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April 25, 2005


Yes. Argh. I remember once going through various contortions trying to convince someone who had a crush on me, and who may actually have been the most boring person ever, to lose interest, and I mentioned this to my Dad. Now, there's this thing my Dad can do which is really hard to imagine until you see it in action: he can ask a series of questions that in no way suggests that he disapproves of something you've done, but that makes what's wrong with it immediately and horribly obvious to you, so that the disapproval, shame, and subsequent decision to stop right now is entirely your own, not his. (How he manages this, I have no idea.) And he asked some such series of questions, and I remember its suddenly becoming completely clear that what I had imagined was "letting the guy down easy" was in fact a mixture of cowardice and some self-aggrandizing vision of the total, crushing, cosmic despair that would no doubt be produced if I just told him that I wasn't interested. I mean: I suddenly saw exactly what I was doing, and I was completely ashamed. It was awful, but I never did that again. (Thanks, Dad!) (And a variety of guys would probably thank him too, if they knew.)

I don't really do any of that anymore, and the odd thing is that I think that once people realize that I don't, they're a lot more confident that when I say something nice, or that I don't mind doing something, I actually mean it; and thus, as far as people's feelings go, it's a net positive. (Although there was the one time when my then-boyfriend asked me to read his movie screenplay, and I warned him that I would tell him what I actually thought, repeatedly, but "oh no", he was "interested in what I really thought", etc., and it sucked, and I said so, nicely and trying to be as constructive as I could, but neither that nor the pre-reading warnings prevented a long angry lecture on how if I really cared about him, I would have lied. Right.)

Also, I'm sorry about the date. That sucks.

I hate to sound cynical, but ambiguous behaviour is usually cover for agressive and passive emotional manipulation.

We are better off when we can be direct and diplomatic...you know, gentlemanly.

I mean did he use those words, "We just don't click."

Someone who hates the english language, like that? isn't worth the trouble.

SH: Ask any child of parents who didn't divorce but should have, if you can get him/her away from the therapist long enough to ask the question.

"Are there other common ways that we try to spare people's feelings and end up making things worse in the long run?"

No better time for the Keynes cliche:"In the long run we are all dead."

For most of us, I presume, this is constant, is what we are:we entertain, amuse, tolerate, console...hide or conquer our indifference, impatience, unattraction, incomprehension. We maintain our relationships, casual or profound, short or lifelong, sincere or feigned, with a superficial but sustained kindness. Ain't many of us saints to swim in a sea of love and intimacy. But neither have I seen many people who expend much effort on a consistent casual cruelty.

Do we set each other up for disillusion and disappointment? In the long run we all age and die in increasing isolation, remembering those good times when pretending to care was just good enough.

I'm curious about another part of this story: how'd you get set up on this blind date? My understanding, from my heterosexual remove, is that the gay community operates quite differently on such matters but I've always wondered if that's just selection bias.

Boy hilzoy and I came to opposite conclusions, huh. Trust hilzoy, she is smarter and more honest and an all-around better person.

First thought was two fictions: "Iceman Cometh" and "Dogville" both of which are about the arrogance of knowing what is best for other people. And about self-deception as to your own motivations and desires.

So two good rules:
1) You never know what is best for other people
2) You never really know if you yourself are being sincere or honest.

The screenplay story strikes me as being dangerously close to the "nobody has an ugly baby" maxim:)

Of course we can err by trying to save someones feelings. but I think we can also be too brutally honest. I'm sure I've done both. The "polite" lie is dangerous ground, like any lie. We should also be careful not to be unnecessarily cruel with our honesty. These are judgment calls that we will inevitably screw up from time to time.

Of course, the screenplay story comes close to violating the NHAUB maxim.

And someones feelings should be someone's feelings.

Hopefully that will preclude someone from being brutally honest with me.

Other ways: not daring to say you don't like the food someone made or the perfume they gave. Usually punished by receiving it regularly afterwards...

Joyless holiday parties made so by one particular set of uncles/aunts/cousins who hate driving the three hours to get there, and spend the whole time complaining about how they had to drive, and pack up the kids, and what a pain, and blah, and blah. When it is suggested that they give it a miss, they say, looking martyred, "oh, no, I could never do that to poor Mary." Mary is the hostess, who is perennially furious at these piles of wet blankets sitting around her house and has said on more than one occasion that she wishes they would just skip it. When it is suggested that she just tell them that they shouldn't come, Mary says, looking horrified, "oh, no, I could never do that to poor Mike and Tricia."

