Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You're Quite Unique - Now Find A Stranger Who Fits...

After a few years of never going on more than a couple of dates with any woman other than my BFF, I "tried on for size" the company of a new date prospect for several weeks (I sensed from the start that it wasn't going to be a 'thing') just to see what it would be like to have a consistent companion.  I was surprised at how quickly my brain kicked into 'potential relationship mode' and began a relentless evaluation of her pros and cons and their 'fit' (or not) with my predilections.  Hm, not the easiest challenge in the world for any of us, building a relationship with a stranger from scratch!  

It did bring back to mind (with my 'inner voice' shouting loudly and assertively between my ears) what you have to have to get started, however.  It also brought back to mind what a couple needs to do to keep things going smoothly.  This list feels about right: 


There are a great many layers and interpersonal complexities revealed in this list, however, from the the matching intellect that is required to "laugh over inside jokes" to the natural empathy required to ask "How was your day, Honey?" every day.  (And "Rex's Human Rights" was a paean to my own idealistic projections of all the things I have ever hoped I could find in one imaginary woman.)

Many individuals (ESPECIALLY those who have reached 35 without ever having maintained a long-term relationship), are simply far too narcissistic to actually be able to do all ten of these things, and I don't mean simply being excessively self-centered, I mean that all of our brains are pre-programmed to focus on doing things every day of our lives that only our unique and individual brains/personalities want to do, regardless of the clear evidence that we are giving into our obsessions at the expense of the health of our relationships.

Whether it be a tendency to be a workaholic, or get mani-pedis/hair-dos/tanning/massages/etc. every week, or watch sports all weekend, or make up tall tales explaining why we have to hoard stuff that is really of no sentimental value, etc., when our partners begin to balk at our obsessions we tend to get very angry at them for 'not understanding' us.  There we are doing things that NO other person would realistically say are reasonable or healthy to obsess over, yet our brains work VERY hard to protect us from admitting we need to change.  Our brains tell us that it's our partner who needs to change!

What I'm beginning to see is that each of our brains is usually working extremely energetically to do what it wants and damn others' needs and the long or short-term consequences.  We see this most clearly with parent's manipulation of their kids, whether it be the dad pushing his kid to be better at his favourite sport than he himself was, or a mom who pushes her daughter into ballet, or beauty contests, or even 'becoming a doctor'.

These parents are NOT doing what's best for the kid, they're simply doing what their brains find most selfishly rewarding.  I have one friend who relentlessly drives his three girls around to swimming competitions most evenings of the week.  He'll drive an hour and a half each way for a 2 hour competition.  The kids don't love swimming, they love their dad and do what he wants.  He finds it very relaxing doing the driving and sitting in the stands and it means he doesn't have to do projects at home.

This self-focused behaviour shows up with EXTREME intensity in parents who insist that their kids adopt the same religion they enjoy the benefits of.  There's no question that the kid can chose a religion (or none) that suits them best, they are forced without a moment's hesitation to do what is solely and selfishly what their parent's brains like most.  "It's good for me, you WILL accept what is good for me regardless if it suits you!"  Clearly those are not the words or the sentiment of a giving, empathetic, open-minded individual.

I know women who will repeatedly tell the world how generous and accommodating they are in "trying to make others happy" via throwing dinner parties and family picnics, etc., but when you examine the reality of their lives, they are manipulating everyone to do exactly what THEIR brains find satisfying: seating everyone just so, getting positive feedback on their cooking, their decor, their entertaining skills, making things go according to a precise plan, etc.  These people are not simply being generous hosts, they are doing what gives their brains a lot of pleasure.  That others get some enjoyment out of it only rationalizes and supports the behaviour.  Innocent enough if the manipulative behaviour stops with family get-togethers, but if you take a closer look you'll normally find their manipulations extend to 'nudging' relationships in the direction they are convinced they should go in, rescheduling other people's plans to fit their own, etc.

This same thing was true of the grossly overweight dad I witnessed at a campground who woke up at the crack of dawn to proudly "fire up the Que" and grill a 'mess' of sausages, bacon and steaks for his extremely obese kids for breakfast.  Smiling broadly he reminded them all of just how good a daddy he was to be so generous and hard-working in looking after their needs.  He was doing what his brain (and fat cells) demanded in the short-term, the hell with their long-term health!  (Like most obese people, he has a food addiction and was encouraging his kids to suffer through the same addiction to make him feel better about being unable to control his own brain's demands.  There really should be a law against this form of child abuse.)

When you take a close look at the live of the type of 'giving' lady I described above, you'll find a long string of rejected former 'friends' who did not 'give-in' sufficiently and asserted a bit too much stubborn independence.  Out they went in favour of those who would go along with her needs and praise her sufficiently.  Whether we're looking at the life of a strongly controlling man or woman, they can only maintain relationships with partners willing to let them do what they want at the expense of their own brain's demands (or who have brains who demand to give in!).  This is actually true of most addicts -- they will reject people who give them a hard time and will seek out those who 'enable' their continued addiction.

My point is that most people are simply not sufficiently empathetic and giving, or aren't sufficiently self-aware of their brain's unique demands/addictive tendencies to 'give in' enough to deliver on this list of "10 Little Things".  Finding a potential significant other who can realistically do all 10 things regularly is no simple feat!  It requires an awful lot of careful evaluation of a broad swath of potential candidates, a challenge for anyone post 35 who is no longer interested in trying to deal with the party/bar-hopping circuit.  It requires finding out about the other person's unique list of 'brain demands' and whether it might fit with our own.

And a key trick in evaluating potential partners is for both to remain sober through the initial evaluation meeting.  While we can do so through the initial very artificial 'conversations' via online dating, the same thing is not going to happen in 90% of social situations where there are large numbers of prospective adult singles in attendance, like singles dances or cocktail parties.  When we become inebriated, we automatically shift from evaluating long-term potential to assessing whether or not the person in front of us might be persuaded to engage in some extremely short-term coupling... 

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