Why You Should Never Send Me In to Negotiate a Treaty

There was a five-year period when BioGirl went off to Stanferd to get her Doctor Doolittle Doctorate. During that period of time, I would go visit her in the Bay Area quite a lot, usually over a weekend. The first time I went to visit her, I was introduced to her gaggle of friends, many of whom were also of the scientist ilk. “They are AWESOME,” she told me. And they were. “They are kind of disorganized,” she also said. “Brace yourself.”

We met up outside the lab where she worked, the time was something like 6pm, with the idea that we would figure out where to go get dinner. Everyone showed up. Dinner options were discussed. Time ticked by. No decision was made. Talking, talking, options, options. The sands of the hourglass trickling away. Hunger growing. An hour went by. A whole hour. Then more.

Finally, something happened. Someone said sushi (marine biologists, you know) and the Dinner Option Treaty looked like it might have a leg to stand on. But then? It all went terribly wrong once again. Someone started to talk about whose cars would be driven to the restaurant, and who would ride in which of the cars. This, once again, took for-flippin’-ever.

When the Carpooling Accord was finally settled, we all got in cars and drove to the restaurant. Following the Dinner Option Treaty negotiations and the Carpooling Accord came the No Reservation Group Seating Agreement. How many people did we have again? I forgot to count! Me too! And half of the group isn’t here yet! How will we know how many people we have? Who has a cell phone? Sorry, hostess who is trying to seat us! Oh, ok, most of the group is here now, let’s count. Wait, where’s Joe, Steve, and Mike? Anyone seen Joe, Steve and Mike? They were just here. Did they leave? What? They are going to pick up more people? Which people? How many?

The No Reservation Group Seating Agreement almost broke me. But I persevered.

We finally got ourselves seated (after the Who Will Sit By Who Charter, followed by the Who is Going to Share a Plate with Who Deal), and ate.

At this point, I just want to say three things.
1. We started, may I remind you, at about 6pm.
2. By the time we actually ate dinner, it was 10pm. TEN. PEE EM. IN THE NIGHT. FOUR HOURS AFTER MEETING UP.
3. I was in the midst of the most highly educated group of mothereffers in the middle of a world class institute of braininess. These people were brimming with headmeats and they all have the papers to prove it.

This was all topped off by the Splitting of the Bill Pact which was seriously the part where I HAD TO GO HOME. RIGHT NOW. Rightnowrightnowrightnow. Uncle! I said Uncle! I give!

I had never, in my life, witnessed such a prolonged, sustained period of disorganization, where no one seemed to know what was going on. There was no sense of clarity, not a moment of cohesion. I had never seen such a display. Not even in college, where for a short time I lived in a suite of hippie kids who were chronically on The Chronic. It was amazing, what I witnessed.

And I continued to witness it, whenever I went to visit. And don’t get me wrong, Biogirl’s posse were all awesome people. I now consider them my friends as well. One on one, they rock my world. But the bigger the group? The more they get bogged down by the decisions they have to make. I don’t know why. I never figured out why.

So this weekend, Biogirl invited a bunch of people to go out for a belated birthdayfest. Most of the people were sciencey work people. We got there early and cordoned off a bunch of tables in the pizza joint. And when everyone got there? They started to talk about the tables. How should we arrange the tables to optimize sociability, to be precise. And the discussion started, and kept going, and…going. I started to panic. Crap, oh crap. It was happening again! With an entirely different group of people! Am I not going to be able to eat dinner for another 4 hours? IS THAT WHAT IS HAPPENING AGAIN??

Thankfully, that didn’t happen again. But it did turn out to be a longer-than-really-necessary discussion about table placement. It was maybe…twenty minutes. And what we ended up with? Was a pretty jacked up table geography, to be honest, whereby most of the party guests were literally locked into their spots. The only way to get out of there was to perhaps crawl underneath the tables.

I want to be clear here that in each situation? I kept my mouth SHUT. Because there is so much talking, so many ideas, so much confusion, that adding one more opinion into the mix just seems like more than I can bear. I just sort of wait, in total amazement, for it to be over. And maybe I pray, for Jesus to send me some food soon, just a little bit.

So perhaps I am not exactly helpful, is what I want to cop to.

I am left to contemplate what this group had in common with the California group. What is the common denominator? What causes a group dynamic to fall apart in such a way? What makes a group turn into The Keystone Kops of Project Management?

1. Brainy scientists have TOO MUCH BRAINS and so they get Absent-minded Professor-ish when faced with everyday social tasking.
2. BioGirl has a superpower whereby, the larger the number of people around her, the more they lose their minds due to her sheer fabulousness. Sort of like how people lose their shit around celebrities.

It’s got to be one of the two. Brains or Biogirl’s animal magnetism. Maybe both.


  1. OH MY GOD. I can't handle things like that. Even if I don't know anyone, I step in and make the decisions- otherwise I go CRAZY. And my friend who got her PhD at Stanford- her friends are like that too! Not to discount the magnetism of BioGirl, but I think that maybe it's a brainiac problem.

  2. Scientists enjoy solving problems more than they enjoy people and socializing (and food, I guess), and so they create problems just so that they can fix them?

  3. Be grateful you don't work in an academic library–this is how ERVERY group of faculty/academic types handles EVERYTHING. It is maddening.

  4. In my defense, I would like to say that Librarian Girl is exaggerating, but…well…if anything she is being charitable. I think for us academics, it's a weird combination of liking to analyze and solve problems (not SO bad) and everyone wanting to be right (DANGER! DANGER!).So, I would like to publicly thank LG for surviving many years of the aforementioned scenarios! I think I should come up with some sort of award for this. Hmmmm…

  5. It's #2. I've met BioGirl and I was starstruck. I couldn't stop talking about Kwame Kilpatrick for about an hour. I'm still embarrased.

  6. MAP, your comment cracked me up! And as I recall, I thoroughly enjoyed getting the scoop on Detroit and Chicago politics! Next, time perhaps we can find a way to involve furniture rearrangement?

  7. I have friends like that. We used to "do brunch" together. I learned pretty quickly to actually get up and have a nice breakfast first, before going out to meet them so I didn't have to strangle anyone when we all got to our sometimes(no kidding) 4pm "brunch" for frak's sake.

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