Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Selecting a Mate

Alright. I know you non-existent readers are all probably thinking something like "Hey! You're a nerd! There's no way you can talk about love relationships in an accurate manner! Everyone knows all nerds are eternally single!"

While true this may be, I do not believe that my utter lack of experience in the field of mate-selection disqualifies me from making scathing comments. I have never killed anyone (in a battle situation) with a sword before, and yet I slap ignorant Internet tough-guys across the face all the time for purporting egregious factual errors regarding the proper usage of a sword, the dynamics of combat, and the physics of medieval weaponry in general. So, while some of my comments might reflect poor understanding or contain overly broad/simple generalizations, consider my criticisms for the points they make rather than the personal advice/information they might deign to offer.

Having given that disgustingly generic disclaimer, I shall begin with analysis of some of the goals for love that we commonly accept in this culture.

Note here that I am referring to the "boy-girl" sort of love in this post (although, in these modern days this sort of love can also be applied to girl-girl, boy-boy, girl-dog, boy-hand, and boy-girl-girl-girl-girl relationships. But that is just distracting; by now I'm sure you know what I'm talking about anyway.).

I will start by stating that this culture's view of love is screwed up. (...That may have been a poor choice of words.)

The ultimate goal in love relationships has become physical and emotional fulfillment. You expect your partner to live up to your standards and satisfy you in these areas. Women tend to want more emotional and physical security, while men so infamously seem to more greatly desire intimacy and support.

There are two things wrong with this as I see it. One, no one can ever "fulfill" you and your needs-- this is far too much burden on the other person. Two, personal fulfillment is a selfish goal. Since when did love become a selfish thing? It's good that people want to make wise decisions when choosing their mates, but approaching matters of love with thoughts like "I only want the best for myself", or "I really need a boyfriend/girlfriend so I can have this/that" will usually set you up for disappointment when you discover that the other person wants the same thing. 'Cause you see, you aren't the only selfish anal orifice in the world.

An unpopular and somewhat cynical view (and, purely coincidentally, a view to which I held for a good time in my younger days) states that there is no purpose to love besides reproduction and the upbringing of new life. While this is technically perhaps the most accurate purpose for love from a biological standpoint, in this current culture love clearly serves more than just this by the fact that people are having fewer and fewer children per couple on average as the years pass. Not everyone wants to reproduce, and not everyone will. So there is more to it.

On the opposite end of the cynicism vs. idealism spectrum, we have the people who pursue love for "healing"--sometimes from the pain of a previously failed love relationship. 

It's always a good idea to do the thing that hurt you in order to fix the hurt.

But I won't disregard this cultural view of love yet, as it does have a bit of truth--love is innately one of the strongest emotions we are capable of feeling, and thus can overwhelm other feelings of pain/heartbreak.

Again though, this goal of love is callow and self-centered. What happens when the other person can't heal your trauma (and they will not be able to, any more than they would be able to re-attach a severed limb)? The most they can be is a distraction--a source of happy chemicals to dull your pain. Which means you objectify the person. Which is not good.

Other reasons for pursuing love can range from "I just don't want to live life alone" to "I want to know what it is like to love". Analyze your own reasons for pursuing a love relationship. I bet you'll have a hard time finding one that does not have the subject "I" and the verb "want" (synonyms count). As I said before, we are all selfish blighters.

Now I will move on to some of the critical assumptions those of us who live in western society make about choosing that special person. I love analyzing assumptions.

I find it amusing and revealing when people speak of finding a companion in the same way they might about selecting a car, and often at the same time romanticizing it so it still fits in with the fantastic perspective that there is such a thing as "The One" or "True Love", a perspective that has somehow ascended beyond the realm of fancy and into our fundamental beliefs regarding love.

As with choosing a car, we always want the ideal (The One). Even if we can't find exactly what we want, when we see something that meets our expectations fairly well and is at a nearby dealership, we think that it was all the more "meant to be" shortly before and after we obtain it, just because it was conveniently located near us. Of course, when we discover that the MPG isn't so great and that those stylish leather seats are actually kind of ugly eighteen months after purchase, we start to question our decision. And we begin to wonder if we actually made the best choice, how long we will be stuck with this car, etc.

Don't get caught in the infinite models and colors. Once you buy your car, don't think that you still have the freedom to go through and drive around in all the other ones to make sure yours is the best.

I may be getting off track with the analogies.

