Home > Uncategorized > Romance and math meetings

Romance and math meetings

October 14, 2015

As many of you know, I write a fun Saturday morning column called Aunt Pythia, where I give advice to people about all sorts of things. I typically have at least one or two questions per week (out of 4) from math people, and some of those are questions about dating and romance, from both men and women.

With some consistency, then, I get a question something like last week’s question:

Dear Aunt Pythia,

Is it perverse that one of my initial reactions to something bad happening in my life was “this ought to make good Aunt Pythia material”?!

To set the scene, I’m a young female maths PhD student, who attended a graduate school/conference a few months ago. Initially I didn’t know anyone at this conference (it was the wrong side of the atlantic) so it was great to find lots of really cool people to talk to. In particular I talked a couple of postdocs, whose research directly connects with mine. One of them, “Smith”, sent me preprint, which I excitedly read over the weekend (it was a 2 week event).

Aunt Pythia, is it wrong that our conversations at these events are not just mathematical?

Smith started paying me too much attention. Well, there are lots of other people at this conference so I can just talk to other people (I accept evasion was rather weak of me). Then during a break between lectures, in which I had elected to get on with work, he proceeded to ask me on a date. The humiliation was not even private, there were many other people remaining quietly in the room like myself.

This deeply upset me. I still like to think of myself as a serious mathematician sometimes, and so the rude awakening from my naive collaboration ambitions may account for much of that pain. Or perhaps it was the way he seemed so sure of a yes, or his remark “I can concentrate on the lectures now”.

I thought of several defiant responses to give to his question, but, alas, only hours later. My parting remark to him was “never do that to someone again”. He was misguided and somewhat upset too… I don’t think he will embarrass himself like that again anyway.

Aunt Pythia, I still can’t move on from this. I still feel the injustice when I think of it. How can I move on? Am I making too much of this?? I feel like I really want people to understand why this was upsetting for me.

Moreover, I wonder at my responsibility in this. There have been other situations in which I felt I may have won more favour than I deserved perhaps by being the female. Am I obligated to be sensitive to this bias, and reduce my level of warmth ‘just in case’? Smith is giving a seminar to my group in the near future. I’m not sure how I should behave around him, hence why moving on would be really great…

Woman not at a bar

Here was my (typical for Aunt Pythia) response:

Dear Woman,

First of all, I appreciate that certain situations are “Aunt Pythia material.” That is in fact a goal of mine, which I can now check off as “achieved.”

Second of all, I’m not really sure I understand why you are so upset. And I’m sorry for that, because as you stated, it’s important to you that other people understand this point. I am going to make some guesses because I think if I miss it, my advice will probably be totally useless. Here I go:

  1. You wish he had asked you in private, because it’s just a private matter and asking you in public put you on the spot too much.
  2. You hate him for acting like he was definitely going to get a “yes” from you, because it made you look and feel like you should be grateful for the attention and flattery, which you are not.
  3. You think questions of romance in the context of mathematical conferences degrade you as a mathematician, and you want to keep the two things absolutely separate.
  4. You think that his romantic attention, in front of other people, made them think he wasn’t taking you seriously as a mathematician, but only as a romantic or sexual interest, which might possibly make them also not take you seriously as a mathematician.

Now, just as an exercise, I want to imagine what this guy’s perspective on the whole thing was. Various versions as well:

  1. He met this amazing, brilliant math nerd and he thought things were going really well – they were talking about all kinds of things, not just math – but when he asked her on a proper date, she got really mad and told him never to “do that” to someone again, which confused him. Do what? He ended up sad.
  2. He met this amazing, brilliant math nerd and he thought things were going really well – they were talking about all kinds of things, not just math – but when he asked her on a proper date, she got really mad and told him never to “do that” to someone again. After thinking about it a while, he realized that he had put her on the spot and hadn’t judged the situation properly. He wants to apologize to her and remain friends (and he still has a crush on her, but whatever) but he’s not sure how to do it. He vows to be more careful and more private in the future.
  3. He met this amazing, brilliant math nerd and was really into other people seeing him score with her, so he asked her out in front of them, but it didn’t work out because she was onto him and called him out on it. He’s going to have to revise his plan in the future.
  4. He pretended to be interested in a female mathematician’s work so he could get down her pants. Plan failed with that one but he moved on to the next in line.

