Order of Operations

I think, before this recent bout of dating (which is to say, the last four years or so), I had a sort of platonic sequence in my head which I’d think one would follow when dating online.  Something like:

  1. Contact someone on a dating site
  2. Exchange a few messages
  3. Learn their real name
  4. Move to another venue, e.g., off-site email or Facebook
  5. Learn their last name
  6. Agree to meet
  7. Exchange phone numbers
  8. Meet in person
  9. Date
  10. Repeat steps 6,8, and 9 until hanky panky occurs
  11. You are now “dating”
  12. Repeat steps 9 and 10 until
  13. You stop seeing each other

I’m realizing lately that this is not at all, in fact, what happens.  E..g., with Stoella, things went more like 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3, 5, 10, 11, and are currently on 12.  We were halfway through what ended up being probably a “date” when I said “Oh, by the way, what’s your name?”.  (NB: Stoella insists that she is actually chaotic neutral, so I’ll be updating the first post where I mentioned her)

With Kevros Glimmergaunt (new character, chaotic neutral elven rogue), it went 1, 3, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12.  We’ve actually skipped a few steps, and this reminds me to ask Kevros’s (real) last name the next time we get together, and I believe the word “dating” would probably cause an allergic reaction.  I know “boyfriend” has.

Zinnaella Homeforger (neutral good gnomish sorceror who I hope isn’t mad at me for deciding she’s a gnome because she’s definitely a gnome) ran through the steps mostly in order, although steps 4 and 5 came toward the end, just before 13*.  Although 13 is a wobbly 13, I think, and there remains the potential for a booty call down the line assuming she’s not upset about the gnome thing.

What I think this means is:

First, I need to let go of (and am letting go of) all a priori opinions about dating. Things just happen as they happen, and the process is individual to the people involved and not nearly as generalizable as I’d thought.  This is good and fine, but does throw something of a wrench into my plans to tell people who don’t know how to start dating.

Second, for some reason I don’t seem to care about surnames in real life.

*Yes, True Believers, I’m now at the stage where I sometimes start seeing someone new, run through the whole fling, and then stop seeing them before I mention it to you.  Which is something of another milestone for me, I guess; I no longer need to obsessively report every small change in my dating life.

Edited to add: I don’t remember the order with Carrie, but it was odd given the distance.  I think we spent a long time on 4ish, and then ran through steps 6 through 12 in about 24 hours.

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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.

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.

Juggling

Having really just started learning the logistical gymnastics of dating two people at once, I’m even more in awe of those who manage a handful of simultaneous capital-R Relationships.  Trying to make sure that the proper amount of time is spent with Carrie and that I still see L once a week or so has been taxing, even more so when one adds in the demands of a non-doin’-it social life.  In an email exchange with a friend recently, she indicated that she’s seeing someone new and that someone has five simultaneous relationships.  I’ve been pondering this, and have come to the conclusion that that does not, in fact, fit into a mortal person’s 168-hour week.  I have a few theories as to how this can be managed, though:

  1. A time-turner would make this trivial, and frankly this would be a much better use of it than trying to cram 25 credit-hours into a semester.  No, this does not mean that Emma Watson is poly, shut up.  At least, not to the best of my knowledge.
  2. Some sort of self-replication would also work, but in most portrayals only one body is the real body, and then you have to rotate that around so as to avoid offending someone, I’d imagine.  Or else the primary body just stays home with your primary? Also allows triad or V relationships that only include two people, or, for two replicators, the ability to be both polyfidelitous and monogamous.
  3. Robotic impostors are an intriguing path, although you’d be missing out on part of the fun.  Plus, they would inevitably rise up against their human masters, but hey, maybe you’re a switch and that’s okay.
  4.  One could also spend time with multiple people by astrally projecting. One obvious problem with this path is that there wouldn’t be any touching, but I think you’d probably sully your chakras and end the projection if you tried, regardless.  Plus, it’s not about the sex, right?
  5. Combining one and two, a Time Lord would probably have no trouble with this sort of thing.  One question: is it still poly if you’re dating two different incarnations of the same man? And if so, can I get Ten and Eleven at the same time?
  6. Of course, if you don’t experience time in a linear manner, I suppose you can’t have anything but nonmonogamous relationships, as you’re seeing everyone you’ll ever see all at the same time, which sounds like a hell of a party. One that my ex-fiancée would ruin, I’m sure.

