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So apparently, the vast, slowly capsizing shambles that is the Yahoo online empire has a dating and personals section.

I suppose I should have guessed that Yahoo has a dating and personals section. Everyone has a dating and personals section. The Onion has a dating and personals section. Hell, the Web site for the Southern Baptist Convention probably has a dating and personals section, though frankly I can't be arsed to look, and it'd probably make my eyes bleed if it does.

The Yahoo dating and personals site recently ran an article that's totally a testament to Yahoo as a whole, in a gruesome kind of way. The article is 10 things a good boyfriend won't ask you to do, and boy, is it a doozy.

Among the gems on this list of things you must never ask your girlfriend to do are things like #4, "Make him a sandwich," or #5, "Change your relationship status on Facebook," or my own personal favorite, #10, "Grow our hair long."

And it seems to me that if these are the worst trials you ever face in your relationship life, then you're doing pretty damn well.

I am firmly of the belief that it's always OK to ask your partner for anything you want; indeed, I think that a whole lot of people might be a whole lot happier, and a whole lot of unnecessary suffering and angst might be avoided, if folks actually spent more time asking for the things they wanted and wouldn't be so damn scared of doing it.

But I can kinda see where the article is coming from. The people who wrote it are making an assumption, and I bet it's probably a fairly common one, that poisons and distorts their perceptions of what it is and is not OK to ask for.

It's perfectly OK to ask your partner to make you a sandwich, or cut your hair, or even have a mad passionate kinky threesome with the captain of the Brazilian women's volleyball team, provided that you don't have an expectation that the answer must be "yes."

And that is an important distinction, i think.

Expectation will fuck you up.

If the Yahoo article had been titled "10 Things Your Boyfriend Shouldn't Expect You To Do Just Because He Wants You To Do Them," I wouldn't have any complaints about it.

Now, before I keep going, I want to pause a minute and say that I don't think that all expectations are necessarily wrong. There are many expectations that seem reasonable and healthy to me. I expect that my friends won't punch me in the nose without provocation, steal my car, pee on my cat, or set fire to my sofa. I have an expectation that my romantic partners won't drain my bank account and spend all the money on Mexican hookers and cheap booze.

And in a more general level, I find that life is a lot happier when I keep my expectations positive. I expect to be surrounded by love and intimacy; I expect the world to be filled with joy and abundance; I expect to be able to succeed at things I apply myself to.

So not all expectation is bad.

But still...

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a friend at a poly get-together about what factors make someone successful in finding relationship partners.

His approach, he said, was not to approach anyone he found interesting, out of concern for how she might interpret it. He was worried about coming across as that creepy guy...you know the one I mean, the overbearing guy who stomps all over boundaries with heavy cast-iron boots, the guy who at best makes women cringe when he's around and at worst radiates off stalker vibes for forty aces around him wherever he goes.

And that got me to thinking. Because when I find someone interesting and shiny, when someone catches my eye (or, occasionally, the back part of my brain) and makes me sit up and take notice, I generally say so. Even if that person is, say, a cute, smart server at a Pizza Hut who, when asked to define the word "orgy," thinks about it for a while and then says that while an orgy in its simplest form is just a bunch of people all having sex in the same room, for her it carries connotations of cross-couple sex.

But I digress.

Anyway, I tend to be very open with people I find interesting; if I have a bit of a crush on someone, I'll say "Hey, you're pretty cool! I think I have a bit of a crush on you." And I can't really recall having a bad response to that.

So that got me to thinking about why it is that some people who do this seem to come across as creepy, and get negative reactions; and some people who do this don't come across as creepy, and get positive reactions. I've been chewing on this for weeks, and talking to people about it, and I think that a lot of it comes down to expectation.

Now, not ALL of it is about expectation. I was talking about this with seinneann_ceoil while she was in Portland visiting me last week, and her take on it is that a lot of how people react comes down to matters of attitude and confidence.

I actually met seinneann_ceoil in person for the first time when I was in Orlando after DragonCon/ We'd been talking online, and joreth and I had an opportunity to meet up with her in a coffee shop at a bookstore for a while. We talked for an hour or two, and about twenty minutes in I realized that she had that certain spark I really look for--smart, strong-willed, eloquent, able to take a position on something important to her and talk about it passionately. So as we were leaving, I told her, "You know, I think I have a crush on you. I really dig you and I'd love to stay in touch if that's something you might like." We stayed in touch, it was something both of us liked very much indeed (oh, yes, we did), and she came up to visit last week.

