“I don’t want to offend you, but…”

“… I like you. Is that ok?”

A friend revealed last week that he has not yet told a girl that he “really really likes her” after several years of casual friendship and no less than ten recent dates. His reasoning? He knows that she attends church every week. His assumptions, based on this one fact? That a) she is uber-conservative, b) does not believe in sex before marriage, and c) will be offended at his suggestion that they date.

“If you remember,” I yelled at him him loudly, waving my beer in his face, “this sounds exactly like that time that [boyfriend] waited to tell me he was breaking up with me until after I took the GRE because he thought I couldn’t handle all the stress!”1

What is an appropriate way to make affections known to the object of said affections? More generally, what is the best way to inform someone else of a decision you have made that may affect his or her life, without being presumptuous and revealing your own prejudices?2 How does one say “I’m attracted to you” with absolute guarantee that the other party will not take it as objectification? Can we ever believe that “it’s not you, it’s me” will ever indicate complete, honest, self-awareness?3

I got mad at my friend. I was perhaps a little too critical, perhaps projecting my own frustration after hearing so many unclear messages for so long. I told him that he was patronising, and offensive. I told him that he was being ruled by his (definitely sexist) assumptions about her preferences. There is a distinct possibility that she is not interested, I acknowledged, but let’s give her some credit.

No one, I said, should ever be offended by a simple “I like you”.4 If she is, I continued, you owe her the opportunity to explain her own assumptions, prejudices, and circumstances. I walked away from the conversation in a huff, but I was only halfway across the room before I realised that my response was probably just as informed by my opinion of my friend, who I’ve known since the age of nineteen. My own dismissal at his ability to responsibly, and maturely, begin relations with the fairer sex was a result of many years of witnessing his mistakes.

Our wimpy selves often take over before we get the chance to say something that we really mean. Sometimes we end up saying nothing at all, but on occasion, we lash out, blurt, and ramble. Our old uncertainties, morals learned from past experiences, and values transmitted to us from our respective cultures — in other words, all the things that make us the way we are — make us project our assumptions onto others. We can move to new countries, date different demographics, and shop around for new religions or political allegiances, but these factors will still nag.

I’ll give both of us some advice here. Make your own life, with your relationship history, physical insecurities, and yes, your prejudices, your normal. Acknowledge it, deal with it, present it as such, and own it. I’ll go first. I am a thoughtful but somewhat insecure internet blogger who calls herself The Bun.5 I have a fake tooth and weirdly fat fingers. I have a finnicky uterus and the weirdest health problems. I have some trust issues, care too much about what people think, and have serious imposter syndrome. I probably drink too often.

It is a pleasure to meet you. This is my normal, as of May 2016. What is yours?

 

1. I’d actually heard about his decision from another friend as I walked happily towards the campus bar to celebrate my 99th percentile score on the GRE. Funny how things work out. Also, beer.

2. I use the term “prejudice” here rather loosely. I don’t mean it as something that is intended to be negative — rather, an assumption about another person often arises out of one’s desire to protect. But, I’m sure we are all aware, protection can quickly turn into offence when expressed in a patronising way.

3. Long-term readers of this blog will remember that I question every verbal utterance that comes my way. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this speech one too many times, I often wonder about sincerity. More on this later, I hope.

4. Let’s put it another way — how many of us have waited, hoped, and pined to hear these words come out of another’s mouth? How nice it is to know that another individual is willing to put him or herself out there to reveal some (albeit tentative) feelings?

5. Therapists would probably look at this symptom and diagnose several different personality abnormalities from this one fact, including, but not limited to, inflated sense of self-worth, love of being talked about, and obsession with food.

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Not enough to go around

Since this blog discusses things like technology in dating, the Bean and I have to seriously keep up to date with news and developments in this field1. This new article in the Guardian seriously needs to be discussed, a challenge which I’ll take on in this post. It discusses Jon Biger’s new book Date-onomics and its findings that “there may not be enough educated men [i.e., those who have a university degree] to go around”.

