This might be why I have no friends…

Last weekend I met a woman at a Meetup who I really liked. She seemed to meet all the criteria for someone I would want to be friends with, and I could tell immediately that she was either an INFP or ENFP. We had a really interesting conversation about different theories of personal development and she told me about one theory I’d never heard of. (The specifics are not important to this story.) After she explained it to me, I said, “That’s really interesting; I’ve never thought of that before. But I don’t think that’s true.” I explained why I thought it was wrong and proceeded to tell her about a theory of mine that contradicted hers.

I realized much later that I was kind of being a dick.

While I was listening to her talk about her theory, my train of thought went something like this: “Hmm, that sounds really interesting. No, wait. That’s a logical fallacy. When she stops talking, I’m going to point that out to her and give her this piece of evidence that refutes her theory. She’s trying to be logical but her logic is flawed. This study she just mentioned probably didn’t even have a control group.” And then I responded by telling her these things, but not quite as bluntly.

Why do I do that? Why couldn’t I just be supportive while she was telling me about an idea she was excited about instead of shooting it down? It’s not like it really mattered to me whether her theory was correct or not. Why couldn’t I have been thinking, “Hmm, that sounds really interesting. It’s fun to talk about abstract ideas like this. This theory seems to be important to her, so I should ask her some questions to find out why. If she’s interested in this topic, I think she’ll also be interested in learning about X.”

There are two tracks of thought that follow from conversation. My brain drives the train of logic and reason, and I can’t jump off and find my way to the train of friendship and empathy. Even if I could, I wouldn’t know what to say. Especially when I’m with more than one other person, it’s so hard for me to speak up that pointing out when someone else is being illogical is often the only time I feel really confident jumping into a conversation. I wish I could think—and more importantly, converse—in friend mode instead of fallacy-finding mode all the time.

On the other hand, I hate the idea that I need to change my personality in order to be liked. I’m a Thinker, not a Feeler. That’s my personality type and there’s nothing wrong with it. And while I think I do need to learn to be a better Feeler, I also think Feelers should strive to be more logical thinkers. Otherwise it further reinforces the notion that some personality types are objectively “better” than others, which is not true. I’m completely normal for an INTP, and I shouldn’t have to bend my personality to others anymore than they bend their personality to me.

But on the other hand, it’s also completely normal for an INTP to have no friends.

Is there a way to be more likable while still being true to my personality? Are there better ways to harness INTP-ness for friendship that I’m not seeing?

Looking for friends

Making local friends has been one of my goals for the past few months, and I’ve been working really hard at it. I have not been very successful. It’s said that making new friends is hard for all moms, and all people over 30, but making friends as an INTP mom is impossible. It’s even harder than dating as an INTP. It doesn’t help that I’ve lived in 3 different states in the past two and a half years, and I never stay in one place long enough to develop lasting friendships. But I think the main problem is that I’m an INTP mom.

Making friends as an INTP is hard enough. I’m bad at initiating conversation, I tend to say things that alienate people, I hate small talk, and I’m not interested in things that most other people are interested in. Throw in the fact that I have a couple of small children, and that alienates the only people who I wouldn’t otherwise alienate by being me.

I’m also pretty picky about who I want to be friends with. There are some times in my life when I’m open to meeting all kinds of people regardless of their personality type, interests, or whether we had anything in common. In college I didn’t really try to make friends, it just happened with whomever happened to be in the same places I was. In my twenties I lived in such small towns that I couldn’t be picky at all, and pretty much had to be friends with everyone else in town, even if I didn’t want to. It worked out, and those friendships had their merits. But at this point in my life, I’m so low on energy and free time that I’m really not willing to spend time with people who I don’t like a lot.

The qualifying criteria for being my friend are someone who:

  1. either likes kids and tolerates my kids’ presence, or is accommodating of the fact that my availability is severely limited by them
  2. does not want to talk about kids or parenting
  3. is a Myers-Briggs iNtuitive
  4. enjoys some of the same types of activities/discussion topics as I do
  5. wants and has time for a new friend
  6. is not an anti-vaxxer or climate change denier

It has been impossible to find people who possess all of the above qualities. #2-4 are very difficult to find in conjunction, even without the other criteria. #1 is usually found only in other moms, and is almost always exclusive of #2 through 4. #5 is probably the most difficult to find because most people I’ve met either already have enough friends and don’t have the time to commit to a new one, or, as in the case of most adult INTPs I’ve known, don’t actually want to make friends and spend time with them. And #6 is surprisingly hard to find among moms. There are not many topics that really matter to me whether someone agrees with me on; I don’t care if someone has different views on religion, politics, breastfeeding, whatever. But I really can’t be friends with anyone who’s completely impervious to science and common sense.

