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.