The peril of ignoring emotions

by Swimmer9634 min read3rd Apr 2011103 comments


Personal Blog

Related to: Luminosity Sequence, Unknown Knowns

Let me introduce you to a hypothetical high school student, Sally. She’s smart and pretty and outgoing, and so are her friends. She considers herself a modern woman, sexually liberated, and this is in line with the lifestyle her friends practice. They think sex is normal and healthy and fun. Sally isn’t just pretending in order to fit in; these really are her friends, this really is her milieu, and according to health class, sex between consenting adults is nothing to be ashamed of. Sally isn't a rigorous rationalist, although she likes to think of herself as rational, and she's no more self-aware than the average high school girl. 

Now Sally meets a boy, Bob, and she things he’s cute, and he thinks she’s cute too. Bob is part of her crowd. Her friends like him; he respects women and treats Sally well and, like any healthy teenage boy, fairly horny. According to her belief system, that shouldn’t set off any alarm bells. She’s been warned about abusive relationships, but Bob is a nice guy. So when they go upstairs together at her friend’s party, she has every reason to be excited and a little nervous, but not uncomfortable. The idea that Mom wouldn’t approve is so obviously irrelevant that she ignores it completely.

...And afterwards, she feels guilty and violated and horrible about herself, even though it was her decision.

I used this example because I expect it’s not unusual. On the surface, Sally’s discomfort seems to come out of nowhere, but modern North American society is chock-full of contradictory beliefs about sex. Sex is normal and healthy. Sex is dirty. Sex is only for when you’re married. If Sally’s mother is Christian, or even just conservative, Sally would have internalized those beliefs when she was a child. It would have been hard not to. They’re her unknown knowns, and she may not have noticed them before, because there’s a wide psychological gap between believing it’s okay for others to behave a particular way, and believing it’s okay for you. The meme ‘don’t pass judgement on other people’ is, I think, pretty widespread in North America and maybe more so in Canada, but so is holding oneself to a high standard...and those are contradictory.

I think that the nagging, seemingly irrational moment of ‘that doesn’t feel right’ is important. It potentially reveals something about the beliefs and attitudes you hold that you don’t even know about. Sally’s response to her nagging doubt could have been the following:

Hmm, that’s interesting, why does it bother me so much that Mom would disapprove? I guess when we used to go to church, they said sex was only for when you’re married. But I don’t believe anything else they said in church. ...Well, I guess I want Mom to be proud of me. I want her to praise me for doing well in school. And I think lying is wrong, so the fact that I either have to lie to her about having had sex, or face her disapproval, maybe that’s why I’m uncomfortable? But I don’t want to say no, it’ll make me look like a prude... Still, what if everyone feels this way at the start? I know Alice went to church too when she was a kid, and her mom would kill her if she knew she was sexually active, I wonder if that bothers Alice? Hmm, I think maybe it’s still the right choice to sleep with Bob, but maybe I’m taking this too lightly? Maybe this should be a big deal and I should feel anxious? After all, he might judge me anyway, he might think I’m too easy, or a slut. Maybe I can just explain to him that I want to think about this longer... After all, why should I assume something is right just because they told us in health class? That’s just like in church, it’s taking someone else’s opinion on faith. I’ve never actually thought about this, I’ve just followed other people. Who’s to say they’re right?

Whatever decision Sally makes, she probably won’t feel violated. She listened to her feelings and took them into consideration, even though they seemed irrational. As it turned out, they were a reasonable consequence of a belief-fragment that she hadn’t even known she had. So as a consequence of stopping to think, she knows herself better too. She’ll be better able to predict her behaviour in future situations. She’ll be less likely to ignore her threshold-warning discomfort and make risky choices as a result of peer pressure alone. She’ll be more likely to think.

To conclude: emotions exist. They are real. If you ignore them and plow on ahead, you won’t necessarily thank yourself afterwards. And that nagging feeling is a priceless moment to find out about your unknown knowns...which may not be rational, which may have been laid down in some previous era and never questioned since, but which part of you is going to try to uphold until you consciously deconstruct them. 


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Your example reminds me of a chapter from Yes Means Yes-- the idea that women have actual lust is still so blanked out in the culture, that it's quite possible to forget about it even when you're trying to construct a sex-positive example.

Sally thinks sex is normal. Sally thinks Bob is cute. Bob makes the first move, and doesn't seem to be abusive.

Does Sally want sex with Bob? Maybe. Maybe not. Her desires (as distinct from her concern about whether she's doing the right thing) don't seem to be part of the story.

