Starting relationships - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Starting relationships
Tuesday, 11 December 2007 at 09:50 pm
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kerrypolka wrote a rather gorgeous post about the differences between American dating culture and the early stages of relationships in the UK. It's just the right mix of humour and seriousness to generate some really interesting discussion, which I also recommend. doseybat followed up with poll about ways people meet partners, again giving rise to some good discussions.

Meanwhile, I happened to see a comment by Dw3t-Hthr at Letters from Gehenna, where she presented the only convincing argument I've yet come across for why geek should count as a gender. Now, a lot of people from minority cultural groups tend to be absolutely convinced that everybody in their group is far more respectful and sensible than mainstream cultural standards, but this description of negotiating attraction in geek mode brought tears to my eyes:
But the overwhelming majority of my relationships have started out with me delivering the geekflirt; generally the conversation then goes to implementation questions, and a couple of times to "Thank you, I'm flattered, but I'm not interested; are there comfort concerns that need to be taken into account now that we've had this exchange?"

It's not just that she's giving an example just asking directly rather than hinting or being embarrassed, but the way she describes the typical geek as dealing in a matter of fact way with "comfort concerns" that happen when the attraction turns out not to be mutual. Now, I don't actually believe that all geeks act exactly like this (just like I don't believe that all poly people are always excellent at communication and free from jealousy, and I don't believe that all kinky people are always completely and perfectly aware of every aspect of consent). But I really do wish that more people handled relationships like the idealized geek described in that comment thread.

The thing is, the mainstream way of getting compatible people together seems to be badly broken. I don't think it's only that it doesn't suit my personality. I mean, this kind of outcome is probably extreme, but I think there are a lot of ways that conventional modes for handling mutual attraction fail really horribly. I know far too many people who find it completely impossible to meet potential partners after university, and it's not because they are disgusting human beings. It's just that there are so few opportunities to meet compatible people and get to know them in an appropriate way. And people are reluctant to express an interest in friends because prevalent attitudes to attraction can lead to horrible awkwardness, whereas expressing an interest in strangers is a toxic combination of creepy and risky. The other way that embarrassment and deliberate miscommunication about attraction breaks is that it leads to a lot of situations which are in effect coercive, even when nobody involved actually intends to force someone else into a situation they're not comfortable with. Oh, and I'm really not a fan of the mode of getting together where you have semi-accidental and possibly drunken sex and only afterwards figure out if you have anything in common with the person. Because this is less embarrassing than actually approaching someone and talking about your feelings?!

Oh, and the obligatory xkcd link seems appropriate too. The issue of how a relationship is presented to the world seems to be tangled up in the issue of what the relationship actually is, and this can happen from a very early stage. (I don't think the internet where you literally tell the whole world your "status", or else actively lie to everyone you know, caused this situation, but it does throw the problem into relief, where social expectations entangle with what the incipient couple actually want.)

I don't have a solution, mind you. I understand that there are disadvantages to the extremely blunt approach that I prefer; "make everyone in the world more like me" is extremely unlikely to be a successful approach to any perceived social problem. But anyway. Tell me, what do you think is a good (preferably in the sense of morally good as well as in the sense of effective) way of meeting interesting people? Of getting to know them well enough to have a clear idea whether a relationship would have a good chance? Of letting them know about your feelings to find out if theirs are congruent?

(Oh, and in case anyone's wondering, I'm not particularly distressed about this on a personal level; I'm quite content in my single status and therefore not having to deal directly with most of this stuff.)


Whereaboooots: Älvsjö, Stockholm, Sweden
Moooood: frustratedfrustrated
Tuuuuune: Massive Attack: Inertia creeps
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(no subject) - monanotlisa (12/11/07 10:14 pm)
livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:December 12th, 2007 03:52 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 04:52 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
I know what you mean. I think part of the problem is that it's very hard to meet the kind of people who could be partners, if you define that group as: not colleagues, not people who are already friends (with whom presumably if something was going to happen it would have by now) and not total strangers. And then you add in the fairly basic requirements of right age and orientation plus available, let alone any personal tastes you have, and you're just not meeting people at all. (This seems to be about equally bad for people who are actively looking, as it is for people who wouldn't mind if an opportunity came up. They're just not meeting the right sort of people in the first place, no matter how good or bad their approach to initiating things.)