OK, so I am not sure which scenario you think this guy fits into – if any – but personal guess, bases on what I know, is he’s a #1. The thing about men (and women) is that nobody knows what they’re doing, but mostly they’re not trying to be bad people.

I’m not saying there aren’t people like #4, but I don’t want to assume anyone, ever, is actually like that unless I have really large piles of evidence. So I am advising you to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was just crushing out on you and had no idea that you’d be uncomfortable with the situation.

I also don’t see why you can’t collaborate with this guy. Honestly. Having a crush on you is his problem, not yours. I’d even say that crushing out on your collaborators might help the work. Certainly keeps it interesting, and it doesn’t have to lead anywhere or even mean anything. Honestly I don’t know if I can work with someone without developing something of a crush on them.

I don’t actually think we can separate our mathematical selves from our self selves, and sexual/romantic parts of us emerge no matter how hard we try to restrict them. That’s not to say the guy should have put you on the spot – I agree with you that it was an awkward if not somewhat hostile move – but I don’t think it makes sense to assume that working on math with someone isn’t an intimate thing to do.

In any case, if and when this happens again, feel free to have a response memorized along the lines of, “I really don’t want to date people within my field, it’s just not my style. But thanks anyway.” That way it’s not about them, and the answer is final.

The one thing I feel I should object to is the use of “injustice.” I think that’s going too far. The guy didn’t impugn your honor, integrity, or mathematical talent. He simply asked you out in the wrong time and place. Put it this way: you’re going to need a thicker skin to be a woman warrior in mathematics. Sad but true. Save the word “injustice” for when it’s really needed.

Here’s my advice about his upcoming visit. Go to his seminar, ask really good questions. Be a mathematician. Be warm because that’s who you are. Be attractive because that’s who you are. Don’t worry about people being falsely attracted to you because it’s real. And it’s not anyone’s fault and it’s actually awesome. Oh, and everyone has it to some extent, tall men especially, and they don’t feel weird about the attention they receive. Feel free to turn your attention to others when someone is being weird.

Good luck,

Aunt Pythia

This generated a ton of comments, much more than usual for an Aunt Pythia column, and you can read them here. The debate is great, and it’s made me think about this issue much more, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I gave bad advice.

Wait, let me rephrase that. I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong about this issue, but at the end of the day I think I might stick by my advice in the final paragraph. Here’s my thinking about it.

First of all, a very personal confession. I am a pro-love hippy throwback from the 1960’s. That means a few things, and I probably wouldn’t even be writing Aunt Pythia if I weren’t weird in all sorts of ways, but the consequences that are most relevant to this discussion are the following:

  1. As a pro-love hippy throwback from the 1960’s, I do not find it inherently bad if someone is attracted to me in a romantic, sexual, or really any sort of way. In fact, I think it’s great news! More love is good!
  2. I crush out on people all the time, and I always have. If my friends stopped hanging out with me every time I hit on them, I would have no friends (thanks for the forbearance, friends!). I think of it as “part of my charm,” but it also has the effect of surrounding me with people who are, in general, also somewhat pro-love hippy throwbacks. It’s a selection bias thing.
  3. As a pro-love hippy throwback from the 1960’s, I am simply not awkward about this issue, and indeed I don’t even see a reason to be (see above selection bias). What this means is that if someone expresses a desire to date me or have sex with me that I don’t reciprocate, I don’t get at all alarmed, and I don’t feel any responsibility towards them, or awkwardness, or anything really other than a mild sense of flattery. It happens enough that I have a crush on someone that they don’t reciprocate (because I crush out on people all the time) that I know it’s no big deal. And it almost never is.
  4. In particular, it would never occur to me to rule out someone as a potential mathematical (or otherwise) collaborator because they expressed sexual or romantic interest in me. Here’s why. From my weird perspective, my brain is my best feature, and I would assume it means they are really into my brain, i.e. working together. I don’t tend to separate different kinds of attraction, because I don’t think it’s possible. So if someone is ambivalent to the way I look when they meet me, and then they talk to me a while and love the way I think, then they might end up being super attracted to me. I think that’s normal. In any case I don’t think someone being attracted to me sexually is a sign they don’t take me seriously as a thinker. That has certainly not been my experience.
  5. Having said that, if someone exhibited harassing tendencies: stalking me, not taking no for an answer, threatening me in any way, or even just being overtly sexual with me when I’ve already politely declined, then yes, I would totally think the person was a stinky jerk.
  6. And here’s the final, important part of my confession: that very rarely happens to me. I think it’s a combination of my body type (extra large) and my personality (extrovert), but I very rarely get hit on by men who are creepy. Those men do not see me as a potential victim of their harassing ways.

