Friday, February 29, 2008

My Balance Theory of Relationships

This was something that first occurred to me last summer. I'm curious about whether it rings true for anyone else out there, or if there are any other suggestions for it.

The Theory

The setup for the idea is this: Take two people who are in a relationship and pick a single personality trait or attribute. Each person probably has a specific comfort zone with respect to that trait. That is, they have an equilibrium state (or narrow range of states) outside of which they feel an imbalance and a desire to return to "safety." I'm sure we can all relate to this on an individual level. Now, since we have two unique individuals here, I think it's safe to assume that their comfort zones are different for some set of traits (probably many, depending on how finely you want to slice the notions of traits and significant differences).

In this situation, my theory says that each person will seek the same equilibrium state for the relationship as a whole as they would desire for themselves individually. If one partner creates an imbalance for the other (as may happen naturally if their comfort zones are different) then the other partner will try to counter that imbalance by behaving in the opposite direction, even to the extent of leaving their own comfort zone in that direction. The drive is for the relationship average to be at the desired level, though the complication is that each person may have a different goal.

For a specific example, let's assume one person (A) is an introvert and their partner (B) is an extrovert. If A feels like they're going to too many parties, then s/he may start lobbying for more time at home, or even start deliberately avoiding social events that s/he might otherwise have enjoyed. B might in turn react to this reaction, and be more insistent about going out on principle, rather than for any such intense desire. You can construct many other similar examples, such as one partner becoming more and more effusive in displays of emotion because they feel their partner is distant or unemotional. (And that partner then withdrawing further if it makes them uncomfortable.)

If you want to see this more formulaically, let's take our two people A and B, call the trait T, and the respective comfort points for this trait Z(A,T) and Z(B,T). Then the theory is basically a function that says:
if Z(A,T) < Z(B,T)
then Z(B,T) += Z(B,T) - Z(A,T)
and vice versa

The Caveats

This is, of course, only a rough approximation. Clearly it couldn't strictly be true, because the positive feedback loop it creates would turn each person into a raving maniac at opposite ends of any given spectrum within minutes. So I'd give it at least the following caveats (there may be more):
  1. This applies mainly to traits or issues of relative significance to the relationship. (E.g. your favorite color doesn't count.)
  2. Each person probably has a limit to how far out of their comfort zone they're willing/able to go, even voluntarily.
  3. Some people may be more susceptible or sensitive to this than others.
  4. This probably applies differently at different stages of a relationship. (E.g. not so much in the beginning, when you're all love-crazy.)
The Application

But it's the general concept that's most important here, and the potential application of it. The problem with these attempts to maintain balance is that a mathematically balanced relationship is still very unstable if one or both of the individual partners are working at their limits. However, if you're aware of this potential motivation behind your (and your partner's) behavior, then you can take steps to balance things in a more healthy way.

So how do we do that? Unfortunately, I haven't had much direct experience in this part of the theory yet. My instinctual advice would be to start with that all-purpose relationship tool, communication. If you notice this happening, say so. Explain where your comfort zone is, and describe the things that make you uncomfortable and why (being respectful, of course, of the other person's valid choices and preferences). Maybe you'll be able to find the overlap in your zones and then consciously start spending more time there, but maybe it will be more complicated than that. The greater the differences, the more compromises will need to be made.

The Ideal Balance

This last bit may come as a surprise because I do not believe that the ideal balance has two partners lining up conveniently in every way. Rather, I think this theory illuminates something I've wondered about for a long time. That is the tension between two theories of attraction: the "birds of a feather" model vs. "opposites attract." I've observed both of these effects within the same relationship, without fully understanding how they can both contribute to making things work. Now I think I have a better idea.

The "birds of a feather" traits, I believe, should be the ones that correspond to strengths for both people. If you feel that you are already at the best possible state with respect to one trait, then a good match for you will be there as well. You don't want someone who will be pulling you off track. For instance, someone who is very good at expressing love and caring for people would do better with another similar spirit than with an insensitive brute (to take an extreme example).

