How someone with autism views all your ridiculous dating habits

Published: Fusion (June 7, 2016)

As someone with autism, I’ve often wondered if there’s anything I can do to make neurotypicals, the name for you folks in the non-autistic community, less unpredictable to myself. I pose this question not as an attack or criticism. It’s just that those of us with high-functioning autism—or Asperger’s Syndrome in my case—struggle every day with your seemingly illogical behavior.

For me, this question applies to every realm of socialization, but for the sake of brevity (and this piece) I’ve chosen to focus on dating because it forces me to be at my most emotionally intimate and vulnerable. Based on my own experiences dating neurotypical women and writing about dating with Asperger’s, I believe there’s still a lot of understanding to explore—but first we need to identify the underlying reason for the mismatch in emotion and expectation.

Let’s start with how people with autism approach the concept of honesty, which has frequently gotten me into trouble. Although neurotypicals claim to value honesty, when I actually am, they tend to be put off by my excessive candor. The instinct of someone with autism is to bluntly state his or her full thoughts and opinions. Feelings tend to get hurt, unspoken rules of propriety are violated, and in general, even if the intentions are no longer romantic, it’s still possible to come off as a total clod.

For this piece, I interviewed several women I had dated (with varying degrees of seriousness) about the ways I have offended them. At least, the ones who answered my emails. One, who I invited to a wedding long after we’d stopped seeing each other but remained friendly, recalled being “a little caught off guard by the invite to be a backup plus-one.” She explained to me that “women typically prefer to not be a backup plan or a plan B. It’s a silly pride thing, I guess.” This made no sense, but I knew I may have inadvertently rubbed her the wrong way.

On another occasion, when I tried to commiserate with a woman I casually dated last winter about our mutual weight gain concerns, she scolded me by saying, “A tip on female sensitivity: You never highlight your female friends weight issues until brought up by them.” It made me feel like I just couldn’t win. As for dating me, she wrote, “You are very picky. Direct, to the point that you can come across as rude and inconsiderate.”

What neurotypicals subconsciously deduce, Aspies can only pick up through direct verbal communication.

The neurotypical’s aversion to being direct can be incredibly confusing for those with autism. For instance, when a potential or past romantic partner doesn’t respond to emails, someone with autism will logically, unless they are given a specific reason, assume the silence can mean anything—from hostility to forgetfulness. What neurotypicals subconsciously deduce, Aspies can only pick up through direct verbal communication; without it, we’re left with nothing but the full range of plausible explanations.

One benefit to having autism is that I’m not easily embarrassed. For example, in one of my first relationships, my then-girlfriend and I were ridiculed by a Facebook group for our frequent PDA. She was mortified, while I was simply surprised that other people in our small liberal arts college even cared. Similarly, a woman I dated back in 2014 once had to pull me aside to explain why others were annoyed by my habit of talking at length about the history of health care reform in America. This was at the height of the Obamacare controversy, and I hadn’t realized the topic was verboten because as an Aspie, fixating on topics you’re passionate about is not onlyhardwired into your brain, but one of the tastiest spices you can add to any conversation. For neurotypicals, though, it can become a nuisance, particularly when the topics can easily offend others…like politics, Obama, or health care in America.

You may have noticed there is a common theme tying all these examples together. Namely, it’s that neurotypical behavior is rooted in a reliance on a set of unspoken rules about “the way things are supposed to be.” My life would be much easier, however, if the rules of one social situation—say, dating and relationships—were the same across the board. And if each party was as honest and open as possible with their opinions, feelings, and intentions. Imagine a world where if something was said, it was meant literally and without subtext.

Instead, most people live by complex set of guidelines that determine everything from how to communicate what one wants out of a relationship to when he or she feels offended. Because these rules have never been formally adopted, however, each individual winds up settling on the ones that make the most sense based on his or her past experiences and perceived self-interest. The final result, while undeniably exciting, is also excruciatingly chaotic.

I’m currently seeing a beautiful, smart, and (luckily for me) extremely patient and open woman—who also happens to be a neurotypical. As she has pointed out, “the gift of dating with autism” is that “you understand clear boundaries and can follow them.”

For neurotypicals, boundaries are fluid and the methods for communicating them are ambiguous at best. Perhaps in the future neurotypicals will learn how to behave in more consistent and predictable ways, just as people on the spectrum will hopefully develop tools for overcoming their social impairment. Until that day arrives, though, each side will simply have to try its best to empathize with the other. After all, none of us chose to be who we are. We were all born this way.