As a result of my above confession, when I heard about someone who gets asked out by a man, I honestly didn’t understand why she would be upset. But here’s the thing, I’m weird, and I know that. So I shouldn’t assume all women relate to sexual and romantic attention the way I do. In fact, they don’t, as I have (slowly!) learned over the years from my readers.

Many of the people who commented on the thread mentioned that, when a romantic or sexual interest has been expressed between two people, things get extra complicated, and it makes it much more difficult to work with someone collaboratively. This is not true for me, but it’s true for enough other people that I should just assume it’s true. So for now let’s work with the following simplified and slightly cartoonish assumption (and I apologize for being heterosexist but I’m doing so for clarity, and I’m not sure if it applies to gay relationships):

Assumption A: if a man or a woman has expressed interest in being sexually or romantically involved with the other, they can no longer do math together.

Given Assumption A, I can absolutely understand why Woman not at a bar was upset about the event. It meant that she was no longer capable of working with this guy whose math she was interested in. That’s a huge loss, and it’s upsetting.

Moreover, and here I’m simply repeating what a bunch of people on my comment thread explained to me, it’s something that the guy did to Woman not at the bar, which is not cool because she has no power to undo it. It’s like, imagine she has a list of “possible collaborators” and he just went and crossed out his name from her list.

OK, now let’s do some simple reckoning and figure out why Assumption A causes a problem in general. The field of math is deeply lopsided, with many more men than women. If the women are all hit on by men, then they all exclude themselves as collaborators. This isn’t much of a problem for the men, who have plenty of other potential collaborators, but it is a huge problem for the women. They end up with very short lists.

Altogether, it really looks like Assumption A is a major problem, even if it’s expressed in a hyperbolic way and is only somewhat true, and even if it’s not true for all women but only a majority. My new advice towards math men will be in the future: don’t ask out other women in math, and certainly not in your own field, and most definitely not in the context of a math conference.

It makes me sad to say this, I need to confess, because I personally love math guys and I think they’re wonderful partners, and of course I’m married to one of them. But I really do get the logic, and for as long as a version of Assumption A holds, I think it’s kind of an inevitable loss. So yeah, I was wrong about this. I’ve changed my mind.

Next, and I’m sorry if I’m beating a dead horse, I do want to go back to my advice for Woman not at a bar:

Here’s my advice about his upcoming visit. Go to his seminar, ask really good questions. Be a mathematician. Be warm because that’s who you are. Be attractive because that’s who you are. Don’t worry about people being falsely attracted to you because it’s real. And it’s not anyone’s fault and it’s actually awesome. Oh, and everyone has it to some extent, tall men especially, and they don’t feel weird about the attention they receive. Feel free to turn your attention to others when someone is being weird.

I still stand by this advice. I don’t think that we should try to give Assumption A any more power than it already has. If I could, I would try to convince people to discard it altogether, because ultimately I do think it’s a choice that people make inside their heads, it’s not a god-given truth, and as such it deserves to be examined and ignored if it is deemed not useful. And if there’s anything that’s not useful, it’s a rule that limits options for women’s math careers, which is already unduly difficult for so many other reasons.

My final word on this is this: I do think we’re in danger of conflating two issues, namely sexuality and sexism. I have experienced enough toxic sexism in my life, that had absolutely nothing to do with sexuality, that I worry we’re making unnecessarily strong cultural rules around sex where we should be thinking longer and harder about structural and institutional sexism, which is the real problem. And of course there are confusing combinations of the two, like this guy, where there are sexual predators and they’re also sexist, and to be clear it’s never ok to be sexual with someone who is your student or someone whose career you influence.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 14, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Stick to your guns, mathbabe!


  2. Russ
    October 14, 2015 at 10:49 am

    My wife and I think you were right the first time. Assumption A may be common, but many harmful things are common. Some less than they were when the word hippie was first uttered, because hippies asked folks to get over it. Hippies are right about many things. Let’s keep making progress.

