Roses really smell like poo

Have you ever noticed people asking “how are you?” when they’re not really interested?

Have you ever deleted a friend from Facebook after they let you down, re-added them when they kicked up a fuss, only to be let down again?

Have you ever been dumped by someone who claimed they still wanted to be friends only to find that they never spent any time with you?

I’ve done a lot of thinking recently about… well, the things I often dwell on.  I often drive myself mad; if she went out with me in the first place then looks can’t be the problem, and if my personality is good enough for us to be friends then why is she dumping me at all? But I feel like I’m getting a bit closer to the root of the problem.

When people express a caring or friendly attitude towards you they don’t necessarily mean what they say.  A lot of the time, it’s not about you; it’s about them and their social desirability bias.  They don’t genuinely care about you; they just want to preserve their self-image as a nice person.  So they say the kinds of things that they believe a nice person would say in that situation.  They want your validation, and they will even beg and plead for it, but once they have it… they’re gone.

Actions speak louder than words.  People who really want to be your friend will make an effort.

People who are less cynical than me sometimes retort that these people just don’t want to hurt your feelings by being blunt.  It’s a white lie, apparently.  But what’s the point of that?  If you actually like them and care about their feelings then why don’t you want to make a genuine effort with them?  And if you don’t really like them or care about them then why sugar coat it?

I think the answer is simple.  People are not always as nice as they would like to think they are, and – as my sister astutely points out – they’re not always very self-aware.  It may be that the real reason they don’t want to make an effort with the other person anymore reveals something about their own character that they would rather not acknowledge – e.g. that their boyfriend’s low income really does bother them, or that listening to their depressed friend talk about their woes really is draining.  This creates a crisis of conscience because they don’t want to think of themselves as cruel or uncaring.  So they spout platitudes, concoct a narrative that makes them sound like the good guy and cling to it for dear life.  They may even end up believing it themselves. It’s the done thing.

It’s a bit of a cynical conclusion, but there is an upside to all of this.  I need tear no more hair out over why people say X and then do Y.  From now on I will focus my efforts on people who walk the walk and discard the rest.

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The Promised Land

I previously wrote a post about how it seems, to me, that we are arbitrary about demarcating those areas in which we will demand respect for our/others’ feelings and those areas in which we expect logic and consistency from people.

Another inconsistency I have noted is the distinction between the ways in which we assess the suitability of a potential romantic partner when we are advising a friend and when we are dating someone ourselves.

For example, if someone dumps you and you are upset about it, supportive friends will often query the logical reason behind the dumping, act perplexed at the reason (or lack of reason) given and tell you that you clearly deserve better than someone who would treat you in that arbitrary way.   They will also talk to you about how objectively great you are and how you therefore deserve a good partner.

But, when it comes down to it, people simply don’t employ this reasoning when it comes to managing their own love lives.  The factors that influence the decisions they make are subjective in the extreme.  And if you challenge their decisions, they will say you have to just accept them as they are because that’s just how they feel and if you don’t like it then you should find someone who thinks the way you do.

Sometimes, people will even act like they are completely fine and happy with X from the outset but then cite it later as a reason for dumping you.  Within a matter of weeks, “I don’t mind what we do as long as I get to see you” morphs into “I’m not happy because we don’t go out often enough”, and the emotional baggage from their last relationship/perceived lack of common interests/extraneous life pressure that didn’t put them off at the beginning of the relationship morphs into a deal breaker.  No amount of beating them over the head with the inconsistency of their behaviour can change their mind; and, like a politician trying to implement Brexit after having campaigned against it, the genie is out of the bottle and they just don’t know what to say.  So, while the above inconsistency could perhaps be attributed to personality differences between individuals, this is clearly a paradox.  In fact, liberal though I am, I will say one thing for conservative girls: at least they make what they want clear and take logical steps to achieve it.

