Tipping the Equilibrium

After every date comes the inevitable “so, will there be another?” and of course I’m sitting there biting my nails trying to figure out what I know that I didn’t know before that might kill or perpetuate this relationship.

What did I learn, what did I learn? Um, he knows more about seals than I do, but I know more about penguins. He runs so he can eat. He isn’t crazy about sushi. We both like chai lattes. In other words: not much.

This, apparently, is a common problem among daters, which one Ariely fellow has dubbed “Bad equilibrium.” (Hat tip to College Student for the link.) This is the point where you discover that you like the guy and he likes you and you can just continue liking each other forever so long as you both continue to avoid anything that might drive a wedge between you… such as the “Yankees or Mets” question, or the “JIF vs Skippy” question, or the “filtered vs unfiltered internet” question, or, or, or…

Free choice may be the distinguishing trait of humanity, but Ariely says that in dating we totally lose the right to it. It’s only by removing our free will to discuss vanilla subjects that we can possibly be induced to make ourselves interesting. (Or the opposite.) He gave daters scripted questions to choose from (“Have you ever broken someone’s heart?” “What do you feel about abortion?”) and they produced deeper and more meaningful conversations (discussing innermost fears, etc.).

Okay, so I agree. At some point we need to move beyond “How many siblings do you have” without (dear God) ever crossing “If you were a piece of furniture, which one would it be?” But let’s face it. You can’t just up and ask your date “Have you ever broken someone’s heart?” Well, I mean you could, but unless you worked it into the conversation it would sound weird. Moreover, your date has to cooperate, instead of blowing it off with something like, “Of course. My little sister had this pencil with a plastic heart on top and I stepped on it accidentally. Boy was she upset.”

And this is the difference between an experimental dating procedure and Real Life.

Oh, there are other differences. It’s called Orthodox Jewish Hangups, aka Hashkafic Differences. In my experience, discussing something controversial early on is Numero Uno way to ensure no further dating. Trust the girl with the bad habit of playing devil’s advocate.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a devil’s advocate situation. I recall one conversation where my date and I discussed a theoretical childrearing situation that we disagreed on. Granted, there were hashkafic differences that were clarified, but they weren’t polarizing (at least, not from my POV), and anyway, we were discussing a situation that wouldn’t come up for about a decade (assuming we married immediately). That’s a lot of time for someone to shift positions.

Still, it was our last date.

But I’m not sure that guy is unusual. Heck, I’m not sure I don’t jump to conclusions from minor statements. It’s practically something we’re conditioned to do: read little signs like yarmulke position and music preferences and project from there a person’s entire religious weltanschauung.

Still, if the questions were carefully chosen to avoid religion, maybe…

Some date in the future:

Bad4: So, it’s our fourth date. We both like ice cream and flowers, which is why we’re eating king cones in Battery Park. Shall we step this up a bit?

Guy: Like how?

Bad4: [whipping out index cards] Pick a card, any card. No backsies.

Guy: [picks card] What was your most embarrassing moment of the month….? I think it’s about to happen.

Bad4: Sorry, but that’s borderline time travel paradox. Make that past month. If you’d like we can do ladies first.

Guy: Um… [Thinking: what a weirdo. How did we get this far? I’ll play along politely and we’ll go home after. Waste of the price of a king cone.]

What is this Thing Called Chemistry?

No, I’m not talking about the physical science. I’m talking about dating terminology. Walking the Grey Line, a commenter, used it once to mean “I can’t stand her looks.” And I went: “Ooooh. Is that what it means?”

I’ve always wondered. I’ve never used the “no chemistry” excuse to break up because I have no idea what it means.

If you ask google to define “chemistry” it gives you lots of stuff related to things you can’t see but for some reason are supposed to care about anyway. Only one definition relates to relationships: “How two people interact” with the sample sentence “The chemistry of that relationship was wrong from the start.”

Yep, definitely sounds like some of my dates.

But seriously, that’s a very benign definition. It could easily mean that you just weren’t talking on the same wavelength. You know those people? You think you understand them and give an intelligent answer. They give a brief pause and an even briefer confused microexpression before answering, and you know you completely got the wrong end of the stick.

So nope, that can’t be what “chemistry” means. Because you often hear daters use the phrase like so: “We went out four times but… there was no chemistry.” It doesn’t take four dates to realize that you and the other person don’t understand each other.

So, step two: when google fails, ask a real, live, human being. Like maybe one of those people who talk so readily about lack of chemistry.

“So, Mr./Miss Dater. You say that you went on a date on August the 23rd of the year 2009 CE and there was no chemistry. How would you define ‘chemistry’?”

Be prepared to see someone act out “prevaricate” and “obfuscate” and a few other fun words you don’t often get to use. You may not come out knowing what “chemistry” is, but you’ll get the vague notion that it has something to do with feelings, relationships, attraction…

Ah, attraction. This is similar to Walking the Grey Line’s definition. Not Attracted = No Chemistry.

But people are attractive for various reasons. One could say that the popular girl in a class is attractive to all the girls who flock around her. It’s a friendly attraction, and bears no resemblance to anything related to Bore’s atomic model (er, did I spell his name wrong?) or compressed nitrogen or  bubbling test tubes.

Here’s my hypothesis: when people say “chemistry” they really mean “biochemistry.” And by that I mean not atoms or molecules so much as amino acids and proteins… or hormones.

Upon various occasions I have suggested to young women that “no chemistry” means “not falling in love.”  My hypothesis is always greeted with loud guffaws, be they bais yaakov maidels or more modern. “Love?” snicker the more modern ones. The BY types just look affronted.

Love? That’s for cheesy novels and Disney animations. A goyish concept. It’s not about love. It’s all about ezer kinegdo, don’t you know? You fall in love after marriage. Of course, you don’t want to marry someone who revolts you but really, you don’t know what love is until after you’re married. Everyone knows that. Love? You think “no chemistry” means “not falling in love”? How could it? Love is a passing infatuation. Not a Jewish concept. Really, you have such strange ideas that you could be one of those blogger people.

Okay, I get it. I said the “L” word. Wash out my mouth with soap; I won’t make that mistake again, except when I turn up the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack to “Do You Love Me?” There’s an intriguingly ambiguous song. After years of sharing everything, does love matter? (Are we self-conscious about wanting it because we believe the answer is “no”?) What is ‘love’ anyway? Is it hormones? It is something deeper? Is this a confusing case of using one word for two distinct concepts?

Maybe… maybe Orthodox Judaism has contributed a distinction in usage to the English language. “Love” is only to be used on long-standing relationships – your parents, grandparents, siblings, kinfauna, and best friends forever. To use it on anyone else is to invite censure. “Chemistry” is to be used for short-term bursts of hormone-driven attraction.

You can’t be in love with your spouse until you’ve been married a while, but you can have some Nobel-Prize caliber chemistry going until then.

Or biochemistry. Try that one on the shadchan. “He’s a great guy, and we had a great time, but… the biochemistry isn’t there.”