    For what it’s worth, my wife is highly socially adept, I am not, and we both have doctorates in a math field. Assumption A might have kept us apart. We also have math-talented children, and we’d rather they grow up in a world where Assumption A has become less common, because of Assumption B: Assortative mating is associated with happiness..


  3. mrgeocool
    October 14, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Assumption A sucks.


  4. cat
    October 14, 2015 at 11:23 am

    I don’t think its fair that one gender has to constantly be navigating romantic overtures in their professional environs while another doesn’t. This seems especially unfair when one gender will suffer negative consequences when they rebuff the romantic advances and the initiator of the advances usually only suffers a bruised ego, which is not a negative consequence.

    So even before we get to Assumption A the situation is unfair to a whole gender because they are more cognitive load for one gender doing the same job because the other gender fails to understand the social dynamic of a gender imbalanced profession.

    A) You are not the only person hitting on the scarce gender so they are constantly having to evaluate everyone’s motives.
    B) They also have to parse if you are a creeper who will ruin their career and/or life.

    So your “genuine, non creepy interest” is just another layer of BS they have to navigate.


  5. A. Nony Mouse
    October 14, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Friend of mine met her future husband at a scientific conference. They emailed for a bit before they met again. They lived about 300 miles apart so this was clearly for real from the beginning.

    Fast forward 15 years, two PhDs, three kids, several joint papers and a book in progress.

    So I would advise Woman not at a bar to not turn her back on this, even if the specific man she met wasn’t someone she was interested in.


    • bf
      October 14, 2015 at 1:24 pm

      The only reason that isn’t me is because we lived 1100km apart (for a while my phone bill was higher than my rent). Yet I think WNAAB has a point, and I particularly agree with Christina Sormani below.


      • A. Nony Mouse
        October 14, 2015 at 2:32 pm

        Reading the Sormani post, it’s enlightening.

        For my friends, there’s a difference between two people “gazing across a crowded room” and feeling the connection, and getting hit up endlessly.


  6. Christina Sormani
    October 14, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    It’s not just Assumption A (that you cannot collaborate with someone who has expressed sexual interest in you). I’ve been able to work with people who asked me out using “I married” or “I’m dating” excuse to completely close the possibility of sex off the list. One wants to form a close relationship with a collaborator without having to worry if you are sending signals that any of these meetings are dates. Keep in mind, often you are travelling and alone with collaborators, and so having some permanent “this won’t become sexual” sign is important to those of us who are not interested in having sex with our collaborators.

    But moving beyond Assumption A, it is incredibly aggrevating to be one of 2 women at a conference with 60 men the overwhelming majority of whom are heterosexual and giving these men the go ahead to suggest a date or sex at a conference, puts these two women in the position of possibly turning down anywhere from 3-10 offers in a weekend. Which feels very much like being at a bar.

    Then there’s: this is a foreign country, so the date isn’t the beginning of a long term relationshio, its just an attempt at a one night stand: effectively a proposition for sex. There’s a reasonably large portion of the population that considers such a proposition to be about as insulting as a man saying: “Oh I feel like a blow job, can you come into my office?” I’m trying to think of something here that actually would be insulting to mathbabe.

    Meanwhile we are at these conferences and we have no one to have dinner with unless we are invited by a group, because we have to spend all our time worrying about sending the wrong signals. When actually the whole thing would be much simpler if there was absolutely 0 possibility of sex at a math conference between mathematicians.

    After all, the mathematicians who feel like having sex during a conference, can always go to bars and try to pick up sex partners there. Why the hell do they need to be bothering the women mathematicians for it?


  7. Christina Sormani
    October 14, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Everyone agrees that it is sexual harassment if the same man asks a woman out repeatedly. What people don’t realize is that if it is considered permissible to ask a women out at a conference once, then she will be asked out be many men, thus she will be having the annoying experience of repeatedly turning down sexual advances. This is why asking women out in a work environment where the male to female ratio is horrific is so absolutely uncomfortable for many of the women.


    • bf
      October 14, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      I totally agree with every single word.


    • hilbertthm90
      October 14, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      You conflate two things: asking someone out is not equivalent to a sexual advance (you seem to switch back and forth in both your posts). If we stick to the original scenario of asking someone out, I just find it highly improbable (even if considered permissible) that any given woman will be asked out by several men. I’ve been to these things, and starting a long-distance relationship is the last thing on 99% of the attendee’s minds. If sexual advances are on the table, I could see this to be a bigger problem. This is why I think keeping these two notions separate is vital to productive conversation on the topic.


