Monthly Archives: February 2014

Everything you know about dating is wrong

After yesterday’s post about Dating and Friendship, my brother pointed me to Wait But Why’s posts on How to Pick Your Life Partner, or as I like to call it, “Everything you know about dating is wrong.” I love the “Figured It All Out Staircase” – it’s a great analogy, and it took me a long time to realize the truth of this.

In case it isn’t obvious, I agree with almost every point made in this article. The short version is that the way we approach romantic relationships is completely screwed up – at least by the norms we have in the Western World.

My only disagreement is with the urgency to find a life partner at all. It seems like a big part of the problem is that we rush into this without really thinking about it or knowing what we’re doing. By taking a step back and being comfortable with who we are to start with, most of the problems mentioned here would be resolved.

Of course, humans are loathe to do anything of the sort, but it’s a nice thought. As Douglas Adams said: “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”

Dating and Friendship

A friend and I were talking about dating when she mentioned that she’d like her future romantic partner to be her best friend. She asked if that’s possible when it comes to dating. My answer: no. Dating follows exactly the opposite path. In typical “dating” scenarios, the pattern is:

  1. Meet each other a few times for dates
  2. Decide that this person meets your needs and continue dating
  3. Start a romantic relationship
  4. Eventually, become friends

Why can’t that friends part happen earlier? Simple. There’s way too much pressure and expectations. On the first few dates, you aren’t there to hang out and have fun, you’re there looking for someone that meets your needs. Your guard is up, and so is theirs. This is the exact opposite of what you need to make friends.

Friendship needs time in low-stress environments to flourish. When does that happen? After you’ve gotten comfortable with each other. That happens only after you’ve decided to trust each other enough to start a romantic relationship and spent some time together. Then your guard starts to drop. Slowly. Eventually you’ll share enough that you can become friends.

As a side note, this is why the “let’s just be friends” line is such BS. Remember all of those expectations? This is dashing all of those, which will always hurt. You have to get over that hurt in order to get back to a friendship. If you haven’t yet become friends, then you’re not going to spend the effort to do that. If you have gotten that far into the relationship, then the hurt is going to be a lot more but there’s a chance that once you get through it you can be friends.

Is there a different model? Yes. It’s the model for typical relationships in high school and university. In those settings, you’re typically hanging around in groups that are much more relaxed and have more frequent random interactions. Think about first year of university. Most everyone is coming from a different background, you’re spending all kinds of time together in both high and low stress environment. That’s the ideal time to make friends. Here’s how that process looks:

  1. Meet randomly because you’re in the same place
  2. Get to know each other by hanging around, chatting, and doing things together
  3. Become friends
  4. Decide that you want to be together
  5. Become romantic partners

That’s the difference between dating in our younger years in our later years. In our younger years, we make friends and then become more than that. In our later years, we treat the whole thing the way we would any goal and become more business minded.

I suppose that works if you’re looking for marriage and a family. In that case, you really are looking for a partner in what is the business of life. But make no mistake, this is not a friendship first model.

Friendships and unstructured time

Alex Williams of the New York Times has a very nice piece on friendships as we progress through life. One of the more salient points to me is that the three elements required for making close friends:

  1. Proximity
  2. Random, unplanned interactions
  3. Setting that encourages letting your guard down

Seems to me that pretty much everything works against that model. As we get older, we tend to live alone and keep space between us. We plan out our days with more or less rigidity. We tend to look at even parties with suspicion – consider how many gaffs happen at office Christmas parties.

This is pretty relevant to the current reshaping of my life. It’s been shown time and again that your relationships are one of the most important keys to happiness – and that’s not limited to having a romantic relationship. In fact, if you’re only close relationship is with your romantic partner, that might actually be much worse than having many close friendships but no romantic partner – particularly if that relationship should ever run into problems.

As I’ve mentioned previously, up until now I’ve been very goal oriented. I’d set out to get something done, and find the right people to do that thing with. Hopefully the people involved would be nice and we’d have fun, but the joy was in whatever we were working on. I’m now discovering that this is a little backwards. In particular, having all of your time dedicated to very structured activities makes it pretty difficult to maintain friendships let alone make new friends.

This is part of the decision to drop getting my Commercial Pilot’s License. The CPL training is excellent and I should do it eventually, but right now it’s not what I need. With all of the changes that are going on, I really need to focus on being well connected. That means the opposite of having highly structured, goal oriented time. The tricky part is going to be not making the same mistake again. It’s tempting to book music lessons or do something else that’s goal oriented, but that’s just regression to old behaviours.

