Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What sets a slice of pizza apart from others?

There are two options within walking distance in my very small college town when it comes to pizza: New York Pizzeria (known to most people as Slices), and Oliveri's. Slices stays open into the late night, catering to many last-minute crammers and drunk college kids. Oliveri's draws from a slightly different niche: fewer intoxicated consumers, and probably more families or groups of people eating together earlier during the day.

I've eaten an estimated combined total of 100 slices from these two places over my four years at college, which I don't think is a lot. Most of my pizza consumption over the past four years at college has come from Slices after nights out, as well as pizza from either place during brown bags, events, or meetings. Almost all 100 slices consumed were plain cheese slices, since that is Slices' specialty as well as a generic choice for catering.

For a while, I've wondered if I could differentiate between pizza from both places in a blind taste test with a similar format to a that of Buzzfeed video. If you asked me, I would say I prefer Slices, but I think that's solely because of my memorable moments there and my lack thereof at Oliveri's. I don't have a particularly refined palate, and I'm not sure I actually know the difference between the two.


Every time I mentioned this idea, I would get pretty strong reactions, usually along the lines of "they're so different, you're so dumb, why are you even bringing this up".

None of my friends seemed willing to help me administer a blind taste test, so I got new friends I took matters into my own hands. The best way to procrastinate working on my thesis, I decided, was to work on another independent project. I planned a blind taste test for participants to see how many of them would be able to correctly distinguish between pizza from the two places.

Main Objectives of Project
1. See how many people correctly distinguish between Slices and Oliveri's solely by taste.
2. Look for possible statistical relationships between people's consumption of pizza from these two places and their ability to correctly distinguish between Slices/Oliveri's.
3. Look for possible statistical relationships between people's confidence in being able to distinguish pizzas and people's actual ability in distinguishing pizzas
4. Identify patterns in what people think distinguishes pizza from these two places, since I clearly don't know

Hypotheses
1. People's accuracy rate in distinguishing between pizzas is higher than 50%, since that would be the accuracy rate from randomly guessing. If you're told that you ate two different pizzas and you have to guess which one you ate first and which one you ate second, you will either be 100% correct or 100% wrong. The people I've spoken to (which I admit may or may not be a representative sample) seem very assured that the pizzas are clearly different, so I would expect a higher accuracy rate than 50%. I would also imagine that this study already attracts a population that is somewhat interested in pizza, thus increasing the likelihood that people's ability to distinguish between the two is higher than random chance.

2. People who consume pizza from these two places frequently are more likely to correctly distinguish between the two pizzas compared to those who do not consume pizza as frequently.

3. People who are confident that they can distinguish between the two pizzas are more likely to correctly do so, compared to people who are not.

Methods
Before
A day before the study, I put up a Facebook post calling for participants. "Like this status for hype, and love this status if you'd like to participate!" I wrote. Since I was concerned about the low number of "loves", I used my social capital and powers of persuasion to convince some of the people who had initially only "liked" it to also join. In total, I managed to recruit 23 participants, all of whom have consumed pizza from both places before and are not deathly allergic to cheese pizza.

I ordered two large plain cheese pizzas - one from Slices and one from Oliveri's. I do not drive, so I got a friend to drive me downtown to pick up the pizzas, thus maximizing freshness.

The man at Oliveri's gave me strange looks as I stashed all their available plastic forks away into a plastic bag and, upon being told that I would have to wait a few minutes, scurried across the street to pick up my pizza from Slices. He probed into my behavior. After I explained my plan, he gave me a business card and told me to share the results of my study with them. So if you're reading this, hello!

In order to eliminate the possibility of self-confusion between the pizzas, I brought a big bold marker with me - at Slices, I wrote SLICES on the box as soon as I got it, and you get the idea. After I returned to my humble abode/the location of the study, I cut up one pizza entirely into pieces and placed them on one orange plate before opening the other pizza box. I also privately noted down the "correct answers" on my phone before starting (Oliveri's on the orange plate, Slices on the white plate).

I told participants to show up at my house whenever they wanted during a designated two-hour window of time.

During
This study consisted of three parts: the pre-tasting form, the actual blind taste test, and the post-tasting form.

The pre-tasting form had two parts: a consent form with detailed instructions (I don't know why people laugh when I tell them that I actually typed up a consent form - this is serious business), and a brief questionnaire into:
a) how often participants ate pizza from each of the two places
b) which pizza participants preferred, and why
c) whether participants felt that they would be able to distinguish between the two pizzas in a blind taste test, and why

The instructions were fairly straightforward; I explained the setup of my experiment and my intention to apply the honor code in trusting that participants would keep their eyes closed during the taste test. I felt that this was preferable to blindfolding participants because it would be unsanitary to make multiple participants put the upper half of their faces - a place where pimples are bred - on the same piece of cloth.

I was asked several times if my study was a trick and whether I would actually be serving the same pizza twice. I emphasized that this was not the case.

During the taste test, participants had to rely solely on their sense of taste in distinguishing between the two pizzas. I endeavored to minimize any confounding variables by asking them to close their eyes during the experiment. They were given plastic forks, and I gently guided their hands into picking up pieces of pizza from my plates, one at a time, with their forks. This thus took away the possibility that participants could distinguish between pizzas by their appearance, or by the way they felt by touch.

When there were multiple participants at once (peak times for attending my study were during the start of each hour, or half past), I had them sit facing away from each other.

After participants had eaten both pieces of pizza and opened their eyes, I had them fill out the post-tasting form, which covered things like:
d) which pizza did they eat first, and which pizza did they eat second?
e) were they confident about their answer, and why?

Participants had a unique number on their pre- and post-tasting forms (01-23), and this was done with the hopes of getting more insights into individual data points.

