Do people ever really learn lessons from dating?

25 May

The mainstream CW on dating is that you should date a lot of (or at least several) people prior to marrying so you can sample what’s out there, “learn,” and “grow.”  There seems to be some sort of social law stating that you will not marry your high school sweetheart (should you be lucky enough to have one), followed by muddling through the carousel dating around during your 20s until sometime between 28 and 32 you settle down with The One.  During this dating around time, you will “learn about yourself” and “learn about what you want.”  The One will also during this time have been learning the same things, thus ensuring that he (or she) is truly The One.

This all sounds fine and dandy, but in practice, is this really what happens?  Doesn’t everyone know girls who date jerk after jerk after jerk, all the while lamenting that they keep ending up dating jerks?  Doesn’t everyone know guys whose girlfriends are all clones of each other?  (For famous examples, look at Rod Stewart and all of his wives.  Or Bruce Willis’s current wife, who looks like a younger version of Demi Moore.  Or Leonardo DiCaprio’s string of blonde models.  Or, to cite a female celebrity, Kate Hudson’s penchant for procreating only with rock stars.)

I really don’t think that people actually learn much of anything through serial dating, because if attraction is uncontrollable, then people are always going to be attracted to the same kind of thing.  And that means that the person will keep making the same mistakes over and over again.  Few people surprise their friends every time they start dating someone new.  The only time that surprises tend to happen is when the person has had their fun and/or was scarred by the previous breakup and is now truly serious about finding a life partner.  Cue manosphere screeching about carousels and leftovers – not that plenty of women haven’t had the experience of their ex turning around after the breakup and marrying the woman’s opposite mere months later.

A better strategy seems to be to sit down and think hard and shrewdly about what you want and what you absolutely need, and then target only people who fulfill that profile.  But in a world where women follow the tingle and men (at least most beta men) accept scraps, such tactics seem unlikely to catch on on a wider scale….

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27 Responses to “Do people ever really learn lessons from dating?”

  1. Toz May 26, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    On one extreme you get married to someone with some ideals that you thought up. On the other, you date jerks until you settle down. Neither is very healthy or good.

    The former is bad mainly because theory and reality have a tendency to not match up. What you think may attract you vs. what actually does is a topic the manosphere has discussed ad nauseum for women, but it’s true of men as well. You may say in theory that you want an intellectual equal and someone to do your favorite hobbies with, but you may find that neither matter if you’re really physically attracted to the other person. This is why most guys act the same around the attractive girls and most girls act the same around the really alpha boys. Similarly, you may have an intellectual equal, but if you’re not attracted to each other, the intellectuality will just lead to lots of fighting and eventually, contempt. In other words, you have to learn what matters and though it’s possible to learn that without dating, it’s very, very difficult.

    The latter, which is dating too much, is also bad because it desensitizes you. The dangers for women are again discussed ad nauseum in the manosphere. The dangers for men are also there, but not as much discussed. Krauser calls it “the dark side” and it can really crush your soul in a way.

    The balance is in dating to find out what you’re really like instead of what you’ve idealized yourself as and to actually learn through each dating experience. Unfortunately, many people simply want to have fun and not learn, which is why they do the same thing over and over again.

  2. Franz May 26, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    Haaa-lle-luu-jah!

    Sanity! Sobriety! These things are unspeakably refreshing to see. Seriously, this article made my day. Speaking for myself, I’m convinced that “playing the field” to prepare for marriage is a lot like drinking alcohol to prepare for the drive home. The more freely you do so, the more you sabotage yourself. Romance is an intoxicant; it offers a temporary buzz which clouds your judgment, allowing you to overlook behavior and characteristics that would otherwise drive you nuts.

    My experience agrees with your theory. Due in large part to a set of circumstances that would take too long to chronicle here, I developed a very specific taste in girls as an adolescent and generally deviated from it very little, broadening my tastes only as glaring exceptions almost literally forced themselves upon me. Whether positive or negative, it took events of seismic proportions to change my attraction pattern on the instinctual level. Even today I still have favorite “types”, though with force of will I can bend my affection toward one whom I deem objectively worthy of it. The first girl I officially dated was a Reform Jew with feminist leanings. Granted, I was still a white knight then, even if a conflicted one, but we still had plenty of disagreements. Under the influence of romance, I kidded myself into thinking that I could live with almost all of it–not quite all of it, but almost–and charged at windmills as only Don Quixote could, doing my darndest to keep the relationship alive and bending my every waking thought to how I could prepare to become her husband. Thankfully, I remained sober enough not to sell our souls for pussy, even though she would almost certainly have thanked me from the bottom of her heart for doing it, but letting myself succumb to her charms at all was a very stupid thing to do. The death of that relationship prompted me to get my priorities straight. My luck with my sisters in Christ has been generally rough, but I don’t regret sobering up. Indeed, I wish more of my fellow Christians would practice this brand of discipline. But of course, before they do that, they’re going to have to admit that it’s possible…

  3. The Man Who Was . . . May 26, 2012 at 5:32 am #

    It depends on what you want to learn. If you’re a guy who wants to improve his “game,” then you need to date as much as possible. A limited amount of dating (not sleeping) around may give you some idea of what you really like and don’t like in different people. You may not like what you think you like, but there isn’t much point in dragging that sort of thing out either.