The "opposites attract" factor will best come into play with those traits that you feel need some work. (I'm assuming here that you have the desire for self-improvement here, and aren't just apathetic about it.) In this case, an "opposite" partner can help pull you in the direction you need/want to go. For instance, the introverts can get more good social interaction by tagging along with their extrovert partners, who can then in turn perhaps learn something about introspection and self-reflection. Of course, in these cases you have to be very careful. If a growth opportunity for one person is a frustrating drag on the other, then there's still going to be difficulty. And even if there is an ideal midpoint for both people, it may take some compromising to get there.

So I might sum this up as: Reinforce your strengths and balance out your weaknesses. Sounds kinda obvious once you get past all the verbose explanation of it, but it can be harder to see when you're actually in the midst of figuring out a relationship. What do you think?

Monday, February 25, 2008

The First Few Days

I've been unemployed for four full days now, and to be honest, it's really just a lot like a long weekend so far. After a few more days perhaps it'll settle in that I'm not going back. I'm letting myself start out taking it pretty easy for a bit, not pushing to do all the many many things on my list right away. But soon enough I fully expect to be scheduling up my fun time as much as I ever did my work time. You can decide for yourself whether that sounds like a blessing or a curse. :-)

On Saturday I went to Santa Cruz for the first time in ages and had a nice visit with Jim. I came out of that with a few new CDs and a loaner accordion. (I know, I know -- the last think I need is more musical aspirations. But how can I resist?) Then I played a gig with him and George. It was pretty low-key -- just background music for an 85th birthday party. I love playing with both of those guys, and it was all Irish tunes, so it was the ideal easy gig for me. It's a pity we didn't know The Galway Shawl, though. We knew it neither at the beginning of the gig, nor at the end, nor at any of the various points in the middle that the birthday boy asked us about it. Oh well. Driving home in the storm was pretty crazy (there were several points at which I wished I had a submersible car) but I made it okay.

Other than that I've also had fun at Faster Polka (with a Kerry Sets lesson), a music party (chaotic but enthusiastic), and shape note singing. Between more upcoming music and dance things, volunteer work, and family visits, I should be keeping fairly busy and also fairly social. That latter point is important, since it was a potential worry about leaving a workplace where I always have people around. I can keep myself perfectly well occupied on my own, but it's nice to know I can easily find friends and fun when I need to get myself out of the apartment.

And I just this morning acquired a new project when Rowyn invited me to join her new blog of Social Dance Music. It's just beginning now, but should develop into something fun. Check it out, subscribe to it, leave comments, and let me know if you have good music to suggest.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm Feeling Unemployed

Sorry, couldn't resist that title. But yes, today was my last day at Google. My reasons for leaving are all still as valid as ever, but that doesn't mean it wasn't difficult to do. This is a very large part of my life I'm leaving behind, and I'll definitely miss it. I'm grateful and proud to have spent the last four and a half years working on products I love and believe in, with great coworkers and friends, within a large community of really brilliant people. Specific thanks and props go to:
  • Kimmy - My Google/Blogger sister.
  • Eric - For being my original support guru and role model.
  • Steve and Tine - The rest of my original Blogger family.
  • Anna - For fun with diametrically opposed personalities.
  • Wen-Ai and Sophia - For the best cube-mate memories.
  • Rowyn - For being the kind of friend I most need.
  • The entire Blogger and Reader teams - Who let me be part of the awesome stuff they create.
Thanks also to everyone for the nice notes and cards and emails (public and otherwise) that I received today. Goodbyes were tough, and the first thing I did when I got home was to just sit down and cry for a bit, just to vent out all the emotion that's been building up throughout the day. It's still hitting me in little waves periodically. But it's more change crying than sadness crying. It's been good, and I'll keep in touch with folks, and more wonderful things will happen in the future, both for Google and for me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What's the Right Thing to Do With CDs?

I love having all my music in digital form. In the interests of encouraging it, I always start by checking and Amazon MP3 first whenever I want to buy something. Aside from the instant gratification and better prices, I really appreciate not having to deal with the actual CDs. Heck, just unwrapping those things is a pain, and then once I've ripped them onto my computer, I've got them just sitting around taking up space even though I never intend to use them again. But sometimes, a CD is all that's available, so I'm stuck with it.

