Looking for Love—Introducing the Romantic Love Score

Maybe you know someone like my 29 year old friend who recently sent me a great email.

“My life is pretty darn good right now,” she wrote, “but I would still like to find a special friend with whom I could start a family.” Thinking who better to offer some inspiration, she told me she had a good job, some decent friends, but no real prospects when it came to romantic love.

And so I tried.

First, I celebrated her refreshing “If it happens great, if not, I’ll still lead a fulfilling life” attitude. People desperate to find someone to “complete them” stand little chance of forming a healthy, balanced, long-term relationship based upon mutual respect.

I also affirmed her desire to marry and start a family because my wife and daughters have definitely enriched my life. Mostly for the better, intimacy amplifies one’s joys and heartbreaks. For me, and most people in healthy committed relationships, that’s a trade-off worth making. Over and over, year after year.

I think about my friend’s prospects for romantic love almost exclusively in sociologically terms. Let me explain by way of what I’m labeling one’s Romantic Love score. Your RL score is similar to a house’s Walk Score. A walk score is a number between 0 and 100 that realtors assign to every house for sale. The higher the score, the easier it is to walk to stores, restaurants, parks, etc. Our current home has an abysmal walk score of “5” meaning you better pack some food if you’re walking to the grocery store.

A Romantic Love score is also a number between 0 and 100. The higher your score, the greater your likelihood of meeting someone special with whom marriage and children are possibilities.

Walk scores are determined by sophisticated computers, Romantic Love scores are determined by my amazingly brilliant analysis of a few things you send me. First and most importantly, a map of your typical week showing me exactly how you spend every hour of every day that you’re awake.

From that map, I determine the potential for casual friendships to evolve into something hotter and heavier. Work is obviously a big chunk of time and that could go either way depending upon how consistently you interact with colleagues around your age, but you’re outside of work time is most important. If you spend evenings reading alone, your RL score will be far less than if you participate in a book club or two. No one is ever going to come wave at you through your window while you’re wrapped in a blanket, after dinner, in your favorite reading spot.

Similarly, it’s one thing to run in the pitch black at 5a.m. alone and another to run after work or on the weekends with a group sponsored by a local running store, maybe even one that meets up afterwards to continue socializing. And it’s one thing to lap swim by one’s self and another to join a masters swim team and workout a few times a week with the same 20-30 people. Ditto with cycling. Better to attend the same spin class with the same 10-15 people than to just cycle alone all the time.

The second stage is doing things with your small group friend(s) outside of the regular activity—going out to dinner, weekend get-aways, etc. Traveling with small groups of friends for a weekend or week increases the potential for sparks of mutual interest and admiration, thus raising your RL score.

Don’t force participation in activities that you don’t naturally enjoy in the first place, just be more intentional about doing them with others. Small groups whom you interact with at least twice a week. And then be intentional about each group. After a few weeks or month, evaluate the potential for meeting someone special, and don’t hesitate to switch one small group activity for another.

My wife was a second year teacher in rural Southern California when she was 24. All she did was work, then exercise at a fitness center, and then watch the NewsHour while eating dinner. There were hardly any single people in her community so she decided to take her RL score into her own hands. She quit her job and moved to Santa Monica and looked for a teaching job there. Right away she started attending the same church I was attending. My roommates and I at the time hosted a bible study in our home.

She showed up one summer night with her roommate who she knew a little bit prior to her move. After the bible study I asked her if she wanted to go get some frozen yogurt (Rico Suave). About 6-8 of us ended up going. After that I was smitten and asked her if she wanted to go out to dinner and by then any resistance to my charm offensive was futile.

The take-away is small groups aren’t magical. At some point you have to be more intentional than might come naturally and take initiative to move from acquaintance to friend to more special friend. In the simplest terms, being more intentional might mean saying, “I like you.” And then assessing whether the feeling is mutual. Obviously, there has to be reciprocity. Romantic love can’t be forced, there has to be some chemistry.

