Some thoughts on expectations, assumptions, and expressing a crush

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.

134 thoughts on “Some thoughts on expectations, assumptions, and expressing a crush

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

    • 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.

  4. 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!

    • 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.

    • “So what you’re telling me is, you’re not dating me… you’re dating my hair. Thanks for clearing that up!”

      I had a bf who was always pressuring me to cut my hair. Even then it was a good 3, 3.5 feet long, and he didn’t like the way it fell in his face when we were intimate. This was not the only problem about him, but it was a clear signal that others would be along any moment.

  5. 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 & (although 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? πŸ˜‰

    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 πŸ˜‰

    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 :/

    • 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.

  6. 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 & (although 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? πŸ˜‰

    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 πŸ˜‰

    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 :/

  7. This.

    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.

    • Perhaps will be by to give you her direct impressions about what she felt, but from my own perspective, I can honestly say that I can tell someone “I’d like to stay in touch with you” without the expectation that the other person will say “yes.” Part of it may be the nonverbal parts of the communication; absent any sort of context or experience with me in person, I can see why you might see expectation in there.

    • Having been on the receiving end of it, I would say that I didn’t feel the need to answer yes *or* no in the situation. We had spent a good couple of hours in really interesting conversation (the kind of conversation where two hours just flies by) and it really just felt like an extension of the conversation as we were saying our goodbyes. When he told me that he had a crush on me, his body language and tone of voice was really no different than while we had been conversing for those two hours.

      There have been times in the past when at the end of some form of meet up, a person would express the same sentiment to me but it would happen after a pause, and a distinct rise in tension as I can feel the other person walking to the edge of their mental diving board and making the very heavy decision to jump. In those situations, I certainly have felt the awkwardness…the feeling of obligation that rises from bearing witness to such a laborious process that ends with your reaction. (now that I think of it, I can think of a few occasions where I have done just that in expressing my interest in someone)

      In the case with , his telling me was a natural progression with no build up or feeling of a *giant leap of faith* that can often come with such declarations. It was simply another topic among the many topics we had talked about that evening. It also felt like for him, declaring such a crush was about being open and honest and an intentionality to remain true to that nature, not so much about trying to get me to reply a certain way. By saying that he would like to keep in touch with me, I simply felt that the door would be left open should I choose to walk through it.

      I didn’t decide then and there to walk through that door (nor did I need to), but that openness allowed us to explore that door later and at our own pace. And yeah, I’m glad I did eventually go through that door. πŸ™‚

  8. This.

    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.

  9. Perhaps will be by to give you her direct impressions about what she felt, but from my own perspective, I can honestly say that I can tell someone “I’d like to stay in touch with you” without the expectation that the other person will say “yes.” Part of it may be the nonverbal parts of the communication; absent any sort of context or experience with me in person, I can see why you might see expectation in there.

  10. 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…

    ~Duk

  11. 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…

    ~Duk

  12. 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. πŸ™‚

  13. 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. πŸ™‚

  14. I agree.

    I wonder, however, if maybe ‘s success with such a phrase comes from him having a good ability to intuit whether another person might be feeling the same kind of vibe. Particularly if he isn’t in the habit of just approaching random strangers with such a line based solely on their physical appearance. Unless I’m at a swing party where random hookups are the norm, I don’t want someone telling me he likes me without, you know, actually talking to me for a bit first.

    In general though, yeah, good article. πŸ™‚

  15. I agree.

    I wonder, however, if maybe ‘s success with such a phrase comes from him having a good ability to intuit whether another person might be feeling the same kind of vibe. Particularly if he isn’t in the habit of just approaching random strangers with such a line based solely on their physical appearance. Unless I’m at a swing party where random hookups are the norm, I don’t want someone telling me he likes me without, you know, actually talking to me for a bit first.

    In general though, yeah, good article. πŸ™‚

  16. 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.

  17. Yes, I agree with this as well.

    Also, I think a lot of this “you’ve got to have confidence and intuit what the person wants, and not approach the situation with fear” assumes, or requires, a lot more neurotypicalness that makes me uncomfortable.

    • I think it has more to do with allowing yourself to be true to how you express yourself without the need for a specific outcome. The idea is that there is more to be gained by being open and honest than by trying to get a specific result. In some ways, what the other person wants is kind of irrelevant to that process.

      • Well, whilst I agree that a lot of what has written is about “being true to how you express yourself without the need for a specific outcome”, and my reading comprehension is sufficient enough to not to need to be told that his writing was about not having expectations I still stand by my saying that what was written demonstrates enough lack of consideration for varying degrees of neurodiversity *to make me uncomfortable* because of things like:
        — “that a lot of how people react comes down to matters of attitude and confidence”,
        because it ignores that there are people who have medical reasons for not being confident about social interactions,
        — “…versus someone who responds with trepidation…”
        because this reeks of labelling those people as coming off creepy, and it being their own fault if they’re worried that they may come off as creepy,
        — the pervasive point that if someone does lack social cues, that they may come across as creepy, alternatively, if someone comes across as creepy it’s because you already have an expectation from the person that they fancy, and not perhaps, because they lack the ability to read social cues.

        I’d also like to point out that whilst you can take issue with my finding this post to be ignorant of possibly related neurodiversity issues, it’s specious to respond to a comment which says “this post as more [foo] than I’m comfortable with” with “This post is more about [bar]”. Sure, it may well be about bar, but it still has more foo than I’m comfortable with.

        • Well, since you characterized ‘s post as saying “you’ve got to have confidence and intuit what the person wants, and not approach the situation with fear” and I didn’t see anything about intuiting what the other person wants in his post, I was suggesting a different interpretation, not questioning your reading comprehension skills.

          As someone who is not unfamiliar with the wide and varying degrees of neurodiversity and the issues faced by many people who live within those degrees (I teach social skills to people across the autism and Asperger’s spectrum), I can still see value in the approach that’s being laid out in this post. In fact, I can see it as offering some real practical tools that can be applied in situations of social anxiety and in situations where people have difficulty with social cues (and by the way, I didn’t read any implication in his post saying that lacking the ability to read social cues was the source of the creepiness he was talking about. It was pretty clear that he was talking about the kind of creepiness that comes from having expectations of the person you’re interacting with. I see that as a very different thing than what you described).

