Yesterday I went out with some girl friends for a birthday brunch celebration. Well a few rounds of mimosas later, the conversation turned more serious onto the subject of intimate relationships, girls versus boys and how we all have our version of what we want in life and how few people fit that criteria.
It started out because a few years back when out on the dating scene I became frustrated with the girls I was meeting so I sat down and decided to write a list of fifty things I wanted in a girl. Yep, fifty! And my friend just had to bring it up which of course piqued the interest of the group.
Starting at one of the girls on the table, I lead the conversation to ask about what her ‘list’ would be in a guy and she started rattling off a few things with a very serious look on her face and everyone nodding in agreement. Turns out that girls want to date guys who make an effort for them, are independent in their life and look after themselves to name a few. No surprises here and not a request I haven’t heard every other girl I’ve met before.
Naturally there were some specifics and we all thought they were funny/interesting/weird but we still loved this girl all the same.
As we moved around the table, everyone chipped in their ‘lists’ and the common words being said ‘yeah what the others said…..x, y and z.’
So then it was my turn and naturally the body language changed as they prepared for what they thought would be an assault from Mr Fussy himself. The few people at the table who didn’t know me gave me this ‘oh here we go’ look on their face as if to suggest I was about to be a sexist and misogynistic pig.
As I moved through my list, I noticed that there were plenty of nods and comments such as ‘um, of course, who wouldn’t want that?’. Suddenly we got to the end and there was an anti-climatic look around the table. It turns out that I’m not ‘fussy’ per se but rather just explicit about what I do and don’t want from an intimate relationship.
So the inevitable question finally came up – so if we’re all the same and we all want the same, why are we all single?
Well the answers typically stemmed back to blaming the opposite gender and the usual jokes from ‘boys and girls suck’ to ‘I’ll just turn gay or be single’ as if that was a conscious choice or easier. But I think it’s more than this. We all had our lists and most of them were duplicated, however one thing that followed each list item was a detailed reason why they wouldn’t tolerate X behaviour.
There were lots of specific reasons and it was almost always born from past experience. What I found interesting however was that despite these lists (and everyone has them whether they like to admit it or not), I’ve met so many people who regularly settle for not just less – but much less. And naturally, I was curious why.
So I thought back to the story of Fox and the Grapes which is a Aesop story to explain the concept of Cognitive Dissonance.
– In the story, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating, as they must not be ripe or that they are sour. This example follows a pattern: one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one’s dissonance by criticizing it. Jon Elster calls this pattern “adaptive preference formation.” – (Elster, Jon. Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality. Cambridge 1983, p. 123ff.)
It seemed that whilst these lists were forged from past experience and on the surface seemed to be a symbol of strength, formation and refinement of their relationship standards, the underlying thoughts and emotions that weaved their way through the heart and mind were actually quite the opposite. And it was clear that it was these reasons leading the charge, not the refined intelligence.
Rather than saying: “Yes I’ve met a lot of guys/girls and it’s really helped me to work out what I do and don’t want in a relationship so I just know that if I remain true to who I am and how I qualify the quality people in my life, I know that when I meet her, he/she will be incredible”;
I ended up hearing “This is what I want in my life and I’m sick and tired of guys/girls who don’t meet that and my god what is their problem and why is it so hard?”
Now to many when they read the above, I expect two reactions. The first on a content level, they may see both of these comments as having the same underlying meaning. The second thing is that they will claim ‘oh I never said it like THAT!’ – but they did. And they thought it too. But yet these two comments are so different. One perspective is about possibility and looking at all that one had gained from life while the other was about limitation and all the things that had been lost.
Simple change of words, same ‘meaning’ yet our brain interprets this information in a completely different way in turn affecting our mood, motivation and ultimate outcomes.
I think it’s interesting that when we constantly try, fail, review in life, we automatically build up a repository of knowledge, wisdom and experience that could really help others (and ourselves) to be better equipped to manage failure it when it comes by again.
Instead, most of us tend to use this evidence for creating disabling chatter in our minds and use these failures as crosses on the side of the road annexed with a long list of reasons why ‘I’m unwanted/not worthy’, ‘life is about compromise’, ‘dating is hard’ and why ‘I know from experience and therefore blah blah blah’
I’ve never ever met two people the same and I’m also constantly changing. Perhaps it’s not about ticking set boxes in life but rather writing it all in pencil. Keep failing, keep getting back up with a smile on your face and keep being thankful for being privileged enough to do so.
Just like the fox, it’s only as unattainable as you think it to be.