Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fighting Styles

The Debater. The Debater, a common style for the higher-functioning geek, likes to argue. He enjoys the fireworks, the mental challenge, the energy of a fight. Like the Compromiser, he is open and direct about what he thinks, feels and wants. Unlike the Compromiser, where resolution is the goal, the fight itself is the goal for a Debater. Conflicts don’t often get resolved with the Debater. Debaters get along with other Debaters, Compromisers and Yielders.

The plus
: Passion and fireworks. And you always know where you stand with a Debater. Also, individuality does not get subsumed in intimate relationships between Debaters.

The minus: The individual will not bend for the benefit of the couple.

The Winner (subset of the Debater). The Avoider’s opposite, the Winner, is the second most common geek conflict style. The Winner is a subcategory of the more emotionally stable Debater. The Winner, like the Debater, relishes conflict in all arenas of his life, intellectual, emotional, at work, at home, with family, with friends, you name it. But unlike the Debater, who enjoys the process of argument, the Winner enjoys the end product of the argument only if he “wins.” All statements, particularly categorical ones, are up for debate, and conflict energizes him. The Winner, surprisingly, enjoys being with other Winners, especially initially. The insecure Winner also gets along with Yielders, but Yielders, though likely to stay with the relationship, won’t be happy over the long term in a relationship with a Winner. Winners also get along with Debaters--for a while anyway.

The plus: These relationships tend to be very passionate and Winners are very honest with their partners.

The minus: They are very honest with their partners… and they always have to win. Their partners tend to end up resenting them, and with any amount of ego development, those partners leave.

Up on Friday: Fighting style wrap-up.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Save, or a Punch in the Face?

Geek culture has this weird dichotomy. On the one hand, geeks will directly take on a controversial intellectual topic, while, when it comes to emotional conflict, especially if it is in person and not online, geeks are Avoiders. Geeks can argue into the wee hours of the morning about the validity and relevance of string theory and can mercilessly nitpick someone’s grammar online all night long. But, God forbid, they should break the rule never to confront someone directly about a personal injury, particularly someone who is a friend. (The rule is more relaxed around people geeks have no emotional investment in.) And if such a confrontation does happen, it’s usually a one-sided accusation or a back and forth of monologues wherein neither person registers what the other person says or feels. Note: An emotional argument between friends or lovers is not a timed debate where your goal is to win and not be moved in any way by the arguments of the other side.

Know Your Fighting Style

The Avoider. This is the most common geek style in personal relationships. The Avoider withdraws from emotional conflict altogether. It is so uncomfortable for him, he would rather not express how he really feels or hear how the other person really feels if it means disagreement. He rarely, if ever, has conflicts with anyone, especially those close to him. This avoidant tendency works fine if he is in a relationship with another Avoider.

The plus: His intimate relationships are generally smooth sailing.
The minus: The relationships lack real emotional intimacy.

The Yielder (subset of the Avoider). Avoiders can become Yielders when not in partnership with another Avoider. For him, yielding is a way to avoid conflict, which he does by giving in. The Yielder is a strongly emotional person who is affected deeply by the emotions of those around him. He is empathetic and quickly sees the validity of the other person’s argument, and, at the expense of the validity of his own side in the argument, he yields to the other person’s point of view. This puts a stop to the discomfort that he feels about being in conflict and also puts an end to the discomfort of his partner, which the Yielder also feels because he’s such an empath. The Yielder gets along well with the Avoider and the Compromiser (addressed in a later post).

The plus: His partner feels very understood and accepted for who she is.
The minus: The Yielder is never really “known” since he puts his emotions and opinions second to his partner’s.

Up next time: More Fighting Styles

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sharing Your Life

If you are sleeping together, birth control and disease prevention are both of your responsibility. It’s not just up to her to use birth control. And if you *know* you don’t ever want to have children, get a vasectomy.

As you begin to spend more and more time together, you will become aware of the assumptions that you make about life that you didn’t even realize you were making. You will realize you make these assumptions because she will do something that violates your assumption, or rule, about how things are done in life. She’ll drip on your bathmat. You believe in completely drying off before stepping out of the shower. She believes that the purpose of a bathmat is to drip on it. It may never have even occurred to you that someone could think that way. She’ll talk about money and how much she makes and how she invests it. You will feel uncomfortable because you were taught, and still believe, that it’s tacky to discuss finances. But there are other ideas, legitimate ideas besides your own about how and when to talk about money. No one you date will have grown up with the same rules as you. (Unless you date your sister.)