9[anonymous]11yThis might get me downvoted due to the tribal dynamics on LW but I just wanted to share that I think my reason for missing your excellent point (upvoted) was perhaps some assumptions I made reading the following paragraph: I'm sorry but Bob is a very [] unsexy [] sounding [] guy. This seems to hold true when dissected from a variety of perspectives, thought this is probably just the result of unfortunate signalling side effects of some words. Anyway I find it amusing some of the heuristics I've employed with such great confidence should happen to misfire on a LW article where I should have known better.
3Swimmer96311yHas that happened to you before? What exactly are the tribal dynamics on LW?
1[anonymous]11yI've spoken in the past about Karma mining and dynamic analysis, I've been busy on that project. I'm not yet done by far and I'm not yet confident enough in the analysis to share any of my crazy (and conflicting!) hypothesis but lets just say I've found some interesting patterns. I know I know I'm teasing, don't worry if all goes well hopefully I will summarize in a article (share all my data too). :)
2Swimmer96311yI don't necessarily know a whole lot about what girls are attracted to...I only have my point of view and my sister's point of view, and both of us like boys who respect girls and treat them, well, nicely. Maybe you're right and the phrase 'nice guy' sets off non-sexy alarm bells...I'll change it. But in any case, the description isn't from Sally's point of view. When I say that he's a nice girl, what it means is that she doesn't find him threatening.
0Costanza11yI'd say rather that the description says nothing about Bob's generally-perceived attractiveness nor his attractiveness to Sally in particular. What if Sally had described Bob with words like: "Bob has a little dimple on his left cheek which gives him a slightly asymmetrical smile. Those black pants he always wears have a tiny hole on the back of his left thigh. His hair looks brown at first, but it's really a shade of red." Maybe Bob respects women and is an ardent feminist, maybe he's gay, maybe he's an abusive jerk -- we don't know. But we get an idea of how he seems subjectively to Sally.
4[anonymous]11yBut this was all I at first considered. How Sally perceives him. Hence: I'm sorry but Bob is a very unsexy sounding guy.
0Costanza11yI guess it depends on whose voice the quote was in. If that was Sally talking about Bob to herself in her own thoughts, she doesn't seem truly interested in him. However, I took it instead that the quote was in the voice of the original poster, describing a hypothetical from a somewhat (but not entirely) detached viewpoint.
3Swimmer96311yThat is how I intended it. I also didn't intend for Sally to be very strongly attracted to Bob...the problem in the story is that her being mildly attracted to him is enough, initially, for her to go along with having sex with him because her explicit beliefs say that sex is casual fun...and yes I've heard people express this explicit belief before.
6[anonymous]11yI think it relevant to add that Bob also thinks Sally is cute. The word cute has sexual quite clear sexual connotations. Considering the context and common sense analysed through they eyes of someone a bit neurodiverse, this sentence dosen't imply that he wants sex more than Sally does. It just implies he wants sex with Sally more than she does with him. But this dosen't mean Sally dosen't want sex with him, thought this is what I first read into it (see my other post []). For the desires to be paired Bob would have to be much higher status than Sally due to the differences in hypergamy between the genders.
6wedrifid11yOn the other hand someone taking lust for granted sufficiently would take "Sally thinks Bob is cute" as enough of an indicator.
4Skatche11yYeah, this is almost a straight paraphrase of one of the stories in there, unless I'm misremembering the contents of the book. It seems that any sexual ideology, even one of sexual liberation, can lead to dissatisfaction. The problem, I think, is that sex is an ambiguous, muddled and confusing thing, whether or not it's got prudish cultural baggage attached to it. Whether we conform to the popular conception or seize upon alternative views, we need some kind of cognitive framework to help us simplify and deal with our sexuality. But, under the (I think) reasonable assumption that truly satisfying sexuality doesn't boil down to any such simple framework, mistakes are bound to be made. Like anything else, therefore, healthy sexuality requires practice and trial-and-error, and we're unlikely to get it right the first time. I think one of the most dangerous cultural ideals is that sex should only happen when everything is just right (especially if you're a woman, but that's a whole other conversation). If we can learn not to beat ourselves up over sexual relations that turn out to be less than ideal, maybe this sort of thing will be less of a problem.

Missing the point a little. If I read NancyLebovitz right, she's pointing out that Sally's generally sexually liberated abstract ethic doesn't imply that Sally herself is feeling any desire for sex right then with this one guy. And yet, women's sexuality is so blanked out in the culture that her lack of active negativity to Bob's desire for sex is read - even by herself - as a choice to go ahead.

The problem here is not that sex is ambiguous or confusing in itself. Rather, the culture is causing people's eyes to slip past and over half the question. Naturally the answers make no sense!