The article postulates that the “pool is smaller” for women looking for college educated men to date. Of course, after reading this, I started to think about my own pool — am I having trouble finding university-educated men? Or am I just having trouble finding men that I like?

Considering that my cohort of the university-educated meet new people primarily through work, school, and friends of friends, the possibility of our even making small talk with someone without a college degree is miniscule. I can count on one hand the number of non-college graduates I have met and become somewhat friends with on one hand in my 10 years of living in Hong Kong2. College graduates, especially those from foreign universities, congregate at the same bars, cafes, and restaurants. We go to the same house parties and probably know a lot of the same people. In other words, for most of our peers, our entire pools — whether for dating, screwing around, paddling — are university-educated. What’s more, the customisation of online dating for users helps us pre-select only the “like-minded” types of people we want to see — you can toggle your settings on Coffee Meets Bagel, for example, so that no non-diploma-holding individuals ever get presented to you on your phone screen3.

If we only meet college-educated, somewhat “like-minded” potential partners, saying that we are “looking for someone with similar education” doesn’t mean very much at all. In fact, it becomes a given, controlled variable in all of our social interactions — trying to find someone who doesn’t actually have a degree is hard!

The question I’m attempting to answer today is this: is the bachelor diploma the single utmost, dealbreaker-esque criterion of young women looking for a potential partner, or even a date?

I can imagine that many young women would say “yes” to the above question. After all, we don’t want to seem like we’re selling ourselves, nor do we want to see too arrogant about what is within our leagues. But the reality of our little criteria checklists is much more messy. Last night, I indulged in a little Gilmore Girls binge and watched the episode where Paris goes to a speed-dating event hosted by a Yale University student club. When the first guy reveals that he’s an art major4, she immediately jumps up and moves on to the next station, pushing another girl out of the way.

So let’s put it bluntly — would you rather date a painter who graduated with a visual arts degree from Yale and has no steady income, or someone in a profession that does not require a college degree — a flight attendant, perhaps, or a chef? Now, an individual answering this question would probably say “that depends”, and proceed to list off a bunch of additional criteria5. These selection factors are unique for every person, and while they probably exist in addition to “college-educated”, they have got to be more important.

Dating is very often not about finding someone “like-minded” — it’s about optimisation of several different criteria, in a highly personalised matrix, in a radar chart6. Articles and books about the lack of college-educated men isn’t doing any single women any favours. I’d like to see, instead, someone take on a population study of single men who have jobs and are not in debt. Or have been promoted more than twice in the last five years. Or can perfectly demonstrate the use of a semicolon.

1. I also recently started following many many news outlets on Facebook so that I can jump over the paywall by linking through social media; goodbye to productive thesis writing days in the office!
2. Of course, I realise that this situation may be specific to metropolis living, and even more specific to metropolis living for expatriates. In Hong Kong, even the bars are opened by Ivy League degree-holding ex-investment bankers. It probably won’t be the same if I were living in a small American town.
3. CMB also asks why a user likes or passes on a particular profile. One of the drop-down menu options is “well-educated”. I’ll be the first to admit that I have clicked on this particular bubble many times. On the contrary, when I pass on a profile, I often write in “too many typos” or “bad grammar”.
4. I feel like I have to emphasise that he said ART major, not ARTS. I am in the ARTS faculty of a major university, but I will not come within 10 feet of a paintbrush unless it’s for DIY purposes. Excuse me for my self-delusion, but I do believe that the ARTS discipline that I am in is a lot more useful.
5. The analogy I used earlier when trying to discuss this with a friend is that it’s like economic regressions: If <college educated> then <x>. If <not college educated> then <y, z>. All my regression knowledge comes from an econometrics course I took in my sophomore year of college, so it’s not very good but I still think the analogy is apt.
6. This is becoming the post in which I expend all my possible Excel/data analysis knowledge. For a historian, I have nothing to be ashamed of.