October 7, 2004

Relationships and retrospective understanding

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at October 7, 2004 6:09 PM

Another dating post (they do seem to generate more comments) but in a more serious vein.

Found on Unfogged, a blogger has a Question for Men:

If a woman does not wish to date you anymore, how much information do you actually wish to know about why?

Right away, not much; I tend to be more concerned either with the immediate practical implications of the breakup or the fact that, emotionally speaking, I feel like I've just had a large hole punched through my torso. After some time goes by I start to get curious, but at that point I'm unwilling to ask.

It's not clear that being told the rationale on the spot is helpful, because whatever it is, it's likely to be an intellectual blindspot for me. For a long time I thought of myself as a "nice guy", or rather, I assumed axiomatically that I was a nice guy. A more accurate statement is that I am an accommodating guy, and although this has some properties of niceness, it's not the same. Not realizing this, I was unwilling even to consider the proposition that I might be mean or inconsiderate, and the answer to "what went wrong" completely eluded me. If one of my exes had tried to explain, I just wouldn't have understood.

Eventually I became more and more bothered by the things I didn't understand, and puzzling over them something clicked into place. I finally saw it, the thread of self-centeredness running through all of my past relationships. In retrospect it was completely obvious, but at the time I couldn't see it. I'm not sure someone else could have explained this to me, since I had to question my own assumptions about myself.

The new understanding did raise another question: there were times when I believed I was in love, but looking back I didn't act like it. So was I really in love, or just deceiving myself about that as well?

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I can't really comment on whether or not you were in love...but maybe they were just safe relationships because you were subconsciously more interested in other things, like school, or something. They were safe because underneath it all you were somehow sabotaging them with "self-centeredness"? (Again, wasn't there, don't really know)

I don't know, as I'm getting older I'm realizing that I don't just want the "crush", the "date", the "scam" (courtesy of Say Anything)...I love the idea that there is a person out there that I want to be with because of how he makes me feel like the best person that I can be. I just always thought that when you're really in love, there's no question. It's just CLEAR, it's just...love.

I'm going to close this rambling and confusing comment by adding that I really like this quote from a favorite novelist of mine: "His love for her is like what the physicists say about the speed of light. It's constant in all frames of reference."

Posted by: Tracy | October 8, 2004 11:35 AM

It may be that this is like the problem of knowing whether I am dreaming or awake. When I'm awake, I know for certain I'm not dreaming. And sometimes when I'm dreaming I know it's a dream. But we've all had dreams that we believed were real, even though once we awakened they obviously weren't. And so how do I know I'm not in an exceptionally convincing dream right now? Maybe love is the same way.

On the other hand, maybe that (indeed very talented) novelist is correct that love is a relativistic invariant, and we can identify it by accelerating to near the speed of light and seeing what changes. :)

Personally, I'm ok with "the 'crush', the 'date', the 'scam'" (not familiar with the Say Anything reference); these things are more than I have right now, after all. If what I've felt in the past really was love, then maybe I'll find it again. But if love is something rarer, something I'll know with the true clarity of knowing I'm not dreaming... then the odds are just against it. I can't reasonably expect to happen upon something like that any more than I could expect to win the lottery.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | October 8, 2004 1:35 PM

Again, as in the past, I will point you to your parents. Was that a lottery win for them?

Posted by: Tracy | October 8, 2004 2:23 PM

They're certainly an exceptional case, compared to the general population. But one has to take into account that if love is fairly rare (and it may not be) for the average person, integrated over a lifetime, then it will be astonishingly unlikely for me *in the future*, because I am well past the point of regularly meeting women that I am likely to fall in love with. How many single women, approximately my age, am I likely to meet between now and the day I die? A dozen? I'll count myself lucky if there's mutual attraction, never mind love.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | October 8, 2004 3:00 PM

Well, I have no experience, so I still think I'm absolutely wonderful, if disheveled and occasionally unsightly. :) At least I make up for it with my wit and charm... (well, at least my wit).

To answer the love question, let me quote Harlan Ellison (the title of a short story, I believe):

"Love ain't nothing' but sex misspelled."

On that note, let me say something about multiple scale perturbation theory. There's a physical problem on which I'm working (perhaps even jointly with experimentalists) where the systematic theoretical approach appears to require _fourth_ order multiple scale perturbation theory. It is _rare_ to require anything beyond second, and I think I have never even done a problem beyond third. I once heard someone bragging about once writing a paper using the 4th order theory, so this is going to give me some serious perturbation theory bragging rights if I go through with it. (Not that I actually _expect_ that this is going to impress the ladies...)

Posted by: Mason | October 8, 2004 7:03 PM

You'd be surprised, Mason.

I've obviously been mistaken about a great many things in this area of life. This has really been an eye-opener.

