A Philosopher's Blog

Dating III: Age is Not Just a Number

Posted in Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on August 19, 2016

Being a philosopher and single again, I have been overthinking the whole dating thing. I suspect that those who give it little or no thought do much better; but I am what I am and therefore I must overthink. An interesting adventure in interaction provided me with something new, or rather old, to think about: age and dating. In this scenario I was talking with a woman and actually had no intention of making any overtures or moves (smooth or otherwise). With some storytelling license in play, we join the story in progress.

 

Her: Flirt. Flirt. Flirt.

Her: “So, what do you do for work?” Flirt.

Me: “I’m a philosophy professor.”

Her: “At FSU?” Flirt.

Me: “No, literally across the tracks at FAMU.”

Her: “When did you start?” Flirt.

Me: “1993.”

Her: “1993…how old are you?”

Me: “Fifty.”

At this point, she dropped out of flirt mode so hard that it damaged the space-time continuum. Windows cracked. Tiny fires broke out in her hair. Car alarms went off. Pokémon died. Squirrels were driven mad and fled in terror, crying out to their dark rodent gods for salvation. As my friend Julie commented, I had “instantly gone from sexable to invisible.”  Here is how the conversation ended:

Her: “Um, I bet my mother would like you. Oh, look at the time…I have to go now.”

Me: “Bye.”

 

While some might have found such an experience ego-damaging, my friends know I have an adamantine ego. Also, I am always glad to get a good story that provides an opportunity for some philosophical analysis. What struck me most about this episode is that the radical change in her behavior was due entirely to her learning my age—I can only infer that she had incorrectly estimated I was younger than fifty. Perhaps she had forgotten to put in her contacts. So, on to the matter of age and dating.

While some might claim that age is just a number, that is not true. Age is rather more than that. At the very least, it is clearly a major factor in how people select or reject potential dates. On the face of it, the use of age as a judging factor should be seen as perfectly fine and is no doubt grounded in evolution. The reason is, of course, that dating is largely a matter of attraction and this is strongly influenced by preferences. One person might desire the feeble hug of a needy nerd, while another might crave the crushing embrace of a jock dumb as a rock. Some might swoon for eyes so blue, while others might have nothing to do with a man unless he rows crew. Likewise, people have clear preferences about age. In general, people prefer those close to them in age, unless there are other factors in play. Men, so the stereotype goes, have a marked preference for younger and younger women the older and older they get. Women, so the stereotype goes, will tolerate a wrinkly old coot provided that he has sufficient stacks of the fattest loot.

Preferences in dating are, I would say, analogous to preferences about food. One cannot be wrong about these and there are no grounds for condemning or praising such preferences. If Sally likes steak and tall guys, she just does. If Sam likes veggie burgers and winsome blondes, he just does. As such, if a person prefers a specific age range, that is completely and obviously their right. As with food preferences, there is little point in trying to argue—people like what they like and dislike what they dislike. That said, there are some things that might seem to go beyond mere preferences. To illustrate, I will offer some examples.

There are white people who would never date a black person. There are black people who would never date anyone but another black person. There are people who would never date a Jew. There are others for whom only a Jew will do. Depending on the cause of these preferences, they might be better categorized as biases or even prejudices. But, it is worth considering that these might be benign preferences. That, for example, a white person has no racial bias, they just prefer light skins to dark skins for the same sort of reason one might prefer brunettes to blondes. Then again, they might not be so benign.

People are chock full of biases and prejudices and it should come as no surprise that they influence dating behavior. On the one hand, it is tempting to simply accept these prejudices in this context on the grounds that dating is entirely a matter of personal choice. On the other hand, it could be argued that such prejudices are problematic even in the context of dating. This is not to claim that people should be subject to some sort of compelled diversity dating, just that perhaps they should be criticized.

When it comes to apparent prejudices, it is worth considering that the apparent prejudice might be a matter of innocent ignorance. That is, the person merely lacks correct information. Assuming the person is not willfully and actively ignorant, this is not to be condemned as a moral flaw since it can be easily fixed by the truth. To go back to the food analogy, imagine that Jane prefers Big Macs because she thinks they are healthy and refuses to eat avocadoes because she thinks they are unhealthy. Given what she thinks, it is reasonable for her to eat Big Macs and avoid avocadoes. If she knew the truth, she would change her eating habits since she wants to eat healthy—she is merely ignorant. Likewise, if Jane believed that black men are all uneducated thugs, then it would seem reasonable for her to not to want to date a black man given what she thinks she knows. If she knew the truth, her view would change. As such, she is not prejudiced—just ignorant.

It is also worth considering that an apparent prejudice is a real prejudice—that the person would either refuse to accept facts or would still maintain the same behavior in the face of the facts. As an example, suppose that Sam thinks that white people are all complete racists and thus refuses to even consider dating a white person on this basis. While it is often claimed that everyone is racist, it is clear that not all white people are complete racists. As such, if Sam persisted in his belief or behavior in the face of the facts, then it would be reasonable to condemn him for his prejudices.

Finally, it might even be the case that the alleged prejudice is actually rational and well founded. To use a food analogy, a person who will not eat raw steak because she knows the health risks is not prejudiced but quite reasonable. Likewise, a person who will not date a person who is a known cheater is not prejudiced but quite rational.

