Nothing in Christianity makes sense except in the light of relationship

Let me begin this post with a profound quote-*

Nothing in Christianity makes sense except in the light of relationship.

-C Gallo, 2019

The relational aspect of Christianity is the overarching story that ties all the aspects of the Christian faith together. If you try to understand any piece of Christianity without it, you will have misguided ideas of how Christian theology should be applied to your own life. Your faith will be stunted.

Maybe this was obvious to every other Christian, but for me it was a game-changer. I don’t want to overstate my own knowledge, but I have a good grasp of Christian theology. I understand the big stuff – the trinity, the fall of mankind, redemption, etc. I even enjoy getting into the weeds of more nuanced theology like eschatology** and predestination. But often, the more I pander to my brain the more my heart checks out. My faith shrivels.

How or why does the relationship aspect of Christianity matter to me?

Relationship gives life to my faith

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Christianity as a religion is boring, oppressive, and constraining. It is often harmful and can be used to exploit people. Christianity as a religion will not help you better yourself (for long). It will not give you warm fuzzies (for long). Christianity in terms of relationship, though…! The wildest but perhaps most important claim of Christianity that we claim to actually know – have a relationship with a spiritual being. THE spiritual being. It isn’t a neat and tidy abstract idea, and it’s not a flawless system of logic. It is [or should be] crazy and scary and exciting.

Relationship affects how I think about oppositions to my faith

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I sometimes encounter people who insist on badgering me about my faith. All of them look triumphant if I don’t have an instant answer to any of their misgivings about Christianity. They express dismay at my lack of open-mindedness and refusal to be in a perpetual mode of discovery. I will tell them something like “I’m not sure how to answer that, but this doesn’t necessitate me abandoning my faith ,” or “I’m really not in a place to effectively research every opposition or issue you’ve brought to my attention.” Some have implicated that they pity me a weak-minded, brain-washed child who won’t (or can’t) contemplate all the mysteries of my faith on a flip of a dime.

If they were challenging the conclusions of my last published research article, they would be perfectly justified in this attitude. Scientists should always be open to new discoveries and be the harshest, most vigilant critics of their own theories and data. But Christianity is more than a theory or data points. It’s a relationship. It grows. It involves experiences that build on each other. At some point, a trust is formed. Those experiences and that trust transforms the way you think about all new data.

For example, I have been dating someone for about a year.*** When we first started dating, if someone had come up and told me “I have good evidence that your new guy is a major flake and you really can’t trust him to do what he says,” I would have taken their words seriously. I would have launched an investigation into whether or not that was true. I would have considered halting all romantic activities until I settled whether or not I could trust him.

Now that we’ve been together for a while, however, it would be crazy for me to take them seriously. I wouldn’t waste time reevaluating every interaction my boyfriend and I had in the past year. I wouldn’t ask for us to take a break while I investigated. I wouldn’t even ask him about it. I simply know that they are wrong. Even if the person who told me that believed strongly in their statement, I would conclude that they misinterpreted his actions in the past. It’s not that I’m brainwashed or in denial of any potential flaws, but we have experiences together. At some point, a trust was formed.  I have seen him in bad moods and good moods, around his parents and around his friends, extremely sleep-deprived and well-rested, very relaxed and under an enormous amount of pressure. During all of this, everything he’s told me he would do- he’s done. Every event he’s told me he would come to- he’s been there. So it’s not that I’m stupid or blind, it’s that we are in a relationship. And the relationship itself has changed how I view any new information or perceptions any one else might have about him.

Just the same, I’m not going to approach all objections to God in a purely objective or abstract way. I can’t. That does not – I repeat, does NOT – make me a brainwashed buffoon.

Relationship affects how you think about being good

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This is probably one of the most misunderstood features of Christianity – the “good deeds” issue. It’s widely recognized that Christians should, in theory at least, be good people. Yet a major tenant of Christianity is that humans are already so deep in the pit of imperfection that no amount of good deeds could ever pull us out of it. So if we can’t earn good standing and we’re putting every single egg we have in the grace basket, what’s the point – why do anything good at all?

Strangely enough, I have found great insight into this issue from the movie The Breakup. In one scene, they’re having a huge fight about how the boyfriend Gary is never doing the good deeds that Brooke asks him to do.

Gary: “Fine, I’ll help you do the damn dishes.”
Brooke: “That’s not what I want. I want you to want to do the dishes.”
Gary: “Why would I want to do dishes?”

Gary would want to do the dishes if he cared more about making Brooke happy than he cared about making himself happy. He should do the good deed because he knows it’s something she cares about and would bring her joy – no more, no less. It’s the exact same thing with good deeds in Christianity. We don’t do good deeds to prove we’re better than other people, or because it comes easily to us, or because we think we’re earning some sort of spiritual brownie points. We do good deeds because we have reason to believe they are important to God and bring him joy – no more, no less.