Satire: Some Quips on Unsolicited Dick Pics

Published: The Good Men Project (April 5, 2016)

Every so often a deadline looms and I need a good peg for a story. Since I’m pretty spent with droning endlessly on about super-serious subjects, I figured I should address a somewhat more frivolous – albeit still disturbing – topic.

So let’s talk about the creeps who send unsolicited dick pics.

Personally I never thought I would write that sentence, but over the past few months I keep hearing about men who send these photographs to unsuspecting women on dating websites. These women include my friends and various exes, as well as countless individuals who complain about this online. Hell, I even know a couple of dudes who have been on the receiving end of unsolicited dick pics… and as someone who participated in online dating myself, I am mystified by the practice.

For one thing, I can’t imagine any scenario in which this tactic would work. Sure, if you’re already dating someone or have found a profile by someone who has expressed an interest in that sort of thing, take your snapshots and have fun with it. That said, I doubt there has ever been a woman or gay man who wasn’t interested in someone but – upon seeing a few pixels representing their junk – suddenly proclaimed, “Wow! I can’t believe what I’ve been missing!” Similarly, it baffles me that any man would want to put himself in this position with a complete stranger. I’m not a particularly paranoid type, but it doesn’t take too much creativity to envision how this kind of behavior can backfire on the practitioner.

Having gotten this out of the way, I’d like to offer five quick comebacks for anyone who finds themselves in the unfortunate position of receiving an unsolicited dick pic. Why? Because if you’re going to expose yourself like that (pun intended), then you deserve a few good put-downs!

5. What species of mushroom is that?

A particularly unappealing one, to be sure.

4. Isn’t that cute? An extra belly button!

Courtesy of an old Salt N Pepa song.

3. Why did you send me a picture of your pinky toe?

Because this one is too obvious to pass up.

2. Awwww…. He’s adorable!

The kind of positive reinforcement no man wants.

1. Did Mario already stomp on that goomba?

Because every millennial will get this reference.

That’s really all I have to say on this subject. It may not warrant a particularly long editorial, but this baffling aspect of the human psyche has nagged at me long enough that I needed to get in a few words. Hopefully, if you are one of the men who tends to do this and are reading my article now, I have persuaded you to reconsider the error of your ways. And if you’re a woman who has received an unsolicited dick pic, feel free to use any of my proposed comebacks. The creep harassing you definitely deserves it.

Thanks for the Automated Valentine!

Published: The Good Men Project (February 13, 2016)

First, I just want to add that I’m a big fan of Film Brain, the British movie critic whose web series “Bad Movie Beatdown” manages to intelligently deconstruct some of the worst motion pictures ever made. Since our Twitter conversation inspired this piece, I figured it would only be appropriate to preface this article with a gratitude plug.

Now for the tweets themselves:

For those of you who haven’t seen “Her,” I’d highly recommend it. It’s a bittersweet romantic comedy about a nerdy, socially awkward man who develops a romantic connection with a self-aware computer operating system. For all of his (literal) Jackass-ery, director and writer Spike Jonze is one of the most original filmmakers entertaining mainstream audiences today, and this movie (like so many of his others) is a pleasure.

On the other hand, for those of you who haven’t used the Auto-Compose Valentines on Yahoo! Mail, I’d urge you to stay away. Not because there is anything particularly wrong with what the Valentines actually say, but because there is something deeply, deeply disturbing about their underlying implications.

Since I’m not a Yahoo! Mail user myself, I created an original account for the sole purpose of investigating these Auto-Compose Valentines. They were exactly what I expected to find – a scroll bar in which you scanned various themes, picked the one that seemed to fit your sentiments, and let Yahoo! take care of the rest by providing you with a romantic letter. Although you can add edit these if you’re so inclined, the overall purpose is clearly for individuals to substitute their own heartfelt sentiments for some platitudes deemed “holiday appropriate” by a large corporation.

Wait a second Matt, I hear you saying (because for the purposes of this article, an imaginary dialogue with my readers will have to do), Valentine’s Day is already a corporate holiday! Why do the Auto Compose Valentines make things any different? This wouldn’t be a bad point, except that email is a medium which by its nature lends itself to highly personalized communication. It’s one thing to say that you bought a box of chocolates or bouquet for your loved one because those are the gifts traditionally associated with this holiday. Even a greeting card from a store, though just as corporate and depersonalized as these Auto Compose Valentines, is partially justifiable by virtue of the fact that individual sentiments are the exception and not the norm when it comes to physical cards.

