Thursday, February 12, 2009

Conservation of Energy

Relationship Energy?

This Freakonomics post is very interesting. For very many reasons.

Excerpt 1:
A business exec told me that he thinks of consulting firms a bit like Charlie Sheen thinks about prostitutes. When I asked him to explain, he said that when Sheen was being sentenced for using a prostitute, the judge asked him why a man like him would have to pay for sex. And Sheen reportedly replied: “I don’t pay them for sex. I pay them to leave.”
Excerpt 2:
But Sheen’s (possibly apocryphal) quotation has me thinking that there may be contexts in which people would pay a premium to avoid a relationship. Some people may at times prefer A.T.M.’s to tellers in part because they don’t want to speak to tellers. Some people may prefer Merry Maids to a regular housekeeper (or may prefer to be absent when the cleaning is done). Or some people may prefer buying at in part because of the lack of human contact.
Excerpt 3:
Of course, there are other ways to spin the demand for non-relational contracting. Restricting and regulating our contractual relationships allows us to control and concentrate our limited relationship energy on those people who matter most to us. Surely this is sometimes the case. But conserving our limited relationship energy may backfire. Our capacity to interact with others may atrophy if it goes unused.

I think about the idea expressed in the third excerpt often. I want to put my "relationship energies" in the right place because I get so extremely busy throughout the year. Yet choosing which relationships are "worth the cost" is often hard to tell; for one, because how could we possible know which relationships will end up being meaningful--conserving our energies only to ignore a perfect friend/loved one? And secondly, the unfortunate truth is that we might end up spending too much time/affection/energy on the wrong person and end up being jaded, lonely, and socially inept. I do believe the problem lies in the concept of "relationship energy" itself.

I suspect it is only a myth that relationship energy can run out. It's probably more like conservation of energy: Energy can not be destroyed, just transferred. Hence we ought not avoid certain relationships in favor of others. Or should we? While the concept seems cruel, isn't it something people do every day? We decide who we will spend time with; and those people are often the ones we have deemed "worthy" of our time. Oh, it's so confusing. Since when did time management and relationships get so intertwined? It's unfortunate really.


  1. Hey, Jenn! I'm quite pleased to see that you did not abandon this site and are right up-to-date with current blogs. About relationship-energy I used to be bad at making small talk with people I had only minor familiarity with, but, as I've grown older, I've become pretty decent at it. In the interim though, I did feel a desire to not wanting to use a lot of effort (and energy) on someone I might not become a pal to, and so, would try to avoid that kind of situation with some frequency. It took an effort of work, a struggle, in showing interest in something I might not have had one in, and it was slightly uncomfortable in the uncertainty of whether I could leave with a good impression on that individual or a shaky one. It is better now. I certainly agree with the common feeling of so many others before me that with age comes a lot of improvements to our personalities.

    Gary W.

  2. You know, often I feel the exact same way...that I am torn between two or more people...who do I spend time with? Sometimes, it can get downright frustrating, making me angry that I am put into such a situation or else I get concerned that I am not giving every person their adequate amount of "emily" time (I don't mean to sound conceited). When I was a child, I did the exact same thing to my stuffed animals...I always would feel incredibly guilty if a stuffed animal got more attention than the others so I would rotate them around as to which ones I would cuddle with when I went to bed (of course, there was always my main stuffed animal, Bunny, which I still sleep with).
    I think what is greater than lack of time is the strength of a bond. We just have a better bond with some than others.
    Even now, I still feel a twinge of child-like guilt knowing that most of my beloved stuffed animals are, quite literally, stuffed in big plastic bags in my closet at home. What could they have possibly done to deserve such treatment? All they did was love me and this is what they get in return? And yet, while I still feel my almost infantile connection to these stuffed animals, I would rather they be there at home than my one, well-loved, well-worn, stuffed bunny that I got for my first birthday.
    For some reason, I always had a better bond with this particular stuffed bunny. I had at least two other stuffed animals that were made by the exact same company, the exact same line of stuffed animals, and looked almost exactly the same as the bunny. But they weren't THE bunny. They just didn't feel the same.
    So what is my point? Scientifically, you are right. Energy cannot be created or destroyed as I have just been reminded while studying for my MCATs. But while this energy is made up of atoms and electrons, neutrons, protons, and all the things that we don't really care about, our relationship energy is unique. It can be depleted. It can be renewed. Old bonds can linger and new ones can be formed. What draws us to a relationship is the passion we perceive, what benefits we can draw from it. We humans crave the necessities that make us better, stronger. And yes, sometimes that requires deciding where/whom your time is better spent.
    The most lovely thing about this whole concept is that the bonds you have that you value the most are probably the bonds that will never leave you, no matter the time. Just like my bunny who sits faithfully on my bed.

  3. Interesting comments Gary and Aemelia. I enjoyed reading your insights!