Restriction

I had a friend over this weekend.  It was a great time, and I was glad to see him.  One of the odder things that happened, though, was that he “hooked up” with someone he met at a bar the first night he was in town.  This is fascinating to me, and I think I’m really envious of his freedom to do that.

Now, I don’t begrudge M his experience.  He’s a fine guy, and he’s been unlucky in love for a long time.  Nor would I want to trade romantic lives with him.  But that freedom to just find and connect with someone sexually is something I don’t feel like I’ve ever experienced, and would have liked to.

I don’t know that I realized, on getting into a nonmonogamous relationship (I’m sorry, I’m still not comfortable calling myself “poly”) just how restrictive it could be.  I’d had enough poly/open friends to have some clue–I knew my potential dating pool would be much smaller than when I was single.  But it didn’t occur to me what a burden it is on getting to know someone you’re interested in to have to discuss your relationship status up front lest they assume that you are single by default, and it certainly didn’t occur to me how many people who are explicitly interested in casual hookups would still be hostile to the idea of someone in a committed relationship who was still available.

I’m not saying that I’d have made different choices had I known. I don’t think we choose who we love, or at least I think I don’t.  But this has been perhaps the toughest part of the learning curve for me.  I have done two very large things in the past few years that affected my potential dating pool:

  1. I moved out of Indiana and to the east coast.
  2. I got into an open relationship

Had you asked me ahead of time, I would have thought that the former would have had by far the larger effect.  Now, I think the latter is more significant, although it’s actually pretty close. I’m going to avoid getting into actual numbers, but I will say that I connect romanticosexually (we’ve established that “date” is incorrect here) a little less often than I did in Indianapolis, in a town where there are certainly better attitudes toward this stuff and a lot more available people.

Which is fine, it is what it is.  But I reserve the right to be occasionally, irrationally envious.

Advertisements

What measure is a date?

Something I’ve been butting my head up against in discussion of… whatever, romanticosexual entanglements or something… is that I keep using the word “dating”.  Dating, much like polyamory or casual, seems to have a different meaning to different people.  To Carrie, it implies old-fashioned you-and-me-are-going-courtin’ style dinner-and-a-movie stuff.  To L, the word “dating” implies some level of exclusivity.  I’m using it in a much broader sense, but that’s in large part because I don’t have another, better word.

When I say that I’m trying to figure out “dating”, I’m trying to wrap in anything related to early romance or sex or attraction, basically.  Any interaction in this milieu: hooking up at a party, picking someone up at a bar, contacting an attractive individual on OkCupid and arranging to meet for coffee, light flogging, etc.  I’m aiming to discuss that interstitial period that exists between meeting someone and a capital-R relationship.  Which, of course, means that my definition is no more valid than anyone else’s;  I’m certainly dating Carrie by many lights, but it wouldn’t occur to me that that would be part of this discussion.

Even that is going a little too far, because it implies that I’m necessarily talking about capital-R relationshipping as a goal, which I’m not.  The “interstitial period” could last forever, for all I care. Or it could never exist, which is basically what happened with Carrie and myself, who went from first meet to “we are an item” in about the time it takes Julia Child to make an omelette.

Basically, my only real “goal” in this arena is to hang out with interesting people and occasionally sleep with the attractive ones.  If the word for that isn’t “dating”, then I don’t know what it is, and would appreciate suggestions.

Clarity

The cross-post of Toxicity over at OkBloggy dredged up a familiar phenomenon. Whenever I touch on the subjects I mentioned in that post, either here or in person, a lot of people seem to read it as my asking for a manual on precisely what steps to follow, like those ads that occasionally make it through my blocker on “How to get any woman to sleep with you in less than 60 seconds!”.  I assume I’m phrasing something poorly, because people think this often enough often enough that the only common factor here is me.