Emailing an Auto Compose Valentine, on the other hand, strikes me as a deliberate use of the impersonal in an environment where the personal is not only possible, but ideal. If you have an active email account, it is just as easy to type up a series of thoughts that are specific to yourself and the other person as it is to click your mouse a few times. The difference, though, is between an end result that obviously came from one person to another and a product that was quite literally written to apply to anybody. At least in the movie “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix developed a meaningful bond with his operating system because of who he was and how he could relate to her. With an Auto Compose Valentine, the notion of romance is obliterated by formulaic substitutes. It may not be dystopian, but it’s certainly downright depressing.

And yet… And yet I think about the millions of people who need to languish alone during this holiday. My mind wanders to the men and women who, instead of sharing an intimate connection with another person, are instead recovering from heartbreak or from the pain of romances that have never materialized. I wonder what these feelings might do to their self-confidence – and as such to their capacity to weave romantic prose from any medium – and I question whether Auto-Compose Valentines, though depressing on one level, could be just the boost these individuals need to take that necessary next stab at ending their existential loneliness. Perhaps I’m merely trying to find a silver lining here, but if there is even one person who obtains happiness courtesy of Yahoo’s pre-written Valentines, then I will be happy to disregard all of my neo-Luddite pontifications.

Either way, I wish everyone – coupled, single, and ready to mingle – a truly Happy Valentine’s Day.

3 Quick Tips for Awkward, Lonely Nerds

Published: The Good Men Project (September 15, 2015)

Back in January, Salon ran an editorial by famous writer and game show winner Arthur Chu called “The plight of the bitter nerd.” Apparently this piece proved quite popular, since it has recently reemerged as one of the site’s biggest hits, and there is good reason for this. Instead of taking a simplistic approach to the concerns and feelings of bitter nerds like himself, Chu acknowledges that “it seems in every group of nerdy guys I’ve known there’s one guy who’s trapped in a feedback loop of anxiety and self-loathing when it comes to women that goes around and around in circles.” Indeed, he admits that he’s very lucky to get away from being at a similar emotional place only a few years earlier.

That said, there is an important reason why Chu identifies with feminism, which deserved to be quoted in full:

“For most of us, sex is a big part of our lives, and our relationship to gender therefore a weighted and fraught thing. We all have hang-ups and neuroses, and they’re much more likely to manifest in the way we see sexual attraction and relationships than in the way we do our taxes. No one actually said men have it easy.

But men are the ones who by and large get to deal with this as an internal matter. Women are the ones who have to deal with internal hang-ups and, as Laurie Penny points out in her piece, external threats from other people. Guys deal with Women in the abstract, as a category; women deal with specific men who physically threaten them.”

Again, Chu is obviously speaking in generalities – of course there are men who have been physically threatened by women who are exploiting gender roles, just as there are women lucky enough to go through their entire lives without ever having their gender used against them. That said, the general trend is precisely what Chu described, which is why he concludes that “I don’t know how ‘women,’ as a group, can help men with the problems he [an MRA sympathizer] describes… But meanwhile, women are getting stalked and raped and killed. That’s something that men are doing and that men can stop other men from doing. And, with apologies to my fellow emotionally tortured guys, that really ought to be our priority.”

While I share Chu’s sentiment on how feminist priorities significantly (and I do mean significantly) outweigh the concerns of lonely bitter nerds, he’s wrong that there isn’t advice which can help nerdy men effectively address their problems. Like Chu, I’m also a nerdy man whose early childhood experiences with girls have given me a residual awkwardness which has lasted for many years (having Asperger’s Syndrome definitely didn’t help matters).

While I was fortunate enough to see that change once I went to college (my school was unusually open-minded, allowing me to develop several successful relationships there that gave me the confidence and skills necessary to maintain a normal dating life as an adult), I still feel a connection to that isolated teenager who hadn’t yet learned that high school experiences can be very different from ordinary life. As such, I have three quick tips for other men who are in that predicament.

1. Don’t put women on a pedestal.

I know quoting Gloria Steinem is a great way to lose sympathy from MRAs and PUAs, but she nevertheless had a saying that is really useful here:

“A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space.”