  4. L May 26, 2012 at 5:41 am #

    Meh, women by default of femininity generally will never really have what you as a guy want in ‘life partner’, assuming it’s more than a mobile breeding hole (which seems to be what a lot of guys DO want lol)…. whereas women are free to ignore all manner of really great guy.

  5. modernguy May 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    These are nonsense phrases deluded “independent” women use to rationalize their promiscuity and fool some loser into marrying them. What would you think of a bum who said he was eating out of the trash to help the environment.

  6. Dalrock May 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Good insight Haley.

    A better strategy seems to be to sit down and think hard and shrewdly about what you want and what you absolutely need, and then target only people who fulfill that profile.

    I think the key for a young woman is to look for a man she is comfortable having lead her and she can also fall for. I’m fairly certain this Pauline approach isn’t often advised by Christians any more though. I think the folks at Boundless would have a stroke if anyone suggested it.

    But in a world where women follow the tingle and men (at least most beta men) accept scraps, such tactics seem unlikely to catch on on a wider scale….

    We certainly are in uncharted territory. It would seem most likely that the cohort of Americans who are currently delaying marriage at rates far larger than just a decade ago would end with one of two options:

    1) Signifigantly lower overall marriage rates as a large portion of the women delaying marriage until their late 20s and early 30s find that grooms are either unavailable or not interested.
    2) Signifigantly higher divorce rates as the bill for the extra years of carousel riding (real or unicorn variety) comes due in the form of lack of attraction.

    Actually some combination of the two seems most likely.

  7. Mark Slater May 27, 2012 at 12:06 am #

    Dalrock said: “I think the key for a young woman is to look for a man she is comfortable having lead her and she can also fall for. I’m fairly certain this Pauline approach isn’t often advised by Christians any more though. I think the folks at Boundless would have a stroke if anyone suggested it.”

    Ahhh, Boundless again.
    Well, Boundless is the brainchild of Focus on the Family. Citizenlink — another affiliate of Focus on the Family — has all but endorsed Mitt Romney for President. Not to be political here; but this is a man who has spent his political life promoting all manner of ideals and legislation that is contrary to the stated goals of Focus on the Family. In the same manner, Boundless “would have a stroke” if the wisdom of St. Paul were to be followed in the pursuit of a Godly spouse.

    There’s a connection here, I just know it.

    Toz said: “The balance is in dating to find out what you’re really like instead of what you’ve idealized yourself as and to actually learn through each dating experience. Unfortunately, many people simply want to have fun and not learn, which is why they do the same thing over and over again.”

    Gold.

  8. an observer May 27, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    Some learn. They get lucky and realise their behaviours repeat in cycles. With much difficulty and realisation, they change their behaviours and do something different. This is the hard option.

    Many fail to learn. Ride the carousel and ppt for the beta chump when the carousel stops. Divorce him when necessary. Rinse and repeat, if possible. This is the easy option. But most female divorcees won’t see it it as such. (they’re all victims, of course, of the cruel, hearltess patriarchy and their bastard exes that failed to satisfy their hamster’s crazed meanderings).

    Boundless dispenses the usual litany of bad advice. Most of the commentors lap it up, and bemoan the lack of good (alpha) men. In my experience, some girls even manage to shame every dating age male in their entire church body, by getting their pastors to pray for a good man to show up (presumably on a white horse, so he’s recognisable). Classy.

    I would venture to say that most do not learn. They abandon their offspring to the moral and cultural abyss of public schooling, populist culture and church life (all one and the same, sometimes . . . ) for them to learn the same warped ‘lessons’.

    Podles work is amazing. We’re up against eight centuries of a feminised faith. Church is for woman and pansies. I have little hope for a speedy resolution.

  9. Cane Caldo May 27, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    A better strategy seems to be to sit down and think hard and shrewdly about what you want and what you absolutely need, and then target only people who fulfill that profile.

    I don’t think this strategy works because there’s a conflict of experience. Enough experience to gather what you want and need leaves you older than an optimal age of marriage, or high risk of making bad mistakes. But if you marry young, then you’re making a decision based on an not-quite-informed assessment of yourself.