Now, Roz seems to think that the solution is not to exclude strangers from the pool; in her view, it ought to be possible to strike up a conversation with a total stranger and arrange to meet again enough times to decide whether you want to explore possibilities. That would ease the pressure in some ways, because obviously you meet total strangers all the time. But it makes things worse in other ways because it guarantees that you're picking people purely on looks, which seems to me not a great way of finding a partner!

The geek solution described is, essentially, not to exclude friends. Because even someone you've known for years might turn out to be interested given a little encouragement. And if asking out and being rejected is not a big deal then it doesn't do any harm to the friendship to try this. This appeals to me rather more than the Roz / American option. But it still has its disadvantages.
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(no subject) - monanotlisa (12/12/07 04:04 pm)
cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:December 11th, 2007 10:22 pm (UTC)
30 minutes after journal entry
(Link)
Bridget Jones had a solution, a national, official, code of conduct for dating. A lot of "if this is just a fling, it should be made clear in advance" and "should ring again within 24 hours of a date". Not that you have to stick to it, but that everyone knows what's expected, so you can be polite if you want to, and conversely you can brush someone off without ambiguity.

I only just realised how similar this seemed to the geek approach, as exemplified by probably Lois McMasters Bujold's Beta Colony, where earrings code romantic status.

Not that her suggestion would be possible, but it suggested that many people would enjoy freedom from doubt.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that flirtation is nearly by definition the application of ambiguity, it's not just an arbitrary social construct, some uncertainty is necessary.

I naturally sympathise with the geek approach. But I always wonder: are less blunt/straightforward people missing out on clear communication? Or do they just have subtle signals down pat, so can reliably communicate everything subverbally without ever needing to make it awkward or explicit at all? I guess some of both.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:December 12th, 2007 04:12 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 05:12 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Hm. I strongly dislike Bridget Jones, but let's consider the idea on its own merits. (I have seen it suggested in SF too, variants of the earring thing.) I don't think that an official code is needed, because we already have a broadly agreed official code, namely language! Language doesn't work because people are reluctant to use it, they want to keep things deniable and avoid rejection, and I think any agreed code of "this behaviour or visible single means that state of mind" would have exactly the same problem. Only worse because it could never be subtle enough to cover all situations.

I think some people are good at indirect communication (sometimes referred to as guess / hint communication), and some are bad at it. Just as some people are good at being direct and honest, and some are just blunderingly awful and crass. I am not sure if I really count as a geek or not, but I am definitely geek-sexual (ie attracted to geeks!). I think, without wanting to boast too much, that I am pretty good at direct ("ask") communication, but I am not very good at reading non-verbal and other subtle signals ("hint" communication). I have met people who are the other way round, as well as lucky people who are good at both styles and unlucky people who just aren't any good at any kind of communication.

You could position geekdom as an ask subculture within a hint general culture. Some people end up there because they can't handle hint interactions, but some because they prefer direct over indirect communication.
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(no subject) - cartesiandaemon (12/12/07 06:30 pm)
(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 04:33 pm)
cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:December 11th, 2007 10:29 pm (UTC)
38 minutes after journal entry
(Link)
I think facebook had a good point. It doesn't cover pre-date, but it does cover that awkward period onward. I don't normally like userfriendly any more, but I do have a soft spot for these cartoons too:

http://ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=19991207&mode=classic
http://ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=19991208&mode=classic
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cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:December 11th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)
41 minutes after journal entry
(Link)
this kind of outcome is extreme

What's with that link? Leaving aside the question of whether women are only worthwhile human beings if they put very large amounts of effort into appearing physically attractive, he just seems to be trying to be as offensive as possible...
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blue_mai: one
From:blue_mai
Date:December 12th, 2007 02:11 am (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, 03:11 am (blue_mai's time)
(Link)
i agree. that's a truly horrid link - and i don't understand why you've used it? is it relevant to dating and starting relationships?
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(no subject) - livredor (12/12/07 04:21 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (12/12/07 04:27 pm)
(no subject) - cartesiandaemon (12/12/07 06:19 pm)
rho: default
From:rho
Date:December 11th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC)
44 minutes after journal entry, 11:36 pm (rho's time)
(Link)
One of the problems I have with the geek model of relationships is that my feelings are not altogether clear cut. I get a lot of crushes. A lot of crushes. Some of these are just friend-crushes of the "I think this person is nifty and would like to get to know them better", while others have something more of an amorous intent behind them. Some come and go in a flash, whereas some linger for a long while.

