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There's been a trend for several years now to lower the minimum effort required for social interaction.  Emailing is easier than letter-writing, blogging is easier than emailing, tweeting and texting are easier than blogging.  I predicted a couple of years back that soon services would come along and automate the horrible burden of tweeting mundane details of your life.

Now there's a new service that provides scripted sexy text messaging.  This way, you don't have to actually think about what you find attractive about your partner; you just choose between message "a" and "b".  Any button-pushing monkey can do that.  The dialogue system reminds me of early 1990s adventure games.  Of course the reason those dialogues were limited is because you were dealing with a primitive NPC (non-player-character) with no artificial intelligence.  In this case, you're dealing with two humans who (presumably) love each other, or at least want to get in each other's pants.

I doubt this is the decline of Western civilization; after all, Hallmark pre-packaged sentiment cards have been around for a while.  But I think if I found myself unable to carry on an actual conversation about my sexual desires with a partner, it would be time to move on, not use a handy crutch.  
mattbell: (Default)
Apparently Facebook messages are a major factor in divorces now.  This isn't surprising.  If you tell your spouse you'll be in Place A doing Thing A, but you end up going to Place B and doing Thing B, it's getting easier for them to find out.  Even if you turn off Google Latitude and other location-based services and don't post about your actions, you still might run into someone else who will photograph you, put it online, and tag you.

This goes for non-relationship things as well.  If you email someone that you're too tired to go to their party, but you really aren't going because you heard about another party that you want to hit up, they're more likely to find out now.  You could tell *everyone* at the party not to post online that you went, but that's a lot of work, it requires their cooperation, and it makes you look bad.  

I imagine that relatively soon there will be "stalker" software that will track a person's appearances, actions, and movements across multiple social networks and location-based services, allowing you to synthesize all online information about them available to you into a coherent story of their actions.  However, it won't be called "StalkPro"... it will be something more like "FriendFinderPro" and will be marketed as a way of seeing what cool stuff a specific friend is up to and what you could join in on.  It will be the newest, most efficient way to catch up on what the people you care about are up to.  Everyone will love it.  

Opting out of the digital world entirely is not an option, since others will post about you.  So ultimately, the only two options are to live honestly or quickly acquire a reputation for being dishonest.  Your choice.  
mattbell: (Default)
One common criticism of polyamory is that it tends to be something that's only undertaken in the short term or when people haven't found the "right partner".  I have observed some people do it for reasons that are not conducive to building a healthy long-term relationship.  However, I do believe that stable long-term polyamory is possible, and I have looked to find examples of couples in stable long-term open relationships.  Most of the polyamorous people I know have only been together for a few years at most. 

As a result, I've been curious to find someone who studies open relationships with the same level of detail and scientific rigor as John Gottman uses to study relationships in general.  Unfortunately no such person exists but I did find a PhD student (Elaine Cook) who sought out stable long-term polyamorous couples to see what they all have in common.  Everyone in the study had been in an open relationship for at least 5 years,

You can read the full journal article here and the fully-in depth master's thesis here, but if you wish to quite literally jump to conclusions, read on:

Most of the conclusions about what is necessary for long-term polyamory seemed quite applicable to relationships in general -- appreciation of your partner, closeness, clear communication, good listening skills, willingness to be flexible.  Here's what popped out that was specific to polyamory :

- Willingness to deal with jealousy and not let it become a controlling influence.
- Willingness to strip off the cultural baggage associated with the act of sex.
- Willingness to see the issues that come up in the relationship as a result of polyamory as growth opportunities.
- Willingness to approach adherence to relationship agreements in a flexible way instead of a lawyer-like way.  Agreements may need to change over time. 
- Not having the main reason for pursuing polyamory be the desire to have secondary partners as ways of filling needs that are not met by the primary relationship. 

The "conclusions" section of the paper )
mattbell: (Default)
Attachment theory is fascinating stuff.  The four attachment paradigms are really useful for making sense of some of the relationship dynamics I've seen and experienced. 
mattbell: (Default)
I was recently informed that in the strange world of mainstream dating, people (especially women) tend to have dating checklists that they consciously or unconsciously go through like an interview on the first date. These checklists may include things like height, race, political views, physical appearance, job, mannerisms etc. Some are astonishingly specific. However, over the years I've seen a lot of cases where people's hard and fast requirements turn out not to be true.

- A woman I knew said she was not into guys with beards or long hair, and would never date a smoker. Two years later she was married to a guy with a beard and long hair who had an occasional cigarette.
- A woman I knew said she was not into older men at all, and ended up dating and falling in love with someone 10 years her senior.
- A guy I knew who emphatically said he was only into super skinny women and is now dating someone who's athletic but quite curvy.
... and lots more.

The situation reminds me of some of the product requirements documents I've seen over the last few years. The product requirements document (or PRD) is typically a document produced by a customer, a marketing department, a business development department, an executive, or a VP of engineering that frames the requirements for a product to be developed. The engineers and designers then set to work to meet these requirements. Often these documents are way too specific. A customer will say
“We want the webpage to have one of those apple deskbar things that lets you select each product in our product line and then drag it in the middle of the screen to learn more about it.” However, what they really want is “We want to encourage the user to browse our full product line and learn more about the specific features of each product via an intuitive interface.”

