Hoisted from OkCupid comments

Something I said here, because it seemed relevant:

I have made a conscious effort to get better about this, but I know when I drop an email conversation it’s often really tough to get back to it. In fact, knowing that, I have managed to reach the point where I will occasionally send two messages in a row, if there’s been some lag and the conversation is unlikely to continue otherwise. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that, often, the other person wanted to write back but had just left it too long.I suspect that there’s more of a lesson in this than I have learned, yet. I think a lot of times, people just want someone who will make it easy on them, and walk them through all the checkpoints before they are officially “seeing each other”. I don’t do that, yet, and don’t know that I ever will, because it makes me feel like this is someone who isn’t interested, even if that’s often not what’s actually going on on their end. I also won’t do it because I’m as of yet insufficiently experienced to be able to tell “uninterested” from “interested but shy”, and I’d rather let some of the latter fall by the wayside than make all of the former uncomfortable.

I’m pretty sure all of this applies equally to non-romanticosexual relationships, as well, but the stakes are lower with those, so it’s easier to keep things going. My current focus is on the former, though.

I know, for my part, I’ve only really had relationships where  either there was a very gradual, mutual expression of interest, or someone came on to me.  And if something seems difficult, if there appears to be some obstacle, I’m more likely to drop contact than push through.  This cuts both ways, though; when I do this, I’m sure it reads as “lack of interest” to the other party, especially as I tend to be boisterous and overbearing in almost every other arena.  Something for me to work on.

Sex at Dawn – part 2

All right, I promised a second review focusing more on the content when I was done, and I’ve been done for a while, but I’m a slacker, so. The first part is here, and discusses the book itself and its premise, so I won’t revisit that bit.

In any event, it’s a good book. Overall, very good information, by and large well-presented aside from previously mentioned issues with its tone. I have only a few quibbles with the actual content.

Quibble the first is that they rely an awful lot on anthropological data from modern hunter-gatherer societies for their estimation of the sort of Ur-state humans that they’re describing. This falls prey to the same fallacy as people who ponder our evolution from chimpanzees.  Chimps aren’t what we evolved from; they are a co-evolved species with as much genetic drift from our common ancestor as we have, or at least as much time to develop such drift.  Modern hunter-gatherer societies are not “primitive”; they are a society which has spent as much time developing from some theoretical original human social order as we in the developed west have.  It’s quite possible that these societies are much more like the hunter-gatherers Sex at Dawn aims to describe, but that’s a separate hypothesis that needs its own battery of testing.  The book doesn’t solely rely on this data, but it makes up a large chunk of their support.

In fact, at one point they make a nod toward this, when discussing the size of human testicles, which would normally seem to indicate mild polygyny rather than the multi-male, multi-female setup (from now referred to as M+F+, mostly because MMMF means something entirely else) they posit as the human state of nature.  The authors (rightly) point out that evolutionary changes often happen very quickly, and that we’ve been strongly selecting in favor of monogamy for millenia now.  That’s fine, but the converse applies; the hunter-gatherer societies in the modern world have been strongly selecting for M+F+ for just as long.

On balance, it seems intuitively likely that hunter-gatherer societies are a bit more like our common ancestral social groups than industrialized America, but I’d like to see some evidence for it before it is used to support another thesis.

I’m glad that they included the data, though, because it is fascinating, and certainly goes to disprove the idea that monogamous marriage is baked into the cake of human evolution.

Quibble MK II is that they seem to think that it’s only possible that we evolved for one-and-only-one type of social order, and one mating style.  It’s M+F+, or it’s monogamy, or it’s polygyny or polyandry, but definitely just one of these.  To bring chimps back up again, they discuss the famous chimp warfare, mentioning primarily the Gombe incident that one of Goodall’s groups observed.  The authors mention that the chimps were being fed, which likely altered their behavior, and that wild chimpanzees hadn’t otherwise been observed performing these actions.  Well, as the NYT article I just linked indicates, that would appear to now be untrue; there is evidence of chimps in the wild warring for territory without human intervention.  It would appear to be an adaptation, if perhaps only one that is triggered under certain circumstances.