The question at this point is where does age fit in regard to the above considerations. The easy and obvious answer is that it can fall into all three. If a person’s dating decisions are based on incorrect information about age, then they have made an error of ignorance. If a person’s decisions are based on mere prejudice, then they have made a moral error. But, if the decision regarding age and dating is rational and well founded, then the person would have made a good decision. As should be suspected, the specifics of the situation are what matter. That said, there are some general categories relating to age that are worth considering.

Being fifty, I am considering these matters from the perspective of someone old. Honesty compels me to admit that I am influenced by my own biases here and, as my friend Julie has pointed out, older men are full of delusions about age. However, I will endeavor to be objective and will lay out my reasoning for your assessment.

The first is the matter of health. In general, as people get older, their health declines. For example, older people are more likely to have colon cancer—hence people who are not at risk do not get colonoscopies until fifty. Because of this, it is quite reasonable for a younger person to be concerned about dating someone older—that person is more likely to get ill. That said, an older person can be far healthier than a younger person. As such, it might come down to whether or not a person looks at dating option broadly in terms of categories of people (such as age or ethnicity) or is more willing to consider individuals who might differ from the stereotypes of said categories. Using categories does help speed up decisions, although doing so might result in missed opportunities. But, there are billions of humans—so categories could be just fine if one wants to narrow their focus.

While an older person might not be sick, age does weaken the body. For example, I remember being bitterly disappointed by a shameful 16:28 5K in my youth. Now I have to struggle to maintain that pace for a half mile. Back then I could easily do 90-100 miles a week; now I do 50-60. Time is cruel. For those who are concerned about a person’s activity levels, age is clearly a relevant factor and provides a reasonable basis for not dating an older (or younger) person that is neither an error nor a prejudice. However, an older person can be far more fit and active than a younger person—so that is worth considering before rejecting an entire category of people.

Life expectancy is also part of the health concerns. A younger person interested in a long term relationship would need to consider how long that long term might be and this would be quite rational. To use an obvious analogy, when buying a car, one should consider the miles on it. Women also live longer than men, so that is a consideration as well. Since I am fifty-year-old American living in Florida, the statistics say I have about 26 years left. Death sets a clear limit to how long term a relationship can be. But, life expectancy and quality of life are influenced by many factors and they might be worth considering. Or not. Because, you know, death.

The second broad category is that of interests and culture. Each person is born into a specific temporal culture and that shapes her interests. For example, musical taste is typically set in this way and older folks famously differ in their music from younger folks. What was once rebellious rock becomes a golden oldie. Fashion is also very much a matter of time, although styles have a weird way of cycling back into vogue, like those damn bell bottoms. Thus people who differ in age are people from different cultures and that presents a real challenge. An old person who tries to act young typically only succeeds in appearing absurd. One who does not try will presumably not fit in with a younger person. So, either way is a path to failure. Epic failure.

There is also the fact that interests change as a person gets older. To use some stereotypes, older folks are supposed to love shuffleboard and bingo while the youth are now into extreme things that would presumably kill or baffle old people, like virtual reality and Snapchat. Party behavior also differs. Young folks go to parties to drink, talk about their jobs and get laid. Older folks go to parties to drink, talk about their jobs and get laid. These are radical differences that cannot be overcome. It could be countered that there can be shared interests between people of different ages and that a lack of shared interests is obviously not limited to those who differ in age. The response is that perhaps the age difference would generally result in too much of a difference in interests, thus making avoiding dating people who differ enough in age rational and reasonable.

The third broad category is concerns about disparities in power. An older adult will typically have a power advantage over a younger adult and this raises moral concerns regarding exploitation (there is also a reverse concern: that a younger person will exploit an older person). Because of this, a younger adult should be rightly concerned about being at a disadvantage relative to an older person. Of course, this concern is not just limited to age. If the concern about power disparity is important, then it would also apply to disparities in education, income, abilities and intelligence between people in the same age group. That said, the disparities would tend to be increased with an age difference. As such, it is reasonable to be concerned about this factor.

The fourth broad category is what could be called the “ick factor.” While there is considerable social tolerance for rich old men having hot young partners, people dating or attempting to date outside of their socially defined age categories are often condemned because it is seen as “icky” or “gross.” When I was in graduate school, I remember people commenting on how gross it was for old faculty to hook up with young graduate students. Laying aside the exploitation and unprofessionalism, it did seem rather gross. As such, the ick argument has considerable appeal. But, there is the question of whether the perceived grossness is founded or not. On the one hand, it can be argued that grossness is in the eye of the beholder or that grossness is set by social norms and these serve as proper foundations. On the other hand, it could be contended that the perception of grossness is a mere unfounded prejudice. On the third hand, the grossness could be cashed out in terms of the above categories. For example, it is icky for an unhealthy and weak rich man to date a hot, healthy young woman with whom he has no real common interests (beyond money, of course).

Fortunately, this is a problem with a clear solution: if you do not die early, you get old. Then you die. Problem solved.

 

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Dating II: Are Relationships Worth It?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on August 10, 2016

My long term, long-distance relationship recently came to an amicable end, thus tossing me back into the world of dating. Philosophers, of course, have two standard responses to problems: thinking or drinking. Since I am not much for drinking, I have been thinking about relationships.

Since starting and maintaining a relationship is a great deal of work (and if it is not, you are either lucky or doing it wrong), I think it is important to consider whether relationships are worth it. One obvious consideration is the fact that the vast majority of romantic relationships end well before death.  Even marriage, which is supposed to be the most solid of relationships, tends to end in divorce.