One explanation for this is cognitive dissonance brought on by social desirability bias – essentially, we are not as nice as we would like to think (and we would like others to think) we are, so we claim to want A when we really want B, or we look at these issues more objectively when we are backseat drivers.  Another is that people sometimes get carried away in the heat of the moment and don’t pause to think about the potential difficulties, then freak out when reality finally sinks in.

Tonight, I went against my better judgement and pressed my recent ex for an explanation as to why we broke up.  To cut an already long story slightly shorter, what it boiled down to was that she just didn’t like me texting people when she wasn’t around.  She steadfastly refused to give a reason as to why this was a problem, admonished me to simply accept it and asserted that I should have compromised with her.  I retorted that I shouldn’t have to compromise if I am doing nothing wrong.  I then asked her how she would react if her partner told her to stop talking to her mum without giving a reason; shockingly, she actually said that she would consider doing this if she loved that person enough.  My jaw dropped.

One lesson I have learned from all of this is that… *gulp*… maybe the people who advised me to take things slowly were right.  Asking someone out while they have the butterflies is almost like asking them out when they are intoxicated.  Sadly, you can’t assume that you’re over the line just because they were always aware of potential problem X and they agreed to go out with you anyway.  If you want someone to date you because they genuinely want to, and not because you made them feel guilty by holding them to what they said initially, then you need to know what their stance on X will be in the cold light of day, or when they have to put their money where their mouth is regarding what they previously said they were OK with.  There is no screening process for this, so you are stuck with taking dating slowly to see their true colours.

* * *

As much as I like to vent and to navel-gaze on this blog, I do like to consider the practical implications where I can to try and improve my happiness and stop feeling down so frequently.

There is a wider issue with my life at the moment in that I still haven’t got it all together.  Since I left law school with an underwhelming BVC grade I have been moving around the country chasing better and better experience and qualifications in order to slowly but surely get my legal career back on track.  I’ve sacrificed life savings, driving lessons and my social life on the altar of my career needs.  I’m also saddled with student debt from law school – I pay £487 per month, which is like paying my rent again.

However, that plan is – at long last – starting to come together for me.  In 2010 I was a washed-up BVC grad collecting JSA and thinking my legal career was dead in the water.  Then I worked in a coffee shop so I could at least get a bit of pocket money while I considered other career options.  Then I was taken on as a freelance County Court Advocate, though I still couldn’t get pupillage interviews and there was a question mark over how much further I could take it.  Then I got experience of more advanced litigation and advocacy (including winning a fully-fledged trial).  Then I got qualified as a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer.  Then I moved to start working at a top law firm in this sector.  Now I stand on the cusp of applying for a higher CILEx qualification with a reference from a top QC in support, and if I get this then I could even apply for a pupillage exemption and finally realise my dream of becoming a barrister.  I will also get rid of my BVC debt in 21 months, which will be up before I know it as long as I hold fast.

In short, on 9 August 2019, when that last career development loan repayment leaves my account, the world will be my oyster.  I won’t have to make any more drastic sacrifices in my personal life for the sake of establishing myself as lawyer (obviously I will still have to work hard etc. but I mean I won’t have to keep uprooting myself and moving around the country).  I will finally have the funds to learn to drive and to start saving properly.  It will happen much later than I planned, but it will happen and I can see it.

Obviously, this is all great in and of itself.  But it also has implications for my love life.  I will be able to think about returning to Essex and rejoining my family and my friends who have been so amazing over the years.  So my social life will return to me and so will my happiness and lust for life.  I will have more disposable income and I will be able to drive, so I will have far greater independence.  These factors will make it far easier to meet someone for a serious relationship, and many of the points that currently drive me mad about the dating scene will become moot.  So perhaps I can afford to take it easy on the dating front until that point.

Credit where it’s due

About ten years ago, when I was less confident in myself, I dabbled in the online world of “Pickup Artists” (“PUAs”) to try and improve my dating prospects.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the movement as some people accuse them of being misogynist and/or exploiting vulnerable women with their head games.  Personally, I find it hard to object to the morality of their approach because what people want is not always what they say they want or what others say they should want – so if a “bad boy” stereotype is what turns them on then so be it.