1Skatche11yYes, I understand. It's certainly a problem that women's desires are glossed over in the popular view of sexuality (when they aren't actively discouraged). I was simply proposing that the problem runs deeper than that: for men and women alike, one's individual sexual desires have to be explored at length before they are fully understood. When you've never had sex before, it may seem like a fine idea in the abstract, but to actually recognize concrete and unambiguous sexual desire (or its absence) requires a certain amount of self-awareness and emotional sophistication that can only be gained through a learning process. In no way does this undermine the fact that the dialectic needs to be reshaped to include the desires of women and transpeople in addition to those of men, I'm just not sure that'll be enough to prevent awkward and emotionally confusing first sexual encounters. Maybe we should just accept those as OK (modulo prohibitions against sexual coercion, etc.).
2JulianMorrison11yI'm actually a little wary of assuming there are pre-existing "desires" which exist but wait to be understood. Rather than for example, a handful of inborn influences, a heap of cultural and situational influence, and a gradual accumulation of preferences from cognition and experience. Consider that you'd think the above description was quite sensible when applied to food preferences,
4NancyLebovitz11yI mostly agree, but the existence of gay people who found out the hard way that heterosexual sex simply wasn't satisfying for them looks to me like a strong counterexample. I'm referring to the gay people who married someone of the other sex back when that was thought to be a cure for homosexuality.
6JulianMorrison11yHmm, no I actually disagree. That assumes that "trying" ought to change it. On the contrary, I don't see that a situational + cognitive origin implies a conscious toggle switch. Consider food again. I watched my brother learn to hate honey - he liked it initially, until one day he was disgusted to find bee parts in it. Then we as kids teased him with it, building associations of disgust. As an adult he finds it nauseating. I have no expectation that he could will himself to like it. I think that people have been pushing the "can't change" aspect as a way to defend gay people from bigots, specifically to fight the religious charge of sin (because it undermines the idea of guilt), and to fight the quack science of willed change ("ex gays"). Culturally, when we hear "can't change", we go looking for it in the genes. Personally I haven't heard strong evidence for genetic predetermination (versus a genetic preference rather like having a sweet tooth). I have heard evidence it can't be willed to change. But why expect that it could? And I have also heard (anecdotal) evidence that it can change on its own or situationally, such as when trans people transition.
2Skatche11yThere probably aren't genetic correlates per se (they'd get bred out of the population pretty quickly if so); but as I understand, there are fairly solid links between incidence of homosexuality and the hormonal environment in the womb during certain critical periods of pregnancy. That being said, sexuality is fluid to some extent, but not by a lot, and it doesn't seem to be under conscious control. The situation makes a lot more sense when you realize that "heterosexual", "homosexual", "bisexual", etc., aren't atomic properties of a human being, but rather statistical tendencies in the response of certain (largely unconscious) cognitive and biological functions to environmental stimuli. Even the straightest dude can get a bit of a man-crush once in awhile if the object of his attraction happens to trigger the right affective states, whether by having unusual pheremones, pleasing physical features, an especially compelling personality, or anything else which might activate some quirk of said straight dude's brain. To describe the process of sexually maturing as a process of discovering one's innate desires, then, is perhaps somewhat misleading, as you pointed out, insomuch as we are at risk of reifying those desires; but the effect of (mostly) unchangeable physiology is still significant in this case. We can view the process of sexual self-discovery, then, as that of an inexperienced neocortex learning to maximize the reward signals it gets from the black box of its limbic system. As for food, those preferences are actually easily changeable. There are a number of foods (falafel, grapefruit, mustard, pickles) that I couldn't stand in the past, but kept occasionally trying anyway; as my body learned that these were sources of valuable nutrients, I eventually grew to like them. Similarly, a bout of food poisoning turned me off avocados for about a year and a half, but through repeated exposure I came to enjoy them once more. Extremely spicy foods are another good e
0TheOtherDave11yI don't see how that is a strong counterexample, actually. I mean, it's clear that in those cases there's a sexual desire for men, and no sexual desire for women, but it's not at all clear that either of those are the result of a "pre-existing desire" as opposed to "a handful of inborn influences, a heap of cultural and situational influence, and a gradual accumulation of preferences from cognition and experience." Admittedly, it's not clear to me what would be a counterexample, or more generally what I'd expect to experience differently if Julian were right or wrong. So perhaps I'm merely misunderstanding altogether.
1JulianMorrison11yThat is an interesting question. What would a strongly foreordained desire look like? (NB I am deliberately not saying inborn, with its genetic implications) And how would it look different to an accumulated desire?
1TheOtherDave11yWell, that's basically my question to you, actually. That is: you're saying you don't believe in pre-existing desires, and believe instead in desires that emerge from a variety of influences (inborn, cultural, situational, cognitive, and experiential). I'm not really sure what the difference between those two things even is, in terms of anticipated experience, so I'm not sure there's any meaningful difference to be discussed. For my own part, when a pattern of desire is common across multiple cultures and situations and individuals, I'm not inclined to treat it as primarily an emergent property of cultural, situational, or experiential influences.
0Skatche11yEr, good point; thanks for the reminder.
3Vladimir_M11yThis view strikes me as absurd. Why have traditional cultures always had all those stringent checks on women's behavior, if the general assumption was that there is no such thing as female lust? Not to even mention how frequent and all-pervasive the motive of female lust has always been in art.
9NancyLebovitz11yI'm not talking about the history of the world, I'm talking about recent American culture. Sally's desire or lack of it really wasn't present in the story. Try imagining a gender-reversed version of the story and see whether it looks odd to you. I recommend reading Yes Means Yes-- you will probably find the politics annoying and I don't sign on to them myself, but the personal viewpoints could give you an additional angle on the world. I find it interesting that there was a shift (Victorian?) from the stereotype of Woman the Temptress to Man the Pursuer. It makes me wonder if no one knows what they're talking about in regards to sex in general-- possibly the case, considering that no one has a large random sample of behavior and there's a lot of shame on the subject. It's possible that we have a sufficiently strong norm of telling the truth on questionnaires to have found out a little bit-- at least for people who are willing to answer questionnaires.
2Vladimir_M11yThe gender-reversed version would have to look very different to be realistic because, among other reasons, there are very strong and very asymmetrical signaling and reputational issues involved. (I'm just noting this as the de facto state of affairs, separate from the discussion of why it might be so.) If these issues weigh more heavily than the considerations of lust for one of the parties, but less so for the other, it doesn't mean that the former's lust is being unrealistically neglected. Now, I don't know much about what American culture a few decades back really looked like, and I do have some reason to believe that the way it's popularly imagined nowadays is heavily distorted. However, if this culture really was oblivious about female lust, this would lead to some odd predictions -- for example, that people (or men at least) would lack the usual traditional inclination for chaperoning and strong reputational discipline of women, believing that they'd behave with saintly chastity if left uncontrolled. Was this really the case? Which one of the books under this title do you have in mind? Google Books lists at least two that look like they might be pertinent for this discussion. (I have no problem with annoying politics, no matter how extreme, if there is some insight to be found alongside it.)
1NancyLebovitz11yYes Means Yes [] is the book I meant-- I haven't found another book with the same title. As for the rest of your post, I want to think a little longer before I reply.
1Vladimir_M11yThis one has the same title, and apparently deals with similar topics: []

The meme ‘don’t pass judgement on other people’ is, I think, pretty widespread in North America and maybe more so in Canada [...]

Insofar as it actually exists, this is a very context-dependent principle. As someone who grew up in a moderately alien culture, I perceive a strong note of frightfully stern judgmentalism in the Anglo-American culture. (Of course, the exact range of issues on which this judgmentalism is manifested depends on people's ideological position.)

In fact, the way it is expressed in North America, even the "don't pass judgment" attitude itself paradoxically often strikes me as sternly judgmental. Admittedly, sometimes I perceive it as an expression of a pleasant and easygoing disposition, but more often, it looks more like a harsh moralistic condemnation of those who differ ideologically and thus express disapproval of different things.