Anyway. Regarding love truthfully (actually, regarding a lot of things in life), I believe everyone is incredibly naive. I don't care how intelligent/accomplished/experienced you are in love or any other field in life--something about the horrific strength of emotion that comes with love screws up the minds of even those who are normally quite rational, even when the actual numbing blaze of the moment has passed.

When we are in love, we are certain that the person is the One--but even when things get difficult and we "fall out" of love, we still believe that that special One is out there somewhere. Just forget about that last guy that you were so sure about who cheated. Or the guy before who got convicted for drug abusage (yes, abusage is a word. I just added it to my Word dictionary.). Or the guy before, where things "just didn't work out".

I will state this simply. I don't believe everyone has a One True Love. Even if I believed in fate, I would not believe I had a "One" set aside for me. If I thought that was true, then I would question whether or not I actually chose the One the moment I realize that my spouse is not perfect. This view is harmful to marriage, not beneficial.  

Next assumption: you should pick your husband/wife based upon compatibility and practicality.

Choosing a mate (for most of us usually) is an emotional choice. Especially rational people have incredible difficulty weeding out the candidates when they have a large pool from which to choose, because rationally we can't determine what makes one person "better" than another--actually, any choice will be wrong with this outlook, because we will eventually find things we don't like about anyone once we know them. Broadly speaking, I don't believe that we, as humans, can judge other people well under most circumstances. Which is why we are designed to choose our mates based mostly upon emotion and physical attraction, often spiting the will of parents, social incompatibility, or common sense.

I think that, to a degree, keeping love an emotional thing is better than the current trend of extreme particularity that doesn't seem to be improving the nation's divorce rate. Keep the particularity and practicality practical. Don't think that you've chosen the right guy/girl because you've thought about it a whole lot. Your emotional brain will have messed with things somewhere.

Opposites attract, but so do similaritites. Compatibility is overrated; how much you care about the person is the real question. If you find the person you want to marry, marry him/her, and make it work, even if she likes cats and you prefer dogs.

Next assumption: You should really get to know the person you want to marry before you marry him/her by dating for at least [insert number] months/years.

I laugh when I hear this advice. But it grieves me at the same time to know that people take this seriously.

I read a book in my sophomore year of high school titled "I Kissed Dating Goodbye". It's written by some Conservative dork who's got a lot of high-minded traditional ideals. I disliked that book, as I have disliked many books that present the personal opinion of the author with religious authority. I read the book anyway though, because it challenged this society's ill-considered passion for dating as a means of courtship (and yes, Joshua Harris, dating is indeed a form of courtship). This was the central element of the book, and I at least agreed with him on that. I still hated the book though, because I always let the things I dislike about something to dominate my opinion about that thing.

Anyway, the biggest problem with the "get to know" approach lies in the fact that dating sucks as a way to get to know somebody. Speaking as a writer (and a masterful one at that), in order to develop a bond of any sort between two characters, they must exchange meaningful dialogue (hint: the antics of your cat or something funny a friend said are not exactly very meaningful) or engage in conflict--the source or object of the conflict does not matter particularly, so long as it is resolved mutually (it can be between the characters, directed against the characters, etc.).

A note to you parents trying to separate your daughter from that undesirable gangster boy, or you public school officials prosecuting a teacher for pursuing an "inappropriate" relationship with a student: you are creating conflict that will actually draw them together and make their relationship stronger.

Dating is as good at revealing character as the number of kills you get in Call of Duty reveals how much of a soldier you are. Dating is fun; it's a game. You play around, chat, and relax. You can be really good at dating and making a good impression, but it reflects performance in "real life" poorly. I could rant for quite a while as to why I hate dating the way it is used in society, but I'll save that for another post.  

The second problem the "get to know" approach is that people change. I cannot believe how rarely this seems to be considered. The funny, outgoing Bob may turn into a despondent, fat Bob after twenty years of dealing with a horrible job and too many Twinkies. Anything that makes up who we are (except perhaps our pasts, which, surprisingly, do not affect our personalities that much outside of how we view them) can be changed. Your very involvement in this person's life will change the person. Who is he/she without you? Who will he/she become with you?

Knowing a girl's music preferences now is meaningless if she decides that she really likes Justin Bieber ten years from now when he finally hits puberty.