I don’t think God wants us approach good deeds like, “Fine, I’ll help you do the damn dishes.” I believe he wants us to want to do the dishes.

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— EDITORIAL —

*Phraseology stolen from Theodosius Dozhansky, who thought evolution was the overarching story that tied all of biology together. ( “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light if evolution”). If anyone tried to understand any piece of biology without it, Dozhanksy claimed, they would have misguided hypotheses. Their scientific discovery would be stunted. This post isn’t about evolution, but I have a compulsion to provide the source of my thoughts. My deepest fear is getting caught in a scandal that involves accidental plagiarism. BUT I will say that if you are curious about how the Genesis creation story relates to current scientific thought on human origins, I highly recommend reading The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John H. Walton (amazon link here). It greatly influenced my thoughts on the subject.

**the ONLY reason I dropped the esch bomb was to be a Pretentious Pretentierson.

***No one knows for sure. It is currently a hot topic of debate by many scholars.

30 nuggets of wisdom for 30 years

My 30th birthday is just around the riverbend*, so this Gallowolf would like to cry the wisdom she’s learned to the blue corn moon. Please commit all of these to memory and send me a $30 cashier’s check every time my lil nuggets of wisdom save you from a pickle.** Thank you in advance.

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A-ooooooooooo

Drums, please!

  1.  You don’t have to date everyone who’s a good person
  2.  Be okay with uncertainty in relationships
  3.  Don’t try to engineer and control any relationship, especially romantic
  4. People don’t owe you affection or attention when you do something nice for them
  5.  Talk to your Grandma like a peer and be ridiculous with your nieces and nephews
  6.  Allow yourself to feel your feels
    feelings
    All legit, y’all.
  7. Don’t let your feels control you
  8.  You’re responsible for your own feelings, but be aware of how you are prone to feel after spending time with any person
  9. Spend time with people who make you feel good
  10. You can forgive people but still protect yourself from bad characters
  11. Most people are schmucky schmuckersons
  12. Celebrate and hold onto the people that aren’t schmucky schmuckersons
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    Me holding onto someone great
  13. People who bring exciting drama into your life are also likely to bring a bunch of hurt into your life.
  14. Go to the arts for your dramatic fix
  15. Finding things to laugh at is serious business
  16. The expensive car is *not* worth it
  17. Eating more expensive healthy food *is* worth it
  18. Neglecting your health is not financial prudence– it’s a great strategy to make all your borderline acute health issues full blown chronic health issues
  19. Try to find joy in challenges instead of focusing on the stress
  20. Stop feeling sorry for yourself
  21.  You can be mature and intelligent and still wildly silly
  22. It’s not necessary or wise to trust everyone in a Christian community
  23. Allow yourself to dwell on and obsess about how beautiful something is
  24.  Weighted blankets are heavenly

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    Actual image of my mind when under a weighted blanket
  25.  It’s worth the AC cost to turn down the temp enough to not sweat at night
  26.  Allow yourself to consider you are wrong about everything
  27. Don’t let uncertainty paralyze you
  28.  You don’t have to listen to everyone’s advice, even if they’re great people
  29. Try
  30.  God is bigger and more confusing than you ever imagined

cosmic

 

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*By “just around” I mean in like 2 months. But that’s none of your business!

**Although if a Trader Joe’s kosher dill pickle was after me, I would say “take me now” and swoon at its delicious foot.

8 secret perks of academic research jobs

[By “secret” I really mean “underappreciated” or “overlooked” but one must sacrifice perspicuity on the altar of catchy titles!]

I have now been in academia longer than I have been in any other professional setting. I’m sure this is common in many industries and organizations, but academics love to complain-brag (e.g. Omg I haven’t slept for 72 hours to finish this grant.. you all should be super impressed and feel super sorry for me!). We are especially apt to feel bitter that despite our 17,325 years of education, most of us don’t make *that* much money. And I won’t lie, I often add my voice to the belly-aching chorus… because who doesn’t enjoy a good-old fashion commiseration session?

BUT I must say that now that I am contemplating leaving academia, I am reminded how good the highly educated and underpaid nerdlesons have it compared to many many peoples.