If anyone has gotten the same read from that post or other things that I’ve said, I’d appreciate if you could let me know what gave you that impression. I think this is a subject that could use more daylight than it gets, at least in the regions of cyberspace that are populated by the sane, the nontraditional, and the non-gender-normative.  It’s not so much that there should be more volume of discussion about dating, whoa nelly, there’s plenty going on.

What I’m really suggesting is that there should be a sort of pool of information like what one gets when one goes looking for job-hunting advice, or info on how to write well.  These are open-ended questions, and each article or interview is its own animal, just like a “date” is.  But there is useful general advice, and there is info on how to get started if you’ve never done it before.  There’s an understanding that it’s possible or even likely for someone to reach adulthood without knowing what to do, even if one could theoretically derive it all with sufficient application of sense.  And people are sympathetic to the idea that some of us need more help than others.

It just feels like there isn’t a similarly sympathetic and charitable place for advice about… whatever it is I’m asking for there to be advice about.  I’m not even sure “dating” is the word, or “advice”, and I’m not sure I’m asking for myself any more.  I’m just sure there are other folks in the situation that my 28-year-old self was in who could really, legitimately use some help.

There seems to be a sort of stigma attached to even admitting that you’d like to date more.  OkCupid is full of self-conscious statements like “I don’t know why I’m on here” or “I’m just looking for friends and we’ll see where things go from there”.  It feels of a piece with self-conscious assertions that polyamory is not about sex, although perhaps less reflexively sex-negative.  It still formulates the state of not currently seeing as many people as (or more people than) you’d really like to as if it were something you shouldn’t be in.  There’s something wrong with it.  It makes it into something you have to admit to, by demonstrating how unwilling people are to say so.

*shrug*

Hi, my name’s Nick, and I’d like to date more.

Clumsy come-ons

In Toxicity, I said:

It’s assumed to be trivial to pick up men (which, speaking as a man who has been on the receiving end of many a clumsy come-on, definitely not true), and basically everything I can find on women picking up women is, well, porn.

And in response 7zl said:

But do tell about these clumsy come-ons you’ve encountered — it’ll be a “what not to do” sort of learning experience.

Which I think may count as a sort of “dating tips” post, and given that I was just talking about the lack of those, I suppose I ought to sort some of these out.  Let me throw down some categories of the worst come-ons I’ve received.  Once again, these mostly come from the realm of internet dating:

  • Comparisons to celebrities

It’s possible that this is just a personal pet peeve.  Drawing close parallels between me and someone else just really bothers me, and I don’t know if other people experience it that way.

That said, it’s especially banal and uninteresting when it’s a celebrity.  Partly because they mostly have nothing to do with me except that they’re white guys with beards.  Jonathan Frakes (or Commander Riker), Judd Nelson (recent, not circa The Breakfast Club), “Doctor Who with a beard” and “Kal-el with a beard” all fit this category–all real comparisons that someone has used to hit on me.  None of them even remotely believable.

  • Coming on too strong

This one’s really hard to quantify, because there is a fine line between it and “being assertive”.  This usually (not always, or even close to, but usually) comes from the guys who message me, and the worst examples are completely over the top, like the guy who invited me to a “sex party in a barn” in rural Illinois.

More subtly, thought, really gushy first contacts just make me self-conscious. Or ones that are too explicit.  I don’t mind a bit of innuendo or even a little exnuendo, or even a lot of these, and I don’t mind moving really fast.  I’ve been known to send messages myself that say things like “you are brain-meltingly hot”.  I guess the only place I can draw the line is when someone gets in touch in a way that feels like they’re taking liberties.  Like, they’re already deciding what sex acts we’re going to perform, or have a place in their existing relationship structure that they’re trying to slot me into.

This happens in person, too.  Please do not smack my ass or grab my crotch until you have some reason to believe that I want you, personally, to do these things.  I will extend to you the same courtesy.  And if you are not part of a very specific subset of the people I know, and I go to sleep alone and wake up with you next to me, there will be trouble. You’ll know if you’re in that subset.  I’ll tell you.