5taryneast11yI agree. I also see it strongly as a counter-judgement. If you express your own strong views on a subject (especially when backed up by evidence), North Americans can be quick to shout "we all should be tolerant of each other". This has happened to me a lot in conversations with the religious... "We shouldn't judge one another" being used as a thought-stopper.
5TheOtherDave11yI apparently really offended someone at a party once by responding to that with "You're absolutely right, that was wrong of me and I should be ashamed of myself. Thanks for pointing that out."
2David_Gerard11yThat's the killer judo move on online forums, isn't it? What was their rationale for offence, and what do you think the underlying nature of the offence was?
3TheOtherDave11yWell, they didn't actually talk to me about it, so I infer from third-party reports. (Hence "apparently.") I assume they observed that they'd been trapped: if they accepted my apology, they'd be implicitly accepting not only that they were judging me (and are therefore hypocrites), but also that judging me was a thanksworthy thing to do (and they are therefore wrong). On the other hand, they can't challenge my apology without essentially arguing with themselves. Of course, they could have responded by backing away from the strong version of their claim, perhaps in the guise of clarification, and replacing it with a weaker version tailored to avoid that particular trap. (For example "You're welcome! See: it's much better to point out when other people are wrong in a friendly and constructive way, rather than judging them. I'm glad we agree." Except, you know, phrased less ironically than that.) But most people don't have enough perspective on the social web they're embedded in to recognize what's going on and counter in real time, so I figure he just felt (correctly) like the structure he'd invested in was being challenged, and was therefore offended.
1David_Gerard11yHeh. You grabbed a virtual banana and he cried "Morality!" Did anyone else seem to buy his argument as to why he hadn't just plain lost?
0TheOtherDave11yBeats me... it was a pretty casual exchange at a party; I likely wouldn't even remember it were it not for the followup. The people who relayed the fact of his offendedness thought he was being silly (it came back to me in the context of "man, X was still grousing about you an hour after you left the party!"), but of course they would; I have no idea what other people thought. I assume he has friends who took his side, though... pretty much everybody does. Yeah, pretty much. I mean, isn't that what offense is?
0wedrifid11yNot quite. It is a subset of what offence applies to. There is some difference in nature between taking personal offence at a status transaction that is legitimate in general but you claim should not be applied to you and claiming that something violates the general moral code. This holds somewhat despite the natural inclination to blur the former into the latter.
0TheOtherDave11yAgreed that the word is ambiguous, and yes, any violation of a moral code (or a legal code, or a local policy) is an offense against that code... going 60 in a 55-mph zone is an offense against local traffic laws, for example. The context I had in mind was the emotional state of offense, though. Which seems to me to be what primates (and I suspect social mammals in general) experience when they perceive a potential infringement of their rights or privileges. Agreed that this can be a reaction to both a violation of the actual local status hierarchy, and an act that violates an individual's preference without actually violating the local norms. But I would argue that in the latter case, what that individual is actually trying to do is change their position in the status hierarchy, by invoking an offense-response that would be appropriate were their status different. (Of course, they may not get away with it.) So I'd say it's no coincidence that the former blurs into the latter... they are, it seems to me, invoking the same mechanisms.
1Swimmer96311yAgreed. Except that I don't think everyone uses it as a counter-judgement. There are a significant number of people who take it literally and assume that we really should be tolerant of everyone and not judge people for their lifestyle choices.
3wedrifid11yEven among that group there is a majority for whom 'tolerant of everyone and not judge people for their lifestyle choices' in fact applies to a specific set of lifestyle choices that have been legitimised according to their perspective of political correctness. For example many of that group would not be especially tolerant and non-judgemental of a 40 year old and a 14 year old who have an entirely voluntary and evidently satisfying sexual relationship. (Decrement the second figure if necessary until the example is sufficiently inconvenient.)
1Swimmer96311yAgreed. I'm trying to think what my reaction would be to that situation...if, say, my 14-year-old sister was dating a 40-year-old man. I would worry that she was being exploited, of course, but I think I know my sister well enough to tell if she is comfortable and happy with something, and if she was, then what right do I have to take that away from her? (Although I'm trying to think what long-term prospects such a relationship has. Even 10-year age difference relationships, if one party is 19 and the other is 29, often break up over the members being in different life phases, i.e. the 19-year-old is starting university and wants to be a little bit wild and discover who ey is, and the 29-year-old wants a house and children before ey gets too old... Despite gender-neutral pronouns, it would be a LOT more surprising if the younger member were male.) Comment on that: it's not just that relationships between very young girls and much older men are not legitimized according to political correctness, it's that I think they bring up a strong emotional current of 'pedophile!' And I think a lot of (generally open-minded) people might react the way I did, if a friend or family member were in that situation; with discomfort and protectiveness at first, but acceptance if and when they realize the relationship is voluntary and satisfying. (Although they might warn their younger sibling/niece/friend about all the possible consequences to their reputation, etc.) (Wow that's I can't think why a relationship between a sexually mature 14-year-old and a 40 year old WOULD bother me, as someone's personal choice. My brain got used to that fast. And there are cultures that did accept those age differences, in marriage at least...Henry VIII and his 5th wife come to mind.)
4TheOtherDave11yFor what it's worth, my husband is ~10 years older than I am. Of course, you were probably assuming a heterosexual couple.
0Swimmer96311yHow old were you when you got together? The 10 year age difference seems to become less relevant if both parties have finished school, have a full-time job, do similar things in their spare time, etc.
0TheOtherDave11yOh, it absolutely makes a difference, and I was in my early 20s at the time.
0taryneast11yOh yes, absolutely. In fact most people I've met use it "correctly" at some times and as a counter argument at others... I totally agree with the actual phrase, as stated. It's a useful social heuristic for getting along with others - especially where people are disagreeing over a point of personal taste. (No matter how much I argue that Vegemite is "just better" - the Marmite-lovers won't agree... so we should indeed learn to just be tolerant of one another ):) However I can get quite upset if somebody uses this heuristic as a means to shout-down an argument about verifiable fact - or even just force people not to have a discussion about whether or not something is a verifiable fact (which is where I most often see this mis-used).
0Swimmer96311yI've never seen it used this way, probably because the friends I spend the most time with love discussing anything and the last thing they would want to do would be to shut down a conversation. Agreed that people who don't like discussing the issues closest to their heart would probably use it for this.
0Swimmer96311yReally! I have never noticed that...and I'm glad I haven't, it sounds like a very unpleasant attitude for one's friends to have! I may have casual acquaintances who do take this attitude, but I wouldn't know if I've never discussed issues that set off their ideological judgements.

