From Date to Relationship in 5 Steps
"Should I text him back?" Gina asked. We were lounging around my apartment co-working when a text from the man she liked hit her phone.
Conventional rules of seduction decree that an object of interest must be made to wait. But I don't ascribe to this methodology for three reasons: One, it wastes time -- you haven't even gotten to know one another and you're already committing yourself to think more about the person than may be necessary. What if you find out you don't really like him a few dates down the line? Agonizing over whether one should respond or not begins the process of infatuation in full and technically, you're still in discovery.
Two, it runs counter to everything our body says we should do when we discover we first like someone, which makes for bad strategy. Think about it this way: you're a general in the war of life. You have a clear plan, but your body, which is your army, is in disarray, perhaps even disinterested in the orders you may give it. There is no way that will win this skirmish, and predictably, your casualties will be heavy. You must avoid that.
Last, but certainly not least, making a love interest wait is the stereotypical response. It clearly states you're playing some kind of game. And playing games, while increasingly common what with the gamification, badge craze and mayorship obsession of the social web, has a terrible reputation. Not just that, but it pits you as an adversary. Now, I know I mentioned earlier that you are a general heading off to a battle. The mating dance is something of a battle. But the point here is not to challenge -- it is to make an alliance and go to war for the same cause.
"You need to appear available," I told Gina, to her amazement. "You need to appear available even if you aren't. You need to respond and foster an interaction that goes beyond you and him as a potential item. You're not there yet. This is the stage of getting to know one another. You're still deciding if this is the guy for you. Discovery is paramount. And by that, I don't mean Googling. I mean talking."
One of the greatest failures of things like the Mystery Method is that they ignore individuality and focus instead on generalized concepts of gender. This approach reduces people to "targets" and destroys the joy that the mating dance should bring. Because it is very much a joyous dance. Conniving and plotting as it may, on occasion, be.
I'll make a point here to say that the plotting is not to sabotage or con someone you like into being with you. It's to use the momentum of interest to merge your two independent causes. I break the process down into five stages.
You note his interest and reciprocate. This period is marked by discovery, where you get to know one another. By getting as much information about your interest as possible, you can better decide if he is a suitable mate. This period also offers a treasure trove of information, such as the things he likes, things he's done, what he knows, and so on. Every bit of data is valuable.
During this period, I like to pretend I'm an embedded journalist or an undercover operative. No detail is too small. In fact, it's those little things that can eventually make a difference. Use this time to let him know about yourself as well, including what you expect of a relationship.
Remember: you want to be sure that this person is suitable for you. If they do not want a relationship but you do, you may consider holding off. It's better to cut your losses now than keep going hoping that he will change his mind. He might -- but dancing with someone in hopes they will change is effectively stripping all the joy out of the process for yourself.
The First Threshold
The first threshold connotes a bonding experience, and it can be anything, except, perhaps, dinner and a movie. Unless you’re so bewitching that you can forge a bond by sitting next to someone for two hours without so much as a word, I'd suggest leaving the dinner and movie for another time.
Step out of the box. If you spent the previous stage doing your homework, you already have a list of interesting activities both of you will enjoy to do together. If you would rather be asked out than ask him yourself and then he calls to ask you to dinner and a movie, tell him you were planning to do something else on the chosen night, but would he join you? Or you could tell him you're interested in something he shared he likes to do and you would love if he showed you. In plain terms, the idea is to have an adventure together.
This may also be one of the only times that you want Murphy's Law to ravage your life. The more inconveniences and hold-ups you experience together, the better. Why? Because problems unite you in the pursuit of something. Some pointers: don't lose your cool. You have to prove that you function well under pressure and remain poised in the face of inconvenience. And, of course, you want to make note of whether he does or not.
It's an exercise in optimism. But it's not hard. As Einstein once said, "When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute -- then it's longer than any hour. That's relativity!" It's true. So enjoy the traffic, or taking a fall for the team during a lively game of paint ball, or having the car break down on the way home.
Repeat this phase as many times as you like. Remember: these dates are about forging a bond. Do not put the emphasis on yourself or what you want. You made that clear during discovery. Make this part about enjoyment and bonding.