I tend to have difficulties distinguishing between these different types of crushes, at first. The only way I can really know how I feel about someone is to interact with them for a while. If I flirt with someone, then that lets me figure out whether I actually just want to be friends, or if I enjoy a bit of harmless flirting with them, or if I'd actually like something more serious.

Of course, I could explain this to everyone beforehand, and some people probably would appreciate it, but for the most part it seems like a lot of effort for very little reward, and that it may even be counter-productive in some cases. I'm very much in favour of good open and honest communication, but I also think that it is possible to over-analyse things. Sometimes I think it's better just to sit back and see where things take you.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:December 12th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 05:32 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
This is a good point, and it's part of the reason why my preference for the geek model doesn't work for everybody. Some of "liking" someone is very reciprocal; my attraction to them develops the more hints I get that they have feelings for me. That kind of thing isn't very easy to work out by simply having a direct conversation from the start. I think the honest communication needs to happen at some point in between "hey, that person is cute!" and actually making a commitment to eachother, but it doesn't necessarily have to be right at the first moment of that process. Over-analysing is definitely a vice of mine, and I try to dial it back when it isn't appreciated.
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(no subject) - hairyears (12/17/07 08:36 am)
tooticky: Musing
From:tooticky
Date:December 11th, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Reading this, I'm now considering the Australian situation. In Melbourne we're probably closer to the British as a general rule. In particular, my social circles are well-known for their friends sleeping with friends with friends of friends etc ad infinitum. Think of extended 'families' or 'clans' where brothers and sisters or sometimes distantly related cousins meet and mate. In our twenties this would often include share houses. However, as our relationships and living arrangements have become more stable, this becomes less common. By our forties, I'm not quite sure what we'll do when we need someone new. :) A good friend of mine has actually started dating a man she only knew vaguely, and is using that as an opportunity to get to know him better before she decides what she wants from him - a lot more subtle than our frenzied clinches in our twenties!
On the other hand, I remember a few years ago being delighted but perplexed by a young man fresh from County Cork in one of my favourite bars. He was lovely, he evidently thought I was nice, and when he realised I wasn't 'interested', we discussed Melbourne mating habits - and the sheer impossibility of a stranger in Melbourne meeting someone new. He thought everyone in Melbourne was very suspicious and shy of strangers and he found it incredibly frustrating, having come from somewhere where 'everyone knew everyone else'. How was he supposed to make friends or get a girlfriend?
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:December 12th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 05:38 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Mm, interesting data point, thanks! I definitely recognize the vaguely incestuous extended social circles thing, and indeed it can work very well. Mutatis mutandis, it's probably the most "natural" way of meeting partners.

I think you have a very valid point that age does make a difference. I am getting the impression that by the age of 30, a large proportion of the people who even want a long-term relationship are in fact already in one. This leaves slim pickings for the few who are left over, perhaps because they didn't realize until later in life that they might want a partner. And generally people have more commitments such as a job they actually care about, perhaps owning property, which make it harder to completely uproot their lives for the sake of a wonderful person.
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redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:December 12th, 2007 01:35 am (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, December 11th, 2007 09:35 pm (redbird's time)
(Link)
My ways of meeting people and getting into that sort of relationship have been some combination of shared activity (cattitude and I got to know each other through an extracurricular social group when I was at university) and mutual friends. Not in the "hi, I know you're looking, let me introduce you to someone" sense, but things like a friend inviting both of us to visit.

