Thoughts of a geek

30 June 2012

Flirting? Or really, relationships and stuff.

Filed under: Christianity, The Blog Roll — Tags: , , , , — qwandor @ 10:56 am

Continuing on with this group-blogging thing, people are writing about flirting. This is an interesting topic, and not one I know a whole lot about. The discussion started with reading this article, which some of us found helpful and interesting (at least in parts), and some had a strong negative reaction to.

A related topic which I think is also interesting to discuss is the issue of why people date (or court, or whatever you want to call it. Pursue relationships with the opposite sex of a romantic nature. Or with the same sex for that matter I guess.) What are people’s intentions in pursuing such relationships? What do they expect of the other party? How do they convey those intentions, and how are they interpreted and understood (or often, misinterpreted and misunderstood)? What happens when the intentions and expectations do not match? Do the intentions and expectations of one party bias how they interpret the actions of the other?

Coincidentally I have ended up having some interesting conversations about some of these issues with a number of intelligent, thoughtful and insightful friends lately, which have been enlightening and thought-provoking. For a start, I have been reminded how different different people’s intentions can be. I guess everyone has a complex mix of motivations and intentions, and these can change as they grow older and mature. Even over the course of a particular relationship these change, which introduces further complications.

One motivation, obviously, is sex. Stereotypically this tends to be a stronger motivation for guys than for girls, and I expect that this has some bearing on reality — though no doubt the stereotype is also biased by social expectations, where sexual desire is associated with promiscuity, and promiscuity is more socially acceptable among males than among females. (As a side note, I do not think that it is wise for either. But that is not the main point here.) One friend related her frustrations at a number of guys she dated, while being interesting and good guys, being significantly motivated by sex, while she just was not after that, and had quite different things she wanted to get out of a relationship.

Some people are looking for a life partner. They see dating primarily as a stage along the way to marriage. Quite a few of my friends are Christians (as am I), and many of them (though not all) fall into this category. Plenty of other people do as well, of course. Some would go so far as to say that you should never date someone unless you intend to seriously consider marrying them, and furthermore that a high degree of emotional and physical distance should be maintained, that degree of intimacy and attachement being reserved solely for marriage. Another friend recently posted this article from an American conservative Christian website for young people espousing such a view. Well, perhaps I exaggerate a little. A number of my friends hold to this sort of view. I am not sure how wise or practical it is, and I do not think the majority would hold to that extreme.

Some people see dating, or romantic relationships in general, as an opportunity to experiment, learn more about people, and have fun, without ever intending for it to be a long-term thing. They are happy to date someone for a time while knowing and intending from the start that it will not last, and to break it off when the time comes. I was reminded of this by a couple of different friends recently, and while I struggle to understand their position it does not seem uncommon in the wider world either.

Some people want fun and excitement. They are after new experiences, surprises, someone to laugh with, to inspire them, to show them things they had not thought of before.

Some people want someone to care for them, somebody they can talk to about anything and everything. To check up on them, support them when times are tough, and just be there for each other.

Most people, of course, are after all of these things, and many others, in some complex and changing mix. They are by no means exclusive categories, or even all the same sort of category, but rather some of the many different motivations and intentions that people may have. Perhaps you can think of more to add to the list, so by all means post them below.

Problems, misunderstandings and hurt often happens when people go into a relationship with different intentions and expectations. Properly communicating and interpreting them is a difficult problem.

Well, I have just written quite a lot about a topic I have very little experience in! To continue with that, but perhaps add in a little bit of personal experience, we come back to the actual topic of flirting.

Flirting seems to mean many different things to different people, so we have a problem not just of actual actions but of terminology. Some other people blogging about it in this group have described it as being “pleasant and interested”, some as “appearing interested, appearing interesting, being aware of the other’s [dis]interest”. Some think of it as more of a sort of teasing interaction, hinting at interest but then backing away coyly waiting for a reaction, alternating between pursuing and being pursued. Perhaps this is more the feminine side of it, I daresay it tends not to work symmetrically between both sides. Coquettish is another word that comes to mind for this idea of it. The guide which started this whole discussion distinguishes between “flirting for fun” and “flirting with intent”, which I think is a useful distinction to make.

Frith makes the good point that it is often hard to separate “flirting” from “everyday affectionate interaction”, and I quite agree. Another friend to whom I was talking recently described similar issues, where what she considered just ordinary physical affection between friends was sometimes mistaken as an indication of a romantic interest or attraction that was not there. Such misunderstandings are by no means terrible things, but can still be less than ideal. Said friend does tend to be a fairly physical sort of a person (which is a great thing, she gives excellent hugs), but sometimes this can be misinterpreted. Things like dancing, especially styles with close connection like blues, can further blur the lines here. This same friend described it as (sometimes) being “5 minutes of true love then you each go your separate ways”, which I thought it an interesting description (though I probably misquoted it a little). Not to be confused with 2 minutes in heaven. Flight of the Conchords may not be the best source of relationship advice. Though actually, they are probably not much worse than many other sources… but I digress.

