Thursday, September 29, 2011

Texting Vs. the Phone: How Focusing on Surface Differences Doesn't Help You Date Better

Over at the blog Dating Diva, Toni writes about a past relationship with a guy who loved to text her. And who chose not to use the phone. I have noticed that there seems to be a fair amount of angst around this particular phenomenon, some of which I feel sympathy with. However, I also wonder if the conclusions being drawn are sometimes entirely too broad sweeping.

Here are some of Toni's comments:

Looking back, I see that relationship as the embodiment of how technology is slowly killing romance. It's draining the courting out of courtship. And frankly, I'm ready to hit "delete" on the whole thing.
A flirtatious text here and there is fine, but a text of more than 100 characters? That's overkill. Call me old-fashioned, but I wonder what's so "advanced" about these so- called advancements in communication. The same gadgets that allow you to be in touch all the time sometimes mask the fact that you never really touched at all.
My friends tell me to get over it (most via email or text - hmmmm) they say texting is a way of life. I say sure - I agree sometimes I'd rather not be bothered talking on the phone but a text or an email cannot replace the human voice or touch.

Now, first off, as a non-cell phone owner who hasn't texted in his life, I can relate to her questioning the value of such technology.

At the same time, as I wrote in my comment on her blog:

The phone was considered in almost exactly the same negative light as texting and e-mailing are back in the day. During the early days of phones, people frequently called it "the Devil's tool" and other unsavory names. And certainly, when it came to romance, it was considered a lazy substitute for a well written letter, song, or poem.

To me, it's about how someone engages a relationship that matters most. I'm guessing texter dude just wasn't that engaged. I've known plenty of people who've had similarly dis-engaged relationships that centered around phone calls.

On a few other blogs, I have seen people offer a somewhat different, but almost equally broad view of texters. Basically, these folks argue that anyone who uses texting as a the main form of communication when you're not together "really isn't that into you." A point which I think is total bs. Not because it's never true, but because people are privileging one form of technology - the phone - over another (the text box on a phone), thinking that someone calling you is somehow more loving, intimate, and demonstrating of interest.

As a frequent public transit user, I have witnessed thousands of phone conversations, many of them obviously to a partner or significant other. Flipping your phone out while on a bus or train is nothing special, and in fact, seems to be a favorite past time of people who desire to stave off boredom and who aren't interested in talking to the strangers sitting right next to them. I see the same thing happening at coffee shops, cafes, and all sorts of other places. And yet, because the phone has become naturalized in our psyches, some of us seem to think that using it often to call another is a sign of interest, romance, and even love.

The reality, though, is that it's can never just about phone use or texting. It's always about how someone engages a relationship as a whole that really matters.

Take that bus ride. Maybe the guy I'm sitting next to really loves his girlfriend, and he's calling her to check in and see how her day has gone. Then there's the guy sitting behind us who is doing the same exact thing - calling the girlfriend - but is doing so because there is 30 minutes left before his stop and he's tired of looking out the window. On the surface, they both would appear to some folks to be taking care of the relationship, but if you move below the surface, you'll see that only one is actually doing so.

Creating romance or demonstrating interest are not about surface appearances. In fact, I'd argue that because every person is unique, the ways one goes about creating romance and/or demonstrating interest will be at least someone different with each new partner. It's amazing to me how often people seem to forget this, while also at the same time demanding to be viewed themselves as unique individuals. Just goes to show how challenging it can be to see the world outside of your own head.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dealing with First Date Worries

Reader Snowdrop left a comment on my last post that, in my mind, brought up how there are limitations to using the NVC process on initial dates. Here is part of his comment, followed by my response.

For me, when someone is late, I spiral through all sorts of feelings and thoughts, from "I've been stood up" to "something terrible has happened to her!" It's quite hard for me to hold onto any particular emotion (such as, anger at being stood up/kept waiting) when I have so many theories. But it does add up very much to "turbulent emotions".

The "dealing with a pattern" example, I feel a little conflicted by. While being non-confrontational is important, to me it feels like your example doesn't actually set out what's needed to fix the issue.

The statement part seems to allow the response, "Well, there's no need to worry, so just relax about it." That answer doesn't have to be disrespectful or dismissive in intent or attitude, it is just that that person's character says that relaxing and going with the flow is the obvious answer to them. But to a worrier (like me!) it's no help at all. (I think a worrier and a relaxer can get on well together without having to stop being themselves, but by making room for the other - maybe the rest of the evening can be "relaxer-friendly" as long as the time for meeting is fixed, for example.)

Well, in terms of dating, I think the NVC process is a lot more applicable when there's already a relationship established. The "can we talk about it" sentiment then has behind it pattern considerations, as well as some minimum requirements (or requests) that have developed as a consequence of being in a relationship with each other.

With a first or second date, you don't know if something like being late is a pattern or not, so what do you do?

I guess after all these years of going on dates, one thing I have learned is to practice dropping whatever stories are coming up in my mind about what's happening. If she's late, I practice letting go of "being stood up" or "she's been in an accident" or "she isn't really interested," because I have no idea at that point. And the same goes for anything else that happens during those early dates.

At the same time, I take note if she's late. Or if she says something that really runs counter to my values. Or if she does something - like bitch about the waitstaff at a busy restaurant - I take notice. So that, if this kind of stuff continues, I can have more clarity and know how to respond later. Or, of course, if there is a lot of that kind of stuff, I can decide not to see her again.

