The Art of Connection

Men are well on the way to pricing themselves out of the game. By price I mean the price women pay to have our company, which appears to this observer to be much too high.

I have, in the past, been told and been vaguely aware of the way men conduct themselves on dates. The complaint – more wistful than bitchy – is that guys in the company of women provide a CV rather than conversation. Recitation of facts about ourselves and our opinions is what we think passes for polite and warm discourse.

Painful as it is to include myself in this group of dopes, it must be done. We men need constant reminders that if we’re to be successful at finding someone with whom we can make a life, we need to ask more questions than we answer, and listen more than we talk.

Naturally, males are all about impressing women. If we cannot do so by killing game for food, or fighting against aggressive neighbours, what can we do? In the modern world, our achievements and aspirations replace conquests and dreams, and so that’s what we talk about.

What we don’t realize is that women are actually communicating, or attempting to do so, while we rattle off how manly we are. They’d much rather talk in their mode, which is about feelings, reinforcing shared ideals and figuring out common territory. It’s so much more d├ętente than dissertation.

Inner Space

Unrecognized, so much of our daily routine is self-automated. We drive. We shop. We order coffee. We eat. We publicize our lives.

Automation, because doing this stuff requires little active consciousness. The routines – much like computer routines – are relegated to the well-worn grooves of simply getting through the day. They’re thoughtless. Expected.

We can still do our daily routine even when we’re stressed, or completely absorbed with something else. If you have a work deadline, or an educational deadline, or some kind of family emergency, you’re still capable of getting your Instagram account updated. Operating on different levels is one of our species’ characteristics.

Relationships are different. Prevailing habit is to take up with someone as if it’s part of a simple human need. Like drinking water. Being around someone of the opposite sex – and wanting to have sex with them – is utterly normal and a big part of our life.

However, if we’re to go beyond the simple connection and bonking phase, much more is required. Merging two units of mammalian life into one big party is an enterprise that needs intelligence, planning, understanding and patience. Yes, we’re programmed to find someone. Sure, we are all better for having someone else for whom we’d lay down our own life. The question is whether the first blush of romance accommodates the rest.

My suggestion: allow some brainspace. Brainspace is that part of our thinking that’s idle, but available. Relationships need and thrive upon being deliberate. The act of being deliberate means that you have the time and willingness to put yourself in another’s place, to see what they see.

Inquisition

If we took a look through a telescope at our relationships, I wonder what we’d see. The fore-shortening effect means we can see distant things as if they were nearby, in the same plane as close (or more recent) stuff.

I like playing this kind of game because it filters out much of the daily junk than inhabits our lives; the drudgery, the boredom, the reflexive behaviours that we barely notice. Many hours of our day is spent doing…well, not much really, and that includes the time we spend with special people.

Which is the way it is meant to be. Maintaining a high pitch of anything is impossible and undesirable, not least because we need variation so that we can have highs and lows. Although it can feel rotten, lows are a precondition for highs, otherwise highs end up being lows too. It’s odd.

Back to my telescopic metaphor. When we remove all the bulk filler of life, the one constant is talk. By talk I mean the communication between all of us, especially in the big relationships of life. The way we talk to each other is overlooked, because we assume it’s just a medium – the method – of being inside the other person’s head. What’s important is the actual state of our minds, our hearts and our emotions; the language is just a delivery service.

However, the modes of communication set the tone. I figure at the most broad, talking falls into two categories: One is responsive, one is interrogative. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to allow that what we want most from someone close to us is a way of chatting that involves listening and responding, as opposed to merely saying the first thing that pops up.

When we’re dating, taking ten minutes to figure out whether the person opposite is taking in what you’re saying (listening, in plain language) or merely broadcasting might save us a lot of time.

Find Her or Him

I wonder if we need to think in terms of a minimum threshold we need to attain before dating. It wouldn’t be a tricky thing: a useful way to make a living, some money, physical health, mental health, freedom from addiction, established probity in one’s affairs.

As a list of low-level requirements, it doesn’t challenge mainstream ideas. If you want to become and remain a member of almost any society, these are close to being the least the rest of us can ask.

But reasonableness does not apply to dating and romance. Nor sex. Unspoken and unwritten, the unstated assumption is that the price of entry to the world of making a union with another – no matter the length – is only that we can breathe. Living for the moment is almost the assumed position from which we begin relationships, a kind of human rights assumption without reference to what it means to be a human, let alone how rights are issued.

Which is a long way around to say that the responsibility for the success of any relationship begins with us. You and me. My relationship with you depends upon who I am, how I present, my foundation, the way I make my way; in an oddly isolating way, you begin with me.

Let’s stipulate that we’re looking for something who is additive to our life, not a net withdrawal. Finding the person who will make 1 + 1 = >2 therefore begins with having our heads above water. We don’t build lighthouses underwater. Let’s not shine our own light until we’ve found a solid headland from which to beam.

Home and Away

Is dating the same as living together?

“No” is the answer, in case you are in doubt. And yet the mixing of the two continues, a circumstance that will continue to cause problems until we figure out the difference.

Romance is not domesticity. When put as plainly as that, no-one denies the difference. And yet the idea:

Let’s move in together…

…will be asked millions of times in the coming month.

What won’t be asked is:

You know, we get along on a romantic and fun level, how would we get along being together 24/7?

The answer, in case you haven’t guessed, is not to shack up. Shacking up is never a path to anything other than uncertainty. It is an experiment with utterly unknowable outcomes, except that if it fails, both participants will be diminished. Sometimes irreparably.

Being boyfriend/girlfriend is a game of home and away. This is not the same as home games only.