Second, I need a list of all of your close friends who are aware of your desire for a special friend and consciously thinking about mutual friends who might be a decent match. This is the “social capital” subsection of your overall RL score.

Third, I need an honest self-assessment of how flexible you are. Not with regard to values, you should never settle for someone who isn’t kind and doesn’t inspire you to be an even better person, but in terms of age and level of education. The older you are, the more you need to consider someone younger or older than you, and if you’re a female, quite possibly someone with less formal education. Obviously, the more flexible, the higher your RL score.

Fourth, I need an honest assessment of your relative selflessness. Since selfish people typically lack self awareness, you’ll need to solicit the help of close friends and family who know you best. Ask them, on a scale of 0 to 10, zero representing a “no hope narcissist of Donald Trump like proportions” and ten representing “Mother Teresa like selflessness”, where would you rate me and why? Long term committed relationships depend upon mutual curiosity and consideration, active listening, and patience. The more selfless, the higher your RL score.

I am now accepting submissions. Every Pressing Pauser is interested in learning more from your particular situation so don’t be bashful. If I share what you submit I’ll do it so discreetly no one will ever trace any of the deets back to you.

My friend’s RL score? Currently hovering in the high teens, but she’s committed to changing that. Hope I get invited to the wedding.

Related read. [Note: The reader’s top ranked comments are every bit as good as the essay.]

Staying With The Questions

“It’s not that I’m so smart,” Albert Einstein wrote, “but I stay with the questions longer.” Here are some questions I’ve been staying with lately.

Why is banana bread a perpetual underachiever? Among all breads, it’s the most underrated. Always delicious, yet difficult to find. On the other end of the continuum, cornbread; wide availability, but almost always a dry, crumbly disappointment. Had some zucchini bread this week that was very good too. If and when banana bread gains popularity, zucchini will slide into its underachiever slot.

Why is Costco’s Kirkland ice-cream a perpetual underachiever? I’m the King of the Kirkland label, but have never switched over from Breyers or Dreyers or Whatever label to Kirkland ice-cream. Does anyone buy Kirkland ice-cream?

Why does my wife like Masterpiece Theatre’s Poldark so much? Hmm, could this have anything to do with it?


Why is my oldest daughter prone to meanness? Check out this advice she recently offered her younger, nicer sissy. “If you have a prof you love ask if they want to get coffee (and bring a friend in your class if you want another buffer because professors can be intimidating and frankly, weird) – it will be invaluable when it comes to references and advice for the post-college world.” Good heavens, what did I do to deserve that?

Don’t Ask Me How to Raise Teenagers

My daughters have early August birthdays, meaning more than turkey was cooking lo’ those many Thanksgivings ago. Four day weekend, frosty outside, fire burning inside, what do you expect?

J, now 20, is a fun and funny girl. The day before her birthday she proudly declared that she had now officially “avoided teen pregnancy”.

And a few days from now, a few blocks from Wrigley Field, A turns 23.

I’m proud of my daughters and love them dearly despite their making me feel old.

They’re a talented duo, especially skilled in reclamation projects. Through an interest in and feel for interior design, and lots of paint, A has transformed her utilitarian Chicago apartment into a nice home.

And through practice and steadily increasing technical know-how, J can wield her camera to transform almost any subject, no matter how ghastly into something nearly tolerable. For example.


US Open Postscript

Sunday’s 6-11a shift was my favorite. Left the house at 4:52a and walked onto the grounds at 5:51a. The sunrise was spectacular and it was nice watching the course slowly come to life under overcast skies and cool temps in the mid 50’s.

A lot of disabled spectators had either tired and turned to their televisions or simply slept in so I ate my annual donut, shot the breeze with fellow volunteers, walked a bit of the course, and made occasional runs around the course.

