Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jaded About Dating

Go read a few dating blogs or discussion group conversations. Or check in with enough of your single friends and you're bound to find it: jadedness.

Maybe you are like I have been during periods in the past, and don't need to go looking for it because you're living and breathing the stuff. Every date conversation reminds you of the last one you had. Every short term relationship falls apart in the same old ways. Everywhere you turn, you see seemingly happy couples strolling arm in arm. And you think: this isn't going to happen to me. In fact, maybe it's not even happening to them. They're happy now, but will be yelling at each other by nightfall, and breaking up before the rooster calls in the sunrise.

I don't know about you, but the older I get, the easier it is to construct those kinds of narratives. After the hundredth date with a stranger met online, the veneer of novelty and potential wears off and you're left with reality. After the third, fourth, fifth long term relationship has gone down in flames, or fizzled out, or sputtered slowly into boredom and indifference it's that much harder to shrug it all off and move on with a fresh, open attitude.

So, you have to be more intentional about it all. You have to pay attention to the stories coming up in your mind, and be willing to cut off the jadedness, and cut off the desire to compare whomever is in front of you with all those you dated in the past.

Whether you know it or not, jadedness and similar states of mind are really addictive. They offer a buffer between reality as it is and yourself. Instead of just taking in completely the place you are at in life, you wallow in stories about how all the good ones are taken already, and that even if you meet someone great, you or the other person will figure out how to fuck it up somehow.

Jadedness frequently has a fatalism attached to it. But even thinking fatalistic offers a perverse comfort because you believe you know what's coming, instead of facing the mystery of your life.

I'm thoroughly convinced that although it can be more challenging to meet a great partner when you've gone past 30, 40, 50 years old - it's also the case that you tend to have much more wisdom about it all, if only you'd peel back the bullshit stories on the surface. The experiences of your past are rich in learnings, and even if you didn't choose to learn from them at the time, you can always go back now and reconsider what lessons might have been present for you. In addition, perhaps you've also let go of some of that movie/television show romanticism that tinted the way you viewed dating and relationships as a young person.

In other words, even if you have some baggage, you also might have a lot of assets hanging around within you, if you just take a closer look. In fact, if you've been an expert in jadedness, it might have worn through some of that emotional roller coaster stuff that others experience with every single date they go on. Maybe it's not life or death anymore. Or you don't think this person "is the one" after a few e-mails and phone calls, and then, when he or she isn't, you don't crash and burn for weeks on end after the date.

In the end, it's all workable. If you're willing to keep taking another look, and let go of whatever comfort stories keep coming up in your mind.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Online Dating: Women and First Contact

I know I have a rule about not talking in real time about dating. But what I'm going to share is pretty general, but relevant enough to this blog to make for a decent post.

So, those who have read the blog for awhile know that I'm all about flexing gender roles. Doing something simply because I'm supposed to as a man, or expecting a woman to do something simply because she's a woman, just doesn't fly with me.

Well, I have had a recent flood of women sending first contact e-mails on my dating profiles. Before anyone gets too excited about this news, I have to say that the majority of them were women who I would have never contacted. In fact, it's hard to say what exactly drew two of them to write me, since we had nearly nothing in common. However, it was refreshing none the less. Nice to not be the one for a change composing the first e-mails and then wondering if any response would ever come.

For the record, I responded to everyone. One woman seemed a little too intent to meet me, suggesting we could still be "friends" after I said I didn't think we were a good match. Now, had we gone on a date and just not clicked romantically, I certainly would have been open to something like that. But responding "let's be friends then" to a two line rejection e-mail from a stranger seems a little off to me somehow. Especially given that I wasn't sure if we'd even have much to talk about, given the wide differences in our profiles.

Overall, though, I was glad to be on the other end of the contact equation. Perhaps more women are realizing that given how many of us are doing online dating these days, just sitting back and waiting for the inbox to fill might not cut it anymore.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Little Secret About Being Single

I'll let you in on a little secret: it doesn't matter really if you are single or partnered. It really doesn't.

You might think your life depends on finding that special someone. You might wake up in the middle of the night after a nightmare about growing old in your house full of cats. You might wake up from the dream embrace of some hot someone and shout "Damn!" at the top of your lungs, waking your neighbors again. You might find yourself having heart palpitations or choking fits after seeing the fiftieth lovey-dovey couple walking down the street past you. You might have read studies that suggest single people are "less healthy" than partnered folks, or that single people live shorter lives, and think your doomed. You might ...

And that's the point. It's goes on and on like this, as long as you let it. The best partnered people tend to be people who are also great at being alone. Being themselves alone. Enjoying themselves as they are.

There's your pep talk for the week, single folks! Now get out there and be fine with your bad self. By yourself. And just maybe, all that shine and positive energy will draw that special someone right to you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Endless Evidence Gathering

A comment on a post over at Evan Marc Katz's blog got me thinking. Jennifer writes:

It seems like women often feel they need to gather overwhelming evidence or catch their boyfriend red-handed in order to leave him. Here’s my thought: If he’s making you uncomfortable, and he doesn’t care, it’s okay to leave. You don’t have to work so hard to justify it.

