1. Cross-sex friendships

I saw a tweet recently that was talking about one of the possible conditions where (heterosexual) men and women have an easy time being “just friends”:

if the “lovers” symbol energy is already bound up in something else, and/or if there is another archetypal relationship that holds more power and more draw for these two, both enough to actually crowd out the call of “lovers” equilibrium

I liked that, but it probably isn’t very clear to everyone. So let me try to explain how I understand it.

A friendship can bring up feelings of affection, closeness, vulnerability, and even sexual attraction. Many people might associate those primarily with a romantic relationship. If the feelings and the association are strong enough and other necessary conditions[1] are in place, the people may feel drawn toward the "shape" of that association. 

In “Goodhart’s Law inside the human mind”, I talked about how automatic pattern completion is a pervasive aspect of human thought. If your balance is slightly off, it feels wrong, and (assuming that you are a healthy able-bodied adult) you are automatically drawn into a posture that feels more right. Or if you have learned a skill slightly wrong and have to unlearn bits of it, it's going to be difficult at first, because the "right" way of doing it feels wrong. Until you relearn what the "right" shape is, you will be automatically drawn back into your old pattern.

There's a model[2] that developing expertise in something is all about learning to perceive things as having particular kinds of shapes, that your mind/body can then automatically fill in.[3] 

  • Learning to walk involves developing a sense of it's like to maintain balance while being upright and moving forward. Eventually, your body comes to automatically carry out the right pattern for maintaining that feeling and correcting deviations from it.
  • Learning to be polite in conversation involves developing a sense of what it's like to be polite to someone. Eventually, your mind comes to automatically carry out the right pattern for maintaining that feeling and correcting deviations from it.
  • Learning to solve systems of algebraic equations involves developing a sense of what it's like to carry out the right steps to solve them. Eventually, your mind comes to automatically carry out the right pattern for maintaining that feeling and correcting deviations from it.

Likewise, if someone has a stored pattern saying that a romantic relationship involves affection, closeness, and vulnerability... and all of those are present in a particular friendship, then it may feel wrong for the sexual attraction to be missing. Like a pattern that's subtly deviating from what it should be, with there being an automatic impulse towards correcting it by adding a sexual component.

There's an observation that many men don't get to experience emotional vulnerability with their male friends. Instead, they associate it as something that can only happen with a woman they are romantically involved with.  

A female friend of mine once had to politely tell a male friend of hers that she wasn't romantically interested in him. "But why have you spent all this time hanging out with me and having these deep conversations with me, then?", was his response. "Uhh, because we're friends?", was hers. 

It was like the pattern of "an emotionally deep friendship with a woman without sex and romance" wasn't available for him, so anything that was creating emotional depth felt like it was obviously moving towards the "romantic relationship" pattern.

Also, you can even have sexual attraction in an otherwise Platonic relationship. People might flirt with each other without ever intending or having an interest in escalating beyond that. Yet, if someone has a pattern where sexual attraction and sexual acts are intrinsically linked together, then this may become a self-fulfilling prophecy where experiencing attraction toward someone might make the person feel like they are compelled to escalate their acts.

But if one's mind has available the pattern of "a friendship that includes affection, closeness, vulnerability, and sexual attraction, while still remaining Platonic"... then it can instead autocomplete to that.

Or if one has a very strong pattern of "I will only have one romantic relationship at a time" and is in a committed relationship, then the thought of one of their friendships also turning romantic may just be so incompatible with that overarching pattern, that it never happens. Any potential for romance gets overwritten by the stronger pattern.

2. Cross-sex friendship frustration as mismatched social stances

There’s a particular kind of pattern that I experience, that I’ve taken to calling a social stance. You could say that it’s a special case of a pattern that one wants to either experience or avoid, where other people’s behavior is also included in the pattern.

Suppose that I'm mostly only aware of two possible relationship patterns that I can have with my friends. One is that of a somewhat emotionally distant friendship, and the other is that of an emotionally close romance. 

A friend now pulls me towards the “romance” pattern, so I start doing things that I feel are associated with that pattern - being vulnerable, telling the other person how much I like that person, and so on.

And now I have the expectation that the other person will reciprocate - that when I act in ways I associate with romance, the other person will also do similar things. For a physical analogy, if friendship is walking with each other and romance is dancing together, then I might start leaning towards the other person and extending my hand - expecting them to grab the hand and join in a dance, hopefully before I lean forward so much that I fall.

I'm using this metaphor because in my experience there's something of an almost kinesthetic feeling of different "stances" people might be in, in different social situations. And someone not sharing the same vocabulary of stances may mean that I feel metaphorically "out of balance", stumbling until I get back to some more recognizable stance. 

I lean towards another person, intending to settle into a "lover" stance. I'm expecting the other to likewise lean toward me, into a "lover" stance. But suppose that the other person instead takes the "close Platonic friend" stance and only leans forward a little bit, and then stops - then I might be caught off-balance and not know what stance I am expected to take. 

In this situation, if I lack the "close Platonic friend" stance, I can only see the other person as being in either the "friend" or the "lover" stance.  To me, it may also feel like they started moving towards the “lovers” stance, only to then pull back and go back to the “friends” stance. 

A less metaphorical way of describing the experience is that it feels like the other person is acting erratically and inconsistently, maybe even leading me on. Do they want to be lovers or not? Sometimes they seem to want that, when they are emotionally vulnerable, but at other times they don’t seem to, when they reject romantic advances. What’s going on?

