Sex and Dating: Communication breakdown

James Love, Ph.D.

Let’s face it; dating is complicated. But why? Because people are complicated. You can’t treat them like particles whose entire masses are at their centers of mass, you can’t cut them up into a million tiny pieces and then take their integrals (well you shouldn’t, anyway), and you certainly won’t get anywhere by making a steady-state assumption. This complication is due to one very natural thing. Bees do it. Flowers do it. Basically every living thing does it in some way or another.

The verb in question, of course, is ‘communicate.’

Communication can be biological, in response to the body’s desire to eat, sleep, and reproduce; or psychological, in response to the brain’s desire for comfort, understanding, and companionship. Because communication is so closely tied to how people interact, it is perhaps the single most important concept in sex and dating.

Dating can be easily described as a game. Players compete to achieve their own wants and needs, and everybody wins or loses according to their own set of rules. In general, such wants and needs change with time. It is therefore helpful to figure out exactly what it is you’re looking for. Then, the optimal solution is to find someone whose wants and needs are compatible with your own. You should realize, however, that his may require compromise. Maybe you’re looking for trouble? Then I’d suggest visiting The Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, located on the third floor of the Thwing Center, between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, where you can procure the latest in baby-prevention technology for absolutely free. Maybe you’re looking for love in all the wrong places? Then I’d suggest playing the game a little differently. How do people play this game? By using signals to communicate.

What kind of signals are you sending? Are your toenails bright safety green because it’s fun or because you’re trying to attract a mate? When you invite someone to your place, is it really to watch a movie? Signals can get crossed all the time because of ambiguity in intentions. You may think your Facebook message was friendly, but perhaps it was creepy and invasive. Maybe you really do need help with your physics homework, but does he think you’re also interested in him?

The conventional wisdom says to play things by ear, to let things happen naturally over time. But what do you do when things aren’t going the way you had hoped? Should you try to discuss it, or drop subtle hints? Are your subtle hints too subtle?

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be self-aware. Try to understand what signals you’re sending, and how they’re being interpreted. There are two important things to remember. Be clear, and don’t make assumptions. If you need help with your homework, ask for help with your homework. If you want to go get milkshakes, ask to go get milkshakes. If you get asked to do these things, do not assume it is a date. If you like someone, say so! It’s better to move on from rejection than to wait around for someone to appreciate you.

If you want to avoid being friends with detriments, be honest and open with yourself and others.