Your Goal Should Be To Break Up As Quickly As Possible

The article refers to him as the “Railway Romeo,” but actually this dude who has picked up over 500 women on the subway is more like the “Subway Stalker.”

But the bigger problem is that he is terrible at dating.

Note that the dude has met over 500 women, and is still not in a relationship.  That’s because his shtick contains this absolutely terrible advice:

“Always war (sic) a suit and carry a briefcase — it communicates strength and security, even if you live with your mom.”

“Wait 60 hours before contacting her. Most men text/e-mail immediately. Throw her off, make her wait.”

Which, summed up, basically reads:

“Pretend you’re someone you’re not in order to get her phone number.”

The problem is, what you get is… her phone number.  And maybe a couple of dates.  And then, because you’re working your ass off to appear more successful and wittier than you actually are, they get two dates behind your canned banter, and you’re back to sucking on straps to try to find that next hit.

Yet this is not unique advice in dating.  There’s all the gags: “Don’t ever fart!”  “Dress up super-nice!”  “Clean up your apartment!”  “Get your small talk good and polished!”  “Stick to noncontroversial topics!”

Yet I, the Tyler Durden of the dating universe, tell you not to do any of that stuff.

The goal of dating is to find out who is compatible with you, as quickly as possible.  Obscuring your central personality traits will get you to date the wrong people for longer – possibly up to and including a hideously dysfunctional marriage – but what it will not get you is someone who is actually good for you.  And you’ll waste months, years, maybe even decades, with someone who doesn’t actually like you but instead has generated affection for this papier-mache facade you have so carefully constructed.

But that facade is not you.

I say, show up to dates dressed nicely, but nicely for you.  If you’re only gonna wear T-shirts to fine dining, well, your date oughtta know that right away.  If you don’t brush your teeth on a regular basis, that’s fucking icktacular, but again – better to find a woman who’s okay with halitosis than to chew gum for a few weeks and then slowly have her realize your raw-onion-chomping habit is a dealbreaker.  If you’re a strident libertarian, don’t downplay that – it’s gonna come out!  Discuss the all-soothing balm of the free market!

And yes.  Many dates will be disasters.  This is not a failure, but a feature: you have successfully discovered that this person is not for you.  Many people will not be for you.  You need to get in, and get out.

Which seems insane, but dating is a lot like trying on clothes in the store.  You don’t put on a pair of too-tight jeans and go, “Well, if I suck in my gut all the time and ignore the tingling in my legs and try not to look at the unflattering things these jeans do to my ass, maybe this will be the perfect fit!” and then wear the jeans for three days straight, trying not to get lasagna stains on them just in case you need to return them, really trying out these terrible terrible jeans before you walk away.

The reason you don’t do that is because a) this would be a hideously uncomfortable way to live, and b) using this “Let’s drag this out as long as possible” approach would take you about four months of trying on jeans before you found a right pair.

No, man.  Dating is about experimentation.  Most dates don’t work out!  So the solution to a failed date is not to present some artificial front to extend the life of a terrible date, but to find more dates.

The subway stalker has 500 numbers and no solid relationships.  That’s because he’s gotten very good at lying to people in order to get them interested in him.  But that’s a lot like saying, “This new soda tastes better than Coke!” and you open it up and find a dead turtle in a can.  Sure, the advertising got them to open it up, but in the end they’re tossing the turtle.

It seems crazy to go, “CANNED DEAD TURTLE, FREE TO GOOD HOME.”  But it’s big fucking world, man.  Have you looked at what sells on Craigslist?  If you’re honest about your deceased reptile status, it may take longer to sell than a nice refreshing Coke, but by God when you find someone who opens your can they will want the dead turtle that is you.

Be honest about your tortoisy status.  Be unafraid to be rejected for who you are.  Because in the long run, it’s a lot better to be rejected for you who are than to be accepted as someone you’re not.

(Written on Fet, cross-posted here.)

“Dating People” And “Watching Other People Date” Are Two Separate Skills

“She dates a lot of guys!” they cry.  “So why does she freak out whenever I get intimate with someone I like?”

That’s because “dating someone” and “sitting at home while your lover’s out dating” are two entirely separate skillsets, chum.