  • Not putting in enough effort

I know, this can be confusing after the previous one.  But I get a lot of messages that have no content from profiles with no real information.  I’m a gregarious guy, and I don’t mind providing more than my fair share of the conversation.  But you have to give me something to riff off of, or else you have to be so inherently fascinating that merely drawing my attention is sufficient.  That’s happened, but as a general rule at least asking a question or something is really important.

A corollary of this is that you have to be willing to put in part of the effort of getting together if things are going well.  When someone says “Hey, I’d like to meet you”, a reasonable response isn’t “find something interesting and make all of the plans and then contact me with a time and a place and I’ll decide”.

On OkCupid specifically this probably means “no winks”, but I’m not willing to lay down completely rigid rules here.  Which… isn’t super helpful, I guess.  Sorry.

  • Assuming too much

I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but my profile has gotten more and more explicit over the years as people write to me assuming that I’m something I’m not: submissive, sadistic, interested in helping them cheat, a fan of Ayn Rand, etc.  I don’t really know what to say here, other than if I haven’t said it and you haven’t asked about it, I don’t know why you’d think you know it.

Also, I’ve stopped mentioning that I’m bisexual in front of strange men because it is too often taken as an opening for a really aggressive advance.  Jesus, guys.  Slow the fuck down.

  • Body parts

Maybe this is prudish or sex-negative of me, but I would kind of like to see your face before I see all of your other body parts.  I totally understand a desire for privacy in this world, and not wanting to show your face to strangers.  But, well, I’d like to see it before I see your naked ass, or your breasts, or your cock.  Or even just all of your tattoos.  I’m not going to psychoanalyze this stuff; I don’t assume it’s pathological or anything.  I just like faces.  I totally understand if this has been successful for you with other people, and will gladly shake your hand and go a different direction.  No, your hand.

Assuming that you don’t mind showing me your face, though, I will gladly look at any other pictures you want to send along.

Okay, so, that aside, what has worked well for people contacting me?

  • Earnestness

I really, really like finding out what people are about.  A discussion of something that really interests you or a way-over-the-top passionate rant about something you hate is a great way to catch my attention.

  • Asking questions

Reading something in my profile and asking me to expound on it is a great way to catch me.  I love to talk.  Or type.  Not write–I have motor dysgraphia–but I will type at you all day.

  • Suggesting that we meet

This is great! It puts the ball in my court, and now it’s my turn to make a proposal as to how and where.  This is a good amount of give-and-take.  Similarly, if I suggest a meeting, then mentioning that you have some time on Thursday is also fantastic.

  • Coming on just strong enough

I wish I could put this more clearly, but hitting the right level of bantery I-really-think-you’re-great is really good.  Too explicit too fast is a turn off, and being too aloof is a turn off.  But making it clear that you’re interested without making me feel pressured is perfect.  Maybe I’m too difficult, but the people who can manage this make it really work for me.

In person caveat: I can be a little thick about taking hints face-to-face.  More than once, someone has hit this point and, when I didn’t immediately respond in kind, backed way down.  I get it, because putting oneself out there is nerve-wracking, but falling back too fast leaves me confused as to whether I’ve done something wrong, or I just read too much into it in the first place.  In fact, the only reason I know for sure that this has happened is when someone tells me later, or they ask why exactly I didn’t respond.  Asking why is good, though; it can be uncomfortable for me if I have to tell you you’re not my type, but taking that well ameliorates the discomfort, and on the other side if I didn’t mean to chase you off we might end up in an epic-makeout-session-turned-fling-turned-six-year-relationship.  It’s happened.

I worry that all of this makes me sound super picky, but I kind of am, so there’s that.