While there are many ways to look at the ending of a relationship, I think there are two main approaches. One is to consider the end of the relationship a failure. One obvious analogy is to writing a book and not finishing: all that work poured into it, yet it remains incomplete. Another obvious analogy is with running a marathon that one does not finish—great effort expended, but in the end just failure. Another approach is to consider the ending more positively: the relationship ended, but was completed. Going back to the analogies, it is like completing that book you are writing or finishing that marathon. True, it has ended—but it is supposed to end.

When my relationship ended, I initially looked at it as a failure—all that effort invested and it just came to an end one day because, despite two years of trying, we could not land academic jobs in the same geographical area. However, I am endeavoring to look at in a more positive light—although I would have preferred that it did not end, it was a very positive relationship, rich with wonderful experiences and helped me to become better as a human being. There still, of course, remains the question of whether or not it is worth being in another relationship.

One approach to address this is the ever-popular context of biology and evolution. Humans are animals that need food, water and air to survive. As such, there is no real question about whether food, water and air are worth it—one is simply driven to possess them. Likewise, humans are driven by their biology to reproduce and natural selection seems to have selected for genes that mold brains to engage in relationships. As such, there is no real question of whether they are worth it, humans merely do have relationships. This answer is, of course, rather unsatisfying since a person can, it would seem, make the choice to be in a relationship or not. There is also the question of whether relationships are, in fact, worth it—this is a question of value and science is not the realm where such answers lie. Value questions belong to such areas as moral philosophy and aesthetics. So, on to value.

The question of whether relationships are worth it or not is rather like asking whether technology is worth it or not: the question is extremely broad. While some might endeavor to give sweeping answers to these broad questions, such an approach would seem problematic and unsatisfying. Just as it makes sense to be more specific about technology (such as asking if nuclear power is worth the risk), it makes more sense to consider whether a specific relationship is worth it. That is, there seems to be no general answer to the question of whether relationships are worth it or not, it is a question of whether a specific relationship would be worth it.

It could be countered that there is, in fact, a legitimate general question. A person might regard any likely relationship to not be worth it. For example, I know several professionals who have devoted their lives to their careers and have no interest in relationships—they do not consider a romantic involvement with another human being to have much, if any value. A person might also regard a relationship as a necessary part of their well-being. While this might be due to social conditioning or biology, there are certainly people who consider almost any relationship worth it.

These counters are quite reasonable, but it can be argued that the general question is best answered by considering specific relationships. If no specific possible (or likely) relationship for a person would be worth it, then relationships in general would not be worth it. So, if a person honestly considered all the relationships she might have and rejected all of them because their value is not sufficient, then relationships would not be worth it to her. As noted above, some people take this view.

If at least some possible (or likely) relationships would be worth it to a person, then relationships would thus be worth it. This leads to what is an obvious point: the worth of a relationship depends on that specific relationship, so it comes down to weighing the negative and positive aspects. If there is a sufficient surplus of positive over the negative, then the relationship would be worth it. As should be expected, there are many serious epistemic problems here. How does a person know what would be positive or negative? How does a person know that a relationship with a specific person would be more positive or more negative? How does a person know what they should do to make the relationship more positive than negative? How does a person know how much the positive needs to outweigh the negative to make the relationship worth it? And, of course, many more concerns. Given the challenge of answering these questions, it is no wonder that so many relationships fail. There is also the fact that each person has a different answer to many of these questions, so getting answers from others will tend to be of little real value and could lead to problems. As such, I am reluctant to answer them for others; especially since I cannot yet answer them for myself.

 

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Perspective

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on August 12, 2009

One of the many things I have learned from being in a relationship is that people tend to have very different perspectives on things. This is especially true when it comes to what upsets people.

I have found that some things that do not bother me at all really annoy some other people. For example, I am accustomed to living with pets. I don’t like finding a hair in my food and I am not pleased when my husky tracks mud on the floor, but I deal with it and get on with things. However, people who are not as accustomed to pets might react very badly to these things. To me they are minor, but perhaps to her they are very serious things indeed.

It is easy and tempting to assume that what is a minor annoyance (or not at all annoying) to you will be seen the same way by the person you are dating or involved with. Also, it is natural to assume that what really bothers you will also really bother her. After all, people tend to think that how they see the world is the right and only way. Of course, this is not true at all-people see the world quite differently and react differently. It is important to keep this in mind if you want to try to avoid problems. While no one can be a mind reader, it is a good idea to try to figure out your partner’s perspective and to help him/her see your perspective. Otherwise, trouble is all but certain.

It is also tempting to assume that some things are objectively minor or major. In some cases, this makes sense. For example, if someone freaks out because your dog looks at her, then she is overreacting. As another example, if someone gets upset because your cat peed on his laptop and took a kitty dump in his overnight bag, then he is reacting normally.

In other cases, the appropriate reaction is a rather subjective thing. Based on past experiences, people see things differently and assess them differently. For example, if a person was hit by their previous partner, s/he might react very strongly to play rough housing. Also, everyone has quirks of personality such that certain things just really bother them, although most other folks will see it as no big deal. While too many or too weird traits like these can be marks of insanity, I’ve noticed that all normal people have a few. For example, I get really annoyed if someone touches a glass I am drinking from-provided that their fingers touch the part that my lips have been touching. I don’t have an abnormal fear of disease, but that just bugs me disproportionally.