The Cowboy will be pleased to know there was a brief Holly Saunders sighting. She sped by in the passenger seat of another cart. On a related note, her post round interviews were goofy. Sane people know Fox isn’t fair or balanced, but we have to acknowledge that they are consistent when it comes to their television “talent”. Their coverage more generally was flawed relative to the much more experienced network teams. Norman’s bromance for Day was over the top, the lack of yardage, Pavin awkwardly overreacting to a Faxon dig, “What do we want to go here, best career?”, etc. However, the microphone in the hole was genius and almost compensated for all the other shortcomings.

The highlight of the day was my penultimate trip, from Central Meadows to the top of the 18th hole grandstand. A man flagged me down and said, “I had a hip replacement, and it hurts, and I need to get up to the 18th grandstand for a picture, can you take me?” I looked at his tournament pass everyone wears around their neck and it said, “Robert Trent Jones, Jr.” The course architect and his wife hopped on and we we’re off.

“I heard you interviewed on the radio a few days ago. It was a nice interview.” Phone call with someone involved with the picture and then, “The pros are really savaging the greens aren’t they?” What do you say to that? “Yeah, but everyone has to putt the same greens.” Weak I know, but I was working with 5 hours sleep. Then I said, “You should be proud of the fact that this is a spectacular event.” He shook my hand appreciatively. And told me he had an article in the Sunday Seattle Times about his dad for whom “I wouldn’t be here personally or professionally.”

The locals are too damn defensive about all the criticism of the greens, Jones’s design, noisy trains, and the spectators’ many challenges. I don’t understand why people take it so personally. Given the leaderboard and dramatic ending*, the early word from Tim Rosaforte is that all the greens will be completely redone (much less undulation, much more consistent grass) and the “footprint” will be altered to be more fan-friendly and the USGA will return in 10+ years.

How many majors will Spieth have by then?

After finishing work at 11a, I picked up a Thai Chicken Wrap, banana, and water**, and headed to the practice range. It was strange that more people weren’t there because it was the best place to see the most players up close putting, chipping, hitting balls. I watched Rose, Kopeka, Poults, HMarayauma, Mcllroy, Na, Senden, the Duf who wins the “best shoes” and “most weight lost since divorcing” competitions. At 11:45a, Spieth walked onto the practice range a few feet in front of me and headed to the putting green, exactly three hours before teeing off.

Having gotten too much sun, I headed home at noon, tired from a long week. I’m lucky my vagabond daughters are both home. The Girls Club was wanting to hike Mount Rainier sometime this week before the Eldest returns to the shadows of Wrigley Field. I suggested we take advantage of the Summer Solstice and head to Rainier and the fam proved spontaneous enough.

A glorious hike on the Deadhorse Creek trail was cappped with a picnic dinner a mile above the Paradise Visitor’s Center. After returning home, I watched the tournament which I had recorded.

A full and fun day. I’m appreciative of my health and my daughters who gave me cards with touching messages. I’m also grateful for nature, in particular the Sound that frames Chambers Bay and Mount Rainier which frames large swaths of Western Washington.

Postscript: To the golf averse, I have one more golf post in me and then it will be on to new subjects.

* One take-away from tournament week. America is seriously overweight. One culprit has to be beer. Everyone began drinking beer at around 10a and didn’t stop.

** Would have been even more dramatic if the tournament had been decided by a made putt.

12th hole. Driveable par 4. For them, not us.

12th hole. Driveable par 4. For them, not us.

This is why they're better than me. They warmup with the same balls they play.

This is why they’re better than me. They warmup with the same balls they play.

The wildflowers are in full bloom a month earlier than normal.

The wildflowers are in full bloom a month earlier than normal.

What We Get Wrong About Work and Retirement

A fair number of my friends are in their late 50’s to mid-60’s meaning they’re heading towards the exits at work. Some who’ve recently retired are struggling to adapt to life without work routines. They werent enamored with their work all the time, but it provided a predictable structure for their lives.