Although she was discussing the experiences of women, this is actually a valuable insight for men as well. When you hear MRAs or PUAs describing “what women do” or (in the case of the latter) how to “pick up” women, they act as if there is some great feminine monolith, a collective of sexbots whose programming can be used to your advantage if you just figure out the right combination. Not only is this assumption blazingly misogynist, it also misses an important point that can help shy and nerdy men – if you act like women are some ethereal “other” that you must win, you make the obstacle of curing your loneliness so much more difficult than it needs to be.

At the end of the day, women are people – no better and no worse – and the tricks you need to communicate with them are no different than the ones you’d use with men. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be awkwardness (just as when you talk to men) or cruelty (again, like with men), but the best way to develop the confidence to talk to a woman is to realize that she isn’t some otherworldly angel. She’s a human being with the same fundamental hopes and fears that you probably possess.

2. Don’t think of women in terms of their “value.”

Another theme I often hear from MRAs and PUAs (not only online but in person) is that women judge men based on a set of superficial criteria: How much money they earn, how successful they are in their careers, various physical attributes (genital size, muscularity, etc.), and so on. While this resentment isn’t entirely invalid (see Point #3), that legitimacy is undermined when these same men insist that they want not only a woman, but a “hot woman.” There are exceptions, of course, but in general one of the most common complaints I hear from self-proclaimed “bitter nerds” is that they want a woman who is thin, conventionally attractive, and as such capable of enhancing their social status by simple virtue of public association

The most obvious problem with this perspective, of course, is that it’s transparently hypocritical; when an angry nerd insists he has a right to date a hot girl, he isn’t railing against injustice in general, but instead sulking that a system of social hierarchies is benefiting others but not himself. Yes, there are women who only date men to enhance their own status, but they are only doing the same thing that men do when they demand that a woman be “hot” so they can assuage their egos and impress other men.

By reducing relationships to games in which there are “leagues” and “winners” and “losers,” these men and women thwart the good intentions of those who seek meaningful companionship, in which emotional intimacy, intellectual compatibility, and sexual gratification are all inextricably entwined.

While I don’t have advice for women, there is one question every man should ask himself if he wants to play a role in stopping this: Am I pursuing women based on whether I feel a deep connection and attraction to them or because I think of her as a prize?

3. Hold women accountable on an individual-to-individual basis.

None of this means that the various wrongs nerdy men have experienced from women should be diminished. Quite to the contrary, when a woman refuses to date a guy simply because he doesn’t have a high-value career or physical appearance, she is no better than a man who refuses to date a woman because she put on a few pounds or isn’t considered physically attractive in general. Certainly those men and women have a right to do that (remember, people have a right to date whomever they want), but it’s shallow and shameful and should be called out as such.

At the same time, it’s important to realize that women who do these things aren’t acting on behalf of women everywhere; they are individual human beings making individual (in this case bad) choices. This distinction strikes many men as unfair, but the reality is unavoidable: Right now, the power dynamics in both America and the world are such that women are politically, economically, and socially disadvantages.

Consequently there is no parity in terms of each gender’s experiences interacting with the other. When a group of bitter nerds decides to harass an attractive woman online, they are participating in a broader culture that deems it okay to reduce a woman’s worth to her sexuality and demean her accordingly. By contrast, when a woman decides to spurn a man on superficial grounds, she isn’t perpetuating a deeper social injustice; she’s simply being a bad person, not only by prejudging someone else but by denying herself potentially rewarding friendships and romances simply so she can climb the social ladder (social ladder-climbing, incidentally, is not limited to either gender).

This still sucks, of course, and as such it is no worse for a man to call out a woman who is being shallow toward him than it is for a woman to call out a man who rejects her for not being a 10 or whatever such nonsense. That said, this stops being acceptable the moment the men in question decide that the actions of bad women can be used to describe all women, or that they constitute a systemic inequality in gender relations rather than a sign that women are capable of just as much nastiness as their male counterparts. Similarly, it becomes problematic when men forget that people have the right to be shallow and prejudicial – just as a vain man has every right to insist on only dating 10s or die alone trying, so too do women have the right to accept nothing less than a flawless Prince Charming.

Indeed, this can be used to sum up the overall point here: When all is said and done, women as a gender are being systematically oppressed, from being paid less than men for the same work to having their bodies treated like slabs of meat owned by other people. That is the main issue that requires discussion in our political debate. The concerns of nerdy and awkward men, though not devoid of merit, are fundamentally no different than those encountered by anyone who has been burned when attempting to seduce and/or fall in love. This doesn’t mean that their feelings should be ignored, but it’s important to place them in the right context.