How doth academia benefit thee? Let me count the ways…

  1. Working with smart, passionate people
    • Many careers are filled with overly ambitious, cut-throat peoples, but I would wager many fields are not filled with people who genuinely love what they’re doing and like their work for its own sake – not just the pay or the recognition. Most of the professors with the most prestige will tell you that at the end of the day, they just find their research neat-o. It is also really great to have undergraduates working for you – usually for free – that are highly motivated and probably smarter than you in so many ways. No crippling apathy here!
  2. Flexibility
    • This one is probably my favorite. I have almost always been able to make my own schedule. If I want to be in at 7:30 am and leave at 3:30 pm, that’s fine. If I want to be in at 10 am and leave at 630 pm, that’s fine too. If I want to work from home and do data analysis all day – no one blinks an eye. When it’s time for vacation, most people say just say “Yo, I’m not going to be in lab these 3 weeks because I need to find myself and connect with nature.” and your advisor says “Word.” Usually no one cares as long as you’re getting your work done. It is incredibly nice not to be viewed as a slimy little worm who is trying to get away with the least amount of work. At least in the academic jobs I’ve had, you are treated like an adult.
  3. Job security
    • It is difficult to get fired in academia. You can be a miserable failure and the most your advisor will really do is write a lackluster letter of recommendation for your next position. I think you would have to do something that was seriously unethical to get fired, but failing continuously is probably not enough. It doesn’t serve you well in the long run to be unproductive, of course.. but you will at least be paid while you figure out your next career move.
  4. Street cred
    • You know when you’re trying to make small talk at a party and you ask a stranger, “So what do you do?” and they say “I’m a technical writer,” and you say “Cool!” *chirp chirp* Not so with academic positions. People are usually interested in your thesis or research, and you can usually entertain them with sharing your interest in the field and what you hope to accomplish. It’s not usual to have a job that intrigues a lot of people and makes them automatically think you are super smart, even if your only other interaction with them was to praise the hummus.
  5. Inclusivity
    • Once you get past admissions, I really don’t think academia cares about your demographics that much (of course there are fellowships and grants for those who identify as a member of a group underrepresented in science, but it can only take you so far). There are no headshots to turn in with your manuscript when you submit for publication. You can identify as a banana or the be the ugliest person on earth, but academia doesn’t care. Just do good research, and a place will be prepared for you. It’s a meritocracy if there ever was one.
  6. Bad fashion sense highly tolerated
    • I’m not sure if I would go so far to say that being a snappy dresser will hurt you in academia, but it truly doesn’t help. If anything, some of the people wearing the most egregious – whether that be flamboyant or downright geeky – outfits are senior professors. Wearing a suit in lab is not only impractical, it will probably be seen as an ineffective attempt to cover your own incompetency. So throw on a pair of sweats and a ironic tee and get to pipetting.
  7. Mentoring
    • In no other field is there such a built in culture of the person in the highest position taking an invested interest in helping the people working for them reach their career goals — whatever those might be. That is truly extraordinary. My advisor gets no benefit – either financially or research-wise – in helping me secure a job outside of academia. Yet he is seriously committed to helping me get there if that’s what I decide to do. Imagine your manager taking responsibility to help give you the skills and experience you need to move on to a better job at a different company! Unheard of.
  8. Benefits
    • Usually the health insurance is pretty legit. At least at my University, the retirement plan is very generous. You get access to a huge online library of journals for every topic you could possibly be interested in (just for reference, most published journal articles that I see are $35 a pop). You usually get a free or highly discounted membership to a gym that’s at least adequate. There are tons of talks with free foods. Little things all together, but nice.

In toto— If you are in academia, put a pause on your belly aching and take time to appreciate the fun little perks of your position. If you are outside academia, maybe ponder the positive aspects of your job.. and if there aren’t any… come over to the dark side of academia!

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Love or treat (yoself)?

There are several Oprah-esque sayings that are floating around — 


“You have to take care of number one before you can take care of anyone else!”

“Treat yoself!”

“If you don’t love yourself you can’t love anyone else.”

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We all know this gif was 100% obligatory

–For the sake of conciseness, I’m going to use Treat Yoself to encapsulate all of these self-affirming ideologies–

Part of me thinks this inspirational folk wisdomry in Treat Yoself is a bucket of rat poo. My main problem with the self-love bonanza is related to the context in which these statements are uttered, more than the actual statements themselves. Usually they are said to encourage people to be selfish or indulgent. I can only speak for myself, but I do not know anyone who is so caught up in being selfless and sacrificial that they somehow neglect themselves.* I would argue that most people need to hear “Sure take care of yourself, but why doncha try caring for others,” or “Treat (people less fortunate than) yoself!” or “Try to love… or at least consider the feelings and wants of… someone besides yourself.”

My second sub-issue with the Treat Yoself mentality is that treating yourself in terms of indulgence isn’t really a treat for you in the long run. Most people want to have nice bodies that function well, but if they continuously “treat themselves” with McDonald’s fries and Starbucks frapaccinos and refuse to move their body in any way that gives it strength, speed, or flexibility, their bodies will soon become… something that doesn’t spark joy. Most people want to have the treat of traveling the world, but if they continuously live above their means and treat themselves with expensive food, entertainment, cars, etc. in the domestic realm, poofity goes the treat of travel.