          Offering an emotionally responsible perspective is not the same as blaming the victim. If you find that to to be too “specious” or disingenuous for your taste, then so be it. You can choose to ignore what I have to offer on the subject.

          • Nono, you misunderstand. I didn’t find anything about ‘s post disingenuous. The thing I was referencing when I used specious was your comment to me.

            You responded to my comment in which I said “I don’t think this takes this issue into light enough, and that makes me uncomfortable” with “this post is about this other thing!”. I know very well his post was about what you said. I just found it lacking consideration if a possibly related issue.

            Now, if you’ve experience, you certainly could have responded with that experience, and gave me some examples of how either his post does consider that, or how that isn’t relevant to his post, but you did neither.

            It didn’t read as constructive. It read as if you were tilting at windmills. I then tried to explain why that was so to you. *shrug* If you’d rather I just write the exchange off and ignore you, then certainly, I can do that as well.

          • Nope, I didn’t misunderstand. I’m suggesting that if you find my comments to be to “specious” (which would suggest that it is you, not I, who is writing off the exchange) then you can feel free to ignore it. If you would like for me to elaborate on why I think there is value to what he says for people who may fall outside of the neurotypical spectrum, I’d be happy to elaborate. But the tone of your response (with comments about your reading comprehension and suggesting that I was disingenuous in my reply) suggested otherwise to me.

          • In my experience, since you’re the one that commented to me, generally the onus to explain what you’re saying would be on you, rather than you saying something to me, and then you expecting me to ask for clarification or elaboration.

            Though it is very true that when you responded to my comment in a way that seemed as if you were either ignoring or dismissing my entire comment in that they didn’t actually address or explain what I was talking about, it would’ve been advisable to leave it alone right there.

            Also, responding to a thread in which someone took issue with neurodiversity, and you say you’ve experience with it, but you keep using an icon which as some pretty extreme implication of eye contact going on? Lol-worthy.

            So in that I am flawed, but I shall prove how I am capable of learning.

          • First, I’m not sure why you’ve decided from the get-go that this needs to be so adversarial.

            Second, I was pretty clear in my initial response. And was pretty clear again in my response to your response. Let’s break that down:

            You said:

            “Also, I think a lot of this “you’ve got to have confidence and intuit what the person wants, and not approach the situation with fear” assumes, or requires, a lot more neurotypicalness that makes me uncomfortable.

            I have bolded the actual point I was responding to. I was suggesting that since there was NOTHING in his post about intuiting what the other person wants when suggesting that you might have a crush on them that is not what the post was about. It would seem that by including words and suggestions that were not in the OP, you did indeed interpret that’s what the post was about. That’s pretty clear. I don’t see a need to elaborate on that. It was an initial layer of exchange. If it needed to go deeper, that could have happened in additional layers of exchange.

            You then replied to me with a lot of interpretation about what I said. You implied that I was somehow disrespectful of a non-neurotypical interpretation of the post when I was merely going on the fact that there were words in your reply that suggested there was something in the original post that wasn’t there.

            Now, instead of assuming that I was disingenuous or specious in my reply, you could have easily asked me to clarify what I meant. You could have even said that I was missing your point without assuming what my motivations were. Instead, you decided to be offended and adversarial. That’s your choice. And it was your choice to write off the exchange with such a reaction.

            Third: You are not one of my clients or students and LJ is not my place of work. If you’re deciding to gauge my LJ icon as an indicator of my qualifications in my line of work, then it is pretty clear that you are just looking for reasons to not listen to me and to continue the assumptions you seem to be making about my motivations and nature.

            I’m really not sure how you’re proving that you’re capable of learning or why you felt the need to include that comment. It matters not to me. If you want to continue the exchange respectfully, I’m happy to do that. But it does seem to me that you made your decision already and seem to need to stick to that as being *right*. More power to you if that works for you.

            *deleted and reposted with edits*

  18. Yes, I agree with this as well.

    Also, I think a lot of this “you’ve got to have confidence and intuit what the person wants, and not approach the situation with fear” assumes, or requires, a lot more neurotypicalness that makes me uncomfortable.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. I’m reasonably sure that even Franklin doesn’t have a 100% success rate, and so there’s a percentage of people who will accept wholeheartedly, a percentage who will accept with reservations, a percentage who will be noncommittal or who will say okay but not follow up, and a percentage who will say no thanks.

    It is flattering to be nicely spoken of. Most of us like flattery, even when we don’t know what to do with it. I was one of those, it took me a long time to work my way from shy person often mistaken for stuck up, to a more confident, open person who people seem to generally approve of. πŸ™‚ So another factor is what stage of progress the recipient of flattery is in, can he or she handle any of it?

    All you can really do is what you feel is right. I agree with Franklin, more has come to me through my acquired ability to say what I think than by any other means. I strongly suspect that our world would be happier if each of us shared positive things, in whatever form they take – a smile, silent applause for someone helping someone else, telling a new acquaintance you’d like to be more, and so on. At worst, someone thinks you’re a bit odd. At best – and most often – you brighten someone’s day.

    There is such a thing as too careful, or too withdrawn. I was there. Now I’m here. I like here a lot better!

  24. I’m reasonably sure that even Franklin doesn’t have a 100% success rate, and so there’s a percentage of people who will accept wholeheartedly, a percentage who will accept with reservations, a percentage who will be noncommittal or who will say okay but not follow up, and a percentage who will say no thanks.

    It is flattering to be nicely spoken of. Most of us like flattery, even when we don’t know what to do with it. I was one of those, it took me a long time to work my way from shy person often mistaken for stuck up, to a more confident, open person who people seem to generally approve of. πŸ™‚ So another factor is what stage of progress the recipient of flattery is in, can he or she handle any of it?

    All you can really do is what you feel is right. I agree with Franklin, more has come to me through my acquired ability to say what I think than by any other means. I strongly suspect that our world would be happier if each of us shared positive things, in whatever form they take – a smile, silent applause for someone helping someone else, telling a new acquaintance you’d like to be more, and so on. At worst, someone thinks you’re a bit odd. At best – and most often – you brighten someone’s day.

