Monday, February 14, 2011

My Very Rational Approach to Love and Dating and Why it Has Not Worked (So Far)

The common adage that you hear about Aspergers is that we do not have emotions and we are therefore incapable of falling in love and pursuing romantic relationships. This is absolutely false. I have, for one, been in love many times, all failures to one degree or another, often with the other person not even willing to talk to me. In contrast, in circumstances where the situation has been reversed and I was aware that another person had feelings for me my position has been, whether or not I felt able to return those feelings, that the person had given me one of the nicest things possible, the knowledge that someone else cared about me, and that I, in turn, owed them something. Even if for various reasons I felt unable to return their affection, they deserved their chance to make their case and I owed it to them to hear them out with an open mind; above all else I feel the need to avoid doing something that might hurt the other person. Following the author of Psalms, I see returning good with evil as the most unforgivable action one can do in this world. If one is to go based on my life experience it is neurotypicals, living inside their own feelings, who seem incapable of love.

Part of my problem, I have come to recognize, lies in how I conceive of love and the logical conclusions I take from it. Much as I despise Ayn Rand concept of sexuality, there is something to be said for her notion of love as a rational decision that one chooses to make. For me, love is essentially an offer of loyalty in this difficult world. What I want is very simple; give me a girl that I am attracted to, can get a decent conversation out of and operates within traditional Jewish practice and I would be willing to offer this girl absolute loyalty. Obviously, there is more to a relationship than just this, but give me this to work on and I will figure out a way to take care of everything else. I am a rational and tolerant person, who respects the fact that other people have different and equally valid personalities from mine. Assuming that this other person is equally rational we should be able to meet each other half way. I am also not bad looking and perfectly willing to allow the person I am dating to take charge of my wardrobe and my beard as best suits them.

So where does this entire process go wrong as it has so many times for me? For one thing, this is a very quick process for me. I should be able to figure out whether a girl fits my criteria in a matter of minutes; a few days if I really want to be sure. This creates a situation in which I have fallen in love and am willing to go all out with someone whom I have just met and who likely, at best, sees me as an interesting person. Furthermore, my instinctual reaction to falling in love is to take it very seriously. For me, there is no such thing as a person, particularly a girl, that I just casually talk to. If I am talking to a person on a regular basis at all then, by definition, the relationship is important.

This sort of relationship does not work with most girls, even the intelligent eccentric ones that catch my attention. They are likely to be turned off by my unreciprocated intensity. In this day and age, such affections are generally interpreted as marks of instability rather than honorable commitment. Also, most girls are looking for something with more empathetic depth to it. This is not something that happens in the short time schedule that I operate on. Furthermore, even in those situations in which I fail to turn someone away very quickly, the relationship still fails in the long term once the person realizes that I am not capable of developing such an empathetic relationship. What I understand is wanting something from someone else (in this case sex and affection) and make the logical assumption that the other person might want something from me (likely just for me to get out of their hair). The logical conclusion from this is that we should use reason to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement (say if I am affectionately told to get packing). This is the extent to which I understand how to relate to people. Any relationship outside of this framework is meaningless to me.

At a philosophical level, my approach to dating suffers from the same problem as all Kantian relationships in that it is ultimately impersonal. In Kant's moral philosophy one always acts from universal principles and not from particular feelings. So one is not kind to a friend because you like their friendship. The friend as a person is irrelevant, just an object of categorical imperatives. Similarly with my dating; the girl I am with may mean the world to me but is of little relevance in of herself. She is a person who happens to fulfill a set of categories. She could just as easily be replaced with someone else who also fit my categories and that person would mean the world to me.

Oddly enough, my approach to dating would likely work very well if I operated within the Haredi framework. For some Haredim, the practice is for the guy to meet the girl for the first time for a few hours in the girl's home with the platters for an engagement party already in place. In such a world it would come down to the girl being faced with a very simple calculation: "this Benzion guy comes from a good family, he is smart and funny. Even if he is a little odd, he is clearly not the abusive sort so why not just say yes."

I do have my sight on a girl (not actually dating her though). Let us see if, this time around, things work out differently.


Judah Moskowitz said...