...And afterwards, she feels guilty and violated and horrible about herself, even though it was her decision.

And, afterwards, Bob feels a lot less attracted to Sally, for reasons he can't explain, and after a few months starts chasing someone else.

Genes influence us by emotions, and our genes and our memes often have goals that conflict. A lot of men appear to have something like a madonna-whore dichotomy: pursue women sexually, but dump women who let you have sex with them quickly, and marry the ones that hold out. This makes great sense from his genes' point of view: a child you father but don't have to raise is a pretty high benefit at low cost, and the expense of raising a child is so high he should make sure that the child is his (and sexually reserved women are less likely to cheat).

There seems to be a conflict between the strategy she consciously expects to work- have sex with whoever you want with only health consequences- and the strategy she unconsciously expects to work- sexual reserve is a finite bargaining resource, and she just misspent some of hers.

Should she discount the sexual reserve argument because that's not her milieu, and no one will think worse of her fo... (read more)

6wedrifid11yBetrayed. Like it's time to recalibrate her judge of character.
3Alicorn11ySupposing for the sake of inquiry that Sally is ambivalent about or indifferent to the presence or absence of sex in her relationships (but suitably enthusiastic once it's been introduced), and just wants to minimize the probability that she'll be dumped, what should she do? It's hardly unheard of for women to be dumped for not putting out, even if the model you offer of Bob's subsequent loss of interest is accurate.
9Vladimir_M11yBefore even getting into any tactical considerations, Sally should try to make a cool-headed strategic judgment of whether there is in fact a significant chance of not getting dumped. For women, it's easy to get delusional in this regard because as a general rule, the attractiveness of men a woman can get for casual sex and non-serious relationships is significantly higher than the attractiveness of those she can get to really commit. From what I've observed, women get dumped and heartbroken much more often because of such strategic blindness leading to relationships where they are doomed from day one than because of tactical missteps.
7HughRistik11yVladimir_M: I think that this observation is probably correct. For instance, this study [] found that men were more interested in casual sex with friends than women (73% vs. 40%), even though the authors tried to spin the results to tell a story of no sex differences. If women and men are roughly equally selective about long-term partners, but men are much less selective about short-term partners, then it will be a lot easier for women to get stuck in the "just friends with benefits zone", just as it is easier for men to get stuck in the "just friends zone." Prior probability: * P( man wants relationship with random women ) = P( woman wants relationship with random man) * P( woman has sexual interest in a man ) < P( man has sexual interest in a woman) Conditional probability: * P( man wants relationship with woman | they have mutual sexual interest) < P( woman wants relationship with man | they have mutual sexual interest) The cultural obscuring of this plausible sex differences actually does women a great disservice. You would think that feminists, as advocates for women, would be attempting to equip women with the tools to have satisfying dating experiences. The personal is political, right? Yet weirdly, the bias of many feminists against admitting sex differences trumps their concern for women's heterosexual interests.
8banana11yI suspect that this is not the real objective function, as it can be trivally minimised by never going out with anyone. Personally, if I was with someone who would dump me then I would prefer that it happened sooner rather than later to minimise my investement, especially emotional investment, in that relationship. I think the aim of the exercise is to find someone to whom you are compatible. Avoiding being dumped in this viewpoint could be counter productive as it could lead to being "stuck" in a less desirable relationship. Manipulating the other person into not dumping me does not seem like the sort of relationship that I want to be a part of. Now I know that there is a stigma attached to being the one who is dumped. However, I have noticed amongst my aquaintances that have been in relationships that ended after a long time that the one who is dumped seems to recover quicker and get on with their life (next relationship - maybe marriage) while the dumper is still caught up with whether they made the right decision (a choice that the dumpee never had). Of course this is anecdotal and based on a very small sample.
2Alicorn11yNote that she can do the dumping herself if she decides she wants out of a relationship.
6wedrifid11yRoughly: be clearly and unambiguously sexually interested in Bob but delay sex itself for a couple of weeks. It can be more fun that way anyway... spreading out the 'novelty' phase of the relationship a bit longer. (It's a good strategy for Bob, too.) This varies to a ridiculous degree in context and things like age. But in general I'd say the 'madonna-whore' theory is overstated. Partially because I find the described preferences extremely hard to empathize with. My own experienced emotions and observed historical behaviors in no way reflect that pattern.
1Alicorn11yWhat's your explanation/evidence for the viability of the strategy you describe? Also, what should Sally say when explaining her decision to delay? (Or Bob, for that matter, if it's symmetrical?)
8HughRistik11yI like this sort of question. Based on my own field experience, I agree with wedrifid's advice. Also, it's not hard to delay sex a few weeks, especially if are only going out with the person once a week. * Day 1: meet, exchange numbers, kiss goodnight * Date 1: make out for a while * Date 2: make out for a while with hands roaming * Date 3: make out with some clothes coming off, dry humping, maybe one or both people get some manual stimulation * Date 4: oral, manual * Date 5: sexual intercourse Spread out with a week in between, these 6 steps could take 1.5 months to complete. In my last relationship, the schedule was something like this, and it didn't feel unnatural. It also helped that she liked to initiate things, so that I knew that she would initiate sex when she was ready; then I didn't have to try to guess the right timetable for sex and risk being too fast or too slow. Of course, some of these steps can be accelerated, and people might meet more than once a week. The point is that it should be easy to delay sex past the two week mark, while still doing more sexually each time. Don't be hanging out more than twice a week, or more than two days in a row. People shouldn't be doing that anyway in the beginning, because it's a great way for people to get sick of each other. Have dates be activities where sex is logistically hard. Keep everything in dark corners of clubs, in parking lots, in cars, or out in nature. If the environment is a barrier to sex, then you won't have to refuse it. See the amazing Playette FAQ [] : The most stylish solution would be to logistically delay sex without it feeling artificial for the other person. Yet if you are dating someone who is nerdy and/or capable of explicit communication around sex, explicitly trying to explain when you do or don't want to have sex could work. And if they specifically ask you when you will want to ha
8clarissethorn11yMy problem with this model is that sexuality is extremely important to me and a guy pretty much has to prove that he's sexually interesting in order to be worth my time. This is difficult to accurately gauge through conversation -- even men who are in my sexual subcultures/etc can be less-than-ideal sexual matches. It might be good for me to follow a more strategic drawn-out pattern than sex on the first date, but that would require me to spend a lot of time on men who may not end up being sexually awesome (and also it removes the pleasure of having sex with them from the first few dates). I am currently working on ensuring that I hit emotional hookpoint with men on the first date, and then having sex on the first date. I seem to be relatively successful at this, but I'd like to be better at it.
