Category Archives: Rules

Taking My Own Advice- A Timeline

Over the last few years I’ve accrued a certain experience with consoling friends who newly got out of relationships. I don’t think of myself as a particularly emotionally tuned in or apt at dealing with other people’s crises, but most of the time being online late at night and not being a complete dickhead is sufficient to be approached by friends and acquaintances in distress.

Either way, I’ve talked to a lot of people who’d just been broken up with. And in a way, each one of these people had a unique story. A story about long-term partners, recent dates or fuckbuddies. A story about cheating, fighting or slowly fizzling out. A long, drawn out, painful epic, or a quick text on a Thursday night.  The uniting element is that someone, in some way told them “What relationship we have will end here”.  And however unique the circumstances are, however unique the pain feels, there is something fundamentally universal to being broken up with. This means that the limited helpful advice that can be given will be almost insultingly similar to every victim of a breakup. I’ve dealt out this stuff verbatim for years.

The two rules that stick out are:

1)  Stay away from your ex.

and

2) It will take time, but you will be ok

2011 was the first time I had to put this advice into practice myself.

The first rule  is very straightforward and practical, a clear guideline for behaviour and questions. Should I call him? Should I go to his best friend’s BBQ? Should I let her know that I downloaded that program she likes? Should I set my facebook status to “thinking of you…”? Please refer to rule 1.  No, you shouldn’t.

Don’t call, don’t visit, don’t hang out where your ex hangs out. Don’t provoke “chance” meetings, or organise awkward run-ins at third-party friends’ karaoke parties.

In my case this was relatively easily achieved by not living on the same continent as my ex. Changing some settings in my favourite chat protocols was all that was needed for successfully avoiding my ex and not talking to him for the next 6 weeks.

Rule 2) is a bit trickier, as it doesn’t present any clear-cut advice, but some rather vague reassurance that at some point in the future, life will suck less than it does right now. There’s no deadline, no definite answer. There’s also no consequence to your own behaviour, no guideline apart from “hang in there, dude”. It’s undoubtedly true in almost all cases (after all, due to natural fluctuations in happiness, at some time things will be better, and you’ll overcome the local minimum you’re experiencing right now). However, it’s not immediately helpful to hear, especially when no-one can tell when this magical ok-ness will happen.

Ever the social scientist, I’ve volunteered for my own little case study and took detailed notes.

This is highly subjective, I’m not aiming to replicate the results anytime soon, and of course your timeline might be vastly different from mine. But if you’re at a local minimum, and asking all your friends “WHEN THE FUCK WILL IT BE BETTER ALREADY?” maybe you’ll take a little consolation from this tale.

Perceived Happiness over Time from Day 0 (Break-Up)

Interpreting the graph should be easy. X-axis represents time in days, Y-axis represents level of personal well-being and contentment. For future reference: it took me about a two weeks to a month to be fully functional in daily life again, two months until things were normal 90% of the time, and three months until I could genuinely look back on the relationship without pain.

And yes, sticking to my own advice was the right strategy for me. Following the first rule and not being around my ex let me appreciate that my life without him is as colourful and complete. Instead of dwelling on what was missing I filled the empty space with old and new friends. The second rule became a mantra that brought me hope. In future, I will update it to “It’ll take time (approx. three months) but you’ll be ok”. It might be universal advice after all.

Although all my friends were helpful and supportive throughout this experience, this post is dedicated to K.

You’re wonderful, and everyone can only wish for a friend as caring as you are. Thank you.

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Just Ctrl C Ctrl V (part 2)

I’ve recently described the phenomenon of the well-crafted generic message that is posted to hundreds of girls at once, equivalent to flyering your neighbourhood with valentine’s cards.

There are many different approaches to constructing these messages, and I would like to highlight some of them.

Speaking to a large group of people yet achieving that everyone in the crowd feels uniquely addressed is a form of art, and a skill honed in expensive management classes and nights down the corner pub. One strategy that I previously discussed, is to keep the message very short and concise. This will intrigue the reader and make them hunger for more.

