because everyone isn’t compatible with everyone else. Foremost, I want her to have someone who appreciates who she is and spending time with her and who inspires the same feelings in her. You shouldn’t settle for less, either.

Online dating can be a great tool for connecting with potential companions, but don’t elevate it beyond that. It isn’t a substitute for getting out and enjoying life, and it isn’t a better guarantee of finding someone than a chance encounter or a friendship built while pursing another activity. The goal of the first date is to decide if you want a second date. The goal of online dating is to help you find that potential first date.

Would you ever let someone take over your online dating profile or take over a profile for someone else?

— by Patricia S.

Ocean of Opportunity is setting out from the Port of Possibility, on board the Ship of Reflection, hoping to capture understanding with the Net of Exploration, armed with the Harpoon of Nautical Metaphors. Join the voyage, ye adventurer, merchant, pirate, mermaid. Ponder. Laugh. Cry. Come confused and leave enlightened. Come convinced and leave uncertain. Take what is useful to you. Offer what might be useful others. Sample the sauerkraut. Mental probiotics await.