In other words, I'm not in a rush to "hold someone accountable" on early dates, unless they do something that really crosses my boundaries or is highly disrespectful. Like making racist comments, to give an example.

One of the reasons I chose the "late" example is that it's an old trigger for me, having had a girlfriend in the past who was frequently late. And I have found that if a date is late, it can bring up memories from that past relationship, which have nothing to do with the date. Her being 15 minutes late could be a one time thing due to traffic, but if I'm raising an issue with her lateness right away - coming from that old relationship baggage - it's likely to come off poorly.

A lot this really keeps coming back to timing to me. Even if something causes me worry (I'm definitely not immune from worrying) on a first or second date, like tardiness, I err on the side of dealing with it internally as best as possible. Sometimes, I do choose to say something like you said above in relation to lateness, for example, but not at the beginning of a date. Especially the first date.

What do you all think?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Totalizing Judgments Fail Us

One common paired theme that seems to come up on one dating blog after another is lying and truth telling. Obviously, these two not only apply to romantic relationships - they are found in all human relationships, and frequently are the pivot points between harmony and discord.

But when you get down to it, what is a lie and what is the truth? It's a simple question that isn't always easily answered. Furthermore, when it comes to working with others in your life in a caring, respectful manner, the issue is timing, as well as how something is said can be just as important (or moreso even) than whether it's truthful or not. In other words, I think people sometimes get too fixated on a black and white sense of truth telling and lying, forgetting that everything happens in a larger context.

As a general rule, I find it really helpful to make a discernment between basic facts of a given situation, and evaluations or judgments. This idea is loosely coming from a relationship practice called NVC, or Non-violent communication, which was developed by psychologist and social activist Marshall Rosenberg. What Rosenberg discovered working in situations where conflict was quite high and challenging was that when people spoke from a place of their feelings and perceived needs, instead of a place of judgment and evaluative criticism, not only was conflict reduced, but it became easier for everyone involved in a given situation to gain clarity about the truth. Having taken workshops on NVC in the past, I'd even go so far as to say that the truth isn't a set of statements - it's more about a way of being and acting. A process, in other words.

Some key components of this process are the following:

1. Deep listening and patience, even in the face of things you don't want to hear.

2. A willingness to speak from a place of how you feel and what you believe your needs are, instead of judgment.

3. Making an effort to separate factual observations from evaluations or opinions.

4. Being open to making requests of another, as well as receiving their requests.

Now, all of this takes practice. It's not something you can simply try once and be skilled at. In addition, I believe that within any given relationship, there are times and situations that call for some judgements or evaluations to be made. But even then, I believe that something like NVC can be helpful in delivering that information to another in a way that it might be heard.

Let's consider point number three above in more detail, since this is one that often trips people up, whether on a first date or after ten years of marriage.

Suppose your waiting for your date or partner and they are late. Here are two ways you could think about the situation:

Factual observation: "He/she is 20 minutes late."

Evaluation/Judgment: "He/she doesn't respect me. He/she isn't interested in me."

If your mind is like mine, you might have the tendency to flip towards the second kind of statement. Statements like that seem to offer an answer to what's going on, and also tap into the anxiety, anger, or other turbulent emotions that might be happening in response to uncertainty.

However, although it may feel good in the short term to internally blast your date or partner for being late, it's actually not helpful in terms of the relationship as a whole, nor does it do anything to get at the truth of the situation. You're just speculating about motives or reasons, and usually said speculation is all negative. Instead of thinking "I don't know why they are late. Maybe it's this or that." You leap to the worst case scenarios, or make some totalizing judgment about the person that does little more than burn off a little steam in the short term. How often have you called someone an asshole in your mind (or even to their face), only to find out that there was a very good reason behind what it was that they did or didn't do?

None of this, of course, means that you should put up with patterns of behavior that aren't healthy or respectful from a date or partner. Obviously, if someone is chronically late, you have every right to say something. But when you decide to speak up about someone's chronic lateness, you have to consider what your intention is. Do you want to mend the relationship? Do you desire to stay together with this person? Or are you so pissed off that you don't care anymore?"

If you want to aim towards maintaining the relationship, then even when speaking of the pattern, you can re-frame it in a way where you might better be heard.

For example, you might say something like "You have been late to the last several dates. When you are late, I feel anxious and sometimes angry because I don't know why you are late, and I value our time together."

And you can, in the spirit of NVC, add a request here, such as "Would you be willing to talk a little about this with me?"

Again, one of the main reasons for approaching things in this way is to maximize the chances that you'll be heard. And to maximize the chance that you will hear the other person. So much of conflicts boil down to not listening deeply enough to each other, and simply jumping to conclusions or judgments that may have nothing to do with the actual truth. When I look back at some of my relationships during my 20s, I kind of cringe at the numerous ways in which I failed to listen well, and simply assumed the worst.

And so, I offer NVC, as well as a general call for deeper listening, as methods of truth finding, and also relationship strengthening.

Your thoughts?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dating Anger

I was out with a friend last night, talking about relationships, and the topic of anger came up. While we discussed various ways about how anger can manifest and cause trouble, I had a flashback to a woman I dated several years ago. More specifically, the flashback involved how I responded to her telling me she was sleeping with another guy.

Here's the basic set up. We had been dating about a month. We got along pretty well, and things appeared to be heading towards a committed relationship. Given that I'm not into "juggling dates," I had stopped going to the online dating sites, and had told the other two women I was writing to that I had started seeing someone. Judging by her increased interest in spending time with me, as well as the increased physical intimacy, I assumed she had done the same. Turns out that wasn't the case.