    There is such a thing as too careful, or too withdrawn. I was there. Now I’m here. I like here a lot better!

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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. :-\

  28. 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. :-\

  29. 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.

    • Should?

      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:
      Verb

      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?

        Afterthought: Though if I were saying that to someone who hadn’t already said they wanted to see me again, I’d still feel that specifying a date implies that there’s already an expectation that you *do* want to meet again… which also is verging on the pushy/creepy.

        What’s wrong with ‘I’d like to see you again’?

        • Re: Should?

          *agrees*

          I tend to use, “I’d really like to take you to dinner/coffee sometime” – sometimes stating a particular restaurant or cafe I’ve recently discovered. That way it’s open-ended whether it’s a date or just two people going out and enjoying nice food.

      • Re: Should?

        I can respect that interpretation, even though I would view it as an overreaction to an unintended message.

        But to me, “I’d like to see you again” sounds too much like a cheesy pick-up line, and I may not want it to have romantic overtones (nor be extremely cheesy). I don’t want to come across as some slickster who has a hidden goal to get into your pants; I just want to hang out and see if we get along more.

        In addition, I feel that phrase also places the expectation and obligation on the other party to reply in the affirmative; maybe because I don’t like disappointing people. And that’s exactly what the whole post was about to begin with.

        If someone said that to me, I’d feel pressure to agree, so MY reaction would be “Well, maybe I DON’T”.

        Plus it gives them too much chance to directly reject you if you make a direct request. At least with the “should” phrase, you can beg off saying you’ll be busy all this week if you don’t want to directly tell them “No, I would not like that”.

        One could also replace the “should” phrase with “maybe we can get together some time this week”.

  30. 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.

  31. Having been on the receiving end of it, I would say that I didn’t feel the need to answer yes *or* no in the situation. We had spent a good couple of hours in really interesting conversation (the kind of conversation where two hours just flies by) and it really just felt like an extension of the conversation as we were saying our goodbyes. When he told me that he had a crush on me, his body language and tone of voice was really no different than while we had been conversing for those two hours.

    There have been times in the past when at the end of some form of meet up, a person would express the same sentiment to me but it would happen after a pause, and a distinct rise in tension as I can feel the other person walking to the edge of their mental diving board and making the very heavy decision to jump. In those situations, I certainly have felt the awkwardness…the feeling of obligation that rises from bearing witness to such a laborious process that ends with your reaction. (now that I think of it, I can think of a few occasions where I have done just that in expressing my interest in someone)

    In the case with , his telling me was a natural progression with no build up or feeling of a *giant leap of faith* that can often come with such declarations. It was simply another topic among the many topics we had talked about that evening. It also felt like for him, declaring such a crush was about being open and honest and an intentionality to remain true to that nature, not so much about trying to get me to reply a certain way. By saying that he would like to keep in touch with me, I simply felt that the door would be left open should I choose to walk through it.

    I didn’t decide then and there to walk through that door (nor did I need to), but that openness allowed us to explore that door later and at our own pace. And yeah, I’m glad I did eventually go through that door. πŸ™‚

  32. I think it has more to do with allowing yourself to be true to how you express yourself without the need for a specific outcome. The idea is that there is more to be gained by being open and honest than by trying to get a specific result. In some ways, what the other person wants is kind of irrelevant to that process.

  33. 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.

  34. Well, whilst I agree that a lot of what has written is about “being true to how you express yourself without the need for a specific outcome”, and my reading comprehension is sufficient enough to not to need to be told that his writing was about not having expectations I still stand by my saying that what was written demonstrates enough lack of consideration for varying degrees of neurodiversity *to make me uncomfortable* because of things like:
    — “that a lot of how people react comes down to matters of attitude and confidence”,
    because it ignores that there are people who have medical reasons for not being confident about social interactions,
    — “…versus someone who responds with trepidation…”
    because this reeks of labelling those people as coming off creepy, and it being their own fault if they’re worried that they may come off as creepy,
    — the pervasive point that if someone does lack social cues, that they may come across as creepy, alternatively, if someone comes across as creepy it’s because you already have an expectation from the person that they fancy, and not perhaps, because they lack the ability to read social cues.

    I’d also like to point out that whilst you can take issue with my finding this post to be ignorant of possibly related neurodiversity issues, it’s specious to respond to a comment which says “this post as more [foo] than I’m comfortable with” with “This post is more about [bar]”. Sure, it may well be about bar, but it still has more foo than I’m comfortable with.

  35. Well, since you characterized ‘s post as saying “you’ve got to have confidence and intuit what the person wants, and not approach the situation with fear” and I didn’t see anything about intuiting what the other person wants in his post, I was suggesting a different interpretation, not questioning your reading comprehension skills.

    As someone who is not unfamiliar with the wide and varying degrees of neurodiversity and the issues faced by many people who live within those degrees (I teach social skills to people across the autism and Asperger’s spectrum), I can still see value in the approach that’s being laid out in this post. In fact, I can see it as offering some real practical tools that can be applied in situations of social anxiety and in situations where people have difficulty with social cues (and by the way, I didn’t read any implication in his post saying that lacking the ability to read social cues was the source of the creepiness he was talking about. It was pretty clear that he was talking about the kind of creepiness that comes from having expectations of the person you’re interacting with. I see that as a very different thing than what you described).

    Offering an emotionally responsible perspective is not the same as blaming the victim. If you find that to to be too “specious” or disingenuous for your taste, then so be it. You can choose to ignore what I have to offer on the subject.

  36. Nono, you misunderstand. I didn’t find anything about ‘s post disingenuous. The thing I was referencing when I used specious was your comment to me.

    You responded to my comment in which I said “I don’t think this takes this issue into light enough, and that makes me uncomfortable” with “this post is about this other thing!”. I know very well his post was about what you said. I just found it lacking consideration if a possibly related issue.

    Now, if you’ve experience, you certainly could have responded with that experience, and gave me some examples of how either his post does consider that, or how that isn’t relevant to his post, but you did neither.

    It didn’t read as constructive. It read as if you were tilting at windmills. I then tried to explain why that was so to you. *shrug* If you’d rather I just write the exchange off and ignore you, then certainly, I can do that as well.