My beef with the PUA philosophy is that I don’t want to have to play head games and/or compromise on my principles in order to keep someone interested.  If all you want is sex then I suppose it doesn’t matter, but if you want a fulfilling relationship then it will give you a headache.

Having said all of that, there is one piece of PUA advice which really should be taught to absolutely everyone who goes on a date ever:

“NEXT!”

In your love life, you will come across people with weird attitudes towards relationships that are completely impervious to reason.  They might be adamant that the man should initiate everything, take the lead on everything and pay for everything because tradition and masculinity whilst still maintaining that they are feminists because smash patriarchal gender norms.  They might say they are not ready for a committed relationship because blah blah blah and then go out with someone else five minutes later even though blah blah blah still applies.  They might demonise you for daring to ask them out even though you are friends and that’s a betrayal/they are in the club and they just want to dance/you work together and it’s not professional… and then go out with someone else who was friends with them first/met them in a club/works with them.  You may suspect that their excuses are bullshit and that the real reason is something that would make them sound less noble.  At the end of the day, if they don’t want to go out with you then they don’t want to go out with you and they won’t change their mind.  Don’t flog a dead horse.

I’ve reminded myself of this fundamental law of dating recently.  In fact, I would call it THE Fundamental Law of Dating.

So I’ll give the PUAs credit where it’s due.

Pfft… whatever!

I had a kind of epiphany yesterday.

Sometimes, when I instruct barristers as part of my job, they will critique some aspect of my work in a very rude way (and often when they are wrong in law anyway).  I also have some cliquey colleagues who are needlessly hard on the social errors of others, e.g. snapping at you for interrupting their conversation even if you didn’t realise they were talking.  Instances of both happened on Friday.

What topped it off for me was the following: I overheard that my colleague, a PA, was stressing out because one of the partners had asked her for some lecture slides on committal applications.  I let her know that, while I didn’t have slides, I did have a word handout from a talk I had given on it before, if that was any good.  She forwarded that to the partner, explaining that it was from me.  He thanked HER and then later asked me if I had “had any luck” finding an example of a committal application he could use (he had never actually asked me).

There are some points you reach where you’ve just got to laugh.  A sense of humour is sometimes the only way you can keep yourself sane.  It also provides that cathartic Holy Grail of being able to let go of legitimate anger without feeling like you have been left without vindication.  You just have to think “pfft… whatever man” and then go to the pub.

I often hear my aforementioned colleagues complaining that they are hard done by, e.g. because they have to work over their contracted hours in order to meet billing targets or because they have to respond to a client to keep them happy at an inconvenient moment.  I sympathise with both of these points… but I also see it from the management’s perspective.  They are under pressure themselves to keep the clients happy.  If you’re not prepared to drop everything to help solve their problem, or to work late to make sure they get their application into court the next day, the client will find a firm who will and they won’t come back.  That’s the commercial reality that never really goes away.  And ultimately, if you’ll excuse the management-speak cliche, you have to be your own brand – if you want promotions, if you want more responsibility, if you want bonuses, you need to think of yourself as a self-contained business, whatever your working arrangements may be on paper.  My rule of thumb is that I don’t mind giving 110% for my boss or my colleagues as long as I know we are genuinely on the same side; that’s how teams achieve great results.  And if you think you’re entitled to a bonus without doing extra work (which is one complaint I heard from them) then you’re barking mad.

Dare I say… perhaps they could take a leaf out of my book here.  Perhaps they could learn to laugh off the things that annoy them.

Is too much logic a bad thing?

NOTE: this was supposed to be my first post on this blog and for some reason I never got round to clicking “publish”.  It doesn’t necessarily reflect my current point of view.

For my first post, I felt I would comment on something that I have been wrangling with recently.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s earlier this year.  However, I have always felt that there was something “different” about how I saw the world.