And from there it's been either gradual friendship growing into attraction, or quick attraction (more often the former). And the interesting question of "do I say anything?" (not always) and if so, what does s/he say in response.
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redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:December 12th, 2007 01:50 am (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, December 11th, 2007 09:50 pm (redbird's time)
(Link)
[As livredor knows but some of her readers may not, I am in fact American. This means that I know lots of people who do "date," but I've never done it.]
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cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:December 12th, 2007 06:34 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Via mutual friends or activities is always a good choice; I think it fits *everyone*'s idea of an appropriate way to meet someone, and is probably the best in practical terms as well (that you might see several times simply socially and get close with whilst neither being a friend nor stranger, someone you know well enough to get in touch with if you like them, an intermediatary to sound out if necessary, but not so close it becomes awkward if nothing happens or it goes wrong).

The trouble being, at university you meet a *lot* of people who are people, neither friends nor strangers. Later on, a lot fewer.
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adrian_turtle: default
From:adrian_turtle
Date:December 12th, 2007 01:43 am (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Wait, what happened to the custom of "tell your friends you're available and looking for a partner, and hope they will introduce you to other friends of yours they think you might like?" Once upon a time, when that strategy was successful, it led to a person's friends setting one up for a date with someone who was nearly a stranger. Now I think it's more likely to lead to the two people being invited to the same parties, and socializing as part of a larger group where romance is not a particular focus. One interesting aspect of polyamorous communities is that friends can end up introducing you to their other lovers, as well as to their other friends. But I think the basic conceptual structure is still the same.

When my mother was young, "going on a date" meant something fairly unambiguous...it was a 2-person social event, during which both participants would audition for parts in a romantic relationship. "Dating" meant going on many dates, either with many different people (trying to find the right partner), or mostly with the same partner, because the romantic relationship was going well and they were having fun with the audition process itself. By the time I was a teenager, 20 years ago, use of the term "dating" usually meant that 2 people were already in some kind of sexual relationship with at least some social expectation of monogamy. (If you didn't want sex, or didn't want monogamy, it was wildly inappropriate to say you were "dating." Unless you were talking to someone your parents' age. It was all terribly confusing.)
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rysmiel: moon dragon
From:rysmiel
Date:December 12th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)
17 hours after journal entry, 11:32 am (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
fwiw, in that context I have never in my life gone on a date ever.

The notion of "auditioning for parts in a romantic relationship" is drastically uncomfortable to me, it would make me so self-conscious as to probably collapse outright into a small pile of wibble. If there feels to me to be an undecided romantic possibility at the start of an evening's socialising, I'll put the whole thing on hold to disambiguate that in order to be able to relax and enjoy whatever it is one is actually going out to enjoy - the meal or the film or whatever.
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(no subject) - livredor (12/12/07 04:47 pm)
(no subject) - compilerbitch (12/12/07 02:14 am)
rysmiel: it's all about the zaphod
From:rysmiel
Date:December 12th, 2007 07:01 am (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 03:01 am (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
I'm at a loss as exactly how to define dating here

It's the bit where they put the month before the day that loses me.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:December 12th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
6 hours after journal entry
(Link)
I met a random guy on the subway, who gave me a super-quick dvar torah and then dashed off the train. If he hadn't run off I would totally have asked him...well, not for his phone number, I haven't gone completely native...whether he blogged, or something like that.

Which reminds me to print business cards pre-Limmud. Thanks for that.
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rysmiel: vacant and in pensive mood
From:rysmiel
Date:December 12th, 2007 07:08 am (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 03:08 am (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
I fall for people when I know them well enough; I meet the people I get to know that well in the first place almost entirely through online communities defined around a) a common interest and b) not rigid enough about that to preclude conversations leading elsewhere if they naturally go that way. This has certain downsides in terms of geography; meeting interesting people local to me is entirely beyond me, though my valence is full enough at the moment that that's not a major problem.

wrt geek flirts; there are asking cultures and there are guessing cultures, and every actual (sub)culture is a different mix of those. Asking cultures want you to say what you mean and consider an honest no a good thing; guessing cultures expect you to know the rules and not ask for anything you're not already being signalled you're OK to ask for. The failure modes here are that asking behaviour in a guessing context comes over as insensitive and pushy, and guessing behaviour in an asking context comes over as creepy and passive-aggressive. The problem with guessing culture rules is that they vary so much, getting them right for even a small group is an awful lot of work; consciously choosing the asking model and seeking the appropriate set of cultures seems to me to define how the geek model ideally works.