      • October 14, 2015 at 7:32 pm

        Eh. I don’t think other people make as big a distinction as you seem to do.


  8. bf
    October 14, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    I wonder how big a role being non-traditionally attractive plays in one’s perception. As someone consistently rated “too ugly to even think about dating” throughout high-school, going to college and having young men hit on me was a welcome change of pace.

    I started going to conferences in 1988, and since 1991 I am officially part of a couple in the same research field, so off limits. In particular, BC (before children) we almost always went to conferences together. I have to say there wasn’t a lot of hitting on me even in those three years :).

    I have heard* too many male straight mathematicians dismiss the ability of good-looking female ones because of their looks for my comfort. I even suspect that being really good-looking can handicap one’s career, if one is female.

    *I’m very short-sighted but my hearing is excellent, especially my ability to overhear conversations not meant for me.


  9. Kevin
    October 14, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Perhaps there is a real opportunity! We should simply state that all future math-related events will be strictly nonsexual, in an effort to get more women and asexual men into the profession.

    Judging by the responses here, the stampede out of the orgy-filled social sciences would be immense.


    • October 14, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      No need to be sarcastic. Let’s take everyone at face value, we are all trying to understand and to make ourselves understood.

      On Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 2:53 PM, mathbabe wrote:



      • Kevin
        October 15, 2015 at 3:40 pm


        Mathbabe: “My new advice towards math men will be in the future: don’t ask out other women in math, and certainly not in your own field, and most definitely not in the context of a math conference.”

        Oh, you mean the part about the social sciences being “orgy-filled”? I’m speaking on a relative scale.


      • Kevin
        October 15, 2015 at 3:57 pm

        BTW, this was the real gem of your piece: “My final word on this is this: I do think we’re in danger of conflating two issues, namely sexuality and sexism.”

        I just wish you’d thought about that a bit more before you decided to begin advising all math men not to ask any math women out under any circumstances.

        Keep writing your columns, and keep working the issues!


  10. th
    October 14, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    I think your advice is spot on for math graduate students. Math guys are more intellectual thinker than physical doer (a nice way of saying that they are most likely wimpy type and not Unabomber type; at worst like Geoffrey Marcy) so they can be weird but least likely to be dangerous like an ISIS or a white supremacist type.

    I went to a High School parent back to school night, met my daughter’s Algebra teacher in class for 10 minutes, and all I could think of is, how dangerous it is for the teacher to leave his only school cart with one wheel half the size of the the other three and the reason he did not fixed it is because he is not a hands-on type person and is depended on others to fix things. I thought, smart math teacher, yes; good with his hands, no.

    A person who survives 4 years in college and a few years of graduate school should be given some benefit of a doubt and perhaps a second chance.


  11. October 14, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    One thing I’d like to say is that there is no dichotomy between the guy’s perspective being #1 or #2 in Aunt P’s list and Woman not in a bar being hurt for reasons in the same ball park as Christina Sormani’s comments on this post or CS’s comments on the original Aunt P post.
    Also, if there’s something men (and I think most would fall into category #1 or #2 in terms of attitude) should learn from this, it’s to be very careful about not putting women on the spot when making a romantic proposal of any sort – I’d suggest that it’s always good etiquette to take visible steps to ensure there’s no pressure in such proposals under all circumstances, and limiting the audience is a good first step. In my mind, overtones of coercion or pressure are where we get into harassment territory.
    More generally, it seems that considering how your approach may be seen by the person your approaching is likely to be helpful in getting a more favourable response, so from that point of view men who are able to internalise what CS is saying are at an advantage.


  12. DJ
    October 14, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    In fields where women outnumber men, many women still find it annoying to be hit on. (I have no firsthand experience, but my wife tells me this was the case for her.) So I don’t think losing collaborators to Assumption A is a complete explanation.


  13. October 14, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    I’m partly with you – I think that nerds and geeks finding each other is a good thing, and realistically, work-related locations are places of opportunity to find people you may have affinities with. I’m also somewhat uncomfortable with the widespread attitude (in the US) to consider workplace romance as something by default inappropriate, in particular if seniority levels are different. BUT. Well, several buts.