Meanwhile, we continually read about how wonderfull everyone’s “Third Act” is, whether traveling the world, volunteering, consulting, or starting new careers which shouldn’t count as retiring at all. Retiring is like investing, we only talk about the most positive examples, thus painting a misleading picture. The truth of the post-work matter is, many people don’t know what to do when they don’t have to do anything.

Yes, you’re right, this is a nice “first world” problem to have. Too many people can never afford to retire, but solving that problem is well beyond the reach of my pea-brain, so here I focus on those fortunate enough to soon pull the work plug.

Maybe the best way to think about the challenge is to consider the experience of a friend of mine in his late 40’s because I think his experience is fairly typical.

“Tom” works 60 hours a week, 49-50 weeks a year. In the limited non-work time he has, he watches reality t.v. and his kids play sports. Despite being friendly, he has few friends because he spends almost all of his time working. He assauges his guilt for working so much by spending all of his non-work time with his family. Consequently, he doesn’t have any independent interests or hobbies. In a few years his kids will be gone and he’ll wonder what to do with that little bit of non-work time. I hope I’m wrong, but I predict that In fifteen years, when he stops working, he’ll be completely lost.

Our typical way of thinking about work and retirement, work too much for several decades and then throw a switch and completely stop working, is seriously flawed. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to succeed at reshaping their personal identity overnight.

My working friends who make time for their friends right now and love things like cycling, gardening, and traveling, will fair better than my friend who has decided to sacrifice personal interests on the alter of exceedingly long work weeks.

Of course, the closely related challenge is creating a lifestyle that doesn’t require decades of overwork. If Tom’s children decide to live more simply, like many Millenials seem to be, maybe they’ll strike a better work-life balance. One other important “dot” to connect is one’s wages. Obviously, the more specialized and sought after one’s skills are, they better they are compensated, meaning the fewer hours they HAVE to work.

Instead of throwing a retirement switch, more Baby Boomers are gently turning a dimmer switch, choosing to work half time for example. Gradually transitioning from the world of work to the world of non-obligatory work makes real sense. If you can afford it.

Dreaming of Solitude

A “Dear Prudence” letter from Slate.com.

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I met very young and had kids right away. It’s now 25 years later and the kids are off to college, our life together is comfortable. We’re still in love, and everything should be perfect. Except it’s not. I have recurring fantasies of just leaving everything behind, moving to the other coast, and starting over all by myself. I dream of finding a small apartment, furnishing it exactly as I want, leaving a mess when I don’t feel like cleaning up, eating whatever and whenever I want, and basically being a single girl in my 20s, minus the dating and insecurities. I wouldn’t mind if my husband and children visited, but there’s something in me that craves distance and my own space. I have no desire to find another man; I just want to be alone. I’ve been finding excuses to travel solo simply because staying by myself in a hotel is the closest thing to fulfilling my fantasy. I order room service, binge watch movies, and just revel in my solitude. I wish I had an excuse like a job offer or degree program far away to make such a move possible. I would probably want to come home after a while—a year, maybe two—but who knows? I might love living alone too much to give it up. Part of me also feels guilty for wanting this because my husband is adamant that he wouldn’t want to be without me. I’ve tried to talk him into getting separate bedrooms for years, and he refuses. I also imagine that someday I will probably be widowed and have exactly what I’m dreaming of, and at that point I’ll miss him terribly and feel foolish for wanting this now. Is this impulse bizarre and unhealthy? Is it a phase I should just grit my teeth and barrel through? Is it something that will eat away at me until I get off my ass and do it? Can I do it without hurting him too much?

—Dreaming of Solitude (DoS)

Here’s my prediction on most people’s gut reaction to reading this, “What a whiny, self-centered, loser. She’s symbolic of everything that’s wrong with the U.S. today!” I read it differently and not just because I’m a huge fan of solitude. I feel for DoS because her dilemma highlights a central challenge in any long-term committed relationship.

