Assorted Musings

About once a month I post a splatch of assorted musings — thoughts too short to justify full blog posts, too long to fit into Twitter (where I micro-blog a couple times a day), and always half-baked. What follows are cheap shots, bon mots, and quick thoughts….

1. What is it that's so appealing about the "tortured genius" archetype? Has easygoing depression always been endowed with hipness? If an artist is insanely happy and optimistic about the world, does she lose credibility among her fellow artists? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, touches on this a bit in her excellent TED talk.

2. When explaining dissatisfaction in a romantic relationship, women frequently say, "I've always thought I liked you more than you liked me."

Reciprocity matters. In friendships, it's not ideal if I consider you my best friend but you don't consider me your best friend. Either way, true friends don't spend much energy trying to decipher how much the other person "likes" the other.

But in romance this is paramount, especially for women. Women seem to pay closer attention to whether the like or love is flowing bi-directionally at the same clip. And she will stress if she feels her level of love is not being reciprocated by the man.

The problem is that men communicate their like / love in ways different from women, making an apples-to-apples comparison nigh impossible.

"Love" is an intentionally vague word — it allows us to avoid having to communicate the finer fluctuations in our feelings, but at the risk of those finer fluctuations being misinterpreted.

3. For writers or journalists, Dan Baum has been posting some terrific stuff. Here he is on why you should never accept a comment "off the record." Here's an interview with him about freelance writing. Here are failed proposals he pitched to magazines. Here are all his Tweets, well formatted, about his getting fired as a staff writer at the New Yorker. Tons of inside dirt.

4. Pick-up artists believe women are attracted to men who display aggressiveness, narcissism, and general asshole characteristics. The pick-up community also concedes that you needn't be an asshole all the time — just when you're spitting game at women. But can you really turn off the alpha game once you've turned it on? Isn't there a risk of asshole-tendencies, originally developed to help you on a Friday night, infiltrating your overall character during the week? I bet you hard core PUAs have weaker male friendships than their non-PUA counterparts.

5. People who preface points with, "The point I'm trying to make is…" too frequently give a sense that they're not effectively making the point. Just say "My point is" instead of "I'm trying to…"

6. Perhaps people use religion as their token "irrational" vice – that is, to be rational all the time is too high a burden, so religion is our one out. It's similar to people who say coffee is their one addiction. (H/t Tyler Cowen)

7. Why isn't there a kissing school / kissing tutors? A place where you can practice kissing with a paid instructor of the opposite sex in a private room? The key is it's not just for couples. It's for single people who want to practice kissing. It seems like there's a business opportunity here if you can ensure it doesn't devolve into prostitution.

8. Meghan Daum, in her column on commencement speeches, writes, "One of life's greatest, saddest truths: that our most 'memorable' occasions may elicit the fewest memories. It's probably not something most commencement speakers would say, but it's one of the first lessons of growing up."

I've written elsewhere that the most intense social bonding happens when we least expect it, i.e., not during the carefully manicured moments or celebrations.

9. It's revealing whether a woman enjoyed her high school years. Happiness in high school has most to do with the success of your social life. Women who loved high school probably had a successful social life. To have a successful social life means you were "in" (in vs. out group dynamics reign supreme). To be "in" usually requires adeptness at emotional manipulation. Research shows teenage girls use verbal attacks and emotional bullying to establish power structures.

So if an adult woman tells me she had a wonderful high school experience — God forbid "the best four years of my life" — it might predict certain undesirable qualities.

(The male high school experience is less intense, less emotional and more physical, and thus a less useful predictor of adult personal qualities.)

10. Speaking of criticism, it's hard to take it when it's about self-perceived strengths. And yet this is very important to hear. Also, the hardest type of criticism to hear is when it's half-true, half-false and hits at a deep, private insecurity.

11. On nouns and grammar. We say, "Is she a lesbian?" We do not say, "Is he a gay?" We say, "He is gay." Lesbian is a noun. Gay is adjective. Lesbian feels more domineering. If I say he's gay, gay is just one of several pertinent adjectives. If I say she's a lesbian, she is neither man nor woman — she is this other type, lesbian.

Another random spotting of a new noun: "a water." E.g., "Can you get me a water?" instead of a "water bottle."

12. Government does such a good job at running things into the ground. Amtrak, education, social security, medicare. Here's a long article on how the government has totally fucked up the U.S. Postal Service. Read it and weep. Up next: General Motors!