I believe that had I not said anything, we might have had an interesting couple of hours, talked for a while, gone our separate ways, and that would've been it. There is something to the idea that confidence is important; in fact, I talk about that so often in this journal that it's nothing you all haven't heard before.

Attitude is important too, no doubt about it. seinneann_ceoil says that there's a huge difference between a person who feels attracted to someone and responds with joy ("Hey, here's a cool person I feel I connect with, isn't that awesome? I can't wait to see if that person feels the same way about me, and we can see if there's something the two of us can explore!") versus someone who responds with trepidation ("I feel this connection with this person...what do I do? What if she doesn't like me? What do I say? Should I say anything? Man, this really sucks!"). Treating other people as a source of wonder and opportunity is likely to be more successful than treating other people with fear and hesitancy.

And I totally, 100% agree with all of that. But it still seems like there's a piece missing, and I think that piece is in the expectations we attach to other people when we tell them we fancy them.

Shelly feels, and I agree, that people who say things like "I like you" or "I have a crush on you" often attach an implicit, unspoken expectation to the end of it: "...and I want you to do something about that, and I'll be upset if my expectation isn't met." Even though it's not said, that tacit expectation hangs in the air, tangible to the person hearing the "I have a crush on you," and it creates discomfort.

She also says that that expectation gives no room for reciprocal interest; the expectation is that the person who hears "I have a crush on you" will return the feeling, regardless of whether or not it's true.

And, most interestingly I think, she believes that when a person is attracted to someone because of some trait (beauty, say) that doesn't make it easy to gauge reciprocity, the tacit expectation becomes even more uncomfortable. If two people talk for a couple of hours, it's usually pretty simple to tell whether or not there's any reciprocal interest at all; when one person spots a pretty young something something from across the room, it's not.

Regardless of how the connection forms or whether or not it's reciprocated, though, it seems that there is a clear difference between someone who says "I have a crush on you" with an unspoken "...and now I expect you to do something about it" and someone who doesn't. As Zen as it sounds, if that expectation is there, it leaks out.

People don't much cotton to having expectations imposed on them without their consent, it seems.

So a key ingredient to approaching people and expressing interest is to do it without the assumption that interest on your part constitutes an obligation on their part. I don't know any way to fake that; in fact, I'm not even entirely sure exactly how unspoken expectations get communicated, but they do.

So, going back to the subject of reasonable and unreasonable expectations, it seems to me that expectations fall into one of three broad camps. There's expectations we place on other people, expectations we place on the world at large, and expectations we place on ourselves. Any of the three can be positive or destructive.

For example, placing expectations on people simply because we like them is probably not cool, though expecting other people to treat us with a certain measure of respect as reasonable adults seems healthy and positive to me. "I expect that you will be fairly decent to me and not punch me in the nose without provocation" is probably good; "I expect that you will go out with me because I think your pretty" is probably bad.

Similarly, "I expect that I will be surrounded with opportunities for joy" is probably a healthy way to engage the world, at least for those of us not born in North Korean forced labor camps. (If that sounds like it's coming from a place of privilege, it probably is, but not necessarily in the ways that you might think; studies have shown that people living in poor Third World countries like Nigeria are often happier than people living in First World countries, so the opportunities for joy are not necessarily available only to the wealthiest. That's probably a topic for its own essay, though.) "I expect that I will have everything I want" is probably not so good.

When it comes to the expectations we place on ourselves, "I expect to be able to do well at the things that I work at" is, it seems to me, a positive and healthy thing. "I expect to be able to understand my own emotions and to be able to behave reasonably even when i am experiencing stress" also seems reasonable to me. "I expect to fail at everything I do" is probably not so good; and, on the flip side of the same coin, "I expect to succeed at everything I try the first time I try it" is probably not so good either. "I expect that I will never feel any negative emotion, and that if I do, I am a failure" is a particularly insidious and toxic one.

I've written before about why I am not a Buddhist, in that I think detaching one's self from all desire and all expectation can make for passivity. But I think there's something to the notion of detachment from expectation, at least from expectation that is unrealistic, imposes an unasked-for and non-consensual burden on others, or both.