Although this is citing behavior around suspected cheating, I actually think that this issue of overdoing evidence gathering is applied to a lot of rocky relationships. And men do it as well, although I do wonder if the crooked gender socialization many of us have grown up with has made it easier for men to leave relationships where they are unhappy. I'm not sure about that one, but it's an interesting thing to consider.

In my opinion, people tend to operate within a binary. Specifically, you have those who cut and run the moment things get difficult. And then you have those who spend months, years, even entire lifetimes sticking it out with partners that they slowly grow to hate, but can't quite leave.

In my 20s, I was an endless evidence gatherer. In fact, that even was true with women who I never dated. I recall one in particular who demonstrated a bit of interest a few times, but then didn't really respond to my "let's get together sometime" kind of comments. I sat around for weeks, rethinking the conversations we had had. Did that look mean she was interested? She really liked the poems I had written. That must be a sign. But she didn't want to get a drink with me? Is she a recovering alcoholic? Should I ask her about that? The questions were endless, as was the tallying. All for a woman who probably thought of me as some nice guy she had a few conversations with, and that's about it.

I have had to train myself to cut off the evidence gathering mind. To know when enough information is enough, and when it's time to make a decision. You have to learn, for example, how your mind rationalizes the poor behavioral patterns of a partner, or the ways in which you discount or marginalize your own needs in a relationship as a way to keep the peace. Or out of a fear of losing the person. The biggest problem with much of the evidence gathering we do in relationships is that it's not about seeing the situation clearly, and then noting the patterns that are occurring. When you fear loosing a partner, or constantly discount your needs, everything ends up having an emotional tint that blurs the truth, and makes it that much harder to make level-headed decisions. You stay when you should leave. Or you leave when you should stay. And then wonder why you're constantly miserable.

When it comes to those of us who have challenges with leaving, it's really important to remember that you don't have to justify everything. You don't have to have reasons for every last thing you don't like about the relationship, nor do you have to explain all of that to the other person. Offering some of that to the other person, especially if you've been together a long time, is probably a kind thing to do. However, if somewhere in your mind you believe that you have to explain your way completely out of a relationship, then what you have built is a prison, not a relationship.

Finding a balance between kindness to yourself and kindness to your partner (or ex-partner) is really the key to doing relationships consciously. And knowing that this will look different with each relationship - that what's kind in one situation might be cruel in another - is also important.

Anyone out there have trouble with endless evidence gathering? Or are you the opposite?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Has Social Media Messed Up Intimate Relationships?

Over at the blog Notes from the Dating Trenches, there is a good post about sharing, boundaries, and social media. Kelly writes:

There have been a few articles lately on the effect social media is having on us in terms of over-sharing. I just read one on Yahoo! about how one man’s tweet about a bad date caused hundreds of people to respond and share their own, obviously worse, stories. Like a competition. One woman said that when she showed up for her date the man asked her to go home and change because he didn’t like what she was wearing. Another man said he was freaked out because his date brought 25 photos of Sylvia Plath’s gravesite as a conversation starter (she sounds like a treat). Another admitted to accidentally pushing his date down the stairs. The man who started the tweet-a-thon was surprised, noting: “People don’t mind recounting things that in a previous age would have been considered deeply personal.” I’m sure he got over it though since he gained 5,000 followers.

Like Kelly, I'm troubled by the ways social media are sometimes used in the context of intimate relationships. It seems to me that the lines between public and private have become quite blurry, sometimes to the point where people are willing to subject their entire relationships to public scrutiny (like on these reality dating competition TV shows.) One of the major problems with this is that every little high experienced, as well as every mistake made, is both magnified and amplified. You tweet your first kiss to a thousand "friends" and receive several dozen virtual high fives in a matter of hours. Or you write about your latest fight on Facebook and have dozens of sympathizers calling your partner all sorts of names and telling you to get rid of him or her.

How is it possible to develop and maintain a clear and realistic assessment of your relationship amidst all of this?

Furthermore, how is it possible to stand on your own two feet, and make your own decisions about your partnership when you have dozens of other voices nearly instantly appearing in your head to compete with whatever your gut is telling you?

So, here are a few guidelines I have for myself, which might be helpful for you as well.

1. Don't share current relationship conflict on social media. If I want to talk about current struggles with others online, I might head to one of the numerous dating and relationship sites. I have a list of excellent ones on the sidebar of this blog.

And I'd be more than willing to host letters or write about questions readers have about current conflicts/challenges.

The main point in this is to aim towards minimizing harm, while also supporting the need to work through issues with others.

2. I don't have a relationship status on Facebook. Early on, I did change my relationship status a few times, and found that it just led to confusion and having to tell people stories about very short term relationships that really didn't need to be told. Dating someone for 3 or 4 weeks doesn't need to be highly publicized, nor does the end of that connection.

