Friday, February 28, 2014

Fears of the Friendzone are Overblown

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Anyone who has been reading this blog awhile knows that I'm not impressed with speed. There seems to be no end to advice that boils down to "you snooze, you loose. This post, from the Urban Dater, is no exception.

Many guys think that they’ve been friend-zoned because they did something (wrong), but often times, it’s because they didn’t do something. They failed to take action soon enough. Does it takes balls to take action? Absolutely, but this is something that is within our power. Just keep in mind that guys who get friend-zoned are the ones who “played it safe.” You must strike when the iron is hot.

Ah, the "friendzone." I felt like I spent much of high school there. I can recall multiple women in college with whom it seemed I was lost in the long tunnel of maybe, but not quite. Even in grad school there was one woman. But since then, well, the term doesn't really apply to anything I have experienced. Furthermore, both in college and grad school, there were people who were attracted to me in my friend circle that I had little or no romantic interest in. Perhaps they felt trapped in the friendzone as well. I honestly don't know.

Here's what I think. The friendzone is a concept that is not only over-applied, but also is yet another excuse for folks to rush things, instead of act naturally. The fear of being labeled not interested or simply lumped in with someone's friends feels no different than the commonplace advice to "lock in" whomever your dating online because there's "so much competition." It's all about fear, and not about reading reality.

In reality, a lot of the time you "land in the friendzone" is because the other person just isn't that into you. When I look back at my school days crushes, I honestly don't think most of them would have dated me. They liked me well enough, but my lack of making a move wasn't the issue. The reverse is also true. I wouldn't have dated most of the people I knew had crushes on me. I just wasn't that interested.

Which brings me to my next point. How much of this is rom-com fantasy? I have a hard time taking the concept too seriously, even though it does happen sometimes, even between middle aged adults.

They say timing is everything, right? Well, we've all heard of those long term friendships that eventually become romantic partnerships. They aren't the norm, but they do happen. And the thing is, there's not much you can do to speed something like that up. Nor would it be wise to bank your life on something like that, no matter how great someone is. However, it strikes me that to whatever extent the friendzone is real, it's also not something that's fixed.

That's the problem with life: it doesn't conform to human ideas.

Which doesn't mean you shouldn't make a quicker move sometimes. Sometimes, that might be right thing. Does it make sense given what's present, or is it forced? The answer will be different every time.

Fears of the friendzone are overblown. Even if you are really shy about dating, like I used to be, odds are the ones you think "got away" never would have been yours anyway.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dating Timelines and Waiting for Sex

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A few, short reactions from reading various blogs over the past few weeks.

1. Moxie over at And That's Why You're Single had post insisting that folks who don't respond to online dating inquiries after 24 hours aren't serious, and should be simply be dismissed.

My general response: that's a ridiculous idea! I don't even think it's true for those seemingly hyper-speed New Yorkers Moxie appears to be speaking to.

A more nuanced comment: arbitrary timelines are far less valuable than discerning the quality of the interactions. I'd take a handful of thoughtful messages and a date after 2 or 3 weeks any day over a flood of one liners and pressure to get together after a couple of days from a stranger.

2. Somewhere, I can't remember exactly where, I read something about perceiving dating as a "battle" to win someone's heart over. Which isn't much different from seeing dating as a "competition."

My general response: these are destructive ideas. If you have make a ton of effort to "win someone over" they probably aren't really that into you. And/or their interest might be or remain dependent upon your ability to keep doing X,Y, or Z to keep them interested. In addition, rushing to "get commitment" and/or worrying about others who might "take your date from you" is a great way to create misery. How many of those rushed relationship work out in the long term? And how often has your incessant worrying lead you to a happy, healthy relationship?

3. Evan Marc Katz offers yet another right wing piece of research to support his views. Why use a video which appears to wallow in socially conservative rhetoric about contraception and modern social ills to point out that waiting for sex is a positive thing?

That basic message both he and the video in question (here's the original source) offer is totally fine. I agree with it wholeheartedly if your aim is to develop a long term relationship with someone. I also think that mutually agreement to have casual or more loose ended sex is totally fine as well. And there are enough examples of folks who didn't wait and ended up in good long term relationships too, so nothing is set in stone. It just seems easier to develop a good long term relationship when you take it slower.

Furthermore, I find it troubling that the whole works is balanced on notions about men and women that are questionable at best.

Such as the sense that men need to be "trained" by their female dates to respect them sexually. This runs dangerously close to the idea that men can't control their sexual drives, something that continues to be used to defend all sorts of abusive behavior.

Beyond that though is something more subtle. Namely, that men will only "value" women who make them wait, which to me assumes that men default at not valuing women. Which is true for some men, no doubt.

However, if we continue to assume collectively that women must keep men at bay, and their own sex drives at bay, solely (or primarily) to get men to respect them and value them - well, that doesn't strike me as anything more than coping with patriarchy.

Does this make sense? It's pretty subtle. As I said, I support the waiting guidelines. But I think we need to re-frame what they are for.

