Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - The Importance of Details
by Tibor R. Machan

During the last several years I’ve become an intermittent customer of direct as well as online match making services.  I’ve tried several of them over the last two or three years after I moved to a region of the country where I knew no one.  My profession puts me in minimal contact with other adults who do not work at the same place (and are thus largely off limits), so I figured 'Why not try what purport to be professional, even expert, methods for finding a date?'  But in time I decided not to continue my efforts or do so only on and off, with minimal expectations.

First of all, none of these methods managed to be quite fruitful for me, although there have been near-successes.  Second, in some instances my first encounter with the staff or the services made it clear I was not in good hands, as when I was interviewed by a woman whose demeanor, looks, and comportment made it clear that I could not talk to her openly and frankly about myself and what kind of person might appeal to me. 

But this was only the most obvious of problems I ran across.  My unsuccessful efforts eventually prompted me to ponder some questions about the techniques - or lack of them - that are employed in this service industry, admittedly one that’s fairly new.

Let me make clear that I approach dating at this stage of my life with a policy of full disclosure. I have been married more than once, I have these likes and dislikes I am pretty attached to, I am an atheist, and a libertarian, I am devoted to my kids and spend most of my money on them, I travel with inordinate frequency, etc., etc. None of these - nor indeed other - issues are to be hidden from view and revealed only later. Some of them are deal-breakers for people and they should know up front if there’s any chance of a match.

Perhaps the problem begins with most of us, and the people running matchmaking services are only following suit.  Consider the following:  Do you feel shy and reluctant, even a bit guilty, about insisting on satisfying your specific tastes and preferences as you look for a potential mate?  Are you willing to assert, explicitly, your personal, intimate desires?  Would you feel guilty for rejecting someone because they didn't fit the bill on some measure you fear may be deemed by someone to be trivial - the way they comb their hair, how they smile, how good they kiss, how much they like sex or travel or going to the movies or the music you enjoy, of how much you like or dislike the shape of their nose, their body posture, their voice inflection, you name it - not to mention the more acceptable and understood to be more significant issues of religion, politics, moral values, ways of solving problems, esthetics tastes, sports, movies, books and such, all of which tend to be admittedly more vital topics for consideration than are those little details that few of us dare mention but most of us care about nonetheless?

This is a familiar even if touchy matter for many of us.  We - well, many of us - have come to accept that paying attention to these minutia tends to make us shallow people, concerned with matters that we ought to bypass when we consider who might be a romantic partner, even a short term date or pal.  In fact, I wish to maintain, those details matter a lot!  And matchmaking services seem not to realize it - even those on the Internet trade mostly in broad generalizations when it comes to the content of profiles they feature on their sites.

The reason is fairly simple but rarely spoken of: People are unique individuals with many idiosyncrasies that make them who they are.  Even if some of these matters are out of a person's control - her eye color, facial shape or body type - these are part of the person's identity.  Just as we are right to be glad about some of our inherited attributes - the color of our hair, our cultural or national heritage, our keen hearing or tonal acuity, the texture of our skin or the shape of our mouths - we can rightly insist that at least those attributes we react to strongly in others be paid close attention to in such a personal, intimate task as finding a date or mate.

So, then, a problem with many of the services singles rely upon to find dates or mates is the lack of sufficiently serious attention to detail, to idiosyncrasies.  If you have done the scene for a while, you probably know the routine: you respond to a description or even introduction after checking out some pictures and a profile but, alas, upon meeting the person you immediately notice that something is missing.  Some call it the "it," some "chemistry."  What it is hasn't acquired a good common term but it has to do with details, many of which one cannot control.  Yet that is why many matches are a "no go," though often people feel badly in realizing it, finding it difficult to put their reasons into words or understanding why they are rejected by another when they are such fine people. 

In personal relationships, we are seeking someone who is a match for us as individuals.  Being generally attractive is part of that - as Robert Sapolsky writes in The Sciences (7&8/1998), "By now, investigators have a pretty good sense of what qualities are most appealing to us vertebrates, and they have found some consistencies across the animal kingdom."  Then he adds, "People, for instance, can pick up incredibly subtle asymmetries in eyes, ears, wrists, or ankles, and those definitely count against a potential mate."  So, general attributes do matter.  But as individuals we respond not just to some general traits but also to very specific, often quite unique attributes. 

Good matchmaking services would pay very close, frank attention to this matter of proper chemistry.  Still, broaching it may at times be difficult because clients and the service processionals do not believe that when they care about such matters they are focusing on what people deserve to have focused on.  Indeed, whether someone is decent, a good parent, hard working, politically correct (as per whatever camp to which you belong) and such are often treated as the only good, valid reasons to consider someone desirable. So, the shape of one's ear or jaw isn't something for which one can be credited or blamed, so to have that in mind seems to many to be shameful -- yet few can avoid it, either, because it is an indispensable fact that we all have these tastes and preferences and not suiting them is often a clear deal-breaker. You know, that lack of chemistry!

So, what is at stake here is to find a good match, not mainly to give recognition for achievements. When relationships ignore the details, there is a lingering unease people find difficult, probably even embarrassing, to identify.  Not being a sufficiently close match in mutual appeal -- matters related to sensuality, sexuality, tone, taste, aura, etc. -- can doom them because the intimacy between partners can rarely ignore such discrepancies.  But it may also seem too picky for one to care about such things.  One's own tastes, preferences, likes, dislikes, peccadilloes -- how dare they matter? But, of course, they do.

Eventually this refusal to take details serious at the outset can generate irritation, annoyance and, even more importantly, a temptation toward deception and denial and, finally, a painful and often belated demise of a relationship.  "What is wrong my love?" "Nothing."  I am sure most of us have experienced the likes of this kind of an exchange. Underlying such exchanges is an often suppressed dissatisfaction with another that should have been identified and dealt with from the start and grew to unmanageable proportions, yet is felt to be kind of, well, “selfish.”

However much one may think that such details are trivial, they are a good deal of the substance of intimacy.  Discomfort about such matters can sour a relationship, even ruin it.  And if one is very eager to find a mate, one may ignore them entirely for a while, what with that proverbial hope springing eternal in the human heart.

None of this should be taken to disparage the more obvious and conscious values on which a match must also rest.  One's ethics, religion, politics, artistic values, child rearing approach, and so forth are equally germane to whether a match is likely to develop and continue.  But that is widely acknowledged, indeed stressed, in our culture, even if plenty of people violate them all around us, including in the context of trying to hook up with someone, if even only for a chat. What is left largely unmentioned is how important the little things are that often make us the individual person who we are.
Sanctions: 25Sanctions: 25Sanctions: 25 Sanction this ArticleEditMark as your favorite article

Discuss this Article (21 messages)