“I don’t think, honestly, that we’re an animal built to be happy. We’re an animal that was built to reproduce. I think the happiness we find, we make.” ~ Helen Fisher, neuroscientist
I just saw a snarky video by Rebecca Watson titled “Dating Advice”. I lol’d. It reminded me of one of my favorite TAM talks by Helen Fisher, one of the world’s most revered authorities on the neuroscience of love.
But it got me thinking. As somebody generally inexperienced in dating, especially compared to my atheistic peers so far as I can tell, I found myself disappointed in Rebecca’s video because I was wanting actual dating advice.
So I got to thinking about what, specifically, I wanted advice on. It wasn’t on how to get dates or even how to have a good date. I figure as long as you’re being yourself and you’re with somebody with similar interests, the date will be pretty keen without a whole lot of external strategy. What I wanted advice on was how to make it hurt less – how to keep it from destroying the friendships I care about, as anything involving feelings of attachment is wont to do.
Is the solution not to become attached; to simply enjoy somebody’s company without actually needing them in your life, such that if they vanished tomorrow you’d be unmoved? I used to think so. I’ve spoken with Greta Christina, who I’m pretty sure has more insight on love than Shakespeare, about this subject. Through our chats, I have reached the conclusion that attachment is part of the human condition both beautiful and grotesque. It’s not about whether or not the attachment we feel is uplifting or destructive; it’s what we are, and we must simply learn to manage it.
So how can we manage attachment? How do we build a safety net for our potentially hazardous, albeit thrilling, emotions? I’ve thought about it all morning and, in my apprenticed opinion, it seems it all comes down to an idea so incomplex it can be reduced to three syllables: be honest. If you care about somebody, tell them the truth frequently and in full. So much of the agony of relationships/dating seems to come from mixed signals; the times when we’re faced with the choice of believing somebody’s actions or somebody’s words, and the words are less convincing. Having to guess and deduce a person’s position in dating causes greater suffering and more personal culpability than unpleasant, but truthful knowledge. Where there is honest disclosure, the grief of ambiguity is impossible.
Sometimes a relationship is over for one of the participants. However, rather than end the relationship the disinterested person continues on, hoping to not hurt their partner. Over time they build resentment, possibly even becoming angry that they are bound by their compassion to a situation they no longer wish to be a part of. Perhaps they look at all the other people they could be dating if not for their self-imposed emotional shackle, and come to dislike their partner for not being somebody else, not realizing the entire time that the truth really could set them free. It is important to note that in life we do not always get the choice between making somebody happy or hurting them. Sometimes the choice is between hurting someone we care about and hurting them more. If your goal is to never hurt your partner, you run the risk of driving both parties into a deeper hurt down the road, even if you have the best intentions. If we’re honest without spite, we’ll have the fortitude to hurt the people we date/love as little as possible.
Honesty will keep those we care about, but for whom we have no romantic interest, from dedicating resources and time into a possible dating relationship that will never happen. Stringing somebody along is cruel, and can only be done through unclarified, unspoken, or deceptive communication.
Also, if we’re candid with those we’re dating, can we ever really say we’ve hurt someone? Sure, people will be hurt if we don’t reciprocate their feelings or if we are done with a relationship when they’re not, but if we fulfill our duty to be explicit with where we stand, what can be blamed but the pitilessness of the universe when half the relationship is hurt?
If we care about somebody then it seems the noblest, most tender thing we should give them, and the minimum we should give them, is not ourselves, but our honesty. Dishonesty in dating is the apogee if both selfishness and brutality. It is the opposite of love.
What advice on dating would you give? Teach me something.