Today I will share a message with you that followed quite the opposite approach. The writer decided to reveal everything, and draw me in with full, honest disclosure. He discusses his employment details, his goals in life, his hopes for our relationship, and his medical history. He also alludes to sexual preferences. All in all, a self-summary that could not be more open. What else could a girl want?

But read for yourself.

Example B:

I am Egyptian man I work a lawyer and I have 25 years love life simple hope that Atovq through this site to find a Wife is shared by my life in the future and had a children and live in peace and I am open-minded and it is not none other bad, to search for Wife by sites the net and I hope you understand me

I’m good-hearted man looking for love do not look for the shape I’m looking for a good heart and a sense of fulfillment I am sincere and I hope to get to know a lot about you and your love of your life and future .. Surely I do not know what is possible in the future I am, a pair for you.
Obviously, you are so beautiful white heart Ok I’m raring to get to know you.
Do not leave me

I want to marry you, I did not unprotected sex never in my life I really need to get married and wish to marry a foreign girl Do you agree, and I admitted I did not never unprotected sex with any girl in my life

Full message, no edits. Life is that good.

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Just Ctrl C Ctrl V (part I)

The more attentive of my readers have noticed and the more pestering of my readers have remarked that my blog posts have been getting less frequent, and that I haven’t reported a current date story in quite a while. Well spotted.

Yes, I haven’t been on a first date since the beginning of the year. Instead, I met what my mother calls “someone nice” and have had a few whirlwind dates with him which quickly spiralled from “dating” to “going out” to “seeing each other”. While this is great, it means that I have no hilarious stories of terrible dates for you and I don’t intend to share the gooey, doe-eyed stories that my current dating life could inspire.

However, I’m blessed with friends whose dating life is much more turbulent and entertaining than mine and hope to share their tales of woe and my take on them. Recently, many of them have taken up online dating. Obviously I’m very opinionated about this, but  I don’t know whether they are not afraid of anything or simply haven’t heeded my warnings. In the following posts, I’ll highlight some of my experiences regarding online messages. Sorry, this post quite clearly targets hetero males, because those are the ones messaging me.

Sending a message on an online platform is the equivalent of introducing yourself to someone at a rave party at an international airport. As a girl, you simply have to be there, but as a guy it’s really difficult. You’re not the only dude at the party, girls are overtired of seeing the same thing over and over again, and there’s a lot of background noise. Your mission thus is to be brief and memorable, while not being creepy or trying too hard.

Yes, this takes a lot of time, and most women won’t even have the decency to respond to you. So why waste your time on elaborate witticisms and references to their favourite pokemon? The temptation is large to just write this one more-or-less fantastic catch-all message, and spam every single female in a 10 mile radius. Someone will respond, right? Right?

Wrong. Or actually: maybe. But your message has to be darn good.

The following examples are all taken from actual messages that I have received online. I’m fairly sure that they were not drafted with me specifically in mind, and would bet good money that copy and paste were involved.

Example A

u r sexy sexy

Note that this is the entire message. No opening or closing formula, no question, no punctuation.

In a way, this message is the Bauhaus example of online messaging. Reduced to the minimum, it does away with all the useless details, rationalising the effort that goes into massproducing pickup lines while preserving their functionality.

And isn’t there a certain poetry to the simple form created by this minimalist approach?

“u r sexy sexy” is not just “You are sexy.” but can also be parsed as “a a’ b b”, indicating a classic form at the foundation of this seemingly radically modern message. The repetition of “sexy” at the end of the line can be construed either as a stress and consolidation on the word sexy, which would make the meaning “You are very sexy indeed”. An alternative interpretation, due to general lack of punctuation, can lead us to believe that the second “sexy” is meant to address an intrinsic quality of the reader as in “You, the inherently sexy one, are sexy.”.

Without further context it is impossible to decide between these alternate hypotheses, and the sweet ambiguity lets our brain toggle between the different meanings, adding a flair of mystery to this message.

All in all, a masterfully crafted first approach. My interest in the fine literary mind shrouded in mystery behind this line was piqued.

The only question was what to respond to this level of poetic genius. All my answers seemed prosaic (!) and trite, my phrasing overly elaborate and my similes too garishly colourful compared to his serenely minimalist style. I didn’t want to resort to copying him and churning out something along the lines of “yo yo hot”, but my original ideas just couldn’t compete.