After
At the end of the second hour, my thesis was untouched, all the pizza had been eaten, and I decided I didn't want to see, touch, or eat a slice of pizza in the next month. I washed the plates, put everything away, and - with great excitement - entered all the answers from the pre- and post-tasting forms into a spreadsheet. I ate pizza two days later. 

Disclaimer
23 data points is insufficient for making conclusions, this is at best a pseudo-study, etc. Also completely self-funded and not sponsored by either pizza place/any academic departments at my college.

Results
Hypothesis #1: People's accuracy rate in distinguishing between pizzas is higher than 50%.

14 people were correct
9 people were incorrect

At an accuracy rate of 61%, I am not convinced that my participants did significantly better than randomly guessing. According to this online calculator, a 61% accuracy rate among 23 people is not statistically significantly higher than a 50% accuracy rate.

There were no "strange" responses - none of the 23 participants wrote that they ate two of the same pizza.

Hypothesis #2: People who consume pizza from these two places frequently are more likely to correctly distinguish between the two pizzas.

On the pre-tasting form, people's options for describing how often they ate pizza from each place were:
a) Never/rarely
b) Fewer than once a week
c) Once a week
d) 2-3 times a week
e) More than 3 times a week

In order to quantify these answers, I assigned the following numerical values to these answers:
a) 0
b) 0.5
c) 1
d) 2.5
e) 3.5

The people who correctly distinguished between the two pizzas ate pizza from Slices an average of 0.57 times a week, and pizza from Oliveri's an average of 0.46 times a week.

The people who did not correctly distinguish between the two pizzas ate pizza from Slices an average of 0.55 times a week, and pizza from Oliveri's an average of 0.5 times a week.

Again, there does not appear to be a clear relationship between the frequency of pizza consumption and the ability to correctly distinguish between pizzas.

I will also add that people's frequency of pizza consumption surprised me a little; I assumed the average person consumed it more frequently than the answers suggested. But perhaps my 23 participants do not accurately reflect the average student at my college? None of the 23 participants eat pizza from either place more than 3 times a week, and only one person chose the "2-3 times a week" option at all.

Hypothesis #3: People who are confident that they can correctly distinguish between the two pizzas are more likely to correctly do so.

This seems intuitive, right? Participants' confidence was measured in a yes/no answer, and participants had to state their confidence both before and after the blind taste test. Given that the yes/no answer is binary, I assigned a 1/0 value to these responses.

Because of the unique number that was assigned to each participant, I had insights into each individual's set of responses. There are four possible outcomes when it comes to confidence in my survey:
A) confident before tasting, confident after tasting
B) not confident before tasting, confident after tasting
C) confident before tasting, not confident after tasting
D) not confident before tasting, not confident after tasting












Among the people who got it right, 71% (10/14) of them were confident before tasting and 79% (11/14) of them were confident after tasting. It is interesting to note that the increase between the pre- and post-confidence levels was not just a result of one person becoming confident after tasting: instead, this increase is because four people were in category B, and three people were in category C.












Among the people who got it wrong, 56% (5/9) of them were confident before tasting and - interestingly enough - 89% (8/9) of them were confident about their answers after tasting. The one person in this group who was not confident after tasting was the only person out of all 23 participants who was in category D.












Additional observation
A total of 11 people said they prefer Slices, 5 prefer Oliveri's, and 7 have no preference. All 5 people who said they prefer Oliveri's correctly distinguished between the two pizzas. Coincidence? Or are Oliveri's fans just more skilled at this?












So, what sets a slice of pizza apart from others?
The participants were asked, both before and after tasting, to - if they were confident - explain the distinguishing factors between the two pizzas.

The funny thing is that the content of answers provided by the people who got it right were very similar to the answers from people who got it wrong: people pointed out contradictory differences in the dough, the cheese, and the sauce.

Here are some amusing direct quotes from the people who got it wrong:
1. (From somebody who said they preferred Slices): "The first pizza tasted better - it must be Slices"
2. "The cheese flavor of the first piece was more distinct and memorable, reminds me of nights out"
3. "Turns out I do know what Slices tastes like"
4. "You can just tell from the texture"
5. "The textures are different, the tastes are different"
6. "As a New Yorker, I'm a pizza expert. The sauce on the first pizza is sweeter, and the crust is crispier instead of chewy"

Key takeaways from this study
1. I need a new hobby
2. People are not really that good at distinguishing between the two pizzas
3. There appears to be no solid relationship between frequency of pizza consumption and ability to distinguish between the two pizzas
4. There appears to be no solid relationship between confidence and ability to distinguish between the two pizzas
5. There are (probably) many people on this campus who have a preference for one pizza over another, but this preference is (unknowingly) rooted in other factors, including atmosphere and personal memories associated with each place
6. This study would be a lot cooler/sadder (depending on who you ask) if there were hundreds or thousands of participants

Acknowledgements
This study was made possible by the participation of 23 students, the patience of my housemates, $26, and a shitty thesis.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The best way to sleep in Economy Class.

The lights dimmed shortly after our trays were collected, and it was time to get my game on. I took note of the silhouette next to me and inched my body closer.

This is not erotic fiction.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to attend college in another country. School is really far away from home; even with minimal time spent waiting, the most efficient route takes me about twenty-eight hours from door to door. The breakdown is listed as follows:
  • The direct flight between Hong Kong and New York takes about fifteen and a half hours, which (as of writing) is one of the longest commercially available flights
  • The car ride between New York City and my college takes about four or five hours
  • The rest of the time is spent checking in, going through immigration, waiting in line on both ends, traveling between home and the airport, etc.
I have also been really blessed with the privilege of being able to go home twice a year: once during the summer and once during the winter. As of now, I have done this direct flight 15 times.

