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 détente than dissertation.

Motivate

Living in a world of words beats the alternative. Totally guessing here, but I imagine we developed language to communicate our thoughts to the people around us. That and to make use of the drive-through food ordering option.

The upside of spoken language is connecting with others, whether we’re fulfilling a cheeseburger desire or a desire for something else.

“I’d like a small number six combo with Sprite” isn’t such a long way from “Would you like to meet for a coffee?”

Note, however, the difference of completeness; the food order allows no room for interpretation, which is good because who wants a number four? Simple commercial transactions exemplify almost perfect clarity.

On the other hand, a date request masks a lot. Sure, taken alone the invitation to meet is clear enough, but what lies behind that idea? Is the person saying “I want to have sex with you” or are they saying “I want to talk about your ideas on llama farming”?

Spoken (and therefore written) language can be used to obfuscate as easily as it can be used directly. Masking happens a lot in dating because we’re oftentimes interested in self-protection, and one way to do that is to keep our true motivation hidden behind our tongues.

Making Moves

A female friend, a married woman, tries to set me up on dates. That’s very nice of her, and I’m both grateful and flattered she thinks enough of me to, in essence, stamp me with her brand.

It’s a point often forgotten in the sweaty melee of finding someone. Emotions and hormones drive much of this frantic activity, such that noticing the implied endorsements and possible alliances is often overlooked. We are tribal, and the greatest gift a tribe can extend is an offer of membership.

Because I enjoy observing these rites of mateship, I’m consistently flummoxed by the mismatch of action and intention we can all demonstrate in this area. For instance, with the latest invitation from my friend, I wonder why the lady in question doesn’t contact me, and ask me out on a date. If she’s as interested as my friend claims, would she not risk it?

Patterns

The dating playbook suggests following the same steps to acquaint ourselves with someone new, no matter how we meet someone. Oftentimes the only difference lies in the speed with which we transition from strangers to…well, to something else.

First, the physical attraction, which we know takes seconds.

Second, we look for more subtle physical cues, like speech, hand movements, tics (if any), gait, eye contact and so on.

Thirdly we begin to observe behavioral traits such as social adaptability, listening skills, the ability to empathize, acceptance of flattery, ability to follow implied statements, reaction to irony; all the nuances of language, whether literal or otherwise.

This progression happens on first dates after discovery on a sex-matching site or after months of coy consideration at work. It’s the reason we want to make a good impression on a first date, because the cliché happens to be true: that first impression sticks. It matters not whether we’re looking for a hook-up or marriage, the pattern remains the same and resulting judgement takes only a few minutes.

As an automatic process, we’re unlikely to change it, so I guess it must work. But it is only a beginning.

Opening Salvo

Last night’s party was mildly fun in that way that familiar people in a known setting  can be fun, which is to say that those with whom one is least familiar are the wild cards. Wild cards are always good for social situations because they have the potential to spark people into reacting differently from usual, highlighting small shades of their personality in ways that pique our interest.

Even those closest to us have places and ways that we haven’t seen. Knowing someone completely isn’t possible –  thank goodness – which makes the discovery of even the tiniest nuance in them a matter of delight. We search for newness in people and relationships, and creating novelty is an under-rated skill for keeping us fresh, especially in marriage. Think of it as brewing fresh coffee every morning; the coffee is the same, but every cup is just a little piece of wonder.

I sometimes think this is the treadmill curse of being human, the interminable search for that slightly newer thing. Everyone who manufactures stuff knows that keeping customers’ interest is best achieved with a new or updated product, or at least the hint that newness lies within.

On the other side is the way this desire drives innovation and improvement. How easy would it have been for, say, Boeing to sit back and say that the 747 was the best plane ever built and that to spend billions improving it would be an intolerable waste of money?

Meeting new people is something that I neither relish nor dislike. Meeting for business reasons obviously has a different, more scripted feeling than any social deal. That’s why our first social interactions can be fraught, because there is no script – it’s much more like improv theater than anything else, because there’s no telling what the other person will say or do. If you’re like me, it’s easy to get off the beaten path pretty quickly, because I employ the only routine I know that works for improv, which is:

Yes, and…(with encouraging body language or extra questions)…

…which allows the other person to follow their thought.

It’s not a bad way to approach a date, either, as long as you can find the funny side of wherever you end up.