What can confuse matters a bit is that sometimes people jokingly pretend to be annoyed when they really are not. This is most often done in response to things that are usually not seen as annoying at all. It is the over-reaction that is supposed to be funny. Of course, since people differ in what they see as a serious matter, it is easy to think that your partner is jokingly over reacting to something you see as minor when, in fact, s/he is really upset by it.

What can also muddy things is that people will often over-react to something that is not really the problem. This is because they are angry or upset about something else that they are unwilling to confront head on. So, they express anger or displeasure over something else. This can be rather confusing and a problem. After all, if you think your partner is angry because you leave the toilet seat up, but she is really angry because you are not talking about your feelings, then you won’t be able to solve the problem. If you take pains to put the seat down, then she will find some other minor thing to be angry about. This is why it is important for people to be clear about what it is that really bothers them rather than using other things as anger surrogates.

A Successful Relationship

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on March 3, 2009

Being divorced, I know a thing or two about unsuccessful relationships. Of course, my preference is to have a successful relationship. I infer this is true of most people (but not everyone, of course).

While almost everyone wants success and most people have vague ideas about what counts as success, I suspect that most people have not considered the matter in depth.

Naturally, we do have the illusions given to us in fiction as well as the social expectations handed to us by parents, friends, and others. However, these should not be accepted without some scrutiny. After all, why think that their definitions must apply to you?

Hollywood is, of course, not very helpful.  To be fair, the job of the movie folks is not to define successful relationships for the rest of us. Rather, their job is to entertain us in return for our money.  Oversimplifying things greatly, Hollywood tends to portray relations as worse than in real life or far better (“and they lived happily ever after”).

While approaching a relationship like an academic problem might not be the best idea, having an understanding of relationship success seems rather important.  After all, without a notion of success, achieving it would seem to be a matter of luck. To use the obvious analogy, it is like archery-success is more likely if you have a mark to aim for.

While it would be nice if there was one standard of success for relationships, the obvious truth is that success varies from person to person. There is also the added complication that a person could be mistaken in his view of a successful relationship. While these two claims might seem to be contradictory, they are not. After all, think about exercise. What counts as good exercise can vary from person to person. But, a person can also me mistaken-perhaps exercising in a way that hurts her.

Not surprisingly, people typically fall back on the easy and obvious vague answers about success such as “being happy” or “being with the right person.” Obviously, if you are happy and with the right person, then your relationship would seem to be a success. But, what is happiness and who is the right person?

Falling into the easy and obvious answers can be a problem in many ways. One is that a person who falls into them will be less inclined to reflect on the matter, thus making success less likely. Another problem is that the standard of success can often be set too high by the easy, obvious and popular answers. For example, someone might think that success means being happy all the time or that Mr.  or Ms. right has to be amazingly right. However, such unrealistic expectations are almost certain to lead to disappointment and failure.

That said, a person should not make the opposite mistake and set her standard of success too low. For example, a person who thinks that merely having a warm body beside them is success will probably find that disappointing as well.

So, all a person has to do is to find what counts as success for them (making sure that it is not too much nor too little) and then make it happen. Easy enough, right?

McDonald’s is For Breakups

Posted in Humor, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on February 5, 2009

Today in my aesthetics class, we were discussing Hume’s paradox of taste. During the discussion, I mentioned how Hume claimed that various factors could affect a person’s aesthetic sensitivity. For example, a person who is biased or prejudiced will not judge a work fairly. I also gave an analogy: how factors like illness can affect the taste of food and this is what Hume had in mind.  As happens often, I couldn’t resist a random anecdote and mentioned how a friend once told me that if you plan to break up with someone, never do it at a good restaurant. This is because you won’t be tasting your meal and neither will s/he. Naturally, I said “so, McDonald’s is for breakups.” I’m not sure why, but that phrase struck me as funny-perhaps a good title for an advice book. Consider it copyrighted.

One can just imagine how things would go:

Dude: “Hey, baby. Let’s go out to eat. We need to talk about something.”
Lady: “Oooh…let’s go to Chez Expensive!”
Dude: “No, baby. No. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
Lady: “Oooh! Is it Le Super Chez Expensive Maximus?”
Dude: “Not quite, baby.”
Lady: “Hey, this is McDonald’s! You’re breaking up with me, aren’t you?”
McDonald’s Minion: “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take you order?”
Dude: “Yeah, gimme two number 34s.”
McDonald’s Minion: “The breakup combo meal?”
Dude: “Yup. Hold the pickles.”
Lady: “You bastard!”
Dude: “Shut up and eat your breakup burger, baby.”
Lady: “Die! Die! Die!”
Dude: “Bitch, you made me spill my fries!”

Ramblings on Trust: Cheaters

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on November 24, 2008

A little while ago I wrote a blog rambling about trust and promised to write in more detail about trust later on. I had hoped to be able to write something new today, but late papers from students have put and end to that hope. Fortunately, I have a piece I wrote a while ago that is about trust and breaking trust.

One area in which trust is critical is in a romantic relationship. Not surprisingly, such trust is often violated by cheating.

Put in very general terms, cheating involves straying outside a committed relationship in order to have sexual relations with another person or persons. Some people also consider emotional infidelity to be a form of cheating and that could also be considered cheating-although defining it could be somewhat problematic.