    The key is family. You’ll want who you want, but make sure respected family members approve. Outsourcing is a big cost-saver in many arenas.

  10. Hana May 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    This is a good post. I’ve thought about the “learning lessons from dating” doctrine, too. It seems like people (especially girls) who have dated a lot always justify their choices by arguing, “well, none of my relationships lasted, but I learned something about myself and grew from each one.” Yet they seem to repeat the same relationship “mistakes” each time…

    I think the biggest relationship mistake is the one Franz describes (good job on becoming self-aware enough to recognize it!) – allowing romantic attraction to cloud your sight,

    That romantic blinding happens in two ways, I think:

    1) People dating out of their league (ie. non-alpha girls in casual relationships with alphas). As a result, they can’t feel attraction for guys who are in their leagues.

    2) Idealization/”oneitis” for a certain “type” (I think both girls and guys do this – ie. someone like Bruce Willis probably finds “Demi Moore clones” even more attractive than they objectively are)

    I think attraction has to be present for a romantic relationship to work, and I am all for the “league” theory of dating – girls shouldn’t waste their time on alphas who know they can get more attractive girls. But I actually do think that sometimes people reject people in their own league because they’re hung up on a certain “type.”

    I know someone who dated someone whose alpha traits were his looks/career…but his personality was very beta. After he broke up with her, my friend said she hoped that her next boyfriend would have the strength of character that her ex-boyfriend lacked. Meanwhile, she repeatedly rejected another guy, explaining that his looks/career just didn’t appeal to her. At first, I never thought about it, because I figured people can’t help what they’re attracted to…

    But then one day, it dawned on me that the second guy had most of the character traits that my friend was looking for. Not only that, but he was probably in the same league of attractiveness as my friend. Not only that, but if for some reason I had to pick between the two men for myself, I’d choose the second one over the ex-boyfriend.

    It’s just that my friend couldn’t see what I saw (as an outside observer), because she had “romantic blinders” on – she was valuing certain attributes so highly that she couldn’t see “the whole person” in either man.

    I think *this* is the real lesson people need to learn from dating – not to date people below their league, but to learn to think “outside the box” of what they’re instinctively attracted to.

  11. Smithborough May 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Cane Caldo : Agreed.

    One of the biggest problems with the modern (post 1950s) attitudes is that the experience of older people is looked on not as wisdom to learn from but as dead tradition to be junked.

  12. Aunt Haley May 27, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    The Man Who Was–
    Can’t you learn most of the same in a group setting? There’s no reason to have “relationships” in order to discover basic facts about your temperament or that of others.

  13. Hermit May 28, 2012 at 12:43 am #

    “There’s no reason to have “relationships” in order to discover basic facts about your temperament or that of others.”

    I second this. I had a few nominal girlfriends in high school, but none of them were marriage material so nothing ever happened. They might as well have been friends. My only serious relationship before my wife, we broke up several months after I joined the navy. Besides what I learned from watching my sister’s relationships, the vast majority of what I know about women comes from watching her screw up her life after we broke up. I didn’t need to date anybody to find that out.

  14. Aunt Haley May 28, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Hana–
    It’s just that my friend couldn’t see what I saw (as an outside observer), because she had “romantic blinders” on – she was valuing certain attributes so highly that she couldn’t see “the whole person” in either man.

    I think *this* is the real lesson people need to learn from dating – not to date people below their league, but to learn to think “outside the box” of what they’re instinctively attracted to.

    Good points, but is this something that can be internally imposed? It’s very hard to go against feelings and instincts. Once someone has made up their mind about being attracted someone, it’s very rare that anyone else can talk that person out of it.

  15. The Man Who Was . . . May 28, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Can’t you learn most of the same in a group setting?

    No, sometimes you have to learn about relationships from being in a relationship.

    Though I would agree that nobody needs years of dating to figure this out and a few people may not need any at all.

  16. The Man Who Was . . . May 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    There is a tiny grain of truth, which moderns have exaggerated until it has become a falsehood.

  17. Hana May 28, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    Aunt Haley – It’s really hard to go against feelings and instincts, but if the people you’re instinctively attracted to always turn out to be incompatible long-term matches, I think you kind of have to be open to other possibilities if you actually want to get married.

  18. Jason May 28, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    I’m just curious Haley: Have you been passing on this advice to the young people you know in your church circles and in the secular world? Are they receptive? It’s seems to me to be good advice that at least a few sensible young people would be open to (which is victory enough, I would think – even a small candle lights the darkness).

  19. Cane Caldo May 28, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    @TMWW

    No, sometimes you have to learn about relationships from being in a relationship.