If I’m going to follow what the happiness research shows, I’ll need to plan unstructured time with friends and create chances for random encounters. I’m not exactly sure how to do that just yet, but I can at least start thinking about it. At the very least, thinking about who I want to be around instead of what is a big change.

Gravity

Despite the many, many technical mistakes, I really enjoyed Gravity. It showed the true wonder, danger, and hope of space exploration. Sure they got the orbital mechanics wrong and I probably blurted out “BS!” every other minute, but much more important is that they got the approach that any pilot or astronaut takes: that you have to be prepared for everything, and deal with any situation with a level head and think your way through it. Most of all, the message that just being in space is astounding and the pinnacle of human achievement makes it worth watching. I hope this will restore some of the wonder of space for everyone that watches it.

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Taking a break from the dating scene

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions. They’re usually for things that are lofty but not achievable and often fail within the first few weeks. But I’ve been thinking about a couple of things that are kinda resolution-like. Both are more of an experiment than a resolution.

First, I’m thinking about not drinking. I already don’t drink a whole lot. I’ve just been noticing that it never makes anything that much better and always feels far worse afterwards. I quit caffeine for the same reasons, so why not alcohol? True, I do like a nice glass of wine with dinner, and I suppose that’s part of the sacrifice. If I’m going to say “I don’t drink” the same way I say no to caffeine, I’d better make it a true statement.

Similarly, I’m thinking about not dating for a year. I’ve already closed my OKC account because after 5 years the only lasting friendship that came out of it likely would have happened through other means. The forced context and all of the pressure is only part of the problem. In the bigger picture, I think I’d rather focus on better connections with my friends and family, and spend less time on strangers rather than more.

The Power of a Positive No describes a “positive no” as one that’s backed by a greater yes. I think this is the part that I haven’t explained nearly as well as I should have. The “yes” that underlies my goal for this year is to forge and sustain better and stronger relationships with the people I care about. I want to see the good parts in the people around me and appreciate their company. I want to surround myself with the people that I like being around. I can’t do that if looking for “the one” is my top priority.

Much worse than that, I find that when I have dating as a priority, I end up evaluating the people I meet by whether or not they’re dating material. It’s like there’s a constant background thread that’s looking out for potential matches. If it just stopped with keeping my eyes open, that would be ok. But that’s not what happens. I’m exceedingly goal oriented, and so this background thread ends up changing behaviour and guiding decisions. This is the part that I truly want to say no to: evaluating other people in terms of their worth to me on a romantic scale.

Just saying that I’m not going to go on dates doesn’t get away from this mode of thinking, but it does provide a means to get there. It’s still early days as yet, but on the good days I’m finding it easier to simply appreciate the people around me – both men and women – and be just a little more genuine. On the bad days I have to remind myself a few times that I’m not playing this game any more, and let go of these thoughts the same way I do other unwanted thoughts while in meditation. Sometimes that even works.

In Buddhist terms, I suppose I’m taking non-striving as an approach to relationships. In Zen they say that everything is practice, which means that relationships are fair game. This year, my practice will be more focussed on people and specifically on non-striving. I’ll let you know how that goes.

In the mean time, I’m looking forward to spending time with friends and family more and strangers less. I won’t turn down opportunities to meet new people, but I won’t be seeking that out nor seeking for those new connections to be anything specific. I’m looking forward to seeing the goodness in people without putting it through the filter of what it means to me or any romantic context.

Waffling on the CPL

I’m seriously thinking about dropping getting the CPL (commercial pilot’s license) this year. On the one had, I’m halfway through the groundschool. It’s only 8 weeks to finish it and then the exam. On the other hand, I’m learning that 2 nights a week is really taxing. It means making dinner in advance, not to mention all of the other things I could be doing – including all of the events that get scheduled for Mondays and Wednesday nights. If it were something that I really needed it would be simple – I’d just finish it. But I really don’t need it a CPL for anything. I’m never planning on going into flying as a career and even for recurrent training, it’s not necessary this soon after the IFR. I’m really starting to think that I need to focussed elsewhere in my life right now.

Update: Thanks to everyone that gave me their thoughts on this. I’ve decided to drop the CPL for now. The clincher is that I called the flight school, and they’ve agreed to let me take it back up next year if I want to, so postponing comes with almost no cost.