Monday, June 02, 2008

Why newspapers HAVE to remain a prominent part of our lives

Put a little science in your life.

Popular physicist Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe, wrote an Op-Ed in the June 1 edition of The New York Times extolling not just the importance of science in education and in people's lives, but more importantly it was an Op-Ed that tried to spark the joy of discovery that lies at the root of inquiry, which is the genesis of science, period. Sadly, it seems that only the Gray Lady would publish something like this.

But I digress, allow him to explain (at least in part) ...

... And when we look at the wealth of opportunities hovering on the horizon — stem cells, genomic sequencing, personalized medicine, longevity research, nanoscience, brain-machine interface, quantum computers, space technology — we realize how crucial it is to cultivate a general public that can engage with scientific issues; there’s simply no other way that as a society we will be prepared to make informed decisions on a range of issues that will shape the future.

These are the standard — and enormously important — reasons many would give in explaining why science matters.

But here’s the thing. The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

As a practicing scientist, I know this from my own work and study. But I also know that you don’t have to be a scientist for science to be transformative. I’ve seen children’s eyes light up as I’ve told them about black holes and the Big Bang. I’ve spoken with high school dropouts who’ve stumbled on popular science books about the human genome project, and then returned to school with newfound purpose. And in that letter from Iraq, the soldier told me how learning about relativity and quantum physics in the dusty and dangerous environs of greater Baghdad kept him going because it revealed a deeper reality of which we’re all a part. ...


The other piece I read that made me fall in love with newspapers again was very different in tone, yet just as interesting. Julia Feldmeier writes in Sunday's Washington Post about "The Friend Zone," the place that has trapped millions of people in human history, the place in which personA in a friendship like-likes personB, but personB views personA as "just a friend."

Because I'm worried that the article will be taken down soon ... I post it here (but if anyone from asks me to take this down, I will immediately).

Just Friends?
Can a Platonic Relationship Turn Passionate? And if It Could, Would You Want It To?

By Julia Feldmeier
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 1, 2008; N01

My best guy friend is sitting across from me as I type this, playing footsie with me under the table. We've been friends for 10 years, since college, and we've grown closer with age. We can talk for hours about things big and small; we can also sit comfortably in silence. He makes me laugh, always, but has sincere words when I need a lift.

It's the perfect relationship. Except, of course, for when we split ways and I go home, try to mentally decode the meaning of footsie and then turn to my roommate or my sister or anyone who'll listen and say, "UGH! WE'RE SO PERFECT TOGETHER, WHY AREN'T WE DATING?!" And other sane things like that.

Pop culture abounds with examples of friends who've navigated (or attempted to navigate) the path to romance. Think "Friends," in which Monica and Chandler get together. And "Little Women," when Laurie longs for childhood pal Jo March. Or, most famously, "When Harry Met Sally . . .," which explores the muddy waters of sexual tension to determine if, in fact, men and women can be friends.

So let's start with that controversial question: Can men and women be friends? I mean, can they really be just friends? Okay, yeah. Yes. And yet:

"All friendships, even same-sex ones, have ambiguous and changing boundaries," says Linda Sapadin, a clinical psychologist and author of "Now I Get It! Totally Sensational Advice for Living and Loving" (Outskirts Press, 2006). "You may think somebody's a best friend, and they just consider you a casual friend. How it's perceived is not always the same."

In other words: Your perspective can shift. Suddenly you see a friend as desirable, but he or she still sees you as only a friend. Which leaves you with two choices, Sapadin says: You can try to change it to a romantic relationship. Or you can learn to live with it so that there's flirtatious banter -- footsie, anyone? -- but nothing else.

It's sexual attraction without acting on it. And the primary reason many of us don't act is fear: the worry that if our friend rebuffs us or the move from platonic to romantic fails, the friendship is irrecoverable.

Such was the outcome for Amy Ewen. She and her co-worker Peter were close friends -- the kind who prompt others to say, "Oh, you guys should be dating." But they never did until just before Peter left to spend a year traveling in Asia, when they enjoyed a whirlwind romance. The day after Peter departed, he sent Ewen a dozen roses.

"I was so happy, but it was really bittersweet because he was leaving," Ewen says. Her expectations were realistic, she says (she wasn't expecting them to stay together long distance), but they split with the assumption that there would be something on the other side: a continuation of their friendship.

Ewen, inspired by Peter, left her job to travel, too. When she returned after five months in New Zealand, where she'd met someone else, Peter was back as well, and she wanted to reconnect with him as a friend. He never returned her phone calls.

When she finally ran into him one evening in Adams Morgan, he was standoffish. He shook her hand as though they were business acquaintances and then blurted out that he wasn't in love with her.

"I was remembering how things were when we were good friends," Ewen says. "He thought I was thinking about being his girlfriend. It's sort of a shame, because we got along so well."

It is a shame, right? That things can't just go back to the way they were. But there's a comfort to friendship that often gets destroyed when romantic feelings are raised, an awkwardness that accompanies the transition into, and out of, these feelings.