Despite the fact that you think you have grown up and away from the ways your parents did things, you are very influenced by what was modeled to you growing up. Right now, list ten “rules” that you were taught growing up in your household from the superficial to the serious. Not the explicit rules, but the tacit rules that everyone abided by. Such as ‘The only emotion that is okay to express is anger’ or ‘What someone asks you to do, you do’ or ‘Leave the toilet seat and lid down when not in use,’ etc. Some of these rules when made explicit sound ridiculous or wrong or merely subjective. But you may still find yourself uncomfortable when they are broken. The longer you’re in an intimate relationship, the more you will understand that there is no “right” way to do things, and that compromise will be the rule of the day. Simply being conscious of these “rules” will help you be less rigid about them.

You will also discover as you spend more and more time together that she has some really annoying habits. So do you. You have to make a judgment call about what you bring up and what you choose to tolerate. In the next few posts, I’ll discuss conflict and how to fight.

The Least You Can Do:

Practice sharing space with someone. If you don’t have a roommate, invite an out of town guest to stay, or stay with them.

List your life “rules.” Make your assumptions explicit, from ‘Mom will pick up if I don’t’ to ‘Ordering dessert at a restaurant is a waste of money.’

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sharing Space

Now that you are part of a couple, or potentially part of a couple, you need to keep in mind issues of sharing space and sharing decision-making.

You probably live alone and have lived alone since your days in the dorms. Not having a roommate is a good thing. It says to the women you date that you’re grown up, financially stable, etc.

It also breeds some bad habits. Like selfish control of the remote. Like only stocking food in your fridge that you like. Like leaving your porn out in plain sight. Like thinking it’s acceptable to wipe your boogers on the carpet because it’s beige. And a certain rigidity may have set in. Like never watching any TV shows that you don’t already like. And preferring things arranged a certain way in your bathroom. But if you’re going to be in a relationship, when you grocery shop, you need to take her into account. Even if you are not living together. And if she’s spending the night on a semi-regular basis, you need to make space for her in your bathroom and your bedroom. She will want to have a razor, some tampons and shampoo at the very least, so give her a shelf. And she will need a drawer in your bedroom for pajamas if nothing else.

Of course you like your set-up at home. You’ve got all your amenities. You’re comfortable there. But don’t always insist on going to your place. She likes her place, too. And it’s more convenient and comfortable for her to be at her place. Try to be even-handed about where you spend your time.

Do not ever give out a key to your house or apartment unless there is a really good reason to. Like you’re engaged. Like she’s pet sitting for you and you know she doesn’t have a criminal record. There’s almost no reason why another person needs to have a key to your place. Do your friends have keys? Okay, I stand corrected if your friends do. But listen very carefully to this: if you break up, the majority of the time you will not get your key back. She’ll forget. Or you’ll forget. Or she’ll dump you over the phone and never see you again. If you’re comfortable with that, feel free to hand out keys. Is she going to be insulted if you don’t let her have a key? Carrie on “Sex and the City” was, but she’s neurotic, insecure and self-centered.

Okay, so maybe she will.

I leave it to your judgment.

Up on Tuesday: Sharing Your Life

Monday, June 14, 2010

Caring and Sharing: Money Matters

How Much to Spend on Gifts.

The first time you buy her a gift is tricky, especially if it’s for a holiday like Christmas where you will both be buying a present for each other. You don’t want to look like a cheapskate if she gives you much more than you got for her. And you don’t want to make her feel bad (or weird) by giving her more than she gives you. Early in a relationship, I suggest that a first gift for a birthday or Christmas not exceed $50 and should be only one item. If it’s Christmas where she is also giving you a gift and she spends less than you, it’s not so awkward if all you’ve given her is one item. And if she spends more than you, take her out to a nice restaurant and pay. Or take her to The Nutcracker or other holiday-related show.

Other Money Matters

Unless there is a very large discrepancy in your incomes, which happens only rarely, it should pretty much come out evenly. It may not always be a straight dollar-for-dollar exchange. Maybe you take her out to a nice dinner, and she cooks you a nice dinner at her house. That’s even. If you really want to go on an expensive vacation with her and you know or suspect she can’t afford it, it’s appropriate for you to offer to take more than half of the financial burden if you can afford to. How will you know she can’t afford something? Even if she keeps her money matters private, she’ll say “I can’t afford to do that right now.” And you should do the same: tell her if you can’t afford to fly to Hawaii. Don’t make a big deal out of it. She doesn’t necessarily need to know the ins and outs of your financial status and why you can’t afford to go.