Both are worth having in any poly relationship.  But when you’re dating, you’re the recipient of all the good times.  You’re getting romanced, you’re getting smooched, you’re having all the fun new conversations of “Oh, I love Smashing Pumpkins, too!” – and the trick is not to get so carried away with New Guy that you forget to come home when you said you would.

That whole “not getting swept up” is a skill.  It’s really tough, remembering that you have existing partners you’ve made commitments to when someone who smells really good is nibbling on your neck.  And yet a lot of people have mastered that.

But suppressing the waves of joy is an entirely separate thing from “Sitting at home, watching Netflix, feeling pangs of loneliness as your partner’s off gallivanting.”  It is an entirely separate thing from “seeing your partner give his lover that special smile that you thought was only meant for you.”

And some people need to train up to that.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, “compersion” should not be the base value of polyamory.  It’s great when you’re all psyched for your partner’s date-times… but for most of us there will inevitably come a day where you’re feeling “bleah” and unattractive, and yet that’s not quite enough reason to say, “Okay, you guys were supposed to go to the U2 concert, but instead you should stay at home.”

So you sit home and suck it up, buttercup.  And learn to realize that “I feel jealous” and/or “I feel insecure” is not a valid reason to HULK SMASH all of your partners’ happytimes.

Yet I occasionally see the pattern of “Well, s/he just freaked out when I had a relationship, so I’ll shove them out the door to get their own partner – and that will solve everything!”  And what you often get is this rancid stew of “ZOMG now my partner has a new boyfriend and they’re so caught up in NRE that they’re punching all my worst buttons, *and still* they are so possessive of me that I can’t date!”

That’s because, as the header of this little essay says, “dating someone” and “watching your lover date someone happily” are not identical skillsets.  If you want to work on your partner’s jealousy issues, then yes, absolutely, do that.  But don’t do it by pressuring them to date someone now, now, now, on the assumption that once they get their own they’ll be perfectly okay.

The danger is, sometimes that is what they need.  But sometimes, that “get ‘em hooked up” puts you into a frantic death-spiral where you’re only good as long as each of you are spinning your own separate relationship-plates, forcing you to pressure the other partner into increasingly bad relationships because fuck it, it doesn’t matter who they’re dating but they have to date *someone* or else I can’t keep sleeping with Luanne.

At some point, most poly folk are going to stay at home to do boring homework while their partners are out watching the fireworks.  That’s how life works.  And the sooner you can learn to be okay with that, the better.

(Written on FetLife, cross-posted here.)

On Being Very Manly, For A Single Saturday

This Saturday, I got together with my friend Eric to be extremely manly.  This was not our ostensible goal, of course – the end result was to make a custom-planned bookcase that would fit into an alcove in his attic.  Still, we were hauling out all sorts of power tools and indulging in very focused destruction and resting our hands on our hips as we debated how to approach the next step.

It’s weird for me, being a guy.

I have a lot of hobbies, and most of them aren’t really masculine in the traditional sense.  I write, of course, which is a field sadly dominated by men (also see the need for Women Destroy Science Fiction), but alas, “dominated by men” is not the same as “manly.”  Writing stories was the sort of thing that got you beaten up in sixth grade. As was having pretty pretty princess fingernail polish.  As was playing D&D.  As was discussing fine dining.

But operating limb-severing equipment to make something useful with your bare hands?  I would have been the envy of every sixth-grade bully.  (And those bullies were very concerned that I acted and dressed and looked like A Real Guy, to the point where they’d corner you in the gym and purple nurple you if you weren’t totally heteronormative.  They were society’s underaged enforcers, telling me that real men didn’t wear corduroy pants, they wore fuckin’ jeans.)

My woodworking is but one of several hobbies I have, but it is the one where I am most acutely aware of society’s expectations – mainly because I’m fulfilling them, albeit inadvertently.  I’ve learned to operate independently of society’s desires, because frankly so many of the things I adore are things that mainstream America considers a little freakish.

But when I power up the circular saw and start cutting shelves, a weird thing happens: my happiness at what I’m doing gets layered with a pride that I can discuss this with just about anyone, and have them laud me for my actions.

