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You chose wrong. [Jul. 13th, 2012|03:56 pm]
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You're one of my ostensibly monogamous friends. There's one person in your life right now with whom you share some selection of intimate moments, whether those are romantic, emotional, sexual, or otherwise. You've chosen to give up the search for the right person in favor of being with the person you're with now. You choose not to share those moments or experiences with other people. Now, you might have been in a committed relationship for 40 years, or you might be more serially monogamous. Either way, you probably chose wrong. I'm not using any specific definition of "right person" or "choose wrong" here. Pick pretty much any metric you want, apply any criteria you'd like to your decision making process, from stability to happiness (yours or theirs or both) to convenience, and the odds are exceptionally high against you actually being with the person that is the best fit. That you can't see this is generally related to the human brain being poorly designed for handling emotional drives vs rational decision making.

This is true to such a staggering degree, and on so many levels, that it's hard to even grasp the magnitude of some of the odds involved. First, there are seven billion people in the world. If you could objectively score each of them on how close to your ideal partner they are, and rank that list, you'll almost certainly never meet any of the people in the top thousand. You might never even have a conversation with anyone in the top *million*. When you do meet them, and talk to them, they might also be monogamous, and already involved. If they are available, your soul-mate-ness might not be mutual.

All of those are factors over which you have little control. Let's ignore them. Now we have narrowed the field down to just people you've met, who you've had a chance to talk to, who are a good mutual match for you, and who are available. This is what most people would consider a reasonable pool from which to select a partner, if you are going to select just one.

If you're a lifetime relationship sort of person, you're probably going to end up with one of the first few people who will ever populate that pool. This is a very poor approach to the Sultan's Dowry Problem, and you could do better! Spend your teens and twenties (and thirties?) as a serial monogamist, gather enough experience to reasonably calibrate your relationship quality meter, then stick with the next great partner you find. You'll probably still choose wrong, but your odds go up by orders of magnitude.

If you're a serial monogamist, the failure mode that I most often see is rather different. This is where the social construct of the "friend zone" comes into play in the way that I find most annoying and impacting. I am not referring to people with whom you are Just Friends because you aren't attracted to them. I am referring to people to whom you aren't attracted because you are already Just Friends. This distinction is subtle, but important. Now, you've just broken up with your most recent SO, and you're lonely or horny or flirty. You have plenty of friends who fit all the criteria for being your next SO, or just a fling, but in your mind you've put them all in a box labeled "Friend". If you met them all right now, for the first time, you'd certainly choose one of them for your next attempt at a relationship. If you could see past this mental label, you'd be even more likely to choose one of them, since you've established that they are more enjoyable company or more socially compatible with you than someone you've just met is likely to be. Instead, what you're going to end up doing is choosing the most promising of the next few eligible candidates that you meet. This is the same trap that the mated-for-lifers above fell into, and you're smarter than that!

The original title of this piece was going to be "In Defense of Cradle Robbing", but the idea grew in scope a bit. On that specific topic though, and in the context of what I've said above, I'd like to offer some insight into the mind of someone who is not necessarily specifically attracted to young people due to their bodies, but more so due to their availability and relationship strategies and status. Younger people tend to have shorter relationships. This means that they are available more often, looking for a partner more often, and I'm more likely to show up in their life at the right time to be, in their eyes, eligible for a relationship instead of permanently stuck in the friend zone.

In my social circles, which are more varied and wide than most, I've got a lot of different ways to go about looking for partners, and a lot of very different pools of people from whence to draw them. There are a lot of polyamorous women in my life, and that makes things easier, because none of the issues above apply. If we like each other, and can get over whatever other hurdles are in the way, then it's likely we will get to explore whatever potential there is between us, eventually. There are a lot more monogamous women in my life. This is where all of those problems come into play. I don't enjoy being friend zoned. I have had women explicitly say to me "If we had met when I was single...", even after they had been single during our friendship. Even if we ignore the ones for whom a poly-mono relationship wouldn't be acceptable, there's still a very wide selection of women of all ages and all walks of life whose company I might choose to seek out. By choosing to spend my time with the younger women in my life (say, 18-25 instead of 30-40), I am greatly increasing the odds that I meet, or become prevalent in the mind of, a potential partner at the right time in their relationship cycle. This is the sort of consideration that governs my social activities, and I thought my friends and potential partners might benefit from some insight into this part of my head.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gaid72fqzNE
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: kdsorceress
2012-07-13 10:11 pm (UTC)

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I am getting some fairly intense Nice Guy vibes from you in this post. Don't do that.