Why We Need To Bring Back Crushes

Published: The Good Men Project (August 20, 2015)

Let’s talk about crushes.

I recently noticed that when adults discuss their romantic feelings, the term “crush” is almost never used. When it does appear, there is almost always an apologetic undertone to it – people will qualify their crushes with adjectives like “schoolboy” or “schoolgirl” (as in, “I have a bit of a schoolboy crush on you”), or will in some other way indicate that they feel the emotion they’re displaying is childish.

To understand why this might be the case, I decided to break down the two opposite extremes of romantic sentiment:

  • Love: There is no emotion more meaningful than this one. Love can come in many forms and be directed toward all types of people – family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, and so on – but romantic love is particularly special because it’s the most intimate and vulnerable connection two human beings can form with each other. My personal theory has always been that love, at its core, is a human being’s attempt to cope with the inevitability of death. No one can know for certain what happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil, but the knowledge that there is one person who chose you to be their ultimate partner in life alleviates the terrible loneliness that accompanies a true appreciation of our finite conscious existence.
  • Lust: When you get right down to it, this is basically just a craving. Like hunger or exhaustion, it is the human body’s wave of indicating that one of its primordial physical needs isn’t being met. The main difference between lust and hunger or exhaustion, of course, is that the former isn’t technically required for survival (you can theoretically spend an entire lengthy lifetime as a virgin), whereas you literally need food and sleep to remain alive. Nevertheless, we are programmed to want sex, and the felt need is a very real one.

Having a crush, to me, is the exact middle ground between these two poles. Unlike lust, a genuine crush entails deep affection for the other individual’s personality traits – their interests, sense of humor, ability to carry on a conversation, various life philosophies, etc. There is an intangible but unmistakable chemistry that two people develop when one or both have a crush on the other, a mixture of bantering and more direct expressions of endearment.

By contrast, love only exists when two people have known each other deeply for a very long time. It is possible to be in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate that emotion, but I’d argue it isn’t possible to love someone “from afar.” If you don’t know that individual as well as you know your best friends – and through qualitatively and quantitatively substantial interaction, rather than mere speculation as to what they’re really like – than any legitimate affection is at best a crush and at worst mere lust gussied up through rationalizations to seem like more.

The best part of a crush, though, is that you can do anything you want with it. If you’re in love with someone, the sheer intensity of the emotion usually compels you to some sort of proactive gesture – or, barring that, an existence of terrible internal torment. By contrast, if what you feel is merely lust, then you probably shouldn’t pursue a romantic relationship; consensual sexual encounters are fine, but anything more involves deluding yourself into believing that horniness is interchangeable with love (an assumption that rarely ends well for either party in a relationship). When you have a crush, though, you are on the fence about your feelings – and that means you can either ignore them without fear of subsequent regret or act on them without worrying that you’re being insincere. When you think about it, having a crush is the best place to be if you’re single and looking.

In short, it seems like the term “crush” has an obvious application to adult dating life. It isn’t used particularly often because of the juvenile association, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need it. That’s why I’m going to continue using it whenever I feel it fits (and like most adults who date, I’ve developed many crushes over the years), and hope others will catch on.

You Don’t Have To Like #MarriageEquality to See That It’s Right

Published: Good Men Project (June 27, 2015)

Matt Rozsa dismisses the top three arguments against #MarriageEquality so everyone can embrace the change.