With those blessings in mind, the sheer length of the journey can really be a drag in the moment. Of course, the single biggest part of this journey is the flight, and the single biggest relevant reality is that I, like many other college students, fly Economy Class. For most Economy Class individuals, this imposes some limits on the maximum degree of comfort one can achieve.

Here's one way to think about it: visualize one square for every hour of the flight. For example:















Of course, the airline has its own plans, too, so we need to add some details:

















(Note: these details are based on CX 845, a flight that leaves from JFK a little after midnight in New York and arrives Hong Kong at around 5am a day later, Hong Kong time. I have now done this specific flight 7 times, so I feel very qualified to sound like I know what I'm talking about.)

There are a few assumptions that will be held throughout this post:
  • That one is seated in Economy Class (worth restating)
  • That all meals are eaten
  • That sleeping is desirable in an attempt to minimize jetlag and exhaustion after landing
  • That sleeping is preferable to most other activities, including watching TV, feebly attempting to do work on a laptop while the person in front has aggressively reclined their seat, and twiddling thumbs
  • That Cathay Pacific's instant noodles are low-key some of the best I've ever eaten
With these assumptions in mind, this is what I want my flights to be like:




















As you can see, this mostly entails sleeping, with the exception of being briefly awake to pee, moisturize, stretch, hydrate, and enjoy those instant noodles.

Life isn't always ideal, so this is what usually happens:
























The biggest explanatory factor for the gap between the aforementioned ideal situation and reality is (as you might expect) that for many people, it's difficult to fall asleep in an Economy Class seat. The distance between the two armrests of a Cathay Pacific Economy Class seat is about 18 inches, and the distance between two rows of seats - in other words, legroom - is about 32 inches. (This is my source, and I love that somebody compiled an extensive database that allows you to sort through various airlines and their seat dimensions.)

My simple mind, addled by years in the social sciences and humanities, has spent a lot of time visualizing what this means. Over the past four years, I've devised a Grand Big Idea to maximize sleep on long-haul flights.

Imagine a 32 x 18 x L cuboid, with L being a theoretically flexible number, because it doesn't matter as much how tall you are as long as you are within a pretty wide range.
























Of course, it's not that simple because 1) there's the damn seat, which is a fixed variable, and 2) there is the general assumption that whatever you do, it will involve some variation of sitting. With these two facts, the way your body is situated vertically (these dimensions are in the context of looking down at your own lap) is pretty much decided for you. You have to sit. Your butt has to be on the seat. You have to face forwards. (If these two assumptions are invalid for you, then good for you. Get off this page.) Also, this doesn't take the ability to recline one's seat into consideration: as of now, Cathay Pacific's Economy Class seats allow for 6 inches of recline.

So, assuming that you've pretty much accepted the level of discomfort that comes from being unable to stretch your legs out like you would in bed, the real question is how you make the most of the way your body is situated horizontally.





















Here are some more assumptions (I know this is incredibly illegitimate and I'm fighting to keep you here) that should be made for my Grand Big Idea to be valid:

  • That the angle at which your upper body rests with respect to the seat is preferably as low as possible (in the same way that somebody sleeping in bed would be resting at 0° in respect to their bed, and in the same way that somebody sitting perfectly upright would be situated at 90° in respect to their seat) 
  • That you are conceptually indifferent between the idea of leaning straight backwards and leaning to either of your sides
  • That you are within 2 standard devisions of the mean height of the adult population
  • That you are slightly immoral
Over the past few years, I've observed a lot of people reclining their plane seats, leaning back, and:

1) Failing to properly fall asleep: a lot of these people will fidget and/or give up
2) Falling asleep, but waking up after jerking forwards violently (this is the worst feeling ever)

In addition to the comfort that comes from a lower angle at which your upper body rests in respect to where you are, I believe that a lower angle, in combination with a soft surface to rest your head on, minimizes the probability of #1 and/or #2 happening.

I have forgotten almost everything I learned about trigonometry, but I think the concept of angles can be used to explain why one feels more comfortable than the other:




























In this diagram, the person is illustrated by the purple rectangles and the seat is illustrated by the white shapes. The diagram on the left is a front-view diagram illustrating a person leaning to their right/the reader's left at angle a from the seat, while the diagram on the right is a side-view diagram illustrating a person leaning backwards at angle b from the seat. I have very generously provided the approximate location of the person's nose as a point of reference, if you are confused.

Again, I don't know all that much about high-level and/or basic trigonometry, but it seems intuitive that the further you lean, the smaller the angle in respect to the seat. As demonstrated in the above diagram, angle a is smaller than angle b. This is because:



























Picture a right-angled triangle (a triangle where there is a 90° angle) where the three sides are i) your seat, ii) your upper body, and iii) the imaginary vertical distance between your head and the seat.

Given that angle between iii) the imaginary vertical distance between your head and the seat and i) the seat itself is always going to be 90° if there is any leaning whatsoever involved, the upper body of the individual sitting serves as the hypotenuse of the right-angled triangle. One of the principles of trigonometry is that the hypotenuse is always the side that is opposite to the right angle. The length of a person's upper body is a variable that stays constant no matter which way they lean in a seat. Another trigonometric principle is that in two right-angled triangles with identical hypotenuses, the lengths of each triangle's other two sides will affect the distribution of the remaining 90° in the triangle. (Somebody else could explain this a lot better with technical terms, but I hope my layman explanation suffices.) In other words, angle a is smaller than angle b because you can recline only 6 inches backwards, but you can lean more than 6 inches to the side.

"This makes no sense," you ask, feeling a sense of indignation about the previous 8 minutes of your life that you will never get back. "How can you definitely lean more than 6 inches to the side?"