And I think that once you've done that, telling someone you fancy "hey, I fancy you" has entirely different results.


( 66 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Feb. 11th, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)
I like that the way it's worded, it sounds like he'd be perfectly fine as long as all his money went to *high quality* hookers and booze.
Feb. 11th, 2010 01:20 am (UTC)
So that got me to thinking about why it is that some people who do this seem to come across as creepy, and get negative reactions; and some people who do this don't come across as creepy, and get positive reactions. I've been chewing on this for weeks, and talking to people about it, and I think that a lot of it comes down to expectation.

There's also a third option, in that someone would worry they'd come across as creepy and decide never to say anything, so it's impossible to know whether the reaction would be positive; in practice, I suppose this resolves to the second case.
Feb. 11th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC)
I really think you are on to something here. And this is a timely topic for me: I've just been having conversations about this with one of my lovers. Why is it that I find certain people's interest in me flattering and other people's creepy? And I think the expectation thing is a goodly part of it. Especially with men, especially when they come off like they have a sense of entitlement.

Thanks for articulating these thoughts!
Feb. 11th, 2010 05:07 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's in expectations and entitlement.

One guy hit on me for years. Told me explicitly things he'd like to do to me, was very blatant about it...and I liked it. Encouraged it, I thought pretty blatantly. He never expected anything, it never seemed to occur to him that I'd be attracted to him. He wasn't hoping it'd lead anywhere, he just thought I needed some positive attention, appreciation.

And he was very polite and respectful of boundaries, like when he admitted to feeling like it was a bit creepy for him to wank off when I was sleeping in the same room, and relieved when I said I didn't care as long as my hair wasn't all crusty when I woke up. (Maybe that sounds creepy, but he was giving me a place to stay while separated from my abusive ex-husband, and his computer was in the same room as the extra bed.)

He worries a lot about being creepy, and there's a lot of stuff he does that I would think was creepy coming from anyone else, but not him, maybe because he still doesn't seem like he expects anything, and that it boggles his mind that any woman would be crazy enough to want him.
(no subject) - jonnymoon - Feb. 18th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 11th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)

I'd be interested in a sampling of responses that Tacit's gotten from this phrase. Quite honestly, I'd have no idea how to react to someone saying this to me after a short amount of conversation. It's very sweet, mind you, but it'd be hard to say "No" at that point due to the very projected expectation you claim not to have.
(no subject) - tacit - Feb. 11th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seinneann_ceoil - Feb. 11th, 2010 04:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_girl_42 - Feb. 11th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firinel - Feb. 11th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seinneann_ceoil - Feb. 11th, 2010 04:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firinel - Feb. 11th, 2010 05:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seinneann_ceoil - Feb. 11th, 2010 06:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firinel - Feb. 11th, 2010 06:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seinneann_ceoil - Feb. 11th, 2010 06:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firinel - Feb. 11th, 2010 06:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - seinneann_ceoil - Feb. 11th, 2010 07:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Feb. 11th, 2010 08:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2010 01:35 am (UTC)
Thanks for this, Franklin. It was well thought out, well written and it makes a lot of sense out of something I've pondered myself for quite sometime.
Feb. 11th, 2010 01:40 am (UTC)
I had a bf tell m e that he['d break up with me if i cut my hair short. Come to think of it, I should have cut it right then.

Edited at 2010-02-11 01:40 am (UTC)
Feb. 11th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
It's always been my policy when it comes to most every kind of relationship, if someone says "[Something] or me," unless there are Significant extenuating circumstances, [something] is the better choice, if for no other reason than [something] isn't actively trying to control you.
(no subject) - davidlnoble - Feb. 11th, 2010 09:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - violet_tigress1 - Feb. 11th, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vortexae - May. 14th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2010 01:42 am (UTC)
Wow, that's kind of hilarious . . . I do K's laundry, I am the gift-buying partner for most of my partners (because I'm good at it and I enjoy doing it, I help my partners buy gifts for THEIR partners, as well as handling gift-buying responsibilities for my nuclear family), I'm generally the vacation planner for my household and for lucybond & cavalorn (although mr_rubix is known to pitch in quite effectively at times for our trips together), I've hung out with any number of people's exes, I watch TV (or at least am on my laptop in the room with the television) even though I'm not much of a TV person) because I enjoy being in my family's company . . . although I would BITCH-SLAP anyone who told me to lose weight.