My third and final irritation with Treat Yoself is a little more specific to Christians, although I don’t think you necessarily have to ascribe to the apostle’s creed to get something out of this. Jesus did not prance about ancient Israel proclaiming a new covenant of self-love. If anything, the level of self-sacrifice he and many of his disciples demonstrated is plum terrifying. Remember Luke 9- “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man [Jesus] has nowhere to lay His head.” Or Luke 17 “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” Or how about the sobering Mathew 10 warning “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them…” And these are only what Jesus said, but when you consider what he did…! I have serious doubts that Jesus was contemplating a bubble bath and wine in the Garden of Gethsemane, and there is nothing less Treat Yoself in all of history than a man dying for people who hated and misunderstood him.  

So, my beef with Treat Yoself is that 1) it doesn’t seem necessary, given the deep self-indulgence and entitlement that most of us already have and 2) temporary treats often undermine long-term treats (which may or may not be more wholesome in nature because involve dreaming, scheming, and the real longings of your heart–not simply the capricious whims of your body and immediate longings) and 3) it doesn’t seem particularly “on message” with people who are presumably interested in modeling the radically sacrificial nature of Jesus.  

Yet! Part of me sees some truth glimmering through all that rat poo.

The major reason I haven’t completely dismissed Treat Yoself is largely related to mental health and margin**. Let’s take even a light example – being stressed out. When I am stressed, I don’t “see” other people or take particular interest in their needs. I am thinking of whatever is stressing me out, and how to make myself feel better during the stressful time. That means I refuse to think about hard or important questions, and dissipation becomes my goal. I avoid people who are also stressed out because their stresses suck my mind further into a cesspool of anxiety. How can I be a rock for someone when I’m crumbling? Instead of having interesting and joyful conversations with my friends and family, I hijack quality time by dumping my stress on whichever poor soul was unfortunate enough to spend time with me.

Thus, if spending time in nature, enjoying beautiful and lovely things, getting my toes painted happy colors, and reading lighthearted fiction can help reduce my stress to the point I can stop my navel-gazing long enough to look at other people… is that an indirect way to love others? I think it could be.

Where does that leave us, then? I think the key might be to Love Yoself, not Treat Yoself. Treating indicates indulgence. Love indicates more wholistic well-being. Think about a parent loving their child. Spoiling the child isn’t really love – spoiling a child is more indicative that the parent is too lazy to properly discipline, or too insecure to handle their child getting angry at them for rules that are meant to protect them. I think being an adult is learning how to parent yourself properly – love yourself, not spoil yourself. Be willing to deny your childish impulses so that you can be the person you actually want to be — and who the people around you need you to be.   

The world needs adults, not petulant children. So Love Yoself 😊

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*I do know some martyrs who make a big to-do of how they are ruining their lives for the sake of others… I do not consider that actual selflessness. It’s a twisted form of pride.

 **Double points for sneaking in a Christian buzz word! BAM!  

 **Double points for sneaking in a Christian buzz word! BAM!

I refuse to love you exactly the way you are

“Why can’t you love me for who I am?”

You’ve heard some variation of this question, whether from someone you actually know or while watching some dramatic interaction on the telly. It’s usually a question that doesn’t really want a real answer. It’s typically asked to shame the other person more than anything else. The implicit assumption is that real love wouldn’t want or ask for someone to change anything about themselves.

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I’m not sure if that’s true. Here is why.

  • You will change, guaranteed
    • As the renowned Timothy Keller points out in the Meaning of Marriage, you should never be so enamored by the person your partner is right now that you would be devastated if they ever change. Why? Because they definitely will. Experience changes us. Time changes us. Relationships change us! It’s inevitable.
  • You should want to change
    • Everyone has varying degrees of ickiness in themselves. Let’s take for example, me. I like myself. I think I’m pretty legit. Yet, I know I have flaws. My acknowledgment of my flaws doesn’t lead me to severe self-hatred, but I do want to tame or obliterate them depending on their severity.
  • People who love you should want you to change
    • My friends and family who support me in moving forward and becoming a better version of myself are good for me. I am thankful for them. Who wants a friend spitting out their tobacco and snarling “You think you’re better than us?” and resenting your growth? Not I, said the fly.  
  • You cannot change everything about yourself
    • An important distinction in this entire Chat du Change is to strive for – and hope for, in others – changes that are actually possible and/or likely. I may not like that I can be overly emotional sometimes, but barring a drastic personality change I’m not likely to become a stoic anytime soon. BUT, I can still hope to change how much I am controlled by my wavepool of feels.  
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All that being said, I also know it’s foolish to enter into a relationship (romantic or otherwise) wanting and expecting someone to change in the exact way that I want — especially if that person shows no signs of wanting that change themselves. Or, even if they appreciate the idealized version of themselves, they are making little to no progress getting there.