And this was my very roundabout way of laying out my Grand Big Idea.

Grand Big Idea, also known as "Thinking out of the box: the best way to sleep in economy class."
The diagram probably gave it away: Assuming no regard for someone else's well-being, I think the best way to sleep in economy class is to break out of the confines of your seat, think out of the box (or cuboid, I guess), and sleep with your head on your neighbor's shoulder.

Don't look at me like that. Plenty of entrepreneurs make a killing by selling books on thinking out of the box.

To be clear, I recognize that:
  • This idea is incredibly selfish in at least two ways:
    • This might cause physical discomfort for the person next to you, especially in their shoulder area.
    • (Hopefully less likely, but must be acknowledged) this might cause emotional discomfort or distress for the person next to you; I have also become more aware of my privilege, in this case, of being a small Asian young woman. I can see how this action might be (unfortunately) perceived differently by someone else if I had different characteristics.
      • The physical and/or emotional discomfort experienced by the other person is still real, even if they do not tell you about it
  • This idea does not work if both people try to lean on each other's shoulders at once, or if both people lean in the same direction
Before we get into the morality of whether it's acceptable to rest your head on your neighbor's shoulder, it's worth considering this in the form of a game theory matrix:





















We'll assume that your neighbor is unaware of the Grant Big Idea/unwilling to lean on you because they're a nice person, unlike me, so the bottom row of this matrix basically doesn't happen.

In other words: you either experience great comfort, or you miss out on the chance to experience greater comfort (again, holding all previous mathematical assumptions about the derivation of comfort to be true). Therefore, you should go for the outcome that maximizes your own comfort.

Game theory suggests that two individuals in a game theory-esque situation might behave differently if:
  • These two individuals each had a better understanding of each other's motives and options before making their own choice
  • These two individuals had to, or could, talk to each other before making their own choice
  • These same two individuals had to make their decisions several times, experiencing the consequences of their choices each time
Theoretically, if my neighbor and I a) had complete and symmetric information of our Airplane Seat Values, b) established a rapport, c) had to take many flights sitting next to each other in Economy Class, or d) any combination of a-c, we might behave differently. I hypothesize that if these conditions happened, we would either:

1) Not lean on each other, because we would - either implicitly or explicitly - establish that it is not acceptable to lean on each other because personal space is to be respected
2) Implicitly or explicitly establish that it is acceptable to lean on each other because these flights last fucking forever and all we have during these times is each other

But conditions a-c have yet to happen to me in real life, so this is still a purely hypothetical situation. In my long-haul flights, I have (to the best of my knowledge) had a different neighbor each time, and my 15 neighbors didn't speak to me much. 

(Note: this entire thing gets more complicated when you consider the possibility that you might be sitting in between two people. This possibility is very real on the Boeing 777-300ER, the aircraft used for the JFK-HKG direct flights with a 3x3 layout per row in Economy Class. For the purposes of simplicity, I only assume the existence of one neighbor. My assumptions are also clouded by the reality that I prefer aisle seats, and have always managed to get one. Therefore, I've always only had one neighbor.)

Now, back to the ethics of maximizing comfort at the expense of others. I think that one way to go about this is to work on minimizing the discomfort of your neighbor, in these ways:
  • Minimize your neighbor's physical discomfort by placing a pillow between your head and their shoulder. Even better: fold the pillow in half to create some more distance and soften the load.
  • The Most Ideal Situation is when your seat is reclined further than your neighbor's, and you can place (part of) the pillow on the side of their seat instead of on them.
























  • Your neighbor is likely to more creeped out/annoyed if they knew that you intended to sleep on their shoulder, even more so if they knew you wrote over 2,000 words on the benefits of doing so. Therefore, minimize your neighbor's emotional discomfort by putting effort into making your actions look completely unintentional:
    • Fold your pillow in half, and place it slightly to your side. Close your eyes. Stay totally still for ten minutes, and then execute a believably sudden "drop" closer to your neighbor's shoulder.
    • If you wake up on their shoulder and they are awake, make a sincere apology and let half an hour elapse without sleeping on their shoulder again. The apologies seem to have worked: on 2 of my flights, the person sitting next to me responded by saying that I could keep sleeping on their shoulder if I wanted (again, acknowledging my identity and possible subconscious perceptions that come from it). One of them even added, "I know you must be really exhausted after a semester of college."
These suggestions will minimize the discomfort someone else feels. However, isn't this way of thinking a slippery slope into the conclusion that we can get away with immoral actions (like knowingly invading someone else's personal space on a plane) as long as we "try" to show regard for others or as long as we pass them off as accidents? Things like these make me worried about my ability to go to heaven, but I think hell is going to meet its maximum allocated population quota with all these politicians trying to repeal reproductive rights, among many other things. I wrestle with this question and its implications on my state of morality, but I choose maximizing comfort and minimizing jetlag every single time. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

That time I went on 16 Tinder first dates.

I arrived half an hour early to the brightly lit cat cafe in Georgetown, for I had overestimated the time it would take to get there by bus. "A cat cafe?!" my roommate shrieked when she heard about it earlier that week. It was the only cat cafe in Washington, DC, and I was excited. Not because I particularly liked cats, but because I thought that this is what it meant to be adventurous, that this is what it meant to live life in a new city to the fullest.

It was snowing gently outside, and I mildly regretted my decision to wear ballet flats. It was a Thursday evening, and the server at the front counter was the only person in the cafe. She smiled at me. "Are you a walk-in? Ninety-minute sessions are for those who made online reservations, but we offer thirty-minute sessions for walk-ins."

"Actually, my friend made a reservation - his name is Stephen."