Obviously I'm somehow DOIN IT RONG? ;)

Seriously, it IS all about expectations -- if my husband walked up to me and said "Make me a sandwich!" and just looked at me expectantly, I'd probably say "Make it your own damn self!" But because our current division of household responsibility and my medical situation means that I'm at home and he does a lot of other things to take care of the family, I don't mind generally being in charge of the kitchen and laundry, with the understanding that another household member will take over if necessary on occasions when I'm not available. And I don't mind making a sandwich as a loving gesture, as long as I'm asked nicely ;)

I do think you may have hit on a subtle point -- if someone says "You're pretty!", it can be awkward and uncomfortable because it creates a sense of obligation -- you almost have to respond that you find the other person somehow attractive or likable, or else *you're* suddenly the jerk, or the snob. Some manipulative people use this to their advantage, and use excessive compliments to try to keep women off-guard (it especially works well on women, who are socialized to be "nice".)

It's less creepy to say "I think you're awesome" or "I really like your style" or "I really enjoy your company," because those are things that you can genuinely respond to . . . complimenting someone's physical appearance when you don't know them well or aren't sure of their interest can create that moment of discomfort, whereas complimenting something about them as a person might make it less awkward, maybe?

I have personally felt defensive and put-off by the kind of creepy people you're talking about -- when they start complimenting you and saying the equivalent of "I have a crush on you," but with the expectation that you're going to respond with some kind of reciprocal interest.

And it's hard to explain why the same words out of one person's mouth (even on the Internet, so there are no physical cues) will *skeeve* me something fierce, whereas they'd be a lovely compliment from someone else. I generally feel bad about *having* those feelings, because I'd like to react positively to people being complimentary and friendly, but the ones that come with a sense of intangible strings being attached make me really uncomfortable.

It's unfortunate, because I'd like to be able to explain to the habitual offenders exactly what it is that they're doing wrong (because I know that a couple of them just have poor social skills and are doing more the eager-puppy thing than anything else), but I can't necessarily put it into more tangible form than you've put it here.

I do think this is a really good article, though, and hopefully it'll prove useful to people who aren't sure whether their behavior is crossing a line.

(FWIW, my friends are AWESOME, it's just that there are a few people I've had to have really awkward conversations with in the past, and part of the problem is a difficulty articulating what behavior is acceptable and what qualifies as "pushing it" and making me uncomfortable.)

-- A :/

Edited at 2010-02-11 01:46 am (UTC)
Feb. 14th, 2010 08:18 am (UTC)
I wrote about these very things here and here and here. There was another post or two I'd written specifically about compliments on appearance, but I can't seem to find them at the moment. I imagine they're in the tag for either Online Skeezballs or Me Manual, or maybe even Gender Issues, somewhere.
Feb. 11th, 2010 02:13 am (UTC)
I've recently been having some conversations about expectations. Very timely article! Thanks for helping me get some added clarity.

Feb. 11th, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
Yes! This is a wonderful post. I agree with this so thoroughly. I do this myself all the time, and stand by it very strongly. People often give me weird looks when I tell them that if I have feelings for someone, I tell them about those feelings. Their weird looks turn to mild jealousy when I point out how incredibly effective this has been.

As for the issue of expectations... I like to think of myself as the kind of person who is very good at carrying myself in a way that, as you say, does not imply expectations. But just in case (and because I have seen firsthand how bad it can be), I tend to be very explicit about my lack of expectations. A declaration of attraction is often followed up with, "I'm not expecting anything in particular to happen, nor do I expect you to reciprocate. I just thought you ought to know."

I don't ALWAYS do this, as obviously certain situations preclude such a tag, but it tends to be a safe bet, in my experience.

Now if only more people would catch on to this, it'd alleviate so much drama...

Feb. 11th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
I just want to say that I enjoyed reading this, as I enjoy most of your posts; they always give me something to chew on. So I don't want you to think that this next thing is the only thing I took from this entry. But: "Mexican hookers and cheap booze?" That sorta jumped out at me.