In this situation, I see there being a “two people becoming lovers” pattern and I try to complete it, the same way I would try to complete other patterns. But as it involves two people, I can’t complete it alone - I can only do my part and then let the other person do theirs. And since they are perceiving the situation through the lens of a different pattern, they don't respond the way that I am expecting (indeed, they might be totally unaware of the fact that there’s anything going on that I might be frustrated by).

Some of this may happen even if one has an intellectual understanding of what’s going on. Expectations about social stances are frequently stored as emotional schemas. Even if one part of my mind has an intellectual concept of a deep Platonic friendship, the part of my mind that experiences the other person's behavior as ambivalent doesn’t necessarily have it. So I may be able to make the conscious decision to stay as just friends, even as this causes discomfort as different interactions keep swinging my emotional expectations between “this person is just my friend and I should have the ‘friend’ stance” and “this person could become my romantic partner and I can move towards the ‘lovers’ stance”. 

This is not the only possible failure mode. It can also happen that I understand the other person is not interested in me (possibly because they are already in a committed monogamous relationship) and I'm actually not romantically interested in them either. But, I am afraid that they will interpret certain kinds of emotional intimacy as me trying to get them to do something inappropriate. As a result, I end up avoiding the kind of intimacy that I might want, but fear would send the wrong message.

This isn't necessarily wrong - if they do have a pattern where such intimacy is only associated with sex or romance, then they might very well interpret things in that way. But if I don't see this as a pattern that people might or might not share, then it might never even occur to me that this person (as well as that person's partner) could also be totally fine with that level of intimacy.

3. The unhelpful interviewer’s stance

book on counseling technique that I was reading included this excerpt (thankfully as an example of what not to do):

Nor is it necessary to be coy and avoid giving information, as in this example:

CLIENT: So how do people find a job in this area?

INTERVIEWER: You’re really wondering about that.


INTERVIEWER: You’re curious how people get jobs.

CLIENT: Yes, I am.

INTERVIEWER: And you wish someone could give you some ideas.

CLIENT: Yes! Do you have any?

INTERVIEWER: You’d like to know if I have any ideas.

If you’re like me, that passage was almost painful to read. I imagine that the client is getting increasingly frustrated during this conversation - in the second-to-last line, I read them almost getting excited that the interviewer is finally about to answer, only for the client’s hopes to be dashed again. Or maybe the client didn’t get excited at that point, and it was rather their frustration building up to a point that they asked the question a bit more pointedly.

The way people usually expect conversation to go is that a question-asking stance is followed by something like an answering stance from the other person. You ask how people find a job, and the other person answers to the best of their ability - or says that they don’t know, or at least somehow acknowledges that an ask has been made. Quite possibly, the client may perceive the interviewer as having a stance that’s something like “being intentionally frustrating”. 

This may or may not be the interviewer’s actual experience. If, for instance, the interviewer has been taught that reflecting the other person’s words back is just good active listening (and they have taken this lesson a little too far), the interviewer may experience themselves as being in some other stance, such as “being a good and empathetic listener who encourages the client to find their own solutions”.

Regardless of what the interviewer’s experience is, the way I imagine the client responding is by a desire to dislodge the interviewer from that stance and get them to just answer the fucking question.

4. Social stances as physical stances and vice versa

I suspect that these things feel to me natural to describe in terms of "stances" because they are in fact employing some of the same machinery involved in physical stances. 

A very physical kind of stance might be someone aggressively yelling and coming at you. You might respond to this by getting startled and instinctively drawing back. The aggressive person has something like an attacking stance, while you have a defensive stance. Or you might respond more aggressively yourself, in which case you might go into a fighting stance. 

These stances mobilize different kinds of reactions and processes in your body because they are preparing you for different kinds of physical responses (attacking or defending/fleeing). You orient to them differently, both in terms of literal physical orientation and what kinds of things you pay attention to (a person in an aggressive stance might look for openings in their opponent's defenses, and a person in a frightened stance might look around to find help or an escape route). 

In the example above, the interviewer might be focusing on ways in which they feel like they are doing "good listening", while client may be focusing on the question of "how do I get this fucker to respond already". And you also orient differently to a person depending on whether they are a friend or a lover - which also includes differences on a purely physical level and the kinds of hormones etc. that your body releases when interacting with them.

If you are having a physical fight with another person, you probably want to maintain the kinds of stances that let you fight well while sabotaging their stance - so that they e.g. fall down on their face and can’t defend themselves. And sabotaging the interviewer's stance may be exactly what the client would have wanted to do. 

If you are a trained martial artist, you may have been taught to maintain different kinds of explicitly defined stances. They have become patterns that your body seeks to automatically maintain and to transition between them in the right circumstances. And if your opponent goes into a particular stance, you may know to react by going into another one yourself.

Separately, in dance, you have various positions where you hold your body in a particular way while trusting your dance partner to hold their body in a compatible way. If the other person doesn’t move in ways that are compatible with yours, the dance may fall apart. It's collaborative rather than confrontational, but it still involves responding to the other person's pattern with a pattern of your own.

Social stances feel to me analogous to physical stances in that people learn to experience themselves as being in one stance and another person as being in a different stance. They also learn various expectations about how to transition from one stance to another. These transitions may be collaborative or adversarial. And like physical stances, it may feel acutely unstable and uncomfortable to be in a position that’s partway between two stances.

5. Misunderstood stances

I’ve been in situations where it feels like the other person perceives me to be inhabiting a stance I don’t feel like I have. I say something and they respond in anger, but I don’t quite get what exactly it is that they’re arguing against.

It feels like they’re trying to push me but I’m kind of incorporeal. So they keep pushing but it doesn’t really affect me in any way, and I just remain faintly puzzled.