Logophilia

I often find myself with a need for words that mean “people who are attracted to men” or “people who are attracted to women”, and at a loss for anything but those awkward constructions. This shows up elsewhere, too: OkCupid has to list “Both (who are attracted to bi [guys/girls])” to solve a similar problem.  Of course, OkCupid has its own issues in dealing with gender and sexuality, but at least it’s years ahead of any reasonable competitors.

Quickly googling indicates that the words I want already exist, in basically the ways that I would construct them: androphilia and gynephilia. Although for symmetry’s sake I would think (andro/gyne)sexual would work better.  Obviously, there exist things like “omnisexual” or “pansexual” that would be supersets of these, but of course for my direct purposes I don’t really care if someone is bi or pan or omni or straight (mostly, although I’m probably more likely to get along with the first three).  I present fairly strongly as male, even if I reject a lot of masculine tropes, so “adrophiliac” or “androsexual” is all I’d really need to know.

Basically, I just find it odd and illogical that I have to be given someone’s sex and a word to describe their orientation and then work backward to determine whether they’re into people who are shaped like me.  It’s obviously not a huge burden, but it doesn’t make sense to me to define orientation primarily in reference to one’s own sex, rather than sex(es) to which one is attracted.

Toxicity

If you’ve been on the internet, you’ve probably run into the “pickup artist” (PUA) community.  If you haven’t, feel free to google, but I won’t be linking anyone here.  Essentially, it’s a group of men (always and only men) trying to teach themselves how to pick up women (always and only women).  Their methods are pretty gross, and they use a lot of dehumanizing lingo, creating acronyms for categories of women and trying to learn psychological tricks; the worst claim to be able to “program” responses via methods like NLP (and no doubt mesmerism, or the ancient techniques of the swamis, or other bullshit magical thinking).  Truly awful stuff.

If you believe what they’re saying, it also works.  Now, no small amount of this is likely due to the fact that they’re teaching these men to actually approach women, which they weren’t doing before.  The dehumanizing stuff is also depedestalizing, and while ultimately toxic I’m sure it initially makes just approaching women easier.  I’m sure most of the PUA gurus would say that in order to get men to stop putting women on pedestals, they have to knock them down a bit (although they’d probably say it in a less savory manner), but I don’t buy it.

Unlike Clarisse Thorn, I don’t think that there are useful bits to these models that need to be extracted and put in a different context, beyond super basic stuff like “approach more women”.  I’d more agree with Amanda Marcotte, that “the PUA mentality is too toxic to be polished into something non-misogynist”, but…

Well…

The thing is that there really is a dearth of advice out there on this.  Not a dearth of people trying to give advice, but a dearth of actual, useful advice that doesn’t come from a terrible fashion magazine or an even more terrible lad mag mentality.  Amanda’s suggestions are really more ways not to be an asshole than they are dating/pickup advice. In the 21st century, I can learn how to do almost anything with a quick google, and have done: I’ve brewed beer, written bookmarklets, and boosted my FIDE score 300 points all just through some web research.  But there’s nothing out there that is both useful and nontoxic for dating.

What is out there seems to fall into three categories:

  1. Very basic social interaction stuff, like “treat the other party like a person”(e.g., Amanda’s suggestions), which is probably useful for many men steeped in a misogynist culture who need to relearn how to interact with women. But it won’t get you very far, and it isn’t useful to non-cismen, or to cismen who’ve done the Feminism 101 thing and now need to learn the next steps.
  2. Folks who don’t want to admit that there are skills involved.  Dating is just hanging out with people sometimes with sex at the end, although of course if you go into it hoping for sex at the end you are wrong and bad.  You’re allowed to have sex on the first date, you’re just not allowed to care whether or not you have sex.  There’s a lot of wishy-washy “you’ll only date if you don’t really want to” stuff out there, like an anti-The-Secret.
  3. Horrible claptrap in the aforementioned vein (like the PUA stuff) recommending all sorts of mental tricks to reduce your partner in your mind to something unworthy of you, and therefore eliminate all of the psychological risk involved in approaching someone.  This is mostly aimed at cismen.
Per Clarisse’s thesis (I just wanted to use that phrase), there really is a hole here.  I know I’ve had to try to build from scratch a method and manner of attraction and dating in the time since leaving my last monogamous relationship, and I haven’t been able to find anything that I felt was actually helpful toward that.  And I’m still terrible at it, so I’m in no position to give advice.  And even the handful of slightly-less-awful, somewhat useful links at the bottom of Clarisse’s article mostly just include the very basics of human interaction.
To some extent (and as a corollary to #2 above) there’s this sort of feeling that someone should already know certain things if one is not a broken human being.  I know that, because I felt the same way before I tried it.  But figuring out, say, the correct balance between sexy come-on and careful observance of boundaries in a first contact, be it email or in-person, is actually quite tough, and legitimately so, even for reasonably social people.  I honestly think most people who have this knack forget that this is a learned skill because they learned it so long ago, in that fumbling stumbling bit in one’s tweens-to-twenties when one is supposed to be figuring out how to attract the sexes and genders to whom one is attracted.

I suppose that my intent in creating this blog was twofold (manyfold, really, but only two of the folds are relevant here): I wanted to create a chronicle about my specific situation, getting involved in my first open relationship with someone who’d already been in several, without any other prospects on the horizon, because I couldn’t find any resources to help with that; and I wanted to forge a mutualistic style of dating, which is also something I couldn’t find any help for.  Oddly, I’m doing better with the former than the latter; I still only really ever date people that approach me, so I’ve still never learned how to navigate the approach from the other end.  I would have thought learning to date would be a requisite to learning to relationship, but it turns out that I generally skip that part.

In any event, this hole is something that I think it’s important to fill.  Granted, the tribulations of young, geeky men are not the most prominent social injustice out there, but there’s a need here going unfilled by anyone except the worst the internet has to offer.  Part of the problem with that is that it sets up a cycle like this:
  1. Socially awkward boy googles how to date
  2. Socially awkward boy is introduced to a pile of anecdata about horrible methods of attracting partners that include one or two things that really work, like “don’t sweat it if you get turned down” and “ask a  lot of people out”
  3. Socially awkward boy writes about how amazingly effective these horrible techniques are
  4. Repeat with a new socially awkward boy, with the echo chamber effect further magnified
  • Of course, a woman looking to pick up anyone, or a man looking to pick up men, is completely SOL. It’s assumed to be trivial to pick up men (which, speaking as a man who has been on the receiving end of many a clumsy come-on, definitely not true), and basically everything I can find on women picking up women is, well, porn.
This is problematic, not just for those boys (the better of which will cotton on to their own toxicity and cut it out eventually, and the less better of which don’t get to be targets of pity).  It’s a problem for everyone that they’ll semi-innocently inflict themselves on, and then for those who will have to painstakingly prove themselves not to be the original toxic sort, and then to everyone they’ll date who has to wait while they try to do their careful expression-of-interest-without-seeming-a-creep, and so on. The internet, that great repository of all knowledge, is failing here, and while my immediate, personal concern is of course that I’d like to be better at this, it’s also a form of pollution, just generally drawing down the quality of life for everyone around.  Dating, and romance, and sex, and love, and whatever word wraps all of that together, isn’t a competition, despite what many of the PUA folks will tell you (and this should probably be Tip 1 if and when these things are put together); the world would be a more pleasant place with less competitive macho bullshit in it, regardless of whether that reduction is directly beneficial to any given person.

Nick Writes Games

Nick Writes Games.

Totally off-topic, but ‘s’my blog.  I moonlight as a game designer, and I’m starting to self-publish some of my games.  The Virtues of the Drake is a game that I’ve had in suspended animation for about four years, but I’m breathing some new life into it.  I’ll be putting together a PDF, one plaintext and one with artwork by Carrie for a small charge.  If there’s sufficient interest, we may print up some decks.