"the girl I am with may mean the world to me but is of little relevance in of herself. She is a person who happens to fulfill a set of categories. She could just as easily be replaced with someone else who also fit my categories and that person would mean the world to me."


Izgad said...

Well I have learned the hard way not to bring this up on a first date. My hope is that any future girl in my life would realize this on her own and know to put the emphasis on the first, you are the world to me, part and not the later.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

I speculated that perhaps the critical factor that places one woman above all the others similar to her (who satisfy the same criteria and fit into the same categories), is a factor of investment.

If I want a woman with given qualities, then, if my standards are broad and vague enough (as I believe mine are), then a lot of women will satisfy them. So what is the difference?

I figure, it is investment. Once you have spent enough time with one, and gotten to know her life story and her quirks, then you've invested too much time to switch. I compare it to how I have many books in whose margins I have written extensively. My book is exactly like any other copy of the same edition of the same book, but they don't have my annotations. My attachment to the book is that I have personalized it. And I figure that getting to know a woman over time, and learning all the particulars of her life and personality, is like writing in the margins of the book.

Izgad said...

I like that analogy, though it is likely to get me into even more trouble. :)

Sholom said...

Hi Benzion/Izgad,
I follow your posts with interest, as my son has Asberger's (5 years old) and I am very emotionally invested in helping him avoid as many difficulties as he can, as a by product of his Asbergers, while maximizing some of the advantages that he has, some of them also being a by product of his Asbergers.
I was going to mention that you should perhaps attempt to date in a more chareidi framework, as the approach to dating is distinctly de-romaticized, and fits in accordance with an (ideally) logical framework. Truthfully, the way seculars date, include some modern orthodox, creates a situation where dating really is perceived as a jungle, because many of the rules are unspoken, often irrational, and change depending on the woman. Why would you want to deal with all that inconsistency?
It is important for you to realize, however, that while women may vary in terms of how warm they expect their future husband's relationship with them to be, most would balk at being viewed in purely utilitarian terms. No, most would be downright OFFENDED. Even if to some degree they may be viewing you in similar terms (i.e. a provider, extra paycheck, company). The interpersonal component is important, and I would avoid telling your girlfriend/wife straight up "our relationship is purely utilitarian" or such things.

My brother once had a piano professor who told his girlfriend "look, woman, you're role in this relationship is one of pleasure only!" Not the way to speak to a woman.
I think most men (neurotypicals) probably have a less romantic/touch-feely approach to relationships than comparable neurotypical women. They learn, however, to adapt somewhat to female expectations/social norms. To a certain degree this is a necessity, and I'm convinced that many norms can be reconciled with Torah.
Rituals such as purchasing flowers for your wife, intermittently, before Shabbos, complementing her on a new outfit (even if you're indifferent to it), listening to her (likely daily) complaints about how hard her day was/how difficult the kids were (even if you don't really care) are very important. Regarding the latter, you can employ active listening--i.e. intermittently paraphrasing her feelings when she complains ("I see how frustrated you are, because you no longer feel like you have time for yourself--how can I help?") to affect a more empathic manner, even if you don't necessarily feel very empathic towards her problems. If she is a good woman, good to you, loyal, positive, committed to Judaism, etc, than she's worth it.
Many men, including neurotypicals, have to affect a certain manner around their significant others, for the sake of their wives feeling validated, even if they themselves are not sufficiently empathetic to "truly" feel their spouses pain. View it as basic derech eretz, a chessed you're doing for her. While the ability to be very empathic is nice, it is easier said than done to always "will" the right feelings into existence. At the very least, the proper behavior should be there, however.

Izgad said...


Thank you for your comment. As I hope it should be clear, this post was about mistakes I have made in the past. I have learned the hard way not to open up as to my utilitarian mindset. Perhaps I will post more specifically about that at some future point. As to girls having the same identical utilitarian mindset, one thing that I have noticed about neurotypicals in general is that it is not they are not utilitarian about their dealings with people, it is just that, since they do not see themselves bound by hard fast rules, they are much better at hiding it, particularly from themselves. I take the utilitarian perspective as my starting point and then try to build a moral system from there.

Feel free to email me if you ever need help, advice or support for your son.