As a relative newbie to online dating back then, and also someone who really didn't have much experience dating outside of my "friend and acquaintance pool," I was unprepared for the kind of issues that can come up when you date people you have no prior connection with.

So, there we were, sitting at a coffee shop having a conversation, and I must have brought up something about her being "my girlfriend" or something of the sort.

And she says "But I've been seeing so and so as well."

"What?" (with confused look)

"Oh, I've been spending Fridays with so and so, and Saturdays with you."

Tensely, trying to hold it together, I respond, "But I thought we were becoming a couple?"

"Well, I like you a lot" (touches my hand) "but I don't know if you're "the one?"

"How can you know something like that for sure after a month?"

"I don't know." (looks away) "I didn't think it was a big deal. Are you angry?"

I pause, briefly surveying the room as my body began shaking. "No. No. I'm not angry."

"You seem angry?"

"No. I'm not."

"I'm sorry. I just don't know."

About ten minutes later the relationship was over.

Looking back on this situation now, there are plenty of signs and missteps that were taken. First of all, there were the assumptions both of us made that ultimately led to things unraveling. Next, there were the signs I missed that clearly pointed to something not being quite "right" about the relationship unfolding. Friday wasn't the only day marked off on her calendar. I actually only had two or three evenings to choose from to spend time with her. And I had no idea what she did with the rest of her free time. In addition, she didn't really make a lot of contact in between dates - it seemed like I was often the one initiating contact. At the time, I thought it was because she wanted me to "chase her," to be "the man," but obviously that wasn't the issue really.

And then there's the anger during that conversation. Back then, I was highly attached to an image of myself as a guy who is basically nice, kind, and respectful. I really loathed those men who screamed at their girlfriends or wives, and who basically had no control over their anger. Unfortunately, though, I was almost the opposite. I tended to stuff or minimize anger, to the point where it actually sucked some of the life out of me. My confidence was shoddy. I too willingly placed my needs to the side to support others, including the women I dated. And then would have these occasional angry outbursts over usually quite trivial things, which when they came within a dating situation, often were surprising for the person I was to dating experience.

This particular incident is an almost comical expression of that. But it would be another three to years before I would start to see the pattern, and make changes in my life as a result.

One of the main things I took out of the work I did around anger and relationships is that much of it was tied to the assumptions I would make and then believed in wholeheartedly, even when there was evidence to the contrary. And I have to say that in more recent years, I have had much less anger drama in my relationships because I make fewer assumptions, and hold those assumptions I do make in a much looser, lighter hand. And I'm more honest, in general, when I'm not happy with something going on.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

35 Things I have Learned

Inspired by this post, here are 35 things I have learned (or think I have learned) about dating and relationships, one for each year I have been alive (in no particular order).

1. Wanting to always be right is a lousy strategy in dating and in life in general.

2. Fear is behind so many of the mistakes we make.

3. Things are often unclear at the end of a first date, even if both people like each other.

4. Anyone who expects you to be a mind reader much of the time is probably not the best choice of romantic partners.

5. Talking a lot about former relationships on a first date is rarely a good sign.

6. Assumptions are a royal path to hell.

7. Just because a relationship ends doesn't mean it was a "failure."

8. Pay close attention

9. Delay final judgments

10. Just because you get along well doesn't mean you're a great match.

11. Just because you have a lot in common doesn't mean you're a great match.

12. Be willing to break your own rules.

13. A little kindness goes a long way.

14. Whenever you start making negative generalizations about the entire group of folks in your dating pool, it's time to take a step back and maybe a break.

15. Too much optimism is foolish; not enough optimism is also foolish.

16. Way too many of us are unrealistic about love and romance, and then wonder why we're so despondent about it all.

17. Being single is absolutely fine.

18. You often attract what you are, in some way, doing in your own life.

19. There is no magic formula. For any of it.

20. It's best to maintain silence on Facebook and other social media about current dating experiences, positive or negative.

21. It's best to also maintain the same silence about specific problems occurring in a long term relationship. Save that kind of stuff for face to face conversations with friends and family.

22. Arguments often start over the stupidest things.

23. Whatever stupid thing you're arguing about is almost always not the real issue.

24. Having sex with someone always changes things, even if those changes are for the better.

25. Most of us aren't good at rejecting others.

26. Avoiding conflict almost always leads to more conflict.

27. Don't deliberately try to change your partner.

28. Don't date people who treat you like a rehab project.

29. Learning how to be honest about what you are feeling and experiencing without leaping to judgment of the other is perhaps the most important relationship skill to develop.

30. If pop culture is the biggest influence on how you view and approach relationships, you're in major, major trouble.

31. Being passive and expecting someone to just appear in your life and do all the work to get a relationship going is a really stupid approach to dating.

32. Adults need to remember that we aren't in high school anymore. Some of us haven't been there for a hell of a long time, but somehow continue to act like they never left.

33. Replace "high school" with "college" in number 32.

34. Let go of your definitions of love and learn to actually do it, with the actual person you are with.

35. Whatever you do, stop taking yourself so seriously.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gendered Relationship Narratives

Over at one of my favorite blogs, Kloncke, Katie offers a look into her relationship with her boyfriend, and then examines it through wider lens of cultural critique. The whole post is really worth checking out, but I want to take up the following piece:

Ryan tells this funny joke sometimes about one method, half-conscious at most, by which person X tries to evade domestic work and pile it on a partner. “But you’re so good at [cooking, doing laundry, calming a fretful child]. If I do it, I’ll just fuck it up.” A passive-aggressive compliment-trap, which leaves the other person feeling obligated to do the thing they’re so much better at doing.