5HughRistik11yI also think the model of delaying sex is overrated; I just wanted to describe how to do it, for someone who wants to do things that way. People vary in sociosexuality [], so some people perhaps do need to delay sex due to the way that they are wired. Yet I think the "wait for sex" cultural discourse may often go beyond people's emotional needs, and encourage even more delay of sex, even for people who would otherwise want to. This discourse contains certain toxic notions, such as slut-shaming (e.g. women being devalued for being "easy"), and "why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free" (because the cow has more to offer than just "one thing," duh). A strategy of having sex within the first few dates, while also trying to get to know the person and connect with them, is probably most efficient, if you can comfortably have sex with that person during that timeframe while being willing to risk that a long-term relationship might not work. As you note, sex is an important screening tool. It also can be useful for getting the sex out of the way. Then whoever is expected to initiate it (usually the guy) doesn't have the mental overhead of wondering if/when it will happen, and if any of his behaviors are making it more/less likely. Sometimes, a guy will be acting differently after sex than before, and the only want to find out is to have sex with him. Also, having sex means that no mental resources are spent delaying sex, and that date venues aren't so restricted (for instance, my previous comment would advise against watching a DVD alone with someone you are dating if you want to delay sex, because that practice is often used to advance sex). Once people stop doing a complex and cognitively-costly dance around delaying sex, then it's a lot easier for them to focus on each other.
1wedrifid11yThat does sound more effective at the task of forming a sexually satisfying relationship. Sally loses out a lot because she made her strategy about maximising her chances at having a relationship with Bob. Until you actually have a personal connection, let's face it, potential attractive mates are basically fungible. There are plenty out there and there and there is no need to get all hung up about catching a specific target in particular. Is there any particular tactic that works for landing the hook? (Well, apart from those tactics and techniques that add up to being so amazingly good in bed that no guy could help but come back for more!) The most obvious is extending the potential duration of the dates (to 7 or so hours if desired) and including multiple venue changes. The subjective experience of time is far more important than time itself.
0clarissethorn11yI've been working on figuring out how exactly I establish intimacy through conversation, and getting better at it. One thing HughRistik once observed is that "expressing interest in their reality" is absolutely key, but that's pretty basic.
2Alicorn11yWhat's this "hookpoint" you quote of?
2HughRistik11yYou can check out the whole guide, but "emotional hookpoint" is a specific analogy to the normal pickup concept of "hookpoint." The hookpoint is the time early in the interaction where the woman realizes that she is attracted to the PUA and/or wants him to stick around in the interaction (i.e. the PUA "hooked" her). The author of the playette guide is using this concept to make an analogous observation for female pickup. By "emotional hookpoint," I think she means the point where the guy starts becoming emotionally invested, and/or starts getting a "crush," and/or starts wanting a relationship with the woman. (Of course, those aren't all quite the same thing, so I don't know exactly which she is referring to, but they often go together.) I think this analogy is brilliant and quite accurate; I've felt myself hit the "emotional hookpoint" when I find myself thinking, "shit, I'm getting a crush on this girl."
4wedrifid11yEstimated mode among suitable strategies for a set of likely 'Bobs' based on an amalgamation of advice from experts of various levels of credibility and the findings of vaguely remembered behavioral psychology studies. Basically you asked a question that is ridiculously hard to optimize for but relatively easy to satisfice. (Although I am reminded of an anecdote of a female lesswrong commenter who wrote "If the first date doesn't go well [(ie. there is no sex)] what makes you think there would be a second?") The explanation of the important element is that most (sane) guys will lose interest in a girl who isn't displaying sexual interest. But for the majority of guys of the kind who are looking for long term relationships the displays of interest don't need to be in the form of sex straight away. In fact, there is a whole baseball metaphor of things other than sex which can be of interest and that is only including basic physical boundaries. Say? Like... with actual words? I suppose she could do that. Just so long as she also conveys the right message with her actions, her eyes, the subtext and tone of her irrelevant conversation and her body language. But there are cliches for this kind of situation aren't there? "I really like you, let's not rush this" or, if she (or he) can stomach it, "I want our first time to be special". Just so long as the message conveyed is "I want to tear your clothes off and do nasty things to your body. But I'm not going to because I'm a good girl (or respectful self constrained guy or whatever). At least I'm not going to yet but if I do I will blow your mind. You should definitely keep courting me and increase your emotional attachment and psychological investment. If you have sunk that much cost into what is evidently a scarce resource then I must be worth it!"
6Vaniver11yI don't know the numbers well enough to give solid advice, and the time-scale over which she doesn't want to be dumped seems relevant. One of the factors of modern culture is that young people regularly change almost all of their social set- high school students going to college, college students going into the workforce, etc. - and many relationships don't survive that transition. I don't know how to plan around that. In absence of that, I suspect the optimal strategy for life-long relationships is sexual reserve (because the costs of getting a relationship to medium-term are so high). Actually, something even more relevant than "not getting dumped" might be "percentage of pre-menopause time spent coupled." Putting out seems like a good strategy for maximizing the second variable, or at least ensuring it doesn't get too low. I would not be surprised if the timescale necessary to find a guy willing to wait 90 days to have sex is measured in years in some milieus, and that involves a lot of guys losing interest.
3Skatche11yThis strikes me as just-so story. It might, conceivably, work for a species that pair-bonds but has no other significant social structure; but for a species that's spent most of the past half-million years or more living in tightly-knit bands, the relevant selective forces are likely to be rather different, and even cultural differences should exert a significant force on the way these instincts are expressed. Indeed, certain inconvenient facts unpredicted by this model - the proportion of women who actively seek out and enjoy one-night stands, just as one example - suggest that it simply is not an adequate explanation of the sudden disinterest some people feel after their first time with a new sexual partner. ETA: It's worth mentioning that, after a long history of short-lived and ultimately uninteresting relationships, interspersed with a few really long and meaningful ones, the best predictor I've found for becoming disinterested quickly is the predictability of my partner. The more they continually defy my expectations - the more they exhibit depth, subtlety, spontaneity, curiosity - the longer I remain attracted to them. If I'm not atypical in this respect - which, I know, is a big assumption, but let's pretend here - then this suggests (surprise!) that intelligence and confidence and self-reliance are a lot more important in determining attraction than promiscuity or lack thereof.
7Vaniver11yI don't understand this objection. Doesn't a social structure increase the value of sexual reserve as a resource? Notice that it does so for both women and men (though more so for women), as wronged women can now get back at the people who wronged them more effectively. Regardless, let's look at the basic argument. There are two basic strategies suggested for Sally: the strategy of having sex with anyone she wants to while trying to maintain her sexual health, and the strategy of not having sex until she has extracted a public, permanent commitment from someone she wants to have sex with. (Those are extremes- some combination of them is also possible, like the 'don't have sex for 90 days' plan, which seeks to demonstrate sexual reserve without requiring the permanent commitment.) What factors should she take into account when determining what strategy to pursue? It very well may be that she cares more about having enjoyable sex than having a long-term relationship, but humans are also pretty bad at knowing what will make them happy. It is unsurprising that her parents are giving her advice that will maximize the chance of grandchildren whose father is invested in them, and their advice should be taken with a grain of salt if trying to maximize her happiness. But the main thing I was trying to inject into the conversation is the knowledge that, whatever baggage she has (be it genetic or memetic), Bob probably has similar baggage, and she might want to plan for that. If she needs to work through some negative emotions, she shouldn't be surprised if Bob also has emotional issues he needs to work through, and that some things are harder to work through than others (it may be easier to overcome guilt than to become more attracted to someone, for example).