People cheat for a variety of reasons, but there are two main motivations that are almost certainly present in every case. First, the cheater believes that s/he is not getting something she needs or wants from the existing relationship. For example, a person might not be receiving the amount or type of sex s/he wants. As another example, a person might not be receiving the emotional intimacy s/he needs. These unsatisfied needs are what motivate the person to stray outside the confines of the relationship. Second, the cheater believes that s/he is getting something of value out of the existing relationship or is avoiding something undesirable by remaining in the relationship. Obviously, if the cheater got nothing from being in the relationship, then s/he would most likely end the relationship rather than cheat. What the cheater gets from the relationship can vary greatly. One person might remain in a relationship out of love, but stray because her sexual desires are not being gratified. Another person might remain in a relationship for financial security, yet wander because his partner is emotionally distant. A third person might remain in a relationship out of fear of being harmed, yet cheat in order to attempt to have a relationship that is not based on threats and coercion.

While people cheat for a variety of reasons, it is generally desirable to avoid having someone cheat on you. Laying aside the moral harms, cheating is harmful in two very practical ways. First, there is the matter of physical health. There are many sexually transmitted diseases in the world and some of them, such as AIDS, are life threatening. If someone is cheating on you, the odds of you being exposed to one of these diseases increases significantly. Second, there is the matter of emotional health. Being committed and loyal to a person who does not reciprocate this loyalty can be quite devastating when this infidelity is revealed. The extent of this emotional harm increases the more you are committed to the person and commitment tends to increase with time. Given that both the chance of being harmed and the extent of the harm depends on the amount of time on is a victim of a cheater, it is reasonable to think that the sooner a cheater is exposed, the better.

To spot a cheater, you need to know what types of cheaters you might be dealing with. There are three types of cheaters: the traitor cheater, the stealth cheater, and the open cheater. Each of these types will be discussed in turn.

The traitor cheater is the classic cheater. The cheater is cheating with a person who is aware of the relationship that the cheater is violating. This is analogous to historical traitors who secretly betray their alleged loyalties to another party who is fully aware of their traitorous deeds. A traitor cheater can be hard to catch because s/he has a willing accomplice who will probably aid the cheater in concealing the cheating.

A stealth cheater is a person who cheats on one person with another person who is ignorant of the cheater’s other relationship. The cheater is thus cheating on both people because only s/he knows about the cheating and the others believe they are in a committed relationship.

Because the stealth cheater does not have a knowing and willing accomplice, they can sometimes be easier to catch. In fact, one of the people involved with the cheater might accidentally expose the cheat. For example, a person who is unaware that s/he is involved with a cheater might stop by the cheater’s place unexpectedly when the other person is there.

An open cheater is someone who, as the term states, is open in his or her cheating. While s/he remains in a relationship, no attempt is made to conceal the cheating. The notion of an open cheater might seem rather odd. After all, cheating seems to almost require secrecy by definition. However, such cheating does occur and occurs enough that there are slang terms for those who engage in it. People who are open cheaters have been called “swingers” and “players.”

The good thing about an open cheater is that there is no need to expose the person-they are open about the cheating. The bad thing about an open cheater is that s/he is still a cheater.

A single person might conceivably be a cheater of multiple types. For example, a person might be cheating with one person who is aware of his infidelity while he is also involved with a third person who is unaware of the first two. However, most cheaters tend to fall into just one type.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous attempts to determine the percentage of people who cheat. The main reason to know this is to gauge the likelihood that you will be a victim of cheating. Based on a sampling of various surveys, about 20% of women and 40% of men claim they have cheated. However, these percentages are untrustworthy for three reasons.

First, if there is one subject that people lie about, that subject is sex. Second, cheaters are most likely also liars-hence they certainly cannot be regarded as an honest source of information about cheating. Third, social expectations probably influence the answers people give. For men, there is a certain machismo associated with cheating-so some men might claim they have cheated even if they did not do so. Although there have been great strides in equal rights, women are still socialized to regard cheating as extremely bad, so women are probably less likely to admit to such indiscretions. Given these facts, it seems unlikely that the actual percentage of cheats will ever be known. However, based on anecdotal evidence it seems likely that cheating occurs at fairly significant levels and is hence something to be concerned about.

While you should be concerned about the possibility of cheating it is very important to know that even if it is true that 40% of all men cheat and 20% of all women cheat, it does not follow that your partner has a 40% or 20% chance of cheating on you. Individuals are more or less likely to cheat based on their personal characteristics. So, for example, if your boyfriend is loyal and devoted, he does not have a 40% chance of straying.

Whatever the percentages, people do cheat and it is a good idea to be able to spot the signs of cheating in order to minimize your health and emotional risks. Fortunately, there are signs that a person is cheating. The signs presented below are not exhaustive-there are other signs of cheating.

Before presenting these signs, I am obligated to give the following warning: It is very important to keep in mind that these signs are not conclusive and that a person could exhibit some or even all of these signs and not be cheating. Accusing an innocent person of cheating is an almost surefire way to put an end to a relationship so it is wise to approach this sort of situation with due caution. Along with the signs I provide possible alternative explanations and some suggestions on how to deal with such situations. In any case, the responsibility lies with you-I assume no moral or legal responsibility for any actions you might take or not take based on my advice.

Unusual Communication

The sign: Your partner receives an unusual number of phone calls, text messages, emails, etc., seems unusually interested in them and is rather vague about them. For example, s/he will break off what s/he is doing with you to respond to a text message and when asked about it will say something vague about “a friend.”

