Dating and Friend Making

Dating and Friend Making

In recent history I’ve deliberately changed my approach to finding prospective long-term romantic partners. Normally, this process is facilitated through the dating process, which entails a series of interactions that, usually within the first several, begin to incorporate physical intimacy on some level (from hand-holding on up).

In contrast to dating, there is the friend-making process. The adult friend-making process (for many) begins with a few small interactions that are very gradually scaled up over weeks and months—perhaps longer.

If your potential new friend is a coworker, this process can be made easier by virtue of the repeated daily contact. If they are not a coworker, but perhaps just another frequent visitor of your favorite coffee shop, the process can take longer to get off the ground.

But, eventually, should you acquire a sufficient amount of mutual knowledge and trust, you will start to share increasingly intimate information and experiences, like going out to eat together, seeing movies, visiting each other’s living quarters, or taking trips together.

I am generally reluctant to voluntarily spend a lot of time with someone I don’t know a lot about, especially if early signs indicate that we don’t get along sufficiently to justify the volume of interaction. So if I make a friend that I dedicate much outside-of-work time to, it’s because I know a good deal about them, and I like what I know. And it’s only at this more advanced stage of knowing them that I willingly share a lot of personal information about myself in the hopes/dreams/fears department.

The friend-making process as described above is designed to scale: you begin with a little interaction and information sharing, and gradually increase over time if warranted. After this has gone on long enough, the friend becomes a sort of best friend or confidant.

This is the opposite of the standard dating model, and is the reason that I jettisoned “dating” as I’ve traditionally done it.

The traditional trajectory of dating for most people, and my historical self, has been: spend lots of time with someone you just met (or, at least more than you normally would), and introduce physical intimacy relatively early on in your relationship; this doesn’t have to be sex—it can be something like kissing.

I would never make a friend in that fashion, and the reason why is the same reason that I’ve stopped trying to forge an enduring romantic connection that way: it allows emotional intimacy, by virtue of brain chemistry, to disproportionately outstrip the growth of conscious friendship building—and to cloud one’s ability to even do that. Oxytocin is a tricky thing, and introducing it too early is the same as voluntarily retarding your ability to accurately evaluate relational compatibility with another person. This increases the chances that you will devote more time to someone who, absent the bonding chemical, you would have otherwise left behind.

Since I want any man that I form a romantic connection with to also be my friend, friendship building must happen first—and only then can romantic connections be established.

This approach isn’t novel in human history by any means, and I wouldn’t imagine that what I’m doing would be right for everyone—although I think it might be right for many people. This also doesn’t preclude casual romantic encounters for a variety of reasons—it just requires that I recognize the dimming effects that they will have on my evaluative powers and control for them. This shapes the nature and context of those encounters, but that’s for another essay.

This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.

Technical Skill Applied to Terrible Ends

Technical Skill Applied to Terrible Ends

In the past few weeks I’ve attended several musical performances; I enjoyed some, but not others. One thing that they all had in common was that each featured performers with high technical skill and mastery of their instruments. This commonality made the enjoyable performances better, as one would expect, but made the unenjoyable performances—not necessarily worse, but interesting in a way I hadn’t thought about.

In general, I think that competent execution of a task or skill is an attractive thing to watch. The spectacle of a concert pianist’s hands is a performance in its own right, apart from the sounds that they provoke.

But what happens when the sounds that those expert hands produce is a carefully orchestrated cacophony? Here, I’m not talking about discord that makes contextual sense (it sets the stage for resolution into some kind of harmony, or relief of tension, or something). I’m talking about ugly sounds that exist as the primary focus of the performance, absent context that would give them relevant meaning.

In competent hands these sounds have a complex structure, and often as a result hint at some kind of resolution or context—but never provide it. In addition to aural displeasure, the music is a repeated shattering of expectations and refusal to provide relief.

If it is a musician’s goal to produce exactly those emotions, then, while the music won’t necessarily be pleasant, it can be potentially interesting in the context of a musician’s goal. Sometimes the point of music is just to stimulate emotion, and exploring emotions, even the kind that correspond to “repeated shattering of expectations” can be an interesting exercise. In the same manner, I might see a horror movie—in that space it’s safe to explore darker emotions and fears.

But not all art is good, or is done with good intentions (which I know is controversial to some), and that can include music.

Bad art, when paired with—and produced by—competent displays of technical mastery, is emotionally confusing. I’ll come back to the piano: watching a skilled pianist’s hands, absent sound, is sufficiently wonderful for a show. But if they produce bad music, I can’t turn away as easily as if some toddler were mashing their hands down on the keys—it’s a different kind of bad, one with delicate structure. I’m not sure if it’s like a car crash—I can’t look away because I’m sort of incredulous that such a thing is happening—or because I wish that somehow the competence of execution would bleed over into the aesthetic and aural quality of the music. To be determined, I suppose.

In any case, I would gladly just put on noise cancelling headphones and watch such a pianist play.

This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.

Personality Tests & Alignment

Personality Tests & Alignment

The game Dungeons and Dragons has a schema used to determine a game character’s moral and personal attitudes, which are summed up by its “alignment.” Alignment is derived by a point on a Cartesian plane, the two axes of which are “good vs. evil” and “law vs. chaos.” For the sake of this essay, assume that good and evil are on the x-axis, and law and chaos are on the y-axis, as below.

As you can see, there are nine principal alignments that are produced at the extreme points of the axes:

  1. Lawful Good, “Crusader”
  2. Neutral Good, “Benefactor”
  3. Chaotic Good, “Rebel”
  4. Lawful Neutral, “Judge”
  5. True Neutral, “Undecided”
  6. Chaotic Neutral, “Free Spirit”
  7. Lawful Evil, “Dominator”
  8. Neutral Evil, “Malefactor”
  9. Chaotic Evil, “Destroyer”

To read the details about each one, go here.