"Last name?"

"I don't know." Awkward pause. I laughed, an unconvincing explanation. The server gave me a strange look. "I know that it's for seven-thirty," I added.

"Well, okay," she said, looking at her computer. "There's one reservation for that time, under Stephen Peters."

Oddly enough, I remember this moment, even a year later. I kind of stood there in a daze. I noted that this was an instance of asymmetric information, for he probably did not know my last name at this point. I marvelled at (what was to me) the poetic beauty of somebody becoming more real in my eyes. I knew that Stephen was multiracial, a recent Georgetown graduate, and he seemed pretty funny. But Stephen now had a last name! I recognized how silly this thought was, but I savored it at the same time. I looked up Stephen Peters on my Facebook mobile app. It was him.

I told the server that I would wait for Stephen to arrive before sitting at our table, and I avoided further eye contact with her by withdrawing into a book I brought with me. I felt unnecessarily self-conscious about the reason behind why I did not know Stephen's last name: this was a Tinder first date.

---

Stephen was the third person I met through Tinder, as well as the third person I met through Tinder that week. Stephen was part of my larger project to go on a "not small" number of Tinder first dates within the same period of time. I devised this idea at 4am in the beautiful Woodley Park apartment where I was staying. I was spending a semester in DC with fourteen other students from my college. DC was infinitely larger than our small college town with one main street that ran through the sloppy underage bar and the bookstore and the bad Chinese takeout place and the sorority houses and the fraternity houses and the unaffiliated houses. With the logic that a large city translates into many attractive, driven, and charming fresh faces - not a face you vaguely recall throwing up obscenely during that crappy party with the sticky floor and glow sticks strewn everywhere, not a beautiful face that got too attached to your roommate last year - many of my classmates in the DC program got on Tinder. I was nursing my bruised soul from a romantic rejection a few weeks earlier and was not immune from peer pressure, so I soon found myself choosing the five least-ugly pictures of myself and trying to write a witty bio. I consider myself a five (plus or minus half a point) when it comes to looks, but I read online that men tend to swipe right to half of the profiles they see (whereas women tend to only swipe right one-sixth of the time) and so it was a great ego boost when the matches happened quickly.

Here's the part where my classmates and I differed: for the ones I talked to, the app was just a fun way to pass the time. My devised project was - I felt - more than just a way to pass the time. It was thought-out and methodical. I diligently set aside time to respond at length to conversations and accepted most offers to meet up, as long as nothing about the conversation seemed off. I decided that Tinder would enhance my life in various ways:

Objectives of Project

1. I was new to a city. Going on Tinder dates would allow me the opportunity to see parts of the city that weren't overly touristy.

2. I was surrounded by a group of classmates that I saw every day. Going on Tinder dates would give me a chance to break out of the bubble I lived in.

3. I was very anxious about talking to strangers. Forcing myself to go through (at least) two-hour chunks of meeting a stranger and getting to know them better, again and again, would help me overcome this fear.

4. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life after college, so - through my picks - I might get to meet up with people from different fields and get an insight into what different careers are like. I was also curious about what life in other colleges were like, so I also chose to meet up with some who - like me - were still students.

5. I had never really gone through the process of going on dates without definitively dating anyone, and I was fascinated by what that was like.

6. Many students at my college will tell you that it is hard to date there. I was curious to see if I could get a pulse on the dating culture among young men in a big city.

#1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 would happen as a function of the dates themselves. However, #6 required some work. I love analyzing things and looking at patterns, so I drew up an extensive chart to measure different variables on each date, including:

Variables

a) What was the main activity on this date? Options included "coffee/ice cream", "lunch", "dinner", and "other". In order to keep things constant, I would always tell him to choose. I was also twenty years old in a city that is pretty strict about carding, so drinks was not an option.

b) Did he offer to pay for me? (For the record, I do not believe that the man has to pay on the first date. I don't want to unnecessarily burden someone else when I can pay for myself. I was just curious about how many would offer, because that might say something about the dating culture nowadays. Each time, I insisted on paying for my part after they offered. If they refused to take my money or offer to Venmo them, I let it slide.)

c) How far away was the location of the date from where he lived? Before or during every date, I would find indirect ways to ask where he lived.

d) What did I like or dislike about my interactions (both via text and in person) with each date?

e) Did each date fall short of, meet, or exceed the individual expectations I had before I met him? These expectations were broken down into our ability to connect on some level, as well as his appearance.

f) Did he explicitly state what he wanted from this? If so, what was it?

g) Did he ask me if I wanted to go back to his place?

h) Did I want to go on another date with him? Did he want to go on another date with me?

Initially, for a more comprehensive study, I was hoping to go on fifty dates within my semester in DC. At the beginning of my project, when I was going on four or five dates a week, fifty dates seemed like a realistic goal at the end of fifteen weeks. This was before I realized that Fifty First Dates is the title of an Adam Sandler movie. I also soon got too busy with work and classes to carry out fifty dates.

