“What’s your sign?”  When Good Conversation Goes Woo

May 18, 2009

So I’m at this social gathering last Friday evening, meeting new people who all seem much cooler than I am.  But I’m wearing my new cool-person dark-wash Levi’s, so I’m feeling pretty confident there as I lean against the wall, coolly, beer in hand.

I get into a conversation with one of a pair of friends there:

Girl 1: "So, what were you guys up to before I got to the party?"
Me: "We were just going through some Trivial Pursuit cards for fun."
Girl 1: "Oh, that does sound like fun!  So…what do you do for a living?"
Me: *pause* "I work for the Center for Inquiry in Amherst."
Girl 1: "The what?"
(Brain: Yeah, try to sum THAT up in a casual conversation.)
Me: "It’s a non-profit educational organization that promotes and defends science and secularism."
Girl 1: "…That sounds interesting.  Um, so, what do you guys actually   do there?"

So, I start in on the   Committee for Skeptical Inquiry , the   Council for Secular Humanism ,   CFI in Amherst , the   international Centers ,   campus groups ,   Office of Public Policy ,   Jesus Project

Ten minutes (at least I   hope it was only ten minutes) pass.

Me: "…and, we even have a   full-time paranormal investigator on staff!"
Girl 1: "Wow, that’s awesome!  You’re actually doing important stuff.  Religions try to force such crazy ideas on people, but you’re actually working to try to make the world a better place!"
Me: *ego inflates a little, but playing it cool*  "Yeah, it’s a great place to be, and I work with fantastic people."

The party continues on.  About half an hour later, the pair of friends is sitting on the couch chatting with the evening’s host while I casually listen to their conversation.  (I don’t remember the finer details, but I’ll try to relay the gist of things.)

Girl 1: "…I really miss being in a relationship with Eric.  But I’m much more outspoken than he is."
Host: "That’s because you’re an Aquarius.  Both of you (gestures to pair) are Aquariuses."
(Brain: …Uh oh.)
Girl 2: "Heh, yeah.  And he was what, a Sagittarius?  Yep, that’s usually trouble."
Girl 1: "You’re right, I don’t usually get along with them.  But our moon signs were compatible, so I thought it might work out.  What’s your moon sign?"
Girl 2: "Scorpio, but I’m an Aries mask."
Girl 1: "That totally makes sense.  My moon sign is Gemini, which is really true!"
(Brain: Whaaa…?)
(Me: Shush, Brain.  Stop making my face look skeptical!  Neutral face, neutral face.)
Girls 1 and 2 turn to me: "What about you?"
(Brain: Tell them you think it’s bunk!)
(Me: Quiet!  I’m trying to be social here!)
Me: "I, uh, don’t really go for that stuff.  Everything I’ve ever read about my sign hasn’t described me very well anyway."
Girl 2: "So, what   is it?"
(Brain: It’s a load of crap, that’s what it is!)
(Me: Stop being antagonistic!  I just met these people and you’re trying to ruin it for me!)
Me: "Well, see if you can guess."
(Brain: Good move.)
Host: "Wait, wasn’t your birthday just two weeks ago?  You’re a Taurus, right?"
Girls 1 & 2: "Oh, yeah, that makes sense."
Me: "No, it was in mid-April.  But it doesn’t matter anyway."  *pause*  "April 16th."
Girl 1: "So, you’re an Aries?  I never would’ve guessed that.  I don’t usually get along with Aries."
Me: "Well, considering these Zodiac signs were calculated thousands of years ago, and the Earth’s alignment with the constellations has shifted since then, they don’t really line up anymore.  So I might actually be a Pisces by now…not that it matters much…"
Girl 2: "Well, what’s your moon sign?"
Me: "My what?  I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is."
(Brain: I do!  It’s a steaming pile of horsesh—)
(Me: SHUT UP!)

Girls 1 and 2 proceed to explain "moon signs" and "masks" to me while I try to figure out how to politely ask them why in the world they might think that 1/12th of the world’s population could possibly exhibit eerily similar personality characteristics because of the date of their birth, or what they think the mechanism might be for constellation arrangements and sun position on the date of birth to impact future behavior, fortune, and personality (perhaps slightly different gravitational pulls on amniotic fluid?), or whether Chinese zodiac mythology also figures into these calculations; or maybe I’d tell them about James Randi’s classic horoscope experiment in which he gives everyone in a classroom the same horoscope and each person thinks it applies specifically to him, or…

As I’m plotting my next move, trying to figure out how to be a good skeptic without alienating new potential friends I’ve known for all of 45 minutes, more people come into the apartment, which ends the conversation on zodiac signs.  But that voice inside my head keeps nagging me:

(Brain: Ask her why she believes in astrology!  Ask her why she thinks religion is crazy but is willing to think that her birthdate might have something to do with her breakup with Eric!  Ask her what she thinks astrology’s mechanism is!  C’mon, just one little question!)
(Me: That’s enough, Brain!  I warned you.  Now I’m just going to have to put more beer in you.)
(Brain: Phooey.  You just wait.  You won’t be able to hold back for long.  Trust me, I know you too well.)
(Me: What?  I can’t hear you over the sound of this beer I’m chugging.)
(Brain: Damn it!)