3. I have steered this blog away from "real-time" intimate relationships. Perhaps there might be some reason to break that rule in the future, but for now, I think it's a smart decision that also upholds point #1.

How about you? How do you handle social media and your intimate relationships?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Interracial Dating and Relationships II

The following quote from a woman named Holly, part of a panel of Asian-Americans discussing dating and relationships, speaks a lot to some of the underlying challenges that face many interracial relationships:

The liberal-multi-culti facade of all interracial relationships being cool was torn up a little bit when my sister started dating black guys, however. There was a lot more disapproval and “what does he want to do with his life,” which I’m sure could be attributed to class differences as well. Come to think of it, they did raise similar objections to a white guy she dated who was a slacker musician without much of a “future.” When I put it all together in my memory, the message we received was holistically about fitting people into a nice, harmonious middle-class liberal picture of diversity where everyone basically ought to want the same thing: college, a career, a nice home, stability, marriage, kids, family closeness, etc.

Now, I think it's very true that wide differences around life goals, educational pursuits, and some of the other things listed here are major challenges to the success of any relationship. However, there's something more going on here.

I can recall a few female family members, both young white women, getting a lot of flack for "dating black men." And I don't think it really mattered much who these guys were, what they wanted out of life, or how they treated their partners. Their race trumped everything else, which obviously points to the various negative stereotypes that have hounded young African-American men for decades, even centuries to some degree.

Another example of this comes from my own experience. One of the reasons the relationship I cited in yesterday's post broke up was due to stereotypes some of her family members about white men. Specifically, they believed that a white man would never commit to, and marry an Asian woman. Again, it didn't matter how well I treated her, nor all the other things I did in my life that demonstrated commitment and loyalty - those family members, including her mother, read me by race. They certainly liked me well enough, but because I was white, they couldn't quite trust me.

When I hear people spout nonsense like "we live in a post-racial world" - a fairly common refrain amongst liberal white folks following President Obama's election - these kinds of situations come to mind. (Many other things come to mind as well, like racially charged police beatings, redlining, the wealth gap as broken down by racial groups, airport profiling, and immigration policies, just to name a few.) But with dating and relationships, at least in the U.S., we are at an interesting crossroads, as more and more people are crossing racial lines to find partners, and yet are living in a country where racism and racial prejudice are still fairly powerful players.

And yet, people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds still manage to fall in love and build lives together. Lots of people. Sometimes, I think that's kind of amazing. Other times, it just seems normal - you know - like the most natural thing in the world - loving another.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Interracial Dating and Relationships I

Interracial dating and relationships are extremely interesting to me for a variety of reasons. Given my own dating history, there is a personal angle. However, I also believe that these kinds of pairings often bring up some of the most challenging social issues around, including the following: white privilege and racism, cultural differences, economic class and classism, differences in understanding gender, and sometimes vast differences in family of origin expectations and assumptions. At the same time, some people manage to have vibrant, long term and even lifelong partnerships with another across the racial spectrum.

If you've been with me since the beginning of this blog, you might remember the post that started it all about the sometimes amazing, but ultimately doomed relationship I had last year with a woman originally from Burma. Many of the issues I listed above came into play during that relationship, and yet at the same time, had a few things been different, we might be together and quite happy today.

I'm well aware of the fact that many folks today, probably the majority of folks today, continue to view only members of their own racial/ethnic background as potential partners. Obviously, there are complex reasons behind this truth, but it's something that I have personally never felt. Even as a young teenager, my early crushes were across racial lines. I remember in particular really liking a cute African-American classmate who frequently complimented and smiled at me in our computer class. (That was back when I actually knew something about computer programming.) Being ever the shy boy, I struggled to muster the courage to call her and "ask her out," and when I finally did, her older sister answered, wondering who I was. The fact that she wasn't home, and that this older sister seemed suspicious in an older sister kind of way threw me completely off. I can't recall what I said, but I basically chickened out on the whole thing and nothing ever happened between us. Such is the life of an introverted 13 year old.

Anyway, I am excited to see that the blog Racialicious is doing a series of posts on interracial dating. I hope to take up some of the posts to consider here a little more closely.

If you have any experiences or insights to share, feel free to comment.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Snooping on a Partner

I seem to be running into the issue of snooping on partners all over the place these days. Some of it is coming from real suspicions that the partner is cheating, hiding an addiction, or some other critical piece of information. Some of it seems to stem from accidental discoveries that lead to questions and doubts. However, I kind of view all snooping in the end, as a result of flimsy trust.

Specifically, when someone snoops around, it’s because they don’t trust the relationship as it is.

Now, it might be very valid not to trust the relationship as it is, as in the case of being with someone trying to hide adultery. Maybe there has been a significant change in your partner's behavior, or perhaps something has always felt "off," but you were too busy before riding the honeymoon hormone high to address it.