As the title of this post suggests, I did indeed go on sixteen Tinder dates between January and April 2016. I took notes on a spreadsheet immediately after each date. Here are some key facts about the people I met:
  • All their names have been changed to protect their privacy.
  • They ranged between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-four.
  • They were all men (worth reiterating to emphasize the potential bias/limitations - my experiences were within the heterosexual dating culture).
  • All sixteen were either college graduates or college students who were about to graduate. I feel like this is worth stating because of a conversation I had with Dan, the second person I met. He told me that a few months prior, Tinder made the decision to include people's schools under their names (as taken from their Facebook profiles). This, he said, changed the game, since "college kids only date college kids". This conversation replayed itself in my head as I became more aware of my own swiping patterns as well.
  • Among those who had already graduated from college, their fields included the following: law, consulting, policy, journalism, marketing, the military, unions, education, and music.
  • They ranged between five feet four (my height) and six feet five. I noticed that a lot of men add their height to their bios, so maybe this is worth mentioning? For what it's worth, it's not really a factor of consideration for me.
  • They all started talking to me first. I know, I know - fucking gender norms. I don't subscribe to this expectation, but I figured I might as well keep this constant. On a personal level, I was curious about whether there were recurring characteristics in the men who reached out to me. There is a lot to be said about abusive and creepy messages on Tinder, but I have to say that I was really surprised by the number of thoughtful, coherent, creative, and funny openers I received. I wrote a fairly long bio, and some took the time to craft personalized messages.
    • The Most Creative First Message Award went to Drew, who was twenty-two and a senior in college. Instead of using words, he sent a 7x6 grid made of white circle emojis, with one red circle emoji in the middle of the bottom row. I immediately understood that it was supposed to be the opening move in a game of Connect Four. I copied and pasted the grid, replaced a white circle emoji in the bottom row with a blue one, and sent it back. He won the game. It was not close. We went on a date.
  • I did not meet up with anyone without first engaging in a reasonably lengthy series of exchanges free of red flags. This creates an inherent bias in my study: all of the men I met up with were responsive, articulate, didn't seem psycho, and generally willing to at least go through the motions of a date before anything physical was even on the table.
  • I have stayed friends with three of them. In this case, I define "staying friends" as having hung out on completely platonic grounds and having communicated at length more than six months after we first met.
  • I am not presently dating any of them.
Before I get started on what I discovered, it's worth throwing a disclaimer here that this project was, at best, a pseudo-study. While the experiences outlined here are true, this post does not strive to make statistically significant conclusions or speak about Tinder, men, or the world of dating as a whole. This was just a crazy idea that I invested a good number of hours into, and turned out to be one of my more interesting adventures in 2016.

With that said, here are my findings in variables a-h:

a) What was the main activity in this date?



Breakdown of results
6 for coffee/ice cream, 1 for lunch, 8 for dinner, 1 for other (which was a comedy show, and no food/drink was consumed)

What this means:
  • People don't like to go on lunch dates. 12 of the 16 dates happened on weekdays, which might explain the lack of lunch dates. I got asked where I was interning, but nobody tried to set up a date during lunch hour.
  • People prefer dinner over lunch for a first date because the night is more romantic?
  • Coffee or ice cream was another popular option
Highlights
  • Had my very first meal at Chipotle because of a Tinder date
  • Interestingly, 2 out of the 16 dates were at a Chipotle

b) Did he offer to pay for me?


Breakdown of results:
12 yes, 4 no

Two of the dates in the "yes" section include more specificity on this point. One date involved an online reservation and payment, and he completed this for the both of us without asking me to chip in. (I found out that it cost money when I looked it up myself.) Another guy really liked cooking, so I was invited over for a dinner that he had made. I guess that counts as offering to pay, since he paid for the ingredients without asking for anything in return.

As mentioned, I made a genuine attempt to offer my share if the guy tried to pay for us. This resulted in me paying my share on 7 out of the 12 dates in which the date offered to pay.

More detailed breakdown of results:
2 dates where the cost was prepaid
3 were very insistent that they pay for me ("You're an intern," one of them said.)
7 offered to pay for me but let me pay when I asked
4 did not offer to pay for me

What this means:
  • The notion that the guy should offer to pay is still quite alive (again, not saying I agree with this idea and I do not have a history of letting this happen in my dating past)
  • It's a relief when you feel like you don't *have* to pay for two people. Living in DC is expensive, after all.
Highlights
  • Receiving a text three hours after the first date asking if I could Venmo him the $10 he spent on my coffee and a pastry
  • "You have to be strategic about when you buy a girl a drink," said Dan, the same guy who talked about college kids only dating college kids. He did not offer to pay for me.
  • "If I pay for you, it might make you want to go on a second date with me," said Tim, a guy whom I did not go on a second date with.

c) How far away was the date from where he lived?



Breakdown of results:
6 guys set up dates in their neighborhood and/or within a 15-minute walk from where they lived
7 guys set up dates that were 15-30 minutes away from where they lived
3 guys set up dates that were over 30 minutes away from where they lived

This gets more interesting when you also consider how far I travelled for each date:



In other words, the dates I went on fell into five groups:

  • Dates that were very convenient for us, but also led me to wonder if he was only interested in me because I happened to live near him
  • Dates that made me think he prioritized my convenience over his own (all of them asked me which neighborhood I lived in first)
  • Dates that made me think he prioritized his own convenience over mine, especially if the date happened at an unoriginal location
  • Dates that were neatly halfway between us
  • Dates that got me excited; I assumed that he had something interesting in mind when knowingly choosing a place (relatively) far away for both of us

What this means:
  • I overthink too much
  • Dates really near him but a distance away from me gave me an initial judgment that he might be less considerate (probably proven false later in person)
  • I was inclined to go into a date with high expectations if I knew that both of us travelled far; I assumed that something really fun or special was about to happen
  • "I would drive an hour for [expletive]," a close male friend said, on the subject of how far you would go for a potential romantic interest
Highlights
  • The two dates in which both parties travelled over 30 minutes to get to were (fortunately) really fun and lasted for about four to five hours each. Maybe there's something to be said about how you are more inclined to enjoy something you spent more time preparing for, like the sunk cost fallacy?
  • Travelling all the way to Rockville, Maryland. Trusted my date enough to get into his car right away (I don't recommend this) and he drove us to this place that served really good pho. Afterwards, we went ice skating. Again, very far, but fun.

d) What did I like or dislike about my interactions before or during each date?