So one side will never disclose the truth to the other, barring the development of a major family rift, so my wife and I take plates of food downstairs and play videogames with my wife's much younger cousins, as everyone upstairs just miserables away for each other's sakes. Bleah.

Other ways: not daring to say you don't like the food someone made or the perfume they gave. Usually punished by receiving it regularly afterwards

my wife and i are friends with a couple who like to have dinner parties. somewhere along the line, the wife got the idea that i really like peanut butter... i actually really dislike peanut butter. nevertheless, whenever she gets the opportunity, she bakes some peanut-butter-based dessert and presents it to me, grinning and cooo-ing. at that point, after she's spent all that time making this dessert (and all previous), i just don't have the heart to tell her i don't like it - and the deception deepens.

cleek, the solution is simple -- another lie. Tell teh woman you think you're developing a peanut allergy because of eating too much peanut butter. :)

Sorry about the date Sebastian.

I've been on both sides of that scenario and although I intellectually agree with hilzoy's take, emotionally it's much more messy. There are ex-blind dates I'll cross the street to avoid if I see them coming and ex-blind dates I'm now very good friends with. How I got to either position is not related to whether it ended with a quick yank of the band-aid or a slow excruciating peel. It always depends on a series of choices so much more complicated than that.

In other words, I'd say go with the quick yank as plan A, but go with your gut in general.

Six-sigma version of this:

My mother-in-law has been making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a couple-times-a-week basis for my father-in-law for just over four decades now. Just about two years ago he told her that he prefers strawberry to grape jelly, which is what she nearly always uses.

Some things can go uncommunicated for nearly a lifetime, with a side dish of why-don't-you-make-your-OWN-lunch?

Gah, I hate dating. One of the things I don't miss about not being actively polyamorous anymore. Sorry to hear about the bad night, Seb.

While I'm generally in agreement with the magnificent and wonderful hilzoy above, I would qualify it by noting that the degree to which brutal honesty is highly circumstantial. Much depends on how mature the other person is, how deft you are at speaking truth without giving inadvertent offense, and a balance between how important the issue is versus how important keeping the peace is.

I see no reason to shield anything from someone you've just gone on a date with, for instance. Regardless of how mature they are or aren't, there's unlikely to be any skin off your back if they take the truth badly, aside from the discomfort of dealing with someone being an assclown about it to your face.

With Jess, though, it's different--we're in it for the long haul together, and I've learned over time that sometimes it's better to just keep my mouth shut. Sometimes, you just gotta learn not to sweat the small stuff in order to maintain domestic felicity. That's just a part of learning to live with someone else, and it'll happen to everyone--unless your mate is one of those 0.001% of the country who's inhumanly capable of dealing with brutal honesty from their lover on all matters.

Six-sigma version of this

speak not of the S.S. !

Sorry to hear it Sebastian, I'm sure you'll be fine and fill find and have more interesting and exciting dates very soon. Cause Spring is here :)

I should say that in the screenplay story above, I wasn't "brutally honest", or at least I tried my best not to be. And I think that anyone who decides to take the 'honest' route in these situations has to really try to find ways of being honest without being brutal.

As regards writing in particular: I am the child of two people who write books, and I have been reading those books in manuscript and commenting on them for as long as I can remember. (We all did.) My parents were always completely clear that however awful it is to get criticism from people who, after all, really do love you and would never try to hurt you, it's a lot worse to let something bad go out under your name when you could have avoided it, and to have its by then unalterable defects criticized by people who have no reason at all to try to be nice. (And they didn't just say this; they acted on it.)

This has always made sense to me, and it's why I think screenplays are different than babies. For one thing, you can't change the ugliness of a baby, but you can change the badness of a screenplay. So there's a point to knowing what needs changing. For another, this guy was in fact shopping this screenplay around, so the point of making it better was clearer than it would have been had it been a purely personal exercise. There's nothing analogous about babies: you don''t have to decide whether to try to publish them or not, or anything like that. They are there, and you should love them whatever they look like. With babies, it's not about merit, and it shouldn't be. With the decision to try to sell a piece of writing, it is.

Plus, I don't really understand the point of asking for compliments when you think the person you're asking will compliment you whether she believes it or not. At that point, you're not asking for an opinion; you're imposing a test of love, which requires that the person you're testing see that you are not, in fact, asking the normal question 'what do you think of my screenplay?', which would be answered by telling him what one thinks, but doing something else entirely. I don't like this.

