Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shadow Dancing for Mars and Venus

We get bullied more than average. We're also lonely more than average. I'm very lucky to be married, but I met Emily only when I was 29 1/2 - and she became my very first girlfriend.

We may be able to meet people. Getting from meeting to dating is a very different kettle of fish. Asking somebody out, or letting the other person know you want to be asked out, involves vulnerability. If the other person says no, you've been rejected and of course that stinks. You may also feel foolish in the eyes of anyone who might know about it. You might not even be able to stay friends. Alternatively, the other person may decide to string you along and get some of the benefits of a dating "relationship" without actually feeling for you.

So, people tend not to ask others out just because they feel like it, or say straight out that they want to go out with you. It happens maybe once or twice in a blue moon.

On the other hand, the last thing you want is never to show interest in someone who just might want to go out with you and see him/her run off and marry someone else. Memories like that tend to haunt you the rest of your life. As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So how do you show someone you're interested without showing that you're interested.

We've learned about shadow dancing to defend yourself. Let's see how it can help here.

The idea is to drop some delicate hints in word or deed that might show interest but could easily be explained away as something else. For any one such hint, the odds are low that someone is interested. String several together and the odds go up. (Tossing a coin once and having it come up heads is, well, a 50-50 shot. Tossing it three times and getting heads each time, on the other hand, is less than a 13% chance.)

So, let's look at a conversation that seems to be going well - maybe you and s/he have some common interests, you like to read the same things, you feel the same way about a public figure for the same reasons. You can casually mention that you've gone to the movies for the last several weekends, or concerts, or the theatre, or out to dinner. Each time by yourself. That's not a common pattern for people who already have significant others.

That in and of itself does not mean you are necessarily interested in the other person. It doesn't even necessarily mean you're unattached; maybe the love of your love happens to be working late the last few weeks, or even lives across the country. But it will cause the other person to prick up his/her ears: Since people know that people pick up on hints of not already having a mate, the other person will figure that you, knowing this, intended him/her to think you may be unattached. And if so, why would you want him/her to think that? Likely because you're thinking of wanting to go out with him/her.

The other person may casually mention a boyfriend/girlfriend, or even a sexual orientation which precludes interest in you. Or on the other hand, s/he can pick up the thread and run with it. S/he may ask you when you expect to catch the next performance by so-and-so. That could mean s/he's going to match your answer against his/her free-time schedule and see if there's an overlap.

Or on the other hand if you show a trait the other person deems undesirable (say, the wrong political views or a bad taste in music), s/he could always be busy that day anyway.

Showing one's possible unattached status and asking about the other person's schedule are two common hints of possible interest. Others include questions about which neighborhood one lives in or where one works or goes to school, because they imply possible interest in opportunities to see and talk with the other person again. Asking questions where the answers would likely reveal the other's attached status (eg, "Next time you go, are you going to try to get two seats? I know it can be tough if that group's really popular") is a strong hint.

NB: The other person giveth, and the other person can taketh away. Both you and the other person can change direction at any time.

This is shadow dancing for Venus as well as Mars: keeping it all normal on the surface, keeping plausible deniability until the other person's intentions become obvious and delicately responding to one another's moves.

Also check out what Marc "Animal" MacYoung says about the bonding process.

It's an art that people spend their lives perfecting, and we start out behind the curve.

Just like Franklin Delano Roosevelt found himself way behind the curve when he first came down with polio.

What do you think?


Tanya @ Teenautism said...

You've listed some insightful suggestions here, Jeff. I'll be printing this post out for Nigel to read in the future.

I hope you and Emily have a Happy New Year, and best wishes for a spectacular 2009!

~Zurama~ said...

Happy New Year!!

Mama Mara said...

Having only recently considered dating, I forgot how threatening it feels to show the vulnerability that comes with being interested in another person. You are right: it really is scary to take the risk of showing interest.

But then again, are love and war really equally dangerous? In "war", shadow dancing is an excellent way to avoid getting punched in the head. But finding love to me is worth risking a bit of humiliation and emotional pain. I'd rather be direct and get shot down than shadow dance around my own feelings any day.

Fact is, I stink at shadow dancing. It requires so much mind-reading. Did he smile because he thinks I'm funny, or just funny-looking? Did he think that my going out alone all the time is an invitation to join me, or does he just think I'm a pathetic loner? Did he not get the hint because I'm not being clear, or is he just plain stupid? Eeek.

All this is probably a function of my age. I'm just too old to care if I seem foolish.