Sometimes I’m upset at someone and try to lash at them with my words, but it feels like their stance is off from what would be required for my offensive to work. As a result, it feels like my words keep either glancing off or missing entirely. In those cases, I feel like their stance is that they are saying X, so I try to argue against the X - but they probably experience themselves as saying something completely different.

This kind of thing seems to happen pretty often online.

Person A: “I like blueberries.”

Person B: “So you think that romantic comedies should be banned?! Don’t you have any human decency?”

Person A: “Huh, what?”

Person B: “Just admit that you are secretly jealous of all the actors in romantic comedies!”

Person A: “...I only said that I like blueberries?”

Person B: “See? See? You said you like blueberries! So you admit that you hate romantic comedies!”

Person A: “... uhh, okay.”

6. A few more stances and related expectations

Here are a few more examples[4] of expectations that people might have - sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly - that I can experience in terms of stances. Many of these have a symmetric complement, e.g. if B expects that A expressing upset puts an obligation to B to take care of that upset, then A may also have (or not have) that expectation.

  • Person A taking a stance of being self-deprecating and expecting person B to take a supportive stance in return (“Now I know my art isn’t good…” “Don’t say that, you have great art!”)
  • Person A sharing something about themselves and person B sharing something of a similar nature in return, where B finds themselves as taking a reciprocative stance and expecting A to react positively (“I’ve been having difficulties getting my taxes done” “Oh yeah that always happens to me too”)
  • Person A expressing upset and person B feeling like this puts an obligation on B to take a helping stance
  • Person A being ask culture and asking B for a favor, expecting that B can choose how to respond to A’s asking stance
  • Person A being guess culture and feeling like they are compelled to respond to an ask with a helping stance
  • Person A acting helpless and saying that they’re unable to do something, with the expectation that this will shift person B into a rescuer stance
  • Person A coming across as helpless to person B, with B feeling like A is basically begging for help and like B has to comply with a rescuer stance to A’s victim-like helpless stance (“Okay let me do that for you”) (“Hey I never asked for your help”) (“Well what was I supposed to do, just leave you hanging there?”)
  • Person A asking if person B wants to hang out, getting a “would like to but too busy right now”, and expecting that B will feel pressured if A persists in asking again later - causing A to take a respectful stance of not asking again
  • Person A asking if person B wants to hang out, getting a “would like to but too busy right now”, and expecting that B will feel glad if A takes the initiative in asking again later - causing A to take a friendly stance of asking again
  • Person A sharing something about their feelings, and expecting person B to take a stance of offering emotional support (“Things are going really badly at work today…” “Oh no, how do you feel about it?”)
  • Person A sharing something about their feelings, and expecting person B to take a stance of problem-solving (“Things are going really badly at work today…” “Oh no, what have you tried to change that?”)
  • Person A taking an upset stance in response to something that person B said, and expecting to B to take a guilty stance that implies B was in the wrong to upset A. (“What? That pisses me off.” “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to…”)
  • Person A taking an upset stance in response to something that person B said, and not expecting B to take any stance in particular (“What? That’s pisses me off.” “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to…” “It’s okay, I didn’t mean you did anything wrong - I was just sharing how I felt”)
  • Person A having an enthusiastic stance about something and expecting person B to also react with an enthusiastic stance (“Did you hear about Elvis coming to town? Isn’t that great!” “Oh wow Elvis?”)
  • Person A taking a playful teasing stance and expecting person B to respond with a similarly playful stance ("Hey, did you get lost on your way here again?" "Haha, you know me, navigationally challenged!")
  • Person A showing vulnerability and expecting person B to take a comforting and reassuring stance ("I'm feeling really insecure about my presentation tomorrow." "Don't worry, you've prepared well, and I know you'll do great.")
  • Person A taking an advice-seeking stance and expecting person B to respond with an expertise stance ("I'm not sure which career path to choose, any thoughts?" "Well, considering your skills and interests, I would recommend...")
  • Person A expressing excitement about an accomplishment and expecting person B to take a congratulatory stance ("I just got a promotion at work!" "That's amazing, congratulations!")
  • Person A taking a defensive stance during a disagreement and expecting person B to take a conciliatory stance ("I don't think I was wrong in that situation." "Okay, I understand where you're coming from, let's find a compromise.")
  • Person A admitting a mistake and expecting person B to take a forgiving stance ("I'm sorry I forgot our anniversary." "It's okay, we all make mistakes. Let's celebrate it this weekend instead.")
  • Person A sharing a personal struggle and expecting person B to take a compassionate stance ("I've been feeling really down lately." "I'm sorry to hear that, do you want to talk about it?")
  • Person A taking a supportive stance towards person B's goals and expecting person B to feel motivated and appreciative ("I believe in you, you can achieve anything you set your mind to!" "Thank you, that means a lot to me.")
  • Person A expressing a need for space or solitude and expecting person B to take an understanding stance ("I think I need some time alone right now." "Of course, take all the time you need.")
  • Person A sharing a humorous story or joke and expecting person B to take an amused stance ("So then the chicken says, 'Why did the human cross the road?'" "Haha, that's a good one!")
  • Person A expressing a concern and expecting person B to take a validating stance ("I'm worried about this upcoming deadline." "I understand, it's a lot of pressure, but I know you can handle it.")
  • Person A taking an appreciative stance and expecting person B to take a humble stance ("Your presentation was fantastic!" "Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it, but I couldn't have done it without my team.")
  • Person A sharing a personal interest or hobby and expecting person B to take an interested stance ("I've been getting into photography lately." "That's cool! What kind of photos do you enjoy taking?")