A question for the reader here: do you think men or women are in general better at distinguishing friendly physical affection from flirting? Is there a difference?

So perhaps the bigger question is: how does one know whether somebody else is flirting with them? Or more generally, is ‘interested’ in them? Perhaps flirting is being more friendly towards one person in particular than towards other people in general. But in the case of people one does not know very well, how can one find that baseline to compare to? Careful observation seems necessary here. I have been learning lately that I am not as good an observer of people as I used to think I was. Some people are excellent at it though! It certainly seems like a very useful skill to have. And how can one avoid being misinterpreted, if that is an issue?

Oh, I had a random thought in the middle of the night last night: perhaps the imperfect communication is a little like playing 500, where an important part of the game is to find ways to communicate to your partner what you have in your hand and how you intend to play without actually saying anything? You need to work together to give hints to each other, interpret them correctly, and then use that information to win tricks and score more points than the other team… okay, perhaps this analogy does not go quite so far. (Hey, anyone up for a game of 500?)

At this point I would insert a list of examples and ask for you readers’ opinions on which ones were and were not flirting, but I think that might not be wise in a public forum such as this, so will leave that out from here.

To ramble a little more, I wonder also whether we could talk about such a think as ‘anti-flirting’: things people do to indicate to someone else that they are not interested in them in a romantic way, or things which they may inadvertently do which may be interpreted as such. This could include, for example, being careful to keep plenty of physical distance, telling someone that they smell bad, are badly dressed, are not very good looking, or other such things. What examples do you have, of such anti-flirting signals that you have either given or received?

Well that post grew and changed rather a lot from what it was originally going to be. (It is also not very well organised or edited, sorry.) This was partly due to a number of interesting discussion with a few friends recently, which got me thinking more along some new lines. Thanks, people! And let’s continue this discussion, here and elsewhere. It is both interesting in general, and relevant to my interests.

I guess I should finish with a list of other people’s posts on the topic:

I also had another post related to this topic that I started writing back on 10th June, but I will leave that for another post I think, as I had more ideas last night to add to it. In the meantime, comment away!

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12 June 2012

Contentment

Filed under: Me, The Blog Roll — Tags: , — qwandor @ 9:09 am

People are blogging about contentment. (Specifically this person, this person, this person, and this person. Oh, and this person, how could I forget. You should probably read their posts as they have more interesting things to say than I do.)

I do not have terribly much to say on the topic. I am rarely content. Especially not in winter. I tend to criticise myself a fair bit, as it seems like the first step to improvement. I try to avoid criticising others as much as I am inclined to as they tend not to appreciate it.

But perhaps I am discontent for the wrong reasons. Mostly, for fairly selfish reasons: being unsatisfied with various aspects of my life, or the weather, or whatever. Sometimes I get discontent about wider issues like intellectual property law or poverty or stupidity, and occasionally I may even attempt to do something about them. But not very often.

Anyone else have any insights?

14 May 2012

Community (The Blog Roll topic 1)

Some friends and I somehow ended up agreeing to try blogging about a series of topics together. For some reason this initiative is called “The Blog Roll”. The first topic is “community”. Perhaps there will be more. So far Melanie, Frith and Polly have blogged on the topic; Daniel and Valerie may also do so at some point. Perhaps other people will decide to join in as well.

So. Community. What can I say about it? I think it is important. It is a fairly vague word that can be used with a variety of different meanings. And it keeps coming up.

I am not very good at contemplating on demand.

Well! Another week has passed. I will try to at least flesh out something from my notes.

One form of community is a group of people who happen to be in the same place regularly. When this happens they tend to at least recognise each other’s faces, and sometimes friendships and deeper community develop. One factor in how much this happens is how big the group is; as groups get bigger there is less opportunity to talk to each individual person for an extended period of time — assuming the time spent together remains constant and that it is split evenly between the people present then the amount of time per person is inversely proportional to the number of people in the group. How much the people in the group have in common also tends to have a significant effect, be it age, situation, common interests or whatever else. What the people are doing and how much opportunity it allows to talk to others and get to know them is also a big factor. I find that walking often works quite well for this, as it tends to break a larger group up into smaller groups of 2–4, while also allowing people to move around between these smaller groups. Situations like working in an office, where everyone is busy at their own desk most of the time, are less conducive.

On the other hand, I found Memphis (the graduate computer science lab at VUW) to be a stronger community, even though on the face of it it seems like a rather similar situation to such an office environment: a bunch of people sitting in front of computers doing their own thing. I think there were a number of reasons for this. One was the presence of (comfortable, old and somewhat dodgy) couches, where people could hang out and chat. While this could sometimes be distracting for those working, it also led to lots of interesting conversations about all sorts of topics, and encouraged an environment where people could ask others for help. Shared music (through the oft-rewritten Memphis stereo system) also contributed significantly, I think. Sharing other people’s choice in music provides a connection in itself I think, it provides some feeling in common. And speaking of the stereo, projects like writing the stereo software and that for Fridge also provided opportunities to work together with other people on interesting and open-ended projects outside of coursework, which also served to build relationships and community. Memphis also organised a number of social and sports events outside of the lab, and built a shared culture through things like the Memphis painting hack, t-shirts and badges. It is a pity that it all died so quickly once the lab was closed and things were restructured for the new engineering degree, but that is often the way in the university environment, with a fresh new group of students coming through each year not knowing much about what has gone before.