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Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples throughout America have the right to get married, it’s time to confront the inevitable backlash that has already begun to erupt: From homophobes complaining that their civil liberties are being curbed in the media to pseudo-scientists who insist same-sex marriage is bad for children, there are plenty of people out there who refuse to see the light on this issue.
Here is a convenient listicle to deal with them:
1. The so-called “science” opposing gay marriage is bunk.
Back in 2012, a conservative think tank known as the Heritage Foundation paid $785,000 to an anti-LGBT sociologist named Dr. Mark Regnerus. Why? Because, according to their own mission statement, they desperately needed to produce a study that would “back up claims that same-sex marriage is actually bad for the family.”
This reminds me of a quote from the famous Sherlock Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” reproduced below:
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”
Of course, the difference between the detectives in a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery and the propagandists at the Heritage Foundation is that the former were only dealing with innocent errors in judgment; the latter, on the other hand, made a deliberate effort to deprive innocent men and women of their basic rights. Even though the overwhelming majority of research has found that gay parents are no less qualified to raise children than their heterosexual counterparts, the Heritage Foundation decided to validate the prejudices of its supporters by handsomely rewarding any scholar unscrupulous enough to use pseudo-science as a substitute for the actual thing.
The chief lesson here: If you can’t win an argument without cheating, you deserve to lose.
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2. It is absurd to claim that same-sex marriage threatens “traditional” unions.
Frankly, I’ve never understood this one. Whenever I discuss the issue of gay marriage with conservative friends, I usually hear some variation of the argument, “If homosexuals are allowed to marry, it will ruin marriage for everyone else!”
Um …. How exactly? How exactly will a marriage in the post-Obergefell v. Hodges era be any different from the unions that occurred before it? The closest equivalent to a straightforward answer has come from the State of Mississippi, which is threatening to pull all state-issued marriage licenses in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Their position seems to be that, by taking the state out of the institution of marriage altogether and leaving it entirely to the churches, it will allow Mississippians whose religious beliefs lead them to oppose same-sex unions to avoid having to implicitly support them.
On the one hand, I actually see a little merit in this argument. If we’re going to treat marriage as a fundamentally religious ritual, then it seems fine for the state to stay out of the matter altogether. Of course, this won’t actually prevent gay marriages from happening (plenty of churches and synagogues are willing to wed same-sex couples), but it will comfort those who feel their religious beliefs are being disrespected by the actions of Kennedy et al. Then again, if other conservative states follow in Mississippi’s lead, the traditional state-sponsored institution of marriage will have been changed as a result of their actions, not that of those homosexuals who choose to get married. Throughout American history, marriage has been as much a secular institution as it has been a religious one, which is why any pair of consenting opposite-sex adults have been able to go to local government institutions and declare themselves to be in wedlock. Simply extending that right to same-sex adults doesn’t change the experience of opposite-sex couples; revoking state-sponsored marriages, meanwhile, absolutely does.

Everyone has the right to their prejudices, but they shouldn’t be shielded from the fact that those views are prejudiced, and they definitely shouldn’t be allowed to demean those who are targeted by their prejudiced by denying them the same rights guaranteed to all other citizens.

3. If you believe in freedom, then you have to acknowledge this right.
Much has already been written about Justice Anthony Kennedy’s heroism in breaking from the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples (including by me), so I was reluctant to quote him again for this article. Then again, as I searched for the language to explain how opposing marriage equality is always an intolerant position, I could find no better way of expressing that thought then by returning to the judge’s immortal language:
Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society.
That, as they say, is the bottom line. You can personally believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, choose to only attend churches that refuse to perform that ceremony, and even refuse to endorse it through your business (as Patrick Stewart pointed out when he defended a Christian bakery’s decision to not bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage message). At the same time, when you argue that the American state should actively prevent same-sex couples from getting married, you aren’t simply expressing your personal religious or philosophical opinion; you are demanding that that point-of-view be imposed on those who don’t agree with it. Everyone has the right to their prejudices, but they shouldn’t be shielded from the fact that those views are prejudiced, and they definitely shouldn’t be allowed to demean those who are targeted by their prejudiced by denying them the same rights guaranteed to all other citizens.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why good people support #MarriageEquality.
 

Love Online, Love at First Sight, and Other Romances We Don’t Trust: An Interview with Dating Consultant Laura Gub

Published: Good Men Project (June 16, 2015)

An interview with dating consultant Laura Gub on the kinds of love we’re least likely to trust.

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Last week the Internet was sent into a tizzy over news that actress Lark Voorhies, best known for her starring role in the ’90s sitcom “Saved by the Bell,” had married a man she’d known less than a year… and met on Facebook. Since then, Voorhies’ mother has spoken out against her daughter’s relationship, accusing husband Jimmy Green of being a gang member exploiting her daughter’s psychologically fragile state.

This raises an interesting question: At a time when 38 percent of “single and looking” American adults have used online dating or mobile app sites, is it possible to actually fall in love with someone you know primarily online?

For answers, I turned to Laura Gub, a professional dating consultant who has written for various dating websites and blogs and specializes in profile editing/writing and general dating guidance.

♦◊♦

1. Do you believe it’s possible to either fall in love with someone after only knowing them for a brief time and/or falling in love with someone who you only know from afar (whether online or any other way)?