Obviously, this is one of the big problems with the naturalization of gender roles in heteronormative family requirements. Men are raised to believe that they don’t have to learn how to cook/clean/mend/mind children because women are so naturally good at it. Jay appears to have no clue that his wife was brought up to learn how to be a “good woman,” which means acquiring certain social and reproductive skills, including staying attuned to the needs of her socially-sanctioned husband and children. She might enjoy learning those skills; she might not. The point is, the skills aren’t endemic to her based on her gender. For a whole host of reasons that I won’t get into here, she’s not really free to self-determine her own gender identity and presentation, fertility, or (as a working-class person) the circumstances of her productive and reproductive labor.

First off, the "Jay" she mentions is a character from James Agee’s Southern novel A Death In the Family, which Katie offers readers a passage from just above the section I quoted.

About an hour ago, I called my grandmother. She's 88 years old, today being her birthday. We had a very short conversation, about 4 minutes, but two things struck me about it. The first was that I mentioned cooking myself dinner, and she started offering me suggestions on how I might improve on it. Which didn't bother me, but did get me thinking about the whole cooking thing and gender roles. The second thing that struck me was that after she asked me how I was doing, she said "Are you working yet?" I've been mostly unemployed the past year, picking up a bit of freelance writing here and there, while I'm going through a yoga teacher training program and expand my online "presence." Anyway, I told grandma that I hadn't found a job yet, but was doing a lot of other things. She proceeded to talk more about jobs, as if anything else I was doing was secondary. And I thought to myself "Would she do the same if she were talking with my sister?"

Now, a few things to add to this that complicate things. My grandmother and I haven't always had the easiest relationship over the years. Whereas my sister seems to get along with grandma well enough to talk with her more in depth about her life, and what she thinks about the world. So, to some extent, today's phone call to grandma was like most I have with her - short, and thin on specifics. Besides my relationship with grandma, there's also the fact that Americans in general rely on "work talk" heavily to begin and/or even sustain conversations. Anyone active in the dating world can probably attest to the fact that work often is one of the first subjects that comes up on a first date.

However, even with both of factors, I still feel there's some interesting gender role stuff to unpack in relation to that phone conversation.

As a man who has done an awful lot of volunteer work and unpaid non-profit development in the community, I have noticed over the years how such efforts aren't taken as seriously by potential employers as "paid work" is. This is most definitely a function of capitalism's definitions of "value" being tied to making money and producing, but I also wonder if there is a gendered element going on. Do women who put more time and energy into volunteering and unpaid community work get more "kudos" from employers, given that such unpaid efforts were often more in the "women's realm" historically? Or perhaps a better question might be "Is volunteering and unpaid community work" just devalued in general due to it's historical place as something more women did with their "extra time"?

The cooking issue, I think, is a little more clear cut. On the whole, as Katie mentioned above, men aren't seen as "naturally" able to cook. And although I do believe things have changed to some degree in that there is less direct expectation that women take up the cooking duties in a household, I also believe that the majority of men still are raised without much in the way of cooking skills. Which tends to lead to situations like Katie's "passive-aggressive narrative," where dudes who can't cook still figure out ways to lean heavy on the women in their lives.

This has definitely not been my experience. I started learning how to cook at around age 10. Having to help care for a little sister while your mother works puts you in a different position than the average kid might be in. I learned to cook, clean, and do my own laundry before I finished elementary school, and didn't really consider the gendered quality attached to those household chores until much later on.

In recent years, I have taken to wondering what people mean when they speak of wanting "traditional" or "old-fashioned" relationships. I see this kind of talk online. I see it in dating profiles. I've dated women who have said such phrases.
And when the issue gets pressed a little bit, I find that definitions are kind of all over the place. However one thing that does seem true is that the majority of women speaking about "traditional" and "old fashioned" are not talking about wanting to return to staying at home, and being solely responsible for things like household chores and raising children. And yet, I bet you that a percentage of men - upon hearing such language from women - think that this is what they're speaking about, at least to a large degree. Perhaps they figure she will work, but will also take care of the children, clean the house, and cook most of the meals. Something that is nearly impossible to sustain. And isn't really desired anyway.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where's the Effort?

Women often complain about receiving bland, one line messages from men on their online dating accounts. Having seen enough examples of these shown to me by female friends and others I know, I'm inclined to believe that said complaints are justified. Perhaps what some of you out there don't know is that men, too, experience the same thing. Probably not as often, given the imbalance in first contacts, but still it happens to us.

Here are two recent examples from my own profile.

This first one is responding to the top ten list I added for some humor in the profile.

"Does #4 mean u still have a tattoo on your chest?



That was the message. Cute, eh?
Here's another even less specific one.

"I like your profile so I thought I'd say "hello" :)"

Well, hello to you too.

Anyway, I think it's fairly obvious how uninspiring these kinds of e-mails are. The last one doesn't even ask me a question about my profile to respond to. Just as men who write things like "hey sexy" and "what's up?" don't inspire people to respond back, neither do cutesy one liners from women.