  37. Nope, I didn’t misunderstand. I’m suggesting that if you find my comments to be to “specious” (which would suggest that it is you, not I, who is writing off the exchange) then you can feel free to ignore it. If you would like for me to elaborate on why I think there is value to what he says for people who may fall outside of the neurotypical spectrum, I’d be happy to elaborate. But the tone of your response (with comments about your reading comprehension and suggesting that I was disingenuous in my reply) suggested otherwise to me.

  38. In my experience, since you’re the one that commented to me, generally the onus to explain what you’re saying would be on you, rather than you saying something to me, and then you expecting me to ask for clarification or elaboration.

    Though it is very true that when you responded to my comment in a way that seemed as if you were either ignoring or dismissing my entire comment in that they didn’t actually address or explain what I was talking about, it would’ve been advisable to leave it alone right there.

    Also, responding to a thread in which someone took issue with neurodiversity, and you say you’ve experience with it, but you keep using an icon which as some pretty extreme implication of eye contact going on? Lol-worthy.

    So in that I am flawed, but I shall prove how I am capable of learning.

  39. First, I’m not sure why you’ve decided from the get-go that this needs to be so adversarial.

    Second, I was pretty clear in my initial response. And was pretty clear again in my response to your response. Let’s break that down:

    You said:

    “Also, I think a lot of this “you’ve got to have confidence and intuit what the person wants, and not approach the situation with fear” assumes, or requires, a lot more neurotypicalness that makes me uncomfortable.

    I have bolded the actual point I was responding to. I was suggesting that since there was NOTHING in his post about intuiting what the other person wants when suggesting that you might have a crush on them that is not what the post was about. It would seem that by including words and suggestions that were not in the OP, you did indeed interpret that’s what the post was about. That’s pretty clear. I don’t see a need to elaborate on that. It was an initial layer of exchange. If it needed to go deeper, that could have happened in additional layers of exchange.

    You then replied to me with a lot of interpretation about what I said. You implied that I was somehow disrespectful of a non-neurotypical interpretation of the post when I was merely going on the fact that there were words in your reply that suggested there was something in the original post that wasn’t there.

    Now, instead of assuming that I was disingenuous or specious in my reply, you could have easily asked me to clarify what I meant. You could have even said that I was missing your point without assuming what my motivations were. Instead, you decided to be offended and adversarial. That’s your choice. And it was your choice to write off the exchange with such a reaction.

    Third: You are not one of my clients or students and LJ is not my place of work. If you’re deciding to gauge my LJ icon as an indicator of my qualifications in my line of work, then it is pretty clear that you are just looking for reasons to not listen to me and to continue the assumptions you seem to be making about my motivations and nature.

    I’m really not sure how you’re proving that you’re capable of learning or why you felt the need to include that comment. It matters not to me. If you want to continue the exchange respectfully, I’m happy to do that. But it does seem to me that you made your decision already and seem to need to stick to that as being *right*. More power to you if that works for you.

    *deleted and reposted with edits*

  40. 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.

  41. have to admit, though, that I think it would be difficult for me, in the position of being asked something like “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.”, though your question is well-put, not to feel uncomfortable saying so if I wasn’t interested.

    That may be where things like body language and attitude come in. If there is genuinely no expectation–and when I say things like that, I’m genuine when I say I have no expectation that the answer will be ‘yes’–I think it is usually going to be pretty obvious that there’s no expectation there.

    It might also be significant that I wouldn’t be likely to say something like that to a person I had not had significant conversational interaction with, so there’s going to be some context for the statement as well.

  42. have to admit, though, that I think it would be difficult for me, in the position of being asked something like “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.”, though your question is well-put, not to feel uncomfortable saying so if I wasn’t interested.

    That may be where things like body language and attitude come in. If there is genuinely no expectation–and when I say things like that, I’m genuine when I say I have no expectation that the answer will be ‘yes’–I think it is usually going to be pretty obvious that there’s no expectation there.

    It might also be significant that I wouldn’t be likely to say something like that to a person I had not had significant conversational interaction with, so there’s going to be some context for the statement as well.

  43. Like many of the people commenting, I’m going to say ‘wow, timely!’

    I had a conversation with a new (and new to poly) lover a few hours ago about expectations, and was amused by this serendipitously coming up on my f-list.

    Something that seems to come up a lot (at least in my own experience) is drama around expectations about how a relationship ‘should’ be, or how a person ‘should’ behave in that relationship, and the cognitive dissonance that arises when life doesn’t fit the ‘should’.

    Like you say, there are certain expectations such as not setting fire to your sofa, that are reasonable and healthy. But I constantly run into a base level of expectation around relationship-shape that overrides people’s enjoyment of spending time getting to know a new person.

    • flyingblogspot:

      “Something that seems to come up a lot (at least in my own experience) is drama around expectations about how a relationship ‘should’ be, or how a person ‘should’ behave in that relationship, and the cognitive dissonance that arises when life doesn’t fit the ‘should’.”

      “Like you say, there are certain expectations such as not setting fire to your sofa, that are reasonable and healthy. But I constantly run into a base level of expectation around relationship-shape that overrides people’s enjoyment of spending time getting to know a new person.”

      I think the “shoulds” are, to some extent, inevitable, especially in new relationships, and they’re even more likely when someone is new to relationships, or certain kinds of relationships [e.g., poly?], in general. I’ve been married for 20 years and poly for about 6, but I’m *still* occasionally surprised by an expectation I didn’t know I had.

      To a large extent, by taking relationships slowly, I think I spend less time processing (yay for less processing!) and hardly notice that I’m hammering out *agreements* as I go (that is, mutually agreed to expectations). There’s less of the typical new relationship power struggle – less chance for “shoulds” to take over – if we give each other a good deal of space (to keep our senses of perspective and humor) at least until we know each other well enough not to trigger each other all the time.

  44. Like many of the people commenting, I’m going to say ‘wow, timely!’

    I had a conversation with a new (and new to poly) lover a few hours ago about expectations, and was amused by this serendipitously coming up on my f-list.