I agree with Greta Christina on this subject: True Love Everlasting has nothing to do with feelings or soulmates, and everything to do with making a commitment and building a relationship together.

~Sor
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-13 10:24 pm (UTC)

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I aimed to deflect potential Nice Guy accusations with the use of that very explicit quote. Yes, I acknowledge that most of my female friends aren't attracted to me, and I have no reason to think less of them for that. However, I do see a mental flaw in the ones who ARE attracted to me but are blinded by their friend zoning of me during their previous relationship. I don't hold that against them. It's their choice, regardless of why they made it. But you cannot fault me for simply trying to avoid that scenario by meeting women more often between relationships than during.

Also, the idea of strong relationships being built on commitment and time only further strengthens my point about the merits of cradle robbing. Doubly so. These are potential partners who have not yet wasted as much time on relationships that did not work out, and with whom there is more time to spend building new relationships.

Edited at 2012-07-13 10:26 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-07-13 11:23 pm (UTC)

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"I do see a mental flaw in the ones who ARE attracted to me but are blinded by their friend zoning of me during their previous relationship"

I'm just speaking for myself here, as a person with girl parts :)

If I "friend zone" someone I may be attracted to because I'm in a relationship, if there are REAL feelings there, they probably won't go away. However, if it's just a physical attraction, it does go away if I never act on it-- and often times, even if I consider a romantic relationship with Other Guy, spending time with him in a platonic setting usually makes me see some personality flaws that would make a romantic relationship undesirable anyway.
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-13 11:42 pm (UTC)

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If I "friend zone" someone I may be attracted to because I'm in a relationship, if there are REAL feelings there, they probably won't go away.


And yet that is specifically what has happened multiple times in my romantic life. I have had girls *crying* on my shoulder over what we might have had.

However, if it's just a physical attraction, it does go away if I never act on it--


Hence my desire to meet women who are single more often, because then this eventuality, which is neither of our faults, happens less often.

</blockquote>and often times, even if I consider a romantic relationship with Other Guy, spending time with him in a platonic setting usually makes me see some personality flaws that would make a romantic relationship undesirable anyway.</blockquote>

In my own case, I try to make all my personality flaws glaringly obvious ahead of time :)
[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-07-14 06:56 pm (UTC)

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"And yet that is specifically what has happened multiple times in my romantic life. I have had girls *crying* on my shoulder over what we might have had."

Hmm, so what was the problem, if you're both single and there is still a mutual attraction?

"In my own case, I try to make all my personality flaws glaringly obvious ahead of time :)"

LOL me too. usually on the first date.
[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-07-13 11:31 pm (UTC)

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Also, the problem with younger people, and WHY they tend to have shorter relationships, is they don't know what they want. If all you're looking for is casual sex, this isn't a problem. But it's hard to build a lifetime partnership with someone who has barely experienced the world. I dated the same guy from age 15 to 22... this is exactly why we broke up. By the time we were in our early 20's, we had changed so much and didn't want the same things anymore. Shit, I just think about how much I've changed between 25 and 30... I'm barely the same person I was 5 years ago.

Edited at 2012-07-13 11:37 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-13 11:43 pm (UTC)

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Well, as you say, for casual sex it's not a problem.

And when it comes to relationships... I could do with more 7-year relationships in my life. And if you're still changing at 30, the core point of my post still applies, a hypothetical partner would have had a better chance with your short-relationship counterpart at 15 than at 30, and your dynamic nature wouldn't have been any worse then.
[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-07-13 11:50 pm (UTC)

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Well, I totally think that having a long-term relationship for most of my teenage years was probably not the best thing to do, and I probably could have missed out on meeting someone really compatible (though, my dating pool was limited to people in southwest Georgia, so I don't feel like I missed out on very MUCH). But, I'm pretty stoked about the guy I have now, and I think I'll keep him anyway. Hehe!
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-13 11:51 pm (UTC)

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On that tangent, congrats btw. Do let me know when the handfasting/etc is.
[User Picture]From: kdsorceress
2012-07-14 03:10 am (UTC)

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...I'm sorry, are you implying that there gets to be a point where people stop changing? And that people shouldn't settle down until after that point?