Up on Friday: Sharing Space

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sharing and Caring: Gifts, Part Two

Gifts Suggestions for the Woman You’re Dating

A nostalgic gift, such as an old edition of a book she loved as a girl but doesn’t own or a CD (digital download) of a cheesy band she listened to in high school. These gifts make for great conversation. They also show that you really listen to what she says, since you remembered her talking about how she read The Boxcar Children twelve times in second grade and how she wanted to live like they did.

A book or music that you are sure she’ll like. If you get this one right, she could fall in love with you. I do not exaggerate. Showing that you are that in touch with her taste in music and literature is the best form of flattery, and it means you really get her.

Flowers, especially if you send them to her at work. I know flowers seem like a generic present--after all, you get them for your mother every year on Mother’s Day. But women like other women to be jealous of their thoughtful lovers. And it breaks the monotony of the work day.

A gift card to a lingerie store (*after* you’ve started sleeping together) can be nice, but give it in tandem with an item from that store. This will show you put some thought and time into the gift. You probably do not have enough tact to buy her lingerie--so get a silk robe.

A gift certificate for a spa day or massage at a *conveniently located* place. (Convenient for her.) This is the other exception to the no-gift-certificates rule. You can’t go wrong with this.

A cashmere sweater. A word of caution here: pay attention to the kind of necklines she wears. For example, I don’t wear crewneck shirts because I don’t have the hips for it. If you don’t understand what I mean by that, I am merely proving my point that you really need to pay attention to what she wears and not wing it. Also note the colors that she wears and that look good on her. Word of caution: if she wears blue all the time, don’t just get her any blue cashmere sweater you see. Make sure it’s the right shade of blue. I look great in navy blue but would never wear baby blue. There is a radical difference.

An evening out at a really nice restaurant or cultural event (a play, the ballet, etc.).

On Tuesday: How Much to Spend on a Gift and Other Money Matters

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sharing and Caring: Gifts

Other than flowers, gifts are overkill until you have established that you’re in a relationship, not just casually dating. Unless it’s Valentine’s Day and you’re spending it together or a birthday or Christmas/Hanukkah.

How Much to Spend. The first time you buy her a gift is tricky, especially if it’s for a holiday like Christmas where you will both be buying a present for each other. You don’t want to look like a cheapskate if she gives you much more than you got for her. And you don’t want to make her feel bad (or weird) by giving her more than she gives you. Early in a relationship, a first gift for a birthday or Christmas shouldn’t exceed $50 and should be only one item. If it’s Christmas where she is also giving you a gift and she spends less than you, it’s not so awkward if all you’ve given her is one item. And if she spends more than you, take her out to a nice restaurant and pay. Or take her to The Nutcracker or other holiday-related show.

What to Avoid at Any Stage of Your Relationship

Generic gifts. It’s fine to bring over a bottle of wine for dinner or a party but if it’s meant to be a gift, like for a birthday or Christmas, don’t give her wine, unless it’s a particular wine that has meaning for her. Other generic gifts: fruit baskets, videos, scarves, magazine subscriptions, frames with nothing in them, and anything you would get a teacher, your mother or a female coworker.

Gift cards. You might as well hand her some cash. It’s tacky. Exceptions to be noted on Friday.

Gifts that imply criticism. For example, a cookbook, an instructional video, a how-to book.

Clothes. You don’t have good enough taste. Exceptions to be noted on Friday.

Something you like because you want her to be into it too--unless she has specifically shown real interest in it.

Joke gifts. No one needs more stuff that’s funny for two seconds and then takes up space and gathers dust.

Up on Friday: What You Should Get

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sharing and Caring: Meeting Friends and Parents

If you’ve been dating for more than a month and you haven’t met and spent time with any of her friends, she’s not that into you. You say “But we’re sleeping together!“ Is she recently divorced/separated? Does it seem like you are her masturbatory toy more than a sexual partner? She is not incorporating you into her life. She may even be ashamed of you and not think you are really good enough for her. She likes you well enough, but don’t expect this to get serious, and don’t expect it to last past her meeting someone who is a better fit.

The same goes if you have been dating for a couple of months but have never spent any of the holidays together (including your or her birthday). If that’s okay with you, no need to end it, but if it isn’t okay, have some self-respect and break it off.

But maybe the time has come and she is going to meet your parents or your friends. Meeting your really good friends can and should happen fairly early. Once you think you might want to be exclusive at some point in the future (or even before that), it’s best to start incorporating her into your regular life. See what your friends think of her. And what she thinks of your friends.