    Something that seems to come up a lot (at least in my own experience) is drama around expectations about how a relationship ‘should’ be, or how a person ‘should’ behave in that relationship, and the cognitive dissonance that arises when life doesn’t fit the ‘should’.

    Like you say, there are certain expectations such as not setting fire to your sofa, that are reasonable and healthy. But I constantly run into a base level of expectation around relationship-shape that overrides people’s enjoyment of spending time getting to know a new person.

  45. ‘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.’

    Yes! Absolutely – thank you very much for writing this!

  46. ‘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.’

    Yes! Absolutely – thank you very much for writing this!

  47. “Treating other people as a source of wonder and opportunity is likely to be more successful than treating other people with fear and hesitancy.” + few if any expectations beyond treating one another as decent human beings is a better starting point. Thank you, this is excellent.

  48. “Treating other people as a source of wonder and opportunity is likely to be more successful than treating other people with fear and hesitancy.” + few if any expectations beyond treating one another as decent human beings is a better starting point. Thank you, this is excellent.

  49. How a statement like “I’ve got a crush on you” is received is dependent primarily on what’s gone on before it’s delivered. Not to sound overly new-agey, but if the energy is right between two people, then such a thing rarely causes problems and often leads to something rather nice (I’ve got firsthand experience with that).

    It’s when people aren’t paying attention and can’t sense whether it’s appropriate or not, or worse, they KNOW it’s inappropriate and try to force it anyway, that things get dodgy.

  50. How a statement like “I’ve got a crush on you” is received is dependent primarily on what’s gone on before it’s delivered. Not to sound overly new-agey, but if the energy is right between two people, then such a thing rarely causes problems and often leads to something rather nice (I’ve got firsthand experience with that).

    It’s when people aren’t paying attention and can’t sense whether it’s appropriate or not, or worse, they KNOW it’s inappropriate and try to force it anyway, that things get dodgy.

  51. I’ve been mentally composing a long wurble about morality and consent for several weeks now, which I think ties in with the expectations thing. It’ll get written eventually, I’m sure. In very simplistic terms: it’s okay to have expectations that require a person not to act (i.e. ‘don’t pee on my cat’, ‘don’t steal my money’) but not to have expectations that do require action from another person (i.e. ‘I said you’re pretty so you have to like me’, ‘make me a sandwich’). Far too oversimplified, but I have some geeking to do and not time to refine this comment properly!

    Slightly off-topic – the use of the word ‘tacit’ in the post and some of the comments made me wonder about the choice of Tacit as an online handle – since you seem to leave little unspoken (in a good way, of course!)

    • ‘I said you’re pretty so you have to like me’ – yes! I feel like I get this lots (I was recently reading a bit about ‘the man in the head’ and there are some parallels for me with this) and am still not sure how to deal with it… I’ll look forward to reading your consent post πŸ™‚

  52. I’ve been mentally composing a long wurble about morality and consent for several weeks now, which I think ties in with the expectations thing. It’ll get written eventually, I’m sure. In very simplistic terms: it’s okay to have expectations that require a person not to act (i.e. ‘don’t pee on my cat’, ‘don’t steal my money’) but not to have expectations that do require action from another person (i.e. ‘I said you’re pretty so you have to like me’, ‘make me a sandwich’). Far too oversimplified, but I have some geeking to do and not time to refine this comment properly!

    Slightly off-topic – the use of the word ‘tacit’ in the post and some of the comments made me wonder about the choice of Tacit as an online handle – since you seem to leave little unspoken (in a good way, of course!)

  53. Should?

    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:
    Verb

    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.

  54. Re: Should?

    Afterthought: Though if I were saying that to someone who hadn’t already said they wanted to see me again, I’d still feel that specifying a date implies that there’s already an expectation that you *do* want to meet again… which also is verging on the pushy/creepy.

    What’s wrong with ‘I’d like to see you again’?

  55. 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.

  56. Re: Should?

    *agrees*

    I tend to use, “I’d really like to take you to dinner/coffee sometime” – sometimes stating a particular restaurant or cafe I’ve recently discovered. That way it’s open-ended whether it’s a date or just two people going out and enjoying nice food.

  57. ‘I said you’re pretty so you have to like me’ – yes! I feel like I get this lots (I was recently reading a bit about ‘the man in the head’ and there are some parallels for me with this) and am still not sure how to deal with it… I’ll look forward to reading your consent post πŸ™‚

  58. I followed a friend’s link to this- and I’m so glad I did. This helps put into words why I often feel the way I do in response to getting hit on, and why I sometimes it’s okay and sometimes I feel creeped out.

    I like this post. A lot. Thank you for sharing and allowing those of us in the peanut gallery to read it.

  59. I followed a friend’s link to this- and I’m so glad I did. This helps put into words why I often feel the way I do in response to getting hit on, and why I sometimes it’s okay and sometimes I feel creeped out.

    I like this post. A lot. Thank you for sharing and allowing those of us in the peanut gallery to read it.

  60. Re: Should?

    I can respect that interpretation, even though I would view it as an overreaction to an unintended message.

    But to me, “I’d like to see you again” sounds too much like a cheesy pick-up line, and I may not want it to have romantic overtones (nor be extremely cheesy). I don’t want to come across as some slickster who has a hidden goal to get into your pants; I just want to hang out and see if we get along more.

    In addition, I feel that phrase also places the expectation and obligation on the other party to reply in the affirmative; maybe because I don’t like disappointing people. And that’s exactly what the whole post was about to begin with.

    If someone said that to me, I’d feel pressure to agree, so MY reaction would be “Well, maybe I DON’T”.

    Plus it gives them too much chance to directly reject you if you make a direct request. At least with the “should” phrase, you can beg off saying you’ll be busy all this week if you don’t want to directly tell them “No, I would not like that”.

    One could also replace the “should” phrase with “maybe we can get together some time this week”.

  61. Great post.

    I would say, though, that I can completely understand why the tacit assumption of expectation is there — without it, the only alternative is rejection.

    For example, that “Make me a sandwich” example. If the girlfriend says “fuck off, make it yourself,” the male has not only been rejected on a very minor issue, but the issue shows a “fault” in their relationship, that she is not totally subservient to his wishes. Yes, only an overly-macho need for someone else to be subservient would find this a threat . . . hence the creepy.