~Sor

[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-16 06:46 pm (UTC)

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Not at all. If you're changing at 20 and still changing at 30 (a proposition I neither support nor deny in this subthread) then the the changing-ness has no bearing on the fact that I should try to meet you when you're 20.
[User Picture]From: cos
2012-07-13 11:46 pm (UTC)

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Maybe rather than wasting their time on relationships that did not work out, they've spent their time fruitfully practicing having relationships and learning valuable relationship skills as well as more wisdom about what they do and don't want in a partner?
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-13 11:49 pm (UTC)

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Those savvy and lucky few are outside the scope of this discussion, and I've had the good fortune to know some of them.
[User Picture]From: kdsorceress
2012-07-14 03:01 am (UTC)

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I wouldn't call it a lucky few. To get pithy/cliche, "live and learn" --it's hard not to gain experience by doing things. Even if someone gets into a rut and continues having the same bad relationship over and over again, they're still learning skills of some sort, to make the relationship easier on them, or to make the not-bad parts become better.

I have learned things from everyone I've ever dated. I've learned how to break-up from the dumping end. I've learned how to cope from the being dumped end. I've learned how to look out for myself. I've learned how to take care of people. I'm learning how to confront people. Relationships take practice, communication takes practise, but shockingly, it's a thing that happens and that people get good at the more often they do.

~Sor
[User Picture]From: kdsorceress
2012-07-14 03:08 am (UTC)

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Maybe they don't want to act on their attraction, even if it's present. I can think of half-a-dozen reasons why this might be the case --including the semi-bullshit "I don't want to ruin our friendship" one.

You're not being the entitled kind of Nice Guy ("I give her emotional intimacy so therefore deserve sexual intimacy") but your focus on relationship availability as part of forming friendship creates a seriously sketchy vibe of being interested in women because they are fuckable1 before being interested in women because they are interesting people.

~Sor

1: For whatever extremely broad definition of fuck we're using this week. Anything as casual as groping and rope to full fledged porno-pounding.
[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-07-14 06:40 pm (UTC)

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In defense of "not ruining the friendship"-- a personal anecdote: I met a guy during a brief period in 2002 when my boyfriend and I were broken up. I fell in love with him almost instantly, but got back together with my bf, because I was a moron (in my defense, my bf was the first guy I'd ever slept with so I was attached in only the way an 18 year old virgin can be). Then, when I finally ended that relationship in 2005, I was still in love with the other guy, and we sorta had a "friends with benefits" thing for about 2 years. Finally, I got tired of my feelings being unrequited and I met someone who DID want a relationship with me, and told me so (imagine that!). When I told the guy that I was seeing someone else, he literally FLIPPED THE FUCK OUT, said that he was in love with me (what), and if I didn't love him back, then we couldn't be friends. He hasn't spoken to me in 4 years. :/ In hindsight, I'd rather have just stayed friends & never slept with him in the first place. After that, my rule has been to never date someone I've been friends with for more than a couple of months.
From: lordrefa
2012-07-15 12:21 am (UTC)

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So you believe anyone who enters into a friends with benefits situation with you will flip out when you move on to a more romantic relationship?
[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-07-15 02:34 am (UTC)

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Ah, no. Though it seems pretty likely, given that I'm not the only woman I know who's been in that scenario, but I try not to assume everybody is the same. For me it is a risk analysis. I don't think rubbing body parts together is worth potentially ruining a friendship. I've had plenty of FWB's turn into perfectly fine just F's, but not the other way around.
From: lordrefa
2012-07-15 02:39 am (UTC)

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So... "No, yes, yes with support, no. Yes, yes, yes."?
[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-07-15 02:41 am (UTC)

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I don't understand the question. I'm not saying everybody has to follow my advice. I'm just giving a personal anecdote to explain why someone might say they don't want to ruin a friendship. o_O
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-16 06:50 pm (UTC)

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One could argue that 30 year olds are more interesting than 20 year olds. I would probably agree, but for now I'm going to call that outside the scope of this discussion. With no regard for how interesting the people are, I would still choose to aim younger for the other reasons outlined here. The core point here, separate from and mostly orthagonal to all other factors affecting desirability, is availability, which is higher in younger people.
[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-07-13 11:20 pm (UTC)

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I agree too!
[User Picture]From: thebigpants
2012-07-14 12:47 am (UTC)

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Yes, making a commitment, and building a relationship together is they key. More and more people seem to think love and good relationships are magic or something nutty like that.
[User Picture]From: cos
2012-07-13 11:44 pm (UTC)

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I don't buy the "choosing wrong" frame. It puts all the focus on the inherent attributes of other individuals, implying that the keys to relationship happiness lie pretty much entirely in who you have a relationship with.

However, people build relationships together, and in good relationships, they change each other over time. Important keys to relationship happiness can include, who you're with, who *you* are, how you handle relationships, the longevity of the relationship, the context in which you start it and the context in which you continue it, your financial situation and theirs, and a bunch of other things. For example: Perhaps I could have a better relationship with Jen than with Lorna, this summer, assuming we meet now... but if I'd met Jen five years ago not only would that relationship have been better, but it would have greater potential now than any relationship I might start with Lorna this summer.