0Skatche11yFor starters, in a tightly-knit community, everyone contributes to helping women through pregnancy, birth, raising the child, etc. Although parents may give preferential attention to their own children, this should still weaken the pressure on men to "fuck and run" (and, at the same time, the pressure for women to find a committed, monogamous partner). Furthermore, as NancyLebovitz has already pointed out, close social ties make it easier to enforce sexual selection for more attentive and nurturing partners, since you've got a reputation to maintain. Add in 500,000+ years of all kinds of complex and poorly-understood selective pressures from competition with other humans (believed to be by far the dominant pressures on the mind during that time) and you've got a situation that probably won't boil down cleanly to a two-by-two game matrix. The summary of Sex at Dawn that Nancy linked to below suggests that humans may actually be adapted away from strict monogamy. Wildly speculating here, but maybe the anxiety and disinterest men sometimes feel after their first time with a new partner is "meant" to remove them from the situation so the next guy can have a turn? (Edited to add scare quotes around "meant".)
7Vaniver11yIf everyone contributes, and there is minimal preferential attention to their own children, then why would anyone do something besides fuck and run? Long-standing relationships come from male parental investment, across species. It only matters whether your sexual partner is attentive and nurturing towards your children. Whether or not they're attentive and nurturing towards you only determines their value as friends. Human sexual behavior resembles avian sexual behavior rather strongly. Both women and men have incentives to cheat, but for rather different reasons. Strict monogamy makes lower-status men better off at the cost of higher-status men and most women. How does that impulse outcompete alternatives? If I feel a need to give the other guy a turn, and the other guy feels a need to monopolize his sexual partner, he will reproduce more than I will. Genes reproduce on the level of individuals, not societies.
6Eugine_Nier11yBe very skeptical of explanations that rely on group selection []. As explained in the posts linked to from that wiki page, humans love to engage in motivated reasoning to explain why the alien god [] is nice. Sorry, evolution isn't.
-2Skatche11yI'm not referring to group selection. If you're living in a close community, then once you've had your chance to conceive, there's not a lot of benefit in fighting off other suitors, since you'll be helping raise the child anyway; conversely, rivalry against other males is risky and socially divisive - which, since your band is probably rather small, can have serious consequences for you as an individual. This is not to say that all men will simply flee the scene once they've consummated their desire: for starters, we're a hell of a long way from evolutionary equilibrium, and even then it's not clear that the game in question has a dominant strategy, especially once you factor in complicating influences from women's sexual selection of men and from various social pressures. More likely we'd see a diversity of different strategies.
0Eugine_Nier11yIf its valuable for the other suitors its valuable for you. Yes, but you want to be as certain as possible about which children are yours so you can favor them. And, yes, even in a close knit community there are many ways to do that short of causing the tribe to break down. Well, yes this is in fact what one observes.
0NancyLebovitz11yCould it be worth Sally's while to be in a social network so that she has some information about how Bob has behaved in previous relationships?
0Vaniver11yOf course- hence the increased value of sexual reserve for men I discussed in my first paragraph.
3NancyLebovitz11yI don't know whether the Madonna-Whore complex is universal, and I bet you don't either. Your genetic explanation is a guess. Sex at Dawn [] has a different batch of theories about human sexuality, and at least as plausible. The relevant thing for Sally and Bob is that they've grown up in a culture which is influenced by the Madonna-Whore complex, and there's some risk that it will affect the outcomes of their choices. I don't think people are infinitely malleable, but I think we can get farther by observing the people we've got without jumping into highly abstract theories too quickly.
3Vaniver11yHence, "a lot of," "appear to," and "something like." I'm not sure how valuable it is to talk about culture instead of memes and genes. There are a lot of specific elements we can talk about, and none of them are universal. Saying that the "culture" disapproves of pre-martial sex is as accurate as saying the "culture" approves of pre-marital sex, and since both X and !X are true, X might not be a good way to look at the situation. We could instead talk about the memes approving and disapproving of premarital sex (for men and women respectively), as well as the meme that men and women should be treated equally. For example, I found this comment [] fascinating, because it highlights this interplay of emotions and memes. The meme of "don't make sexual orientation a deciding factor" made him decide to block a neutral-win-win encounter because that would open up the possibility of a lose-win-win encounter, suggesting that in this case the meme's effect was not benign. (I suspect that overall the meme is a beneficial one, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have negative side effects.)
3JulianMorrison11yIt seems obvious to me that culture has complex patterns both whose underlying deep themes and surface manifestations can contradict, and that it is at the ultimate level a non-self-consistent jumble of these themes - which nonetheless span generations and form a recognizable whole. If that isn't usefully called a culture, why not?
3Vaniver11yThe reason I dislike talking about the culture rather than the memes is that it presents the culture as atomic, rather than the memes. If we know the culture has sex-positive and sex-negative elements, why not talk about those elements directly? They're what's interesting, and differentiating between them is valuable. The culture is what you get when you blend them together, and if we're trying to analyze them then distinctness is valuable.
1wedrifid11yI tend to agree with respect to the importance of complex cultural patterns and deep themes. Culture is far more relevant than memes in this context. The more powerful 'memes' floating around here are the ideas Sally has about sexual liberation and health being the important factor - and they are far less important considerations than the underlying cultural and instinctive incentives that her emotions are trying to process for her.
1NancyLebovitz11yI don't see a wide difference between culture and memes (or at least bunches of associated memes), but I do think that memes/culture are more accessible for us than genetic effects on emotions and behavior.
1Eugine_Nier11yI think Vaniver's point is that the word "culture" brings to mind a monolithic entity, whereas the word "memes" brings to mind many different and possibly mutually contradictory, well memes.
0NancyLebovitz11yThat's plausible. I'm apt to think of cultures as made of many subcultures, but I don't think I was when I was replying to Vaniver.
0[anonymous]11ys/valuable/convenient/ You are looking for your keys under the streetlamp.
0[anonymous]11yRoughly: be clearly and unambiguously sexually interested in Bob but delay sex itself for a couple of weeks. It can be more fun that way anyway... spreading out the 'novelty' phase of the relationship a bit longer. (It's a good strategy for Bob, too.) This varies to a ridiculous degree in context and things like age. But in general I'd say the 'madonna-whore' theory is overstated. Partially because I find the described preferences extremely hard to empathize with. My own experienced emotions and observed historical behaviors in no way reflect that pattern.