    I guess someone totally lacking this need to avoid rejection would become the ideal of the superhuman, to be able (in a social society) to make assertions without fear of rejection. In fact, this kinda is the ideal of the ultimate in composure, the man or woman who can say anything that comes to mind, be it “Nice parking job” to “What a wonderful body you have” without fear of being ostracized.

    Going further, early childhood might be the source for this fear. I well remember friends asking me which girls I favored, only to have them run away smirking, and knowing I had just given them ammunition against me. Had I been the cool, collected ideal of humanity, I wouldn’t have worried, would I? If they had shared this information with the target of my affections, and if those girls shared my feelings, I would have been golden, wouldn’t I? Hence, the thrust of your post.

    Chalk this early lesson in social pariah-hood to yet another Thing I Learned Near Kindergarten But Were Too Stupid To Forget.

  62. Great post.

    I would say, though, that I can completely understand why the tacit assumption of expectation is there — without it, the only alternative is rejection.

    For example, that “Make me a sandwich” example. If the girlfriend says “fuck off, make it yourself,” the male has not only been rejected on a very minor issue, but the issue shows a “fault” in their relationship, that she is not totally subservient to his wishes. Yes, only an overly-macho need for someone else to be subservient would find this a threat . . . hence the creepy.

    I guess someone totally lacking this need to avoid rejection would become the ideal of the superhuman, to be able (in a social society) to make assertions without fear of rejection. In fact, this kinda is the ideal of the ultimate in composure, the man or woman who can say anything that comes to mind, be it “Nice parking job” to “What a wonderful body you have” without fear of being ostracized.

    Going further, early childhood might be the source for this fear. I well remember friends asking me which girls I favored, only to have them run away smirking, and knowing I had just given them ammunition against me. Had I been the cool, collected ideal of humanity, I wouldn’t have worried, would I? If they had shared this information with the target of my affections, and if those girls shared my feelings, I would have been golden, wouldn’t I? Hence, the thrust of your post.

    Chalk this early lesson in social pariah-hood to yet another Thing I Learned Near Kindergarten But Were Too Stupid To Forget.

  63. flyingblogspot:

    “Something that seems to come up a lot (at least in my own experience) is drama around expectations about how a relationship ‘should’ be, or how a person ‘should’ behave in that relationship, and the cognitive dissonance that arises when life doesn’t fit the ‘should’.”

    “Like you say, there are certain expectations such as not setting fire to your sofa, that are reasonable and healthy. But I constantly run into a base level of expectation around relationship-shape that overrides people’s enjoyment of spending time getting to know a new person.”

    I think the “shoulds” are, to some extent, inevitable, especially in new relationships, and they’re even more likely when someone is new to relationships, or certain kinds of relationships [e.g., poly?], in general. I’ve been married for 20 years and poly for about 6, but I’m *still* occasionally surprised by an expectation I didn’t know I had.

    To a large extent, by taking relationships slowly, I think I spend less time processing (yay for less processing!) and hardly notice that I’m hammering out *agreements* as I go (that is, mutually agreed to expectations). There’s less of the typical new relationship power struggle – less chance for “shoulds” to take over – if we give each other a good deal of space (to keep our senses of perspective and humor) at least until we know each other well enough not to trigger each other all the time.

  64. About confessing crushes, Tacit observed:

    “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.”

    I agree with you, and partly disagree with the first statement. I think the expectations are the principal danger in this situation. (They are, after all, expectations with no mutual agreement – maybe not even the agreement that we *have* any kind of relationship whatever.) “Fear and hesitancy” can be off-putting insofar as they reflect expectations. But some “fear and hesitancy” (mixed with “wonder” and admiration) might also just reflect a need for one’s “crush confession” not to be misinterpreted as carrying strings – the “crusher” might begin to mirror the conditioned fear reaction of “crushee” (about how the crusher *must* have an agenda hidden somewhere …). So, clarity of expression is important.

    • Indeed, the declaration of a crush can have expectations pasted onto it from the source (dealt with in the most excellent article) and/or the recipient (as mentioned by babysuggs).

      I have lost two friends to me developing crushes, with no attached romantic interests. Me saying as much when they ask my intentions and still ending up in the dustbin. I might assume they did not believe me, but I dislike assumptions.

      In the article seinneann_ceoil points to matters of attitude and confidence. I try hard not to dread falling for someone but its hard for intellect to quell what a heart has learned. I wonder what attitude I unconsciously project and how that is interpreted.

      I suppose that contains my main point, that communication (words, body language, etc) is not merely something that is actively delivered. It is also actively received, and so can be modified in meaning at two ends. Of which only one end can be controlled by any one person while the other can merely be anticipated (with varying degrees of success and sometimes stress).

  65. About confessing crushes, Tacit observed:

    “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.”

    I agree with you, and partly disagree with the first statement. I think the expectations are the principal danger in this situation. (They are, after all, expectations with no mutual agreement – maybe not even the agreement that we *have* any kind of relationship whatever.) “Fear and hesitancy” can be off-putting insofar as they reflect expectations. But some “fear and hesitancy” (mixed with “wonder” and admiration) might also just reflect a need for one’s “crush confession” not to be misinterpreted as carrying strings – the “crusher” might begin to mirror the conditioned fear reaction of “crushee” (about how the crusher *must* have an agenda hidden somewhere …). So, clarity of expression is important.

  66. 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.

  67. A request with expectation is a demand. I’ve had several ex partners that wouldn’t understand this distinction.

    OTOH, it took me a long time to realize that a lot of people /prefer/ a bit of vague co-dependency in their dealings. Direct honest requests may be perceived as expected merely by the conditioning of the recipient.

    I prefer the joy & wonder approach πŸ˜‰

    • “…a lot of people /prefer/ a bit of vague co-dependency in their dealings. Direct honest requests may be perceived as expected merely by the conditioning of the recipient.”

      This. It can be crazymaking. Ask for what I want in what seems to me a straightforward way, and have it interpreted as demands. Faugh.

  68. A request with expectation is a demand. I’ve had several ex partners that wouldn’t understand this distinction.

    OTOH, it took me a long time to realize that a lot of people /prefer/ a bit of vague co-dependency in their dealings. Direct honest requests may be perceived as expected merely by the conditioning of the recipient.