That being said, I have a terrible time with exactly the kind of situation Sebastian seems to have found himself in. I have more or less gotten to the point where I really will say that e.g. I mind doing a favor for someone when it's true, which it usually isn't, but the very idea of saying to someone I don't know well, and who may be perfectly nice, that I don't like him enough to want to see him again is like nails on a chalkboard for me. (Contra NeoDude, I think that 'we just don't click' is exactly the sort of thing I might say under the circumstances: situations I genuinely hate, like telling someone I don't want to date him, make me all awkward and inarticulate, and that particular awkward phrase, with it's 'nobody's fault' implication, would be just my speed.)

Ugh. The very thought of these conversations makes me squirm.

To be completely honest here, in my marriage one of us is forthright and says what they think no matter what the consequences. The other one is me.

This combination makes for interesting fights, let me tell you. For one thing, it's pretty much forced me to grow a thicker skin around my ego, and be a little more brutally honest in how I assess myself.

the very idea of saying to someone I don't know well, and who may be perfectly nice, that I don't like him enough to want to see him again is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

True, but it still beats all the alternatives in the long run.

I would add the following. Usually, the situation arises when you are dealing with someone who chooses to be clueless to the usual signals we send regarding interest in someone else. There may be multiple reasons for that cluelessness, but I would posit that it is most often a form of insecurity (as opposed to genuine ignorance that they are not wanted). So part of what makes it so painful is that one is being forced to be somewhat tactless about a lack of interest, and one can sense that it is not going to be taken well because of the insecurity that is motivating such persistence.


It was mildly bad insofar as I was relatively sure he wasn't attracted to me from the start

Sadly, I would infer that you felt differently, which must have added to the pain.

Talking to someone else during the dinner? -- flat-ass rude, and right up there with people who take cell phone calls and chat during a date. Its the date equivalent of farting in the elevator.

Gotta agree with that last. Talking to anyone else, without including you in the conversation, is rude to the point that you should be happy to not be obligated for a second chance at rudeness. Allowing a near-stranger to intrude on a date to that extent is grounds for walking out and catching a taxi home. And taking the next recommendation from those who fixed you up with tons of salt.

Re: beating a dead screenplay.

Not that it is relevant to the point, but sometimes you can "change the ugliness of a baby".

As to the screenplay, the close to ugly baby analogy was a late night approximation based on the over all context. I wasn't criticizing your actions (except, perhaps, your choice of boyfriend;) You were in a no win situation. The context of the situation apparently told you he didn't really want constructive criticism, since you warned him, "repeatedly". You couldn't do anything else without being untrue to yourself. He set a test for you, and you failed in his terms. Lucky for you, probably not for him.

re: beating a dead screenplay part 2.

The "brutally honest" paragraph wasn't intended to be related to the screenplay wisecrack, but separately to temper the "honesty is the best policy" theme.

I actually don't have any problem with the "doesn't click" part of things. I have a friend that most people find so attractive that they would give their left pinky to have a chance with him. About six years ago he expressed interest in a dating relationship. For whatever reason, I've never been that attracted to him in a more-than-friendship kind of way. So I'm pefectly ok with the idea that a certain spark can be missing without it being an insult to the other person. (Well perfectly ok with it when it happens to other people. Intellectually ok with it when it happens to me). Saying that you "don't click" may be an akward way of saying that, but there really isn't a non-akward way of saying it. (Or if there is, someone please tell me.)

"Allowing a near-stranger to intrude on a date to that extent is grounds for walking out and catching a taxi home. And taking the next recommendation from those who fixed you up with tons of salt."

This probably reveals an interesting quirk in my personality. If I he had been the driver, or if we had come to the restaurant separately, I would have probably walked out. Since I drove, I was more reluctant to just leave. Also while I thought the length of the conversation was rude, it was not apparent how rude it was until the 'near stranger' part was revealed at the end. Now the person who reccommended the date is definitely getting an earful, no doubt about that.

I hate dating too, which is a good thing according to my wife of 27 years.

But when it comes to the peanut butter and jelly preferences, she can harbor her true feelings for decades. They usually emerge at the tail end of minor arguments, as in, "And I can't stand grape preserves, either, so there!"

To which I respond, "Since when, love of my life?"

Her: "Since before you, lambkins."

Me: "I'm glad you didn't wait until next year to tell me, when I might be dead!"

Her: "Next year, you say?"

Then we make out, er, I mean make up.

Peanut butter riff here. So, I'm living in a boarding house in the Philippines, meals included. Twice a week, they served tripe in a peanut butter sauce, made with Skippy maybe purchased at the duty-free shop, for all I know. Not Jiff.

Tripe in peanut butter sauce twice a week. I couldn't bring myself to complain or explain to the nice people that peanut butter smothered tripe and I were not compatible (gosh, John, considering the stuff you write on Obsidian Wings, we thought it was a good fit) and didn't click and were not destined for anything like a life-long commitment. So I left it hanging, fearing hurt feelings. I moved several months later, but I was always on the look-out for my former landlord on the street, and a quick getaway, to avoid confrontation.

But seriously, Sebastian, it's cool to hear that the gay blind date dynamic is the same as the hetero version. Women ask: "What do men want?" (not only that one thing, but two things and one of them is to hit a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the ninth during the World Series, and that ain't no ANALOGY) and men ask "What do women want?" and its somehow comforting that no one knows anything, even when the pronouns are the same.

I still have barely healed little holes in my heart region over a girl or two during the single days wherein I had powerful feelings and she didn't and you wonder what are those feelings and why do they feel like a concrete object even though they are not communicated? How can it be that she can't feel the same way, given the sheer palpability of my longings? And, why is she running away? ("Wait, I just wanted to tell you ...")

It's sweetly painful, like spring fever, or an early Brian Wilson song. See the movie "Napoleon Dynamite", or .....

...... I'm sure C.S. Lewis had something to say about it, if anyone cares to look.

Yes, there is a reason why Eros was considered a trickster. And I wouldn't be at all shocked to find that eros and eris share a similar root word.

Its the date equivalent of farting in the elevator.

There's something wrong with farting in an elevator? Hmm. Maybe that explains her reaction ....

Yes, Helen of Troy was very cute! But, what's inside that wooden horse?

I can't find my copy of "The Four Loves" right now, but I'm pretty sure C.S. Lewis got it spot on when he says (and I paraphrase) that eros will enflame passion when it cannot be slaked, like when you are standing across from each other on a crowded train, and extinguish it when you are at home and have time to yourself.

Yes, that's why I try to stay home as much as possible.

Which is a joke;), but it's mysterious how the trickster
can do his thing even when you know all of the tricks.
But why is the trick so mysteriously, dumbfoundedly, and unexpectedly, moving?

Yes, I know. Because it's a trick.

Hilzoy, have you ever asked your father how he does that?

Look on the bright side Sebastian, your blind date could have been more awkward.

Talking to someone else during the dinner? -- flat-ass rude, and right up there with people who take cell phone calls and chat during a date. Its the date equivalent of farting in the elevator.

Posted by: dmbeaster | April 25, 2005 11:57 AM

And this is why the "clicking" comment ended up being the salt on the wound/date.

Sebastian, you do not strike me as a shallow person. You certainly do not deserve to babysit an aloof and rude grown man. No matter how cute he may think he is.

I don't click with many people, but they still deserve my attention and respect when we agree to set time for each other.

real love is about all the gratitude your children show for the things that you did for their sake.

real love is taking your mother-in-law shopping when the game is on tv.

real love is staying together no matter what they look like in the morning.

real love is taking the blame for the fart in the elevator to protect somebody else.

that's real love. it is not selfish. it is all about duty and committment and sacrafice.

real love sucks.

OK, here's something from my past:

Once upon a time I had a crush on someone, but had reconciled myself to the thought that nothing would come of it, and we were friends. Then he had the clever idea that we should have sex, and then avoided me for a month. This hurt, not because of the rejection aspect (been there, done that, accepted it as unfortunate part of life), but because, while I have had those unfortunate conversations that begin, "you know, I think this might have been a big mistake...", and hate them, I would have thought that our friendship would have made it worthwhile to have one. Oh well.

In any case, in the fullness of time we got to be friends again, and at some point talked about this, and he said that he had just not known what to say. This struck me as somewhat lame, so I wrote up a handy form for him to use in case he ever found himself in a similar situation. In writing it, I canvassed some of my friends, and horrifyingly enough, over half of the entries on the form were actually said to people I actually know.

To avoid misunderstanding, I should note that the entry "I do not feel that I could ever have a meaningful relationship with a Republican" was one of them, but in the original it was "with a Democrat"; I changed it since the form's original recipient was a Democrat, and it would have made no sense for him to use it unchanged.

So when I read Sebastian's entry, I wondered, gee, do I still have that? And thanks to my computer's habit of saving everything, I did, even though this was ages and ages ago. For your amusement, I have posted it here. (About 90% work safe, I think.)