When I built my arcade cabinet, guys of all stripes said, “Aww, man, I wish I was that handy.”  Because there’s an encoded signal in American society that says, “Men should be handy,” and on some level most dudes feel a little unworthy when they have to call in a repairman.  We are the ones expected to fix and build things, and though that’s a bullshit sexist assumption that closets men into roles and denigrates the myriads of other talents that dudes can have yet not get credit for, it is kinda nice to do something and feel that glow of collective approval.

Yet still I had people going, “Oh, you’re, making, uh… an arcade cabinet?  Okay.”  Once again, I tumbled into the “nerd” role and felt that tiny sadness of confounding people.

But when I make a bookshelf with Eric, I don’t have to apologize for my hobbies for a while.  I can slot it into my “small talk” repertoire, the kind of harmless thing that goes over well anywhere.  Strangers on the bus think this is an awesome thing.  I’m who people think I should be, and having that pivot into alignment with what I naturally do is an intoxicating experience.

For this slim sliver of life, I did not have to answer the question, “Why would you want that?”  And oh God is that a glorious freedom.

And I wonder if the “traditionally” manly guys, the ones who go fishing and hunting and watch football and love cars and do all the things that Budweiser ads quietly imply that they should do, are aware of how much society covertly aligns with their loves.  I feel strangely buoyed when I quietly walk alongside of societal expectations, but that’s because most of what I do is so at odds with them.  Do they feel weighed down when they do something outside of the quote-unquote masculine sphere?  Would they even be aware of that pressure, except as some vague discomfort that they’re not supposed to be doing this?  Or are those guys so confident in what they do that they have ceased to give a damn altogether?

I don’t know.  I don’t walk in those spheres.

But I do know that thanks to having spent the last two Saturdays struggling with a circular saw, there’s a whole breed of guy that I can now carry on conversations with.  I can say, “Jesus, because my table saw only has a rip width of 12″ – twelve fuckin’ inches, man! – we had to spend two hours measuring and clamping down a fence to get one perfect cut with the circular saw,” and have them sympathize as we both indulged in a bit of societally-approved tool fetishization.

I can connect with men I had no interfacing point beforehand, and now we can grasp calloused hands for a brief period of time and discuss how somehow, that board cups or bows or blows out and you have to jury-rig a way to fix it.  I’m expected to be able to discuss that.  And I can.

Then I go back to nerding out on Twitter, and they back off a bit.  Dudes shouldn’t be too into Twitter, you know.  That social network thing.  Being super-into it is a little weird.  And I’ll still be here blogging, even though maybe when I bring up my blog on the bus you can see people struggling to find common ground with you, mentioning that they write posts on Facebook sometimes, even though they don’t really, they just don’t get it.

And society will step back just a little bit, as it always has, befuddled by my desires, unsure what to do.  Until the next time I build something.

Nobody Should Self-Identify As A “Gamer.”

The Escapist just posted their editorial stance on “Gamergate,” which boiled down is essentially this: There’s a difference between “Someone who plays games” and “A gamer.”  Gaming’s gone mainstream, and lots of people twiddle about with Candy Crush – but there’s a difference between dispensable games like that and the sort of deep richness that you have to devote to World of Warcraft before you become a Level 70 Warlock.

So The Escapist focuses on stuff that Gamers care about, man.  The hard-core segment.  The gearheads.  And they will be unapologetic about loving Gamer stuff.

Except I’ve read The Escapist on and off for years, and I don’t recall them devoting one fucking word to Scrabble tournaments.

“But Scrabble isn’t hard-core gaming, man!” to which I say, “You clearly don’t fucking know the hard-core Scrabble players.”  Watch Word Wars.  These fuckers memorize entire dictionaries, spending their days hitchhiking from tournament to tournament, living off the spoils of their gaming – cursing the luck-based segment of this game, trading bad-beats stories, dreaming of the world championships.

What did you do for your World of Warcraft, man?  Sit in a room?  These guys spent $300 they didn’t have on a trip to New York, hoping like hell they’d win the $10,000 prize so they could not lose money on this week’s tournament.  And some of them went home broke.  Some of them couch-surfed for months so they could keep chasing their dream.

That’s hardcore gaming.

…oh, wait, that doesn’t have anything to do with videogames.  And as it turns out, The Escapist will discuss Scrabble, but only if it’s related to videogames.