    I prefer the joy & wonder approach πŸ˜‰

  69. “…a lot of people /prefer/ a bit of vague co-dependency in their dealings. Direct honest requests may be perceived as expected merely by the conditioning of the recipient.”

    This. It can be crazymaking. Ask for what I want in what seems to me a straightforward way, and have it interpreted as demands. Faugh.

  70. You know, e-Harmony adds rubbed me the wrong way long ago…but apparently the very word you pointed out, “values”, was too much for a certain group to let go unchallenged.

    Shame, really. So many words which stand for good have been singled out to be challenged, dragged through the muck and stomped on, while others have lost their meaning altogether.

    Again, a sign of the times we are living in (suffering through).

  71. Indeed, the declaration of a crush can have expectations pasted onto it from the source (dealt with in the most excellent article) and/or the recipient (as mentioned by babysuggs).

    I have lost two friends to me developing crushes, with no attached romantic interests. Me saying as much when they ask my intentions and still ending up in the dustbin. I might assume they did not believe me, but I dislike assumptions.

    In the article seinneann_ceoil points to matters of attitude and confidence. I try hard not to dread falling for someone but its hard for intellect to quell what a heart has learned. I wonder what attitude I unconsciously project and how that is interpreted.

    I suppose that contains my main point, that communication (words, body language, etc) is not merely something that is actively delivered. It is also actively received, and so can be modified in meaning at two ends. Of which only one end can be controlled by any one person while the other can merely be anticipated (with varying degrees of success and sometimes stress).

  72. “So what you’re telling me is, you’re not dating me… you’re dating my hair. Thanks for clearing that up!”

    I had a bf who was always pressuring me to cut my hair. Even then it was a good 3, 3.5 feet long, and he didn’t like the way it fell in his face when we were intimate. This was not the only problem about him, but it was a clear signal that others would be along any moment.

  73. Re: Related Thought

    This response may be a bit late for the current discussion – I just found tacit’s LJ via some links from a response to divilion’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” – but you raise a topic near and dear to my heart.

    My first instinct is to say, “The difference is consent.” Consent comes into it in all sorts of ways. Whether you want that person talking sex near you; whether you feel that person would respect that you *didn’t* want to hear them talking about sex. And then side-by-side with consent comes respect: whether they talk about sex as though they respect the agency and humanity of their partners; whether they talk about sex as though they respect the privacy of their partners.

    I am perfectly comfortable talking with my husband and with his lovers about sex. I don’t expect them to reveal to me any more of the details of what they got up to in bed than they choose to; I respect their privacy. But I don’t get squicked out if they do talk those details in front of me, and that’s because I feel comfortable with the assumption that if I said, “You know what? TMI. Don’t really wanna hear about that,” they’d all of them respect that. I’m comfortable with that assumption because on more than one occasion, I’ve been told, “Stop me if this is too much information…” which clearly communicated “I respect your right to give or deny consent. I respect your boundaries. I want you to feel safe and comfortable.”

    Someone who made me very UNCOMFORTABLE talk about sex was a friend who propositioned me years ago. I said no, thank you but no; I see you as a friend, but I am not sexually attracted to you. And he seemed to accept that. But as time went on, he would occasionally describe to me in detail some fantasy he’d had about me. This was not flattering. This was skeezy. I had already said I didn’t want to date him, didn’t want to have sex with him; why was he still pushing sex-talk at me? He got offended when I protested: was I demanding that he hide his feelings? I think, now that it’s some 15 years later and I’m about 15 years more grown up, I can safely say the answer was YES. The fact that he continued fantasizing about having sex with me should not oblige me to hear about them, especially not after I’ve indicated complete disinterest in him romantically!

    When it comes to people talking *about* sex in ways unrelated to me or anyone I know… it depends on what kind of attitude they evince towards their partners. If I start feeling embarrassed for the other person because of the level of detail revealed about them, or indignant on their behalf because the speaker keeps using disrespectful turns of phrase about them, that’s a huge red flag.

    Does any of that help?

    I have yet to read the latest post on tacit’s LJ; maybe this conversation continued elsewhere without my yet knowing it. If I see you there, I’ll link you here.

  74. Re: Related Thought

    This response may be a bit late for the current discussion – I just found tacit’s LJ via some links from a response to divilion’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” – but you raise a topic near and dear to my heart.

    My first instinct is to say, “The difference is consent.” Consent comes into it in all sorts of ways. Whether you want that person talking sex near you; whether you feel that person would respect that you *didn’t* want to hear them talking about sex. And then side-by-side with consent comes respect: whether they talk about sex as though they respect the agency and humanity of their partners; whether they talk about sex as though they respect the privacy of their partners.

    I am perfectly comfortable talking with my husband and with his lovers about sex. I don’t expect them to reveal to me any more of the details of what they got up to in bed than they choose to; I respect their privacy. But I don’t get squicked out if they do talk those details in front of me, and that’s because I feel comfortable with the assumption that if I said, “You know what? TMI. Don’t really wanna hear about that,” they’d all of them respect that. I’m comfortable with that assumption because on more than one occasion, I’ve been told, “Stop me if this is too much information…” which clearly communicated “I respect your right to give or deny consent. I respect your boundaries. I want you to feel safe and comfortable.”

    Someone who made me very UNCOMFORTABLE talk about sex was a friend who propositioned me years ago. I said no, thank you but no; I see you as a friend, but I am not sexually attracted to you. And he seemed to accept that. But as time went on, he would occasionally describe to me in detail some fantasy he’d had about me. This was not flattering. This was skeezy. I had already said I didn’t want to date him, didn’t want to have sex with him; why was he still pushing sex-talk at me? He got offended when I protested: was I demanding that he hide his feelings? I think, now that it’s some 15 years later and I’m about 15 years more grown up, I can safely say the answer was YES. The fact that he continued fantasizing about having sex with me should not oblige me to hear about them, especially not after I’ve indicated complete disinterest in him romantically!