Posted by: Tracy | October 8, 2004 8:56 PM

I've got a few scattered thoughts here...

First of all, love and stupidity are not at all mutually exclusive. In fact, they seem to be roughly coorelated for a while, before some higher order terms kick in and straighten things out a bit later on.

I think love is somewhat dependent on frame of reference, as cool as that quote sounds. I might truly be in love with someone from my perspective, but my perspective doesn't entirely agree with the reality of said person. So, perhaps you can completely love your "idea" of someone, but you can only love the reality of that someone to the extent that the two overlap? But the partial derivate of your feelings with respect to the actual "them" is, likely, zero. (Of course, in reality the actual them affects the percieved them, so the real derivate is certainly going to be non-zero, and very much dependent on your ability to sniff out a weasel)

So, what is it, actually, for crying out loud? IMHO, it's when somehow, internally, you value their happiness on the same level as your own. When you do/read/hear something that makes you happy, your first reaction is to want to share it, hopefully making them happy too. Love is a superset of friendship, and you know I'd be more than happy to go on about how completely bullshit the notion of "I couldn't date you, you're my friend" is to me.

When you're in love, do you know it, absolutely? I'm really not sure. I mean, I know nothing with *absolute* certainty. I'm only sure that my name is "Tim" with a (1 - epsilon) confidence. I'll mention that when I first wake up in the morning, or just stop playing FF XI or D&D3 or something of the sort, epsilon gets a WHOLE LOT BIGGER. Anyway... Right now, I'm pretty damn sure I'm in love (as in, 1-epsilon sure). There was a point when my feelings were similar to what they are now, but I steadily traversed the whole distance from, well, delta to (1 - epsilon). Looking back, I can say I was most likely in love before the 0.5 mark (I mean, it was a scary thing for me to admit to myself), though by no means could I tell (to that degree of certainty, anyway) at the time.

And Mason, as much as I love cynicism, I'm afraid you're dead wrong. The root cause of why we have developed love (in either the short term or evolutionary standpoint, depending on whether you think love is a naturally human trait or just one we learn) may have been sex, but the end result can very much run counter to that goal. For example, the male sex drive, left to its own devices, would happily plunder countless booty, but love makes you feel like you have the map to Treasure Island, and everything else gets less important (sorry, just wanted to be silly for a second).

Here's where I'm gonna kick into wierd. I think some of you may remember an odd conversation at one point revolving around who'd be into who if they were gay. Well, if I were a chick, I'd ask the Gazebo out in a friggin heartbeat. That doesn't mean, however, that I wouldn't dump his ass if he didn't buy me flowers.

(PS - I like poppies)

Posted by: Lemming | October 10, 2004 1:55 PM

Pure stupidity is one thing--of course people in love still make mistakes. But, as you say, being in love involves valuing the happiness of one's beloved. And if I look back at my past relationships, I see that my actions don't reflect any concern whatsoever for that happiness. So I think I was probably deceiving myself.

Anyway, it's good to know that, should all other avenues become exhausted, I can ease my loneliness by abducting you and having the right surgeries performed. :)

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | October 10, 2004 9:50 PM

Lemming, if you were in my office with me I'd grab you up in a big hug right now! :)

Good post, my friend, good post.

Posted by: Tracy | October 11, 2004 7:30 AM

Just wanted to add that I agree with Lemming. Also, a thought that may help:

I believe that the hardest part of being in love or falling in love with someone is the point where you invest your own emotions with them. As Lem put it, it's when you start sharing emotions and other things because you want them to be happy. Actually taking that step in my opinion is very difficult, especially for those without experience, or those who have experienced rejection.

As for the Gazebo, I think you may not have been deceiving yourself - what you were experiencing was the part that occurs before the previous point. So while in the big picture, it wasn't love, it wasn't necessarily that you were feeling it was love and it wasn't, but that you never took the next step and actually invested some of your own happiness in them, which is really the seed love grows from. The initial feelings are there to serve as a catalyst for the reaction. Sometimes we take advantage of the emotional up from the initial feelings and forget that really they serve to catalyze the formation of a longer relationship.

To put that last statement another way:
At the beginning of a relationship, the point where you 'fall in love', your happiness tends to peak, and it can catalyze a lasting romantic relationship. After that point, it either falls back to near zero (nothing got catalyzed, etc), or it falls into another local minimum with positive happiness. This landscape can have peaks and valleys, but the constancy can be the basis of one's happiness.

Posted by: Zifnab | October 12, 2004 1:00 PM

Tim, I've been aware of your fondness for poppies for many years. :)

These last couple comments are making me think of The Sims. :)

As for my cynicism, it extends essentially to all walks of life. I guess I came across as more cynical than usual. In this case, as in many others, I would prefer to be wrong.

Posted by: Mason | October 12, 2004 5:15 PM
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