But I don’t think people choose to snoop on their partners and also have total trust in the relationship. The two seem mutually exclusive to me.

Say you're on your partner's Facebook page and you see a comment from an Ex-girlfriend or boyfriend to your partner that appears to be flirtatious. The "seeing" of that comment itself is just that - seeing the comment. However, then your mind starts spinning based upon who made it, and the words said. Before you know it, you've followed the trail of comments between the two for the past six months, telling yourself that "you just want to make sure nothing is up."

This kind of behavior is probably pretty common. Odds are that very few people have made it through the early years of a relationship - when trust is still developing - without having some sense of mistrust or doubt arise. And a lot of us act on that mistrust or doubts in little ways that cross the line into snooping for evidence that our partner either loves and is committed to us, or is lying and not committed to us.

When I look back at my own relationship history, there hasn't been much actual snooping. I'm not given to jealousy or suspicions due to insecurity or poor self esteem. However, I have certainly had periods in relationships where doubt and lack of trust pervaded. And I can even think of a few times during one relationship where that manifested in searching for evidence that my girlfriend actually loved me. Like fishing for comments from her friends about us, or paying attention to just how much attention and affection she was giving me.

Thinking back on that, it's an interesting reversal of the kinds of fears and snooping I've been hearing about, and reading about recently. While the recent examples have nearly all been of people looking for evidence of a partner's negative behavior, I was searching for the positive.

It makes me think that personal history plays a large role in the ways that lack of trust show up. Since I have never been cheated on (at least that I know of anyway), fears and suspicions about that kind of thing just don't surface for me. However, I have had my share of partners that, for various reasons, who demonstrated very inconsistent levels of affection and attention towards me. And so I'm more predisposed to feeling doubts when a partner's behavior is more distant - sometimes even if there are good reasons for it, such as they've been really busy at work or dealing with a family crisis that's sucking up a lot of energy and time.

Regardless of how it manifests though, "searching for evidence" behind a partner's back is a demonstration of weakened trust in the relationship as it is. That isn't a judgment - it's an observation. Because sometimes that weakened trust is weakened for a very good reason. And other times, it's simply a call to take a deeper look at yourself.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Over-Thinking Relationships

Over at Baggage Reclaim, Natalie has a fine post on overthinking and it's impact on relationships. This particular paragraph, early on in the piece, was really striking:

I have a friend who spent over a decade (yes you read that correctly) ruminating on her relationship. Every time we caught up about what was going on, she was trying to “work things out” or “figuring things out” or “deciding what the best thing to do is” and even “trying to avoid making a mistake”.

Having done some of this myself, I totally know how you can fall down that rabbit hole. Part of me knew six months into my first long term relationship that we were a poor match, but I didn't have the experience and insight yet to overcome the fear of ending it and being alone. We stayed together over three years.

I have also been on the other side of this equation. Another long term girlfriend, instead of breaking up with me fully, asked for a month a part so she could "think about things." That seemed reasonable enough to me, and I wanted to give it one last shot myself, even though the previous several months had been fairly miserable. Then that month stretched into two, three, four, five months, with all of my attempts to meet her to have a conversation rebuffed. Finally, I just gave up, and moved on. And found out later that she had moved on long before I did, but for whatever reason, decided to keep answering my requests to meet with "I'm not ready to see you yet," instead of just telling me she was seeing someone else.

You might think that this example demonstrates something else, and not "over-thinking," but those several months previous had been filled with her thinking about and reconsidering things. As well as some of my own. And it's also the case that she did spend the first month or two after the "break up" thinking about what to do before fully entering into the new relationship.

I'm all for thoughtfulness and spending the time needed to suss out what you really want and how you want to move forward. However, there comes a time when that place becomes like a cave you go to hide in. A protective zone from all the possible consequences you can imagine. Consequences from leaving someone. Consequences from staying with someone. And eventually, the consequences that come from waiting too long to make a decision.

How about you? Are you someone who over-thinks your relationships? Do you sit on the fence for weeks and months on end, wondering about the many what ifs? Have you dated people like this?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why Do You Want to Be in a Relationship?

You know, I think most everyone has stock answers to the question I have titled this post with. Things like:

I want to have a family.

I want to be loved and cared for.

I want someone to travel with, share experiences with, etc.

And of course, all of those are fine. But perhaps beneath those also lurk these:

I am afraid of being alone.

It's more financially secure with two people sharing the bills.

I'm not sure I'm loveable if someone isn't in my life.

I'm supposed to get marriage and have children, isn't that what everyone does?

Life isn't meaningful without a partner.

If I look back at my own life, I'd say I have had, at some time or another, most of these "negative" narratives driving my desire to be in a relationship. And because of that, I sometimes made choices both within relationships and between relationships out of fear, and not from an authentic sense of who I am and what I really want out of my life.

In addition, if you look at those first three - the "positive" narratives - they aren't all that specific, nor are they terribly deep-level either. Let's take each of them and ask a few probing questions.