7. Why is all of this interesting?

Someone might (somewhat uncharitably) say that this whole post is just a complicated way of saying that “people might have mismatched expectations of each other”. And in a way, it is. Why am I spending so many words on this?

I think the important thing to notice is that if you can frame this kind of thing as being about mismatched expectations, you’re already halfway to the point of solving the problem. But what commonly happens is that these kinds of things do not feel like “expectations”, they feel like reality.

Imagine that you are a large language model. You are given the sentence and you continue it. You don’t have any sense of what it is that you are doing, you just recognize the pattern and you complete it. To the extent you can be said to “think” at all, you just think that this is the correct pattern.

Now imagine that you are a human, whose cognition does a lot of pattern recognition and is filled with entities that act like LLMs. You have seen lots of people act in a particular way in a particular situation, and you yourself have been both rewarded for doing so, and occasionally punished for not doing so.

When you next the hear that question, the LLM-like entity in your mind doesn’t really know that it has been trained by a combination of pattern recognition and reinforcement learning to perceive this as the correct pattern and to output it. To the extent that it can be said to think at all, it just thinks that “this is the pattern to output here”, and part of its prediction about what’s going to happen next is output into the global workspace of your consciousness

Suppose now that its model of the situation is wrong, somehow.

In the theory of predictive processingprecision refers to the amount of uncertainty that a prediction has - if you are in a dark room where you can’t see very well, the signal from your eyes has low precision, and you are more likely to fall back on your priors of what you expect to see (the thing in front of you kind of looks like a person, but you know you’re in your own home with nobody else around, so it’s probably just your lamp). Whereas if you could see very well and you saw what looked like a person standing in your room, the signal from your eyes would be assigned high precision. This would overrule your prior belief that you are home alone and you would then be quite surprised (and probably startled).

If there is a particular pattern that has always seemed correct to you, and you think you understand the social situation well, then the predictions of the LLM-like entity in your mind might be treated as having high precision. When a pattern fails to complete the way it was predicted to, the brain might simply ignore that failure as noise and fall back to its prior of “this is the correct pattern”. As a result, the LLM-like entity may keep trying to complete the same pattern over and over, despite it failing to work - even as the system as a whole notices that something is off, possibly reacting with increasing frustration. Since its own prediction and behavior is treated as being correct, the reasonable inference is that there’s something wrong with the environment that's causing the frustration - typically, that the other person is doing something wrong.

But if your brain also happens to contain the pattern of “this is the feeling of I and someone else having mismatched patterns”... then another LLM-like entity observing the contents of your workspace might notice that. It can then bring up the hypothesis that maybe there’s actually nothing wrong with either of you, you just have incompatible patterns.

In my experience, there is a particular feeling (or felt sense) associated with both my experience of my own stance, and my experience of the stance that someone else is in. If I notice any of the following:

  • That there’s a social situation where I have the expectation that if I do X, then I will get something or another person will react in a particular way, and that expectation keeps getting frustrated
  • That I find I myself repeatedly taking some social action even after seeing that it didn’t work before
  • That I feel disappointed or angry at someone because I feel like they didn’t “do their part” or reciprocate to something that I offered, even though I intellectually think that they were under no obligation to do so

Then that’s a cue for noticing that I might have an implicit pattern about how I expect particular stances to interact with each other. (In other words, my mind autocompletes any of the above cues to the pattern of “I’m now acting based off an implicit pattern that may not be shared”.)

This post is an attempt to help in building up a meta-pattern (or if you already have one like that, making it clearer and offering more examples) of “this is a situation where my social patterns might be mismatched with someone else’s”, that then lets you consider other possible actions when you notice it. It’s very useful, in my experience, to have “mismatched patterns” as a pattern that one’s mind can recognize. And if I only said “there are situations where you have mismatched expectations”, that wouldn’t be very helpful in helping to actually notice when you were in a situation like that.

I have used the analogy of a stance because to me it feels like there’s an almost kinesthetic component involved in my felt sense of the states that I describe as “stances”. If there’s something similar in your experience, describing it in these terms might draw your attention to it and help you notice it. Of course, it’s also possible that your mind works differently, and you need to find something else that works for you. That’s why I have also described some other possible cues, such as the sense of increasing frustration that I imagined the client to be having when the interviewer wasn’t responding to this question.


  1. ^

    Like being straight or bisexual when the friend is of the opposite sex.

  2. ^

    The works that I'm mostly heavily drawing on are Peak, Sources of Power, and The Art of Learning, though it has been a little while since I read any of them, so my wording may be quite far from their literal wording.

  3. ^

    In these examples, I’m using the terms “sense” and “feeling” in a way that may be slightly nonstandard, in that I assume that they can also be unconscious. For example, I will sometimes have the experience of realizing that I've been feeling hungry or otherwise physically uncomfortable for a while, but hadn't been consciously aware of it before. And the kinds of feelings and senses that I'm talking about here are often mostly unconscious or just barely on the edge of conscious awareness unless something either goes wrong - you might not notice it when you're feeling in balance, but you will probably notice when you feel out of balance - or the person has a practice like meditation or Focusing that's explicitly about bringing those feelings into awareness. The literature that I’m drawing on is more agnostic about this, and often uses more generic terms like “mental representation” to describe what exactly it is that a person develops.

  4. ^

    Thanks to GPT-4 for several of these, including some which I felt were better than my original examples.