In Star Trek, the Vulcan race (in particular, the famous Spock character) was introduced in order to provide a purely logical outsider’s perspective on human customs.  Aspies like myself often describe feeling this way, hence the well-known autism website wrongplanet.net.

The point is that we are often told that we lack social skills, which is attributed to a purported lack of empathy.  However, I really don’t think it’s that simple.  The way I see it, the social skills and customs with which we are expected to familiarise ourselves mainly fall into two categories, one of which is reasonable, and one of which plainly isn’t.

The first category is what we might call basic human decency, at least at a simple level, and we are right to be proactive in improving our skills in this area.  For example:

  • Don’t perform unhygienic acts, like picking your nose or farting, when people are trying to eat.
  • Don’t ramble on ad nauseum about topics that people aren’t interested in.  You should make them feel included in the conversation.  Apparently monologues are a common problem for aspies (maybe this blog is just my way of getting that out of my system!)
  • Try to be organised (many aspies have problems with executive functioning) because other people may be relying on you, and they would be upset if you let them down.

This first category is something I can get my head around and strive to improve upon.  While I do find it difficult at times, I have made great strides over the last ten years or so.  I can see the logic behind them.  They are rooted in the concept of consideration for others, even if only at a very basic level.  I am fortunate enough to have a large group of good friends, and I think the general consensus among them is that my heart is usually in the right place, even if I occasionally lack polish.

However, the second category really bugs me.  This is where people expect you to go along with certain customs just for the sake of it, no matter how unreasonable they are.  It seems to me that it is nothing more than arrogance, closed-mindedness and stupidity cloaked in the euphemistic label of “social skills” in order to make you feel like you are the one with the problem.

For example, when it comes to “rambling on” about topics that others are not interested in as per the list above, many people seem to think it is more socially acceptable to do this if you have “cool” hobbies and interests, such as football, whereas “geeky” interests are “obsessions” that should be reined in.

Another example is dating.  It is an absolute minefield of social conventions and trip hazards that defy our alien logic.  Matthew Rozsa has written a great article about the issue here.  Building on what Mr Rozsa said, I would add that the only way these conventions begin to make sense is if you assume a priori that traditional gender roles – you know, the ones we are all supposed to denounce now – are valid.  Why else should the guy always make the first move, always take the lead in decision-making, or always pay for dates.  As it happens, I am a naturally decisive and assertive person anyway, but there have been occasions when I have missed the mark by failing to do something men are “supposed” to do, like pick up the tab for the meal.

Then there is the fact that “normal” people do all kinds of stupid crap and act like mindless sheep a lot of the time.  They stand around aimlessly at zebra crossings because they all assume that someone else will press the magic button to change the traffic lights so that they can cross.  They waste money on material possessions, not because they truly want those possessions for their intrinsic value, but because they want to keep up with the Joneses – even forgoing basic necessities of life in order to do so.  I remember reading in a book by Steven Pinker (one of my favourite authors) that, in crisis situations, most people don’t panic like they do in films – they basically stand around going “derpa derp” and assume that someone else will make a decision.  Really?  These are the people us aspies are supposed to emulate in the name of “improving our social skills”?  I’d rather be a bit of a freak, frankly.

I think the reason why these rituals are dubbed “social skills” by the elite is merely that they correspond with neurotypical thinkers’ emotional instincts – instincts that we do not have, or do not have to the same degree.  So neurotypicals instinctively “get” these things, even though we do not, and even though they cannot fully explain them using logic.

So perhaps, in a sense, being an aspy can be somewhat liberating.  You can also be an asset to others in society by being the child in the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes – your naivete is such that you are the only one with the balls to speak the plain truth, and some will thank you for it later.  Some, however, will not take so kindly to that.

So today’s question for discussion is this: is too much logic a bad thing?  Should we learn to just turn our brains off for the sake of an easy life?

Defeat

Today I broke up with my girlfriend.  And I made a further decision: the time has finally come for me to throw in the towel when it comes to dating.

