Sunday, March 6, 2011

Against Theories of Romance: Two Theories of Romance

Maybe because Valentine's Day is only just passed, this precious, precious blog has recently fixated more than usual on matters of romance (sex, love, dating, relationships, and so on) -- and I have not even broached the suspension from the BYU basketball team a player who -- brace your sensibilities before reading further -- had sex with his girlfriend, and for some reason told someone who cares about the school's rule against such things. Neat. Good luck on recruiting outside of wackaloon Mormon circles, BYU!

One example was my delicate exploration of the longstanding squabbles between men and women, which also covered the (astounding) claim that Neko Case can't get laid. Amanda Marcotte touched on the latter by saying, among other things, this:

My theory is people put off different vibes.  I know people who always have people clamoring to date them for real, but never get hit on for one-night stands, and vice versa.  And it’s hard to point to a single quality they have that makes the difference, beyond just that’s how people perceive them.
There are no systematic, grand theories about why people succeed or fail in romance, Marcotte claims. Fair enough, but a few days later, she proved willing to launch a grand theory to explain why some idiot was whining about his romantic fortunes:
I would argue that it is true that women---and men---are quite often attracted to socially dominant, i.e. confident people ... I’m going to offer a counter-theory for [idiot].  I believe what he has experienced is being rejected by women who prefer men who are self-confident, popular, and straightforward instead of men who lurk around giving you the stink eye because you haven’t offered to suck their cocks yet, even though they totally complimented on your shoes and pretended to care about your opinions.
... My counter-theory is that Nice Guys® group together traits like confidence with aggression, so they can convince themselves that confident men are always assholes, and thus that they’re being unfairly deprived of pussy by women who are sick fucks that enjoy being abused. 
There's a lot here, including at least two theories -- a theory of what tends to work in romance (confidence, straightforwardness, popularity), and a theory about a certain strain of thinking among "Nice Guys®." Both are plausible enough theories, if you're in to that sort of thing. It's not clear if Marcotte is or not -- she was not willing to pronounce on the defective thinking of "Women Rock Stars®;" nor was she willing to confidently declare that they'd get over their romantic failings by elevating their confidence, straightforwardness, and popularity. 

It's a plausible theory, but not one with which I agree beyond the value of straightforwardness. For my part, I don’t see why being unpopular is inherently a problem—sometimes being unpopular is the direct result of refusing to be a psychophant, hypocrite, or liar; even more often and less dramatically, it is the result of not following the lemmings off the now-trendiest cliff. As I take on an advisory role with respect to my son's dawning romantic life, I strongly encourage him to avoid outright liars, bootlicks, and group-think mavens as much as possible. Call me crazy!

Nor do I see why confidence makes a good deal of sense here. I find that confidence tends to rise and fall with a person’s perceptions of his/her own ability in particular situations. A renowned lecturer on philosophy might hold forth with tremendous confidence on Wittgenstein in front of a gathering of hundreds of well-informed listeners, only to mumble, stammer, and quietly shuffle her way through the post-lecture reception. Life is short, and I question the value of spending much of it trying to bend and shape personality traits.

Granted, maybe this lecturer will miss romantic opportunities because she has not actively cultivated Smalltalk Powers -- no doubt things can turn out this way.

It "can turn out this way" -- that's the whole thing, isn't it? Romance is so maddeningly contingent, so subject to vagaries of a few dozen varieties, and yet so significant in the course of life, that we cannot help but try to make sense of it. It's arguably the ultimate example of crooked timbers that we cannot help but want to put straight. Yet to concede that it's a hit-or-miss tangle of chance and contingencies, that it's an (impenetrably abstract) art and not a science, is all but to declare that life makes no sense.

But the truth of it is right before us --- whether it makes sense or not, whether it makes us happy or not, exuding confidence "wins" more often than not. Looking a certain way and not a different way "wins" more often than not. People with particular personality traits they didn't choose are going to find romance -- or, at least, aspects of romance -- more difficult than dumber, less interesting, less attractive peers who happen to possess contrasting personality traits that they didn't choose.

This is my final theory of romance: all's fair in love, and likewise, all is unfair. Fair has little to do with it.


solarjinx said...

This was terrific. I find my adjective quite inadequate, your blog posts are always so smart and well written. Either way, I admire your work. I enjoy using other peoples' writings as a benchmark for my own, and you are one of those people. Write on, brother, write on.

Dale said...

Solarjinx, thanks for the kind words. I believe I am on firm ground in saying you can count on my various mood swings to continue manifesting a sluggish trickle of "content" here, whether anyone likes it or not.

The Duchess of Cookies said...

Great post, Dale!

Interesting perspective. I must admit to having never considered it before.

I am fortunate to have had great luck in the romance dept. I've certainly never lacked for it! *grin*

I should note that I'm naturally attracted to the shy, quiet, intellectual types so perhaps that has much to do with my success(es)...

Too much machismo confidence is a big turn-off in my book. Intellectual arrogance; MEOW!

Dale said...

DC, thanks for the comment. As someone who does not walk around exuding machismo confidence, nor trying to, I am glad (and not surprised) to hear there I am not the only one who finds it repulsively idiotic.

George W. Bush? Excudes confidence. Sarah Palin? Practically sweats confidence out her pores. Enough said.

I realize there are 'fun' and 'not-stupid' temperamentally confidence-exuding people, but still, I prefer to see confidence stay where it properly belongs: where it is anchored to something in reality.