I have a lot of my original CD collection stored in several CD binders, which sit fairly unobtrusively in a closet these days. So they at least take up less space if not none. But they're full, and I've acquired a lot of new CDs recently that are stacking up because I don't really know what to do with them. I'm disinclined to buy more binders and transfer the CDs to them, because I don't want to go to that extra work for stuff that I don't even want to keep around in the first place. I don't want to just throw away the CDs because it feels so painfully wasteful. I can't sell or even give them away, because I'm keeping a copy on my computer, and that puts you back in the illegal file sharing situation: two copies are being used where only one was paid for.

So here I am, trying to be good and support artists I like by not downloading illegal music. But I'm paying a penalty for it by adding clutter to my life. What's the right thing to do here? Anybody have any ideas? (Building a CD stack lamp is kind of cool, but probably not something I'd realistically do.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Quirkyalone Thoughts

Today is International Quirkyalone Day, according to Sasha Cagen, who created the word "quirkyalone" and formalized the concept in her book: Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics. IQD is specifically not anti-Valentine's Day, but "just happens" to fall on the same day. Since I do happen to be single and quirkyalone on this particular V-day, it gets a post. Here's the basic definition from the beginning of the book:
quirk•y•a•lone n. a person who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than date for the sake of being in a couple. With unique traits and an optimistic spirit; a sensibility that transcends relationship status. Also adj. Of, relating to, or embodying quirkyalones.

The book fleshes it all out in much more detail, and I find, naturally, that there are some parts I identify with more or less than other parts. In the aggregate, though, it's a model I can relate to fairly strongly. The part that makes us "uncompromising romantics" is the part about not dating for dating's sake. We're picky, and we believe that there are truly incredible relationships out there, and thus we have little patience for anything lacking that magic. I was lucky in my last relationship to have a partner that understood this. We both realized that while the relationship could continue, it didn't need to, and so it made more sense (all things considered) to refactor ourselves back into friends.

As the definition clarifies, the "alone" part of "quirkyalone" doesn't imply that one is always alone or single, but merely that they can be alone without a problem. The "quirky" part helps with this. The more interesting and varied your life is, the easier it is to keep yourself entertained. The book also takes the time to distinguish between different forms of being alone, and I particularly liked this quote:
Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.
-Paul Tillich

Quirkyalones do get lonely sometimes, just like everybody else. But we also have a knack for experiencing aloneness as solitude instead. If loneliness is waiting dejectedly for the phone to ring, then solitude is being absorbed in creative endeavors, or being introspective, or otherwise independently directing our own lives without the need for other people. Some people need constant interaction to feel like they're fully living, but some of us have to have enough solitude to let us regenerate on a regular basis.

This independence also makes quirkyalones good at long-distance relationships. Once the spark is lit, our well-developed sense of romance helps keep us attached, but we don't necessarily need the constant physical presence because we keep ourselves so busy. (This isn't to say we don't miss each other or want to eventually be closer together, but c'mon, a little extra anticipation and longing just intensifies things.) I've certainly spent my share of time in this kind of a state, with many people not even realizing I wasn't single. Even in standard-distance relationships, attached quirkyalones (or "quirkytogethers") often have non-standard living arrangements, or other customized systems for maintaining appropriate amounts of independence within a committed, loving relationship. For a while, up until about a year ago, I was looking forward to figuring out how this would work once the distance shrank, but circumstances beyond my control have since closed down that particular life path.

And so, a tricky part of the definition for me these days is the part about "enjoy[ing] being single." While I can function perfectly well as a single person, and I certainly prefer it to various other possible states, I don't know that I'm yet at the point where I'm inherently happy with it. I have happy times -- it's not like I'm going around depressed all the time -- but I don't have an overall sense of rightness about my life, and so it's hard to feel truly happy as a real state of being. This could be simply because I haven't been single long enough to fully heal and realign. But I also feel that there's an essential part of my nature, the Knight of Cups part, that can't be expressed without a deep, romantic relationship. That's a hole that will take a while to fill.