Even having a single relevant question, or speaking about a few shared interests, usually is all that's needed. And really, it doesn't take that long to do that. If all you can muster is a bland or cutesy one liner, you're probably better off not sending anything. That's how I see it anyway.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Men Like a Challenge"

Men don’t value something if it comes too easily.

If you sleep with us on Date 1, that’s a pretty strong indicator that you’ve slept with plenty of other people on Date 1. And most men don’t like to think of their future wives as “easy”, even though, intellectually, we can acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong with a woman who enjoys sex for sex’s sake.

Basically, men like a challenge – to pursue you, to win you over, to charm you, to work our way around the bases and accomplish what few men have accomplished before. And the more you slow us down and give us the opportunity to get to know you platonically, the more reasons we’ll discover that we want you to be our girlfriend.

If you sleep with me on Date 1, I’ve climbed the mountain too fast and haven’t discovered what makes you amazing personally. The thrill of the chase is gone.

I’m not talking about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m saying that it’s real and that your best bet to a relationship is to delay sex. If you can handle sleeping with perfect strangers and hoping it works out, go ahead. No judgment here.

This is a quote from Evan Marc Katz, whose comments and posts I tend to like. This particular comment, though, doesn't fly with me.

Here is what I wrote in response.


Oh man, I’m so on a different wavelength than Evan on this. Which is good because it offers the women here another male take to complicate things :)

First off, the the longest relationship I have been in included sex on the third date. It really never crossed my mind that she was “easy” or that she was someone who “slept” around. What happened happened naturally. There wasn’t any excessive flirting or enticing going on on either end because neither of us were like that.

Second, I despise chasing and pursuing. Absolutely despise it. Perhaps it works well for some men and women, but I also find that for a lot of others, it seems to be a series of games and push-pull challenges that create a lot of frustration if things don’t work out. dating is hard enough without adding unnecessary games to the process.

Third, if I start seeing someone (i.e. it’s gone beyond a few dates), I tend to stop looking at other “options.” In other words, even if we haven’t decided yet that we’re going to be exclusive, I treat it as exclusive so that I can get a clearer picture of who she is. This is probably not something many people do these days, given how much date juggling seems to go on. But I find it a hell of a lot easier, and I guess more respectful in my mind, to focus on one woman if we’ve made it past the intro. stage.

Now, with all that said, I actually have mostly chosen to delay sex beyond the first few dates. Not because I think it’s wrong, but because it just hasn’t felt right for me. And I also don’t find that I have enough of a connection after a single date, or even two usually, to even consider becoming that intimate with a woman. The few times I have rushed in were in situations where both of us basically weren’t in a position to have a committed relationship – i.e. were on the rebound and a bit desperate. However, with the Ex I mentioned above, we both commented on how it felt early to being sleeping together, but at the same time, it felt right.

I do think a lot of this comes down to intentions though. Evan and I might differ on approach to some degree, but we both have had the intent of finding a woman to stay with, grow with, develop a life together with. If you have that kind of intention driving you, then you’ll probably treat sex differently, regardless of when it ends up happening.


I want to expand a bit on the "chasing and pursuing" portion of the comment. What I mean by that mostly is the playing hard to get kind of nonsense that some women pull, partly because it's "fun" for them, partly because it's a power play, and partly to fulfill this story that men "need" the thrill of the chase. I also reject the idea that I am supposed to, as a man, "woo" a woman with gifts, dinners, and whatever else. And finally, if I need to "charm you" and "win you over," perhaps we aren't a good match in the first place.

With that said, I'd like to think that some of the elements of the above might occur more naturally during the dating process. That who I am, and how I naturally act and care for others, for example, will be charming and "a winner" in a woman's eyes. That, if I find out you interested in a novelist I don't know, for example, I might go and research that writer and then be able to have a conversation with you the next time we're together. Or if I know you like a certain kind of food, I might offer to prepare it for you sometime.

Part of the goal of this blog is to advocate for being more authentic with your relationships - particularly intimate romantic relationships, but I think that at least some of what I talk about could be applied to any relationship in your life. When we rely on games, power plays, lists of desired traits, stereotypes, and arbitrary rules to drive the way we handle relationships, we tend to cloud over who we actually are and what our deepest wishes and intentions might be. Obviously, it can be useful in a practical sense to, for example, have a list of desired traits or to have a set of dating rules to guide you, but all of that should really play a secondary role in my opinion.

What do you think?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Men Want to Feel Manly"

I think what it boils down to is men wanting to feel manly but still appreciated. I would always offer, but any man who allows you to pay (especially on a first or second date) is probably not that invested. When guys like you, they want to impress you. They do that by proving they can provide for you. It's an instinctual thing.

There's been a whole new round of blog posts on the very old topic of who pays for first dates, including the post from which the above quote came from (in the comments section). I chose this particular comment because it encapsulates some of the broader issues that stem from the single action of paying for a date. And, to be honest, the quote kind of pisses me off, so I'm going to use that energy to dig in a little deeper, instead of just ranting.

"men want to feel manly but still appreciated" - Earlier in the comment, the woman spoke of going on a date and making a gesture to pay at the end of dinner, which led to the man thanking her for offering, and then offering to pay the bill himself. I'm not terribly interested in rehashing the issues around such gestures, but I do want to speak about this "manly" business. Although I am a man, I mostly feel like who I am and how I live in the world is not considered stereotypically "manly," even though I occasionally do or say something that fits the narrative. In the morning, for example, I might have hands covered in bicycle grease and by evening, I might be in the kitchen, cooking dinner for friends or family. I know I'm not alone in being like this, and those of us who don't fit the "norm" come from all sorts of backgrounds sexually, racially, spiritually, and the rest. So, when I hear someone say men want to be manly, I think "I don't. Not all the time anyway. What does it mean to be a man anyway? Can you really boil it down to a single story?"