Were you specifying that they were Mexican because Mexican hookers are assumed to be cheaper financially (more bang for the bucks that your partner, in this scenario, has absconded with)? Or because Mexican hookers are in some way like cheap booze (less than good quality)? Just wondering. :)
Feb. 11th, 2010 08:51 am (UTC)
Heh. Neither one, really; I don't drink beer and can't speak to the quality (or lack thereof) of Mexican hookers. It was more a riff on a certain genre of coming-of-age movies that follow a group of teenagers who decide to go to Mexico for cheap booze and Mexican hookers, and the hilarity that ensues. The genre was popular about...oh, I don't know, ten or fifteen years ago? Something like that.
(no subject) - peristaltor - Feb. 11th, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - binks - Feb. 12th, 2010 05:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jonnymoon - Feb. 18th, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2010 03:26 am (UTC)
the Web site for the Southern Baptist Convention probably has a dating and personals section, though frankly I can't be arsed to look, and it'd probably make my eyes bleed if it does.
All the Southern Baptists I know recommend eHarmony for that.
Feb. 11th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
We've just got eHarmony in the UK and I have to say, their ads squick me in a very non-specific way. I think it's all the talk about matching people on 'values', a word which only needs 'family' in front of it to strike a chill through my heart.
(no subject) - violet_tigress1 - Feb. 11th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jonnymoon - Feb. 18th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gustavolacerda - Mar. 21st, 2010 02:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2010 03:28 am (UTC)
As I was reading this article, I was actually expecting your conclusion... when people say "I have a crush on you," a lot of them tend to be mentally adding "Please have a crush on me too please have a crush on me too please have a crush on me too," which can indeed leak through.

I sometimes have trouble separating out interest from expectation so I definitely appreciate the difficulty, but once you do, saying "You're great! We should get together sometime!" comes off totally uncreepy.
Feb. 11th, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
Yes, I've felt since the end of it that expectations were a strong part of what doomed my marriage. And the lack of being part of why the following relationship has maintained as well as it has. I wouldn't be at all surprised if my lack of expectation is why I've been hit on so inordinately much in the past year. It is definitely a benefit to not see everyone as a source of potential criticism.

And in following interactions it seems the first experiences set up the expectations for following ones, which have doomed some of them.

Having the confidence without the expectation is difficult, though. It's very scary to ask someone for support without the expectation that they'll say yes, so I tend not to ask, which isn't good. I almost hazard I've taken lack of expectations too far, as it pushes me away from having any sense of confidence in where things could arise. One minor point of conflict in a relationship, regardless of how well things were going, and I make no expectation about whether they even want to see me again. I can ask, of course, but the early defeatist perspective doesn't feel healthy.
Feb. 11th, 2010 04:08 am (UTC)
There's the other side of this as well, which is the people who hear expectations where there aren't any - or where the expectation was actually "I expect you to think it through and be honest with me" rather than "YOU HAVE TO SAY YES."

I had a couple of people who liked to work that nerve with me. :-\
Feb. 11th, 2010 04:24 am (UTC)
Great article. I agree that expectations really leak through in body language and can make a totally innocent comment creepy. I've been thinking about this lately in my own behavior, but your post really crystallized it for me.

I do think that "You're great! We should get together sometime/tomorrow/(a specific date)" would be the phrase I would use.

Thank you for writing this! Always a pleasure to read these thoughtful posts.
Feb. 11th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
You're not the only person to use this phrasing, even in response to this particular post, but to me "We should get together" implies some pretty serious expectation - if someone I didn't know well said this to me my first response would be 'and who the hell are you to tell me what I *should* do?'

Check out the dictionary definition:

should (simple past of shall)

1. (auxiliary) ought (to be or do something); Indicates that the subject of the sentence has some obligation to execute the sentence predicate.

So the use of 'should' automatically suggests that the person you're addressing is obligated to comply - just because you said so.

I'm sure you don't intend it to mean anything like that, and your body language and tone of voice probably tells the recipient so, but I felt it was worth flagging up how your choice of language is important, particularly on the web where you're relying on words alone to get the message across!

Saying 'I'd like to see you again [on specific day]' sounds much less pushy to me, whilst still getting the message across clearly.
Re: Should? - emanix - Feb. 11th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Should? - valkyriekaren - Feb. 11th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Should? - remix79 - Feb. 11th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
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