See, and the issue with co-opting the Gamer tag, as though playing lots of videogames somehow elevates your goddamned soul to the next level of Bodhisattva, is that people are trying to covertly reduce the world of “gaming” to “videogames only.”  If you’re a Gamer, you play lots of videogames.  Because, in this myopic fucking world, videogames are really all that exist.  We get to covertly erase all the other styles of gaming around, to act as though Gaming only involves the shit we want to play.

…except it’s not even really videogames that exist when we’re discussing who gets to be a Gamer.  It’s the right kind of videogames.  Depression Quest, some nerdly little text-based thing, isn’t a videogame!  It doesn’t have bearded guys stabbing people.  No, videogames only really count if they involve hulking dudes slaughtering lots of people in a constant stream of bloodshed, relying on quick reflexes and a smidge of strategy.  You can’t be super into the Sims and be a Gamer – if it’s not violent, it’s not counting, man.

…but wait.  You not only have to play these games, but play them in a certain way.  Because shit, you can’t just pick up Call of Duty with your bros and be a Gamer.  You have to play hard-core – no, not hard-core like Scrabble, but hard-core as in “dedicating a certain amount of your time to beating the game in socially-acceptable ways.”

All these hierarchies and narrowed definitions to become a term that encompasses all of gaming.

Look.  I get the issues we’re dealing with here, because to be honest, beating Shadows of Mordor involves more skill than getting to a high level on Candy Crush.  And if you’re worried about your style of gaming not being catered to, well, shit, I feel you.  I’m a huge pen-and-paper RPG fan, and I’ve just spent a decade watching that hobby die.  It sucked, not having anything new published – and thank God to Kickstarter for reinvigorating that process!  Nobody should have to love a game style and see no one new creating it.

But… Gamer?

That’s the word you’re self-identifying as?

Get the fuck out of here.

The Escapist defensively goes, “Well, look at gearhead culture with cars!  That’s the same thing as gaming!”  And it isn’t, mainly because they’re calling themselves “gearheads.”  They are not walking around accusing each other of stupid goddamned terminology like, “You aren’t a real Driver, man.”  They aren’t, in general, trying to wave off the very existence of all the other people who just get in cars and bop around by claiming they’re second-class citizens who don’t deserve to discuss what they like in cars.

But Gamers?

Oh, they fucking are very much waving off the existence of all other game styles.

See, when I discuss Gamergate and why I don’t think it’s about journalistic ethics – especially since, you know, the core “scandal” that kicked off Gamergate was supposedly about a woman sleeping with a guy to get a good review of her game, even though that guy never reviewed her game, and wrote literally half a sentence in his entire career about her game and that was before they started dating – I have people telling me, “Well, you don’t understand Gamergate because you’re not a Gamer!”

And that’s how Gamer gets used.  To exclude.  To go, “You’re not as deep into this culture as I am, so I am better than you are.”  Except, you know, I just purchased the Ps4 after months of anguishing between that and the XBox One, because I have like 25,000 achievement points on the Xbox that I didn’t want to lose (or 35,000 when you count my adjusted True Achievements score), and I made the wrong choice in purchasing the Atari 7800 way back in the day and so I didn’t want to pull the switch too soon, and I’ve been gaming for the better part of thirty years and apparently I just don’t count.

Look, you wanna call yourself something that indicates a distinction, like “Achiever” or something like that, okay, fine.  But your very terminology is poisoned.  You’re standing in the center of a vast and broad continuum, one that literally spans human history, of all the games that have ever been played, and trying to do a land-grab for that one term so your pathetically myopic vision of How Gaming Works can own everything.

You’re not.  You are inherently a subset.  There is nothing true about your insistence that you are a Gamer.  What you are is a dude who’s decided that these kinds of videogames are the best, and that’s perfectly fine – but you’ve become increasingly strident whenever someone suggests that maybe, just maaaybe, there are other ways to enjoy games and they are just as fulfilling for people.  Even equally as valid.

Except you’re so tied up in your self-worth, because videogaming in this style is really all you have to offer, that the concept that someone else might be having fun in a non-approved way challenges you.  You don’t see other people having fun; you see other people threatening this teetering pillar of your sad accomplishments, because if they haven’t strived all their lives to beat Dead Space on the hardest level, they’re not as good as you are.