I’ve tried everything. I created a Meetup group for people who would meet the above criteria. I joined regular moms’ groups and attended playdates, hoping to beat the odds and meet someone interesting. I joined non-mom groups that I found interesting, only to find that none of the meetings are scheduled for times that I can attend without children. I even re-joined Facebook, against strong personal convictions, for the sole purpose of joining more local moms’ groups. My last-ditch effort was the Craigslist personals, which sounded crazy at first, then seemed very promising, but turned out to be filled with the same types of people (Sensors) you can find anywhere else.

How do you make friends? Is my quest hopeless?

The New Year effect

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Making changes in your life because it’s January 1st seems arbitrary and forced, which may be why it usually doesn’t work. I don’t set goals or make decisions according to the calendar. But this month I’ve noticed a spillover effect from people who do, and I’ve realized that maybe the en masse resolution-making that happens in January is a good thing, because it can give a boost to the un-resolute.

I go through many periods of personal reflection when I make what you might call resolutions; they just never happen to be on January 1. My last such renaissance was in the fall, and I did some soul-searching and a little goal-setting. However, many of my goals did not have much success until this month, when being on the periphery of the resolution-making world has given them greater momentum.

Here are a few of my goals that have seen a resurgence thanks to the New Year effect:

  • In the fall I set out to make my Meetup group more active. I put more events on the calendar, found better meeting locations and tried to get more participation from members. It didn’t work. But now it’s January, when a lot of people join Meetup groups because they’ve resolved to become more socially active. So I’ve gotten several new members and increased interest in events this month.
  • I started doing yoga a few months ago. I really like it, but I wasn’t motivated to practice consistently. This month I’ve been doing yoga every day with Yoga Revolution, a 31-day program that only exists because it’s January and it’s the time of year when the most people start doing yoga. Somehow, having a current program to follow and knowing that a lot of other people are doing the same thing makes it easier to stick with every day.
  • In October I decided to get serious about making friends because since I moved to Arizona, I haven’t had anyone to talk to or spend time with besides my husband. I tried a few different things, but the problem is that Fall, the end of the calendar year, is the worst time to make new friends. Everyone is busy, many workplaces are heading into a busy season, and people are gearing up for the holidays and focusing on their own families. But come January, after the busyness has settled down and everyone has spent the holidays visiting relatives and old acquaintances they don’t actually like, a lot of people resolve to make new friends. I’ve met a lot of new potential friends recently.

I still think that New Year’s resolutions are dumb, but I’m glad that other people make them so I can benefit.

Ask for Dr. Nguyen

I’ve seen a lot of doctors in the past year, and I’ve noticed a pattern whenever I make an appointment at a new medical practice. If the practice has multiple doctors, they ask if I have a preference for who I want to see, and I usually say no preference and ask for the first available appointment. The first available appointment is always with the doctor who has the most difficult-to-pronounce name.

Among high-demand specialists, even within the same practice, there can be a huge difference in how long you have to wait to get an appointment as a new patient. I’ve called practices where the soonest available appointment with Dr. Richards is in a month and a half, while Dr. Nguyen is available next week.

It makes sense that when most patients call to make an appointment with a new doctor, they request one with a name they can pronounce, even if they know nothing about any of the doctors in the practice. If they were referred to a specific doctor, people are more likely to recommend a doctor whose name they can easily pronounce. There’s probably a positive feedback cycle that develops: if someone picks a name at random, they are more likely to choose one they can pronounce, and if they have a good experience with that doctor, they are more likely to write good Yelp reviews and recommend her to others. New patients who request an appointment with Dr. Jones may even think that the harder it is to get an appointment with him, the better he must be.

All this has been to my advantage. I don’t put much stock in Yelp reviews or patient recommendations when choosing a doctor, so I always find the soonest available one. And I’ve almost always had excellent experiences with them. In fact, my experiences with doctors with difficult-to-pronounce names have been a lot better than my experiences with doctors overall.

Maybe it’s because the doctors I’ve seen are more likely to be Asian women, who I usually feel more comfortable with– but not always. (I think name pronounceability is a better predictor of my experience with a doctor than race or gender.) Or maybe people with more interesting names have quirkier personalities that I have a better time communicating with. Or it might be that doctors with difficult-to-pronounce names are better because they’ve had to work harder to compensate for their name handicap. Or maybe I just like them because I also have a hard-to-pronounce last name.

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker

2016 was the worst year of my adult life. It started with moving to a new state while I was still recovering from the birth of my second child. Two days after we arrived in Arizona, my newborn baby got very sick and spent a week in the hospital. Then I suffered through several difficult illnesses of my own, the last of which included a two-month wait to have a tumor biopsied. The bad things kept coming and the year kept going.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is one of the things people say to try to make sense of hardship when they really don’t know how to respond. I’m not sure what it’s actually supposed to mean. Maybe it means that hard times make you realize that you’re stronger than you thought, or that after going through hard times, you develop the skills to survive more hard times in the future. Neither has been true for me.