New Comment
32 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:41 AM

After reading your post, I realized that I see the term "romantic" as pretty void of meaning. 
Compare these 3:

1. Friendship (caring, vulnerability, bonding)

2. Friendship+sex (friends with benefits, caring, vulnerability, bonding and intercourse)

3. Romantic relationship (friendship + sex +...?)

I do not see anything obvious happening between options 2 and 3. "Romantic" does not seem to add any specific feelings or behaviors, with the possible exception of the expectation of monogamy, which in itself does not generate any new feelings if kept, only new feelings if NOT kept.

Therefore, I would weakly suggest we try to taboo "romantic" and "love", until we figure out what those terms actually mean, and how they differ from friendship in actual content not in social perception.

Thinking about that, made me follow down into the rabbit hole further. In society, we see a strong, if fuzzy defined structure of a "Couple" (romantic partners, Married etc). There seems to be an expectation that a Couple should be "Romantically In Love" but there seems to be no strong correlation between official Couple-status and romantic behaviors (however defined). There does not seem to even be a strong correlation between Couple status and friendship, or Couple Status and sex (plenty of Couples who are not really meaningfully friends, and plenty of couples with no sex life or below basic-needs sex life).

The cultural definition suggests that what makes a Couple ad Couple, regardless of the above, is the feeling of Romantic Love, but I don't see any workable definition of Romantic Love that does not simply combine Friendship+Sex, so I feel like we are running in circles.

It might be that these issues come from misunderstandings of social stances, but I feel like a part of it is that the Meme of Romantic Love is meta to actual one-on-one human relations, and instead is a top-down group belief, or possibly even a Belief-in-Belief,  that most of us conform to rather than actually believe in. It might not be that our expectations do not match each other, but that they try to match a cultural meme that has no actual physical reality behind it.

Part of the reason why I think that, is that historically, the definition of Romantic Love was quite weak. Every few centuries or so it would pop-up among the idle classes, and then fade away. Friendships and sexual attractions, are pretty well defined, and are either ingrained in our biology completely, or so culturally non-controversial, that you could talk about friendship with an Ancient Greek, or a Sentinel Islander, or an Inuit, and their definitions would match yours, but their definition of Romance could very well be alien to you, or non existent.

It sounds like you're aromantic.

Possibly, but to know that, I would have to be shown definition of what Romantic Love actually is, aside from "deep friendship+sex".  Even the Wikipedia article on Romance/Love lists a whole bunch of contradicting definitions that boil down to one of:

1. Friendship and sex (Emotional Bond+ Physical Bond).

2. Biological mate bonding to create offspring.

3. "...You know, that lyrical, limerical, ephemeral thing that we all experience, so we won't define it..."

My guess is that answer 3 is basically social memetics to cover and normalize that love is basically 2 by way of 1. 

And since asexual people supposedly feel Love as well, this means that Love is essentially an intense desire for Friendship that forms a lasting bond.


Do you recognise Limerance? I was going to say that despite not being aromantic, I find it hard to pin down exactly what distinguishes romantic love from a certain kind of friendship + sexual attraction. But on reflection, I think limerance (or something like it) is basically the missing piece. (In fact, I think that when people talk about romantic love, they are more reliably referring to something that contains limerance than to something that contains deep friendship.)

I honestly cannot recall I ever felt limerence, even when I felt love. This led me to research it, and it seems like limerence is a highly culture specific, and is likely more a cultural meme than an emotion inherent to human brains. If I were to guess, I would say limerence is a side effect of the emotional and sexual frustration of the young and inexperienced humans who dabble in their first relationships, and since hearing/gossiping/reading about other people's romantic frustrations is exciting, it became a meme.

To support this theory, we see much greater emphasis on limerence/limerice/limerance in cultures and ages when virginity until marriage was considered sacred, and young people were gender-segregated. In free-love egalitarian cultures, we see remarkably little dramatic limerice, and in fact, we see attempts by the youth to artificially create romantic drama (ex: going out of their way to date dangerous people, or pining over an inaccessible celebrity) to achieve a semblance of limerice.

As we grew in numbers and social complexity, it is easy to encounter someone with a completely different desire/expectation of limerance in their life, which I think is the reason romantic relationships became so difficult.

Unsurprisingly, there seems to be very little desire for limerice among LWers and rationalists in general, which explains why a higher-than-average number of us are single, or dating fellow rationalists.

There's a difference between "having a desire for limerence" and "being the person capable of developing limerence." Some people may not have a desire for it, but they get limerent pretty quickly with the right triggers. (Some people may even hate the fact that their brain does this because it keeps getting them into bad situations, but they keep developing limerence and are a slave to it.)

This led me to research it, and it seems like limerence is a highly culture specific, and is likely more a cultural meme than an emotion inherent to human brains.

It's a distinct emotional state comparable to being on a powerful drug. So, it can't just be a cultural meme. Of course, it could be that the frequency with which the emotional state is elicited is culture-dependent. (Just like some culture have a higher/lower prevalence of depression.)What's also culture-dependent is whether you romanticize limerence or whether you look at it as something dysfunctional. As you mention, some people seem to think good romance requires limerence. I think that's irrational (unless you care more about the "hedonics" of being in love than finding someone actually compatible). 

I agree that there's a connection from limerence to drama – though this is for indirect correlational reasons rather than limerence being defined through drama.

If I were to guess, I would say limerence is a side effect of the emotional and sexual frustration of the young and inexperienced humans who dabble in their first relationships,

I suspect the same thing, I think it might have to do with unmet needs and the fantasy of fulfilling them all through this one ideal person you met (who you don't really know yet, but you're projecting onto them everything that can fix your loneliness/pain). (It can be completely non-sexual). What I don't understand is how you go from the description "side effect from frustration" to "it's a cultural meme." Depression is an emotional state that we could describe as being a side effect of unmet needs as well, but this doesn't make it a cultural meme. 