Another form of community is when people join particular groups. I distinguish this from the first form because the first is mostly people who just happen to be through together by work, study or something else, while this second form is more a matter of choice, perhaps specifically for the purpose of meeting other people. There is certainly some overlap though. The group may be one that meets together physically, as clubs tend to, or it may be online or through some other mechanism. The #wellingtonlunchchat IRC channel is an example of the latter — a group of people who used to work or study together, who now have mostly moved on to other places, across a number of countries, but still keep in touch on a daily basis in many cases, if in a fairly low-key way. The channel originally started as a way to organise meeting for lunch with those working in other offices in Wellington, but always ended up being more about general procrastination, techy news and asking for help and advice with programming issues.

Examples which come to mind of such groups which did meet together in real life were the two main clubs I was part of at university: Interface and VUWCU. I am still in touch with many people whom I met through both; in fact I think they make up the majority of my friends from Wellington. This suggests that they did something right.

A third form I will categorise is wider communities, where one is a part without knowing the majority of the other people in the community, yet shares some common bond. This is a looser sort of community, yet can be quite cool sometimes, when one can feel like part of something bigger. Perhaps this is important. The common bond of such a community could be some major part of life like religious belief (say the wider Christian community), common interests (people sometimes talk about the geek community as such an entity) or just a common hobby (swing dancing, or Lindy Hop in particular!).

A couple of examples of such connections with a wider community which I thought were cool come to mind. The first was when a friend and I were travelling around Scandinavia and spent a night in Oslo, where we stayed with a group of Christian students in their flat near one of the universities. We did not know any of them personally, but my friend had a connection with one of the people in the flat through some mutual friend through IFES, and they were happy to have us to stay when we visited. Even better, it just so happened that the night we were staying was their weekly community night and so we got to eat dinner together with them all and the two adjacent flats, learn a new card game, and then we all sung a few hymns together in Norwegian. Despite being in a foreign country and not speaking the language, we had something in common. And interestingly I found it easier to pronounce Norwegian words when trying to sing along with a bunch of other people.

The second example was just through swing dancing, Lindy Hop in particular. It is quite cool to be able to go along to a dance anywhere in the world and find people who know the same steps and enjoy the same music, and just be able to dance with people with whom you might not have much else in common. I was in Toronto earlier this year, as I had a week in Kitchener-Waterloo for work and so flew into Toronto and spent the preceeding weekend staying there with a friend. It just so happened that the weekend I was in town was the weekend of the Toronto Swing Dance Exchange, so I dragged my friend along and we went to the Saturday night of it. It was the first time I had done any swing dancing outside of London, so I found it particularly cool just to be able to show up, in a new country, and dance with a whole bunch of people I had not met before, and perhaps never will again. A bigger community!

I was thinking about writing about online community as a fourth form, but I think it is already covered by the other forms: either particular groups like #wellingtonlunchchat, or wider communities like Reddit. Perhaps blogging comes in somewhere here too? Can the ‘blogosphere’ be considered a community, or is it too loose and disconnected?

Community flats probably bear a mention, though I have had mixed experiences there. I have only been in one flat that was explicitly a ‘community flat’ (it even had a blog), but I think I found more community (Can community be compared like that? Closer relationships, perhaps?) in the flat I lived in after that, although it was not particularly organised as a community flat per se. We just happened to get on pretty well, chatting and eating together quite a bit without it being an explicit aim. We still had our conflicts, of course, but on the whole it was pretty good. Perhaps trying to force community is a bad idea? Or perhaps it was just that everyone was really busy and stressed for other reasons, and there were a number of personality conflicts.

On the other hand, there are certainly things that can be done to encourage community. I think the physical layout of a house can make a big difference. Being on a single level, with rooms arranged around a central living room or kitchen can be helpful as people in their bedrooms can hear what is going on and join in. Just having a nice comfortable living room where people want to hang out by default makes a big difference, and having enough room for everyone. That can perhaps be tricky in somewhere like London where space at a premium, and long narrow terraced houses are common. Perhaps some architects out there would like to look at designing houses to encourage communal living in big cities while being space-efficient?

I was thinking of writing more comparing London and Wellington, but I am not too sure what to say, and this post is getting too long as it is, so I think I will just post it (at last). Perhaps that will be a topic for another time, or perhaps not. Hmm, there might be something more to write about music here too, and how it ties people together. But enough for now. In the mean time, what are your thoughts? Comments? Any questions?

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