People who cheat need to plan their cheating and people involved in cheating seem to often need a great deal of contact with the cheater. One likely reason is that they know the cheater is a cheater-hence are probably checking up on him/her. Someone who is a traitor cheater will be harder to catch by this sign-they will tend to tell the other person when to contact them. Stealth cheaters are most vulnerable to exposure by this method-the person s/he is cheating with is ignorant that s/he is involved with a cheater and hence has no reason to be discreet in communication.

Alternative Explanation: Many people have perfectly legitimate reasons to receive a great deal of communication-they might have many friends (or needy friends), it could be work related, and so on. People also have good reason to be interested in such communication-they might like their friends or be dedicated to their job. People often have good reasons to be vague about their communication-they might not think it is important or necessary to keep you informed about all their interaction with others. Also, many people seem to regard the phone or text message device as taking priority to a person who is actually present. I have even had students break off a discussion about a failing grade to respond instantly to the beep of their mobile phone. So, it is best not to always read too much into such behavior.

Resolution: Avoid the urge to snoop or press too hard into your partner’s communication. People tend to like some degree of privacy and resent such intrusions. Also, such behavior shows a lack of trust and a might convey the impression that you are trying to unfairly control his/her communication. Such behavior might very well create a problem where there is not one. If the communication situation bothers you enough, a reasonable approach is to express your concerns to your partner and see if they would be willing to explain the situation or change their behavior. If the person becomes hostile about the discussion or seems secretive or evasive, then something might well be up.

Restrictions on Communication/Meeting

Sign: Your partner places seeming unusually restrictions on when and how you can contact them and when and where you can see them. Since most cheaters do not want to be caught they will obviously attempt to control your contact with them. That way they are not exposed-either by you catching them cheating or by you exposing them to someone else they are also cheating on.

Alternative Explanation: People can have good reasons for telling you when you can contact and see them. In some cases the person might seem to be placing restrictions, but is merely telling you when they will be available. In other cases people like having their space and prefer to set aside time for themselves away from you. In other cases, people like to keep their romantic relationships out of their workplace and hence will ask you not to call or visit them at work. All these can be good reasons and not signs of cheating.

Resolution: Do not assume the person is cheating and decide to immediately attempt to “catch” them by intruding into those restricted times and places. This will display a lack of trust and a lack of respect for the person that might be very harmful to the relationship. If you find their restrictions problematic or are otherwise concerned with such limits, then discuss these restrictions with the person. If the restrictions are reasonable, then the person should be able to justify them. If the person is evasive or becomes hostile, then there might well be something going on.

Secrecy

Sign: Your partner is secretive about certain things. They go places, but do not say where they went, what they did or who they were with. They have missing time in their schedule that they do not account for. They are overly concerned about you seeing their email, text messages or phone logs and take steps to prevent you from doing so or overact if you show interest in such things.

Alternative Explanation: Your partner might be a CIA agent. Seriously, there can be good reasons for such behavior. First, your partner might not even realize that they seem secretive-they might simply not feel the need to report everything they do to you. Second, people need privacy even in a relationship. Psychological space is critical to a person’s well being and even the most open person will act to preserve that space. Third, people tend to regard their phone logs, email and text messages as private-and rightfully so. Sharing such things is a matter of choice and there is no legitimate expectation to full access to your partner’s communication. Of course, there can also be problems other than cheating that are the cause of such secrecy-such things as alcoholism, gambling or drug addiction.

Resolution: Avoid the temptation to spy on your partner. Doing so shows a lack of trust and respect that can spell ruin for a relationship. Also, doing so might involve crossing the line into illegal activity-such as hacking their email accounts. A reasonable approach is to ask them about their apparent need for secrecy in such matters and attempt to see if they are willing to either be more open or reassure you about such matters. If they seem suspiciously reluctant, then they might be cheating. Then again, they might also be protective of their privacy.

Inconsistency

Sign: Your catch your partner in inconsistencies. They initially tell you that they do not need to travel for work, yet suddenly start taking weekend business trips. They tell you that they always get off work at 5:00, but then cancel a dinner date because they have to work late. They tell you they went to lunch with a friend, but the friend has no recollection of that event.

Alternative Explanation: Apparent inconsistencies can often be legitimately explained. For example, a person’s work schedule or requirements might really change so that they do need to take business trips or work late. As another example, people do forget things, so the friend might have forgotten about having lunch. As with secrecy, there is the possibility that some other problem is occurring. For example, a person with a drinking problem might say he was helping a friend paint when he was actually at bar.

Resolution: Do not simply assume that they are up to something and try to ferret out the information by interrogating them or their associates and friends. This will show a lack of trust and respect that can be rather detrimental to the relationship. If the inconsistencies seem problematic, discuss your concerns with your partner. If they can explain the seeming inconsistencies, then things can be resolved. If they remain unexplained or the person seems evasive or worried, then there might be a problem.

Distance/Coldness

The Sign: Your partner has become cold and distant. People commonly cheat to satisfy their sexual and emotional needs. Given that people do not have unlimited needs, it is common for cheaters to have less desire to have sexual and emotional relations with their partner. A reduction (or elimination) of the interest in intimacy can thus be a sign of cheating.

People who cheat also often want to feel justified in their misdeeds. One way this is done is by attempting to provoke the other person into behavior that the cheater can use to “justify” his/her cheating. This can be done by being emotionally distant and cold. The other person will tend to respond in kind-thus creating a situation in which the cheater thinks his/her cheating is justified.