[IMPORTANT ADDENDUM 04/12/19: I have had a few fellas that became very smitten with a version of Cgallo that wasn’t real. It’s a little delicate, but maybe the best scenario is to have clear double vision — the ability to see and love who someone is now, but also the ability to see, love, and support a future version of themselves that they see and want to become too. I think?! I ain’t no relationship therapist! ]

Altogether, I think what might be important is surrounding yourself with people who are excited for and encourage you to be the person you could and will probably turn into. Anddddd can put up with your flaws in the meantime. God bless ‘em!

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A song for the barely-sinner

I grew up in church. My family wasn’t just half-bootied Sunday morning service people, either. We did Sunday school AND Sunday night AND Wednesday night church, too ! #holy I’m glad we did, for many reasons. Most of my best friends growing up were from church. We knew everyone. People actually noticed when we went on vacation. There were several members – especially some older couples – who I know genuinely loved me and my family. Why else would Mr. Moreland always offer me a piece of red hot gum with a twinkle in his eye, or Mrs. Daugherty give me the bestest warm squishy hugs?

There were a few downsides to being raised in a fairly idyllic environment surrounded by amazing people. One of them was having a really hard time recognizing the weight of God’s grace. I remember having a true crisis when I was about 8, confessing to my mom with sincere guilt, “But I really can’t think of anyway that I’ve sinned!”*

Even now, having been through some shtuffs that definitelyyyy involved some less-than-spiritual-perfection, I have a really hard time not falling into a weird sort of good-girl legalism. This shows up the most when something I want is delayed or denied, while someone I have unconcsciously deigned more sinful than me** does get that thing. Absolutely infuriates me. I have to read Prodigal God by Tim Keller to get me to wind down. #thankyoutim 

This entire ramble was inspired by this song I heard today, which is so entirely perfect for my type of barely-sinner*** heart that I must share.. I MUST !! Sometimes a gallo needs art – in this specific case, musicals – to express for her what she didn’t even know she wanted to express.

(Strongly recommend just listening)

Not in me by Eric Schumacher and David L. Ward

No list of sins I have not done,
No list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like
Can earn myself a place with You.
O God, be merciful to me–
I am a sinner through and through!
My only hope of righteousness
Is not in me, but only You.
 
No humble dress, no fervent prayer,
No lifted hands, no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth
Can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life,
My debt was paid by Jesus’ death,
My weary load was borne by Him
And He alone can give me rest.
 
No separation from the world,
No work I do, no gift I give
Can cleanse my conscience, cleanse my hands;
I cannot cause my soul to live.
But Jesus died and rose again–
The power of death is overthrown!
My God is merciful to me
And merciful in Christ alone.
 
My righteousness is Jesus’ life,
My debt was paid by Jesus’ death,
My weary load was borne by Him
And He alone can give me rest.

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

* THAT is no longer a problem…

**it’s okay if you lowkey or highkey hate me for this post. Keeping it real y’all

*** I say this tongue and cheekily!

What to (and not!) learn from your past relationships

The last time I had a really bad breakup, people kept telling me “It wasn’t a waste as long you learned something from it.” I say this with full love in my heart for these people, but a week after a breakup is not a good time to hear this. I would think with great bitterness and characteristic drama, “Oh, so to learn that I’m unlovable, all I have to do is put myself through a heart-pulverizing breakup – fantastic.”

As time dribbles on, however, one does gain some perspective. Our minds sort of force us to learn something. Sometimes the learnt info is useful and helps us become a better person / partner… *BUT* I have learned that you can learn the wrong things and draw the wrong conclusions from your own experiences. 

What not to Learn

I think one of the most natural things to learn from a past relationship is signs and cues that whoever you’re dating is going to hurt you. You learned that his long delays between texts meant he was losing interest, or her need for “alone time” was really her need for cheaty-cheat times. It is all too easy to transfer that knowledge – of what that speific action for that specific person meant for your past relationship in that specific moment in time – to a new relationship. So if he takes a while to respond to a text or she turns down a Friday dinner to reportedly read Brandon Sanderson in her apartment, it’s easy to think “Welp, let me cut my losses early and move on before this all-too-familiar and way-too-painful scenario plays out again. I ain’t no fool!”

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While there are probably some general signs and cues someone is being a shady dickwad, I think this sort of learntedness is more likely to sabotage potentially healthy relationships than protect your lil ticker.

