Inside Straight

Dating, courting and all that stuff revolves around figuring out what the other person’s thinking.

We cannot do this directly, in the sense of plugging in a computer, downloading what’s inside and riffling through the contents at our leisure. What we do is talk, listen, prompt, observe, react, note and synthesize. Problem is that all of these methods are indirect at best, and mostly misleading.

Talking is the way we communicate for the most part. Unfortunately this is the least reliable route to accurate assessment of someone. That’s because much of what we see is filtered through the higher, complex mechanisms of the brain. Every bias, mood, emotion, predisposition, experience, love, hatred, miff, disappointment, triumph and childhood disaster has an input to our communication. Motives are masked, truths cloaked. Deception is a part of the thrust and parry of conversation. Irony too. Sarcasm. Attempts at wit. None of these helps to gain much insight into what’s really going on.

Eventually we build a picture of the person standing opposite, but it does take time. The camouflage of language is imperfect and can be stripped away, which is why it takes years – yes, years – to figure the risk-worthiness of a potential mate.

Falling off the Cliff

The mess we create goes far beyond our own back yard. Take this article, for example. While the clarity of thought about, and acknowledgement of – how shall I put this? – the shortcomings of current youthful coupling practice are little short of brilliant, the fact of them remains frightening.

From the author’s description, real dating is merging with cyber-dating to create some hellish version of romantic relationships. Gone are the virtues of delayed gratification, anticipation, wonder, attention, mutuality and respect. Replacing them are the digital delights of personal pleasure, immediate gratification, easy attachment and dis-attachment and limited responsibility.

Figuring out how we found ourselves in this dead-ender version of life is relatively easy; extricating people might prove rather more tricky.

Open, Sesame.

As a child, I asked questions, lots of questions, mostly because I was curious about everything I didn’t know, but also because it kept the authority figures talking. If they were talking, I could let my mind go elsewhere and they wouldn’t bother me.

Asking questions requires a specific mindset. The intellectual position taken by the questioner is:

I lack knowledge about this subject and you look to be the right person to inform me.

By contrast, the person of whom you ask the question automatically takes the opposite attitude, which is two-fold:

She is likely feeling a little superior because of the implied knowledge gradient, and she is in the position of helping me, an implied connection by way of assistance.

In dating terms, asking questions ranks highly as a skill worth cultivating. People like to talk about themselves, which has the added benefit of creating opportunities to discover common threads.

We should help that process along. When we start communicating with a complete stranger, we face a vertical cliff with only a few visible hand-holds. Questions are the ropes, carabiners, belay devices and chalk of dating – they will stop you from falling and dying on the rock face.

There is some evidence that availability is the single most sought-after relationship trait. When we first meet, it’s physical availability, and for long-term connection, emotional availability. Being available is about opening up and finding a way to help the other person do so as well. A simple question might just do the trick.

What do you think? Is availability the most desirable quality?