The way I see it, waiting to have sex is about giving space to learn about each other. To discover if you have enough of a connection to be more vulnerable together. Perhaps there's some sort of increased "valuing" included in this, but it should be about the unique individuals involved.

In other words, it's framed in the positive (I'm waiting so that we can come to care for each other as unique people.) It's not framed in the negative (I'm doing this to make him respect me first because I'm afraid he won't if I don't.) Do you see how fear based this is?

The thing is, I think you can both make decisions to protect yourself early on in the dating process, and also maintain the positive framework as your aim. It's not an either/or as I see it.

I could say more, but I'll stop there.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Two Truths About Your Dating Life

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I'm going to make a bold statement. One that you might not believe.

You know much more about relationships than you think you do.

Maybe that sounds ridiculous. Maybe you totally agree.

Let me offer another statement. One that on the surface contradicts the first one.

You don't know anything.

Now you might be thinking, "What's this guy been smoking?!"

Here's the thing. When it comes to matters of the heart, we are far too prone as a species to trusting the wrong things, and not trusting the right things. You might have a feeling deep down that someone is a poor match for you, but oh the sex is so good, and oh they're so hot, and oh they meet most or all the things on my checklist.

On the other hand, there isn't a single relationship around that doesn't involve risk. In the beginning, no one really "knows" for sure if another person is a great match for them or not. I think a lot of the time, people take leaps of faith when committing to another after long periods of dating. They say they knew from the beginning or early on, but that's just a polite lie.

I tend to believe the happiest people are those who are able to trust that deeper voice within, while also being able to be at least somewhat comfortable with not knowing all the answers.

Learning to listen to, locate, and trust that deeper voice allows you to bypass all the superficial noise. It helps to override chemistry, social status markers or lack there of, and good appearances that don't hold up under scrutiny. It also - more importantly - allows you to operate not from a place of blame and victim hood, but from a place a empowerment.

The majority of dating and relationship situations don't involve issues like domestic abuse, rape, or sustained coercion or manipulation of some kind where someone is truly victimized. Sadly, these things are far too common, and I don't want to make light of them. But here, I'm talking about all those relationships where these aren't present. Where the struggles people have together are more benign. Or even if they produce great suffering, aren't about some "evil person" hurting another. (I actually don't believe in the evil person construct at all, but that's a whole other post.)

The point here is that when you are able to hear that inner wisdom about a situation, then you can make the necessary changes (including ending things all together) without blaming and demonizing.

In order to do so, you have to first believe that you actually know something about relationships. And then you have to give yourself the space and quiet to let the truth arise. I usually opt to meditate, but it could be as simple as going for a quiet walk or drive. Regardless of what you do, it's important that you have relative quiet and also give it some time. In my experience, there's almost always a wave of superficial reactive answers and commentary that come up which I have to let go of in order to hear what's underneath.

So, that's one piece of the story. The other is developing your capacity to live with not knowing for sure. Learning to not rush to judgement about someone who maybe isn't quite what you had hoped for, but who's company you enjoy all the same. Or remembering that most of those "I knew from moment our eyes met" stories don't end in happily ever after. Or even more trickier is being ok with the reality that the future is not certain, no matter what.

One of the reasons I distrust experts is that often project an air of certainty that can't possibly be true. Another reason is that they present the truths that they do so in such a way that it tends to dis-empower the rest of us. The stereotypical doctor instantly comes to mind here. It never ceases to amaze me how people who have literally lived in their bodies for decades suddenly act like they know nothing about their bodies, deferring everything to the all knowing doctor who really only knows a certain set of facts (if that sometimes.)

So, please, if you don't already, give yourself more credit. And at the same time, stay humble and nimble.

That's all I've got for today.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Don't Assume Anything!

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I was thinking recently how people get themselves in such messy situations when they rush things.

Flashback to an experience I had several years ago.

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 we parted ways.

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.

Overall, the whole situation speaks to the lesson "Don't assume anything." Which I think is best manifested by having a curiosity and openness to not knowing. Which isn't terribly easy all the time, but in my opinion, is the path of most joy and least misery.

Instead of assuming the other person is dating multiple people, or only dating you, you don't assume at all. Sometimes, things just naturally become clear over time. Other times, someone has to bring the issue up for direct discussion.

It seems to me that if you're opting to date multiple people at the same time, being upfront about that earlier in the process rather than later is better. I'm not talking on the first few dates here. But if you're spending more time together with someone, with the physical intimacy increasing, it only seems fair to be as clear as you can about where things stand.

On the flip side, if you are someone used to rejecting out of hand anyone who opts to date multiple people early on (the first month or two), you might consider rethinking that. My mid-20s novice self couldn't handle dating a woman who was seeing someone else, but if I were in the same situation now - knowing we had only been going out for about a month - I might handle it differently. We hadn't had sex yet, and I could have kept that in place for a little longer to see what happened between us. Yes, it's a bit of a blow to not be the only one, but again, we're talking a month here.

I say this only because there's a lot of unknowns in the dating world these days. It's easy to get trapped in absolute rules and approaches that may not be serving you.

Don't assume you know based upon X, Y, or Z. Be more curious and open to things not being exactly as you expect, or hope for.