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.

Sex at Dawn – part 1

This is something of a book review (actually, an audio book review, as I’ve gotten into Audible lately.  I drive a lot.), but I’m planning to do it in two parts.  One after I’m finished, to get a more considered view of the book as a whole, and one to give my impressions as I’m reading (listening) to the book.  What’s relevant to this blog is that I’m examining that newest fad that’s sweeping the not-quite-mainstream nation, Sex at Dawn.  You probably know the basic premise, but if not, the book is intended as a refutation of the idea that monogamy is a universal and basic part of human evolution and prehistory.

“Smug” is the word that I want to begin with.  I’ll get into the information–which is quite good–in a moment, but the tone of the book is almost unbearably smug and snide.  I’m deeply sympathetic to the conclusions, and the interpretation is quite good, but I keep wanting to smack the author.  It’s not the audio presentation, either; Allyson Johnson’s recitation is almost robotically flat.  But the book’s delivery is unrelentingly snide, the way that only someone who feels oppressed by a majority that they disagree with can be.  Ryan and Jetha react to the superculture’s lionization of monogamy the way that Dawkins reacts to theism; like an asshole.

It’s not that I don’t get it.  I understand why someone would act this way, and it’s something you’ll see all over any subculture I’ve dealt with: gamers, engineers, scientists, the polyamorous, knitters, Discordians, etc.  It’s a way of policing the borders, and protecting a group that’s been attacked from further attacks.  It’s also satisfying, for those who already agree. It’s often funny; this is a very funny book. What it is not is a way of convincing anyone who is unconvinced.  Sex at Dawn isn’t just a sermon aimed at the choir; if you don’t already agree, they don’t want to let you in the church.

Which is a shame, as the arguments that Ryan and Jetha marshal are, left to their own devices, highly convincing.  There are a couple of logical flaws I’m noticing that I will let slide until the second review when I’m done, but if the tone didn’t interfere this would be an excellent way of introducing people to a counterintuitive argument, and useful for anything from demonstrating how a non-monogamous lifestyle is also non-pathological to shutting down the “traditional marriage” arguments against gay marriage.  This book fills a sorely needed niche, and partly because of a dearth of accessible arguments in the same vein, I’ll probably end up recommending it to some people who may need this kind of primer, but I’ll do so with a caveat.

This is an excellent book overall, and as I dive into the second half, where the data gets harder and the tone more serious, it’s shaping up very well.  But the extent to which it engages in not just dissection of arguments but outright mockery of the people making them is a shame, and it isn’t justified.  Even taking as read the idea that the multi-male, multi-female mating systems they discuss are, in fact, closer to a state of nature than the western ideal of monogamy, the people whose arguments they are shooting down are steeped in a culture that teaches them otherwise, and it’s fairly understandable that swimming against that tide would be difficult for them.

Reinforcements

I received this message on a certain dating site, referencing something in my profile:

“The ways in which open/polyamorous dating seems to reinforce heteronormative gender roles despite being such a fringe activity.”

Any more so or less so than monogamous dating? And if so, how? Examples?

It all seems about the same from my perspective, that is, dating is dating.

Which prompted a response that’s fairly relevant, and might spark an interesting discussion (if anyone sees it), so I thought I’d pop it up over here:

First, I want to establish that I’m horribly overgeneralizing and simplifying “gender roles” in this for illustrative purposes. Of course this stuff is fantastically more complicated in real life, but you’ve just asked me to demonstrate a tendency and short of an involved scientific study the best I can do is a thought experiment, which is a horribly flawed tool and I’m aware of that.

