Grad Students & Valentine’s Day…!

This past Monday was that time of the year where lovers stress out to prepare gifts and plan special events – for days or even weeks, might I add – for their special person(s?). February sneaks up on you before you have even made up your mind about your new year’s resolutions, and suddenly there are heart-shaped edibles and every shades of pink galore across the city. The campus — the beautiful 993 acres of land occupied by more bachelors/bachelorettes in their late teens to late 20’s than married couples — is not an exception. However, such demographics (on-campus and within the department) makes romantic matters, such as Valentine’s day, difficult for a graduate student.

You see, when you first enter a graduate school, your age most likely belongs to the heavily overlapping centre of the following circles in a Venn diagram:

  • Old enough to have been happily married to someone, but too young to have gone through a divorce.
  • Young enough to still look around for more options, yet old enough to plan ahead for a happier future with Mr or Miss Right.
  • Perhaps a bit too young to have a child, yet more than physically capable of having and raising a child (scary!).

So figuring out where you fit in the Venn diagram is already harder for us grad students than those who are not in the overlapping region of the diagram. One day you might come home from the lab and realize that it’s too empty (despite the loud presence of your roommates, if you have any) and that you’d like to find someone for a long-term. If you have someone beside you, then you might be thinking ‘Should I really be serious about continuing this one? Is this person THE one?’. The next day, you might wake up and think ‘Geez, that was a stupid idea, I want to have fun, stay young! I’ve got my career to worry about. None of this romance nonsense!’ Regardless of which of the two days you might be having, the truth seems to be this – it’s hard to meet new people when you’re focusing on your research.

For one thing, if you want to find someone you can plan the future with (someone new, if you’re with someone already), then you either need to pick a person geographically close to your work/home. Otherwise, your over 40 hours of work during weekdays at the lab plus the work you set aside to do on weekends will consume and obstruct the necessary travel time to and from wherever the special person may hang out on a daily basis – unless the other person is nice enough to travel to you and stay with you at your lab that is – I mean, efficiency one of the core principles in engineering isnt’ it? (i.e., the mentioning of caffeine filled chocolate in the PhD comic strip below)

Second, and more importantly, your charm and charismatic character from undergrad or high school may no longer be as sharp as you think it is.

For example, after having dissected, analysed, hugged and kissed the topic of hesitation gestures for human-robot interaction (my thesis topic), everything around me revolved around that topic. When I see someone reaching for something and suddenly halts (i.e., hesitates) or even use the word ‘hesitation‘ in any sentence and in any contexts, I suddenly become overly excited and hyper. And before I know it, I am talking about my data analysis techniques, fitting splines through the hesitation motions I’ve captured, and how far I am in the project etc., etc.

Highly uncontrollable behaviour on my part and probably highly unattractive to someone I’ve just met, even to those who are seemingly as nerdy and scientifically-minded as me. So if you’ve got someone who happily tolerates the awkwardly-skewed charm of yours, I would strongly suggest you hold on to him/her — he/she’s got something that seems pretty rare out there in the real world.

Some of my graduate student friends spent the Valentines day by themselves — perhaps popping a bottle of wine alone in their residence, watching a chick-flick with the company of unhealthy yet tasty assortment of snacks. Those who have someone spent the day unwrapping a small surprise or two they’ve prepared – even with their special someone living overseas.

And many singles — who totally didn’t see the Valentine’s day sneak up upon them since there’s nothing to plan or prepare for, and are ever so slightly happy that they have been spared of the painful gift purchasing and event planning process — found comfort in spending a single’s night-out (or night-in) with the company of good friends.

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