Now, what if someone's idea of a good relationship is monogamy? If you combine that with prioritizing the qualities that are best built over time together, you can see that choosing earlier may give you much better odds than waiting around for a "better" choice later. Choose early enough, and you'll even get more chances to choose again.


Separately, I don't believe in the "friend zone". I've seen friendships transition into relationships, and I've had it happen with some of my friendships. It is true that some people mostly tend towards thinking of newly-met people as potential dating partners, but it is also true that other people mostly tend towards thinking of people they've already known a while as potential dating partners. People with either of these tendencies occasionally find themselves in an exception, and plenty of people don't have a particularly strong tendency one way or the other. IMO, "friend zone" is mostly a euphemism for "not interested in you that way", and just a few exceptions that really do fit the "friend zone" definition help people believe that it's a real thing in general.
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-16 06:51 pm (UTC)

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You are the umpteenth person to bring up that choosing earlier can lead to more strongly built relationships... and you're the umpteenth person to whom I am going to point out that this is only stronger support for my point that seeking out younger partners is a positive strategy.
[User Picture]From: thebigpants
2012-07-14 12:51 am (UTC)

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The "friend zone" concept is just plain weird. I don't get it. My male friends are my males friends because I'm not attracted to them. I like them like crazy but they aren't people I would ever choose to have a relationship with (for a variety of reasons) single or otherwise.
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-14 05:43 am (UTC)

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So, if you're in a relationship, and you meet someone with whom you would have a relationship if you weren't... What do you do? Those are the people I'm talking about.
[User Picture]From: thebigpants
2012-07-14 06:44 am (UTC)

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Well, I can't really answer for someone who is poly, just for me. If I'm not in a serious committed relationship and am just dating someone casually and met a person I was really interested in, I'd ask him out.

If I was seriously committed, they probably wouldn't blip on the radar. If they did blip, and I later found myself single (like right now) I'd ask them out.

As I mentioned, I'm single now and regularly hang out with several single male friends. I'm not dating them because I'm not interested in them in a romantic or sexual way. The lack of interest has nothing to do with how long I've known them. In fact, I would prefer to date someone I've known for several years versus a stranger. I prefer truly knowing someone then getting a big ole box of unfortunate surprises. But alas, the interest just isn't there. I wish it was. They are all great guys but it just ain't there for me.

Does that make sense?
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-14 04:39 pm (UTC)

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It does. Thanks for the clarification. You're exceptional :)
[User Picture]From: cynara_linnaea
2012-07-16 06:13 pm (UTC)

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I think maybe you should go back to "In Defense of Robbing the Cradle" as your title. Or maybe break this into some smaller, sub-headed essaylets.

The title "You Chose Wrong," as you apply it to your monogamist friends in the first section, makes assumptions about the goals of monogamists. You seem to be assuming that their goal is to choose the best possible person out of everyone for all of those intimate, sexual, etc. experiences. For many of us, that's not the goal at all. For plenty of us, the goal is to live a certain lifestyle that we need a partner to accomplish. The One True Love is not the goal, it's the accomplishments. For those of us with that goal, constantly changing partners or having multiple partners would actually be a step in the wrong direction. As a monogamist, that judgment irritates me.

Not sure what to tell you about the Friend-Zoning other than to offer sympathy. I don't think I ever ruled out dating someone I was already friends with based on that - I almost exclusively dated people who were already my friends. Though several times it took meeting a stranger and thinking "I'm really attracted to this person, why is that? Oh, it's because he reminds me of $FriendName! Holy crap, I totally have the hots for $FriendName!" to realize what I wanted.

As for "robbing the cradle," [shrug]. People apply filters to all searches. As in all cases, sometimes they help you, but they also can prevent you from finding the thing that you were not looking for that is even better. And sometimes you need to toss your search filters.
[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-07-16 06:56 pm (UTC)

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The problem with breaking this up is that the connection between the parts would be lost. Unfortunately it seems that is being lost on most people here anyway. You are arguing against my suggestions in the first parts of the essay, and in doing so you are only lending more support to my final point. If there are monogamists out there for whom having a partner at all is important enough to outweigh the benefits of having a great partner, those people are still more examples of why dating younger is a good strategy.

To rephrase... I haven't said "you should A, you should B, I should C". I have said "you should A, you should B, but since you aren't going to, that means I need to C to compensate for your choice".