I think it’s overreaching to try to disprove monogamy as natural in any way, given the number of places that it has popped up independently.  It seems more likely that it is a specific social adaptation, one that makes sense under a different set of circumstances than M+F+ shows up under.  Were I to venture a guess, I would suggest that monogamy (and also probably polygynous marriage) show up in places of scarcity, and that M+F+ relationships make more sense in times of plenty.  Post-agricultural societies create a sort of artificial scarcity, in which people react not to their absolute position but to their relative place in a social hierarchy, so one would expect to see social adaptations to scarcity kick in more often here than in a hunter-gatherer society wherein everyone has more than enough, but no one has too much more than anyone else.  And monogamy would make more sense in a time and place of deprivation, as it’s much more important to make sure that you have some children that survive to adulthood; M+F+ setups make the most evolutionary sense when there are enough resources around that having more children isn’t going to overly stretch things.

Anyway, IANA anthropologist, so the specifics I’m discussing above are wildly inexpert and mostly just meant to point out that the data we’re presented with is open to more than one interpretation.  I think the idea that there is one-and-only-one social order which humans are “supposed” to follow is just as arrogant if the order is something that I am sympathetic toward (everyone should sleep with everyone!) as it is if  it’s something I find ridiculous (no sex except through the hole in the sheet!).  I think that Ryan and Jethá overreach when they try to take their preferred relationship style from the bottom of the heap and put it on top; it’s enough, or should be in my opinion, to disprove the unnaturalness of M+F+ relationships, and to try to simultaneously make monogamy out to be entirely unnatural is unnecessary, unjstified, and, at least in this text, unsupported.

But that’s it. I have no more quibbles, and overall I enjoyed the book a great deal.  I wanted the tone to be more inclusive, as I mentioned last time, but primarily so that I can point people to it.  It falls short of what the authors intended, but I don’t need it to be what they intended.

What I didn’t expect was how profoundly affecting it was to have someone describing the way that things work in my head as normal. I didn’t think that really mattered to me; I thought it was enough to know that it is perfectly acceptable and ethical to feel most comfortable in a nonmonogamous arrangement.  But to some extent, I still have some internal voice telling me that, sure, maybe it’s fine, but it still shouldn’t matter to you so much, Nick, you should still be able to handle a monogamous relationship.  In fact, there are perfectly good psychological and physiological reasons for it to matter.  (Which is not to say that it’s reasonable for me to drop into funks like the one that hit me for a couple of months recently.)

I like this book, despite my complaints.  I wish it filled a role that it doesn’t, less Dawkins and more Sagan, less red meat to the converted and more a hand out to skeptics.  But it is what it is, and what it is is quite good.

I should probably put a poly reading list together, and blow through the usual texts.  Anyone have thoughts on a good next choice?  The Ethical Slut? Opening Up?  I’m aware of these books, but I’ve never bothered to go looking for them before.

Alec K. Redfearn

I don’t think anyone who reads this is in Providence, but just in case, there’s a free show at the Rochambeau library by this guy tonight that I highly recommend but probably should have mentioned earlier were you to be able to plan for it.  Sometimes I forget that people do that.

(totally off-blog-topic, but I figure it’s my blog and I’ll branch out if I want to)

And… better

As I knew it would, the funk has passed, and I’m in a much better place in my head.  And in the sober light of lucidity, I can go ahead acknowledge that it takes a particularly twisted, specific, and self-hating logic for me to think of myself as “bad at dating”, akin to what these guys are doing (although, I hope, less toxic to the people around me).  I’ve spent all of a year and a half single as an adult.  Most of western culture seems to define “relationship success” as “length of relationship”, and I’ve had three very long term relationships.  Moreover, on those occasions when I’ve dated qua “going on a date”, it seems to have gone well enough; I’ve had fun and I flatter myself that generally so has the other party.

