This is a choose-your-own adventure blog post. You can replace “Date” in the title with any verb that’s applicable to you: “hang out with,” “be friends with,” “hop into bed with,” or whatever gets you excited about human connection and is in line with your ethics and your relationship agreements.
This is also a blog post about my dating and friendship habits. It’s about things I’ve learned and been resistant to sharing, because of how we’re all socially conditioned to interact with confidence and insecurity (some of us more than others).
Basically, contemporary American culture sucks at teaching us how to do relationships (which includes friendships and familial relationships). Our sex education would be so much stronger if we included components on healthy relationships, but we don’t. We’re left with Hollywood drivel providing narrative models, as well as the hit-or-miss methodology of patterning our relationships off the ones we’ve been exposed to in other areas of our lives. This means that if we’re around healthy, functional relationships we might have an idea of what those look like, though we probably don’t have the explicit understanding of their structure that we’d need to intentionally replicate them. And folks who have grown up in less healthy, less functional relationships have even more work to do on that front.
One thing that has worked for me, in both platonic and non-platonic relationships, is to spend time with and prioritize those people who can teach me something. Finding people who are knowledgeable about stuff I value does not, sadly, guarantee that they know how to relationship, but it does ensure that I won’t feel that I’ve wasted time by getting to know them.
…and here’s where I hit my hesitance to write about this. Because that comes off as pretty damn arrogant.
I value my time quite highly. I don’t understand why others don’t do the same. I want to learn and experience tons, and so I seek out the company of people who can offer me that. Oh, does that sound a tad mercenary? Well, it’s a two-way street: I’m happy to share about my extensive travels, experiences, and knowledge. I don’t show up demanding that people offer me edutainment. I ask people to connect with me, and learn from me, even as I hope to learn from them.
The societal roles and boundaries that structure many of our interactions give value to those interactions, regardless of how we individually might assign value. There’s the student-teacher role, the employer-employee role, and so on, all of which are fairly constrained and in many ways unidirectional. That’s not a bad thing. But for the interactions that we pursue in our free time, the ones we daydream about and Tweet about and swoon over and gush on and on about – those are the ones we should make sure we value, and can learn from, and admire.
In times when I’ve been looking to date, yes, I’ve been seduced by the idea of someone with whom I had an unexpectedly high amount of mostly-physical connection given how little we had in common. So I’m not being judgey here. But for someone to capture my interest for longer than a hot minute, whether as a potential romantic/sexual partner or a friend I want to keep around for years, then yeah, how we connect in terms of shared interest and uneven knowledge of subject matter is going to matter.
On the one hand, this philosophy is incredibly humble. To paraphrase my life partner, who says, “Don’t be the best one in the band,” it means that I’m forever seeking people who know more than me about stuff. As in, if you realize that you’re the most competent one in your group, you need to find a new group, because otherwise you’ll just stagnate. In terms of my social circles, maybe one of my friends can teach me about linguistics; another can help me develop my writing. I’ll share my sourdough starter with the one, and teach the other about narrative structure from a folklore perspective.
On the other hand, this way of thinking is a tad arrogant. It’s saying,”I’m already pretty damn awesome, so you need to have some measure of awesome to be worth my attention.” Obviously I’m not judging whether someone merits value as a human being in general; we’re all worthy of basic human rights and love and affection and friends and family and sexytimes if we so desire. It just means that I have a sense of what my time and attention are worth, and because I’ve had a pretty kick-ass life, the bar is set pretty high for someone to be of interest to me.
Lest someone chastise me for not giving back – I’m certainly not the “best one in the band” in all my social interactions. I regularly go out of my way to take people under my wing who would benefit from learning about all the gender, sex, and relationship stuff I know. Plus for goodness’ sake I’m an educator! That means I spend a bunch of time deliberately positioning myself to be the most knowledgeable one in the room on a given topic, so that I can impart that tasty, tasty knowledge to others who will benefit from it. If anything, the fact that I so often deal in asymmetrical knowledge relationships professionally means I want to experience the flow in the other direction personally.
I don’t have the One Twue Way to relationship. I doubt much of what I’m saying here is new advice. But I would urge people to think about what they value, and whether their various relationships are helping or hindering when it comes to getting them snuggled up to those values.