1. I want to have a family. Why? What is it about being in a partnership and having children that you find compelling? What beneficial qualities would you bring such a partnership? What beneficial qualities would be helpful for a partner to have in such a relationship with you? Could you have a great life without children, or do you feel called to be a parent in this lifetime?

2. I want to be loved and cared for. How? In what ways could a partner do this for you? Do you love and care for yourself already? (If not, you might find yourself in a world of disappointment when your partner proves to be human.) How might you love and care for your partner in a relationship?

3. I want someone to travel with, share experiences with, etc. Have you traveled alone before? How are your friendships or relationships with family members? Are you merely hoping to find someone to fill the vacuum of a social life you currently have? What kinds of experiences do you wish to share with an intimate partner and why?

This kind of questioning may irritate some of you. However, I'm kind of convinced that the way towards a healthy, conscious relationship is through such questioning and self-examination. And once you are with someone, through "together examination." The thing is, though, that this is not about finding a new set of pat answers to a list of questions. It's more about allowing yourself - or yourselves - to experiment. To live with questions for awhile. To offer answers that feel the most true, while knowing that they are provisional - i.e. true within a given context, which might change in the future. Some partners have a deep passion for travel together for years, and then, as other things shift in their lives, one or both find that yesterday's travel is today's business project developed together.

So, why do you want to be in a relationship?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Because They're Not Getting Married

Yue Xu over at Singlefied is asking her fellow bloggers to spread the word about a wedding dress she recently found for an extraordinary inexpensive price, and is hoping to give away to someone who really could use it. Here are the details.

Listen, I’m a single gal and though I see a wedding in my future, it’s not in the near future. I have no use for this beautiful dress. Not to mention that it’s taking up room in my tiny studio. And hello, how scary would it be to bring a guy over with a wedding gown hanging outside my closet?! So, I would love to give it to someone more deserving. Maybe you have a wedding coming up and haven’t budgeted enough for a dress, or you want to dye it and turn it into your dream prom dress, I want to hear about it. Contact me (below) and tell me your story by 10/1/11, and I will choose one person to ship the dress to.

If you know of anyone who might be interested, drop Yue a line on her blog. Also, I encourage people to go read the story behind her getting the dress - it's quite fun.

Speaking of weddings, or non-weddings, I saw a movie the other day - Away We Go - where the issue of marriage seemed quite prominent. Specifically, what I found interesting was how the woman of the main couple in the movie repeatedly turned down her boyfriend's proposals for marriage. And she's doing this as she's pregnant with their first child.

Now, there's never any sense that this couple is in trouble. That they aren't committed to each other. In fact, as the movie goes on, it becomes quite clear the filmmaker wants us to view them as "the happy ones" amongst others who are struggling, miserable, or otherwise dysfunctional. The New York Times review I linked to is quite scathing of the film's depiction, and while I agreed with some of it, I found something refreshing in featuring a healthy couple that doesn't fit the standard narrative.

However, I also found this from near the end of the Time review compelling as well:

Really, “Away We Go” is about the flight from adulthood, from engagement, from responsibility, even as it cleverly disguises itself as a search for all those things. But the dream of being left alone in a world of your own making, far from anything sad or icky or difficult, is a child’s fantasy. Not an unattractive or uncommon one, it must be said, and for that reason it is tempting to follow Burt and Verona into the precious, hermetic paradise that awaits them at the end of the road.

Given the idyllic isolation of the home the couple chooses to settle and start their family in, far away from the troubles of their friends and family, I'm inclined to agree. And yet as a writer on modern relationships, and supportive of alternative models of being together, I also detect a strong whiff of conservatism in the reviewer's tone. And I can't help but wonder had this couple been "happily married" and about to have their first child, as is often the case in mainstream feel-good movies, if the review would have been a bit more "feel good" itself.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Being Really Smart Can Work Against You, Especially if You're a Woman

Let's face it. A lot of people say they want to date someone who is intelligent, right? Or at least someone who can have a decent conversation, knows something about a few things in the world besides their favorite sports team, celebrity gossip magazine, or TV show. But when push comes to shove, this desire for intelligence is often only true as long as said person isn't "too smart."

Take this post, by an African-American woman with a PhD. About her current (or maybe now ex-boyfriend), she writes:

Recently, my romantic interested accused me of throwing my Ph.D. in his face. Most Black women with Ph.D.’s will know exactly how egregious an accusation that is, especially since we are hypersensitive and overly vigilant about making sure never to “throw our degrees” in the face of less-accomplished potential boos or family members.

During a casual phone convo about our respective college experiences, Dude who is a high school math teacher and has a couple of advanced degrees in math fields remarked to me that he found most humanities/ social science majors, including English and Political Science—my undergrad majors—“illegitimate.” Now given that all of my degrees are in humanities fields, I was majorly incensed.