13. Having "more experience" than someone else is not by itself enough. It's about how well you can draw the appropriate lessons from the experiences. It's about how well you can distinguish specific experiences as generalizable versus anomalies. I'd hire the reflective 30 year-old over the unreflective 50 year-old with more experience any day of the week.

14. Consider three individuals. One is lower class. One is middle class. One is upper class. The lower and upper class persons are most likely to spend money on "unnecessary stuff" — a fourth pair of shoes, the impulsive ice cream cone on a hot day. Of course they do so for different reasons. The middle class person is more likely to be frugal.

Another thought on money. In poor families it's more common to give cold hard cash as a gift. In rich families to give cash as a gift is seen as unimaginative, even offensive. I think the intuitive explanation here is the right one — when you don't have much money cash is more important than symbolism. "It's the thought that matters" is an expensive principle. So, attitudes toward gift giving are probably an accurate reflection of class.

15. I do feel a strong community sense from the familiar strangers I see every day at the gym. The familiarity factor. This type of community is not to be dismissed just because there's no interaction among its members (I've never spoken to them).

18 comments on “Assorted Musings
  • Ben:

    @4 I’ve been taken in by PUA discussion mainly on Roissy (don’t tell Tyler), and I’ve read “The Game”. I’m mainly interested from the evolutionary psych part of it all rather than just trying to get laid; I have a girlfriend anyway.

    It seems to me not so much that PUAs have weaker male friendships, but rather, their friendships are based solely on picking up women. It’s the same as any one-dimensional friendship, either work-related or World of Warcraft related. They engage in technical jargon that no outsider really understands.

    And I do believe that PUA assholery filters into non-Pick-up realms of life. To become something you naturally are not (an asshole or a ladies’ man) you have to practice and wear that mask. It also devalues anything else in the PUA’s life as his goal is getting women to the detriment of everything else.

    @15 Great insight. I’ve been going to my gym for about 3 years now; I’ve spoken to maybe a handful of people that I didn’t already previously know, yet I feel like I “know” them. Just as I won’t switch gyms because I’m familiar with the equipment, the hours, the layout, etc. I’m also familiar with the faces.

  • Too much great stuff here to address them all, but here are some thoughts:

    2. Yes, but it could be said that women like to be “thinking” about it sometimes more than they like confirmation that you like them as much. I don’t mean this like in a manipulative sense, but to wonder (in a good way) and experience a whole range of emotions is what makes the feminine tick a lot of the times. Much more than straight answers. It is what it is.

    4. This can be confirmed if all you think about is getting girls and if you are truly identified as a PUA – read: somebody who thinks they can’t be attractive simply as they are. To consider yourself a PUA is the worst identity you can have, because that is your identity and strong and healthy male bonding does not fit into the paradigm.

    On the other hand, anything that helps a spineless man reconnect with his inner alpha-ness (which is there to begin with) will be duly noted by society in his daily life – which is why people with alpha characteristics seem to dominate many fields. But this does not mean falling into assholitry: nobody should ever become an asshole.

    The asshole thing is going too far, but certainly knowing what you want, putting firm personal boundaries in place, and being expressive should yield stronger male friendships. This has sometimes been confused as being an asshole, because it happens on the outside and it happens in an interactive fashion , but certainly, taking this too far is a lose-lose situation.

    7. This could be interesting, but I think kissing school would be a lot like driving school and a DMV road test: yes, you passed the test, but the test doesn’t simulate the real conditions of the road. Learning kissing in a sterile environment with a partner you will not see again is like driving in a closed range with a car that is not yours. I think kissing is something that needs to be “practiced” entirely in the real world. And, most crucially, I think a lot of women would agree that more kissing hours of experience does not mean better kissing, nor that the way you kissed somebody else is the way you should kiss them.

    Also, I think it would be hard to maintain boundaries because of all the chemicals flowing into the blood with the kissing, sort of like the typical story of the john who falls in love with a prostitute because of how much time he has spent with her. Could that be why we often also encounter the typical story of a prostitute who refuses to kiss?

    9. Yes, but it could also signal a healthy and mature woman if her happy high school years are part of a continuum. I would not base myself on these years, because another trait of successfully adaptable people are their ability to look back at the past through rose-tinted glasses and say everything was swell. Yes, delusional, but it tells me more about their general outlook. Personally, I look at the continuum.