    I don’t see how that gets you any further.

    1) Relationships with different people will appear different, even if there are patterns.
    2) Being in a relationship has more danger of warping your view of a person than observing them does.
    3) Marriage is a different relationship altogether. It’s not long-term dating. Now what?

  20. Elspeth May 29, 2012 at 4:54 am #

    I really don’t think that people actually learn much of anything through serial dating, because if attraction is uncontrollable, then people are always going to be attracted to the same kind of thing.

    Amen, Haley. I couldn’t agree more.

  21. AnonymousDog May 29, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Haley,

    When you use the word ‘dating’, do you actually mean ‘going steady’?

    I would agree that having a series of ‘relationship’ won’t be too useful, but I have to wonder if the CW advice about ‘plying the field’ was more about meeting a variety of people back in a time when adult men and women were more segregated. Did ‘playing the field’ mean going out on ‘dates’ with a variety of people before settling into a ‘going steady’ arrangement?

  22. totalesturns May 29, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    The only time that surprises tend to happen is when the person has had their fun and/or was scarred by the previous breakup and is now truly serious about finding a life partner.

    I think this is more common than you give it credit for. In my experience, most commitment-minded guys have had one or two (but no more) traumatic relationships that dragged on much longer than they should have and taught them to stay away from high-drama women. Trying to “heal” a messed-up girl by being a good provider and protector is the beta male equivalent of taming the bad boy. No matter how many friends and relatives warn them that you can’t fix crazy, they have to get burned themselves before they learn to stay away from fire. It happened to me, it happened to my brother, it happened to just about all my male friends. For all I know, it happened to my dad before he met my mother. It’s an occupational hazard of being a guy with provider-beta tendencies.

    I have no idea how this dynamic plays out in churchly courtship, but as a secular twentysomething dating with an eye to eventual marriage, I learned to politely cut things off at the first signs of this sort of trouble. But I had to get burned first.

  23. Aunt Haley May 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    totalesturns–
    Usually when unmarried men stay in horrible relationships, it’s because they’re getting some degree of sex out of the relationship. Remove the sex from the equation, and the incentive to stay with a psycho will evaporate, I guarantee it. But how many guys have the willpower to walk away from a woman who will give them sex for free? Their man hamsters will just keep telling them the reason they stay is because they can “save” the woman.

  24. Hana May 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Anonymous Dog – Maybe dating did mean something different a few decades ago. My mom, who was “dating” in the 1960s and 1970s, has asked why so many people nowadays seem to have “relationships” instead of just “dating.” She thought there was a difference between the guys she went on dates with, and the people who “went steady.”

    Of course, I think the men she went on dates with might have had a different interpretation than she did…

    I was thinking about the idea of a “relationship” while watching “relationships” crash and burn through the Facebook “relationship status.” It seems like people who’ve been dating for just a few weeks feel pressure to announce their “relationship” and post pictures of their new love all over Facebook – only to have to delete everything a few months later when it falls apart.

  25. y81 May 29, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    What is true, statistically, is that marrying too young (say, before age 20) leads to a higher incidence of divorce. In popular media, this simple statistical truth has to be dressed up in the rhetoric of “personal growth” and “learning about yourself,” because our culture valorizes those activities. It would be nice if Christians were a little more countercultural, but they mostly aren’t.

    There is a wonderful scene in “The Great Divorce” where the apostate minister, now living in Hell, speculates about how Jesus might have grown and matured had his life not been cut short. Don;’t be surprised if the same idea pops in Boundless one of these days.

  26. Aunt Haley May 30, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    Hana–
    People were able to “date around” in the past because sex wasn’t an implicit part of dating. Now that sex is considered part-and-parcel of dating (and dating is no prerequisite for sex), people basically HAVE to be in “relationships” in order to rid themselves of the stench of sluttery.

    A girl who has had sex with ten guys all while in “relationships” can therefore be considered a “good girl,” while a girl who has had sex with ten guys but in flings or one night stands is not. But each girl has the same number.

  27. Cane Caldo May 30, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    What is true, statistically, is that marrying too young (say, before age 20) leads to a higher incidence of divorce. In popular media, this simple statistical truth has to be dressed up in the rhetoric of “personal growth” and “learning about yourself,” because our culture valorizes those activities. It would be nice if Christians were a little more countercultural, but they mostly aren’t.

    Great point. People simply expect young marriages to die. First those outside them, who then convince those inside.

    There is a wonderful scene in “The Great Divorce” where the apostate minister, now living in Hell, speculates about how Jesus might have grown and matured had his life not been cut short.

    Was he Methodist, or Episcopalian?

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