    When it comes to people talking *about* sex in ways unrelated to me or anyone I know… it depends on what kind of attitude they evince towards their partners. If I start feeling embarrassed for the other person because of the level of detail revealed about them, or indignant on their behalf because the speaker keeps using disrespectful turns of phrase about them, that’s a huge red flag.

    Does any of that help?

    I have yet to read the latest post on tacit’s LJ; maybe this conversation continued elsewhere without my yet knowing it. If I see you there, I’ll link you here.

  75. This has given me a lot to think about, on a topic I think about a lot. Most of my partners wonder why I take years to let them know of my interest.

    Take the following with a grain of salt, because your essay has caused me to suspect that all of what I am about to write in this comment is bullshit.

    First of all, due to male overconfidence, there is no such thing as a clear signal of sexual/romantic interest from a woman. I know a woman who consistently hugs me at science fiction conventions, kisses me on the cheek, and pulls me into drum circles to dance with her at every opportunity. Those who see us together frequently tell me they assumed we’re lovers. A clear signal of interest, right? I gently inquired in a friendly way, and it turns out that although she’s poly, she doesn’t want to go there. She said that was being friendly.

    Now, the good thing about that situation is that her behavior made me feel confident asking– but nevertheless, my interpretation was untrustworthy. True story.

    Secondly, some part of me seems to feel at a very deep level that until I know otherwise, I should assume a woman is damaged and ready to shatter at the drop of a hat. As soon as I get close enough to know one way or another, it turns out they suffer very serious social anxiety and/or depression. Naturally, this is a biased sample, and says nothing about “all women”. Rather, this finding is probably something about me and the nerdy social environment I hang out in. It might turn out to be some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, but I have not yet worked out the chain of cause and effect.

    I take it slow because it takes time to build a close enough friendship to pierce the shell of her immense fragility without spilling the contents. We do not owe it to strangers to tell them our feelings, especially given the overwhelmingly likely event that it ruins their day. The line between dishonesty and privacy shifts as you get closer to someone– the closer you are, the more you should disclose, and the more dishonest you are by withholding. By the time we are sharing some light-to-medium confidences, I can tease out her personality through skirting the following subjects.

    1. Is she even available at all? Most of my partners hid the fact that they were polyamorous, even though they knew I was. True story.
    2. She might reflexively regard male attraction as inherently predatory, and sexuality as a competition in which the man wins, and she loses. Swapping relationship stories reveals whether she thinks this way. This happened this year. True story.
    3. She might have such social anxiety and neurotic guilt that she would feel horrible turning me down. Convinced that I’m going to be disappointed, she’d suffer through a guilt-based fling and then avoid me. This happened this year. True story. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t realize that would happen after knowing her for two point five fucking years.

    In those cases where whether her personality would turn unwanted attraction into a problem, such as 2 and 3, I just continue to have a very happy friendship. The shell of fragility has been well and truly breached with all the examples I listed above, so I established frank and unambiguous communication and carried on pleasantly. In retrospect, these women’s worlds did not come to an end, nor did our friendship.

    When and if my friend is free of these hangups, I think about whether she passes the positive tests which you talk about. But it’s a high bar to clear to get to the stage where positive tests matter.

    I am surrounded by opportunities for joy, which is why I’m rich in friends. And on balance, I have felt satisfied with the outcome of my cautious strategy. No drama in my life. But it shouldn’t have to be so god damn fraught to get out of the friend zone.

  76. This has given me a lot to think about, on a topic I think about a lot. Most of my partners wonder why I take years to let them know of my interest.

    Take the following with a grain of salt, because your essay has caused me to suspect that all of what I am about to write in this comment is bullshit.

    First of all, due to male overconfidence, there is no such thing as a clear signal of sexual/romantic interest from a woman. I know a woman who consistently hugs me at science fiction conventions, kisses me on the cheek, and pulls me into drum circles to dance with her at every opportunity. Those who see us together frequently tell me they assumed we’re lovers. A clear signal of interest, right? I gently inquired in a friendly way, and it turns out that although she’s poly, she doesn’t want to go there. She said that was being friendly.

    Now, the good thing about that situation is that her behavior made me feel confident asking– but nevertheless, my interpretation was untrustworthy. True story.

    Secondly, some part of me seems to feel at a very deep level that until I know otherwise, I should assume a woman is damaged and ready to shatter at the drop of a hat. As soon as I get close enough to know one way or another, it turns out they suffer very serious social anxiety and/or depression. Naturally, this is a biased sample, and says nothing about “all women”. Rather, this finding is probably something about me and the nerdy social environment I hang out in. It might turn out to be some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, but I have not yet worked out the chain of cause and effect.

    I take it slow because it takes time to build a close enough friendship to pierce the shell of her immense fragility without spilling the contents. We do not owe it to strangers to tell them our feelings, especially given the overwhelmingly likely event that it ruins their day. The line between dishonesty and privacy shifts as you get closer to someone– the closer you are, the more you should disclose, and the more dishonest you are by withholding. By the time we are sharing some light-to-medium confidences, I can tease out her personality through skirting the following subjects.

    1. Is she even available at all? Most of my partners hid the fact that they were polyamorous, even though they knew I was. True story.
    2. She might reflexively regard male attraction as inherently predatory, and sexuality as a competition in which the man wins, and she loses. Swapping relationship stories reveals whether she thinks this way. This happened this year. True story.
    3. She might have such social anxiety and neurotic guilt that she would feel horrible turning me down. Convinced that I’m going to be disappointed, she’d suffer through a guilt-based fling and then avoid me. This happened this year. True story. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t realize that would happen after knowing her for two point five fucking years.

    In those cases where whether her personality would turn unwanted attraction into a problem, such as 2 and 3, I just continue to have a very happy friendship. The shell of fragility has been well and truly breached with all the examples I listed above, so I established frank and unambiguous communication and carried on pleasantly. In retrospect, these women’s worlds did not come to an end, nor did our friendship.

    When and if my friend is free of these hangups, I think about whether she passes the positive tests which you talk about. But it’s a high bar to clear to get to the stage where positive tests matter.

    I am surrounded by opportunities for joy, which is why I’m rich in friends. And on balance, I have felt satisfied with the outcome of my cautious strategy. No drama in my life. But it shouldn’t have to be so god damn fraught to get out of the friend zone.

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