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."