Advice Column

Dear Sara,
There’s this really cool girl in one of my sections this semester, and we’ve been working on assignments together for a couple of weeks, sometimes over coffee. I’d like to ask her out for real sometime, but I’m afraid she’ll just see it as a casual get-together. How can I make it clear that I’m interested in her without saying it too directly?

—Smitten in Section

We’ve all been there, sitting across from someone in Starbucks, wondering: Is this a date? Was that flirting, or just my imagination? Did I actually just spend three dollars on hot tea? Good lord, what is Splenda made of? And in the midst of all these crucial quandaries, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between casual hanging out and casual dating these days.

It seems that the “real date” is dead. I certainly don’t know a lot of people who trot out the old dinner-and-a-movie routine when they’re trying to impress a new special someone.

An overly formal first date can kill the spark of romance before it ever ignites, leaving your date wondering why she suddenly feels like she’s at a job interview on a Friday night. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s certainly possibly to go too casual. A never-ending series of dining hall meals or drunken grinding at room parties isn’t likely to get you into the relationship of your dreams (assuming your dreams don’t resemble any of the “American Pie” movies).

It’s hard to find strike the right balance, but hey, you probably broke 1500 on the SAT so you must be able to learn the rules of the dating game, right? First, think of something specific that you’d like to do, so you can avoid the deadly “ you want to, like, do something…sometime?” It doesn’t have to be anything over-the-top or unusual, in fact, it’s best to avoid things out of your comfort zone on a first date. Save Peruvian food (hello, fried guinea pig) and spelunking for your six-month anniversary. Dinner or a drink is always good; avoid suggesting lunch or coffee, since these usually fall into the “friend activities” category. Just use common sense, and go with anything that sounds like it will be low-key, but fun. Go to an art museum, take a walk around Cambridge, or trying hanging out in a bookstore. As long as it’s just the two of you and a problem set isn’t involved, it will seem like it’s a date.

Lastly, if you feel like your interest will still be unclear, try just asking her out on a weekend night. It will be pretty clear that it’s a date, no matter what you end up doing, and you can worry about other things, like whether or not UHS has mailed those test results. But that’s another column…

Good luck,


Dear Sara,

I’m writing a thesis this year, and I don’t seem to be procrastinating very effectively. I’ve already written almost 20 pages! My advisor is annoyed that I’ve been working ahead, and he’s run out of related reading to assign me. What can I do to fill the time till my inevitable acceptance of the Hoopes Prize? Could you suggest some entertaining diversions from my magnum opus, preferably ones that would take up most of my waking hours?

—Overachieving in Organismic Biology

Laziness is not for the weak of heart. Don’t feel too discouraged when you’re just beginning—it takes finely honed skill to sleep until noon, eat, waste six hours on the Internet, eat, and sleep again. Most give up around the middle of the afternoon and start reading Foucault, or, God forbid, go to the gym.

First, and most importantly, make sure you are getting almost 10 hours of sleep a night. Nothing I’ll suggest later in this column will be as mentally and physically satisfying as being almost too well-rested. Don’t neglect the many different categories of nap, either: post-breakfast, afternoon, pre-dinner, and 7pm. Any time spent sleeping will seem to fly by at nearly 108 times the speed of normal life, greatly accelerating the approach toward your impending thesis deadline.

Secondly, a nearly inexhaustible source of procrastination is a phenomenon known as TV on DVD. Missed the last five seasons of “24” because you were in Lamont, writing response papers? Have no idea what the phrase “live together, die alone” refers to? Never got around to finding out how that whole Ross-Rachel thing worked out? The solution to these pressing issues lies in two words: Netflix membership. Sign up and let the 18-hour marathons begin.

Finally, never underestimate the Internet as a tool for the proactive procrastinator (not the oxymoron you might suppose). For daily “literary” entertainment, try or YouTube and provide enough video content to get you through the longest Sunday night, and a delightful alternative to ESPN is and will give you a quick taste of what your fellow procrastinators are up to; which can be anything from debating the calorie-burning effects of chewing gum to debating the calorie-burning effects of….well, other activities.

These strategies have gotten me through three years of putting off assignments until the morning they’re due, and I think they’re pretty fool-proof. Some might steer you toward taking up a hobby (or a recreational drug habit) to pass the time, but really, that’s missing the point of procrastination, which is to think/move/do as little as possible. Anything that produces scarves or nosebleeds is automatically disqualified.

Happy procrastinating,


--Please send questions or comments to Dear Sara runs on Mondays. All questions are published anonymously.