Sunday, April 02, 2006

what was i thinking when i let go of you

there's a peculiar irony, two intertwined ones actually, to being single and actively dating in one's mid-30s and beyond. if you have a good job that keeps you busy and you also occupy yourself with lots of "extra-curricular" activities it constrains the time necessary for getting to know someone and making the right choice.

the first irony is a product of the very experience we count on to help us make good decisions sometimes results in us using too narrow a filter. the other (and related) irony is that often we get into those extra-curriculars not just for the intrinsic value of the activity itself but to meet people with whom to be friends or lovers. even though most of us won't admit that out loud, we know it's true that the single among us do these things as much to meet potential mates as anything else. and those of us who tend to be active will be more attracted to more active people. couch-potatoes and active people rarely are a good match.

for simplicity's sake i'll suggest that you can put any date into one of three groups -- no, maybe and yes. sure, there are stronger maybes than others, but the point here is to be brief...(yeah yeah, i know it's an essay about the dangers of too quickly and ruthlessly cutting to the chase)

clearly there are times when you know for certain something won't work. and usually (hopefully) it's obvious to both people right away. but sometimes that decision gets made not because the person is truly incompatible, but because of life's demands. we feel the need to cut to the chase, to quickly and efficiently filter out the noise from the signal. and in that rush we probably put a "maybe" too quickly into the "no" pile, usually based on some checklist derived from experience and used exactly because we're so busy that we feel we need the filter. and not that this is a bad thing. if you don't learn from experience you're going to make the same mistakes over and over. with the availablity of on-line dating sites, even if there's a dry spell of meeting people through traditional means, it's been made very easy to go back to the aquarium and pick out a new fish or three. it's perceived as no big loss to maybe throw back one that you at first thought didn't suit you. (related to all this but its own essay is how the myth of "instant chemistry or nothing" has been drilled into us thanks to hollywood and in particular shows like the bachelor(ette)).

when you both know it's a maybe is when it gets most complicated. here's where you really need to put in a bit of time to figure it out. but when both people have ski trips, shore trips, running clubs, soccer games, softball games, book clubs, volunteer work...before you know it your week, weekend and month is booked. so the potential of the "maybe" fizzles, as would any flame die for lack of proper fuel and attention. it takes some courage to step away from standing commitments and get to know a maybe or two (or three). it also takes some work between meetings...e-mails, phone calls...enough to keep things going but not too much to come off as clingy or needy.

even when we meet the obvious "yes" our schedules are so pre-booked that it can be a week between meetings. you still have these prior commitments. you still have lots of people counting on you to do things. but you really want to get together with mr/ms yes. you also don't want to be "that guy" who just dumps his friends and softball team every time a woman gets hold of him. and here you see it as even more important to make the time, that you feel there's something immediate and pressing at stake. but have things to do.

and what if we make the wrong choice between two definite maybes, or between what we thought was a yes and a definite maybe? what then? go back to one you let go but are still intrigued enough by that you can't get her out of your head? that takes some courage and letting go of pride on both ends. again, with on-line dating you can easily just turn your profile back on and pick from the new arrivals who come in daily (which is a whole other essay on disposable society). but you don't know until you ask.

so for all we think we've learned getting to this point it almost works against us in terms of making snap judgements, and for all the desire to stay active who's got the time to make the time?


stalker :-) said...

Have you read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink? If you can make the time, I think you should.

this charming man said...

yup, read it. and if anything he makes a yes/no case wrt snap decisions. sometimes they're well founded, sometimes not.

me again said...

Hmm...I guess I got something different out of it. Then again, I read it a while ago, AND I'm a little slow :). But what I understood was that we basically make a decision about something within the first few seconds of encountering that "something", and we've just been conditioned not to trust our instincts.

Did you know they're making a movie out of that book? Directed by the same guy who did Syriana? I wonder how that's going to turn out, or how they're even going to do that.

this charming man said...

i think that was just part of it, the quick decision-making and the conditioning. i think the other half (the point of the nypd shooting case) was that sometimes we make those decisions based on faulty conditioning.

had no idea a movie's being made. i'll have to read up on the details.

Anonymous said...

Ah, right. I'd forgotten that part about the NYPD shooting.

Leah said...

You say: "That takes some courage and letting go of pride on both ends."

I think that's the crux of secret to having a successful relationship, whether it's still pure potential or old hat. Courage, humility, and the willingness to make an effort.