I think there also might be a lot genetic variation to people's propensity to develop limerence?

It would be fascinating if propensity for limerence was genetically determined, because limerence directly influences our mating/breeding habits. For one, teen pregnancy might very well be a side effect of this.

My guess is that answer 3 is basically social memetics to cover and normalize that love is basically 2 by way of 1.

Then you're aromantic with 100% certainty.

I'm not aro and I 100% agree with the suggestion to taboo the concept of "romantic" (as attached to the word "relationship", other than as a shorthand for "relationship where both parties experience romantic feelings"). Properly reduced, the things described as love and romance are experiences internal to individuals rather than a property of relationships. (Otherwise unrequited love would not be a thing.)

AFAICT, the thing that distinguishes very-close-friends-with-benefits is the ooey gooey feeling that one's Other is very Significant, and that one would like to express that significance in sweet, silly, earnest, or otherwise excessive ways. But outside these feelings and the expression thereof, the relationship itself is not necessarily different from VCFWB in any practical respect!

Of course, some people have trouble with the concept that you can be VCFWB and not have romantic feelings about it, or believe you shouldn't be FWB at all without it, or don't know how you can even be VCF unless it's a romantic relationship, etc. (I believe that is the confusion the post is pointing at, generally: that it's common for the socialization of men in particular to license vulnerability or intimacy with VCFs only in a "romantic" context.)

But for people who are inclined to having VCF (with or without the B), talking about the relationship as being romantic makes little sense, since romantic feelings and expression are individual, non-obligatory, and indeed personally idiosyncratic (or else "love languages" would not be a thing).

In that regard, should we assume that the missing component that makes love "romantic" or "limeric" is irrationality?

My instinct is that if someone has a gooey, excessive feeling that the other is Significant it counts as romantic, but if one had a rational, evidence based belief that the other is Significant, it would not be considered romantic enough, even if the feeling of emotional bond would be much more resilient in the second example.

To use a more concrete example:

1. Bill meets Alice and falls madly in love with her. He does irrational, excessively symbolic and juvenile things to impress her. They break up anyway after a turbulent 3 months. Their Love is Romantic.

2. Frank meets Jane on a professional dating app, and they see with perfect clarity that their values, ideologies, libidos, tastes and lifestyles are perfectly aligned. They marry and spent 57 years together in an easy bliss, until they die. Their relationship would not be qualified as romantic, even though it generated more happiness and a stronger bond.

Therefore, I would suggest that the important component of romance are: irrationality, excessiveness, emotional risk and playing against bad statistical odds. In other words, drama.

I've been married just under 27 years now, and ooey gooeyness has been on a long slow uptrend, so I don't think that irrationality, drama, or short-livedness have anything to do with it. We were together for five years before that, and I asked her to marry me because at some point it became obvious that I couldn't see spending the rest of my life without her.

Granted, the first year or two of knowing each other was rather turbulent, but during that time I mostly didn't see her as The One or really even very Significant. That was something that took time, moving from FWBs to VCFWBs to romantic feels.

I think that drama is what we see portrayed in media as romantic, but that's because the genre of said media is drama (or comedy). And just generally, things in media have to be made more dramatic in order to be entertaining. It's usually not considered entertainment to see two people who are sweet on each other break into smiles every time they see each other and practically moan at any form of physical contact with one another -- unless the genre of the piece is "slice of life" or "fluff", and most popular media is not that.

But outside these feelings and the expression thereof, the relationship itself is not necessarily different from VCFWB in any practical respect!

That sounds like you named two differences between a non-romantic relationship and a romantic one?

I'm assuming "relationship" here means something like "the explicit structure and boundaries of behavior as agreed upon by the parties" - friends, friends with benefits, marriage, polycule etc. People's romantic feelings and expressions are rarely something that's part of a relationship's explicit structure, even if people often have a lot of implicit expectations about them. (And any of those named structures can include romantic feelings, or a lack thereof.)

I understand. So, just to be sure I'm not misinterpreting, the expression of romantic feelings isn't a part of the explicit structure of the relationship, but the expression of the feelings of friendship is.

Nope - expression of feelings of friendship isn't part of the explicit structure of friendship either. Lots of people are friends without saying anything about it.

All I've really said here is that the difference between VCFWB and a "romantic" relationship is difficult to discern, especially from the outside, and given that the nature of "romance" is both internal and optional to the relationship. If a pair of VCFWB's stop having sex or hanging out or cuddling, it's hard to say they're still in a VCFWB relationship. But if people in a "romantic" relationship stop acting romantic with one another, they can still be said to be in a "romantic" relationship.

The overall point here is that describing "romantic" as if it is a property of a relationship rather than a property of people's feelings is not a good carving of reality at the joints. People can have romantic feelings (or expression thereof) without having any relationship at all, let alone one with reciprocal romantic feelings.

(Indeed, romantic feelings are quite orthogonal to the type and nature of the relationship itself: the term "friend zone" highlights this point.)

So, from an epistemic view, my take is that it's not only useless but confusing to describe a relationship as being romantic, since it's not meaningfully a property of the relationship, but rather a set of feelings that come and go for (and about) parties in the relationship. How many feelings must happen? How often? Must they be reciprocal? Is it still romantic if neither party feels that way any more? What if they didn't start out that way but are now?

I think that the bundle of things called "romantic relationship" are much better described structurally in terms of behavior, in order to avoid cultural projections and mismatched expectations between partners. One person might use it to mean "marriage for life", while another might mean "passionate weekend affair", after all! These more structurally-defined relationships can both be labeled a "romantic relationship" but this does not do a good job of defining a shared vision and expectations for the parties in said relationship.