Not saying you should jump right in and marry somebody you just met in Wal-Mart. But perhaps determining a person's character to see if they have a personality that is "compatible" with yours may not be as important as society makes it seem. In India (and a few other "backward" countries), people still get betrothed at infancy/have their parents choose their spouse. And somehow, their divorce rate is a lot lower over there. Go figure.

Next assumption: dating prepares you for marriage and relationships with the opposite sex.

Just in case I wasn't clear on this before: DATING SUCKS. Dating trains you for marriage, yes. A temporary marriage. The cycle of becoming infatuated, romantically involved, breaking up, and finding a new person becomes habitual. You carry it into your marriage. Don't do it.

Next assumption: there are two types of love: infatuation and true love.

Obviously, there are more than two types of love. But I won't get into the types of adoration we can feel towards other humans; I will focus instead on the naive idea that either love is shallow or it is something incredibly, magically deep.

"True Love" can fade. Don't listen to the fairytales. Love is like any other passion in your life; you have to feed it. It doesn't feed you some magical stream of constant energy.

"Love at first sight" (another one of those magical things) is infatuation. In fact, any love based primarily upon physical attraction would count as infatuation. True love is what happens when you are prepared to sacrifice yourself utterly for the other person (and I mean more than just the "I would die for you" sort of sacrifice--think a slow, daily sacrifice of what you like to do and your concern for yourself for the other person). True love can grow from infatuation.

Love is love. It is what you make of it. You control the depth and intensity.

Next assumption: if you are not happy/having problems with your relationship, then something is wrong and you should get out of the relationship.

Ugh. So very many things wrong with this.

First of all, your spouse is not responsible for your happiness. They have no control over fate. Or your hormones.

Second, problems in relationships are one of those things that are what they call universal. Meaning not only are you not the only one, but everybody goes through them. So you have no excuse for not pulling through as well.

Whatever happened to that passion that caused you to become involved in this person's life in the first place? If you quit on them, you invalidate all of that. It's like middle school again, where you wanted so bad to get into that football team/learn an instrument. Then, after a few weeks when your body became sore from the strain of practice and you got sick of practicing your scales over and over, you asked your mom if you could stop. If your mom was a good one, then she would have said "no". (Of course, she should probably ask you why first, and then give the "no" once she understands that your poor, lazy butt is just sore from all the effort.)

Think about it. Why give up? Just because it is hard? Just because those magical, happy chemicals aren't being released into your bloodstream as much now? Because he/she is/isn't doing something, and it distresses you?

Habits change (not saying that they go away always, just that they change). The state of things now does not indicate the state of things three months from now. Better or worse, the future is unknown and largely unknowable. You cannot say anything about the future for certain, other than this: it will come, and it will be different. As I said before, stuff changes. If you and your attitude don't, then they will, or the situation will, etc.

So. I have just abused numerous assumptions we make concerning love in our modern culture. But do I have anything to offer besides mockery and criticism?

Of course not. I'm a nerd, Bob dangit (and yes, I just used "Bob" as a cuss word. I do that a lot.). I'm not authorized to speak on such things. Even if I was, I would not want to, as I am also a troll who does nothing but raise conflict. Actual contribution is forbidden for my race.

Anyway, none of you would want to hear what my approach to love is. But you know what? I'm also an arrogant liar in addition to a nerd, so I will tell you anyway.


I... I don't know what I plan. Do I even want to pursue a love relationship? Well... I guess I want to make my life about more than just myself. Isn't that my whole purpose being alive? But if the other person doesn't like me, then I would just be an annoyance. I've been an annoyance to a friend before. One of the worst moments in my life was when I realized just how much of an annoyance I was. I haven't had contact with that person since then.

No, I have no plans for love. Somebody else can make the choice to get me into that sort of relationship; I won't look for it.

Not saying that that is the ideal. But for a creep such as myself, it is the only option.

As a final note, I will say that I have completely failed in getting this published by my (self-set) deadline of Valentine's Day. I thought it would be so perfect to match it with that day when love-y feelings are most recognized by our culture, but then I remembered something: I hate this culture. So actually, instead of posting this late, I am simply expressing my uniqueness and rebellion against societal standards. Valentine's Day wasn't even about love originally anyway (it's about romance as much as Christmas is about Christianity--that is, it has been totally convoluted over the years).

We must also consider the Valentine's Day massacre. Why should I commemorate that horrible day?

Yes, now I'm just making excuses. I know, I'm a horrible person.

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