"any man who allows you to pay (especially on a first or second date) is probably not that invested." Let's talk about this word "invested." When I read her sentence here, the first thing I think of is that this is how people think in capitalist countries. Investment in relationships, at least in the beginning, so often comes down to money, material gifts, and proving you aren't "cheap." Never mind if you listen to the other person's stories. Never mind if ask the other person about their passions and really want to know. Never mind if you pick up the book they dropped, or hold the door open on the way out, or clear the table at the end of the date. Many of the things that are vitally important to maintaining a healthy, long term relationship get missed or minimized, and then people sit and wonder why they're dating lives suck all the time.

"When a guy likes you, they want to impress you." You know, I used to believe in this one. I used to put a lot more effort into telling the "right stories," showing my strengths, and yes, even paying for the first date every time. And then, after how ever many dozen of dates I had gone on, it started to dawn on me that there was too much acting going on. I was trying too damned hard to make myself look good, instead of just being who I really am, flaws and all. It's going to come out anyway, so the way I see it, trying to impress (regardless of gender) is just an easy way to get into relationships that are ultimately doomed. Or are going to go through some awful growing pains when your true selves start to emerge.

"they can provide for you" - Hmm, I guess the 1950's are still alive and well. I have nothing more to say about that one.

"It's an instinctual thing." - Whenever people bring up instinct or biology my bullshit detector goes wild. Doesn't anyone remember how prevalent this kind of stuff was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and how such narratives were used to keep women in "their place" as second class citizens at best. While instinct and the biology of the sexes play some role in how people act and think, it's also the case that socialization processes are a big part of the equation. The origin of men as "providers" is, at least in part, a result of a number of cultural shifts towards settled societies, urbanization, and more recently, industrialization.

In the end, I'd actually argue that a lot of what we now consider to be "manly" is socially conditioned. Just consider the curly haired wigs and poofy "dresses" that American and European men commonly wore just a few centuries ago. And the same goes for what might be considered "womanly." Even though we know biology has a role, we have to recognize the myriad of ways in which cultures change and adapt, and use that understanding to maintain a flexible mind around dating and relationships.

That's what I think, anyway. How about you?

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Friday Five

Five somewhat random comments from yours truly in response to various dating blog posts and comments.

1. When men pay for a first date, they are mostly following social convention, or are trying to avoid rejection because of perceived cheapness.

2. If you hold firmly to what you believe is the definition of rude or inconsiderate, chances are you'll reject a hell of a lot of your dates, including some that might actually be potential good matches.

3. Applying "traditional" dating rules and expectations to online dating and dating total strangers might be a mistake. Maybe it's just me, but some of the expectations people have (men and women) around first dates with strangers seem to be through the roof unreasonable.

4. I think these are good questions to consider while on a first date with someone.
Is he or she attentive to you, and/or is a good listener? Is your date open to new ideas? Does the person have a sense of humor? Do they to have some lightness about mistakes and difficulties from their past? (By lightness I mean not bitter, heavy, angry, or obsessed about things from their past). And are you actually enjoying yourself?

5. If you think no one "good enough" is out there, perhaps you also believe, maybe unconsciously, that you're not good enough.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Issues with the Language of Dating Angst

An interesting discussion appeared in the comments section of my last post. It essentially considered casual phrases and words people use to describe others, which have attached to them a pejorative or derogatory meaning, sometimes unknown to the speaker saying them. Although these phrases come up in a variety of contexts, given the focus of this blog, I'll just stick to the dating/relationship context.

The conversation stemmed from this comment by 36andsingle:

I'm also less likely to date someone who lives in the suburbs (of my town, anyway, this doesn't always apply in other cities) because my experience is that suburban guys are really lame.

It sounds pretty innocent, doesn't it? And certainly, people use the word "lame" fairly often in describing both people and situations they think are boring or lacking depth.

Another reader, SnowdropExplodes, however questioned the use of lame, which led to a listing of lame's dictionary definitions. Which are the following:

1. crippled or physically disabled, especially in the foot or leg so as to limp or walk with difficulty.
2. impaired or disabled through defect or injury: a lame arm.
3. weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory; clumsy: a lame excuse.
4. Slang . out of touch with modern fads or trends; unsophisticated.

36andsingle writes that she meant number 4 when she made the statement quoted above, to which Snowdrop replied:

Definitions 3 and 4 are using "lame" as a derogatory term, and are discriminatory language against people with disabilities. Just because you can find the N-word in the dictionary, doesn't mean it's okay to use it. If you found the derogatory usage of "gay" to mean "boring or uncool" (as opposed to "homosexual") in a dictionary, would you be comfortable using that, too?

So, I'd like to sat that first off, this kind of stuff is really challenging precisely because the use of these words and phrases are so embedded in everyday speaking. If I had a dollar for how often I heard someone refer to something or another person as "gay" in a pejorative sense, I'd be ultra wealthy. And when it comes to people talking about their dates and relationships, there seems to be an extra charge because many of us place large parts of our identities, rightly or wrongly, within the context of intimate relationships. So when things aren't going well in that area of our lives, when we've been on dozens of dates or are with someone who isn't meeting our needs in any sense, then the nastiness tends to get ramped up.