Jo-Jo’s delays between texts may have meant he was not that into you, but Captain Wonderful’s delays between texts may mean he is working at his job with integrity and turned off his phone so he wouldn’t be tempted to text you every five minutes. Amber’s alone time might have been a cover-up for her skanky side hustles, but Classy Clairice’s alone time might be a sign that she knows and takes care of herself.

Let me also interject, if I may,* that it can be a very dangerous game to discuss your significant other’s behavior with other people. Because just as people are prone to inappropriately generalize their past experiences to ruin their own relationships, they are equally prone to inappaoprirately generalize their past experiences and unintentionally ruin your relationships. So don’t let your best friend’s experience with a McDouche give you a frantic paranoia about your current partner. This can happen in like manner —

You (unconcernedly): “Yeah, Captain Wonderful and I haven’t been texting as much lately.”

Your best friend: “Oh no. I remember when I was dating McDouche, he started texting me less when he was pursuing another woman.”

You (concernedly:

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What to Learn

I think what has been helpful to me is to learn what you can “deal with,” and what you can’t. What’s a deal breaker, and what’s not. Think about your own role in things souring, and how you could do things differently.

Par example

You may have always loved country music. Maybe Jo-Jo hates country music, and never wanted to go to concerts with you. When you and Jo-Jo were dating, that drove you crazy. So you can learn that country music concert attending is a really big deal to you.

As for your own role, this is much harder and annoying to do. But you can learn that in the past you were too uncomfortable with relationship ambiguity early in the relationship. You picked apart and over-analyzed the relationship so much that it snuffed out its ability to develop organically. So you can learn to relax and enjoy the flirty texts and awkward silliness of a budding relationship without constantly pulling the relationship emergency break to have a long, drawn out convo about how, where, why your relationship is going.

So sure, learn — but learn the right stuff! RESIST PARANOIA !

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— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*Of course I may, it’s my blog! papow!

Don’t let others frame your life questions

When I was in high school, people were always asking me

“Where are you going to go to college?”

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Like any high school student knows what to do with their life! and if they do, no one likes them!

Once in college, they asked

“What’s your major? How are you going to use that?”

Once in grad school, it was

“When are you going to graduate?”

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Once graduated, people became bored with my career trajectory and began an assault of inquiries about my relationship status.

“Who are you dating right now?”

“Why aren’t you dating anyone?”

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“What are you doing to snag a man?” *

Now that I’ve been dating an amazin-raisin feller for a few months, I’m starting to get the

“So do you think you two are going to get married?”

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Anddddd I’m not there yet, but I’ve heard married people complain they get hounded with

“When are y’all going to have kids?”

And from there , who knows – probably constant badgering about when you’re going to buy a house, make a star athlete out of your kid, retire, etc etc etc

Ayiyiyi! Too many nosy presumptive questions!

Just imagine if every time a soccer mom asked me when I was getting married, I said “I don’t know — when are you getting your PhD?” Of course that would be mighty rude,  because that’s obviously not their priority right now.. and getting a PhD likely does not fit into their life goals at all. Their question was of course just as rude because getting married *obviously* wasn’t my top priority in my 20s, and who’s to say it fits into my life goals at all.**  But I wouldn’t be that snarky because I choose to take the high road! #holy

*anyway*

Regardless of the intent of the questioners, it’s distressing to answer over and over and over again “I don’t know,” or “not anytime soon,” or “when I receive a direct word from the Almighty.”

If you’re constantly hounded by any one or more of these questions, I encourage you to pump the brakes, be still, and actively reject the latent assumptions built into these questions. They are

1) you *must* finish / do / choose the activity in question and

2) you are “falling behind” or a failure of a human being if you don’t tick off the running list of normal human activities in the order and time frame that suits all your friends and family.

So take heart! Your life is not anyone else’s life. Sure, you want to check in with trusted people who love you to make sure you’re not doing anything obviously destructive (e.g. staying in a toxic relationship), but other than that… you have so much freedom!  Even if the questioners are simply trying to be friendly and interested in your life, don’t let them get to ya!

the-sound-of-music
I want this to be you, not caring when other people are uncomfortable when you deviate too much from their own life path

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*Writing this blog, obvs *snorts*

**Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. You’ll never know until I’m deadz bwahaha

Think Like a Scientist: No evidence vs. evidence against in Facebook use and anxiety

This post will address one of the most important science-related concepts I think I’ve ever grasped: No evidence is not the same as evidence against.

“Whatever do you mean, Dr. Galloswag?!” exclaims you.

Okay – let’s think about Facebook use in relation to anxiety. Facebook has been accessible to the unwashed masses since 2006. I didn’t sign up until I began undergrad in Fall 2007.  #ancient Pretend my mum was nervous about the idea of me joining Facebook.

***

Mum of Cgallo: “I don’t know sweetums, it just seems like having that much interaction with random people without actually seeing them face-to-face could be bad for your mental health.”