Now, obviously, crossing the first threshold may involve sex. Just because I prefer to save sex for a mystical experience that destroys the human understanding of time and space doesn't mean you aren't be free to have it now or before now. In my experience, the when of sex doesn't affect the relationship either way. What affects the relationship is how you behave during the critical first moments before metamorphosis from two separate entities divided by a host of diverging goals, to two separate entities, united in the pursuit of a cause, amid other life goals (note that other goals will never disappear -- they're not supposed to. You're individuals. The best relationships work to integrate each party's personal goals into them, not obliterate them in the pursuit of The Relationship's Goals).
The Belly of the Whale
I have no doubt that by now you've started to wonder where I am getting the names for these stages. They're based on the narrative patterns found in monomyth, or hero's journey. Going "into the whale" means leaving behind the world and self as we know it. It is the beginning of metamorphosis from self into us.
This stage generally involves a longer period spent together, where the other becomes the central focus, and marks the beginning of the creation of the culture of two. The creation of a culture of two is essential for reinforcing the fact that this relationship is unique. It shapes a new "cultural" identity, fosters the creation of a lexicon only you both understand, and, in general, strengthens the bond you have forged.
How? Embrace little rituals together. Lunch on Tuesdays, happy hour on Thursdays, dinner in front of the TV watching a show you enjoy, late night eats at a favorite diner on Wednesday nights, chasing food trucks on Sunday afternoons... whatever you like. Come up with it together and own it as a ritual.
Come up with your own expressions and words for things. Celebrate your inside jokes. Keep these to yourself as much as possible. They serve to strengthen the new world you're creating.
The Road of Trials
This is where the game-playing, if you deign use that terminology, actually begins. You have been available, you have had incredible adventures, and you have laid the foundation for the two of you. Now, in a dramatic flourish, you depart.
How? That depends on your life, of course. I like to take trips. But for those who don’t have the luxury of sporadic travel due to work or other commitments, you might simply say you’re overwhelmed with work and unable to go out for that week, or the kids are heading into finals and you need to be available to cram with them, or whatever you like. Mind you, departing doesn’t mean becoming unavailable. In fact, you want to communicate and express how much you dislike this period apart from your love interest, so you may still IM and text to your heart’s content. You’re just physically unavailable.
What you are doing here is creating obstruction. Obstruction, by definition is anything that makes forward progress difficult or impossible. Obstruction, in our instant-gratification world, has a terrible reputation. Surely, it is very inconvenient, but study the greatest love stories and you will always find obstruction where there is great passion. This is no accident. Obstruction and even resistance contribute to erotic tension, which intensifies desire and passion. As Dawn Kaczmar explains in her essay “Erotic Obstructions”:
To sustain erotic tension, then, some form of obstruction must be present. In Anne Carson's Eros the Bittersweet, she invokes geometry as a perspective of the erotic: a triangulation of desire. She writes that in each erotic relationship, there are at least three points: the lover, the beloved, and the obstruction. The obstruction suspends the lovers on a plane that prevents them from collapsing into each other; they remain buoyant in their desire for one another through distance. … This point of obstruction could be nearly anything. One could find obstruction in boundaries, for instance, in the simple awareness that the two lovers are, in fact, two distinct lovers, noting the infuriating barriers of their own skin as an impossible distance; in the distance one has to cross to kiss the beloved; in the pause between "I love you" and "I love you, too"; in that moment of anticipatory breathlessness.
During this period, by virtual means, the two of you become united against this circumstance of life which has displaced your budding relationship. Two armies for one cause.
This departure creates anticipation for the return. The departure also helps to illustrate how much a fixture you have become in your love interest's life, as well as gives you a variety of new things to share. Separation, you see, is as necessary as negative space in design; in relationships, it renews the drive to bond. You may also find that you are in a position to discuss making changes to prevent further separations.
It is decidedly game-playing to create this space, even if it's by means of an artificial obstruction -- but there is no disrespect in it because the communication channels remain open and he is always aware of where you stand in the relationship. As long as that remains to be the case, I fully support it. It's only when people disappear without apparent cause or reason and discontinue communication that the bonds that were created are compromised. This behavior may renew interest, but that interest is forged in the furnace of anxiety, and that never makes for a solid foundation on which to keep building a functional relationship.
"So," I told Gina. "You should definitely text him back."
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.