(This is more subjective, so there are no charts.)

Things I liked via text:
  • Humor
  • Complete sentences
  • A minor air of mystery
Things I liked during dates:
  • Friendliness
  • Not breaking the physical barrier right away
  • An appropriate amount of eye contact
  • Walking around and seeing new things
  • Conversations that made me feel like we would actually be good friends if we had met organically
Things I did not like via text:
  • Nothing much, because I probably wouldn't have met this person if he was so bad over text
Things I did not like during dates:
  • Being asked several times: "Do you think I'm attractive?" Dan, the guy who talked about college kids only dating college kids and who probably was the most bro-like with me right away, introduced the concept of catfishing to me: "It's when they look way worse than their pictures." When I got asked repeatedly if I found the guy (not Dan) attractive, I was tempted to just say that he was a catfish. But that was not true. It was still a turn-off, though.
  • When he tried to hold hands right away
  • Any mention of other Tinder dates that he went on recently (maybe I'm possessive and crazy, or maybe this isn't first date conversation material)
  • Uncomfortable silences
  • Being asked if I wanted to kiss him (Edit: consent is very important. It is never a bad idea to ask the other person before doing anything. I am specifically referring to the awkwardness that arose when someone asked for a kiss when the date had been pretty lackluster throughout; it was mildly awkward to think that we might have had different ideas of how the date went)
  • Hearing about how his most recent ex-girlfriend dumped him: it was very mutual, and they decided to have sex one last time before calling it quits
  • Having to eat messy, soupy foods
  • Being told that I looked nervous

e) Did each date fall short of, meet, or exceed my expectations for each of them?



Before each date, I noted down scores out of 10 (in half-point increments) for how attractive I thought they were from their pictures, and how well I was expecting our connection to be. I noted down scores for their looks and our conversations after each date. If there was a one-point discrepancy or less, I considered it meeting expectations. If the pre- or post-date score was more than one point higher than the other, I considered it falling short or exceeding expectations, respectively. When it came to our conversations, I did not require some magical romantic spark to exist. After all, a good conversation can just be a result of shared interests and/or a shared sense of humor.

Breakdown of results:
Looks
1 fell short
12 met expectations
3 exceeded expectations

Connection
4 fell short
5 met expectations
7 exceeded expectations

What this means:
  • I have low expectations
  • I did not get catfished very often (Dan would be proud!): by and large, most people looked very much like their pictures
  • I am inclined to think that many people do not put up wildly misleading photos of themselves on dating networks
  • Some people are really good at texting but really awkward in person
  • And vice versa - some people are not the best at texting but pretty cool to talk with in person. This was a lot more pleasant to discover on a date.

f) Did he explicitly state what he was looking for? If so, what?


Breakdown of results:
5 guys said what they were looking for on the first date
11 guys did not

What the 5 guys said:
1) "I'm looking for somebody to be friends and hook up with, and if something more happens, that's great."
2) "I'm on Tinder for sex."
3) "I'm looking for something casual."
4) "I want somebody to hang out and hook up with."
5) "I'm looking for good times and good vibes."

Things get interesting when you look at whether the 5 guys were distributed more heavily within the "near him but far from me" group of dates (see variable C): however, nothing too unusual was present: 2/5 of these dates happened in their neighborhoods and required me to travel a while, but 2/5 is not a outrageously higher proportion than the 4/16 dates that fell in this category: the difference between 40% and 25% is probably negligible and/or statistically insignificant, given the low number of data points.

Nobody explicitly said that they were looking for a relationship.

What this means:
  • Some men are on Tinder to get laid (most obvious statement on this blog? this is a matter-of-fact statement as a result of my experiences, but I have no judgment towards those who are honest and open with their partners about it)
  • Before I started college and became any bit familiar with the hookup culture, I used to assume that there was a binary among those who were romantically involved: they were either properly, fully-fledged dating, or they would come over, do their unspeakables, and leave without a word or a shred of regard for each other. Of course, things are more complex than that. Some people prefer to get to know someone well before being comfortable about being intimate. Some people prefer to hook up with someone they also happen to hang out with every now and then. It can be tricky to navigate (and I'm no expert on this), but it was just interesting to observe whether, when, and how a guy expressed his intentions during a date.
  • I have a feeling that the 11 guys who did not mention what they were looking for were thinking along the same veins as the other 5: the Tinder matches were mostly based on physical attraction, after all, but there were varying degrees of how open they were to the possibility of "something more". I do not think that any of the 16 came into the first date really wanting to become my boyfriend.

g) Did he ask me if I wanted to go back to his place?


Breakdown of results:
7 guys asked if I wanted to go back to his place
9 guys did not

I counted the guy who cooked for us as "yes".

What this means:
  • There are connotations to this question (no shit)
  • Men can be pretty forward about this
  • Many Tinder dates happen with this possibility at the back of each person's mind

h) Did I want to go on another date with him? Did he want to go on another date with me?