Young Cgallo: “There is no evidence that Facebook use is linked to anxiety, Mum! Get out of my face!”

***

Guess what? Young Cgallo was technically right – at the time there wasn’t any scientific evidence. When I entered the search terms “Facebook, anxiety” into PubMed ( a database of life-science / biological articles), the earliest search result was from 2009, and the earliest might-be-relevant search result was dated 2013.

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See?! I’m tellin the truf!

Why this delay? Because it took a while for older adults to realize how impactful Facebook was. Because research is slow. And so there was no evidence because, well, no one had looked for  it. But now there are articles galore on the relationship between Facebook use – and other forms of social media – in relation to anxiety.

facebookanxietyarticle
For example…

So Cgallo’s Mum in this imaginary situation was vindicated over time!

Takeaway #1: Sometimes someone can be technically correct that there is “no evidence” — but that’s because no one has published data on the topic at all!

Now, let’s imagine another scenario — what if there had been multiple studies of Facebook and anxiety, but most or all of the studies reported no significant correlation between Facebook use and anxiety. That is much more informative than there simply being no data at all… but it’s only moderately in favor of young Cgallo. When a study doesn’t find a relationship it could be because …

  • There is not a correlation between the variables of interest (in this case, Facebook use and anxiety)

OR…

  • Power issues: The study did not include enough participants to detect meaningful differences if they were there.
  • Operational-definition issues: The study defined anxiety in a funky way. One study might decide to look at Facebook use in relation to being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder by a therapist, another in relation to scoring high on a standardized anxiety scale, yet another in relation to self-reported feelings of stress.
  • Time-scale issues: The study could have looked at the effect of Facebook use over the course of a week and found no correlation to anxiety. That still doesn’t tell us much about the effect of Facebook use over several years.

Takeaway #2: Sometimes someone can be technically correct that there is “no evidence” — but that’s because all the studies conducted on the issue of interest had design issue(s). 

I remember the first time I really thought about this in graduate school, and it’s actually pretty frustrating. But there is almost always going to be another, usually different/better way a researcher could approach a research question. So often times, a lack of evidence means absolutely nothing meaningful IRL.

“What are you getting at here, Cgallo? Are you trying to suggest that we can never really say with confidence that two things are not related to each other??” demands you.

Mais non!” Cgallo sputters.

For one, if there are many good quality (e.g. large sample size, good operational definitions, relevant time scales) studies conducted on an issue and none of them find an association, that’s a pretty good clue that there may not actually be a relationship between Facebook use and anxiety, or whatever you’re interested in (autism and vaccine *cough cough*).

But let’s contrast all of this with the gold standard: evidence against!

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What do I mean? Well, many researchers are terrified of publishing mumbo jumbo, so they err on the side of caution and choose statistical tests that are more likely to give false negatives than false positives (I may go more into what this means in a future post, if it pleases the queen). As a result of this statistical conservatism (teehee), it’s quite difficult to get results that say “yes! Thing 1 is related to thing 2 in a meaningful way!” *SO* if you really want to argue that there’s no relationship between Facebook use and anxiety, find evidence against this statement. How? Well, what if there was an entire body of research pointing to Facebook use being linked to feelings of calm, tranquility, peace, stability, happiness, etc.? That is very different – and in my opinion, much more meaningful – than a simple absence of evidence.

Takeaway #3: The absence of evidence for something (e.g. Facebook use being anxiogenic) is not nearly as powerful as evidence for the opposite (e.g. Facebook use being anxiolytic).

Great! I think we all feel better now! Make sure you share this article on Facebook!

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Think Like a Scientist: Don’t be a doof about “scientific proof”

“Scientifically proven”  is often thrown in as a final punch to convince you to buy something (“Scientifically proven to support liver health!” or take a certain political stance (“there is no scientific proof that teaching abstinence in public schools reduces teenage pregnancy.”). But regardless of my own susceptibility to marketing plots or personal political beliefs, this phrase often makes me cringe.

Cringe Smile GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Now, my goal here is *not* to convince you to doubt anyone and everyone who talks about scientific proof. There is, for example, strong scientific proof of gravity. So going too far in one direction – immediately rejecting a claim solely because someone assures you it has been scientifically proven – is just as stupid as immediately accepting a claim because someone assures you it has been scientifically proven.

So, how do you even begin to evaluate the “scientifically proven”claims?

Let’s start with a real life example of mine, with the nutrition company Neolife.

