Friday, July 26, 2013

Petey's dating manual: Be considerate

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"

The golden rule, as it is typically understood, is a reasonable approximation of consideration but does not capture it fully, as how I wish to be treated is not the same as other people wish to be treated.

It's true that we all have the same needs; for example, the needs to learn, to be free, and to love. And yet there are different ways that people can help us with those needs. The fact that our needs must be satisfied differently is the motivating idea behind the love languages theory: I might most naturally express love with my words, but if my date receives it best with service, I'd better roll my sleeves up.

The point is that consideration doesn't mean thinking of how we wish we were treated. It's about figuring out how other people want to be treated and doing that. What are my partner's love languages? What are my friends' pet peeves?

I like to measure my success by the number of times I've caused someone else to smile.

There's more. It's not just what people want – and especially not what people want now. A good parent says no to a child because it's what's best for the child and a good friend sometimes does the same. Of course, we must be very careful as we determine what is or isn't best for our friends. But in the same way that we don't give our alcoholic friends booze, we sometimes must do for our friends what they wish we wouldn't – but what they'll ultimately thank us for.

So be considerate. And by that, I mean do the best you can to contribute to the real, long-term happiness of the people around you by observing carefully and acting lovingly.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Petey's dating manual: Either you're committed or you aren't

"I will spue thee out of my mouth"

When we talk about love, we usually refer to romantic love. And when we discuss romantic love, we always assume that it is exclusive. It is, of course, normal for romantic love to be exclusive. Exclusivity is to be expected. And yet every other type of love is naturally inclusive. Does my love for my brother preclude love for my sister? For my mother? For a romantic partner? Of course not; loving increases my capacity to love.

And yet romantic love is and should be exclusive. Perhaps it is because our romantic relationships are intended to be so intimate and intense that they require enough time to make simultaneous development of other such relationships impossible. Certainly, our needs as regards our romantic partners can be satisfied by one partner – and are best satisfied when we have that partner's exclusive attention.

We ought to remember, however, that love naturally includes others. For some people, at least, it is natural to develop many friendships at once. As friendships lean towards romance, it is reasonable to spend time with many potential partners before pairing off.

Unfortunately, our modern dating culture encourages people to commit very early in the development of a relationship; some people even commit to exclusivity before going on a single date. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with a relationship developing quickly, we should not assume that it is the norm. In particular, we should not be offended when a potential romantic partner is not yet willing to commit – especially if we have not expressed a desire for such commitment.

Instead, we should enjoy our friendships for what they are. And, as we develop interest in an exclusive romantic relationship, we should work towards that end. But we should always respect the autonomy of our friends. We should communicate our feelings clearly in appropriate moments and ways. And we should remember that where there is no commitment, we have no right to expect exclusivity.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Petey's dating manual: On the inconstancy of feelings

"But I am constant as the northern star"

Assumptions are frequently wrong. We have all known this since we were children. And yet we assume things every day. Assumptions are a matter of necessity; we don't have the time or the resources to thoroughly evaluate every question that comes to mind. So we assume based on observations of common behavior and make the best of things – and we identify incorrect assumptions as often as is possible and correct them.

One of the common assumptions we make is that other people's thoughts and feelings are relatively straightforward. Many people try to gauge the interest that another person has in them as a simple yes or no question: "is he (or she) into me?" Love is not a box to be checked. There are many aspects of love and ways in which it is manifest, each of which can be felt at varying levels of intensity at different times.

We know this because we experience it ourselves. Even without a particular cause, our feelings about people change from day to day and even from moment to moment. We love people for particular characteristics without appreciating others that they possess. Sometimes, we have have every reason to appreciate someone but we don't have romantic feelings towards him or her.

And yet it seems to puzzle us when we encounter complexity in the feelings of others.

Although the tendency is for our feelings to change, we are not prisoners to our unpredictable feelings. We have the ability to encourage or discourage feelings. Love is a choice; I can choose to work on loving people or I can choose to not do so. If I spend my time serving others, I will love them more. If I ignore them, what love I have for them will fade. This choice is especially important for the stability of our families.

As regards others' feelings, we can choose to be patient. We can remind ourselves that their actions may lead to contradictory conclusions because their feelings contradict each other – and that this is normal and understandable. And we can focus on developing and giving love more than on receiving it.