For peace to prevail over time, you have to do two things. First, you have to consciously ignore most of the low-level aggravating things your partner does on a daily basis. For example, The Good Wife has to try to accept the fact that I selfishly turn off the bedroom light at night whenever I’m ready to sleep whether she’s mid-paragraph in her book or not. She has to try to accept the fact that right at that moment I’m thinking more about my running partners waiting outside for me in seven hours than I am her. And she has to do that type of thing every day in myriad ways because I’m a selfish pig.

Second, you have to continuously shake off a steady stream of low-level irritants without allowing so much resentment to build that it eventually bubbles over in grand gestures to have separate bedrooms (where I can be in control of the lighting my own damn self) or to live three thousand miles apart. That balance, having decent enough communication to talk about and work through low-level resentments (The Good Wife, “In the future, could you please ask me if you can turn out the light so I can at least finish my sentence?”) is an exceedingly delicate balancing act that’s easier to get wrong than right.

In my reading of DoS’s letter, the key phrase is this, “. . . furnishing it exactly as I want, leaving a mess when I don’t feel like cleaning up, eating whatever and whenever I want.” Three annoyances that by themselves wouldn’t amount to much or even if taken together for a short period of time probably wouldn’t amount to much. But the longer they’re not talked about in the light of day, they metastasize and drive a wedge between otherwise intimate people.

Imagine if DoS had come clean with her husband about her feelings years earlier. Three separate dinner discussions. The first. “For a long, long time, I haven’t felt enough freedom to decorate differently.” The second, “For far too long, I haven’t felt nearly free enough to be more messy.” The third, “For as long as I can remember I haven’t felt sufficient freedom to eat whatever I want at whatever time I want.” If the husband is as good a guy as he seems to be, he’d be sympathetic and try to be much more understanding of her need for those particular freedoms.

There’s no guarantee those conversations would go so well that the resentment would dissipate to the point where moving across the country wouldn’t be necessary, but not having them is a larger risk. By not having them the husband is in for a major surprise, one he doesn’t deserve if she’s said too little for too long.

Postscript: I thought I had turned the comments back on awhile ago, but learned today I had not. They’re back on. So comment away on Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson, Ms. Dreaming of Solitude, or whatever you want to get off your chest about those you’re most intimate.

But How Will It Look On My Resume?

Statistics show people don’t tend to read any particular blog for very long. I’m not jumping from blog to blog, I’m reading fewer, which begs the question, why read this or any other blog? One common thread in the few blogs I read regularly is the authors link to interesting and insightful writing that I wouldn’t otherwise come across.

The best bloggers are connoisseurs of some specialized content and curators who provide an invaluable service in the Age of Information Overload—they help focus people’s attention.I try to do that, but my statistics reveal that few readers follow my links meaning posts like this probably don’t work that well. If I knew how to change that I would.

Starting for real now. An email arrives from an ace college roommate, a successful psychotherapist specializing in adolescent development. His 12th grade daughter has been admitted to two highly selective colleges and is conflicted about which will look better on her resume. Dad’s equally torn about where she should go. What does the college professor think?

The college professor can’t get past the fact that the daughter is worried about her resume. I wrote back that the schools’ respective prestige was within the margin of error and that the only thing that matters is whether she builds lasting relationships and develops interpersonal and intellectual skills that cannot be easily automated.

Her family enjoys far greater economic security than 90-95% of people. I don’t understand her thinking, but I know that if she is pre-occupied with her economic future, it’s no surprise that anxiety disorders among adolescents are at an all-time high.

I suspect something deeper is at work in this college decision-making case study. Something spiritual. Cue David Brooks, who wrote this essay in Sunday’s New York Times. It’s Brooks at his best. Lots of self-righteous readers savage him, for in essence, not being a Democrat. How dare a Republican reflect on what’s most meaningful in life. I wonder what it’s like to have one’s politics and daily life in permanent, perfect alignment.

Brooks is scheduled to discuss his new book, The Road to Character, on the Diane Rehm show Thursday, April 16th at 11et.