If you intended to imply that Sally has nagging doubt, I think you should say so more explicitly.

[-][anonymous]11y 0


Umm is there any particular reason why I can't get the Markdown link format to work?

1David_Gerard11yBecause it doesn't work in the story editor at all %-D Click on "HTML" and use plain HTML.
2Swimmer96311yThanks I'll have a go.
0Swimmer96311yIt ate my links!
5David_Gerard11y... >_< It needs a notice: "THIS EDITOR DOES NOT USE MARKDOWN." Or, better, it needs to have a markdown mode.
1atucker11yYes! I'd love it if the editor also used markdown.
2Swimmer96311yConsidering I had to teach myself markdown AND HTML to post on this site, I don't really care what they use, but it would be nice if they stuck to one.
0David_Gerard11yI suspect this is in the class of problems that require someone annoyed by it to sit down and code the fix.
2handoflixue11yOdd question, but how would one go about getting access to the source of LessWrong, and/or submitting proposed changes? I've seen a few feature request, and I'd expect it's probably within my skill range, or reasonably learnable.
2wedrifid11yI just followed my general protocol for such matters. I googled 'lesswrong source code' and saw it as a publicly accessible project on github []. If you fork the repository and commit changes I believe you can issue a 'pull request'. I would also suggest creating a thread in the discussion section describing your newly implemented feature so that people can express their enthusiasm. If people particularly approve I expect it would be easier to get someone to take a look at your implementation.
2kpreid11ySee the last paragraph of About Less Wrong [].
0Sniffnoy11yNote that you don't need to directly edit the HTML if all you want to do is add a link; there's a perfectly good link button for that.
0David_Gerard11yNo, you don't have to :-) I just find the "WYSIWYG" editor even more faff than the HTML editor. YMMV.
0Vladimir_Nesov11yYou also have double newlines everywhere and a lot of newlines at the end of the post.
0Swimmer96311yI did not create those! Will have a go at fixing them though.
0NancyLebovitz11yIt would be helpful to see your non-working attempted post. However, here are mistakes I've made-- leaving a space between the ] and the ( and accidentally typing a curly bracket instead of a square bracket.
0Swimmer96311yThanks but I fixed it... Markdown doesn't work in the story editor, you have to use HTML, and I know next to nothing about HTML but internet tutorials are awesome.
[-][anonymous]7y -4

Individuals who habitually suppress negative emotions tend to find short-term relief, but suffer longer term health consequences, thought suppression and rumination.[15] Not all emotional regulation is bad however,the ability to regulate one’s emotions could determine the amount or quality of ones relationships and social interactions. This idea suggests that people who are able to regulate their emotions should have a higher level of emotional intelligence. Therefore, they develop a deeper understanding of how other people might feel in different situatio... (read more)