I’ve gone through plenty of hard times throughout my life, and I feel that each difficult thing I go through makes me weaker, not stronger. It makes me realize that I am not as strong as I thought I was, and it makes me even less tolerant of going through more hard times in the future. 

Many people say they are actually glad to have experienced difficulties because it made them stronger. But that is usually only said in hindsight, after a trial is over and only if they’ve gained something more valuable than what they lost. They may have lost security but gained insight, lost health but gained love and support from others, or lost temporary happiness but gained new knowledge and skills. In my experience though, there may be things gained through suffering, but not nearly enough to make what was lost worth it.

I hoped that once I made it through this crappy year and some of the crappy things that happened, I would have gained some perspective or derived some meaning from it, but I don’t think there is any to be found. I’m sure it would be easier if I believed that everything happens for a reason, but I don’t, and I don’t believe that there is always something to be learned. Sometimes life just sucks.

A mindful take on (non)tradition

Two years ago I blogged about why I don’t do Santa with my kids, and what I wrote still stands. So far there have been no issues; we simply don’t make Santa a part of our Christmas traditions, and AJ hasn’t noticed anything lacking. AJ is in preschool now so she hears a lot about Santa, and she talks about him sometimes. Sometimes I’m not sure whether she really knows that Santa is make-believe or whether she thinks he’s real, but the same could be said about her relationship to many other fictional characters.

Most parents who do Santa with their kids try to reverse-engineer the myth to teach good values and give greater meaning to holiday traditions. They reframe Santa as being symbolic of the spirit of giving, an example of generosity, a lesson on how to have childlike wonder and imagination, etc. Obviously I don’t think any of these explanations really work as a justification. I think they are all afterthoughts to a longstanding tradition that most people follow simply because it is a longstanding tradition.

I read this article, The holiday lies we tell our children, encouraging mindfulness in parents who do Santa. The article encourages parents to keep up the Santa lie for as long as possible in order to keep these reverse-engineered values alive and to test their kids’ ability to figure it out for themselves. For me it further shed light on how ridiculous today’s iteration of the Santa tradition is, and it saddens me to see the level at which some parents undermine their children’s intellect by telling lie after lie to keep the charade going. However, the end of the article has a series of tips for parents on how to be mindful about holiday traditions, and I found them thought-provoking. Below are excerpts from the four tips in the article and my thoughts on how they apply to my family:

  1. Acknowledge your child’s inner experience

What does Santa mean to your child?  You can ask, “When you imagine Santa, what do you feel/think/experience?”  A child needs a sense of mystery, of wonder (actually, we all do).  Learn to sense the world though your child’s imagination.

  1. Be aware of your own inner experience

To me, a mindful parent is one who is aware of what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are doing what they are doing.  A mindful parent is also tracking the impact what they do has on their child.  So in regard to our cultural myths, why are you retelling the myth?  What does Santa, or whatever myths you tell, mean to you?

The two points above made me realize that I have my own reasons for being anti-Santa, and my reasons may not resonate with my children. They have their own inner experience of the way we celebrate holidays that’s different from mine. So it’s important that I not only be mindful of my own reasons for not doing Santa, but also consider it from my children’s perspectives and try to reframe our Santa-free Christmas in ways that are meaningful for them.

Granted, my kids are only 1 and 4, so they have no way of really understanding what holiday traditions mean yet. But I already know a lot about their personalities, and one thing I know is that they are both Feelers. I am a Thinker, and most of my reasons for not doing Santa are Thinking-based. Objective truth is more important to me than personal feelings. Not lying to my kids or undermining their rationality is more important to me than giving them a feely, magical, mysterious experience. But as Feelers, they would probably value the magic, mystery, and camaraderie of being Santa-believers more than the rationality. So I need to give them other holiday traditions that emphasize a feeling of wonder, mystery, and being a part of something bigger than ourselves. And when they’re old enough for me to explain why I didn’t do the Santa rigamarole with them, I will emphasize those reasons that tap into their sense of empathy and justice rather than the reasons having to do with objective truth and skepticism.

  1. Convey your family and community history

What are the traditions and rites that your family or community celebrate?  If they come from some established tradition, then many of the values and norms you pass along are long-standing and steeped in history.

My husband and I don’t really follow any long-standing traditions and norms, and that’s one of the things I love about our family. As skeptics, we carefully consider each value, belief, tradition, and ritual that we adopt and pass on to our children, so there are no family or religious traditions that are not of our own making. However, our values have their own bases, and one of them is that my husband and I are both Rationals (intuitive thinkers, or NTs). We need to be mindful of that because as our children are Feelers, we will need to explain our values to them in ways that they can connect with and find personal meaning in, as well as help them understand who we are.