And although I’m tired of used to –and normally unphased by– these inanely conceived verbal jousting matches that dudes engage highly educated women in in order to see if we are really as smart as our degrees seem to indicate, this time I was pissed.

She goes on to detail some of the ways that patriarchy and male privilege play a role in the frequent testing and questioning of female intelligence, and how women with advanced degrees sometimes struggle to find partners who will embrace them completely, intelligence and all. It's a pretty compelling post overall, touching on race, gender, traditional gender roles, higher education, and a whole swarm of other issues.

And I have to say that, even as a white man, someone with a lot of privilege, I have been nailed by the "too smart for my own good" bug. It has impacted my dating life in sometimes strange ways. When I was younger, I seemed to attract older women in wrecks of marriages who loved the fact that I could keep up with them intellectually, without also turning everything into a nasty debate. I also recall going a few dates with a woman over the past winter who had dropped out of college years ago, having questioned the value of pursuing a degree. This is something I totally resonated with, even though I have a Masters Degree, and thought it might be a great point of convergence for us. However, even as I spoke about how I'm not really into the academic world, and how I have learned as much and probably more outside of academia, she seemed to be fixated on the difference in formal education we had. So much so that she started employing tests of her own to see if I was "bullshitting" her.

"Oh, you know about Jack Kerouac, eh? What do you know about Jack Kerouac?"

(For some reason, his name came up and I said something about his well known novel On the Road. You might say the situation was ripe for such questioning. I mean, mentioning having read that novel is almost a cliche amongst some groups of folks.)

Anyway, I started talking about having visited an exhibit at a local art museum where the original manuscript of On the Road had been featured amongst other Beat Generation writer artifacts. Which led into how I actually think that Kerouac had better novels than On the Road, including the Dharma Bums, which led into mentioning my Zen meditation practice. All of that happened over the span of maybe three or four minutes, and once I landed on Zen, she was interested in sharing some stories about her time in a Zen monastery.

But I think the speed of associations that come out of my mouth at times still intimidated her because over the rest of that night, and during the next date, she kept speaking about how her memory wasn't as good as mine, and also making sideways comments about "college educated folks" and whatnot. Needless to say, there wasn't a third date.

Now, it's fair to say that some "smart folks" are also plenty arrogant and full of themselves. And certainly anyone who has a pattern of driving dates away through endless displays of "knowledge" and "fact sharing" would do well to take a look at themselves.

However, I don't get the sense that this is what's going on with the PhD woman from the post above, nor with at least some of the women who spoke in the comments section of her post. And while I'm willing to admit I have made mistakes, and/or done a bit of showing off on occasion, flaunting intelligence isn't how I normally operate in the world. One upping others is just another game, and I'm not into games - unless they are games where people are having fun and enjoying themselves together.

What do you make of intelligence and dating? Have you had any negative experiences, either as the "intelligent one" or as someone being talked down to by a "smarty pants"?

p.s. The song above is just for fun. Enjoy :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

First Date Sex

There's a good article over at The Good Men Project considering the question of sex on the first date. The author surveyed people amongst her Facebook cohort, and got a lot of interesting feedback on why people do and don't have sex on first dates. Some of the reasons are worth looking at a little more closely.

1. Slut-shaming. This is one of those gender based double-standards. Simply put, men still get away with having more sex with more partners without it having a negative effect on their overall reputation. Women, wrongly I think, are in the position of never knowing if having sex early on with a date will destroy their chances with him. Or if others will judge her for doing so, including other women.

2. Testing "chemistry." One of the reasons people cite for actually doing it on a first date (or really early on in a relationship) is out of a desire to see if they are sexually compatible. I'll admit that I have done this before. It may have not been the only reason, but it certainly was one of them. As I have gotten older, though, I'm less inclined to rush into sexual intimacy - especially with someone I don't know. The last few relationships I have had were with women I'd been friends with beforehand, so you might say that the timeline played out a lot slower in those cases. Earlier this summer, I dated a woman for about six weeks and we were quite open with each other about our views about sexual intimacy, but also chose to wait. And when I decided that I felt the connection we had was more friendship than intimate partners, she agreed, and was glad that we hadn't had sex. As was I.

3. Conversations about boundaries and preferences. Emily Moss, the author of the post, points out that early on, it's really difficult for people to have honest, open conservations about their sexual boundaries and/or preferences. Of course, some people don't really have a good idea about any of this stuff, and simply plod along sexually. However, for many of us, it's more about having enough trust established to expose ourselves in such a way. That trust simply isn't there when you start out. You might feel something like trust right from the beginning, but deep-level trust takes time to develop.

4. Don't want to deal with potential "messes." The one time I truly slept with a stranger, a woman I met online about three years ago, the few days after were filled with "now what?" and "why did I do that?" kinds of questions. The reality was that I had been single several months, and she was enjoying "being casual." But I really didn't want a relationship with her, nor was I even sure I wanted to hang out with her again. And I worried she wanted more, even if that more was just someone casual or short term.

