Thursday, November 10, 2011

"I Want a Naturally Unfolding Relationship"

Over at And That's Why Your Single, I found the following comment by a woman named Stacy compelling:

,online dating is full of people like the OP who are looking for a relationship, but the problem is, because the relationship is the goal in itself, they try to push the person they meet into that goal, rather than seeing how things naturally play out (as more likely happens in real life). For instance, I have gone out with several guys now who act in accordance with a certain rule, date 3, they say they are not seeing someone else, date 5 ask you to take down your online dating profile, a month of dating and the “i love you” comes. They seem to be on some timeline to get married and the other person fits their criteria- but that is suffocating to the other person who eventually bails (even though s/he may have stuck around longer if there was less pressure and demands).

I have to say that I have been somewhat guilty of this kind of thinking over the years. In fact, I can think of a few women that I went on a couple of dates with and then chose to not see anymore because I didn't get a good sense that they wanted a long term, committed relationship. On the flip side, I have also bailed on a few situations where it seemed like the woman I was dating wanted marriage and children posthaste, never mind we barely knew each other yet.

However, as I sat with Stacy's comment a little longer, I started wondering about this whole "meeting and getting to know someone naturally" story. Specifically, I wonder how often something like that happened historically, and whether we simply don't have a lot of cumulative, collective experience with just meeting people, falling in love, and becoming a committed couple in a seemingly natural, on it's own pace manner.

Now, I'm talking the long view here. Centuries of collective experience at least. (Records get muddy if you go back beyond several hundred years in the past). But the idea of meeting someone, and having a relationship unfold naturally - as two free, fairly equal, consenting adults - is really pretty new, don't you think? It's only been in the past few generations that the majority of American women could act as relative equals in a partnership. The ability to easily travel beyond one's immediate locale is something that didn't exist 150 years ago, which sounds like a long time ago, but actually is a blip of time in human history. Arranged marriages were fairly common in the early days of the United States, and continue to exist amongst certain segments of the population.

So, while I sympathize with Stacy's position, and think it's wise to remove as many artificial barriers from the dating process as possible, I think some of what we're seeing in online dating culture, and dating culture in general, is an attempt to apply pieces of old formalities to new venues. Mostly, because people don't know what else to do.

It's a strange mixture of the liberated and completely not liberated when you think about it a bit closer. People who seemingly have all the freedom to choose in the world instead choose to create artificial time lines, arbitrary hoops to jump through, and long lists of "requirements" that a potential partner "must" possess to be considered worthy of consideration. A guy who isn't "strongly masculine," absurdly handsome looking, and/or isn't making a good salary is dismissed as not being "enough of a man." A woman with "strong opinions," who doesn't fit the "standards of beauty," and/or isn't "feminine enough" is dismissed as not being "womanly." For all the loosening of old gender roles that have happened in the past 50 years, there's still a hell of a lot of clinging to how it supposedly used to be. Amongst heterosexual folks, it's not difficult, for example, to find fiercely feminist women who openly desire men to "take charge in the relationship," to demonstrate chivalry, and to be the bigger financial bread winner. And it's also not terribly hard to find forward thinking men who want women that aren't going to be an intellectual challenge, and who will take care of most of the "domestic chores," sometimes to the point of coddling like a mother might.

Perhaps the practice of requiring a dowry from a bride's family has simply been spread out in terms of its content, and then applied to both parties involved. Questions like "What would you contribute to a potential partnership?" seem innocent enough, but they easily have a dark side attached to them if driven by long lists of wants and requirements that may or may not be possible.

On a practical sense, what good is any of this?

Well, if you are active in the dating world right now, here are a few ideas.

1. Expect that many people will have artificial time tables and other internal agendas that might be driving their behavior.

2. Be willing to give people more of a chance if you have a decent connection developing, but are running into conflict because of differing agendas.

3. Take some time to look at your own views, and consider that some or maybe much of what you've decided is "essential" in a partner might actually not be.

4. If you're dating someone who is really fixated on a certain set of specifics or a timetable, don't expect major changes in the short term. In other words, don't build a relationship on hopes that someone will dramatically change in the future.


  1. I've dated guys with timetables. Moreover, I'm embarrassed to say, being new to dating, at some point, I probably had a bit of a timetable myself, because I'd been told that's how things were supposed to work. My issue with the whole timetable thing is, why are people so afraid to communicate? Why do so many people find it easy to go on a date with another person, make out, have sex, but find it impossible to say to the same person, Hold on, we're moving too fast, I don't know you enough to be exclusive/take my profile down/say I love you, I haven't figured out yet how I feel... What's the worst that can happen if the two of you discuss it like mature adults, instead of running off into the night and not telling the other person why you did it?

  2. There's so much fear of rejection - that's one piece of the puzzle. I know I feel it sometimes, and have held back things I really should have shared and had a discussion with.

    But I think there are other issues going on as well. Because you're right - people seem to be able to have sex with total strangers these days, but some of the same folks can't handle even a simple discussion about wants and needs.

    It's pretty screwy.

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