Your Relationships (By the Numbers)
Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.
I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and their “B” lists of friends. (The “B’s,” I guess, are the people they’d call if no one on the A list was available to come to the party or go out. There’s something vaguely disturbing about someone being on either list.)
Dating apps, of course, present candidates’ appearances as either a “swipe left” or a “swipe right.” Facebook itself came from Facemash, Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt, during his time as a student at Harvard, to develop an attractiveness rating system.
NPR broadcasted a long-form feature on a market researcher who decided to interview his wife about her “customer” satisfaction with him as a spouse and the areas in which he could be getting higher ratings. After all, he reasoned, why not use his well-honed professional tools to improve the “product” of which he was most proud, his relationship with his wife?
Recently, I saw a different way of quantifying our relationships that I thought had more potential for a social good.
The Time You Spend is a Real Number
In these perhaps waning days of Twitter, Sahil Bloom plumbed a U.S. study of “American Time Use” to pull insights from some numbers themselves— the average amount of time Americans spend with those closest to them.
After the age of 20, just how much time do we who are Americans typically spend with our parents and siblings?
With our friends?
Our life partner?
It’s pretty stark when you look at a graph that plots, by age, to whom the hours go.
After they’ve done the backbreaking work of raising us, we may only spend an average of an hour a day with parents and siblings. (I hear my mother’s voice: “It just isn’t fair, Sara.”)
After the age of 18, we spend significantly less time with friends. By the time we’re in our 30s, according to the survey, it’s less than an hour a day.
It appears that, after our 30s, the time we would have spent with friends — and more — seems to go straight to time we spend with our partner, with whom we spend between 3 and 4 waking hours each day—that is, until our retirement years. If we’re still with our partner in our later 60s that amount of time rises precipitously.
Time with children? The time goes fast and then it’s really, really gone.
That leaves co-workers, whom we see about as much as (and sometimes more than) our life partners.
All of which begs the question — and circles us back to those darned “A” and “B” lists — to the degree you have some choice, is the time you’re spending in line with the various people in your life in line with consonant with just how important they are to you?
And, more to the point, are you making decisions about your time with the awareness that time flies, and eventually stops, for all of us?
Bloom’s very qualitative insights that he draws looking at the quantitative data remind us of this. They read less like truisms to ignore once you’ve seen the chart with your own eyes:
“Family time is limited—cherish it.
Friend time is limited—Embrace friendship breadth, but focus on depth.
Partner time is significant—never settle.
Children time is precious—be present.
Coworker time is significant—find [ones who energize you].
Alone time is highest—love yourself.”
Bloom’s analysis of the American Time Use study telescopes time so that we see it from birth to our 80s. This is how we, as a society, live; this is likely how we ourselves live.
Becoming conscious that we will never have more, or even as much, time with the people we care most about, how are we making decisions today?
So, Who’s the Father?
So, Who’s the Father?” isn’t exactly what a person who’s expecting wants to hear. It can feel like an accusation, like an invasion of privacy, or like a completely irrelevant question, depending on one’s method of conception, key relationships, or plan for childrearing. Even in days when there were fewer methods for conceiving a child or for avenues for getting one to adulthood, Emily Post might have advised just to stick with a hearty congratulations.
Ostranenie: A Fantastic Russian Word
Learn to pronounce ostranenie and impress your friends with your accent as well as with this cool word.
And what a concept … to learn to re-see, as if with new eyes, those things our eyes think they know so well, they no longer see them at all.
To find wonder again and again in the way our sister-in-law calls company in for dinner without the least hint of anxiety, exhaustion, or sense of the extraordinary event.
To learn anew about the people we think we know best.
The Creature Comforts Checklist
This is it our “Creature Comforts Checklist.” It’s an odd name, we know.
We called it that, recognizing that grief is a very physical thing and that sometimes what grievers most need (aside from not being asked if they need anything) is not to talk but to be. Just a creature.
When you’re grieving, you miss the physical presence of the person you lost …
Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”
You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather
How Can Something Be Neither Good Nor Bad?
It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy
Becoming the Witness
I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning