Tag Archives: life

Empty Empathy #3: The Alternative to “There, there”

23 Jun Sunset over Koffler Reserve, Toronto

In today’s media-dominated world the subject of ‘mindfulness’ has gained great gravitas, and whole college courses are dedicated towards making people more conscientious about the feelings of their fellow humans. Ironically, the only participant of mindfulness classes who I know personally has unfriended me on Facebook, because I criticised Apple watches for being too expensive. His mind was so full of himself that he thought I criticised his spending behaviour instead of Apple’s pricing policies.

But enough about me! I spent the past few blogs whining about my own situation, and the inability of most people to comprehend the depth of my woe. The last two blogs dealt with empty empathy, and why it can make people feel even more neglected than regular ignorance. Most of us have some deficiency in understanding our fellow man. (I could write ‘[wo]man’, but why avoid troubles?) Today I will offer alternatives to the blatantly empty phrase “There, there, everything will be okay.” Stick around, we all might learn something.

1) Console and inform

When someone is in peril, and you want to help them conquer their emotions, you can provide information regarding the situation and the next logical steps. Most people react well to constant blubbering, which is why first responders often chat with an injured person, especially if they are in shock. The mere sound of a calm human voice is comforting. So, just by speaking you are already helping. Remember not to brag with your own accomplishments, and you should be fine.

When Timmy breaks his legs, and you tell him that “everything will be okay,” he is not going to be happy about it, because believing that particular nonsense is going beyond his proficient injury. Instead, you should tell him that you are taking him to the hospital, where real-life professionals will dedicate all the labour that their underpaid nurses can provide to fixing Timmy’s legs, so that he can once more run the trails like a doped-up deer. Obviously, don’t say that, if Timmy’s legs were taken out by an Israeli shell cluster, because that might be overselling your medical capabilities. But you get the idea.

Merely providing personal comfort and situation-specific information can go a long way towards inner calm and mental healing. People in pain want to be taken serious. ‘There, there’ does not do that. But “you’re getting a shiny white cast” does.

may-meltdown

Any injury, be it mental or physical, can be comforted with heart-felt attention.

2) Offer a different perspective on the issue.

Many people focus on their tragedies and failures instead of their successes. I don’t exclude myself from that fault. (See?!) Providing an alternative view on the situation can lighten the mood significantly.

Loss in general, and death in particular are prominent examples. People tend to pour effort, time, and money into all things physical, building deep emotional relationships, yet ignoring that all things must pass, and all life must die eventually.

But as inevitable as death and decay, so is the rise of new life and opportunity. When my grandpa died, I did not feel a sensation of loss or tragedy; I had dealt with that long before. My grandpa spent his last two months in a hospital, growing weaker every day. At his great age there was little enough anyone could do to even make his days marginally more comfortable, making his death a relief for everyone involved. He had a life; he lived it, and now he is gone to make room for someone else. Remembering this simple ‘circle of life’ philosophy helped me overcome any sorrow that I felt over his loss.

A distinctive incident of loss is never the end. Unless the singular event in question is the heat death of the universe, but even that might just be the premise of a new beginning. Sure, Timmy loved his cat, and is sad about Kitty’s demise. But now that one pet succumbed to the natural decay of all cells, he can rescue a new cat from the impound, and maybe this time pick one that doesn’t eat his homework. Don’t think of it as replacement, but rather the chance for something fresh.

If you can find the spark of positivity in any misfortune, you are on a good path towards emotional recovery.

Tromso, Norway. A port view.

After my terrible cruise experience I never returned to Norway. However, I retain many good memories towards my job as cruise photographer. Focusing on those I actually cherish the experience.

3) Console and discuss

Intelligent people react relatively well to logic and information. So, if you spice up your conversation with personal insight into the tragedy, the mentally injured person might feel significantly better. Please refrain from telling brag stories, though. It’s great that you ran ultra marathons before and after you sprained your ankle, but that kind of sportif heroism is not achievable by everyone. Try to stay relatable, please.

First responders often tell kids about the super cool equipment that they are about to use, turning their underaged patients into eager listeners. Not just because the shiny metal toys distract from the searing pain of a broken appendage, but also because they want to learn new stuff. Adults are just the same. Tell them any novel information that pertains to their situation, and most likely they will greedily inhale it. My friend Joe had great anxieties before he went to the first MRI session for his chest injury. Six months later those scans haven’t just become a routine for him; he actually anticipates learning something new about human anatomy and MRI technology with every visit. Because learning is cool!

Goemon5 knee X-ray

That fractured patella still hurts today. But what other nerd has such a cool radiograph of his knee cap?!

Informed Dating

Granted, that doesn’t quite work the same way for the not-dating introvert. In this case there is no piece of technology that you can point at, so as to distract from your quick escape from an awkward conversation. But even here you can find things to talk about that will help in dealing with this emotionally difficult situation. As a wannabe support companion you have to immerse yourself in the predicament, and reflect on advice that might actually be helpful in moving forward. I mean, apart from ‘one foot in front of the other’. I already know how to walk; no need to patronise me.

Tell me how you met your spouse; how you gained each other’s undevided attention; or what kind of non-physical traits you find attractive in a person.

So, your boyfriend made you a Quinoa salad, and that prompted you to invite him over, and cook together? Or you felt a special connection when he baked you a rye bread from scratch? THAT is interesting to know. Anecdotes like this one help me plan my own approach to dating, because they build on experiences that I can potentially replicate. I find it nearly impossible to score a first date with any woman I am interested in, so I am eager to learn anything that helps me increase my own appeal to the opposite sex.

Don’t tell me that you are into knubby noses, or high-pitched voices, or really short feet. I cannot emulate those physical features, so they are of no use to me. Worse, it might reinforce the idea that I will never find a mate, because I was born with the feet of a half-giant.

Instead, point out things that I can easily manipulate, such as what clothing style you find interesting, what chatter topics resonate on a first date, or what type of scent would make it more or less likely to wanting to meet someone a second time.

Weinberg Snails in coitus

Maybe not the most romantic example of animals bonding. Still, these two share a very special relationship.

Empathy done right

Most people are receptive to intelligent conversation. (More or less, but see US voting habits for details.) Introverts, in particular, enjoy an informative talk. Introverts don’t like to share their feelings with just anyone, so please appreciate that if we do open up to you, it’s because we trust you as a very special friend.

If you react to my openness with an ignorant “There, there …”, or by bragging about your own successes, I only learn that confiding in you was a stupid idea. Because you either ignored my pain, or used it to refocus the conversation on yourself. Empty empathy hurts people, so please avoid it.

Instead, offer some useful information along with your well-trained consolation. Think about wisdoms and attributes that helped you avoiding or overcoming similar situations. Sharing your corpus of expertise reinforces our friendship, and allows me to grow personally. When you take some time out of your busy mind to custom-tailor a helpful response to my worries, and consider its impact on me, it shows that you care. That really is the essence of mindfulness.

Is this blog helpful, in any shape or form? Do you have concerns or complaints about it? Let me know in the comments, so we can move forward together.

 

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The (not) dating introvert #6 – Adding insult to injury (empty empathy II)

16 Jun Sunset at Koffler Reserve, KSR Toronto

Last week I introduced the topic of ‘Empty Empathy’ and laid out the negative impact it has on people who are already in emotional distress. Today we will dive deeper into the subject, and find some extreme examples for it. Sadly, we don’t have to go far for that.

As you recall, my dating history is shorter than the list of vegan options on a  McDonald’s menu. While most of my friends fight their first divorce, or prepare for the arrival of their second child, I am still trying to find a woman who wants to go on a second date with me. It is not easy to feel genuinely happy for the romantic relationships of others when my own efforts in these past twenty years led to a rejection rate of nearly 100% (with a few psychopathic exceptions). There are days when I genuinely feel alone in the world, and my introverted self has difficulties talking about that emotion (which really doesn’t help the issue).

My roommate, on the other hand, has the tirelessly positive attitude of an elementary school teacher. In itself that is not problematic. Our society (and economy) thrives on boundless positivity. But since her optimism has detached herself from reality, she frequently abolishes all reason, and tries to cheer me up with phrases such as: “[…] when you meet that woman of your dreams, and decide to marry her.” Or

“Everything is possible that you can set your mind to.”

That is empty empathy at its worst. Ignore my troubles and emotional strive, and counter it with a phrase that could serve as the generalised moral for every story in a level two reading book. If I reveal my greatest emotional dilemma to you, and your response does not even acknowledge my situation, you are obviously not trying to help me. An off-hand response is merely serving your own conscience, so that you can feel better for having contributed ‘something’ to the discussion. At a time when I am vulnerable and in search of help you decide to help yourself instead, by tossing a band-aid in my general direction, and convincing yourself that you involved yourself in my personal development.

I know this is a dire perspective, and most people who feel obliged to involve themselves genuinely wish to help. What I need you to understand is that empty empathy is not helpful at all. Unfounded prognoses like “everything is possible” sound particularly void of meaning when they come from a happily divorced underwear model who was winning music competitions while her peers still tried to figure out how to open their instrument cases. When humanity worships your feet, you can’t possibly sympathise with humanity. Because it is difficult to assess a problem of complex personal failure from a viewpoint of complete personal success.

Cardinal Bird in Toronto

Some things are easier to spot from a point of vantage. You lose track of the details, though.

I don’t exempt myself from that. For example, I cannot sympathise with people who can’t grasp a basic understanding of natural sciences. I’ve always been a natural talent with logical thinking, making it very difficult for me to understand why a university student would fail eight-grade mathematics ten times in a row (let alone one who worked as technician for a German automobile company). I have always been good at Math, which is why learning disabilities for logic-based subjects go beyond my comprehension. But no matter the intellectual disparity between us, I would not respond with “There, there”, and pretend that I was helpful.

Just the same, you can’t be an attractive female, and be able to understand what it feels like to be utterly alone for most of your life. Cute girls get invited to dates without any personal effort, so grasping the troubles of someone who gets perpetually rejected would be nearly impossible. I know you mean well when you comment on my situation (which might be the only thing that keeps me from slapping your face), but by ignoring the complex reasons of my sadness you are crossing from ignorance into condescending mockery.

 

Insult to injury

The more I reflect on the premise of unconditional affirmation, the more it sounds like the babble of a deranged Billionaire, trying to justify his most recent tax breaks. Sure, “anyone can become rich”, but there are certain mechanisms that prevent most people from ever achieving that prospect. People who are born into poverty experience much greater difficulties than people who inherited a fortune. Walking up to a snow-covered beggar in front of a supermarket, and telling him that “everything will be okay” is not going to lighten his mood. If you underline your point with a description of a castle by the lake that you recently inherited, you better run for cover, because the snow balls you will get in response are not going to be soft.

Maybe you want to be encouraging and helpful, but empty empathy is not the way. When my roommate talks about all the suitors she had in high school, it sounds much more like bragging than any form of encouragement. She probably had more dates in grade nine than I had my entire life, so there is no way she could ever identify with the desolation that haunts me. Our lives started from very different parameters, and a generalised response cannot address that. Tales of her own successes will only deepen my woe, which is why I usually avoid talking about my feelings.

Sunset over Koffler Reserve, Toronto

Partnership is important for humans. The grieve over perpetually lacking a stable relationship makes it difficult for me to feel happy for couples.

Shared pain

This is one of the key obstacles for introverts. Emotions are an incredibly personal subject for me, so I don’t generally want to talk about them. I always lacked that ‘special someone’ who other people confide their innermost feelings to. Whenever I do seek council regarding my emotional state from a friend, I am met by either puzzlement or inefficacy, or sometimes outright mockery. I believe the latter stems from mistaking my confessions for a strange form of sarcasm, although I personally don’t find the subject humorous.

As a forlorn introvert I frequently find myself in social seclusion. I have great difficulty trusting anyone enough to tell them about my feelings, because when I do they usually multiply. When I decide to share, and in response merely receive a reminder of how much greater everyone else’s life is, it only confirms my belief that sharing is a bad idea.

Alright, we walked a long path to make this point, but I hope you learned something about introverts and empty empathy along the way. Imposing your own success story onto someone who is perpetually down on luck can easily sound like you are bragging with your good fortune, no matter what noble intentions you might have. Please be gentle with your fellow humans. If you don’t have anything nice or useful to say, refrain from involving yourself with more than a hug.

Should you see yourself as some empathetic super hero, or you just want to know what other forms empathy can take, wait for next week. The next blog will tackle some alternatives to empty empathy. Filling that void with useful information is not really difficult, but just as any other form of mindfulness it involves trailing thoughts that most of us are usually unaware of.

 

The (not) dating introvert #5 – “There, there”; when thoughtless positivity becomes hurtful (Empty Empathy I)

10 Jun Jurassic Park - A Fallen Kingdom

When I was just a little boy I would frequently encounter the discomfort of meeting barren surfaces at a much greater velocity than my earthly body anticipated. I know, every kid falls, or bumps into tables, but I broke my arm three times, so you gotta grant me extra credits on this issue. No matter how much I bled or how much pain distorted my face, my mom would always have a variation on the same response: “before you marry it will all be well again.”

Now, that is a fairly solid prediction towards a seven-year-old boy, particularly if his government forbids marriage among children, and the injury in question is a fractured ulna. Eleven years is more than enough time to heal a bone. Still, it does not actually improve personal comfort when my arm feels as if a wild hog had chomped down on it, and the only verbal affirmation of the situation is “this will heal eventually”. In fact, it is utterly frustrating. When I’m hurt, I look for comfort, not for the random misgivings of fortune cookies. Of course, my seven year old me could not quite articulate these concerns in eloquent terms, so my usual response to mom’s attempted communication was a frustrated “Whaaah!”

“There, there, …”

My mom’s phrasing might sound a bit odd, but in actuality this is a common German expression, and contextually it is nothing more than a variation on the English “There, there; everything will be okay”. Whenever an empathetically inclined person attempts to expunge third-party pain, this seems to be the standard response: “There, there”.

The phrase speaks to a systematic neglect of actual helpfulness, because it is usually unfounded, and therefore meaningless. Today I will discuss how empty phrases like this one can actually compile additional damage on someone who is already hurting emotionally.

Fire in Calgary

Some tragedies are beyond your powers. That does not make “There, there” an appropriate response.

We need another Timmy!

The phrase “There, there” undoubtedly has its place. When little Timmy bruises his knee, or drops his ice cone, empty empathy is a quick way of dealing with the situation. Situations that are neither scary nor life-threatening can easily be defused with a hug and a few words of positive affirmation. “Don’t cry, little Timmy. We will just get you a new one.”

Now, that approach doesn’t quite work when Timmy loses his mom in a plane crash. You can’t just get him a new one. Unless you are a Russian pimp, in which case Timmy should probably stay away from you anyway.

Complex emotional situations can’t be addressed effectively with empty words. Like when one of your friends gets fired from a job he held for ten years, or your bestie breaks up with her lover, or your nephew’s cat gets smeared over the asphalt. There is nothing short of a miracle that could reverse any of those situations, so you have no simple way of intervening in the tragedy. You cannot save the day. Yet, most people feel the urge to intervene anyway, which usually results in sentences like “it’s gonna be fine.”

Timmy has questions

A pat on the back combined with an empty, rhetorical phrase might be simple enough to conjure up. However, its effectiveness is rather limited. Especially when the recipient of that phrase reflects on it.

I consider myself to be of above-average intelligence (admittedly a rather arrogant belief, enforced by post-graduate degrees in real-life sciences, and in two languages). Thus, I easily take offense in remarks that ignore reason, or that otherwise digress from reality. When I ponder my non-existent dating life, and realise that twenty years of valiant efforts have never led to a second date, not to mention any chance for a romantic relationship, the only conclusion I can draw for myself is that I will die alone. Telling me that “everything will be okay” and I “might find someone very soon” is not helping. In fact, it ignores my own observations of thousands of failed attempts to find a partner. Really, by uttering that empty phrase you ignore me, at which point I ask myself why I am still listening to you.

(The answer to that is usually some form of relayed empathy on my part. It would hurt your feelings to tell you that your empty rhetoric is crap, and that you are actually just pounding away on my deep emotional dilemma. I mean, you could talk about the weather, and be just as helpful. But telling you the truth will upset you, so I let you babble, because that’s what introverts do.)

Svalbard Husky Station

I feel caged in by society most of the time. No need for you to point that out. It just adds insult to injury.

Virtual Hugs

When someone tells me that true love lies just around the corner, they mostly do so with the well-spirited intonation of a TED-talker. That is a well-situated form of enthusiasm, and yet, the first question that comes to my mind is: “with what authority do you attempt to predict my future?”

I have gathered twenty years worth of solid evidence that strongly contradicts that prediction, so what gives anyone the arrogance to question my judgement? You might as well tell Timmy that his mom will rise from the ashes of the wrecked plane. The claim that “things will just work out” is just too far from conceivable reality to be worth any positive reaction.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Timmy’s new hair cut makes him forget his worries.

It’s not as if I wouldn’t want to be comforted; I just require much more than unfounded foolery to feel encouragement. When people try to cheer me up with their little pep talks, I genuinely appreciate their enthusiasm. Just like any other social animal I am grateful for being tended to, but the way most people do it actually only serves themselves.

Keep in mind that out of the thousands of ladies I asked out over the years not even a dozen of them said yes, and out of this handful of women only one ever wanted to see me a second time, and she is a certified “friend”. You cannot make me forget my compilation of negative experience by treating me like any kind of romantic fool. “There, there” is not going to cut it, when all my experience tells me that my life is markedly different from everyone else’s. Don’t try to make this normal, because I know it is not. When Timmy gets hospitalised with amputated legs, and you tell him that he will be back on his feet in no time, you better expect some hospital gear being thrown your way. (I gotta say: Timmy is leading a pretty traumatic life in this blog post.)

Empty Empathy

In order to make communication a bit easier, and because I really like alliteration, I hereby coin the term ‘Empty Empathy’ as a description for words of encouragement that are served in an attempt to be supportive and encouraging, but are actually void of any real acknowledgment of the problem at hand. Prof. Kaplan employed the term Empty Empathy to discuss the role of commentary-free news coverage, and Thrive Global described the dangers of ‘thoughts & prayers’ in our social media landscape. My account really just adds to the pile.

My request is this: please be mindful. Sometimes saying nothing is better than regurgitating some random, unfounded positivity crap. When I experience crushing loneliness I don’t want to hear that I “will find somebody eventually”. Especially not from anyone who is happily married, or is gloating over his/her ability to pick up dates on every street corner.

When you fall on the pavement, I don’t tell you how much better your situation would be if you hadn’t tripped. Instead, I help you up, gather your belongings from the ground, and check for serious lacerations or shock. I may not be the best First Responder you could wish for, but I will get the job done, and I will do so without causing you further injury. And that’s essentially the response that I hope to receive from anyone whom I entrust with my emotional troubles.

This blog is the first part of a trilogy dealing with empty empathy. Next week will be even more depressing than today, with examples from my personal environment, before part 3 finally offers some alternatives on the common theme of “There, there”. Stick around and comment to your heart’s content. We all might learn something.

 

Sources: Kaplan, E.A. (2005): Trauma Culture The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature. New Brunswick, NJ Rutgers University Press.

Thrive Global: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/empty-empathy-on-social-media/

The (not) dating introvert, #4: OK Cupid & sex before the first date

1 Jun

Any dating site that wants to be taken serious as such needs to incorporate some sort of algorithm to estimate whether or not the personalities of two people would make a good fit. After all, you don’t want to scroll through pages of profile text before realising that the two of you share less chemistry than you did with your assigned lab partner in grade seven. [I’m still waiting for that crystallised Chloride, Derrick!]

Our new friend, OK Cupid, provides an extensive reservoir of multiple-choice questions that you can answer. Based on your own answer, and considering how high you rank the importance of that question for your dating quest, the website will then rate the degree of commonality between you and all available profiles. These questions cover an immense spectrum, from your general political views, to your favourite spirit animal, to the amount of food stored under your mattress, to the shape of houses you find romantic. It is very eclectic.

Cleanliness is not a Chinese invention

Some of the questions ask you to evaluate whether your kitchen is more or less disgusting than that of AirBnB host Mike Chen. I don’t know why messy people would supply a response to that.

Dating Site Questionnaire

Many of those match riddles are pretty harmless, and I filled out some 150 of them to increase the potential for positive matches. However, many questions carry a bias that would likely preclude me from reaching a high match score with anyone but myself, because they build on issues that I never even think about, especially not when considering someone as a potential partner. Questions such as “which of these three painters do you like best?” or “would you go to a sports bar for a first date?” are utterly irrelevant for my life.

Sure, I could just answer with whatever comes to my mind, but that immediately decreases my matchability. Ladies who do care about one particular painter will think that I don’t like their painter of choice. Granted, that concerns about 1% of the population and barely impacts my potential match score, but add a dozen of these together, and my scoring decreases by 10%. Scale that up to 150 questions, and these tiny decisions will make the difference between ‘that’s a guy I’d like to meet’ and ‘What’s he doing here?’

What do you even mean by ‘Sports Bar on a first date?’ Do I frequent these TV-filled taverns? Do I hate sports? Is there any team contest I would watch in public? [The answer is rollerderby; thank you.] Since I neither hate nor love sports bars my answer obviously depends on context, which is something I can’t provide by clicking one of the three boxes provided.

My patent solution is to skip all questions that I find ambiguous. If our first date takes us to a sports bar, I promise not to roll around on the floor, kicking and screaming. However, I wouldn’t consider it a good opportunity to chat while three hundred hooligans practice their ritualistic chants.

may-meltdown

Rollerderby rules. How good of me to find a place and time to point that out.

Sex before the date

And then there are the real trouble makers; questions like “How quickly after seeing someone do you usually end up in bed with them?” or “Would you have sex on a first date?” Those inquiries are really just setting me up for a fight, because there is no right answer to any of them. To be honest, there are a lot of sex questions on that site (more like an introverted and sophisticated Tinder, really), and I skipped nearly all of them.

For starters, there is no “usual” in my relationship to sexual intercourse. I’d like to have some, some day, but I don’t think it’s an appropriate consideration before I meet someone for the first time. No matter how I respond to those sex questions, the underlying assumptions will always be that 1) coitus is an important topic for me in a fresh relationship, and 2) after a set number of dates I expect to fornicate with a woman. As much as the general idea excites me, I am not on that dating website to find a carnal connection. If copulation was my primary goal, I would just upload a polished photo to Tinder, and frame it in pointless sexual innuendos.

I could easily imagine being intimate with a woman on our first date. People fall in love ‘at first sight’, so deciding on sexual intercourse during that time frame should not stretch anyone’s imagination. People who claim that coitus after the first meeting is an unbreakable taboo are either liars, or ultraconservative hutterites. And in the latter case they might actually still be liars, if the reports on child abuse and incest in ultraconservative communities are anything to go by.

The same goes for the opposite approach of “I need to know someone really well before I become intimate with them.” The only people who would be opposed to sniffing each other out before having intercourse are sex addicts, and as mention above, they have their own kinky websites. There is no conceivable reason why a person who only procreates with a confirmed long-term partner would refuse to meet someone who typically pleasures their partner after the third date, solely on the basis of that sensual disconnect. Show me a single woman who would refuse to have dinner with George Clooney, if he confessed to usually having sexual intercourse on the second date!

1_tumblr_nagro8RJ8W1sdwq5oo1_1280

This is what most men are ultimately after in a date. But if we say that out loud, we only earn disdain.

Avoid erotic discourse, unless you’re really into it

Whatever option I select, it will always be the wrong one. Half of all women will think I am needy for even talking about coitus, while the other half consider me prude for precluding sex from the first date menu. When I consider the greater implications of these sex questions, it just leaves me without any viable response. Sometimes silence says it best.

I couldn’t even employ the truth, because “I usually don’t have sex” does not feature among the multiple choices provided. (This would also inform ladies about my sexual inexperience, which probably leads most women to reject me off-hand. We shall cover that topic and its underlying idiocy another day.)

Let’s drive this derailed train of loose thoughts over the cliff, before I lose another paragraph to pointless ranting. At the end of the day I need to be able to identify myself with my own dating profile. Therefore, I avoid any questions that are front-loaded, or too complex to answer by clicking a preformed box. I recommend you do the same.

Alright! Next up: more discourse about sex, dating, and maybe even a long deserved return to real life actual problems. Unless I finally get to finish that blog about mindfulness I’ve been working on since the dawn of empathy. Let me know in the comments if there is anything YOU would like to read about.

 

The (not) dating introvert, #3: OK Cupid and the digital dating problem

29 May

The ascent of the internet and social media has graced humanity with some pretty funky tools that make the search for romantic partnership much more interactive and accessible, particularly for socially shy people like myself. As we have seen in the last blog, that hasn’t helped me much. Today I will report a bit on recent experiences with online dating, and particularly about the platform of OK Cupid. Don’t worry; it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ll throw in some humour, and finish on a high note.

Digital Dating

Online Dating has been on my plate for the past decade or so, but I’ve only given it any serious consideration after I moved to Toronto. That has nothing to do with the city itself; I just felt a bit lonely, and my roommate encouraged me to create a profile on her favourite site, OK Cupid. And that’s already the long and uninformative story of how I came to have a digital portfolio on that particular dating website.

I’m a cheapskate, so free dating apps and websites such as Plenty-of-Fish or Tinder have definitely received some unwanted attention from me. I will tell you more about that in my next instalment of “Goemon disappoints himself”. Today I will focus on only one occurrence.

Port of Alesund, Norway

While we proceed with my account of the dating world, we may keep in mind that this is our ultimate goal. No, not a port in Norway; to become a cute couple!

OK Cupid

Just in case you have never encountered this particular website, I will give you a brief description of its framework. Well, if you know the site, the following passage won’t vanish from your view, but feel free to skip it manually.

OK Cupid is one of the better dating websites. In stark contrast to other dating portals you can create a profile, search the list of available candidates using various delimiters, and write messages back and forth without supporting the host financially. You can ’like’ other profiles, and if the people behind them like you back, you can write messages without limitations. Should you decide to pay for their services you gain the ability to see who has ‘liked’ your profile. Otherwise you just get to see the number of likes, and are left to wonder who might be the peculiar wisecracks who indicated interest in you, despite your outdated profile picture.

Profiles that you ‘unmatch’ usually don’t show up in your feed again, unless they belong to VIP members, or the algorithm thinks you ought to take a second and twenty-second look. This is a very diligent way for ladies to shut up guys they grew tired of. Chat for a few days, and when some cuter guy comes along, click the ‘unmatch’ button to never see each other’s profile again. (Unless that guy is VIP, so I guess there are multiple advantages in paying the website hosts.)

I ran the test, and ladies really receive a lot of virtual mail. It is quite helpful that suitors they have not manually ‘matched’ are not able to send words to their inbox. Otherwise they’d be swamped within minutes. You can send a short message to someone, so as to pique their interest in you, but after that greeting their profile disappears until they ‘match’ you.

I created a fake profile featuring a mildly attractive woman whose photo I gleaned from some random online fashion shop. Just your regular, barely beautiful woman. Her profile, which basically said “Hi, I am Sarah, and I like beeches” received 100 ‘likes’ within one hour of me uploading it. After more than one month my own profile did not receive one third of that attention, which just goes to show how incredibly selective ladies get to be.

After barely one week my fake female profile had accumulated more than 1000 ‘likes’, and after two weeks she had twice that many. Many of her suitors sent messages as well, although their creativity never exceeded the frivolous boredom of “Hey! Let’s skip the chit chat, and grab coffee some time.” I wish I was making that up, but this is literally the Copy & Paste attitude with which most guys try to fetch ladies.

And those lazy asses still win out against me! Every one of my messages is handcrafted, funny, insightful, and compliments on something specific to their profile. And still I receive less attention than the cute guy who puts her feet to sleep with blunt phrases like “I want to go out with you.”

goemon5-final-recordings-in-snow-1

Some of the best company I ever had. Amps don’t run away, you know.

Goemon5 on OK Cupid

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Hello!

When I created my profile on that dating website, I was still naively excited about this technology. I hand-selected a handful of portrait photos, showing my marvellous moustache in various creative environments; I filled in every single text box with engaging descriptions of my strong characters suits; and answered some 150 multiple-choice questions, to improve my virtual compatibility with the seeking ladies.

After two months on that site I have ‘liked’ some 1500 profiles, and wrote some 600 messages, which wasted more than 100 hours of my precious time. And those were not the cheapo kind of messages. Whenever a profile revealed any kind of information, I made sure to respond to that. After a few weeks I became quite efficient at it, but it’s still work, especially when you get next to no feedback.

 

The virtual harvest

Here is the catch of my prolonged efforts, the result of 600 handcrafted, engaging messages: A total of 24 women liked me back. Two even ‘liked’ me before I ever visited their profiles, which just goes to show that miracles happen, and my portrait photos are not a complete turn-off.

Out of the 24 ladies who entered direct communication with me eleven actually messaged me back at some point. The remaining thirteen are dead weight in my feed; despite various efforts and invitations they did not write me back even once.

Out of the eleven women that I had some kind of correspondence with two were so excited to meet me that they unmatched my profile just before we could set a date for said meeting. Four others wrote me back twice or thrice, and then migrated to the “dead weight” category outlined above. They are still regularly marked as ‘online’, which means they spend a significant amount of time communicating via OK Cupid, just not with me.

This could be utterly depressing, considering that I am actually a human being myself, and initially was kinda hopeful about this whole dating ordeal. You know by now that introverts are emotionally involved in just about anything they do, and even more so with issues involving social interaction. When one in fifty lassies likes me back, every single one of them becomes worthy of her own celebration. When more than half of them never interact with me in any way, those celebratory balloons deflate pretty quickly.

album-cover-take-2-2

Before you ask: yes, my profile pics are interesting.

Finally, Dating

That leaves us with five contacts that actually developed into dates. [This is the point where you break out into excited cheer and long overdue applause.]

I was surprised as well. More than 600 messages sent scored me five solid dates, with beverage, and face-to-face communication, and everything. In and of itself that’s a terribly inefficient ratio, but when you’re aging, lonely, and introverted you take what you can get.

Five dates does not sound like much, but it’s getting even less impressive when you consider that one of these ladies turned out to be a fellow scientist, who made it very clear beforehand that this was to be a friendly meeting, with no chance of romance in any of our quantum universes. To tell the truth, I have not heard back from her in over a month, so it is difficult to tell how deep our friendship goes after the single meeting we had.

The other four dates went rather well, if I may judge them so myself. We talked, we laughed, and compared our commonalities. Within 24 hours two of these four lassies told me that they had a nice time, and saw absolutely no chance of any romantic relationship between us. The third lady held back for a week, but when I asked her for a follow-up walk through High Park to see the famous cherry-blossom trees she first rejected, and two days later ‘unmatched’ me.

That leaves me with one cute Polish lady who I am now friends with. It’s a bit discouraging that she recently reposted a meme saying ‘hopefully ten years from now I will still be single’, but I’ll even take that as a good sign. Afterall, we read and comment on each other’s Facebook posts, so she definitely enjoys my virtual company. Right?! I’ve been told positivity is key, so we better retain all the sweetness that this tiny harvest has boiled down to.

Fjord Town Geiranger

This photo has no relevance here. I just like Norway.

Conclusions

Alright, I promised you a happy bit, and Goemon always keeps his word. As I pointed out in previous posts on the matter, it is very difficult for me to talk to pretty women, if my intentions involve any kind of romance. That’s not just general introverted insecurity. Words literally drain from my mind when approaching a cute lass. Being able to score any date at all is already an achievement for me, and it would not have happened at this rate (four dates in two months!) without OK Cupid.

Now, if my somber self might get a few words in edgewise, I’d like to add that there are few things that I hate more than inefficiency, and this virtual dating thing is one of the least efficient experiences I ever had. Imagine you read the profiles of 600 ladies, and in direct response to some of their personal information you asked them to have coffee with you, and only five of them said ‘yes’ (for a 1:120 ratio; told you we’d be doing math), you would probably find little consolation in the fact that four out of five women offer you friendship in return for your efforts.

1500 profiles read and liked, 600 messages sent, 11 interactive responses, 4 dates with ladies who are “looking for something else”, one confirmed second date.

Alas, one out of six hundred women found me so sympathetic that she went on a second park walk with me. Seeing that this is the only second date I ever had, we shall now celebrate and rejoice in the miracle of digital dating. The statistics of this endeavour remain terribly discouraging, but the quality company I received for a few morning walks is worthy of at least some of the effort I poured into this.

Also, 37 people liked my profile, without me liking them back, which tells you that I have standards that preclude me from certain relationships. But I will tell you more about my prevalence against homosexual affairs with the ring bearer in a later episode. Today we celebrate.

 

The (not) dating introvert, #2: never been kissed

24 May Longyearbyen in Norway gives much time to reflect.

You have probably seen those silly memes proclaiming that dating for over-thirty-year olds is “just like regular dating, but everything is on fire”. And you probably thought: “Haha. Silly. Next!” Or you ignored it altogether. Maybe you even tried to read some rare truth into that statement. In that case I pity you, because there is none.

Or your reaction was similar to mine: ‘what the heck are you even talking about’? How and why anyone quests for a romantic relationship depends on character attributes and personality, not on age. Almost all issues that stand between me and a happy dating experience are related to society and technology. Age plays almost no role in it. In fact, you could rewrite that same meme for age groups of 40, 50, and 80 years, and its value would not change. Dating success does not depend on age. Don’t let any random internet post tell you differently.

 

Look at me go! I haven’t even hit on the main subject yet, and already I am ranting away.

When I hear people talk about their puny relationship problems I usually roll my eyes, and move on. If you ponder questions such as ‘how many partners can I date simultaneously’, or ‘after how many dates am I allowed to kiss’, I have neither pity nor advice for you. Because I would gladly trade places with you, solve your imaginary problems by applying human decency, and live happily ever after. Seriously, if you spend any time wondering whether or not it’s okay for you to cheat on your partner, you simply don’t deserve the relationship you are in.

Because this is me: 30-something years old, never shared a kiss, never had an intimate relationship, never had a second date.

I am not desperate, needy, over-the-top socially awkward, or suffering from a lack of hygiene. For all purposes of human interaction I am a perfectly normal person. I have a positively humorous attitude, and a deep, critically thinking mind. There are several recipes I can cook and bake from scratch, and I have the mental capacity to figure out more. (Or follow the guidance of a cookbook, if it comes to that.) Singer, songwriter, academic, intellectual, photographer, blogger, feminist, sportif, enviro-nerd, blaBla … this is starting to read like a dating profile, so I’ll cap it with “well travelled man with an academic mind and artistic compassion.”

 

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Mug shot. Seemed appropriate.

In short, if that portfolio does not get me a second date, what will?

(Actually, it’s difficult enough to get a first date, but more on that in a different post.)

Whatever it is that women expect from their suitors, I don’t have it. I tried singing, poetry, or funny conversation. It never amounted to anything useful.

I tried building my physical strength, but genetics prevent any decent progress on the matter. Even if I had the time to work out an hour every day, any muscle mass that I could build up in two months would completely vanish after just a few days of neglect.

That is not even a matter of physical slack, but purely a genetic discrepancy. I bike and run almost every day; I just don’t have time to lift weights every evening. Imagine if I did have that time. If I laboured away all summer, I would have the same amount of biceps and abs as a normal person. (Yes, that’s pretty much the limit; I tried that approach when I was in the army.) Follow that up with one day where I’m too tired from work to do anything but fall asleep, followed by one day of travel towards some random field station or conference, and I will pretty much fall back to where I started. That experiment has been tried, repeated, and the disappointing outcome recorded in personal logs of physical depression.

 

I am not a man that women want to date.

You can keep your ‘that’s not true’ kind of pity to yourself, because my conclusion results from 30-odd years of experience. There is no way you could fully comprehend my situation without walking in my shoes for a decade or two. Considering that most men can’t keep it in their pants for a week you are not likely to ever comprehend. Patronising me only solidifies my overarching judgement – that regular people have not the hint of an idea what dating is like for a male introvert.

Face it: the decision on who you agree to date is first and foremost founded on physical attraction. There is some degree of variability involved in that decision, but you generally don’t go out with someone without finding their visual appeal eye-pleasing. And my counterfeit is not pleasing enough for ladies to think “I want to spend time with him”, at least not in comparison to the competition among my bearded peers. I have seen the pictures of single men on dating portals, and I certainly don’t blame women for their decisions – some of those guys are incredibly cute. (Just wait until you find out how many wifes and mistresses they have beside you. What, you thought you were the only woman who fell for that crooked smile?)

The superficial attractiveness of my face and body is something I have very little control over, and I am not willing to change my hair style every other day until I find one that provides additional 8% of traction on the market of visual allure. That is to say: I am stuck with the body I have, and the best I can do is feel comfortable in it, regardless of how others may judge it.

Open sea near Honningsvag, Norway

Dating is a mystical and nebulous paradigm to me. Like Honningsvag in the morning.

The Experience of Others

The internet is plastered with people giving advice for singles of all ages and social groups. I have found that none of their proclaimed techniques and approaches work for me. In some twisted way I am not normal enough to create attraction with words or gesture.

Forget about those ‘super awesome advices’, such as ‘pick a fun or interesting activity for your first date’. That literally never got me any recognition. Whenever I invite a lady to see a concert, or cook a meal, or throw axes at targets [the object, not the discount chain], the response is, invariably: ‘No.’ No matter how much they gloat about wanting to see that particular movie, or “love to see a live concert every week”, whenever I bring up that subject it basically kills all communication. The firmest response I ever received was: “I am socially shy around people, so I prefer something low key for first date”, followed by me inviting her for coffee any time she’s free next weekend, followed by her promising to get back to me, followed by her blocking my profile.

That disillusioning incident pretty much sums up my date life. Even when I manage to establish contact (which is already difficult enough), and remain friendly and reserved in that word exchange, I still get rejected most of the time. And at the odd chance I do score a first date (1:150; I’ll show you the math next time), there is never a second date attached to it.

That is me: 30-something, never been kissed, never been looked at twice. (At least not by a person I enjoy looking at.)

Man, that would almost be depressing, if nihilism didn’t already preach the emptiness of all things pretty. Alright, here is a cheerful picture of a cat. See you in the next blog, for some funny numbers and anecdotes. Or we meet in the comment section below, if you feel like sharing in your own experience.

natashas-cat-popo-36

Yoga Cat is just one of my many willing photo motives.

 

21st Century Dating Problems: #1 – the male introvert

19 May The port of Reykjavik at night

Approaching the 40-year landmark, and still being single. For some people this may not constitute a situation worth acknowledging. People fall in and out of love all the time, so what’s one more piece of dead weight?

As you can tell I am still trying to justify the existence of this blog to myself. But there are a couple of topics that I want to talk about, such as ‘women’ or ‘dating’, in the 21st century. I know, for some of you that’s already setting off alarm chimes: singling out women as a blog topic – isn’t that sexist?! Yeah, kinda. By definition any unweighted discussion of one sex can be considered sexist, meaning as soon as you mention ladies having vaginas you can rank yourself among the world’s leading sexists, together with #TheDonald, and that creep who always preys on co-workers bending over at the water fountain. The borders of what constitutes sexism have become so transparent that no-one can ever be safe again from being called gender-inappropriate, just for stating that women bear children. So, in all honesty: if you read any verbal attacks on any gender into my writing, please read again, because I definitely don’t mean to offend.

OK, now that we have lost 98% of all readers to a) a trolling frenzy about sexism, or b) boredom, we might as well start on our actual conversation topic – me. Yes, I really am that selfish. There is no other person I know better than myself, so it just seems like a very obvious location to start with.

 

“Hi, my name is Goemon, and I am single.”

I really hope you just said “Hi Goemon”. Otherwise I will feel very silly and underappreciated in this virtual self-help group.

For some people being single is normal. Afterall, we are born with that condition. (Excepting twins, but they have other troubles.) Some people have wild sex adventures with random strangers every weekend. Others date one person a year, just to prove they are still capable of faking affection. Others live in a happy relationship with their (in)significant other(s). [Four groups in one sentence – feel the power of parentheses!] Those people have their own problems and will not be mentioned again. Remember: this is about me.

I am approaching the 40-year landmark. (No, I’m not telling how far.) At that age the average first-world citizen has already broken up with more people than they met in first grade, and are either happily married, or are trying to pay off that divorce lawyer. I haven’t had any of that, and I feel somewhat left out of what I consider an integral aspect of the human experience.

I never had any kind of romantic relationship, and not for the lack of trying. I tried most of the regular approaches that people use to appropriate a partner. So far, dating websites have only proved themselves a massive waste of time. And my attempts to date lady friends have only made obvious that women don’t want to be any more than friends with me. I’m actually happy with that. A good friend counts more than a failed lover. Ship-wrecked romance is not a topic you want to associate with any specific person. It makes conversations at dinner gatherings very awkward.

A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

On a good day this photo of Molde Fjord is a good approximation of myself: small islands, distant from main humanity.

The typical approach

I have not tried chatting up women in bars and clubs, even though society preaches those rooms as the number-one pick-up parlour. As an introvert I just can’t handle that type of situation. Many people still mistake this as “being shy”, and solve the equation by being “more outgoing”. Those people don’t know what they are talking about. I’m not just shy. I am introverted.

I don’t have problems asking a female songwriter for an autograph. I don’t have difficulties chatting to fellow pub visitors about the latest developments in the Spiderverse. And I love giving academic talks to dozens of people I never met before. I thrive on intellectual intercourse, and have no adversities about any kind of conversation with anyone.

Unless it involves me. That is literally the only topic I can’t handle in conversation. [You see why this blog is about me now, don’t you?]

 

I am an introvert.

I can talk to you about my political position, or the ontogenetic development of male genitalia. But if you try to talk about my personal feelings and thoughts, you will hit a brick wall. Don’t try to peak over it. Few people have ever caught a glimpse of the other side, and I am determined to keep it that way. And if you try to pry a hole in it, security will escort you off the premise, and add your name to a black-list of people who are banned from personal conversation.

Introverts don’t talk about their feelings. Not to you, or anyone else. If you think that’s a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘solved’, I can’t help you. You can either accept me as I am, or go and play with other kids. There is no third option.

As long as I can remember I had difficulties talking to people, and I always interpreted this as shyness, while others thought I tried to be disrespectful and exclusive. None of that is true. I am a perfectly adorable humanoid, just like anyone else. (Except for Donald J.; he’s a lump of poo.) What prevents me from socialising with others is not shyness, but my inscrutable inability to present my own inner self to a public audience. It took me some thirty years to develop a work-around. It’s based on the understanding that social conversation is not about me, but about the general idea of being together, and sharing words. You don’t need to reveal yourself to be sociable. Just talk about the weather, if that befits you. That is already sociable. Be aware of your surroundings, though. Weather talk is really fun in Alberta; not so much in England’s capital.

A bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

My work as cruise photographer involved loads of social interaction. I can do that, just as long as it does not involve me personally.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes, the direct conversation.

No, introverts don’t usually do that, and I personally definitively don’t. I can’t talk to women if I have a personal or romantic interest in them. It’s like talking about my feelings, just in this case I am actually blocking my own attempt to communicate.

Telling a woman that she’s beautiful basically reveals that I like her. And personal feelings are something I don’t disclose to strangers. Not for fear of being rejected, but simply for the fact that I can’t talk about my feelings to a person I barely know. Thus, me telling a lady that she’s cute is equivalent to you telling the supermarket teller about the recessed growth of your anal cancer. It’s deeply personal, and therefore not done.

 

That’s really all I wanted to say. Just a brief introduction of me and my situation. I am introverted, and therefore don’t talk about my feelings, including who I do or don’t have any romantic interest in. Should your significant other try to knock any of these findings over your head, merely remember that this entire blog is about me. You don’t need to associate yourself with my problems. Unless you really want to. In that case – welcome to my world of wordy disappointment.

 

Also, here is a cool website about introverts, just in case you feel yourself alone with certain problems: https://introvertdear.com/what-is-an-introvert-definition/