Saturday, September 25, 2010

"In that minute, I have likely started to suss you up in my brain. You're probably very pretty, very interesting, and given time and circumstance you and I will likely hit it off great, right? WRONG AGAIN!"

Since roughly Halloween of 2007, I have been single. Worse still, since some point before then I have also been unwittingly "enjoying" a vow of abstinence. In this year alone, I feel that I've gone through every possibly thought train in regards to the subject. I have been defiantly alone and uncaring, I have been outwardly defiantly alone and uncaring while secretly upset and depressed, I have been outwardly upset and depressed while secretly antsy, desperate, and yearning, I have been cold and numb. It has been a very interesting roller coaster to find myself on and in the hours and hours of over-thinking I have discovered some very interesting contradictions about my personality that seem to feed into these mindsets. Worse, these seem to be the root of my frustrations while simultaneously being things that I hold as pillars and refuse to shake. These contradictions are as follows:


1.) I highly value strong conversationalists, but generally balk at the opportunity to start conversations with people I have never met.

If nothing else, I live to converse. I have been told by countless people that I excel in long-form conversation and am the willing (or otherwise) confidant of many of my friends. This ability should make me personality gold in the eyes of women everywhere right?
WRONG. 

For some unspeakable reason that I can't quite figure out, I am utterly dumbstruck when it comes to actually starting said conversations with people. Despite performing in a rock band and generally being the wise-cracking asshole in any room, when confronted with the possibility of starting up a conversation at random with people around me I often find myself cold and idealess. Perhaps this has something to do with a lack of interest in things that most people talk about on a base level (i.e. meteorology, sports, current events)? I don't know. Maybe it's just echoes of the shyness I had during my pre-college days?

2.) I value people with passions and interests that are different from my own, but oftentimes refuse to throw myself into situations where I would meet said people.

I have been noted as saying on multiple occasions that ideally I would love to meet a woman who has only casual interest in the fact that I'm in a rock band. I've had the "I hate your band and I'd wish you'd shut up about it" type and I've had the "This is the most amazing thing ever." type, and frankly, I'd like it somewhere in the middle. I've always valued people who have really strong passions and interests in their lives, and for potential mates I tend to aspire for people who have strong but different interests than mine. Shouldn't be a problem, right?

WRONG AGAIN.

The inherent problem I keep running into is that because of my own interests, I tend to run into similar types of people. Not that I have any issues with meeting women who love Star Wars (dated one girl who hated it once. Never again. NEVER AGAIN.) or have impressive record collections. My issue is that I want more than this. I think that sharing and new experiences and exploration are the things that give relationships a lot of their interest and drive. But since I run in my own circles, I often have no way of finding these people with drastically different interest sets.

3.) I'm actively interested in the idea of casual dating, but ultimately sabotage my efforts in this because I hate wasting my time.

Ok, of the three I would say this one is simultaneously the worst and the best of my attributes at work. Before I get too deep into this one, some backstory must be presented for the consideration of my readers:

My parents have been together since they were 16 years old. First boyfriend/girlfriend each had ever had. They married at 22, and have happily carried on ever since through thick and thin, poverty and prosperity, and two really annoyingly sarcastic children. In a world where there is a 50% survival rating of most marriages, and the news is plagued with stories of broken families and spousal abuse, my parents are a shining example of "sometimes it all just works out." It's really touching..... and also totally not representative whatsoever of how things tend to go between people. Worse still, because they are really the only people they have ever been with in multiple senses, neither of them have a treasure trove of hilarious stories from their youth about their mishaps in high school dating. Once I had broken up with my first girlfriend, they suddenly had a lack of understanding as to what was going to happen with me next. Sorry Mom and Dad.

Now given the example I have had growing up with this, I am faced with the contradiction in front of me. On the one hand, it has given me an EXTREMELY high level of respect for emotional intimacy, commitment, and compromise. These are all things I am extremely proud of and hold myself to. Unfortunately, as a side effect of these attitudes, it has also brought me into the world of mating and dating with a very single minded view of things. This causes me to talk myself out of anything that may (a key word here) only result in temporary enjoyment or interest and put most women I meet to what some might call unreasonably high standards in order to get a second look from me.