  1. Define your rites of passage

What are our rites, our transitions?  How do we move from one stage to the next?  A mindful parent is having two conversations at once with a child.  The one related to the thing we’re talking about, and the one related to what that thing actually is spokesperson for.  Our culture is losing many rites of passage, of passage from one stage to the next.  As we are a symbolic species, we relate to allegory, myth, story, narrative, archetypes, character and so on.  Symbolism allows us to relate a learning from one circumstance to another.  It’s how we generalize our learning, and one of the ways we pass down information from one generation to the next.

I don’t think of my children’s growth as being in discrete stages with thresholds through which they pass from one to the next, and I don’t view any aspect of our holiday traditions as being “only for kids” or “only for adults”. In my own experience, rites of passage have never been defined by traditions or ritual but have always been organic, derived from lived experiences as I make my own meaning continuously through life. That said, I understand that many people do derive meaning from traditions and rituals as rites of passage, especially children. That is a topic for another discussion, and something I will have to think a lot more about. Symbolism, narrative, and myth can be helpful ways to define and interpret life experiences, and I want to honor that for my kids in ways that also honor reason.

STEM books for toddlers and preschoolers

stembooks

It’s never too early to start teaching children about science, technology, engineering, and math. These are some of my favorite STEM books for kids ages 2 to 4. I’m sure they would be enjoyed by older kids as well, and in many cases their recommended age range is much older than 4, but AJ is almost four and these are all books she has enjoyed over the past two years. They would all make great holiday gifts for any toddler or preschooler.

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos. A biography of Carl Sagan, focusing on his curiosity as a young boy, and ending with the Voyager missions. AJ got this book for her 3rd birthday and would beg every night, “Can we read Carl?” She really identified with the young Carl. This is just a great children’s book: informative, lyrical, wonderful illustrations, and great at inspiring curiosity and imagination. As I do with all books that I read to AJ, I change the wording at times to make it easier for her to understand, and I elaborate in some places to offer further explanations. This book makes it really easy to do that.

Making a Friend. This book contains very few words, yet it can teach so much. At first glance, it does not appear to be a science book at all. It’s about seasons, a child who builds a snowman that becomes his friend, and what happens when the snowman melts. The theme of the story is “What you love will always be with you.” But! I found this book to be an excellent way to introduce the water cycle, as well as phases of matter and conservation of mass.

Amazing Machines series. Includes five books: “Amazing Airplanes,” “Roaring Rockets,” “Terrific Trains,” “Flashing Fire Engines,” and “Tremendous Tractors.” These books offer a very educational and factual take on popular children’s subjects. They really explain in detail how each machine works, and in rhyming verse that’s fun to read and listen to. I actually learned some things from these books.

Introductory Calculus for Infants. AJ loves this book right now, and I love hearing her say “Mommy, can you read Introductory Calculus?” To her, it’s an alphabet book– it goes through the letters of the alphabet with a math concept for each letter. The overarching story features a character named ‘x’ who is an outcast among the other letters until ‘f’ shows him that together as f(x), they can do anything. I try to explain the math concepts to AJ, and of course it’s not like she is really learning anything about calculus here. But the story does teach a lesson about friendship as well as reinforcing the alphabet, and she is still getting something out of it. At the very least, when she takes a calculus course in about 13 years, it won’t seem so scary because she’ll have fond memories of reading about calculus with her family as a little girl.

Good Night, Galaxy. This is basically a vocabulary book of astronomy terms with very simple explanations thrown in. It uses no more than a sentence to explain each concept, but it does introduce some good terms like pulsars and black holes, which you could then explain further. I like it because it’s short and easy to read when we don’t have time to read a longer book, so it’s great for bedtime. And it’s a board book, so you can leave it in the hands of a baby or toddler without it getting destroyed.

My Body series. This is a set of four books: “My Brain,” “My Bones,” “My Digestive System,” and “My Heart and Lungs.” These are the best books that I could find about the human body that the youngest children could understand. I still had to do a lot of verbal text editing while reading it to AJ when she was 2, but the text is simple and provides examples that were easy for her to grasp. They include activities you can do with your child to teach them more about each body system. Two-year-old AJ used to love saying at mealtimes, “The food goes doooown the esophagus to the stomach, then the small intestine and large intestine!”

Over and Under the Snow. In this book, a girl goes cross-country skiing with her father and learns about the animals that live in the subnivean zone, the “secret kingdom under the snow.” The illustrations show what’s happening both over and under the snow, and make this such a cozy book to read in winter. AJ requests this one a lot. I think it really encourages children to think about the unseen and unknown in nature, and in general to look beyond the surface of things.

My Very First Space Book. This book is freaking adorable. The illustrations are detailed and factual (and include a cameo of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson), the language is easy for children to understand, and it’s at just the right level to introduce children to astronomy and space exploration. It should definitely be every child’s first space book.