Breakdown of results:
Whether I wanted a second date
8 yes
8 no

Whether he asked for a second date
13 yes
3 no

What this means
  • I'm very charming
  • My threshold for wanting a second date was not that high, and/or there are a solid number of decent, datable men out there who pass first impressions
  • There were a few I clicked with well but didn't have a desire to go on another date with
  • I wanted to say no to a few people, but I didn't do a great job at saying no immediately and directly to them (probably my biggest/only regret in this project)
  • There was no correlation between what we did on the date (see variable a) and the likelihood I wanted a second date, or the likelihood he wanted a second date
Highlights
  • This one date where we both knew we were never ever going to talk to each other again after it was over
  • Being asked if I wanted to go on a second date after I Venmoed the $10 for my coffee and pastry, three hours after the first date (my friends reacted strongly to this story): the answer was no, and it was a "no" long before the Venmo transaction

Conclusions

I didn't add what happened after each of these dates because:
a) They detract from my questions about first dates and first impressions
b) I am not/no longer in the habit of airing everything I do on the Internet

I don't feel like I made any groundbreaking points and I don't expect you to think I did. In objective #6, I wrote that I wanted to get a pulse on the dating culture, not become an expert on it. I now know what it's like go on a Tinder date (caveat: with men among my age and socioeconomic status, I guess). In terms of the other objectives:

  • Objective #1: These dates brought me to 11 different neighborhoods (not counting where I lived) in 3 out of 4 quadrants (DC is divided into four quadrants - NW, NE, SW, and SE).
  • Objective #2: I broke out of the bubble I lived in by making friends that do not go to my college.
  • Objective #3: I got better at introducing myself and talking to strangers. I actually refined my elevator pitch as a result of all these dates.
  • Objective #4: I learned a lot about people's careers; whether they liked them, what their next desired steps were, etc.
  • Objective #5: Well, I guess I now definitely have been through the process of going on dates without dating anyone...

There are some key personal reflections from all this:

i) By the second half of this project, I was getting really tired. It was emotionally draining to form conversations and connections with people that I knew I might not see again. I also got busier once the semester kicked off, so it was sometimes stressful to balance going on dates and talking to potential new dates with schoolwork and my internship. I also questioned the purpose of my project many times: I felt that I had hurt some people's feelings by turning them down - not too much, I'm not self-absorbed enough to think that. Still, the idea that this was my own project, that I would be able to create data points and enter stuff into my spreadsheet after each date kept me going. I'm now realizing how sad the previous sentence is. If I were to do this again with the objective of locking down a serious boyfriend from Tinder, I would probably devote my energy and time to getting to know a few men better instead of going on so many first dates.

ii) It seems that many young professionals in DC are thinking of going to law school - or maybe it's just the men I went on dates with.

iii) Both before and during dates, I found ourselves talking about our academic or professional lives a lot. I think this says something about the vibe of young people living in DC. (Maybe that's why I got better at my elevator pitch.)

iv) In all 16 dates, I formed a conclusion about our connection within the first 15 minutes.

v) I found myself slightly turned off by men who were very upfront about their search for a hookup on the first date, because it made me feel like I had travelled all this way and perhaps they were not interested in me as a person. (This is me realizing what I was looking for, but is not a judgment on other people's choices.) On the other end, I also found myself slightly turned off by men who seemed too keen to give specific compliments when they barely knew anything about me. It came across as insincere, or maybe I'm too defensive. In other words, my perception of his feelings towards me affected how I felt about him. Perhaps his perception of how I felt about him affected how he felt about me, as well.



vi) My best first dates were the ones where we just got to know each other as humans without feeling the pressure of a date. The best first dates did not share the same external characteristics. Which sounds obvious, but it made me realize that I wanted to date somebody I already knew well organically, preferably a good or best friend. The good first Tinder dates were great, but I felt like it would be difficult to get to know someone completely well and become comfortable with them within a few dates, especially if one of us had a specific timeline or expectation in the back of our minds. Again, there are couples who meet on Tinder and fall in love on the first date, but I'm not a love-at-first-sight kind of person. I was previously reluctant about dating friends because of the saying "don't shit where you eat", but this whole experience inadvertently changed that for me.

vii) At the same time, with Tinder (or Bumble, or eHarmony, etc.), I was made so aware that there are so. many. possibilities. I think it's amazing that these dating apps or websites - for better or for worse - change the way we meet each other and change the control we have over who we meet. Would definitely recommend this as an avenue for those who are interested in getting out there and might not have a firm idea of what they are looking for. I mean, I guess you could be really upfront about what you wanted in your bio. I considered running another study to see whether a different bio attracts a different group of men, but time was limited.

viii) I'm crazier than I thought I was.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Unsubscribe"

It took me six months to put you into words
even though I had the bulk of my material
meticulously catalogued in pictures this whole time. You hear
songs and read books in which the writer
recalls what they wore on the very first date
but I was so obsessed and convicted that this was a story
I wanted to tell. I did not have the voice
to speak back then, so I have saved it for now. I
recorded every single outfit I wore to see you;
all sixteen of them. They form a Winter/Spring fashion editorial,
beautiful spreads that span a rise
in the mercury and a descent in my mercurial self.
Print the pages in color and you will clearly see
my face flushed in half of them
in my attempts to flush you out. For I would get drunk
to think of you less, and you would think of me more
after you got drunk. This was our way of meeting
each other in the middle even if that meant meeting you
at your place. My records additionally detail where I bought
every article of clothing and by the end of our – affair? romance?
I do not know the word that accurately defines what we had –
I could also describe the clothes you wore in detail. My compulsive need to
document and memorize aside, it was not difficult
to remember what you wore on all these nights:
flip flops, straight light blue jeans, and a plain white shirt. Your shirt
once had a nosebleed stain on it and I pointed this out to you.
I felt like a much deeper reflection could
be made on the phenomenon of you choosing to
wear the same thing around me – one outfit, over and over again, from
a fully stocked wardrobe of other clothes, while I was carefully
dressing myself each time, for you and for me and for societal expectations of
men and women and for this poem.

Monday, February 29, 2016

State of Slightly - OUT NOW.

Earlier this month, I said that State of Slightly, my poetry anthology, would come out on March 1. However, I got super excited and so it's out now - good way to mark the leap day, I guess?. Click here to read it. You can download it, share it, quote it, Instagram your favorite parts of it - do as you wish :)