"It feels very uncomfortable when somebody likes you more than you like them," says Ellen Sue Stern, a relationship expert and author of numerous advice books. Hence, she says, making the transition is "always a risk. You should be really sure you want to take that risk before you make that move."

* * *

Another quirk of dating a friend is that you know them well -- the opposite of romances in fairy tales. This prince, he's not a stranger. As for Cinderella? Forget the glass slipper. You've watched her clip her toenails.

Kathy Werking, author of "We're Just Good Friends: Women and Men in Nonromantic Relationships" (Guilford Press, 1997), interviewed dozens of opposite-sex friends when researching her book. Many reported that, when looking for a romantic partner, they sought someone with an air of mystery.

"There's a lot of fantasy involved when we meet someone," Werking says. "We create a fantasy about what our lives will be together and what this person is all about. It's not as exciting to be around a person who knows you thoroughly."

When you're single and meet someone new, you size them up to determine whether they're datable.

"At a certain point in life, you already have your friends," says Greg Behrendt, author of "He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys" (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2004). "So you're not looking for friends. You're generally looking for something more serious."

Call it a superficial calculation, but it's nonetheless deliberate. Friend romance, by contrast, seems almost Freudian.

Take Lynne and Kwame DeRoché, for instance. The Herndon couple, who celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary in April, say that when they met, they never considered each other as anything but a buddy. An office confidante.

Then came the slip. They were talking on the phone one weekend, planning to meet up that evening, when Lynne concluded the call by saying, "Okay, love ya. Bye."

Love ya?

Kwame didn't skip a beat. "Love you, too. Bye."

Neither acted on those words until a happy hour three months later when, fueled by booze and perhaps pent-up emotion, Lynne kissed him. That act wasn't so much a matter of crossing the boundary between friendship and romance; it was more a matter of erasing it.

"Everything that had happened before that was us dating," Kwame says. "We'd basically been dating for six months and didn't know it."

* * *

Alcohol, of course, can be a powerful agent when it comes to guiding friendships into sexual encounters. But unless both parties are ready to make the mental switch, the romance ends with the hangover.

Falls Church residents Melissa and Rob Floyd were friends for three years in the most platonic sense. She used his washer and dryer; he cooked for her; she cut his hair. He had a girlfriend, and she thought of him as nothing more than a good friend.

By 1998, both were single. Melissa was living abroad but returned home to celebrate New Year's Eve, and arranged for herself and Rob to stay overnight at the party house. Cut to the scene with Melissa standing at the top of the stairs, open bottle of champagne in hand, saying, "Well, we can't let this go to waste," before turning to head toward the bedroom, with Rob following. (Such is his memory of the event, at least.)

This is the Hollywood part where we edit in fireworks and mood music. And yet, nothing.

Turns out, when it comes to friendship-turned-romance, timing and context are key.

"Generally, sparks happen when they're supposed to," Behrendt says. "Can you come back and meet somebody and they're in a different place? Sure. But now you've met a different person."

For Melissa and Rob, the timing wasn't right until a few months later. She was still living abroad and he often traveled overseas for work, so they decided to meet in Turkey for a vacation.

There, driving down hairpin roads rimmed with goats and donkeys, "we were essentially completely alone, completely relaxed," Rob says. "It environmentally allowed us to realize and think about what we meant to each other and what a life together could be."

"I like to think I grew up in that heartbeat," Melissa says of that trip. "He was a really good friend and someone who probably knew me better than almost anyone at that time. I think I just realized that's what I wanted: I wanted that person who knew me so well and loved me because of that."

"Plus," she says, "he's cute."

* * *

The right timing often is paired with the maturity to understand the difference between what makes friends compatible and what makes romantic partners compatible. When Melissa and Rob reconvened after Turkey, each came armed with a list of things to discuss, both small (her cat, his goatee) and big (did they want kids, and where would they live?).

These kinds of talks, so pragmatic and seemingly unromantic, are imperative to saving a relationship.

"The friend definition is very different from how we define our romantic relationships," Werking says. "We have different expectations. Flaws that are okay in a friendship may not be okay in a romantic relationship."

But if the flaws are benign and the spark is there, well, that's a great place to be. After all, Stern says, "the healthiest relationships are those that are maximum safety and maximum passion." Friendship: safety. Romance: passion.

Which brings me back to my footsie friend. Passion -- as much as I like to think it's there, hidden in his subconscious -- is missing.

There was a short period after a drunken confession of my feelings when it seemed as though he was thinking about it, this notion of us. He was flirtier, looking at me differently. I looked at him differently, too -- in a way that made me freak out. Was this seriously someone I could see myself being intimate with?

And then things snapped back to normal, back to being really good friends, with me thinking, still, that we'd make the perfect couple. Perhaps that's just the nature of our friendship, the unalterable dynamic between us.

Anyway, he's dating someone now and seems happy, so as his friend, I'm okay with that. Besides, I've got someone new to like. He's a great guy -- and I know that because, alas, we're friends.

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