IU Health & Vitality: Holiday tips for romance, small talk and more

Dec. 18, 2013


The December issue of IU Health & Vitality has a holiday theme, discussing the following topics:

Romance and the holidays
Small talk skills improve with practice; pay it forward
Keep straying eyes and hands out of medicine chests

Romance and the holidays
Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- For many people, the holidays are a time for family, travel, gifts, food, stress -- and romance (for better or for worse).

Mid-December through mid-February is considered a peak period for online dating, said Justin Garcia, scientific advisor for the international online dating site Match.com and faculty member at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute and Department of Gender Studies.

In a survey of 1,000 Match.com clients, 82 percent reported that the holidays make them feel more romantic than other times of the year. In the same study, a quarter of respondents reported experiencing a break-up during the holiday season.

"The holidays can be a really stressful time in terms of trying to start new relationships and also getting out of previous relationships," Garcia said. "If we think of what happens with many Americans this time of year, we're traveling, we're spending more money, we're often getting to see family and friends. As much as this can bring a lot of joy and excitement, it can also bring a lot of stress. This combination can be tricky to navigate."

Garcia, an evolutionary biologist, is one of the principal investigators for Match.com's annual Singles in America study, the largest study on U.S. singles, drawn not from those on the dating site but from a nationally representative sample. He offers these insights about dating, drawn from the 2012 round of Singles in America and the survey of 1,000 Match.com clients:

  • Holidating. The survey of 1,000 people found that 14 percent of men and 10 percent of women admitted to dating someone during the holidays just to have someone to spend the holidays with. Garcia said that inevitably, many singles are grilled over the holidays about their solitary status. "This is unique to humans," he said. "No other animals on the planet are so involved with the mating habits of kin as humans are."
  • The Internet trumps bars as a place to meet men and women. A historically unprecedented number of single Americans is now turning to the Internet to find love: More than a quarter of singles (27.5 percent) reported that they have dated someone they met online. "Online" includes social media sites, such as Facebook, and chat groups, with the rate dropping to about 21 percent when restricted to online dating sites. Twenty percent of singles met their most recent first date online vs. 7 percent who met at a bar.
  • Peak season. The peak online dating season is during the holidays, between December and February, when Match.com sees a 25 to 30 percent increase in new members registering.
  • Second looks can pay off. Thirty-five percent of singles have fallen in love with someone they were not initially attracted to. Of these people, 71 percent became smitten after having great conversations or finding shared interests or both.

Garcia said online dating has the benefit of making people aware of singles living near them, in their area or within their search radius. The dating sites provide so many options, however, that it can seem overly complicated. He suggests customers spend some time beforehand thinking about what they want in a relationship and how they can communicate this to their dates.

"It's good to have a priority, as is true of so many things," he said. "With online dating, think about what you want. If you're looking for a spouse, it could be more complicated. Love and a spouse come after, with time. Online dating is about dating. There could be many people who you date. Some work out and some don't. But it's meant to be fun. People often want to jump a step."

Garcia’s research interests include evolutionary and biocultural models of human behavior, romantic love and intimate relationships, sexual and social monogamy, and uncommitted sex and hook-up culture in emerging adulthood.

Garcia can be reached at jusrgarc@indiana.edu. Top

Small talk skills improve with practice; pay it forward
Bernardo J. Carducci

Bernardo Carducci | Photo By Indiana University Southeast

NEW ALBANY, Ind. -- Small talk is far from "small" or trivial, says psychology professor and shyness expert Bernardo J. Carducci. It is the salve of a disconnected society -- the "cornerstone of civility."

"Small talk is really, really important. It helps us connect with people, and not just at holiday gatherings," said Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. "If you make connections with people, it makes it much more difficult for you to treat them in an uncivil way. If you think about being kind to and connecting with people, people you engage in conversation, you're going to open a door for them, you'll let them step in front of you in line. You'll engage in more acts of kindness and fewer acts of rudeness."

Small talk pays it forward. When you're nicer to other people, Carducci says, "They're going to be nicer to you and nicer to others."

"Small talk is important, particularly now when we have people retreating into their own electronic bubbles, their own worlds, where they can get whatever they want on their own terms. The people who are happiest and most influential have the strongest social network, social capital."

Like many skills, small talk benefits from practice. Carducci offers these tips for fine-tuning small talk skills.