A few years back I had several friends who were bigtime crusaders for Neolife supplements.  “Cgallo you will be especially impressed by these supplements because they are backed by Science!” they would insist. In fact, the company tag-line is even “Based in nature | Backed in Science.” Being the curious and trusting person that I am, I went ahead and bought a 3 month prescription of their little super pack of wellness, which included all sorts of goodies like vitamins, minerals, fish oils, etc. At the end of the 3 months, my pee was very yellow and I was $100 poorer, but I wasn’t filled with such electrifying energy that I wanted to give up coffee or sprint up a mountain.* So of course after I spent my money and yellowed my pee, I decided to look into the original research that Neolife was so cocky about.

I found two original research articles. I think both of us only have the time and mental energy to tackle the first one. So, let’s chat about the article “Effects of a carotene-deficient diet on measures of blah blah blah” by Dixon and chums, published in 1994. The author affiliations were from respectable places like the University of California and the Center of Disease Control, so that seemed legit.

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Always check author affiliations! It’s okay to be snobby about Neverheardof University. Of course, that doesn’t mean that any and all studies published by researchers at Harvard are flawless.. but it gives you an idea of the quality of research.

 

It was also published in Free Radical and Biology Medicine journal, which although I had never heard of, has a high impact factor,** so another check.

Then I began to read the methods.

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subjects

Umm.. 9 subjects? That is a very low number — especially for a study involving humans, who are chockfull of randomness and variation. Even lab rats have tons of variability in behavioral and physiological measures despite being in-bred and kept in extremely similar environments — so humans with all of our snowflake complexity are even worse!

*Anyway*

All 9 women were given a beta-carotene (which our bodies convert into Vitamin A) supplement for 4 days. These 4 days were considered baseline.

Then, for over 2 months the women were made to eat a diet very low in beta-carotene while taking nonsense (aka placebo) pills to trick the women into thinking they were taking beta-carotene.

For 28 days after that, all the women were given a supplement with a butt-load of beta-carotene AND for the very last 12 days, given six capsules of Neolife’s “carotenoid complex.” What is probably the most puzzling aspect of this study is that although they threw in Neolife products at the end of the study, they make no effort to distinguish the effects of mega-beta-carotene supplement alone from the effects of mega-beta-carotene supplement + Neolife carotenoid complex. So it is entirely unclear if any effects shown are due to the whopping serving of beta-carotene, the Neolife supplements, or a combination of both.

neolifetable

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Throughout all of this roller coaster of carotenes , they would take samples of the women’s blood to analyze the content for various markers of oxidation. Honestly, I’m a neuroscientist and unfamiliar with the exact techniques used in this study to measure different oxidants, so I’m not even going to touch that. But the great news is, neither you or I don’t have to know a thing about the techniques or measures of this study because the design and analyses tell us enough.

Let’s just review what we know so far, just by reading the methods —

  • This study was done on such a small number of women, even with an otherwise perfect study design all of the results should be taken with a grain of salt.
  • The researchers looked at the effects of supplementation for roughly 1 month. Neolife people want you to be popping their pills for life. That’s a pretty huge difference. If there’s some sort of long-term benefit or detriment to lifetime use, this study doesn’t even begin to address it.
  • As I harped on before — but is definitely worth saying again — this study made no effort to distinguish between the effects of a regular ol’ beta-carotene supplement and Neolife’s carotenoid complex.
  • Even if everything else about this study was perfect — including the techniques used to measure oxidation, that’s still just one measure. A very important general principle when evaluating “scientific proof” is what the researchers are using as their metric of effect. Often, extremely specific results like “beta-carotene supplementation reduced plasma TBARS and erythrocyte superoxide dismutase
    activity” — through a twisted game of telephone as non-scientist writers try to interpret and communicate the findings — eventually gets presented as “carrots can save your life!” But how many people know what plasma TBARS and erythrocyte superoxide dismutase activity actually is, and what low or high levels really mean? Certainly not I. So always look and see how researchers evaluated their end point, and try not to accept overly-simplistic explanations like “oxidation = bad. Supplement make oxidation low. Supplement = good.”
  • There was no “control group” that was not deprived of beta-carotene before given supplements, or any group that was deprived but then allowed to just start eating normally again without taking a booty load of carrot pills. Disrupting the body by force-depleting levels of a nutritive substance… and then showing your supplements can bring the levels back to normal … doesn’t tell us anything about whether they would work in populations with a normal range of beta-carotene levels, much less if it would even be healthy to increase levels too far above baseline! In almost every biological system, it’s about balance, not blasting the system with any one nutritive component. In fact, see this article written for lay audiences (original article here) indicating that too much beta-carotene can be risky biz.

 

Okay.. well that was cathartic for me, at least. I hope you all feel super smart and can now lay a scientific whoopin’ on anyone who tries to close the argument with “scientific proof.”

YOU’RE WELCOME, AMERICA!

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— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*I always want to saunter up a mountain. But sprinting is a different story.