The Value of Advice

Everyone has a right to an opinion, but nobody is entitled to one. Opinions are worthless unless formed by reason and informed by fact. A worthwhile opinion takes effort.

This is one of the reasons why we rarely give advice. Advice is usually an unwelcome visitor, and even when invited, it is expected to be an agreeable guest. People who ask for advice are usually hoping instead for validation.

Recently, however, someone did ask me for advice, and since it seemed a sincere request on a subject that was well researched, I decided to comply. The question was a very old one that has been researched for millennia but never fully answered. The question was, “How do I find my perfect mate?”

That’s not a direct quote, but it contains the essence of the actual question I heard, and I hope that you laughed as much when you  read it as I did when I heard it.

Nevertheless, the question has value, and I don’t mean the value of the profits made by online dating services that claim to be able to answer it.

Let’s get right to it, and we’ll begin by addressing the conventional wisdom of popular culture, which often conflates passion and codependency into a Top 40 simulacrum of “love.” These relationships have their value and all are worthwhile if only to spark the twinkle in an old man’s eye. Sometimes we need know our extremes to find our balance.

But popular culture offers little that is useful for finding that long term, self sustaining relationship.

We hear a lot about “chemistry” when we talk about relationships, and a chemical attraction is an important component. But chemistry also offers an excellent metaphor for the philosophically minded.

Chemical bonds are primarily of two types:  ionic and covalent. In an ionic bond, one side of the pair has a positive charge and the other a negative. One gains an electron and one loses. “Opposites attract,” says popular culture. “He completes me,” croons the singer. Think of salt when you think of ionic bonding. Salt is easily dissolved in water, and ionic bonding is the weakest of chemical bonds.

In a covalent bond, two neutral atoms begin to share electrons. The shared electrons form a new orbit that extends around the nuclei of both atoms, and a new molecule is produced. Carbon forms covalent bonds when a diamond is produced. “Like attracts like and repels unlike” says ancient wisdom.

In popular culture, perhaps only a Sheldon Cooper would write a love note composed of chemical equations, but you can see what we’re driving at. The relationships that don’t last have their value, but they are destined to dissolve by virtue of their codependency.

The strongest relationships are covalent. We meet the best people when we are satisfied with our own company; when our actions are not compelled by need.

Experience, however, compels me to say that this advice, while useful, will rarely if ever be taken. It may only be useful in retrospect.

An elderly friend of mine, while not a chemist, was a very wise man who gave me essentially the same advice, but in a practical application. He said, “Do the things that you love to do, and that’s where you’ll meet the people you’re supposed to meet.” In my own life this bit of wisdom has proven it’s worth again and again.

“Do the things you love and that’s how you’ll meet the people you’re supposed to meet,” I told my young friend. His reply was, “But I love to stay home and read.”

Well, we haven’t exactly solved the challenge of finding the perfect relationship, but perhaps we have demonstrated the value of advice.


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