Calling people on the use of pejorative or derogatory language is always difficult, but when it's in the context of talking about, for example, the long line of boring guys someone dated and is annoyed by, there's something more difficult going on. Partly because of what I wrote above, but also, I imagine, partly because it might be a surprising turn of conversation. You're talking about yet another shitty date, and suddenly someone says "Why did you call that guy faggy? What's up with that?" That kind of questioning might seem out of context. Furthermore, if you haven't really put much thought into a given word or phrase, it might seem like the other person is just adding insult to injury.

Having read numerous online dating blogs and forums over the past year, I have witnessed the ease in which people who are frustrated with dating and/or their relationships spew pejoratives. Some heterosexual men ooze with words like "cunt" and "slut," while some heterosexual women produce variations on the gay slur theme without blinking. And regardless of sexual orientation, words like "retarded" and "lame" are so commonplace that almost no one pauses to consider what's happening because the focus is on issues with dating and relationships.

The way I see it, though, the use of pejoratives is in part due to the continued, largely unexamined forms of oppression operating in our society, but also in larger part to the ways in which humans respond to troubles in dating and relationships by blaming and condemning the other. How often, for example, do you see or hear a complicated situation between two people reduced to "he's just an asshole" or "she's just a bitch"? I see it everyday online, and know from experience that it's plenty easy to find in the everyday world we live in. And although I have committed myself to refraining from the easiness of simply blaming the other for everything and condemning him or her, I don't always uphold that vow myself.

However, I do believe that we all have the opportunity to pause and reflect before submitting a comment, blog post, or other form of writing online. And as such, it seems to me that it's worth taking that opportunity to consider the possible impact of your words on others (as well as yourself). For example, I sometimes wonder if the almost continuous blaming of men or women for X,Y, or Z doesn't make it that much harder for those participating in said discussions to see what's actually happening on their dates and in their relationships. Consider that people gravitate towards those who hold similar views to them, and sometimes that simply reinforces habits that are keeping them away from happiness.

Over the winter, for example, I spent a bit of time researching Men's Right's Movement blogs as a counterpoint to various forms of feminism. What was interesting was that although I found myself agreeing with a few of the major points people were saying on these blogs, I also became aware that reading endless streams of comments filled with skewed views of women sometimes to the level of hate speech agitated me. And when I looked at those who were regulars on these blogs, I noticed that they formed a collective front against anyone who disagreed with them on any point. in other words, defense of the status quo vision became more important than any actual discussion and consideration of alternative views. The same sometimes happens on feminist blogs and forums, and I think it can happen with dating and relationship blogs and forums.

At the end of the day, most of us truly want to be happy, and that often includes having a loving, caring partner in our lives. And I'd argue that the vast majority of writing and comments about dating and relationships are coming from that impulse, no matter how twisted and messed up they might be. So, it's worth remembering that when responding to someone else. As is the fact that no one is perfect, and everyone gets frustrated to the point of blaming and distorting the truth at times.

However, one of the main intentions I had in starting this blog is to examine ways to have fully conscious relationships. To promote ways in which people can become more self aware, and also more aware of what's actually happening with their dates and/or partners, and within the relationships as a whole. Languaging plays a role in all of this, because our words help shape our worldview, whether we like it or not.

*painting by Francis Bacon

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Questioning Dating Perferences

I think it is ok to choose or reject any sexual or romantic partner for literally ANY reason. If a person wants to only date within their own race or they want only partners with no bisexuality in their past, or no history of mental illness or addiction, they can pick based on any factors they want. Sexual choices are not a realm where “equal opportunity” needs to be applied.

This is from a commenter on a post about "deal breakers" from the feminist blog Feministe. It's the kind of statement that sounds really empowering to people, however, it's also something that needs further examination.

If you take a close look at dating preferences, they are gateways into the kinds of biases and prejudices that, when considered collectively, form the myriad of oppressions found in our society.

Having dated bisexual women in the past, as well as having bisexual male and female friends, I'm well aware of the social stigmas that bisexual folks suffer from. This, not only amongst heterosexuals, but also amongst the gay and lesbian community. Unfortunately, it's often the case that when people say they don't want to date someone who is interested in, or has a history of, dating across gender - they are operating from stereotypes and biases. They assume, for example, that bisexuality is just an excuse to be promiscuous. Or that it's about a person not being "mature enough" or "healthy enough" to "pick a side and stay there." These kinds of assumptions are really commonplace tropes that operate on an almost unconscious level for most people. Even hearing the word "bisexual" conjures up all kinds of deviant stuff. But beyond that, I believe one of the biggest stinging points of the narrative is the idea that bisexual folks can't commit, that they'd never be committed partners and thus should be rejected out of hand.

Dating within one's own race is, perhaps, more complicated. Race, itself, is such a muddy landscape. On the one hand, it's a fluid social construct with no inherent biological meaning or fixedness, which is contrary to how people tend to popularly understand it. On the other hand, as a social construct, race has a deep and cutting impact on nearly every aspect of human life. So, it's not surprising that it enters heavily into dating preferences, to the point where acceptance or rejection of someone might come down solely to race.

The problems with dating racial preferences are similar to problems I mentioned above with bisexuality. They tend to be unexamined, and they also tend to rely on stereotypes and biases. For example, I have heard college-educated white folks say things like "I don't date black people because we don't have anything in common." When you push a little on the "in common" part, what often comes up are comments about educational background and interests supposedly related to said educational background. And in bringing up educational background, there's also an implied assumption of intelligence difference occurring, taping into the old white supremacist intelligence narratives.

