Saturday, February 15, 2014

Petey's dating manual: In defense of the hot girl

Oh man, look at that girl right there! Goodness gracious! That girl is fine, man! Look at her – she's too fine! She knows she's fine, too!

One of our culture's most prominent contradictions is that we obsess over physical beauty but criticize people who are particularly attractive. We could all easily point to a reason for this, but I think there are several that don't come immediately to mind. I hope that by pointing some of them out, I'll help all of us to be more understanding of people – even when their problems are very different from ours.

One reason people seem to dislike attractive people is because attractive people have turned them down; often, many more times than once. In this instance, we fail to recognize that we're unlikely to be rejected by people we don't find attractive. After all, we're rather unlikely to give people a chance to reject us if we're not attracted. This is an example of selection bias and several more follow. Also, most people turn most people down – and we should be glad they do, as a poor relationship is much worse than no relationship at all.

Some of us are not offended at rejection itself but at its mode of expression. This sort of offense usually occurs between someone who favors indirect communication, such as failure to return a phone call, and someone who prefers direct communication, such as answering the phone and declining a date. It can happen in either direction: indirect communicators are sometimes offended when others are blunt with them and direct communicators sometimes feel patronized or that their time and energies have been wasted when they don't get a straight answer.

Another cause for offense is also related to rejection: many of us are frustrated not because we were rejected but because we were rejected summarily. This is especially likely to occur with people who, on principle, always go on some number of dates when asked (usually one or two) in order to give people a chance. While this principle is reasonable, it is not binding on everyone.

In fact, rejecting people – even rejecting them before a single date – can be more considerate than going on a date. For one thing, not going on a date can save time and energy for both parties. And going on a date that's unlikely to lead to a relationship can make things worse. Two people can have totally different perceptions of how a date went; it is fairly common for the interested party to feel that the date went well and for the other party to differ. The result is that many dates where one party is interested and the other isn't lead to further emotional investment on the one hand and therefore to more pain when the rejection mercifully comes.

We may be particularly unfair as we judge our attractive friends. If they go on more dates than many people, they probably have more dating experience than many people. And if they have more experience, it's possible that they'll know more quickly, based on that experience, whether or not they want to date someone.

What's more, people who get lots of attention have probably had to turn lots of people down and are probably really tired of doing so. They don't like hurting people and they don't like the effect that rejection has on their friendships. It's understandable, and possibly even laudable, that they identify and address these issues quickly.

Also, most first dates aren't fun. Or interesting. Or comfortable. And our attractive friends have probably been on more than we have – so they're probably more tired of them than we are. So if we're tired of first dates (and I think most of us are), we ought to be particularly understanding of people who resist going on them because they've endured more than we have.

It may be that we dislike attractive people because they receive the attention we wish we did; jealousy is a thing. While understandable, this is hardly reasonable or excusable. Among myriad other reasons we should avoid jealousy is the fact that it's hardly a person's fault that someone else is romantically attracted to him or her.

I'm grateful for all of the times I've been rejected. I'm happier for not having ended up with many of these people – not because many of them aren't wonderful people but because we really weren't that well matched to begin with. That they saw this incompatibility and acted on it saved me considerable trouble in the long run.

And remember that people are good. They want to be kind. So the next time you're inclined to take offense at someone (attractive or not), take a moment to understand first.