When she does meet your friends, or family, remember that she is new to your world and will not understand the in-jokes or know what you are referring to when you talk about your chemistry experiment that went so very awry at Cal Tech. When these references, incidents or code words come up in conversation, explain them to her. She shouldn’t constantly have to interrupt and ask questions in order to be able to follow the conversation.

Meeting the parents can wait until you’re exclusive. First, you don’t want your parents calling you every weekend asking how Joan is and if it’s serious. (And you know your mom will do this.) Second, meeting the parents has certain cultural meanings attached to it. Like “We’re exclusive,“ like “We’re serious and you better get used to her being in my life.”

If you are meeting her parents for the first time and are going over to their house, do not bring alcohol as a host(ess) gift without checking with your girlfriend first. While people of our generation are still deep in our alcoholism, people of their generation have figured out they have a problem and stopped drinking. You want to know for sure before you introduce liquor into someone’s house if it’s acceptable. And if you bring flowers, bring them in a vase. A host(ess) doesn’t need another task to do (cut the stems, hunt down a vase, pour water in, etc.). Other than that, take the lessons you have learned from the chapter on conversation and put them to work.

After a first meeting of the friends or parents (hers or yours), be prepared to talk about it with her. First impressions are endlessly fascinating to women, and fresh observations about people she’s grown used to can be enlightening to her. Not having any observations to share translates to her as “I don’t care enough about the people you hold dear in your life to have an opinion about them.” You can be honest, but don’t say anything you wouldn’t want the person you’re talking about to overhear. Because she may just tell them. And you don’t know everything about the person and you’ll come off as a jackass if you only say negative things about the person. She will want to talk about your friends, too--who’s dating whom, why they seem to make a good couple or not, why so and so engaged in some weird behavior, etc.

Up on Tuesday: Gift-Giving

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sharing and Caring: Exclusivity

You’ve had some practice dating whomever says yes. You’ve gone out with a bunch of different women and now you think you’ve found someone you could have an Actual Relationship with. You’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks, you’ve investigated the signs and believe that the two of you are clicking and she is as interested as you are.

Now what?

You’ve moved into the next stage of dating called A Relationship, which brings up a slew of issues that don’t typically come up in casual dating.

First, though, a word of warning:

Relationships of adolescence and young adulthood tend to get obsessive and exclusionary. And you, being new at dating and very excited about the prospect of having a girlfriend, will be tempted to ignore your friends and spend every free moment with your new love interest as teenagers do. Do not do this. It’s rude to your friends, it doesn’t leave time for you to pursue your hobbies and ultimately makes you boring. I mean, what the hell are you going to talk to her about if you’re never apart to have any experiences to tell her about? Pace yourself. I’m not talking playing hard to get here or trying to predict blindly what amount of time is the perfect amount of time so she doesn’t feel suffocated and doesn’t feel ignored. I don’t have a specific frequency of seeing her in mind. I’m talking about living with this relationship in a normal way that allows for your other needs, like doing your laundry, going to the dentist, playing chess, calling your mother, hanging out with your friends, having alone time, and vegging out. If you don’t have time for all those things in a given week, you’re spending too much time together. You can’t live the rest of your life that way--don’t do it now.

That said, let’s plunge into the particulars of a relationship.


How do you know when the relationship has become exclusive? I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever had to make this explicit with anyone I’ve dated, but there’s nothing wrong with clarifying this point with the woman you’ve been seeing. If you are interested in dating only her, tell her so and ask her how she feels about that. You can’t go wrong with being explicit, which is probably a good idea for someone new to dating who won’t necessarily recognize the cues.

If you’re seeing each other every night of the weekend, you’re exclusive. When does she have any time to be seeing anyone else? If she does do things on the weekend without you and doesn’t tell you what she’s doing, she’s seeing someone else. Even if a woman is doing something personal, like seeing her gynecologist for an annual exam, she’ll tell you she has a doctor’s appointment. Not giving any hint as to what she’s up to is often indicative of another man.

Most women will assume you’re exclusive if you’re sleeping together. If *you* don’t want to be exclusive and you’re sleeping together, you must tell her this explicitly (preferably before you sleep together for the first time) because she will assume you are monogamous if you don’t say anything.

Also, introducing you to her parents or co-workers or referring to you as her boyfriend means you’re exclusive.

Up on Friday: Meeting the Friends, Meeting the Parents