However, when it comes to race and dating preferences, it's much more than just about individual conscious or unconscious racism and stereotypes. An additional challenge, I believe, is that racial dating preferences tend to be strongly upheld and reinforced by one's family, friends, and even the community(s) a person lives in. In fact, sometimes people end up rejecting someone of a different racial background not because of their own preferences, but due to the social pressures of those around them. The fact that I am white played into the disintegration of a relationship I had last year with a woman from Burma. Her family simply couldn't believe that a white man would want to be a committed partner to an Asian woman. To them, white men were mostly sexually promiscuous and unfaithful. In addition, having spent many years living in Thailand, they probably witnessed enough "sexual tourism" and white male privilege around Asian women to create a lot of skepticism towards us in general. Yet, in my case, they were wrong. And both I and my former girlfriend suffered as a result.

I bring these two preference examples up not to suggest that everyone should be "open" to dating everyone. That's ridiculous. You should date who you find attractive and believe might be a good partner for you. However, in bringing up these two examples, I'm suggesting that it's worth really examining your dating preferences because some of them might be blocking you from finding a great partner. And furthermore, the world is crying out for more conscious people less given to easy biases and prejudice.

And you, actually, the list of preferences that could be re-examined is long. Here are some more that I think need to be given a closer look:

1. Body weight

2. Desiring "masculine" men or "feminine" women

3. Hair color - especially the whole "blonde" thing

4. Sexual organ size

5. Sound of someone's voice

6. Physical disabilities

Again, just so that no-one gets all wound in a bunch, this post isn't about shaming people into dating anyone and everyone, or trying to be attracted to people they aren't, for whatever reason, attracted to. It's about sparking curiosity about something that people often consider to be fairly fixed and personal - dating preferences. Which I'm arguing is neither fixed, nor entirely personal.

So, what do you think? Do you feel preferences are entirely personal? Have you had experiences that made you reconsider a previous preference?

Friday, September 2, 2011

First Impressions are Overrated

There. I said it. First impressions are overrated. Now that's twice. However, there's a catch.

What we choose to focus on when first meeting someone makes all the difference. In other words, because people often pay attention to the flash during first encounters, what they glean is kind of useless. This is why the whole focus on "chemistry" above all else approach to dating is big trouble. Because wanting hot attraction with someone who is a stranger nearly always leads to overlooking the more subtle aspects of the other person. Which leads you to overrate your connection, and overrate the potential for a relationship to really work over the long run.

A few years ago, I had a brief fling with a woman who, when we first met, I thought was a good match. We had a magnetic kind of attraction. She was smart. Funny. Shared a lot of common interests with me. Etc. All those base-level things people ramble on about wanting in their online dating profiles. I went into subsequent dates with her having focused on those elements, and thus failed to notice - for a little while - the rest of the picture. That she was emotionally all over the place. That she was controlling. That she wasn't terribly kind or willing to listen to opinions that were different from her own. And that she really didn't have any passion around social issues or life's big questions.

As this other side of her unfolded before me, for a short time I justified staying with her because I was blinded by the physical attraction, and also placed too much importance on common interests that actually wound up to be superficial connections. Both liking poetry a lot didn't really matter. Liking similar music really didn't matter. An interest in travel really didn't matter. Both working in the non-profit field really didn't matter. That last one, I think, fooled me into believing she was someone who thrived on helping others, and giving back to the community. When the reality was that it was just another job for her.

But that's what happens when your focus is on the more superficial aspects of life and relationships. You hear something that sounds like a connection, and then in your mind turn it into a "deep connection," an oh my god this person is my soul mate kind of connection. It's pretty silly if you think about it, and I don't know anyone who hasn't done a bit of this in their lives. However, for some people, this mode of operation is the only one they ever do.

When you choose to focus on the more subtle, but I'd argue deeper aspects of a person in the beginning, it's much more likely that a first impression will be more useful. Here are some things I look for, just to give some examples:

Good listening skills.

Basic Kindness.

A sense of compassion. Like if she's describing a difficult situation at work, what do the comments about particular co-workers sound like? How much blame and criticism is directed at any particular person?

Values compatibility. For example, as I hinted at above, it's really important to me to be with someone who cares about social issues, and feels compelled to do something that might make the world a better place. In other words, social engagement. Like volunteer in the community. Or be involved in a lobbying effort on a particular issue. If someone has no interest in social engagement on some level, then I might not be a good match for that person. So, it's really important to figure out what values you have, which ones are deal breakers, and then to pay attention to what values the other person seems to be displaying. This is one of those areas that can unfold pretty slowly, and is why the rushed dating culture that has developed in recent decades is kind of troubling.

Sense of humor. This one might seem shallow, but actually I think it's pretty key. People who can't laugh at life, at least a little bit, are pretty miserable partners. (Unless you also have no sense of humor, in which case, misery loves company, right? :)

Breadth of interests. Although I still lean towards dating someone who likes similar things as I do, what I have realized is more important is that the person have a wide variety of interests. A well-roundedness. Which leads to the last quality I look for.

An openness to lifelong learning. Wanting to keep learning about life and world is pretty sexy to me. And I also think that it demonstrates an openness and flexibility that spills over into other areas as well.

So, what do you think?