Let me present the reader with a hypothetical but ultimately realistic situation that has probably happened to me dozens of times:

You are a beautiful, interesting, three-dimensional woman. You have your own interests, your own family, a job, a car, etc. etc. etc. You meet me in a typical "first meeting" type of environment. It's probably some kind of party. You have never seen me before but likely have heard some tale told of me because we have mutual friends. We strike up a conversation. It's probably about some kind of media (movies, music, tv shows), or some kind of dirty jokes that have spiraled off into a sarcasm-laden contest of who can jokingly offend who the worst. Let's say this has gone on for more than a minute.In that minute, I have likely started to suss you up in my brain. You're probably very pretty, very interesting, and given time and circumstance you and I will likely hit it off great, right?

WRONG AGAIN! Most likely, in these 60 seconds, I have very likely already voted you "off of the island" for something ridiculous that likely is only a first impression and might not even be true in the long run.

So given these three contradictions, and the time I have taken to think about them, I have realized that clearly there is something a bit wrong in the operating manual and I need to make some adjustments to the tune of the following: 

1. Don't be a pussy. 
2. Don't be a pussy. 
3. Relax, enjoy new experiences that may only be short term, and DON'T BE A PUSSY.
Any other suggestions?

Oh, and if you are an attractive woman who was interested in dating me and just read all of this.. uh... ignore everything you just read except the parts about me being committed and into compromise and in a rock band.

Sincerely,

Alan A-Dale


Alan,

Since you have written your questions to me in the form of three contradictions, I will attempt to give you some answers by addressing each of these contradictions individually.

1.) I highly value strong conversationalists, but generally balk at the opportunity to start conversations with people I have never met.

There is a plethora of advice out there on how to start conversations with women. Google "pick-up artist," "PUA," "openers," or even just "How to talk to girls," and you'll be flooded with ideas. But don't worry- I'm not going to tell you to play the Cube Game or give you instructions so intricate that they necessitate terms like HB7 and "kino." My advice will be much simpler than that.

First off, if you feel that you have chronic social anxiety and want to shake your head up, I recommend an herb called St. John's Wort. I'm not a big fan of using drugs to "treat" psychological issues, but, let's face it: we do it with alcohol anyway, so why not do it with stuff that works better than alcohol? Drugs like zoloft and lexapro are addictive, expensive, and sometimes decrease your sex drive. St. John's Wort is weaker than those pharmaceuticals, and that's part of why I think it's better. It's also much cheaper. Psychiatric drugs involve a large investment and you've got a lot to lose by trying them, but St. John's Wort is a minor investment and you don't have much to lose by trying it. If you've ever been curious about this sort of thing, I highly recommend it.

But that's not the most important issue here. The more important issue is that many nice guys have this problem in talking to women. It's not because nice guys are weak or dumb or "respect women too much." It's more because many nice guys are also (to some extent) loners. Nice guys are not used to traveling in packs.

They say that nice guys finish last and assholes get the girl. That's often true, but it's not a cause-and-effect relationship. It's just a correlation. One of the several reasons for that correlation is that guys who travel in packs tend to get the girl. Many nice guys don't travel in packs. Many assholes do.

Since nice guys are so used to being loners, many are still not used to traveling in packs, so, even when they do have a "pack," they feel a little strange. They compete with each other. They talk to each other about how hot some girl is and how nervous they are.

The average group of nice guys will sit together in a bar and alternate between arguing with each other about a topic and arguing about who's going to talk to that group of cute girls over in the corner.

My suggestion to that group of nice guys would be to take that argument over to the table of cute girls- to say "Hey, we were arguing about [insert quirky topic here], what do you think?"

Some people say that women are "attracted to men in packs" because it makes them think of cavemen hunters who could protect them. I don't really buy that. But I am positive that being with a group of supportive friends (ie the kind who want to see you get with a girl, not the kind who just want to watch you try) will make you feel more confident. It's not that it's necessarily going to come off as creepy or anything if you talk to girls all on your own (although it might, and being with good friends does insure against that). It's just that it's easier with your friends around.