It is possible to fall in love with someone whom you only know for a short time, and you know it when you get that feeling that “you know each other for ages”, simply because you’re thinking alike and are well suited for each other in many other ways, lifestyle, values and where you’re at in life. I know at least 3 couples from my close surroundings that fell in love almost like wildfire and are still solid a few years down the line, married or planning to, expecting babies or planning to.

Falling in love with someone from afar is a whole different thing though. You can, but you fall in love with the idea of them. If that idea matches reality, then it’s a win win situation. But you won’t know before actually meeting them and spending time with them. Real connection needs to involve all 5 senses.

2. How do you believe people can tell if what they think is love is “real?”

Love has stages. Infatuation is the first stage. We see this person as perfection itself, or very near perfection. Over time we can get to know each other in depth, especially if the couple do something challenging together, like going away on a trip or collaborating on a work project. If the relationship survives moving on from the infatuation phase, they’ll know it’s real.

3. What things should men be cautious about if they start to fall in love with someone they’ve never met?

They should make sure the person in the photos is for real, thus a Skype chat shouldn’t be a problem.

They should be cautious if the person asks for too many details about them (identity fraud) or asks them for financial help.

Even if it all feels very real, they should know that what they feel is mostly down to their imagination, as besides how this person presents themselves and “sells” themselves, they’ve got nothing to go on and we all tend to fill in the blanks with the way we wish that person should be. 

4. Same question as #3, but applied to women.

Same as above. Although a virtual relationship could be a strong base for a real one, it can never be real on its own. Big age difference, big geographical differences, big difference in financial status are all things to consider and can be possible red flags.

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Without personally knowing Lark Voorhies or her new husband, it’s impossible to determine whether this relationship is a good idea for her. That said, as my conversation with Laura Gub helped me realize, there is no reason why two people can’t fall in love simply because they haven’t known each other for very long or primarily interact online. The key is being pragmatic: Until you’ve met someone in person, you can’t gauge the extent to which your “love” is based more on an infatuation with the idea of that person rather than their flesh-and-blood reality. All relationships need to overcome an initial “infatuation” phase, and this is as true for two people who met in person but haven’t known each other for very long as it is for individuals who are required to communicate over long distances. Finally, you have to remember that the world is full of people who will take advantage of you, be it for money, sex, or the sheer thrill of successfully duping a stranger as to their identity.

At the same time, there are plenty of successful relationships that began online (after the two parties met at least once, of course), and even flourished for years despite being primarily confined to that medium. Likewise, people have fallen in love with each other almost immediately and managed to make the relationship work. As long as you have an open mind, anything can happen. It’s just a matter of thinking smart as well as thinking with your heart.

3 Correctable Behaviors That Destroy Relationships

Published: Good Men Project (May 30, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa identifies 3 things to stop doing if you want to give your relationship—romantic, platonic, familiar, et cetera—a chance.

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Roughly four weeks ago, an ex-girlfriend of mine (with whom I had maintained a close friendship for the year-and-a-half since our break up) texted me that she wished I wasn’t always analyzing her. Considering that she knew full well that this tendency is a direct result of having Asperger’s Syndrome —  after all, a condition which makes it impossible to naturally read unspoken social cues requires those afflicted with it to intellectualize the human behavior they encounter — I responded as if her remarks were a deliberate insult, and as such immediately went on the attack.

While I wasn’t wrong for being insulted at what she said (there was only one rational way to interpret them), my confrontational tone was absolutely out of line. As soon as she pointed this out, I apologized.

She didn’t accept my apology, and instead proceeded to freeze me out for more than a week. Finally, after receiving a text in which she admitted to missing our conversations, I decided that our ugly argument was part of the past and we could both move on. Unfortunately, when I made the mistake of calling her intoxicated a couple days later, she denounced my state of mind as an act of “disrespect” (even though by her own admission I hadn’t said anything confrontational or hostile during that conversation) and again decided to call off our friendship-on-the-verge-of-a-relationship, this time permanently.

Which brings us to our lesson of the day.

In an ideal world, the people with whom we fall in love will be paragons of virtue – smart, funny, kind, hard working, physically attractive, socioeconomically successful, etc. The reality, of course, is much different: Most of us are neither all good nor all bad, and our ability to find love depends entirely on meeting sexually compatible partners who can cherish what is right about us and accept (while simultaneously working to improve) what is wrong.