  • Start small. "I like to talk with anybody," Carducci said. "I'll talk with a soft drink machine just to practice. I call it 'quick talk.'" It might be a simple greeting or a compliment and then the moment passes. "We're creatures of habit, we see the same people all the time, so that compliment turns into a smile, a more extensive greeting, which can turn into a conversation," he said. "That's how you build social networks."
  • Aim for nice, not brilliant. "People think you need to be really funny, witty; you just have to be nice. It sounds trite. You have to be willing to talk to others." Carducci said a good way to practice is to find someone who's alone, such as at a party or at school, and begin a conversation.
  • Have something to say. Bad conversationalists typically insist they have nothing to say. More likely, Carducci said, is they are highly self-conscious, which makes them incredibly self-critical. He recommends "social reconnaissance," making a conscious effort to learn about current events, the local area and local issues in order to have topics to discuss. People shop a lot during the holidays, for example, so think of some shopping- or gift-related experiences or observations that can be discussed. Reading newspapers and catching up on major sporting news are two examples of ways to "prime the pump."
  • Rehearse your introduction. "When people meet you for the first time, they'll want to know two pieces of information: your name and something about you," Carducci said. "Be prepared to offer information that will help move the conversation along -- typically something about what you do or how you know the people in the social situation, what brings you there. Think about it ahead of time. It shouldn't be too long but needs to be long enough to get people going. 'I work at the mall,' isn't long enough. 'I sell cell phones at the mall. You won't believe some of the reasons people want them,' starts a conversation."
  • You're late? Big mistake. "If you walk in and everything is already buzzing, you're already behind," Carducci said. "Groups have already formed. If you get there on time, you're greeting people and pacing the conversation. You bring the new people into the conversation -- 'I'm so and so, and this is A, B and C., and we were just talking about …"
  • Extend the conversation. Conversations can evolve from one topic to another. A conversation about shopping, for example, can shift to someone you met at the mall who was from Florida, to favorite experiences in the Sunshine State. "That's when conversation really starts to flow, because you're no longer thinking about yourself -- how you look and sound -- you're thinking about 'How do I build on this.' You focus on the task at hand."
  • Now, stop talking. "Favorite topic" arises when someone talks at length (five to 10 minutes or longer) about something that interests them, but not necessarily everyone else. To avoid dominating the conversation, stop periodically to give others a chance to change the topic. "Poor conversationalists might feel like they're on a roll and get excited, and not realize they're dominating. If people are interested, they'll ask questions when you stop."
  • Help yourself and others with "quick talk." Talking with lots of people for brief periods of time can take pressure off both parties in a conversation. Say, 'I've got to go; there are a couple of people I need to talk to. We'll talk again later.' This helps people avoid dominating conversations while also demonstrating they are capable of talking with a variety of people.

Small talk becomes easier with practice -- and uneasy conversationalists should start a week in advance of a party or activity. This gives them time for "social reconnaissance" and to practice jokes and discussions with family and friends. But they shouldn't wait for a party to practice.

"It's like exercise," Carducci said. "If you can build it into your daily routine, you're healthier. The more you do it, the easier it becomes."

Learn more about small talk in Carducci's book, "The Pocket Guide to Making Small Talk: How to Talk to Anyone Anytime Anywhere About Anything."

Carducci can be reached at 812-941-2295 or bcarducc@ius.edu. Top

Keep straying eyes and hands out of medicine chests

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The potential for misuse of prescription drugs and alcohol during the holidays increases because of social gatherings, tradition and travel, so public health experts at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington have a simple message: lock up your Rx drugs and be mindful of the amount of alcohol you consume and make available.

"We don't like to think of guests rifling through our medicine chests, but it is a possibility," said Courtney Stewart, research associate at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center. "So, play it safe. Guests will be using bathrooms and placing coats and purses in various rooms. Prescription drugs of any kind should be placed in a safe location where they are kept locked and out of the hands of guests."

The abundance of alcohol and alcohol advertising over the holidays can ramp up consumption for both social drinkers and people who might be struggling with their alcohol consumption.

"Party hosts may serve stronger drinks than are usually consumed, and guests may drink many more beverages while 'under the influence of conviviality and cheer,'" said Carole Nowicke, also a research associate at the IPRC. "Adults with alcohol problems and under-aged youth may find alcohol unmonitored and plentiful even in homes where alcohol typically is not available."

Stewart and Nowicke offer the following tips:

  • Lock up or move all prescription medications to a safe location, such as a locked car or a drawer in a locked bedroom.
  • Place over-the-counter medicines in a handy yet private location where you can dispense them to guests who may need an aspirin or antacid, etc.
  • Choose non-alcoholic drinks at social events. "Just because it is a party doesn’t mean that you have to have a drink that contains alcohol," Stewart said. "Enjoy some hot cocoa or sparkling water and good conversation."
  • Avoid binge drinking, which describes the amount of alcohol consumed in about two hours -- five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women.
  • Recovering alcoholics could attend AA meetings, avoid activities with alcohol or bring their own drinks, such as soda, coffee or tea.
  • Be aware of possible interactions between alcohol and medication
  • Provide alternative beverages for younger guests and those who do not drink alcohol. Many recipes can be found online. 

Excessive drinking can lead to impaired driving, which can be deadly, and also "holiday heart syndrome." Nowicke said emergency room patients with no previous history of cardiac problems report having a “funny feeling” in their chest, which sometimes is diagnosed as atrial fibrillation and could require medication, monitoring, further testing and follow-up care. She said the exact mechanism causing alcohol-related cardiac dysrhythmias is still under discussion in professional circles.

Nowicke can be reached at drugprc@indiana.edu. Stewart can be reached at cestewar@indiana.edu. For more information about the prevention of abuse involving alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, visit the IPRC online. Top

For additional assistance with these items, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or traljame@iu.edu. Follow Health & Vitality news from Indiana University on TwitterGoogle PlusTumblr and the Health & Vitality blog.