On the topic of conversation-starting, let's think of it this way. Which would be more interesting, 1) a girl who comes over to you at a bar and says, "Hi, my friends and I like Star Wars, let's talk," 2) a girl who says, "So, my friends and I have been wondering, why are guys so into Star Wars?" and then sat there and listened, or 3) a girl who not only asked you why guys are so into Star Wars and listened to your response but also explained to you, in a coherent and relatable fashion, her theory on why she and most other girls aren't that into Star Wars?

Basically, we want to be #3. Being a good conversationalist with strangers is not, as The 40 Year Old Virgin Suggests, all about asking questions (although that scene is still hilarious) as much as it is about asking pointed questions that encourage people to share their most interesting opinions while simultaneously sharing your most interesting opinions.

This approach is also a good test to see whether or not a girl even has opinions. Some people don't. Most interesting people do, and, if you respectfully share yours, they will probably begin to feel comfortable enough to share theirs.

2.) I value people with passions and interests that are different from my own, but oftentimes refuse to throw myself into situations where I would meet said people.

I believe that college and the internet have enabled in many of us a problematic habit of seeking out only the people and things that are in our comfort zone. 

With the internet, we no longer have to sit through whole books to feel that we are learning; we can sift through facts and dismiss the ones that bore us or disagree with us, and we lose patience for absorbing more complex bodies of knowledge. 

With the way modern colleges are, we can choose to attend schools filled with people with the same superficial interests as ourselves, register for classes concerned only with our own superficial interests, and then choose to move off-campus with only people who mirror our own superficial interests.


The biggest problem with this is not what we think. The problem is not in hanging out with too specific a type of person; the problem is actually that the type of crowd we choose is too vague. When I really look back at what I had in common with college friends, I realize that what we had in common was that we liked to smoke weed and listen to music, were homebodies, or were in a class together. We didn't have many fundamental differences that made things interesting, but we also were not even that similar. Smoking weed, listening to music, being homebodies, and having a class together are pretty vague foundations for friendships.


As we get older, we're better served by finding people with whom we have more specific and active interests in common. It's not that we've got to seek out these people as much as be attuned to them. Maybe you'll meet someone who likes to go to comedy shows. Maybe you'll meet someone who likes to cook interesting dishes. Maybe you'll meet someone who likes to ride bikes early Saturday mornings. Obviously I have no idea what your interests are, but I hope you get the idea based on that. The more you keep an eye out for specific interests, the more likely you are to meet someone who you will have fun hanging out with but will also not be annoyingly similar to you.


So don't actively seek out "different" people. Be open to people who you can relate to about one or two specific, active interests. I think that that kind of basis ends up opening you up to being intrigued (rather than annoyed) by each other's differences.


3.) I'm actively interested in the idea of casual dating, but ultimately sabotage my efforts in this because I hate wasting my time.


In your expansion of this section, you spoke of the Curse of Foresight. I know this curse very well- this feeling of, What's the use, because one day, it won't work out. The funny thing is, even though this foresight is frequently correct, it is not all that beneficial to us. Sure, it tells you "This won't work out in the long-term," but it doesn't tell you how interesting and surprising the person will be. The way I survive is by more-or-less ignoring that feeling that I know how it will turn out and telling myself that I really, really don't know. "I really don't know," is not the truth, but it is not far from the truth, because, sure, I can predict that we will not get married, but I can not predict how much fun we will have together for the year, season, month, or week that we end up spending together.

This is sometimes seen as a selfish, sexist attitude. This comes from a longstanding belief that women are into commitment and settling down, and a man who enters a sexual relationship wanting anything but that is a pig. I believed this to some extent for many years. 

A good female friend of mine knocked it out of me in one good conversation. "What's your biggest fear in a relationship?" she asked me. "It's that a woman will learn something from me and then she'll be done with me," I said. "But isn't that all a relationship is?" she asked. "Isn't that pretty much what you'd be doing, too? Learning something and then moving on?" I had to admit that she was right.

An even more illuminating moment was later in the conversation. "Why are guys so put off when a girl says she's interested in a relationship?" she asked me. "It's not that we don't want to be monogamous," I said. "It's because we don't like feeling like a girl wants a specific thing out of us. We don't like feeling like you're sizing us up and trying to see what kind of father we'd make or how well we'll be able to support you," I said. "Oh god!" she said. "I don't want that! I just want to be able to date a guy for a while without him freaking out on me!"

