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Facebook data is a goldmine of revelations into the structure and functioning of our social lives. The latest Facebook-related discovery offers potential answers to two great relationship questions: Should you date within your friend group? And can you tell if your relationship is destined to fail?
A study published recently has introduced an algorithm that can predict an individual’s significant other based on the mutual friends they share on Facebook. The algorithm measures “dispersion,” the extent to which two people’s mutual friends are connected to one another. In a study of 1.3 million people, using dispersion to predict an individual’s partner performed best on the networks of married U.S. males, accurately predicting their spouse 76.9% of the time.Interestingly, the study, a collaborative effort between Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell University, and Lars Backstrom, a senior engineer at Facebook, came to the conclusion that couples with mutual friends who were widely dispersed over an array of social settings were more likely to stay together than those with mutual friends in just one social setting. The study refers to the former structure of mutual friends as “dispersed” and the latter as “embedded.”Here is an example of dispersion: Let’s say you're a lawyer who plays softball and is involved in theatre. Your partner may know a colleague from your work, a player from your softball team, and one of the actors from your theatre company, but your friends likely do not know each other. Those shared friends would be an example of highly dispersed mutual friends. Whereas, if you and your partner happen to be co-workers and share friends within the office who all know one another, those friends would be embedded mutual friends. The second type of scenario is the type of relationship the study found tends to fail more often.The research found that, over a 60-day period, couples who had declared that they were “in a relationship” on Facebook were more likely to break up if the structure of their mutual friends exhibited “embeddedness” rather than “dispersion.”At first glance, this study seems to support the “don’t date within your friend group” doctrine. However, embeddedness and dispersion are not mutually exclusive. Using the example mentioned earlier, it’s possible that you and your partner are co-workers and share many “embedded” mutual friends in one network, but also share “highly dispersed” mutual friends elsewhere. The findings do not condemn dating within a friend group, but rather support maintaining a varied social background while in a relationship. It's a modern framing of the classic directive: “Keep your independence.” Not only is maintaining a varied social background likely to make you a more independent and well-rounded person, it also enriches your partner’s social life by offering them a bridge to an assortment of diverse social networks. They, in turn, become a bridge themselves between those social worlds. The key here is to mix 'n' match. It’s when the relationship is rooted in one indistinguishable blob of mutual friends that it is 50% more likely to fail, the study says.So: Date your friends, date your co-workers and date your entire softball team! But make sure that if things go sour, you have plenty of other social safe havens to run to.
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Twenty years ago, HIV and AIDS, along with teen pregnancy, were understood to be real, insidious, life-and-death problems. Now, HIV remains a global issue, and HPV has emerged as an STI that a lot -- like, a lot -- of people are going to get at some point: the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada report that 75% of Canadians will have HPV in their lifetime. Somehow, though, many sexually active North Americans have stopped caring very much about getting STIs.
Gabrielle Szabo, a health-care promotions specialist at Concordia University in Montreal, says that while it’s hard to generalize about young people’s attitudes about safe sex, “what we do know is that a large percentage of people do not report using condoms at their last sexual encounter. We also know that rates of sexually transmitted infections are on the rise amongst all age groups, including young people. Certainly that suggests that people either aren't thinking a lot about sexually transmitted infections or don't think it's that big a deal.”
September’s issue of Marie Claire featured an article with the headline “Am I the Last Woman Using Condoms?” Not long ago, that kind of thinking would have been seriously transgressive; now, for a lot of people in their 20s and 30s, unprotected sex isn’t a conscious decision, but just what tends to happen. Jake*, 34, says that he has had unprotected sex “with strangers and with partners. With strangers, often no protection was available, or we started without and stopped for a condom. With partners, sometimes we just went for it.” Henry*, who is 36, says “I have had unprotected sex, and looking back, it was stupid. In one instance, I remember we were caught up in the heat of the moment and she didn't stop us to use a condom. And I didn't suggest it, either. When I look back at it now, I believe that I was thinking that if she didn't suggest it then it was probably OK, because I knew that I didn't have any STIs and I assumed that she must be the same, and was on some kind of birth control.” Sofia*, 31, says that when she’s had unprotected sex, “It’s because I thought of it but didn't mention it. I don't have a lot of casual sex, so when I am engaging, it's with someone I'm close to and I, stupidly, don't use protection.”
That doesn’t mean that this generation has forgotten its early education entirely. Jack*, 28, says that he’s only had unprotected sex once, but “We were tested together, and assessed the risk and decided we were in love, and blah, blah, blah.” Reggie*, who is 37, says, “I have had unprotected sex but always with a partner after discussion and testing. I can only think of one occasion where it was spontaneous and that was a situation where a lot of drinking was involved.” Mike*, 24, says he’s “ashamed to admit it,” but he’s had unprotected sex “many times.” He says, “My ex hated condoms and insisted we go without… It would make me sick to my stomach some days if I thought about it too much. I always wanted to [use protection], because my parents instilled [its] importance in me from a very young age… Nowadays, I would gladly go without sex before ever having unprotected sex.”
The Night Out
Friday arrives and you've done all the planning -- around his schedule. When can he get away from work and family responsibilities and sneak away to meet you at the nearest bar for that first round? When he arrives, the preamble is usually the same. “Don’t let my wife know how much trouble we get into tonight… and she for sure cannot know that I smoked tonight,” says good ol’ Bob. And with that, the stage is now officially set for a night of mild debauchery that will stay between you and him and will never be spoken of at the next wedding or birthday dinner. You wince a little at the feeling, but you miss your old friend and so you indulge him. Bring on the first round.
Of course, after a few drinks and a great cut of meat, you will get a few standard conversations tossed your way that add to that gnawing feeling that you are a secret… a repository for forbidden topics and stress release. Bob begins to vent about the pressures of family, the lack of sex in his life and the incredible envy he has for your freedom. “You have no idea how lucky you are,” he repeats. But he’s not unhappy; he’s nostalgic. You are his time machine, taking him back to a place where the next round always had the word “shots” in it and trading stories about sexual conquests was 50% of an evening's banter.Bob isn’t taking advantage of you. He’s your friend, and he needs this from you. It’s not his fault you still play PS3 all day Saturday as you work your way up to another big night. He’s moved on. But these nights are his way of holding onto it a little, and you don’t mind feeling like a rock star when he looks at your weekends with mild jealousy. You’re not just his mistress -- you’re actually helping his marriage. Better he be out with you unloading than looking for other forms of release. But what happens the morning after?
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