    13. Yes, now how do we communicate this to business leaders, colleges, and almost every organization?

  • #6 I would agree that many religious people pursue religious emotional experiences as an addict would pursue their drug of choice.

    I do take issue with characterizing people of faith as simply taking a break from rationality. From my standpoint the people who are truly religious are usually very rational and honest about their lives.

  • One more: Truly fascinating topics for a conversation.

    1. I think it’s perceived as romantic until something bad happens, like the case of Kurt Cobain, Syd Barrett, etc, or Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake: (long but fascinating read) I will take the healthy and adapted artist every time.

  • Thanks for these very intelligent comments.

    I agree that many the PUAs trip up when it becomes the central part of their identity.

    Re: #13, I think it’s up the inexperienced individual who let his/her unique perspective or thoughtfulness shine over “more experienced” competitors.

  • Re # 11: I hear ‘she is lesbian’ more frequently than ‘she is a lesbian’. The second formulation carries judgmental connotations, similar to ‘he is a gay’ which I do hear occasionally, usually among people who are very intolerant, or who were raised in a very intolerant culture. In both cases the noun usage seems offensive, while the adjective is just descriptive. It occurs to me that this used to be very true of ethnic descriptors too – people in some areas of the country still say ‘he is a chinese’ rather than ‘he is chinese’, and it still sounds offensive.

  • Ben:

    Re 2. – I think on an earlier post, I had commented that very few people are fortunate enough to experience symmetric reciprocity of commitment. I think that applies to love too.

    I have friends ranging from 22 to about 79 years of age. And I am a compulsive watcher and documenter of human relationship dynamics (though in the interest of retaining my friendships, I do not share those documents publicly, not yet anyway).

    Although longevity (in relationship) may mean different things at different ages to people, it is very clear from observing long-committed/ married couples that with age, men tend to love the women more deeply and simply more (expressively for instance) whilst women get more and more self-centered. I used to hold this as a hypothesis till I read Louann Brizendine’s book The Female Brain which has a plausible hormonal explanation of why women’s ability to nurture reduces with age. You will find the book interesting I imagine.

    I may come back to read the post’s other points in detail. Your Cheap Shots, Bon Mots posts are my favourite. 🙂

  • ” it is very clear from observing long-committed/ married couples that with
    age, men tend to love the women more deeply and simply more (expressively
    for instance) whilst women get more and more self-centered”

    Very interesting, Shefaly.

  • I recently read the Game and did a lot of reading about pickup artist stuff. Pickup does not necessarily mean you have to be an asshole. True, some people use it as their entire persona, particularly young people who don’t really have an identity. But once you’ve actually achieved something in life and have a little experience, it’s really just a set of techniques that you can use.

    I used some of it to establish a relationship with a recent girlfriend more quickly than I would have been able to in the past. It wasn’t evil. I even told her about it after the fact. She didn’t have a problemw with it.

    Granted, I’m dating women in their thirties who have a more grounded sense of self than a 21 year old. Also, I don’t act like an asshole, I just express confidence in a lighthearted way.

    Put simply, what this means is I talk to new acquaintances the same way I talk to old friends. No attempt to impress.

  • @7:
    It’s weird that something like a kissing school does not exist at all. But I dont believe it would be a good business model. You need quite alot of health checks because of herpes and other orally transmittable diseases… And it isnt soo much scalable, since at least some time the instruction should be 1on1. So all in all the absence of kissing schools doesnt seem so mysterious to me, possibly the economic incentives just arent there?

  • ben

    It looks like the USPS article link is broken… could I get the name of the article? I can try to find it elsewhere.


  • @ Derek:
    You said:
    “Also, I don’t act like an asshole, I just express confidence in a lighthearted way.

    Put simply, what this means is I talk to new acquaintances the same way I talk to old friends. No attempt to impress.”

    You’re absolutely right. As soon as I learned this lesson, I not only got more dates; I made more friends.

    As for point #15, I think there’s something to be said about familiarity breeding comradeship. Last night I went to an event and ran into a woman. We both recognized each other with big smiles. We couldn’t figure out how we knew each other, but had a nice conversation, traded cards and went on our ways. It was only later that I realized that I saw here a couple of times a week in the gym for three years during law school which I graduated 6 years ago.

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