“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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New Year Resolutions for a more mature, professional Bun

  • Introduce myself with first and last name; learn to say such full name with intonation that just rolls off the tongue.
  • Learn to like wearing lipstick and other confidence-raising cosmetics, such as concealer for dark under-eye circles. 
  • Work up alcohol tolerance to college senior level so that I don’t get shit-faced in front of important people. The alcohol is unavoidable; I must change myself.
  • Get those business cards printed… finally!
  • Come up with updated, more professional sounding one-liners to describe my work and myself.
  • Dig out a couple of nerdy jokes for the cocktail chatter. Grammar jokes are always appreciated, I attempt to convince myself.
  • Have handy “did you know” fun facts on file, preferably in reference to Chinese history.
  • Don’t bother checking for wedding rings on conversation partners — in my field, most of the men are married. Most of the women are single.
  • Practice self introductions balanced with a healthy dose of confidence and imposter syndrome (the latter in good humour, of course).
  • Change Tinder photo of me in a suit talking at a podium to a more updated photo of me in a suit talking at a podium. I’m definitely not a junior in college anymore.

Here’s to a fantastic semester of research, writing, and above all, schmoozing!

New Year, new profile, new image?

Hello, my name is The Bun. I am a twenty-something Western-educated graduate student in the humanities, perpetually single, and politically moderate. I like eating bread, wearing skinny jeans, and reading works by Oscar Wilde. When I grow up, I want to write a book1.

In 2016, I will endeavour to spend more constructive time (and enjoy spending this time) alone. I will try to become less invested in other people’s problems when they ask me to give them advice. I will also kick off the year in this post by walking readers through the excruciating art of profile writing. The Bean has discussed the effectiveness of Tinder profiles and greetings on the recipient of a message, at good length, with good detail, and in good humour2. I am here to take on the process of writing a profile for myself.

I have always been the kind of person who spends a long time thinking about how to represent myself, in a variety of different situations, to achieve maximum impact with those around me3. But my recent experiences writing scholarship applications was entirely too draining. Did I want to sound smart? In need of financial support? A potential leader among equally smart and qualified individuals? Writing about my achievements in the professional world began to sound disingenuous, and I ran out of synonyms for “opportunity”. I am not shameless enough to exaggerate a story about the plights of being a woman or a not-quite third culture kid4. I could not go over the word limit, yet did not want to write too little.

Curating a Facebook page or Twitter account is just as troublesome. How can I sound socially aware, but quirky and follow-able? But when we move onto online dating profiles, the “follow-able” criterion becomes “date-able”, the space to express ourselves becomes smaller, and the stakes, at times, are higher. We may also never know how our profiles are perceived by a viewer; currently, my Tinder information is a Zoolander quote. No one bites5.

And let’s not kid ourselves — profiles are not always representative of the people they are supposed to represent. Scholarship applications can be ghostwritten and profile photos can be touched up. The ease of curation is, often, a myth, and it never stops with just creating the one profile. When we don’t get the attention we believe that we deserve (too few likes! The “we don’t have any more matches for you” message on Coffee Meets Bagel!) is to change the profiles themselves. Do I switch the order of my photos? Try to sound less smart? Hide my super fancy undergraduate degree?

As an experiment I will be writing into a magazine’s dating contest as a part of a Valentine’s Day promotion. To do this, I will need to submit a profile — a photo of myself, my age, my occupation, and some information about myself. As The Bean has already demonstrated, first impressions really do matter. Maybe I should write in that I would need a glass of wine, a bit of inspiration, and a spot of courage to get this one done.

 

1. I’ve got some half-baked drafts of teen romances somewhere in the depths or a USB memory stick. At the age of 15, I was wannabe-precocious and thought that I was pretty funny. I guess nothing has really changed, except that I now write postgraduate-level thesis chapters.
2. And with pictures, scathing remarks, and just a tad of sentimentality. Pretty good, I think!
3. On my first day of college as an international freshman, my chosen fun fact at my dormitory orientation event was “I had my first ever bagel this morning! It was delicious, just like they say on TV.” I became “the exotic one”. I had instant friends.
4. Really, I prefer the term “worldly”. Or, “not allowed to register to vote anywhere”. 
5. No one also cares about my super duper fancy university degree or the fact that one of my photos is adorably goofy. What’s up with that? We’re really going to have to get a male Bean in here one day to discuss the other side of Tinder profile perceptions!

