Friday, September 28, 2007

Dating through the lifespan: compatibility and availability.

As the weekend comes, the dating ruminations begin.

I was recently reflecting on the nature of dating over the lifespan. In middle school, the mere acknowledgement that someone likes you is enough to send you into cartwheels and flips, and that's really all you want anyway, is the affirmation. In high school and college and a bit after, as it comes to light that someone likes you, that is often enough to start a relationship, assuming you feel similarly.

At some point beyond college, the game changes. Everyone's had enough relationships that they realize that many people could be great boyfriends or girlfriends, and many more with whom there is mutual attraction, and two additional variables come into play: compatibility and availability. It seems like these latter two variables attain higher importance with age.

When I was in high school or college I would have been thrilled and amazed at the number of men with whom I enjoy good chemistry and a good rapport. Finding just the people to date that I did was hard enough. Now, chemistry and rapport gives me a small warm feeling, but if the person turns out to be married or involved I feel silly and embarassed. As Miss Manners says, flirtation is a no-commitment activity: there's no "so what are you going to do about it?" to follow. And yet, if I've been having a great conversation with someone where it turns out he's married or even just has a girlfriend and I'm not even dating anyone, it can feel like I've transgressed a boundary.

In fact, the large number of guys who feel compelled to mention their girlfriend in the first 10 seconds of exchange would seem to indicate that it would be a bit transgressive to continue the conversation as it had been.

Last night, I was having such a conversation with someone that I corresponded with from an online dating site before I moved who told me when I came that he started dating someone. It was a fun conversation on a pretty boring topic, commuting, when his (presumptive) girlfriend showed up. Right away, he explains to her that he was giving me street directions. The perhaps too-obvious solution to seeming to flirt with someone's boyfriend is to shift the conversation to her --- perhaps not the most convincing indication that I was only talking to him until someone who is actually interesting (her) showed up --- so I did. I'm still meeting new people and hearing her life story in brief was interesting, and we had an almost good conversation, but there was this pall of awkwardness which hung over us, and eventually I found a transition point and left somewhat awkwardly.

It's strange to now be living in a dating world in which there are lots of good prospects, all taken. While there were periods by the end of college where it seemed like absolutely everyone was dating someone, we all knew that it wasn't even close to permanent.

So that's availability.

Compatibility is not as well-defined and differs a lot between people, but I find it just so fascinating that there are all these factors that if they were different, I would have an entirely different life. In the generality, everyone knows that single variables can change which of many potential outcomes occur, so that's not interesting in general. Contemplating the potential realities is fascinating, though. If I decided I didn't want to have kids, if I moved to a different city, if I had a different religion or no religion at all.

I could marry someone who is sweet and empathetic and cries a lot, or someone who runs on adrenaline and doesn't understand why people are imperfect. I could marry and support a starving artist, someone whose profession gives me a public role, someone whose profession is lucrative but makes him absent. All these things are true in generalities, but the funny thing is that they really did happen, and it's strange that if one switch were flicked, my life would be totally different.

Perhaps the necessary vagueness makes this uninteresting.

1 comment:

Chicago Man said...

I think your analysis of compatibility and availability is spot on. With respect to compatibility, I think we could also talk about an oversimplified dualism, namely that of stubborness and adaptability. That is to say, two very stubborn people cannot have a relationship lest they kill each other on the way to the altar. Two adaptable people could work, but the back and forth of "what do you want to eat? no, what do you want to eat?" gets annoying quickly. A stubborn person and an adaptable one could definitely work. However, the adaptable person may feel a tinge of resentment every now and then as they willingly traipse on the heels of their stubborn mate. Nevertheless, since one has an adaptable nature such feelings will pass quickly. Things get confusing when you encounter people who are both adaptable and stubborn in equal proportions. I'm definitely both, but i've noticed that the force of their manifestation is dependent upon the person I am dating at the time. I'm stubborn when i feel my mate is unintelligent or not up to par. I'm adaptable when i feel i've met my equal. I'm a downright teddy bear if i think she's marriage material. Ahhh, one can dream, right?