    1. The “once you’ve been involved you can’t ever work together” thing. I don’t believe in it — heck, I’m Facebook friends with at least four (possibly more) of my spouse’s ex’s, and she sees the posts of one of mine (as well as two more who once declared serious crushes on me). But hey, we’re lesbians of an age where this sort of thing is completely unremarkable. For people who meet in a work-related context, I would very strongly advise to think ahead, seriously and honestly, and think of expected scenarios and let’s say 10th percentile bad case scenarios of their relationship ending, and what it would mean for one’s ability to collaborate in the future. So: TAKE IT SLOW.

    2. The putting-someone-on-the-spot in front of others thing. A complete no-no. I’d be absolutely livid if someone did this. During conference hours, respect the professional persona!

    3. … and yes, it’s unjust. Women have already a harder time being taken seriously in math, or science, or tech, or most academic disciplines anyways, so doing this to a woman, as a man, shows a major amount of cluelessness about the sexist nature of the work environment here.

    4. And then there is this: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-end-sexual-harassment-in-astronomy/ , and shovelfuls more of this sort of things. As long as the playing field is so far from being level, taking it extra-slow, especially as a straight man, is an absolute requirement even for basic decency.

    So, no, of course it’s not sexual harassment to ask someone out who you feel attracted to, but doing it without regards for possibly bad repercussions for work relationships (strike 1), in front of peers (strike 2) and during conference hours given the current attention paid to the sexualization of women in academic/tech/STEM settings (strike 3) makes me shake my head and feel quite sorry for your questioner.


  14. Another Nony Mouse
    October 15, 2015 at 6:02 am

    Slow down Math Babe! I think your initial advice was off, but now you have swung too far in the opposite direction. Let me suggest a better version of assumption A.

    Assumption A’: If one practitioner of X has behaved unprofessionally toward another another practitioner of X they may no longer be able to do X together. Especially if the unprofessional behavior occurred in public at a conference about X.

    Asking someone out on a date who happens to work in the same profession as you does not, in and of itself, constitute unprofessional behavior. Doing so during the working part of a conference in front of colleagues does.


  15. Hedgehog
    October 16, 2015 at 11:06 am

    For those who find Assumption A and Mathbabe’s advice to be too strict (deontological, in philosophy jargon), here’s an another (consequentialist) way of expressing LJC Boston’s point about “bait and switch,” brought in support of WNAAB and Christina Sormani.

    Suppose that WNAAB has a chance at getting one good thing, a successful math collaboration. Then it suddenly turns out that WNAAB gets this chance only if she also has to accept a second gamble on the chance that a date with her prospective collaborator will be pleasant. (This assumes that the date has any chance of being pleasant, against which Christina Sormani has raised strong doubts.)

    Now WNAAB has a reduced chance of getting the first thing, because it’s now a chance of two events, not one. It had better be good, or else it’s not worth taking this chance!

    As a result, the man making this offer must have a very high opinion of the value of the things he offers (the collaboration with him AND the date with him), if he believes WNAAB should want to take him up on this combined offer.

    Also, it seems to me that a conference goer probably has other wants and needs, such as getting a good night’s sleep, which conflicts with even a pleasant date. Especially when the conference goer has crossed time zones, like WNAAB.


  16. Julie
    October 17, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    I think the correct answer may lie somewhere in the middle. It sounds like the guy did a dumb and insensitive thing to ask her out in front of other people. On the other hand, she is potentially overreacting to assume that asking her to dinner means he has no respect for her research or that they can never work together. He may have been taking a special interest in her, but he may have also been equally interested to discuss research as a topic of dinner conversation.

    Going forward, all she really has to say is that she doesn’t date people in her field but that she’d enjoy collaborating with him. Personally, I am involved in collaborations with people I rejected and people who rejected me. They can work just fine when people act like adults on both sides.


  17. Dr Tom
    October 29, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    For Smith, imagine how differently the scene would have played out had he said, “WNAAB, several of us are going to dinner tonight, would you like to join us”, or even safer for all, “Would you like to join us at a table for lunch.” and then not to monopolize, nor ignore, WNAAB’s attention at the restaurant or table. Smith could go slow, see how things progress, and perhaps after a few meetings at conferences, the two of them end up collaborating on much more than math. They keys are to be patient, polite, and to think of the other’s emotional and physical safety.


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