The Algorithm God of Small Things

Once upon a time, I opened an account on OkCupid. A friend had recommended it as a good tool to use to meet some new people. Being single, bored at my job, and a bit tipsy, I typed out a moderately-detailed profile that highlighted my love of bread1 and the film Robin Hood: Men in Tights. I uploaded a respectably-recent photo of myself in which I was smiling. Then I clicked into the questions, and I was hooked.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the algorithmic ideal of OkCupid, the process is such that even very small, somewhat inane and seemingly trivial questions can help a user to triangulate their perfect matches2. Users answer bunches of questions and a match percentage arises from in-common answers.

However, one fundamental, insurmountable barrier that was not (and could not have been) addressed by the hundreds of questions I answered stood in the way of a relationship with the only person I ended up meeting from this site. Even though we both correctly answered questions about Shakespearean syntax and logical analogies, several more serious, life-changing priorities kept us casual3.

Would things have been different if we had sat down and completed the “36 Questions that Lead to Love” from the New York Times? Could something have changed if we had simply stepped beyond the quirky and entered the realms of the serious? If he had known how I felt about my relationship with my mother (Q.24) or if I had understood his most terrible memory (Q.18), could we have been more?

Here’s what I’m going to do today: instead of getting all sappy and philosophical as is my usual tendency, I’m going to answer my own question with “I don’t care”. Instead, I’m going to give a voice to those little quirks that we all have, and shouldn’t be embarrassed about if they are what leads us to swipe right, send that first “hey” message, or wear nice underwear to a second4.

Here are a couple of OkCupid questions that I got a good giggle out of, and was happy to talk to someone who had the same answers:

“Does it bother you when someone says ‘PIN number’ or ‘ATM machine'”?
“How spicy do you like your spicy food?”
“In the line “Wherefore art thou Romeo?,” what does “wherefore” mean?”5

And here are a couple of my own small quirks that help me determine if a date is worth repeating:

“How long/how well would you have to know your date before holding hands?”
I have a small rule: no handholding in public (walking down the street, etc.) unless I know his surname. And preferably more than just that. I find it intimate, and a sign of trust that goes beyond even what is required before sex.

“What do you do if there’s a silence during your first date?”
To fill in awkward silences during my first ever Tinder date, I made up a game. “Hey,” I would say to my date, who I understood as not necessarily incompatible, or even a bad date, but possibly just a bit out of the groove after knowing each other for less than an hour, “let’s look around the bar and make up stories about the people we see.” I would usually offer to go first — “that guy’s name is something boring like ‘Vincent’, and he’s an accountant by day and a champion Starcraft player by night. He lives with 2 cats.” First dates can usually be awkward, but that doesn’t mean we should discount second dates. If a guy I’m with is willing to play along, then it’s usually a good sign6.

“How would you suggest to end a first date?”
I’m a fan of hugs, and I will always suggest a hug as a respectable goodbye gesture to a pleasant evening. What the date does in return to my hug is up to him — I’d accept anything from a gracious acceptance to a smooth line leading to a kiss. How a date responds to my hug request sounds absolutely minuscule in the grand scheme of love — but I’m going to irrationally postulate that it really does matter!

If we get to a second date, we can pick up our hand-holding, bar-game playing, and goodbye-hugging from where we left off. Hopefully the positive trajectory will continue.

1. I believe my exact wording was “bread — in both solid and liquid form. Because people who consume carbohydrates are happier than those who do not”.

2. I mentioned in my last post that I’m looking for a beer and Oscar Wilde-loving beagle owner. Of course, I care about the bigger issues too, but it doesn’t take a discussion of life ambition to build an intriguing foundation.

3. We had a 93% compatibility rate, the same taste in TV shows, and great sex. Oh well.

4. As a graduate student of a field that is not philosophy, I also refuse to engage with the hypothetical. Take your Trolley Scenario for moral ethics somewhere else. Be empirical, or go home!

5. a) It bothers me. It really, really does. b) Spicy enough that I can feel the burn, but not so spicy that the taste of the actual food is secondary. I’m not in high school anymore, and I will no longer participate in chilli eating contests to look cool. c) THE ANSWER IS ‘WHY’!

6. My favourite entry to date is “that guy’s name is Fabio, and he’s a failed tennis player turned coach. Lots of girlfriends. Speaks incomprehensible English but women find it a turn-on.” The more detail, the more conviction, the better.