IOW, I believe that everyone is better off taboo-ing the phrase "romantic relationship" in any serious discussion about relationships -- especially a relationship they'll personally be involved in!

It seems like your model is more specific than just “people have mismatched expectations.” There, the possibilities are endless.

I see your model as more positive: “people have sometimes just a handful of relationship types that they associate very strongly with mostly separate and unambiguous clusters of signals. Call this their ‘social stance repertoire’. But two people may have different social stance repertoires, and this leads to mismatched expectations.”

I think this suggests helpful and productive ways of getting more clear. We can imagine a “social stance inventory” discussion where two people talk about the categories they have and what signals feel connected to them.

I strongly upvoted this for various reasons (it seems intuitively right, it's well written, it's well thought out, it has subheads, IT ONLY INDIRECTLY INVOLVES AI), but I think it would benefit greatly from more citations/evidence.  More and more lately, I find myself bouncing off of text that makes claims without invoking outside evidence pretty frequently (maybe because the chat AIs seem to cite evidence very infrequently).  If I hadn't come in already agreeing with the claims, I would have felt frustrated and might not have updated much, although it's hard to say.

Yeah, this is meant to be read in the style of learning soft skills; try it on to see if it gives you useful lenses and keep whatever seems to work, discarding anything that doesn't make sense to you.

I did have a few cites in the cases when I was pulling from specific concrete theories (theories of expertise, global workspace theory and predictive processing, though the PP link went to a review of the book I was pulling from rather than the book itself), but large parts of the model are mostly just a synthesis of personal experience in ways where I'd have to think quite a bit for each specific claim to know where exactly I've originally derived it from. It's easier for me to just respond in the comments if anyone has questions about any particular bit.

I wonder if we can use this idea to interpret some of the friction both within the LW/EA communities and between the LW/EA world and non-participants.

Here, long, detailed analyses in a neutral but confident tone don’t usually read to me as attempts to project “epistemic authority” (ie to say “I am an expert, defer to me”). But I’ve explicitly gotten feedback that it comes across this way in online forums outside LW/EA. Here, we have a pretty well understood stance for “articulating my personal beliefs and evidence for them for collective inspection.” To others, that might come across as being a bunch of know-it-alls or cranks.

One thing I’m curious about is people’s level of “social stance relativism.” How willing are people to admit that there are multiple valid social stance schemas? Or to adjust to match somebody else’s, or to conform to the expectations in a workplace or role? To admit somebody else’s might be as good or better than theirs? To adopt a common social scheme instead of advancing their own idiosyncratic one? And where are people incentivized to be flexible, vs to enforce their own schema on others?

This feels like an idea where there’s an appearance of flexibility and opportunity for greater mutual understanding, but maybe also a surprising level of rigidity and even active ongoing conflict when you try, since there’s a need for commonly understood social stance schema and trying to import your own could be disruptive. Plus, if there are (as I experience) high switching costs, people would have reason to fight for their own standard to be adopted.

One thing I’m curious about is people’s level of “social stance relativism.” How willing are people to admit that there are multiple valid social stance schemas? 

I feel like I intellectually think that there are lots of valid schemas (though they may have different sets of tradeoffs, such as the way guess culture has different tradeoffs than ask culture). Though emotionally I often find it annoying and effortful if I have to employ different ones that I'm most used to. :) 

That smiley being a good example - to me it connotes friendliness and non-seriousness, but apparently, some younger people find it more ambiguous and possibly even passive-aggressive and would use something like "lol" in its place. And I feel really reluctant to do that because those strings have totally different meanings to me.

another thing I consider common, is that a person who is overly flexible in changing their stance, and overly "fluent" in various social stances comes of as untrustworthy, suspicious, even dangerous. In the height of the PUA/NLP craze, these kind of people were called "social robots", and their behavior either made people fall for their charisma easily, or be extremely creeped out.

I think humans subconsciously expect some social stance misunderstandings, pushback from people with different stances, and that it would take at least some struggle to convince someone to match your stance. If the other person immediately shifts to a compatible stance, even one incongruous with their previous behavior, it catches us of-guard.

When I was younger, my own feelings were the main social signals I relied on to help me navigate relationships. My own feelings of sexual attraction seemed to mean "maybe there's a potential romantic relationship developing between us." Anxiety seemed to mean "maybe these people don't like me, or maybe this person's angry with me." Shame seemed to mean "maybe I have done something wrong."

And this isn't crazy! Social feelings are often at least partially the result of how we relate to each other. The idea that "I am attracted to you because you're doing something on purpose to make me feel that way" is a really problematic idea, but also this is a real thing that happens. People do try to kindle feelings of attraction in each other. The problem is with attaching justifications for one's own bad behavior (i.e. ideas of "asking for it").

As I matured, I started doing something slightly more sophisticated. This was reading signals of relationship into conscious behaviors. If a woman I was friendly with invited me into her bedroom for a non-sexual reason, that might be a signal that she was sexually interested in me. If somebody didn't show up for my birthday party, that meant they didn't like me, and if they invited me to an event, it meant they did. A person who smiled at me when we saw each other probably liked me and wanted to be friends.

This was definitely better, not only because it was more accurate, though far from perfectly so, but also because it led me to be less reactive to my immediate emotional state. Feeling anxiety no longer also meant "I have to fix this relationship rift." It just meant "I need to take care of my discomfort."