Alternative Explanation: Coldness and distance are not always signs of cheating, but they are almost always a sign of some sort of relationship problem. A person might be cold or distant because of stress, illness, depression or other factors that will (hopefully) come to an end. A person might also be cold or distant due to more lasting reasons, such as an enduring depression, dissatisfaction with the relationship, or deep seated character or emotional problems. A person might also be cold or distant because they are reconsidering the relationship or even using this method to end the relationship. Some people are reluctant to directly end a relationship and instead attempt to make the situation intolerable to the other person so they will initiate the break up.

Resolution: If you value the relationship do not respond by retaliating against the person. Being cold and distant in return will only worsen matters and lead to further emotional harm for both of you. If s/he is cheating, s/he will feel even more justified in the cheating. If the cause is stress or other problems, retaliation just makes matters worse. Especially avoid any foolish gestures, such as moving to sleep in another room or making cutting remarks about the person’s behavior.

If your partner is cold and distant, the simplest and often the most effective means of dealing with it is by having a discussion about why they are being cold and distant. Try to determine if the cause is something that you can help them with and take the appropriate action. For example, if they are distant because of stress, help them relax and see if you can help reduce what is causing the stress. If they want out of the relationship, it is usually best to let them go. If they are cheating, it is almost certainly best to send them packing.

Quick Breakups

Posted in Humor, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on October 29, 2008

In today’s high speed and high tech world, there is really no time to do an old fashioned breakup. After all, texting your former partner “imbrkingupwu” takes far too much time. Adding an explanation takes even more precious time that could be spent updating your status on Facebook or Twittering with the twits. Of course, breaking up without giving any reason can be a bit heartless, even in today’s uncaring world. So, to solve this problem I have created the following breakup list. Each entry has a number, so when you want to break up with someone, simply send the message bu# (where # is replaced with the number for the breakup reason, given below).  For example, texting bu 4 sends the message “I’m breaking up with you because I just discovered I’m bi, but I’m swinging the other way now.” Be sure to send the url for this post along with the message so the person can look up the reason.

1I don’t have time for you.

2 I just discovered I’m gay.

3 I just discovered I’m straight.

4 I just discovered I’m bi, but I’m swinging the other way now.

5 I met someone who has more money than you.

6 I met someone who has larger breasts than you.

7 I met someone who has a better car than you.

8 It’s not you, it’s me.

9 It’s not me, it’s you.

10 Damn, you got ugly quick.

11 I’m banging your best friend.

12 I’m banging your sister.

13 I’m banging your brother.

14 I’m banging your brother and sister.

15 I’m banging your brother, sister, and best friend.

16 The voices in my head told me it’s time to see other people.

17 I’m back with my ex.

18 I’m now with your ex.

19 I’m now with your ex, my ex, and your best friend.

20 I hate your cat.

21 I hate your 15 cats, except Mr. Whiskerpants. He’s okay.

22 I hate your dog.

23 Your dog ate my cat.

24 Your theological views clash with my metphysical theory.

25 Obama said it is time for a change, so I’m changing you.

26 McCain said “Country First”, so I’m banging the country.

27 I found Jesus, but he’s really far away so I have to leave you.

28 You’re out of crack.

29 I’m confused about my gender.

30 I’m confused about my species.

31 I love you, but I’m not in love you.

32 I’m batsh$t crazy and don’t need a reason.

Online Dating & Rules

Posted in Relationships/Dating, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on October 1, 2008

I thought I’d take a break from writing about the doom and gloom of the economy and switch to writing about the doom and gloom of dating.

A while back, I wrote a post on online dating and said I had given up on that. Apparently I have what it takes to be a politician: I went back and tried it again. Naturally, this was against my better judgment, but I was having little luck meeting anyone single, compatible and mostly sane via running and social activities. To be honest, I was not really putting much effort into it. My divorce had been my own personal financial crisis and my relationships since then did not work out. As such, I was a bit reluctant to put both my remaining stuff and my heart at risk once more.

So far, the online dating is going as it did before-nothing seems to have changed. The basic rules remain. For example, when you get tired of someone, just stop emailing. There are some pleasant exceptions, of course. As another example, there is no need to actually read anyone’s profile. For us guys, you just look at the picture. For women (or so a woman said to me), you just look at the photo and income. I exaggerate, but only just a bit. After all, I get emails from women who love Nascar, seem to already be in an exclusive relationship with Jesus, and hate to read. I don’t like Nascar, I’m okay with Jesus, and  I love to read. I can only accept the ego boosting view that they were won over by my photos and ignored everything I had to say about my interests and religious views. In case you are wondering, I do read the profiles carefully…after looking at the photos.

One thing I have learned about dating in general is that most women have a set of dating rules. Some women will tell you a few of the rules right away, perhaps out of a sense of fairness or perhaps to show that they are in such demand that they need a codified body of dating law to keep the situation from decaying into a Hobbesian date of nature. Many of these rules involve set time limits for certain events. If the time limit is exceeded, the dating is off. For example, a woman might have a three day rule-you have to meet her in person in three days or the deal is off. Other rules involve certain actions that must be taken. For example, flowers must be sent as a gift or the deal is off.

