Talking to Strangers: San Francisco, CA
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
BY Ruth Tam
What do you do for a living?
I'm a researcher at Stanford.
We're part of the psychology department, but we use MRIs, so it's like psychology and neuroscience, specifically about prosocial decision making.
As someone who studies people for a living, what human trait is most attractive to you?
To be completely honest and really vague, I have to feel a tug. When there's something that shows that they've invested in themselves in a way that is interesting and unique, I want to be around them. Reciprocity is really important to me. But obviously being physically attractive is good too.
What's physically attractive to you?
I've been with all different kinds of people, so I don't really have a type anymore. But most recently, the people I've been with have been mixed race. That's something that is beautiful to me.
I'm curious about your psychology work. Has your research on human behavior changed the way you interact with romantic prospects, or do your own experiences influence your work in the field?
I'd say the latter. I study what I study because of what I'm interested in. I don't think the reverse has come true yet, but it might. I've only just started this project. I was researching emotion regulation before this.
How do you regulate your emotions when it comes to your dating life?
This is actually something I've thought a lot about. In my first few relationships, I lost it completely, at every stage of the relationship. My frame of mind was "the more I'm feeling, the better." And it didn't matter if I was feeling really good or really bad. All of it was good because it was in a relationship. Passion feels good. I would put myself in situations where I'd be so giving of myself, and I'd have a really bad downward spiral. I think I've learned how to find people — this is situation selection — and be much more sensitive. Then when I'm with someone, I'm better at pacing my emotional involvement, and I'm conscious of how much I'm giving to the relationship. If I feel like they're taking and not giving, then I'll find a way to address that or change the relationship.
Now that you've done research in the field and know more about yourself, do you handle breakups differently?
I don't know how many breakups I've actually had. I've only been in two actual relationships. My family lives in Australia but I went to school in New York and now I'm here, and I have this really terrible problem where two weeks before I leave a country, I meet someone amazing. It's never been like, "Okay, we've been together for a long time now — this needs to end."
How do you date someone when there's a set expiration date for the relationship?
You do all sorts of things. You lie to yourself about it, you pretend that it's not going to end. Or you focus on the moment and know that it'll be amazing for what it is. I think that pays off, when you can do it right. Obviously, I still miss people a lot when I'm not with them. And you have to understand that everything ends. Even if you start a relationship with no foreseeable end, it's still going to end at some point, right? Though I lament the fact that I've never been in a long-term relationship, I'm so grateful for the relationships I have had. Everyone I've been with has been so wonderful, and I have all those memories. With the ones I've handled well, I still keep in touch with them, and it's incredible to have a bond end and have two people respect that ending.
NEXT: "My grandparents know about my life, but they are… not happy."
What do you do for a living?
I'm a professional dog walker!
Has that gotten you dates?
My dog gets me dates.
What kind of dog do you have?
She's a husky-pit mix.
Oh my God, those can be so cute.
What's your approach if you see someone you're attracted to?
I let my dog go. She's pretty naughty and will run up to strangers, especially females. It works, usually.
What are you usually attracted to?
Women! Good-looking women! But I'm a personality junkie.
What personality traits are you drawn to?
People who are confident, quirky, open, and honest. Honesty's a tough one. People say they're honest, and then they're really not. But I just like people who are comfortable with themselves. There are a lot of people out there who don't like who they are, know what I mean?
Definitely. What's your craziest hookup story?
No comment! I have crazy morals, so when I do stuff like that, I feel really bad.
What are "crazy morals?"
I was raised in a really conservative environment, so even though I'm gay, I still act conservative. Even when I do naughty things, I keep it on the down low. I was actually raised by my grandparents, and they know about my life, but they are… not happy.
How do you deal with your family and your sexuality?
Well, some personal stuff happened with my biological mother. I tried to reach my mother's side of the family. I don't know if they moved, but I haven't been able to get a hold of them. I do talk to an uncle who I think is gay.
Do you think you'll be able to talk to them eventually?
Hopefully. It's their choice. I pretty much raised myself.
NEXT: "He was very nice about it…"
Carlos, 38, and Lydia, 42
What do you guys do for a living?
Lydia: I do grants accounting for UCSF, but I'm a musician for fun.
Carlos: I'm an assassin for the federal government.
Why are you telling me your secrets?
Carlos: Because I'm really a software developer.
I knew there was more to you. What's your guys' story?
Lydia: We met online and wrote emails for about a week until we met in person.
What attracted you to each other initially?
Lydia: We had a lot of common stuff on our profiles. We both mentioned The Pixies and bowling. And we both live in the Mission.
Where did you end up meeting?
Carlos: Here in the park. We just hung out and drank some beer and had get-to-know-you kind of banter. Then we got dinner and went to the beach to hang out.
How'd the rest of the night go?
Lydia: Well, on our way to the beach on our first date, we happened to drive by my ex's house, which is in Ocean Beach. And my heart sunk and I realized that I wasn't really ready to date. We were having fun, but I had to email Carlos and say I wasn't in a good space. He was very nice about it.
How did you take it, Carlos?
Carlos: I was disappointed, but I've gotten to a point where I don't want to push anything. It would've been a lot of effort for a lot of heartache. I have a pretty zen approach, where if it's not going to click for both people, I just let it go.
So you're both hanging out as friends?
Carlos: Yeah, there's no reason to forego some sort of meaningful relationship just because it's not the kind that you originally set out for.
Lydia: I was upset because I liked you and I felt a connection.
Carlos: I'm pretty likable.
Lydia: Yeah, for sure! But now we're here with his dog Rudy. We're going to a show later too.
That sounds unnaturally civil. No one's going to try to make a move on the other?
Carlos: Well, I'm going to continue driving by her house every night.
Carlos: Just to see if the lights are on.