I’m having trouble with a very narrow and rarefied dating style, which is not the same as being “bad at dating”.  And when I was single, despite also then thinking of myself as “bad at dating” (at least, eventually–at first I thought it was going to be a cakewalk), what I was having trouble with was finding someone(s) who wanted to fool around without getting super serious, in my thirties, in Indiana.

What I am is badly confused by the flirt-and-get-to-know-each-other-and-maybe-make-out stage, and also inexperienced with approaching people because I’ve basically only been with (I’m sick of using the word “to date” and all of its conjugations. Someone suggest a better term for whatever it is that I’m attempting to do) people who approached me, and with whom I skipped the aforementioned confusing stage in favor of sleeping with each other immediately.

What I need to do, as per the comments of the previous post, is just to up and ask some people out already, because that’s the only way to get used to asking people out, and also the way to get to the next stage that I find awkward so that I can eventually find it less awkward.  I’m just being petulant because it’s not being made quite as easy on me as everything else in the world is.

Which is not to say that I’m not in a trapped-and-flailing place in my head, but at least I’m being slightly more rational and less woe-is-me about it.

The Blahs

I usually try to avoid posting here when I’m feeling particularly down (I write the draft, and save it, and never publish. I think I have six of these).  That’s part of why updates tend to be so slow, but I’m realizing that’s probably not leaving the most accurate chronicle.  So, here it is: I’m in a bad way at the moment.  Feeling trapped, optionless, and unable to move.  This happens to me regularly, and always has; I feel trapped when I’m committed to someone and lonely when I’m not.  It isn’t fair to Carrie, who isn’t doing anything to make me feel this way, and it isn’t fair to the people around me who get subjected to my funks.

I know this cycle, and I know I need to head it off.  Trapped leads to resentment, resentment leads to anger (anger leads to the Dark Side).  And eventually it kills things.  I’m in the first stage now; I need to work out how to change the progression.

When I was seeing L, I didn’t know this about myself yet, and so I just spent about four years depressed and angry.  While T and I were together, my theory was that I needed to change how I felt, change that progression, and that was ultimately fruitless; once the final stage kicked in, I just hated myself for a year because I couldn’t make it better.  Then I tried just being single for a while, which certainly left me feeling differently, but I did spend a lot of time lonely.  Still, though, I was out of the trapped-resentful-angry cycle.

As I mentioned in the first post, the experiment this time around has been to see if being a) in love with someone awesome and b) free to see other people is enough to keep me out of this devolution.  I still don’t know; it turns out I’m really bad at the latter part, in ways that I don’t really understand (if I did, no doubt I’d change them).

Beyond that, I’m not sure I have a lot to offer someone new, so long as I’m in this funk.  I’m not sure I have a lot to offer Carrie, either, but she’s already signed up for it for whatever reason.  I’m weird and difficult with regards to dating, uncomfortable when approaching and slow to respond when approached. I want to be very aggressive, and I find very aggressive men irritating, and overcompensate by underreacting (plus I’ve had a few people tell me I’m overly aggressive when I didn’t even think I was flirting with them, so now I try to tone it down even further).  And I’m just in a really poor space in my own head right now; if I started seeing someone new, that person would be stuck with me at my most self-loathing from the get-go.

Don’t really have a solution for this.  It’s a funk; it’ll pass.  I’ll wait until I’m feeling better, and then go through another cycle of trying to psyche myself up to actually approach new people, then negotiate whatever is required to move to the next step.  Maybe I’ll try to figure out what a real person would have said to the couple of people who’ve approached me recently that I find interesting; how to actually express attraction rather than just bantering on autopilot until they or I lose interest, the way that I do.  I made some headway on this before, and then dropped into one of these moods and tossed it all out, but I’m sure it’s achievable again.

If nothing else, writing it all out makes me feel better.