In the end, I gave up. I didn’t dare to respond to this iconic message.  Sorry, modernist1*, I don’t think it’ll work between us.

The take home message: Don’t overcraft a message, and leave some room for the other person to come back to you. This is not about showing off your creative writing class or creating a monolithic block of text, but about inviting the other person to a conversation. You don’t need to be hugely original, but you should open up a topic that makes it easy for the other person to respond.

*name changed by author.

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FWB- a Three Letter Word

The topics for most of my blog entries usually come to me in the guise of dates I go on myself, occasionally through a story a friend tells me. Today’s post is inspired by not one, but two friends, who told me virtually identical, and in any case similarly frustrating stories.

Casual relationships, fuckbuddies or friends with benefits are a common occurrence in the realm of modern dating. This form of relationship offers people who don’t want a romantic relationship, or who haven’t met a suitable candidate, the opportunity of stability, familiarity and regularity while dispensing with the need for intense emotional involvement and romantic commitment. At its very best, a casual relationship can tick all the boxes. The prerequisite is that this level of involvement is what both parties want – a  casual relationships makes a rubbish consolation prize when you’re madly in love with someone.

However, all too often you’ll find that after a few dates you have two people with different levels of emotion and expectations. Person A is happy to keep dating casually, is open to a sexual relationship, but doesn’t want to become more involved romantically. Person B however is falling in love, would prefer to make the relationship more committed and exclusive, and wants to bind person A to them.

This outset can lead to the following scenario.

B: I really like you – I think we should consider a serious relationship!

A: Hm, this is fun, but I don’t want a serious relationship (right now/with you, etc.). If you’re interested in more, we should probably stop seeing each other,  otherwise you’ll get hurt!

B: Oh, don’t worry, I promise I won’t get hurt. Let’s just continue to see each other casually.

A: Sounds good to me!

We have two people, two different demands, two different emotional perspectives. Yet almost invariably, B will step down and through some sort of jedi mindtrick absolve A from the guilt of hurting them, while continuing the relationship to A’s specifications. In both of my friends’ stories, this was the case.

Let me make this really clear: I’m all for friends with benefits. Being FWB can be absolutely wonderful, giving two people exactly what they need. But in this scenario, only A  gets what they need, whereas B ends up making unreasonable concessions, out of fear of losing what little affection A is prepared to give them. Surely that can’t be right?

But how can you avoid this situation? What if you’ve fallen for your friend with benefits?

Oh, honey. Yes, it’s tempting to think that things between you and A are going to be complicated either way, and that being fuckbuddies is a good way of keeping them in your life. However, if what you really want is a proper monogamous doves-balloons-and-heartshaped-lollipops relationship, you’re setting yourself up for heartache. If A is willing to risk that just so they can still sleep with you, they’re not really worth your love, and they certainly don’t make a good friend.

Step away, please.

And what if you’re on the other side? What to do when you find yourself in A’s shoes?

What is the appropriate response when you realise your friends with benefits  is way more into you?

The usual answer from A to this is: Surely it’s not just my responsibility to deal with this.  B is a grown-up who is responsible for their own emotional well-being, and I should be able to trust them when they ensure me that they won’t get hurt.

That sounds nice, but somehow the resulting scenario feels all wrong. I’d therefore  like to offer the following caveat: As the less involved party you have a certain responsibility to protect the more vulnerable B. If you’re indeed friends, this might be the moment to look out for your friend. As previously mentioned on this blog, it’s unreasonable to expect someone in a state of mental delusion to make a responsible choice. Tell B that you don’t think its a good idea for you two to hang out anymore and then stick to it!

If you’re not friends, just fuck them over and enjoy your ride. But please don’t complain to your other friends afterwards about how you didn’t see it coming, and really wish B would get over things and you could still be friends.


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The Right Kind of Signal

or: How to Avoid Accidental Dates

After I posted about how I have accidental dates and then have a hard time maneuovering out of a second date,  a friend asked me the valid question how I end up on these accidental first dates. I’m not entirely sure, but I blame it on a mix of culture, personality and general naiveté. This post looks more closely into the details.