Heh. Seems I've seen something a lot like that before. I especially liked the "chain mail" option.

I've had the not-knowing-what-to-say thing before, or rather, afraid-to-say-it-because-it's-trite. After over a decade of reflection, a heartfelt "I hope that was at least half as good for you as it was for me" is the best I can do.

So, Tony Conigliaro would have answered these questions how? (he tried to ask elliptically)

Tony Conigliaro wouldn't have had to answer it at all, according to my seven year old self.

Scary to think that both "Our CD collections overlap" and "Your coloring doesn't match my car" are real.

Ahh, dating disasters, I've known a few. Billion.

As for trying to spare feelings and actually hurting them, here's the biggest on in the universe:

'I can't go out with you because if it didn't work out, it would ruin our friendship and I treasure that too much to risk it'. This is the absolute worst excuse in the universe a woman can use to try and let a guy down gently. (Guys never use this one that I've seen.)

It comes off to the guy in question as 'I am punishing you for being nice; I will only date jerks.'

You thus basically stomp him for being nice, while making yourself look like a monkey.

Well, until there is real love...let's have some real dates, first!

Or at least, some real figs.

It comes off to the guy in question as 'I am punishing you for being nice; I will only date jerks.'

Oh, there should be some sort of fundamental law/warning about this. Thinking of yourself as the perfect guy/gal to break that string of losers the object of your affection has been seeing for all time is just going to lead to disappointment.

Except when it doesn't.

slart -- "Heh. Seems I've seen something a lot like that before."

Me too. Nightmarishly familiar.

"Tony Conigliaro wouldn't have had to answer it all all, according to my 7-year-old self."

It occurs to me, for the purposes of this thread only, that THAT funny and way too true answer to my stupid question, had it occurred in the context of a blind date between two completely hypothetical people, would have led to an uncomfortably long silence as the questioner once again kicked himself for trying to bring baseball into everything, followed by some desultory mumbling about the weather, and early and separate cabs for each to their respective homes to seek solace in their totally overlapped CD collections.

I'd been a polite wimp most of my life, including in relationships and dating, which naturally led to repeatedly dating people I had no particular interest in (because I didn't want to 'hurt their feelings'). Of course what would happen was I'd stew over it, become more resentful about it (how dare the other person not realize how tedious I find their company!... what do you mean, 'Because you don't tell them'?), and finally break things off more cruelly than if I had just been honest in the first place.

After my last serious relationship ended, I made a promise to myself: I would not torture myself and some other person by 'politely' continuing a fraud. I would go out on one date with a person, and if there was no chemistry, I would (gently) say so and turn down future dates.

I stuck to that promise. I hurt a few peoples' feelings, but also had a few people tell me they appreciated my honesty. Apparently, just about everyone has been on either the sending or receiving end of 'polite/pity dates.'

I've also found I genuinely like my own company enough not to go out on dates for no better reason than 'I don't want to spend Friday night alone.'

I remember going out once or twice with a woman who was apparently not interested, but couldn't just say "I'm not interested," let alone something explanatory like "you're a dweeb." I kept calling her back just to hear the latest excuse. "It's Big Game week, you know," was my favorite.

Just for the record: when women say "I don't want to risk our friendship", it is not code for "I am punishing you for being nice". There are guys who sweep us off our feet. Some of them are our friends and some are not. If someone says this to you then, alas, you are not among them, unless the woman who says it has taken self-protection to alarming levels.

There are also guys who don't sweep us off our feet in the same way, but who we think it might be great to get involved with. For instance, there are guys about whom we think: I really like this guy. If I got involved with him, he might just sneak up on me, and I could wake up one day and find that our relationship had sunk some sort of taproot into my soul, and think: wow, I have to marry this guy. On the other hand, it might just not work out at all. At this point, since I haven't been swept off my feet, it's really hard to tell. -- This is serious, but not like being just bowled over by love. And there are, of course, other variants.

Again, this happens both with friends and with other guys. But if it happens with a friend, you really have to ask yourself: am I willing to risk the friendship for this? If the answer is 'no', that doesn't mean that the guy is 'too nice'; it means that you really value the friendship a lot. This is a serious compliment, albeit an unwelcome one, and should be treated as such.

Of course, there are also idiots who just say this as an excuse.

There's no nice way of telling someone off. If from the start you've laid out certain things like informing each other that the relationship between the two of you is of the casual kind, then maybe you won't have to end up hurting anybody's feelings. Tell your date from the very start what you're after: if it's just casual dating then tell him so; if there's no attraction, then do tell.

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