I have also learned that while women are supposed to be less rule followers than men, they seem to be deadly serious about their dating rules (except, of course, when they are not). From experience, I have learned that if you break one of the rules (known or secret) that is usually it. There are, of course, exceptions but they seem to be fairly rare. In some cases, this response is reasonable. For example, if a woman has a rule that the guy cannot be sleeping with other women when they are dating, then it is fine for her to stop the relationship if she finds out the weasel is weaseling behind her back. In some cases, this response seems a bit insane. For example, if you cannot meet with a woman who has the three day rule until day four due to a good reason (work, for example) and she says “that’s it”, then that would be a bit crazy.

Naturally, it is good to have standards and some rules. However, I think it is a mistake to be strictly committed to rules that seem to be rather arbitrary. On the plus side, a person’s rules tell you a lot about her, so they can be very useful in making your own assessment.

I have most definitely learned that when a woman makes her dating rules known, that I have to either follow them or simply break things off at that point. If she is serious about her rules, then I should respect them. Also, from a practical standpoint, if I am unwilling to accept her rules then it is just going to end anyway-and probably in a bad way. If she is not serious about her rules, but makes it seem that she is, then she is being dishonest. I’d rather not be involved with someone who is not open and honest about her principles and standards.

In my own case, I do have some basic dating rules. I don’t date women I work with, I don’t date women who are likely to try to kill me, I don’t date women who are addicted to drugs, I don’t date women who are emotionally deranged, and so on. Most of these rules are involved in keeping me and my pets alive and my stuff undamaged. I do not think I have any unreasonable rules. But, of course, everyone thinks his/her rules are just fine. So, perhaps I also have some crazy dating rules and don’t realize how crazy they are.

Fortunately, I am at the stage of my life where everything is quite good (aside from being single). As such, I have an excellent incentive to be cautious about dating: I have a lot to lose. So, I suppose my most basic rule is this: I won’t date anyone who will make my life worse. My other main rule is: I will date someone who makes my life better.

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Being Single

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on September 26, 2008

I’ve noticed that a surprising number of people now decide to remain single. Not just unmarried, but not even in a relationship or dating. I started thinking about this when some of my female friends told me that they simply do not date. Naturally, I did consider that they were cleverly preventing any attempts I might make to ask them out (I actually had no intention of doing so). However, time has made it clear that it was a life choice and not a ploy. Unless, of course, it is an amazingly long term ploy.

This got me thinking about why people make such a choice. After all, social tradition and expectations push people towards relationships. Further, people go on about how great it is to be in love. And, of course, there is that matter of sex.

One obvious reason some people stay single is that they cannot find another person. This might be because (sadly) no one wants them. Or it might be because (sadly) they have set their requirements so high that no mere mortal can meet them. Or perhaps they just happen to be someplace that is awful in terms of dating opportunities.

Another reason, and one that my friends have given, is that some people are too busy pursuing other goals such as career and education. Relationships take time and some people do not have the time for them. Interestingly, while women often give this as a reason, none of my male friends have ever said that they don’t date women because it would take too much time. It might be because women put in more effort than men and hence time is of more concern to them. Or maybe my sample is biased. Naturally, some people probably use this as an excuse to cover up their real reasons.

A third reason I have heard is that some people simply find life satisfying without a relationship and find little or nothing appealing in being in one. In some cases, people actually see relationships as detrimental and prefer to give up the positive aspects of a relationship to avoid the negative.  This view is often based on past experiences. A bad divorce or breakup can cause a person to think : “hey, being single isn’t so bad…at least I won’t lose half my stuff and no one is causing me emotional damage on a daily basis…other than those weasels at the office…” That can make a great deal of sense to a person who has been through the wringer.

Dealing with Disastrous Dates

Posted in Guest Post by Michael LaBossiere on August 25, 2008

You’re out on that all-important first date with someone you think you would like to know better, or it may be someone you just met through common friends. But the evening is turning out to be a disaster right from the word goes. You don’t know if you’re supposed to end the date abruptly or soldier on thinking that things will take a turn for the better. If you’re not familiar with the fact that dates, especially the first ones, can and will go wrong more often than not, here are a few pointers to help you out in times of awkwardness:

If your date is more preoccupied with other things rather than focusing on you, try a direct or indirect approach to see why this is so. Ringing cell phones can be extremely annoying in the middle of a date, as can your date’s obsession with the other men/women in the restaurant or club. If it continues in spite of your protests, excuse yourself and head for home.

If your date is drunk or on the way to getting there, firmly refuse any more alcohol for your table. If he/she’s sober enough to understand what you’re saying, tell them that it’s time you both went home, and that maybe you can talk to each other the next day when your heads are clearer. If not, call a taxi or see them safely home before you go on to your place.

If the conversation takes an ugly turn, apologize if you’re the one who said something incendiary. If not, tell your date politely that they’re being rude and that it would be a good idea to steer the topic to something more neutral. If he/she still continues to rant and rave, wish them goodnight and find your way home.

If you’re embarrassed by the way your date is behaving – being rude to the staff at the restaurant, eating noisily, talking loudly or displaying poor table manners – wait out the evening patiently. At the end of the meal, politely decline offers to see you home or hints of a second date. Instead, thank your date for a nice evening and leave alone.

The worst part of a first date is when one person is interested in pursuing the relationship while the other is not. If you’re the interested party, take a hint when your date is vague about meeting again or calling you. Don’t press for phone numbers and times of calls. If you’re not too keen on the relationship, be honest but kind in letting down the other person.

By-line:

This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who writes on the subject of best dating services. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

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