Firstly, one has to identify who the accidental date is likely to happen with. Simply put, it depends on the relation of the strength of my attraction to him to the strength of his attraction to me. Because I love visualising data, and can’t get enough of that in my day job, I have compiled this problem in a graph.

The fine line in the middle represents equal levels of attraction. As you can see, the main danger for accidental dates rests in the top left zone – where you reasonably like the person, but they like you quite a bit more. This disparity causes situations where you are quite comfortable having them around  and don’t suspect anything when they suggest outings. As you aren’t that attracted to them it maybe hasn’t even crossed your mind that there might be a subtext.

Secondly, I think that my non-verbal communication skills must be deeply flawed. Part of it might be that I’m foreign, and have different cultural values –  however, this is a feeble excuse seeing that my home country is not really known for its touchy feeliness, so it must be my personality. I’m extremely tactile, and will happily hug even people I have only just met. With my friends this becomes more pronounced, and I like to show my affection by touching their arm in conversation, walking with locked arms and hugging when greeting or saying goodbye. The way I was raised, affective touching is not necessarily sensual but can also be friendly and comforting.

However, I’ve learnt the hard way that especially among British born-and-bred males friendly touches are almost exclusively construed as coming on to them. So once you have identified your vulnerable accidental-date population, stick to the following:

Rule 1) No unnecessary touching.

Walk somewhere?  – Walk on your own!

Meet someone in the street? – Nod your head and say “You alright, mate?”

Have a quiet conversation somewhere? –  Keep your hands to yourself!

The next part is a bit more subtle, but also concerns my personality. I have the tendency to be very enthusiastic about things, and express this enthusiasm quite vocally. When I like something, I’ll probably tell you. And I like a lot of things. I also laugh out loud at jokes that I find funny. Again, I get the feeling that this natural enthusiasm and my way of showing it is not widely spread in England, which leads to my friendly interest looking like I’m way into someone. In reality, I’m just way into people in general.

Rule 2) Be cool.

Don’t squeal “OMG, me too”, at every second utterance of the other person. Don’t fall off your chair laughing. Don’t suggest seeing this absolutely cool band you’re sure the other person would just love.

The last one is crucial, so I’ll make it its own rule.

3) Don’t ever suggest a date-type outing to someone in the accidental date danger zone.

Ever.

Even though it kills you because you know you could have a great time making cookies together, or there’s this vintage café you really want to try out. Don’t expect someone who’s a little too into you to mindread that “Oh hey, let’s spend more time with just the two of us” actually comes with the implied caveat of “…as friends only!”. Sure, you know what you meant- you want to hang out, you think the other person would be fun to hang out with, and it all seems breezy. But from the rose-tinted view of someone with a crush it will almost certainly sound like you’re asking them out.

Date-type outings will include (but aren’t limited to) the following, if just the two of you are present:

Any type of sit-down meal, any type of event that requires tickets (cultural, sporting or other), any activity that takes place in one of your houses (absolutely no DVD nights!), any kind of trip or any nighttime activity outside. Come to think of that, I think any nighttime activity with just the two of you present is a date-type event, so best to avoid evenings altogether.

Grey areas are shared interests such as working out together, any of the aforementioned with another couple present (could be construed as a double date) and meals that are eaten while standing up or moving (only the truly desperate will consider a late-night trip to the kebab shop a date).

Safe events:  talking in your coffee break, time spent in a common group of friends, time spent on public transport.

See how this list is much, much shorter than the first list? This means suggesting events in general is probably a bad idea.

It is not fair to assume that the person with the massive emotional bias will sort out your ambiguous signals, so try to be as clear as possible.

Good luck.


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Nighttime is My Time…

I think time of day is crucially important when making decisions. What seems perfectly reasonable at 2am almost certainly sounds like a daft idea during bright daylight. In the world of dating this may be even more true than during other interactions – nighttime seems very special to any sort of romantic activity (see going to the park or dealbreaker III for specific examples, although virtually all the stories on this blog happened between 8pm and 8am). Especially the wee hours of the morning appear prone to intimate conversations, emotional revelations and rash decision making. This is not a new observation, and someone has even centred an episode of a sitcom around this phenomenon.