I feel like I have been walking on a path with no signposts trying to get to the promised land: a relationship with no bullshit.  On the left hand side of the path are the commitment-phobic girls who are paranoid because their ex-boyfriends were horrible to them and as such they want to umm and ahh forever about being your girlfriend (or at least “labelling” themselves as such).  On the right hand side of the path are the insecure girls who are paranoid that you will leave them and/or cheat on them based on their own bad experiences.  And now, the sun is beginning to set and my legs are tired.

I’ve written about the commitmentphobes before.  But now I want to rant about the insecure ones.

If you go out with an insecure person, at first their paranoia and insecurity feels like a compliment in a way; at least they are interested, right?  But after a while, it starts to get ridiculous.  You begin to feel suffocated.  You feel like everything you do will be taken as proof of a lack of interest (or, worse, proof that your interests lie elsewhere).  They insist on making demands at the most inopportune moments they can possibly think of and they push and push and push until you get angry, then they complain that you are angry.

In the interests of cutting the length of this post down slightly, the girl I broke up with today started by complaining that, when she, for example, came back to me from the toilet, she often saw me texting and then putting my phone away when she arrived, which made me feel like I was hiding something from her i.e. other girls I was dating and/or flirting with.  I explained that I was just messaging friends or scrolling through Facebook or browsing the internet, and that the reason I put my phone away when she returned was simply that I thought it was rude to sit there texting other people in front of her.

At first I was patient with this girl.  At least she was interested.  Perhaps she had been let down in the past.  Sure, I had also been let down in the past and I wasn’t doing this to her… but OK.  But then she wouldn’t stop.

She complained that I didn’t reply to her WhatsApp messages quickly enough, even though I had explained to her that I was on the phone to my mum at the time so of course I couldn’t see her messages, let alone reply to them.  Then she complained because I couldn’t ring her just for a chat right in the middle of a rock concert that I had bought tickets for months ago.  Then she complained that I didn’t ring or text her after the concert even though I explained that my phone battery was dead and I hadn’t got in until 1:45 the next morning.  Then she complained that I didn’t want to have sex as much as she did even though I had the flu, I was coughing and sneezing constantly, I could barely get a sentence out without spluttering, my throat was sore and I felt physically weak.

Without wanting to give too much information, just think about that for a second.  Imagine if the situation were reversed and I were the one complaining that my girlfriend wouldn’t give me sex on demand.  Wouldn’t I be the asshole in that scenario?

The real biscuit was taken when I stayed at her place last night.  For context, I should point out that this girl shares a room with her mum and this room therefore has two separate single beds with a chest of drawers in between rather than one double bed.  When the time came for us to actually go to sleep, we slept in separate beds for reasons of space and we would then resume hugging the next morning.

On this occasion we had been out to a taverna.  The food was delicious and we had had a great time.  However, we were both absolutely stuffed and both of us (apparently) wanted to just go to bed.  So after a nice chat we finally went to sleep in separate beds as per the usual arrangement.

I was dreaming at about 4:00am when I was woken up by my (then) girlfriend tugging at the duvet.  She said she couldn’t sleep so she wanted to sleep (which I took to mean actually sleep) with me.  I made some space and put my arm around her, then I went back to sleep.  She asked me if I was really going to sleep and I said yes.  Then she got up and went to the other bed.

What then ensued was what looked like that ancient computer game “Pong” as my girlfriend kept going back and forth between my bed and the other bed and asking me if I was really sleeping.  She said she thought I didn’t want her in my bed.  I said that I did, and she said “but you didn’t kiss me”.  I said that it was gone 4:00am and I was trying to sleep, that was all.  Then she complained that she thought I didn’t want her there because of my body language (again, even though I was  simply trying to sleep and so there was no “body language” to read into).

This went on for a couple of hours, and then she started having a go at me and complaining about all sorts of things: that she had caught me texting earlier (I had been texting a group of male friends about Warhammer while she was in the toilet); that I had said earlier that day that I didn’t want to move in with her (even though that wasn’t what I had said, I had simply said “maybe down the line”, which I felt was appropriate given that we had only been going out for a month); that we hadn’t had sex the previous weekend (even though (1) we had and (2) I had the flu that weekend); that I hadn’t had sex with her that night (even though she was on her period); and that I wasn’t kissing her and she shouldn’t have to beg for it (again disregarding the fact that she had woken me up at 4:00am).