But, as you could also imagine, there are many more points than just these nine—there are as many other points as the Cartesian plane would permit, which approaches infinity.

Although I don’t think this schema is incredibly profound, I think it’s useful and fun for thinking about my own tendencies and personality traits; for the same reason, I don’t think that Myers-Briggs personalities are dispositive, but I like the mental exercise that their contemplation engenders.

In practice, this kind of introspection can go in one of two broad directions:

  • You can pick one of the nine on the list you like best for yourself, thinking it correctly represents the ideals you hold, or
  • You can pick the one of the nine that actually represents how you are, which may or may not line up with the ideals that you hold.

The first kind of introspection isn’t really introspection—it’s wishful selection based on what we’d like to find upon actual introspection, although individuals who do it aren’t typically explicit about the fact that they’re doing it. Others have called this belief in belief,” and I’ll keep that terminology. It’s what’s at work when someone says, “I’m a [person who believes in this or that deity/religion]” while the rest of their thoughts and actions contradict that belief.

The second kind of introspection can be done with varying levels of quality, but it does require that an individual be able to examine what is happening in their head, and why. Unlike the first kind, the second kind does not pick a conclusion beforehand—it picks one after examining the metrics for selection and accepting where they point.

Put otherwise, the second approach asks, “Do I really think that? Do my actions line up with that?” instead of doing what the first approach does, “I’m that one!”

Take the alignment schema for a whirl. I think it’s an interesting way to conceptualize various personal tendencies. In general, it seems like I tend toward “chaotic good,” although I’m not on the edge of the Cartesian alignment graph.

This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words, but a Song’s Worth a Million

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words, but a Song’s Worth a Million

After writing yesterday’s post, and realizing that I tend to attach music to my essays to give them depth, I thought I’d just write a musical essay. Below, you will find a list of songs, all of which I consider to be profoundly provocative for one reason or another. I’ve also tagged each with an emotional association.

A note: most of the pieces don’t have vocal parts, and if they do it is in the form of an accompanying choir. Some of the pieces are long(ish), and I consider these to have value in their buildup. The final release and climax of the songs are just that, and they have the same sort of emotional rhythm as sex (I don’t consider this to be crude–it just is, and it is beautiful).

There are so many more songs than these that I love, but I’ve only included eleven, and they are all roughly on the positive side of the emotional spectrum. But there are plenty of songs that I love that make even rage and wrath seem beautiful. For a Spotify link to the playlist, click here. Otherwise, I’d recommend copying and pasting the song name and source into YouTube for the full length of each.

1. “Forbidden Friendship” from the How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack (my favorite soundtrack):

  • Emotional associations: discovery, soaring above clouds to meet the sun, triumph, self-actualization.
  • Emotional climax begins at 2:48.

2. “Coming Back Around” from the How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack:

  • Emotional associations: earned happiness, sweet reward, celebratory triumph.
  • Buckle up at 1:08, and remain seated until the song’s conclusion. I listen to the part at 2:18 at full volume. It’s worth the ear drums. Do not listen to this while driving a car unless you are fine with your foot involuntarily accelerating the car in response to the music.

3. “To the Spaceport” from the Treasure Planet soundtrack:

  • Emotional associations: sense of adventure.
  • If you don’t want to hop a steamship to the new world by 1:14 in this song, we are very different people.

4. “Romantic Flight” from the How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack (you thought I was done with it. I’LL NEVER BE DONE WITH IT).

  • Emotional associations: beauty, romance, sweetness
  • Brace for the part at 1:27.

5. “The Ludlows” from the Legends of the Fall soundtrack:

  • Emotional associations: a sunset over the full big sky of the American plains, connection to the events of long ago.
  • 4:44 adds the final bittersweet tinge to this song.

6. “Planet Earth II Suite” from the Planet Earth II soundtrack

  • Emotional association: pure, unadulterated exaltation. If I were to start my own church, this song would be its anthem and only hymn.
  • This song is short, and yet takes a while to build. It is possibly my favorite piece of music. The brief hint of profundity that appears at 1:42 only increases until the climactic end of the song. It’s like the feeling of waves going in and out at high tide. The water leaves, and comes back a little higher. It leaves, and then comes back a little higher. All at once, without noticing, you’re inundated at the 3:00 mark.

7. “Alice’s Theme” from the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack:

  • Emotional associations: to abscond, to flee to adventure, the feeling of being surrounded by old New England brick and lore, “follow if you dare.”

8. “No Time for Caution” from the Interstellar soundtrack:

  • Emotional associations: inevitability, accepting mortality, foreboding, finality.
  • The organ introduction at 0:44, and the way the instrument is woven throughout the rest of the song, gives it all meaning for me.
  • When I listen to this song on a high quality sound system, my body jerks at the impacts beginning at 2:35–they’re such that the audio feels like it should be a solid impacting mass.

9. “Heart of Courage” by Thomas Bergerson (the only song on this list not from a soundtrack):

  • Emotional associations: this is Sparta, ferocity, resolution, strength.
  • It really is Sparta.

10. “Hedwig’s Theme” from the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone soundtrack:

  • Emotional associations: connection with humanity (humanity has few things in common, but Harry Potter is one of them), deliberate progression and pressing forward, flying over and under and around.

11. “God Yu Tekem Laef Blong Mi” from the The Thin Red Line soundtrack:

  • Emotional associations: the relief that follows bereaved weeping; a soul departed to peace.
  • This song comes and goes in waves, with repetitions on the theme building as the song goes. 1:29 is its height.

This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.