After a few days, I wrote her and said I had a good time, but didn't think we were a good match. Maybe she was just fine with it, but I felt like a slug. And that situation was a great reminder to me that I'm not built for casual sex, nor casual relationships.

What are your thoughts about first date sex? Have they changed as you have gotten older?


Allegory of Lust
Agnolo Bronzino
Oil on panel, 146.5 x 116.8 cm
London, National Gallery

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Yesterday's Taboo, Today's Trend, Tomorrow's "Traditional"

Portrait of French King Louis XV as a child, ca. 1710

Although it might not appear to be the case, life IS always changing. And as such, the ways in which we have relationships with each other are also frequently on the move. Not too long ago here in the U.S., it was essentially taboo to even speak of something called "Gay Marriage." Today, same sex couples are legally getting married in certain states, as it slowly moves towards becoming a national trend. Not too long ago, it was quite common for wives to be considered part of their husbands' property, with little or no rights of their own within a marriage. Today, that's basically taboo talk.

In the last post, I considered the value of having role flexibility within our intimate relationships. In this post, I'll look at an old philosophical debate that underpins - whether you know it or not - a lot of our thinking around gender, roles, and the ways in which we opt to structure our relationships.

The philosophical debate is the old nature/nurture question. When you hear someone say "Men are hardwired to do X, Women to do y," that's the "nature" side of the coin. When you hear someone say "Women have been socialized to believe X, and men Y," that's the nurture side of the coin. Although it's probably true that the vast majority of us think it's some mixture of the two sides that builds a person's life, it's also the case that we each have our leanings. Some are much more in the nature camp, seeing much of life as fixed and determined by biological and/or other inherited patterns. While others are much more in the nurture camp, seeing socialization and individual and collective choices as driving much of our lives. I think it's important to consider where you fall along the nature/nurture divide, because it can have a really strong impact upon how you both view intimate relationships, and also how you act in them.

The nature/nurture debate has been going on for centuries. In the 17th century, the English philosopher John Locke proposed that the human mind was a blank slate at birth, and that it is almost entirely environmental conditions - such as family, schooling, community, etc. - that determine how a person acts, feels, and thinks in the world. You might say that I lean in this direction, but couldn't possibly believe we are totally empty slates at birth. Biology does play some role.

On the opposite end, a pair of 19th century Scottish scientists, J. Arthur Thomson and Patrick Geddes, claimed that "social, psychological and behavioural traits were caused by metabolic state" built into our bodies. Of course, anyone who knows even a tiny bit about social conditions for women during the 19th century can imagine how such a theory was employed to control and manipulate all kinds of behavior and ways of being.

The contrasting historical views shared above are just two examples of the numerous ways in which people, famous and not so famous, have opined about the ways in which humans are in the world. When it comes to gender differences, no one really knows for sure how much biology actually impact how we think, feel, and behave. And although trends can suggest that, for example, women are more verbal in relationships than men, it's also the case that differences within a particular group frequently are much wider than differences between different groups. In addition, even if we can say that a majority of women are more verbal and talkative then men, it's unclear what's driving that. How much is socialization? How much is biological? How much is something else?

Furthermore, the standard view that we are divided into two - men and women - actually doesn't hold water. The increasing openness and "out" presence of trans, gender queer, intersex, and others who don't fit the binary add to the bonfire of questions I have for those who lean towards biologically determined gender narratives.

A lot of high-minded talk there, eh? I mean, what's this guy getting at you might be thinking?

Well, take a look at the photo above. Specifically, notice the clothing. Looks pretty "girly" doesn't it? However, that was the fashion of the day for young, well off boys. Think about it, yesterday's fashion is today's cross-dressing. And I'd argue that a fair amount of what many of us believe are "natural" gender roles are actually, at least in great part, socially conditioned.

Why does that matter? If something is more socially conditioned than biologically determined, then it can be changed and experimented with. In other words, anyone in theory can do it. So, I'm of the opinion that we should maximize whatever percentage of "nurture" we have in our relationships. Instead of fixating on gender differences, it would behoove us to develop skills in all areas of a relationship, even ones that are not "traditionally" amongst our roles.

So, instead of going along with the idea that, for example, men always initiate first dates or women are the best caregivers for children, we opt instead to experiment, and learn from the results. In my view, being an "experimenter" in one's intimate relationships brings more freedom to be who you really are with each other, and to develop a flexibility that might actually improve the likelihood of a relationship enjoying longevity.

How? Well, I have a few ideas how. Perhaps you have more.

First off, if both members of a partnership have some skills and experience in doing some of the vital roles within the relationship, then when one person's situation changes, then other person can step up or step down as appropriate. There doesn't need to be an equivalence even - maybe one person has weaker general leadership skills, but still has enough experience and know-how to step up in a crisis where the other person can't lead.