Damn, how did it come to be 2.20 am ?
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:December 12th, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 05:58 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Damn, how did it come to be 2.20 am ?
I strongly suspect Civ is the culprit. Though there might be some influence of geography too...

Getting to know people online seems like a pretty good plan. It's a lot easier to meet a much greater pool of people without taking up loads of time and energy that most of us working adults simply don't have. And online provides lots of chances for getting to know people in a profound, but quite unthreatening way. I like your description of the kind of online communities that work, common interest but not too rigid, that sounds plausible to me. And I have to say that meeting people in person doesn't help with geography all that much, because then they just go and move away and you have to persuade them to join your online communities so that you can stay in touch with them...

I like categorizing things as ask or guess, I think that does help to sort out some potential frustrations. On ozarque's journal a little while ago, people were arguing persuasively for "ask versus hint" in preference to "ask versus guess", because the latter formulation is rather pre-judging the indirect approach negatively. I do think that different ask or hint leanings can work well for different people. But you may well have a point that ask is likely to be more effective, or at least less drastically harmful, in a multicultural situation.

I like ask, but I think part of making ask work properly rather requires accepting that people have a different range of preferences. And recursively, I apply that acceptance to the preference for hint over ask as well.
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electricant: default
From:electricant
Date:December 12th, 2007 08:39 am (UTC)
10 hours after journal entry, 06:39 pm (electricant's time)
(Link)
Upon reflection, I put a lot of work into meeting and getting to know new friends, but never consciously think about how to meet people for any other kind of relationship. Maybe I just assume that deeper relationships will somehow result once I've succeeded at the making friends and having a social life thing (which doesn't feel like an unfair assumption, given past experience).
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:December 12th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 06:00 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Sounds excellent to me. I mean, you don't exactly lose anything by making lots of good friends, even if none of them turn out to be attracted to you. But simply knowing more people definitely increases the odds that someone will, or that one of your friends will introduce you to another person that you do want to be in a relationship with.
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shreena: default
From:shreena
Date:December 12th, 2007 11:01 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 12:01 pm (shreena's time)
(Link)
I think the problem with the extremely blunt approach is that, often, people just don't know how they feel. I know a couple of men who used to ask women out quite bluntly and obviously and they never had any success with this approach. I don't think this is because they were unattractive, I think it was because the women in question didn't know how they felt and didn't want to say "yes" because that implied feeling more than they actually did. Whereas, the very same women might have discovered over less pointed social situations that, actually, they did quite like these guys.

There is also the fact that the more blunt you are, the more obvious rejection is. And no-one likes rejection. If you hug your friend very tightly at the end of a nice evening together and turn your face up to be kissed, if he doesn't kiss you, you can both quite easily pretend that nothing happened there. If he does, then that's great. If you say, "please kiss me" and he says "no, sorry, I don't feel like that about you" ---> awkwardness.

Of course, indirectness has its downside too. I just think it's wrong to portray it as having no upside at all.
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midnightmelody: default
From:midnightmelody
Date:December 12th, 2007 12:52 pm (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry, 01:52 pm (midnightmelody's time)
(Link)
There is also the fact that the more blunt you are, the more obvious rejection is. And no-one likes rejection. If you hug your friend very tightly at the end of a nice evening together and turn your face up to be kissed, if he doesn't kiss you, you can both quite easily pretend that nothing happened there.

*grin* Beautifully expressed, thank you.
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(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 03:27 pm)
(no subject) - shreena (12/12/07 03:36 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (12/12/07 05:18 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (12/12/07 05:10 pm)
(no subject) - shreena (12/12/07 05:29 pm)
(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 05:51 pm)
(no subject) - shreena (12/12/07 08:37 pm)
(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 09:14 pm)
(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 09:17 pm)
(no subject) - shreena (12/12/07 09:25 pm)
(no subject) - shreena (12/12/07 09:28 pm)
(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 09:38 pm)
(no subject) - shreena (12/12/07 09:42 pm)
(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 09:51 pm)
(no subject) - shreena (12/12/07 09:40 pm)
(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 09:56 pm)
(no subject) - rysmiel (12/12/07 09:20 pm)



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