I think we both learned a lot about the sexes that night.

In short, there's nothing wrong with what some refer to derisively as serial monogamy. There's nothing wrong with dating somebody who you don't expect to stay with forever. Chances are, she doesn't expect to stay with you forever, either. Nonetheless, some of us have this idea that we're letting a woman down if we feel that way. Maybe it's our mother's faults. Maybe it's society's fault. Either way, there's nothing wrong with us. We've got little reason to feel scared or guilty for not wanting to marry a young woman.


And I can't finish this message without at least paying lip service to the other kind of foresight: the feeling that she's "the one." We can't predict how things are going to turn out with her any more than we can predict how things are going to turn out with the girl who we seem to have not much in common with. The only good this feeling can do you is to give you confidence. If it doesn't give you confidence, it can only freak you out.

I've had dry spells and "wet spells" (goodness, I didn't realize how dirty it sounds when you use the opposite metaphor), and, in the end, the only thing that's made me happy and relaxed is when I remind myself that getting to know girls is always an adventure into the unknown, whether you initially think she's perfect for me or you initially think you'll never be able to have a deep connection.


No matter how much our minds trick us into thinking we can predict them, other people - especially those of the opposite sex - are the most psychedelic drug in the world. So start tripping. It's safer than you'd think.

7 comments:

Penny Lane said...

First off, I have always wanted a blog in which people ask for advice and I help them in this sort of way, I have been told I am quite good at it, and yet it has never gotten off the ground.
Oh well, moving on.

It is not easy to strike up a conversation with people. And when you find it easy it usually means that you feel superior to them. It is just the way it is. And if in fact you do feel superior, it will never never ever work, did I say never?

See the thing is, let's say you are at a party thrown by one of your friends and there are girls there who you don't know but may know some of your friends, it is the perfect situation.

Girls like it when their friend's guy friends show interest. And want to know a little secret ? All you have to do is come off a bit normal. A bit ! I swear, crack a joke, or hit them with a funny one liner, it does not matter, if there is just a little bit of cool in you, they will continue talking to you and in the exchange of witty-banter some type of affection can grow.

You just have to be a tiny-bit confident.

Tiny bit.

Peace and Love,
D

Benny said...

@Penny Lane-

1) I like how, in your fourth paragraph, you equate "cool" and "normal." That's one thing many people miss. I feel like another thing that many people miss is that for "pickup artist" stuff to work, you actually have to be an OK guy. And if you do get good at that without also being good at being an OK guy, you start veering just slightly into sociopathic territory.

2) You're very right about the "friends of friends" concept. For a brief period of time, I thought that it was better to look outside your immediate circle. It's good to be comfortable looking outside your immediate circle - it can boost confidence - but, in the end, friends of friends still usually end up being the best.

3) I know what you mean, but I don't think you need to feel superior to someone to feel comfortable striking up a conversation with them. All it really takes it NOT feeling inferior to them. Although "superior" people do seem to strike up conversations with strangers more often than others.

Many guys will put on an air of superiority when they first meet girls. Have you seen that a lot? Is that what you were referring to?

In any case, the reason we sometimes act like that is usually because we feel worse when we get rejected for acting like wusses than we do when we get rejected for acting overconfident. The male fear of being a wuss is an epidemic.

Penny Lane said...

I am not saying that the people are superior, but when someone convinces themselves that someone else is "inferior" to them; meaning they feel superior, for whatever reason, they feel more confident.

And it makes sense, and it works on he level. The more people you talk to the more confident you will be in approaching people of higher status, according to your views.

I am not referring to that. But I have seen it, but in my opinion it's just fake it till you make it. Which might be a helpful to, so I let it slide.
Unless the person comes off totally arrogant, and pompous then it is bu-bye. But I can usually tell who is not really all that confident and is just trying to appear that way, from the ones who have huge egos, and are overly-confident.

thetitanproject said...

i value my conversations with you. You're the best :)

Benny said...

@thetitanproject- likewise.

thetitanproject said...

well i see you got the don't be a pussy part down.

thetitanproject said...

hey benny, what happened, do you not blog anymore?