Second, let’s use the example of who is supposed to “pursue” vs. who is supposed to be “pursued” under standard normal heteronormative dating, while acknowledging that, again, all of this is much more complicated in real life. We’ll also assume the majority of basically heterosexual people in an environment correspond to their gender standard.

(And I really hate “pursuit” as a dating model, but am using it here for sake of discussion)

Third, we’ll assume for sake of argument that everyone would like to date a lot of people and everyone would like to put in the least possible effort toward that end. Thus, assume neither gender minds being pursued, nor does either gender prefer it overall.

In a monogamous environment, in theory (and very few of them correspond to theory, and I think we can probably take future caveats as read, right?), the maximum number of people one can date at once is one other person. In a polyamorous environment, limits have a lot more to do with time and availability and negotiated discussions and such, but it’s enough to say that the maximum is “more than one” but not infinite here.

In a monogamous environment, while the pool is very large, the maximum rewards are constrained to “dating one other person”. Women in this thought experiment will tend not to actively pursue a partner and men will tend to do so, starting out, although some number will not conform to this stereotype. So, in a first pass, the men who pursue will generally connect with women who don’t, and the women who pursue will tend to connect with men who would, otherwise pursue but don’t have to. Some number of pursuers will connect with non-pursuers. People will then adjust their behavior based on those rewards; non-pursuers who nonetheless connected up with someone else will remain non-pursuers. Those who didn’t connect with anyone will tend to become more likely to pursue, but there will be a small number of these, mostly men; those pursuers who got pursued will tend to become non-pursuers, but there will be a very small number of these, and these will mostly be women. Once everyone has shifted their behavior to the extent they are capable, the vast majority of the field has connected with someone else; when a couple breaks up, assuming that they don’t then get back together, one or both of them will go back to pursuing, and will connect with the next single person of the appropriate gender. We only really get one pass of paradigm-shifting, after which people settle into whatever dating path they’ve chosen.

In a polyamorous heterosexual environment, this changes. The first pass happens basically as above. In the second pass, those who conform to their gender roles get rewarded *again*, and those who do not will again tend to change their behavior. These passes continue until people reach their personal maximum dating value, which many if not most will never reach, and of course breakups happen at a similar frequency but the available field after a breakup is much larger and much more likely to be made up primarily of people fitting their assigned role.

This, obviously breaks down in a handful of scenarios. If we postulate a group that doesn’t, in the beginning correspond to gender stereotypes, there’s nothing to re-emphasize, and the rewards/punishments are evenly distributed. Also, if, say, women find being “pursued” odious, or men find “pursuing” tedious, they’ll tend to stop acting that way regardless of whether they’re otherwise rewarded for it. And, of course, in the real world it’s not a binary choice between “pursuer” and “pursued”, and these things exist on a spectrum that includes things like mutual initiation of contact in the middle. Still, I think this is a pretty good model for showing how polyamory can emphasize these particular things even more so than monogamy under certain circumstances.

Things I never had to think about while monogamous

“If I make fun of this guy’s poetry, will it hurt my chances of dating his wife?”

“Is there a word for the wife of a guy who is dating my girlfriend?”

“Why do people see me as more of a threat to their relationships now than they did when I was single?”

“What’s a good answer to the ‘are you single?’ question that says, ‘I’m not single, I’m in fact seeing someone very seriously, but I’m still available to date you’, but sounds less creepy than that?”

“If I flirt with someone in front of my girlfriend, is that actually okay or only technically okay?”

“I don’t know whether to be excited or worried when two of my friends decide to open up their relationship, so I’ll settle for being both and not sleeping very well.”

“Okay don’t look at the waitress. Wait, I’m allowed to look at the waitress. Okay, look but don’t ogle. Am I allowed to ogle, if I do it respectfully, or do I need to keep all my focus on this person while I’m with her? What about flirting? Well, now the waitress is gone, anyway.”

