Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Zen of Dating

I recently read a short primer on Zen and the theory, and I think it shed some light on how the world works a little bit. From what I understand, one becomes enlightened via meditation and disconnecting your mind from thinking about the answer to your question. Instead of reaching the answer from logic, deduction and reaching for external assistance, one turns the eye inward and reaching that outward answer via introspection. I think some of these concepts can be applied to dating.

Dating 101
Let me say from the start that dating sucks. For the most part, the act of putting yourself out there for other people to window shop, judge, critique, and nitpick whether you are worthy of their time can be a fruitless activity. Dating does have its potential upside (otherwise we wouldn't do it), but there is a lot of downside to go with it. Granted it does go both ways and you are continuously on the lookout for a higher number on the 1-10 scale.

Online dating in general I think is a pretty treacherous place. There are many unspoken rules, and every person has their own expectations and preconceived notions of how they expect things to happen. The thing with online dating is that it's becoming a more commonly accepted avenue of meeting people, so the pool of participants is growing; I'm not sure the pool of participants has the potential for shrinking anytime soon though.

It's a game. Dating is a game, and people want to win. All the players will naturally want to catch the biggest fish possible, and because of this the most attractive (physical, career, personality, potential) participants will get the most attention from the people in the dating pool, while the least attractive people will get barely any attention at all. It's kind of a vicious system, but I think that's life. This imbalance exists in many facets of life, but the online environment lowers the barriers of communication and reduces the social friction of approaching a potential date.

There is another dimension of attractiveness that is very intriguing, and it is very subjective. It seems to me at least that those who are the most eager to date and put the most energy into dating or starting a new relationship are the people who are the least likely to succeed. They are trying too hard, and end up having the least amount of success. I'm definitely guilty of this with a couple girls that I date. This may just be an indicator of how lots of different people behave, but I think there is some human aversion to others that overextend themselves.

My Dating Reflections
The last year has been unfulfilling for the most part. After my breakup with Erin, I waited a few months and then decided I was ready to get back out there and meet girls. Mostly this was because of loneliness, and I missed having someone else in my life. Looking back, this was not the best thing to do at the time; I am just now coming to terms with the breakup about a year later and being able to accept it and move past it .

Over the course of the year, I think I talked to dozens of women and went on countless dates but all I have to show for it are a few girls that I actually connected with. These girls were people that could be myself around, enjoyed their company, and were physically attracted to. I think it was these girls that I learned the most from, but in the end I learned something new from everyone that I spent time with.

Things I learned. Don't rush, love grows as people become closer; if you are forcing it, you are doing it wrong. Be true to yourself first; you are useless to a potential partner if you don't know how to be content without someone else. If you are doing all the leg work, and clearing your schedule for someone else, they probably aren't that into you or just like the attention. Don't assume you are the only person they are seeing, especially if you are seeing multiple people as well. Get outside your comfort zone once in a while, you will probably meet some interesting people.

The dating process has been more of a self education and introspection rather than bearing fruit for meeting someone else. Like I said, it has the potential of meeting someone who is awesome and knocks your socks off is always present, but I think nature of the system becomes an exercise in game theory; why commit to something when you can roll the dice one more time and see what else may come. While I may not have a woman to show for it, I think I have come out of the process a better person, and it was a lesson in catharsis.

The Online Dating Model
I said before that online dating is growing and becoming the new standard for finding the man or woman of your dreams. This may or may not be true, but I am of the opinion that the trend is that if there is something that can be improved by adding an online component, it is generally done and adds an efficiency to it. Whether the efficiency benefits the operators or the users is up for debate. It's a useful tool, but I think it becomes a crutch for the average John or Jane that is looking for that special someone. For the dating sites, it is of more benefit to get you to keep paying a subscription to that system, than to lose two customers who fall in love. That's probably a little heavy handed and cynical, but it seems plausible.

From my experience, a computer or some algorithm matches people based on similarities in personality and what their expectations are for a mate. From my experience, these sites aren't terribly good. To quote Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, "They claim to use heuristic algorithms, but it may well be hokum." Over the year I used eHarmony, I would say that only about one in ten people they matched me with seemed like we would actually have any potential. This may be my mental filter hard at work, but some just seemed way off. I would argue that having access the matching criteria turns on a lot of the mental filters that we have, and a lot of people don't get a chance before you mentally discard them.

Physical attraction is paramount. If you say different, you might be kidding yourself. It doesn't matter what your profile says if the other person isn't pulled in by that initial physical attraction. As I wrote that first sentence, I heard poets and scribes from the ages calling out in pain "Love is blind!"I really wish it was, but tragically we are human. I think it is beautiful when emotional chemistry and compatibility transcends the physical, but the rest of us are initially pulled together by physical attraction. Once that connection is made, we are then poking and prodding each other and evaluating the other person on an emotional level.

I think that one fault that the online dating system suffers from is that people have too much information available to them before they decide to get to know the other person. From a glance, you can know crazy amount about that person even before you decide to get in touch with them and see if the dating potential is there. This coupled with the sheer amount of people in the system makes the snap judgment a very effective tool. Maybe too effective.

Having too much information also makes getting to know that person a little awkward. Based on what the other person put out there, you most likely know where they are from, brothers and sisters, what they do for work, how much they make, if they want to have kids, and a whole slew of other things. Granted the other person isn't going to quiz you on what you put in your profile (and if they do, run fast and run far) but I think there is more value in the process of discovering these things rather than the information itself. This is one situation where I would say less is definitely more.

Dating might be a necessary evil though. While you play a game that may or may not favor you, I think it is important for people to date. You might hit the jackpot on the very first slot machine pull, or it might take you a few different machines to get the payoff, but I think the process is important. It builds character. Through meeting people and potential mates, you learn a lot about the world you live in, and you also learn about yourself. Spending time around people and situations that are unfamiliar helps you grow as a person, and as an extra bonus there is someone right there with you whom you are sharing the experience with; the bonus is that they might decide to keep you.

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