Fundamentally it's the same problem. People don't know what makes them happy. They get attached to a specific vision in their head, and assume that this is the only way it can be. It's sometimes possible to get past this by taking specific requirements and asking yourself why those requirements are so important. Then ask why whatever you think is important is important. A couple of iterations of this may reveal the true reason. However, with matters of attraction, a lot of reasons are intuitive and defy rational explanation. For those, it may be especially worth pushing on them and trying out the opposite of your assumption to see if your theory holds.

One book, “Stumbling on happiness”, posits that the best way of determining if something will make you happy is not to imagine what your life would be like if you had that thing but instead find someone similar to you who already has that thing and see if it makes them happy. It's backed up with lots of studies confirming various aspects of this. This could be applied to dating preferences (and product requirements) as well. Instead of having a checklist, look at who people you are similar to are dating. Instead of delivering an ultra-precise PRD, talk with other clients of the dev team and tell the dev team what you like about another product they delivered.

In the end you win by having a broader range of options. You're more likely to get what you're really looking for.
mattbell: (Default)
Here's some interesting hard data on racism in dating.  It's derived from the response rates of OK Cupid users to messages from other OK Cupid users.  (They stuck to straight people for this analysis)

http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/2009/10/05/your-race-affects-whether-people-write-you-back/

As they point out, the crowd of OK Cupid users likely skews younger, more intelligent, and less old-fashioned than other dating sites.  So the racism seen in this pool of users is probably even worse on more mainstream dating sites.

The data on religion is interesting too... this was derived using compatibility scores.  Agnostics, Atheists, Jews, and Buddhists all appear to form a cluster, Christians and Protestants form another cluster, and the Muslims form their own cluster.  It appears that there's something weird going on with Hindus... Hindu women are more flexible about their partners' religions while Hindu men are less compatible with anyone.

http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/2009/09/29/how-races-and-religions-match-in-online-dating/



mattbell: (Default)
- Apparently vasopressin (a polypeptide) is released during sex and helps contribute to attachment in pair bonding.
- Some people have fewer receptors for vasopressin, and this affects their ability to form attachments.
- One genetic determinant for vasopressin receptors has been found... apparently people with two copies of this gene have far fewer vasopressin receptors and are more likely to have marital problems because they do not form strong attachment to their spouses.
- So there's a possibility that in the near-future, people who have trouble staying in marriages could take some kind of pill to help them to pair-bond more effectively with their spouses.

I can imagine someone saying "I used to date a string of abusive jerks.  Now I can medicate them!"

This raises some very interesting possibilities for personal development in general.  Most procrastinators I know would happily take a pill to help them stop procrastinating, but some people might resent giving up something they consider a part of their identity or changing in a way that would alienate them from their existing peer group.
mattbell: (Default)
I asked a hotshot young taxi driver about what it was liike to be a single guy in Jordan looking for love.

Here's what I learned:

According to him, there are two types of women... the ones men have sex with and the ones they marry.

It's hard to meet both kinds.

The former are basically a man's dirty secret... as a man, you don't tell your family about them, and you wouldn't want to tell your guy friends about them because other guys are "competition". You don't want to get seen in public with them, as anyone might tell your friends and family. So the entire relationship must be carried on as a secret affair in car seats, camp tents, and cheap motels far from their hometowns.

The latter type of woman is elusive. Generally men can only have short conversations with them to gauge mutual interest, followed by a request to the woman's father for permission to date. If this if granted (and it involves a resume-like presentation of whether they are marriage material), then the two potential lovebirds can meet in relatively crowded public places such as restaurants and parks. Due to cultural restrictions, on public displays of affection, these dates are generally limited to pure conversation, and the dating period can go on for several years. Dowries from the young men to the bride's family are still common, so the woman's parents often won't let her go until the man has proved his earning potential. Depending on the situation, there may be some fudging on the “no sexual activity before marriage” rule... however, in order to preserve the sacred virginity, the man will sometimes convince the woman to have anal sex.

However, the women from the former category who do have sex before marriage are basically regarded as spoiled. They basically have no option except to marry a very low-status man, stay unmarried, or emigrate. Well, there is another option. The women can have re-virginization surgery, which sews her up so that she looks like a virgin.

Apparently the cab driver would be fine with marrying a woman who had been surgically re-virginized, even if he knew about it, but would not marry a non-virgin. It's not because his family or hers would think less of it. It's is personal preference.

I asked him what the difference was, and he said that he could not figure out how to explain it to a foreigner. It's just a religious thing.

It's true that in the US (on average) men tend to want to have sex with “easy” women but marry women who present more of a “challenge”. Thus women are typically advised not to sleep with men on the first date. However, traditional Muslim society takes this spread to hypocritical extremes. The women who provide men the only outlet for their sexual urges prior to marriage are villified.

Ultimately I think that many social rules that deny people their natual urges (instead of harnessing them in productive ways) end up having a variety of negative consequences.

---------------------

Later I learned that discussion of sex is taboo in traditional Muslim society.  Oops.

He started it though... after hearing a song by Shakira on the radio, he informed me of his urgent (and unfulfilled) desire to apply his tongue to her posterior, and demonstrated the technique with which he would endeavor to do so. I'd bet he'd skip the virgins-only requirement to marry *her*.

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February 2011

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