“How soon after someone new and attractive starts talking to me do I need to make them aware that I’m already in a relationship?”

“Why am I worrying about all of this when I’m still not dating anyone else, anyway?”

“Why am I not dating anyone else? I’m attractive enough, right? Maybe I’m not. Maybe I need to go out and meet more people, but then I have to tell them that I’m non-monogamous. But when do I tell them that? Do I tell them at the bar/coffee shop/grocery store, or wait until after one of us gives the other one a number and then we’re on a date-date? That can’t be fair, but it has to sound weird if I mention it immediately. Maybe I’ll just stay home and have a beer and wonder why I’m not dating anyone else.”

Why not poly?

Frankly, at the moment, I’m a bit blissy. Things are going well, and my gal is relatively accessible. In fact, I’ll see her tomorrow, which at three days will mark the fastest turnaround time after parting in our relationship thus far. The pressures I’ve been talking about aren’t eliminated, but they’re minimized to the extent that’s possible right now. I’m just happy, and things are going well; I don’t even have that sense of foreboding that I often do in times of plenty. It’s good.

However, this time of plenty makes poor harvest for a blog about my problems. I’m not really feeling much that I need to hash out publicly. There are a couple of things, of course, but I’m feeling none of them particularly strongly right now.

So, this makes for a good time to get into particulars that I’ve skipped over before. I thought I’d start with polyamory, what I think about it, and why I’m not doing it. As I’ve said a couple of times, I’m “open”, but not “poly”. I have a couple of objections to the word itself, and a couple of reasons that I don’t think it applies.

First and least of all, the word bothers me because it is a Greek prefix attached to a Latin root. The word, if fully Latinate, should be multiamory. However, even more than that I’d prefer a fully Greek construction, as Greek affords us many more words for love: eros, agape, philia and storge, each of which has a very different connotation. A lot of the difficulty in describing one’s relationships would be resolved better, in my opinion, by words like polyerotic, monoagapic, or, polyphiliac than by things like primary/secondary dichotomies.

Second, “polyamory” implies a level of definition and rules-laying that I’m uncomfortable with. I don’t want “veto power”, I don’t want to talk about my “metamours” or “OSOs”, and any time someone describes my current relationship as having “NRE” my teeth itch. Polamory is like relationship nerdery, and while I approve of it in the way that I approve of many geekeries that I don’t share, I don’t want to be held part of it any more than I want to be called a Trekkie/er. I get offended easily when anyone tries to boil me down into a specific grouping. Also, listening to two polies argue over relationship models is like listening to two comic book nerds fight over whether Superman or Obi-wan would win in a fight.

Aside from the geekery above, I’m also just uncomfortable with placing rules on a partner, and reciprocally uncomfortable about having them laid on me because of that. If I won’t set something as out of bounds–and I generally won’t–I wouldn’t want to be told something was out of bounds for me. I have a relationship. I’m in love, but I may see other people. That’s all the definition that I care for.

Additionally, it’s just not really applicable, at least not yet. I’ve at no time in my life had multiple, simultaneous romantic relationships, or multiple physically intimate relationships, or multiples of any of the things that get wrapped up in the “amory” half of the word. My interest in doing so is currently minimal, although probably not nonexistent. Nor am I convinced that I ever will; I think I’d like to, but I’m not sure the option is open to me. We’ll see. For the moment, the distinction is immaterial.

These shouldn’t (aside from the first one) be taken as indictments of polyamory qua polyamory. I’m not only tolerant of the subculture, but expansively approving of it. But, as I’ve just laid out, I have some very specific reasons to feel that it doesn’t and won’t apply to me. At the same time, the word “monogamous” is also inapplicable, except in the temporary-and-technical sense. Frankly, I’d be uncomfortable applying any of these terms to myself, as opposed to my relationship. Carrie and I have an open relationship, and it’s as simple as that.