At this point in my life, I still use implicit signals, but I recognize them as poor-quality evidence that's mainly only useful for navigating life in the moment. If I have a tense phone conversation with my long-distance partner, I'll make it a point to have a "relationship repair" conversation later, just to be on the safe side and keep mostly happy vibes between us. But I don't assume that just because the call was tense, that there's some anxiety between us. I have plenty of evidence that sometimes, an apparent calm is masking real tension, and apparent tension is from something else entirely.

So what I lean on a lot more are explicit signals. I will tell people in no uncertain terms things like "I really enjoy your company," or "X makes me feel frustrated," or "I'd like to get to know you better."

I might start thinking of this as Portable Tell Culture.

Logan defines Tell Culture as:

1) Tell the other person what's going on in your own mind whenever you suspect you'd both benefit from them knowing. (Do NOT assume others will accurately model your mind without your help, or that it will even occur to them to ask you questions to eliminate their ignorance.)

2) Interpret things people tell you as attempts to create common knowledge for shared benefit, rather than as requests or as presumptions of compliance.

I think there are significant risks associated with many "tells." I think the Kelly model of betting is appropriate: you're trying to maximize the "growth rate" for your life satisfaction through a series of positive-EV bets on "tells," which often have basically a "success" or "failure" outcome. In this model, some "tell bets" are inflexibly oversized, putting the teller at risk of ruin even if the expected value is positive. In those cases, you should not tell the other person what's going on in your own mind.

And of course, you don't always have the opportunity to declare "tell culture," and where it's not for-sure operating, you sometimes would be most accurate in interpreting "tells" as requests or presumptions of compliance. Certainly, you can't expect other people to interpret your own "tells" as mere "tells," especially if you are a high status person. I suspect keeping these two principles in mind would prevent many a sex scandal.

But in Portable Tell Culture, the focus is on taking appropriately-sized "tell bets," given a context in which there's a real but acceptable risk they'll be misinterpreted as requests, presumptions of compliance, and so on. I jump between many social settings, and I wouldn't trust a full "Tell Culture" to be real and consistent and durable, even if its participants claimed it was - and I would find it confusing or risky to switch in and out of that mode. 

But Portable Tell Culture is something I can take with me everywhere I go, and I find that it makes my life work better the more I lean into it.

For a while now, I have been trying out something that I think would be compatible with your Portable Tell Culture, a thing I would call a Passive Tell or a Passive Frame. Basically, the idea is that my outward presentation and behavior is always well matched with my actual internal beliefs, and I consciously use social stereotypes and stylistic cues to make it obvious. 

Without getting into any specifics, I'm exactly the kind of a guy you would think I was after a first glance, and my words, actions, behavior, even fashion, matches the social stereotype that I internally resemble the most. Im exactly what it says on the tin, and a book that you can judge by the cover.

This came as a result of an experiment in radical honesty I started 2 years ago. Trying to limit lying, and deceptive presentation to a limit meant that I had to wear my internal beliefs openly and passively advertise them, which naturally filters the possible social interactions and types of people I interact with to those Im compatible with.

Strong upvoted. This post (especially as it relates to ask/guess culture) puts into words what I've previously referred to vaguely as "spiritual differences". I'm hopeful that I can train myself to recognize mismatched stances and pivot instead of concluding that someone else and I have incompatible personalities

I have used the analogy of a stance because to me it feels like there’s an almost kinesthetic component involved in my felt sense of the states that I describe as “stances”.

I had never thought about this before, but upon very brief reflection, it's highly true of me. For example, I have a certain posture and set of behaviors I routinely use when interacting with people of the opposite sex who are not my SO or family. Some components are:

  1. Continuing to do whatever I was doing, to some extent (contrast with stopping whatever I am doing and attending fully to the person)
  2. Pointing my torso at about a 30-degree angle to the left of their midline
  3. Looking at them directly with my eyes but with my head also pointed slightly away from their midline

I think this is probably a subconscious effort to signal lack of romantic interest to both 1) the person and 2) my SO, if ze is present.

looking at your components 1,2,3, I noticed that these are the same I would use when I signal "this interaction is on a timer" trying to communicate that the other person is kinda wasting my time, and they should be brief with their signals and move on. It is less "Im busy, please go away" but more "you have 90 seconds of my attention span, say your piece".

Maybe the stance with the opposite sex people we are not interested with is defined not just by intensity (or lack thereof) but timespan.

not just by intensity (or lack thereof) but timespan.

This seems right. It's sort of unfortunate, because I find most people interesting, and I like being friends with people, but all the signaling associated with those things happens against the backdrop of what everyone else thinks it means when opposite-sex people talk to each other for more than 90 seconds, and the very belief that men and women can't be "just friends" functions as a strong prior affecting 1) outside observers and 2) the person I am talking to.

against the backdrop of what everyone else thinks it means when opposite-sex people talk to each other for more than 90 seconds

Everyone else? :)

XD once again, I am reminded that the level of precision I use in my legal writing is the appropriate level of precision for communicating with everyone on Lesswrong. (Yes, everyone!)

Mature adults of the opposite sex can have genuine friendships, after they both are married and have kids, that’s common enough at least from where I am from. And before that, friends-with benefits scenarios are relatively common.

A pure unalloyed friendship without any sex or romance is definitely pretty rare among unmarried young adults. It only happens when both are childhood friends and high enough in the social hierarchy that everyone in their social circle knows they have, or can get a hot girlfriend/boyfriend at a moments notice. Then there’s no internal or external pressures to woo each other.

A pure unalloyed friendship without any sex or romance is definitely pretty rare among unmarried young adults.

It's very common where I'm from.

I would add the caveat "A pure unalloyed friendship in fact, including internal feelings and sentiments, not limited to external behaviour"