But what makes this time so special, so intimate? Is the link between nighttime and romantic activity strictly coincidental, correlational or even causal?

In a recent conversation with a friend we identified the following three factors.

1) If you are talking to someone at 2am, you probably have been talking to them for a while or know them well.

This is an important factor, and strictly correlational. We usually don’t start conversations with strangers at 2am,  so you probably have been talking to the other person for several hours since you started the conversation at a more conventional time that evening. This means it’s the unbroken length of conversation time, not the daytime itself that leads to revelations and sharing of intimate details.

A possible extension to this rule is that if you feel comfortable to start a conversation at 2am with someone you probably are either already familiar with each other, or at a party (and possibly inebriated). Both of these situations again benefit being close to someone.

Even if this is not true for you, and you neither know the other person nor have talked to them for a while, the sheer existence of this social convention creates the illusion of intimacy (“We are talking at a socially unconventional time – we must be able to share intimate details with each other”).

2) It’s dark outside.

Both me and B. agreed that this was somehow important, and probably a causal factor. Maybe it’s the age-old kindergarten trick of “if nobody sees me doing it, then I’m not doing anything wrong”, but regardless of the mechanism, inhibitions definitely drop in the dark.

3) Nobody else is awake.

Being alone with the other person definitely helps to bring intimate moments along. And at 2am you’re much more likely to be left alone than earlier in the day, simply because other (sane) people are sound asleep. Furthermore, not only are you physically alone, you also share the feeling that you’re the only people out of bed. If the two of you are the only ones to do something, then this means there is a special connection between you, right? Again, this creates the bond of  together defying a social convention.

This factor is a mix of correlational(physical aloneness) and causal(perceived aloneness).

So there you have it, the nighttime/intimacy link is neatly analysed and explained. I still don’t think I subscribe to the theory that “nothing good happens after 2am”. Quite to the contrary,  I believe that the wee hours are a time with incredible potential.

However, certain safety measures should be in place to fully benefit from the nighttime phenomenon. During the day it all seems just so clear, so it might not be much use to pretend “Would I act the same if it were 10am right now?” – we have just established that you probably wouldn’t.

Instead, just ask yourself whether your reaction the next morning is likely going to be “Wow, I finally dared to do this/ tell her/kiss him. I can’t believe I had the guts to do so” or “OMG, WTF, please let this not be true/Why  have I ever done this???”.

The fine line between relief and regret can be hard to make out at 2am, but it’s certainly worth trying.

***disclaimer: this post was written in broad daylight***

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Dealbreakers (III)

Ok, this should be such an obvious one, yet lots of people don’t seem to get it. This story is actually a few years old, but still worthy recounting. Not that I’m bitter, or anything.

I went to a party, and was introduced to D.. We started talking and found out we had lots of interests in common.  We moved to a quiet corner of the room and talked from 9pm until our host got incredibly impatient and threw us out at 3am.  I couldn’t tell you now what we actually talked about, but it was one of those really intense first-time-you-meet conversations with lots of chemistry and mutual agreement.

D. offered to walk me home (that alone is probably worth another post. I love being walked home.) and we continued to chat. At my house I asked him in for a cup of tea and we again continued to talk for hours. At around 7am, we were snuggled up on my sofa, still talking. He said he was going to leave for the 18th time, and then he left after a long lingering hug.

The next day (the same day, but just later) I had a conversation with the friend who introduced us. I asked him how he knew D. and he said:

“Oh, I think I first met his girlfriend through my course.”

Woah, what now? Girlfriend? The guy I had been talking to for ten hours straight – four of which cuddled up on my sofa stroking my hair- had a girlfriend? And somehow that girlfriend had not come up in ten hours worth of conversation?

I know we weren’t kissing or anything, and I didn’t explicitly tell him “Oh, by the way, I’m really attracted to you!”, but still.

Dealbreaker.

(of sorts. because there doesn’t seem to be that much of a deal going on).

Please drop a hint in the conversation if you’re taken, somewhere in those first ten hours of conversation.


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