At this point it was 6:30am so I started getting dressed and said that I was just going to go, to which my girlfriend responded that, if I did, that would be the end.  I calmed down and went back to sleep on my own.

I eventually woke up again at about 11:00am, though I was still sleepy.  To try and build bridges, I moved over to her bed and put my arm around her, though I still tried to sleep.  Again, she started pressuring me to kiss her, and when I wouldn’t, she complained that she shouldn’t have to beg for her boyfriend to kiss her.

At this point, enough was enough.  I said I was going to go home and I needed some time to think.  She said we were just going to break up now because I wouldn’t kiss her and that I was being “rude”.  I told her I was not being rude but she was acting like I was her slave and I had to just give her whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it otherwise I was a bad boyfriend.  Then she accused me of raising my voice and refused to discuss it further, so I left.

This girl was just determined to test me by pushing my boundaries to see what she could get away with.  She would push and push and push until I lost my temper and then start playing the victim.  I’m sorry if she has had a bad past, but that’s not my fault and she shouldn’t take it out on me.  I’ve been mistreated in the past and I don’t test people like that.

But there is one positive to take away from this.  If this really is the way it is with relationships and I really can’t expect a level-headed girlfriend then I can finally state that I really am happy (or, at least, as happy as I realistically can be) single.  Dealing with all the bullshit head games is just not a price I’m prepared to pay anymore.  So I give up, world.  You win.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Once, I was watching Jerry Springer on TV.  The episode was about mixed-race couples and the hostility with which their families reacted to their relationships.

At one point a black man was sitting at the front with his white girlfriend and members of her family.  The audience booed and hissed at them for their obviously racist attitude.  But then, the girl’s father delivered what he believed to be the moral debate equivalent of Scorpion’s skeleton removal fatality in Mortal Kombat:

“Ah…” he said, the smugness lighting up his face.  “But what about about when they have children?”
Erm… what about when they have children?

The white girl’s father clearly assumed that the members of the audience would share his disgust at the prospect of a mixed-race child and that they must have just failed to consider such an obvious problem.  It was as if he thought they would all scratch their chins, look quizzically at the ceiling and say “hmm, that is such a rational retort, I just never looked at it that way before!”

Similarly, there has been a lot of focus over the past ten years on immigration and how it’s not fair to accuse people of being racist just because they have concerns about immigration.  I agree with this point in principle, but I also find that many people who make this argument really are racist and just want to be told their shit doesn’t stink.   One example of an “obvious” problem with immigration is “sometimes I get on the bus and I hear people speaking in foreign languages and it makes me uncomfortable. If people are in England they should speak in English.”  Erm… why?  Again, they are assuming that you would feel uncomfortable if you were in their shoes, and actually, no, you wouldn’t.

This kind of thinking is not confined to the right wing.  I recently lost a friend over a Facebook debate in which I did not agree with her assertion that page 3 pictures influence sexual harassment and violence against women, and I thought the studies she cited in support of her claim were drenched in confirmation bias.  To her, it was simply obvious that the causal link was there.  If I didn’t agree that page 3 caused aggression towards women then that automatically meant that I approved of aggression towards women.  Disagreement was tantamount to misogyny.  How dare I ask for actual evidence?

Many people believe there is no such thing as objective morality (at least not without religion).  I’m not sure I agree with that.  In my view a lot of widely held stances on moral issues are so held merely because people have strong emotional reactions and they simply expect others to “respect their opinion.”  Racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry would all suffer crippling defeats if we didn’t think we had to respect everyone’s opinion no matter what.  If you can’t back your opinion up using logic then you are simply wrong, whether you acknowledge it or not.  And even if you think it’s “obvious”.