Another issue for me is that I'm not only very good at being alone, but perhaps too good at it. Sasha Cagen's model of the quirkyalone lifestyle is still extremely social, just focused more on friends than couples. I make (close) friends as slowly and infrequently as I make romantic relationships. (See Wildflower Bloom for a good, relevant discussion about making friends.) That can mean that I don't always have a lot to fall back on when a relationship goes kaput, and it's aggravated by the fact that my natural defenses usually lead me to retreat farther into myself.

But I don't want to end on a down note. Embedded in the definition of quirkyalone is the "optimistic spirit" that lets us carry on come hell or high water. And so I will.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Multi-Dimensional Magic

I've recently been watching a series of lectures on DVD (borrowed from Pa) called The Joy of Thinking: The Beauty and Power of Classical Mathematical Ideas. It's pretty well done, and I've been enjoying it. The lectures on the fourth dimension got me thinking, of course, about magic.

Most of what they covered was pretty much what you'd get from reading Flatland, which is worth doing if you haven't already. In particular, think about a two-dimensional world where a two-dimensional being is looking at a square. Maybe the square is his safe, and he thinks his money is securely locked up there. But we, as three-dimensional beings, can simply reach inside the square and remove the money without the two-dimensional being seeing anything. The disappearance of his money would seem magical from his perspective. Similarly, a four-dimensional being could perform analogous feats that seem impossible from our three-dimensional perspective.

Now, something else mentioned in the lecture was that any attribute can technically be called a "dimension" (it's just fun and tricky to try to think about an extra dimension of space). For example, you could call color your fourth dimension, and then use x, y, and z coordinates plus a color to uniquely identify any point in that particular view of the universe. That mention of color reminded me of something I learned way back in one of my only two linguistics classes, and that is how people's perception of color isn't a fixed, physical thing. People from cultures with fewer words for color actually perceive fewer colors than people with more words for them. (This was tested by finding some obscure jungle tribes somewhere, with only three or so color words, and asking them to tell whether certain swatches of colors were the same or different. Many colors or shades that we would perceive as different actually looked the same to them.) I think this is interesting because it's a mental limitation (or enhanced ability if you take it the other way), and therefore something you can learn, as opposed to something physical, like color blindness.

So connecting these two ideas of perception and dimensions, makes me wonder if there are other dimensions we can't perceive now but can learn to. A fourth dimension of space would be a good start, but other unusual attributes would be intriguing as well. Taking it to an extreme, perhaps, what if you could consider "reality" a dimension? Would someone who learns to perceive that dimension be able to see alternate universes?

Of course, simply perceiving a dimension or attribute doesn't necessarily mean you have power to change it. Just because we can perceive colors doesn't mean they change at our will, and just because we might learn to perceive four-dimensional space doesn't mean we could actually do anything in it. On the other hand, we don't have complete control over our standard dimensions either, but we get by alright. We can't change the location of a large building in space, but we can move our own bodies to a reasonable degree, and use them to move smaller objects. And if we have paint at our disposal, we can change the colors of things. So it's probably worth just figuring out what else we can perceive and then working from there.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Meet Iris

Iris Well, after a pretty stressful week (I hate car shopping) I am now the proud owner of a 2001 Ford Focus. It's the ZX3, which is the 2-door hatchback model, like Gloria though a bit larger. I named her Iris for the eye association with "Focus." She's blue, which can be a good eye color, and her interior is gray, which fits more with the color of the word "iris" itself. So I think it'll work. I kind of feel like she might need a last name too, but I haven't thought of one.

She has very low mileage (about 68k) and is in pretty good shape with most of the things that matter. Fairly new tires and brakes, other maintenance up to date, etc. There are some dents and scratches on the side and bumpers, but that concerns me less as it's more just cosmetic. The interior was a bit dirty and dog-hairy, but I took it to a car wash and got it a thorough scrubbing, which took care of that. I'm pretty happy about the sound system, which is all wired up for an iPod -- no more extra cassette adapters or power cords! And with all that, the price came in about $1000 under what AAA gave me, and under what some of the other Focuses I had looked at were running for. Good deal.

Update: I had been lamenting the fact that Iris didn't have a theme song the way Gloria did, but then I realized she actually does. "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls is one of my favorite waltzes (with pivoty zweifacher bits in it, no less). Yay!