In an ideal world, the people with whom we fall in love will be paragons of virtue – smart, funny, kind, hard working, physically attractive, socioeconomically successful, etc. The reality, of course, is much different: Most of us are neither all good nor all bad, and our ability to find love depends entirely on meeting sexually compatible partners who can cherish what is right about us and accept (while simultaneously working to improve) what is wrong.

That doesn’t mean that lines shouldn’t be drawn. If someone is physically or emotionally abusing you, or refusing to respect your personal boundaries, than by all means the relationship needs to end. In this case, however, even the girl in question (who I will refer to here as “T”) reluctantly admitted that none of my transgressions crossed those lines. It was simply a situation in which she expected absolute perfection, and anything other than that constituted grounds for not only calling things off, but for doing so with some of the most hurtful language she could conjure up (which, after calmly dealing with it for several days, I finally decided to repay in kind).

There are three valuable lessons to be learned here:

1. For any relationship to work—romantic, platonic, or otherwise—both parties need to have a margin for error. No one is perfect, and if you’re going to zoom from 100 (i.e., thinking the moon and stars of a loved one) to 0 (i.e., thinking only the worst about that loved one) over relatively minor mistakes (on this specific occasion, lashing out when my Asperger’s Syndrome was attacked or acting overly-giddy during a drunk phone call), then the chances are that the real problem isn’t with your significant other – it is with yourself. By holding people to that standard, you are demanding a level of perfection that no one – not even yourself – could ever be realistically expected to reach. The worst part isn’t even that you doom your specific relationships to failure; it is that, through your actions, you become the kind of emotional abuser who leaves a trail of scarred psyches in your wake.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that the generation raised by the Internet age tend to pass moral judgments based only on extremes – you are either an unimpeachable role model or the absolute scum of the earth. It’s why we see ongoing debates over questions like whether we should admire Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon: Even though it is undeniably true that Lincoln was both a racist and the Great Emancipator, or that John Lennon was an influential advocate of world peace who regularly abused his wife and children, people online tend to assume that either their virtues entirely negate their flaws or that their flaws render their virtues irrelevant.

2. You need to be able to look at life as more than a zero-sum game. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that the generation raised by the Internet age tend to pass moral judgments based only on extremes – you are either an unimpeachable role model or the absolute scum of the earth. It’s why we see ongoing debates over questions like whether we should admire Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon: Even though it is undeniably true that Lincoln was both a racist and the Great Emancipator, or that John Lennon was an influential advocate of world peace who regularly abused his wife and children, people online tend to assume that either their virtues entirely negate their flaws or that their flaws render their virtues irrelevant. In fact, human beings are far more complex than the reductive mindset of digital culture would have one believe: Lincoln and Lennon were great men with terrible flaws and terribly flawed men who did great things. Acknowledging this isn’t a paradox but, rather, the essence of the human condition.

3. When you meet people who apply a 0 to 100 attitude in your own life, your best bet is to cut them out entirely. In the case of T, I deleted our text messages (after using them as the basis for this article, of course) and blocked both her phone number and Facebook profile. Obviously I do not expect this to eliminate the pain that she caused me through her actions, at least not right away – but, if there is one good thing about having a diverse range of dating experiences, it’s that you realize even the most emotionally abusive ordeals will eventually fade from your memory as new (and hopefully more rewarding) ones arise to take their place.

It is lamentable that my ex-girlfriend, who is otherwise a very intelligent woman, seems stubbornly unwilling to recognize this fact (and, indeed, openly acknowledged that she enjoyed knowing she had the power to really hurt someone if she felt like it). That said, all painful experiences yield valuable lessons, and the one gleaned from this is too important to overlook:

We need to stop being a 0 to 100 society. We need to stop assuming that the Lincolns and the Lennons and, yes, the Rozsas can be defined solely by either what is best in them or what is worst in them. If we don’t stop doing this, at some point we will reach one of those periodic moralizing crazes that have occasions swept through our country – see the Salem Witch Trials, the five Great Awakenings, McCarthyism, or political correctness (at least when taken to #CancelColbert level extremes) – in which human lives are ruined because certain individuals dare not be perfect. Indeed, it is hardly a coincidence that T herself used to frequently engage in heated debates with me about whether good people could have bad qualities and vice versa – and every time, of course, she came down in favor of saying that if you do one bad thing, it devalues you entirely.

America is better than this, and as the Internet continues to exacerbate the 0-to-100 phenomenon I’m talking about, I can only hope that this unhealthy trend will change.