Second, there is more of an opportunity for both members of a partnership to develop as fully realized individuals. I think of my grandmother who, after my grandfather died, had to learn how to drive and other many things that she hadn't done much of, if not at all, because of the fixed roles in their relationship. If it had just been driving, well, that wouldn't have been a big deal. But I remember how lost she seemed to feel in those early years after grandpa was gone, not just because of grief, but because she really hadn't learned how to do a lot of things that others would simply take for granted.

Some might argue that this is representative of relationships built before the rise of feminism and the sexual revolution, amongst other things, and to some degree that's true. However, I still think that many relationships are filled with either conscious or unconscious gendered role playing that, when circumstances change, can cause a lot of havoc.) Right now, I'm thinking of the old "indoor/outdoor" divide, and the numerous men who still can't properly clean house or cook a decent meal, or the numerous women who are clueless around cars, power tools, and/or house maintenance.

Third, and finally, - approaching things in this way increased the “shared” quality of the relationship.

What do you think of all of this?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Gender Roles

I have been thinking a lot about the ways in which people get socialized into believing they must think or act in certain ways, solely due to gender. While there seem to be endless books and articles claiming men and women are wildly different due to some kind of biological "hard-wiring," I think a lot of that is flat out bullshit.

When issues like who makes the lion's share of money, who cooks, who cleans, who initiates sexual intimacy, who takes care of children, who buys groceries, who leads, who follows - when all of that and more is considered fluid, and more in-tune with present conditions, I believe relationships have a better chance of not failing.

This doesn't mean that all roles within a relationship must be fluid and changing all the time. That probably isn't realistic. Perhaps one partner is always in charge of finances, given his or her's skills. And perhaps another is mostly in the lead because the other is less assertive or outgoing.

However, one thing I have always felt is a flawed in holding more fixed roles is that it assumes life will remain mostly the same. Which it doesn't. Even amongst people who do their damnedest to keep it so.

The main breadwinner - often male - looses his job, and the other partner - often female, is forced to step up and fill in the gap, having not been in such a position before.

The financial wizard becomes seriously ill and doesn't have the energy to deal with the couple's bills and money, forcing the other person, who hasn't thought much or at all about such things, to take over.

The person who has been the main sexual initiator in the couple is overworked in other areas of his/hers life, and either feels resentful that he/she has to lead in intimacy, or simply doesn't have the time/energy to think about it.

The main childcare person in a family, often female, grows exhausted trying to cover all the additional roles in her/his life, and either becomes resentful of the needs of the child/children, or lacks the energy and/or health to care decently for the child/children.

Those are just a few examples of what can happen when one person is fixed into a certain role in a relationship. And while we are socially becoming more fluid around gender's role in deciding roles in relationships, it's also still true that views which consider certain roles being more natural for men or for women, or even "more appropriate" for men or for women (which is really just code for the same thing), are commonplace.

In the next post, I'll consider a bit of history around these issues, and expand upon why I think more flexibility and fluidity is a positive in long term, intimate relationships.

Feel free to comment on what you have read so far.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Talkin' Babies

I found this gem over at the blog Eflirt:

Fail: A few years ago I met this guy while speed dating. We had an awesome, flirty chemistry. On our third date, over dinner in a lovely restaurant, he told me he had done some soul searching and realized he was getting old. (Because 31 = the end of the world.) He wanted to settle down and have a baby. No really, he wanted to actually go back to my place and make a baby that very night.

As a bright sided kind of gal I tried to see this as a compliment, but I wasn’t really sure how to respond. Suddenly, out came a “NO WAY.” He didn’t seem pleased and began screaming at me and pointing at other (apparently more fertile) women whom he later propositioned to bear his child.

And you thought women were the baby crazy ones.

Wow! Not a pretty picture at all.

I have experienced tamer forms of this on dates before. One woman in particular stands out. We had a nice time out on our first date, and she invited me over to her house for the second date. Before your mind gets racing too much, she lived in a shared house with several roommates, a situation that was, now that I think about it, probably not terribly easy on her dating life. Anyway, we're in the kitchen cutting vegetables for the soup we are making together. The subject of having children comes up and she turns to me and says "I want to have a family soon. Actually, I want to have a baby. Yesterday."

Internally, I kind of went "uh oh."

And then I said something about wanting to establish a relationship with the other person before deciding about children. That I don't think rushing to have children is a good idea.

She didn't seemed fazed.

"I just know I want to have children really soon. I can feel the clock ticking. It's time."

She was 31 years old. I get it that the clock starts getting loud in your thirties, but she had almost the whole of her thirties left - hardly at crisis point.

Here's the other thing about that situation that bothered me. The more I talked with her, the more I felt like she was looking for a man to father a child first, and a partner second. Now, maybe that works fine for some people, but to me, it was a total turn off. Just as it was for the woman in the story above.

At the same time, I'm thankful my date said all that really early on. I didn't have to get into a relationship with her, and then find out her main intentions after a few months, when things might have gotten much more complicated.