To which I say, fuck your definition.

Though I have often lived the Gamer lifestyle (as witness the many hours I put into beating “Green Grass and High Tides” on Rock Band Expert), I reject the hierarchy you’re offering.  I reject this embedded idea that if I can’t game the way that you like to play, then my enjoyment is somehow lessened.  I reject this toxic nerd idea that love is somehow measured in obsession.

I realize that magazines make money off of catering to their clients, and the Escapist is no different.  The Escapist claims that hey, all games are just as good, but then proceeds to devote a lot of time to the sadness of how it is that this culture cannot last as it is, and talks about how great these Gamers are.  And in doing so, they perpetuate the soft idea that hey, This Gaming is the way things should be, just the way that gearheads in car culture are the true worshipers of the flame of fandom, and you should be proud to be here.

No.  You should be happy to be here.  You should be happy to find fellow people who share this narrow-minded vision of how you view games, and can share your opinions with them.  But you shouldn’t be proud, any more than you should be proud to stand next to a guy who also drinks your brand of beer at the bar next to you, because you drinking beer indicates a preference and not a superiority.

Now get off my damn lawn.

Revisions And “How I Met Your Mother”: An Example Of How Writing Works For Non-Writers

So a lot of people hated the ending to “How I Met Your Mother.”  And what I find fascinating about that is that in the abstract, the ending was a good one.  It’s just that the storylines they’d been pushing that whole final season did not match up with the ending they wanted to sell – and so a lot of people, quite reasonably, rejected it wholesale.

Which is fascinating to me as a writer, because when writers talk about “the revision process,” they make it sound like you just cut out a scene or two, punch up some dialogue, and you’re done.  (Certainly Stephen King makes it seem that way in On Writing, which is otherwise a stellar book on the craft.)

But the truth is that in revision, what you’re doing is making sure that the individual scenes add up to create the story you’re trying to tell.  And How I Met Your Mother is an extremely great idea of this, because individually, the episodes of the final season are good, well-plotted, and heartwarming.  They’re the writer’s worst curse: these are good scenes, dammit, I shouldn’t have to cut them.

A lot of the episodes in that final season sum up the maxim of “Kill your darlings”: they’re clever, they’re funny, they work in isolation, they’ll even be great in syndication when someone who doesn’t know the show tunes in, and they utterly work against the ending the writers were trying to go for.  In a sane world, a lot of those episodes would have been jettisoned to devise something that actually did work, but…

…okay, this is your last chance to leave before I start kicking up How I Met Your Mother spoilers.  Get out if you need to.

So if you’ve never watched How I Met Your Mother, the overall storyline is that Ted is telling his kids about how he met his mother.  Ted is the worst kind of romantic douche – well-meaning, but so in love with love that he’d marry a lamppost if it looked at him sideways.  The Big Twist in the opening episode is that Ted finds Robin, a strong-willed and career-driven newscaster, and falls in love, and then at the end of the episode when you think this is going to be all about Robin, Ted tells the kids that he was dating Aunt Robin, not their mother.

Setting up the big twist of “Who Is The Mother”?

That “Ted is going to meet the Mother any moment now” was dragged out through eight seasons, with all sorts of contrivances, but eventually he did meet the Mother in Season Nine – which was all about the wedding of show breakout star Barney and Robin, who had fallen in love.

Barney is an unapologetic womanizer, who had tried to date Robin before in a disaster, and he is infamously selfish and oblivious to others’ concerns.  (Though because the writers are wise, he has just enough good qualities that you understand why the gang keeps him around – most notably, him saving Lily and Marshal’s relationship anonymously.)  Robin and Barney were either, depending on how you look at it, either disastrously suited for each other (as Barney, who treated all relationships like a game he must win, frequently destroyed people), or really amazingly suited for each other (as frankly, if Barney and Robin were polyamorous, they would have been an amazing teamup, albeit a bit disturbing for mainstream America).

Ted meets the Mother at the wedding, and various flash-forwards show how well suited for each other they are.  And they are highly compatible, which is a strength of the show; I was, actually, rooting for Ted and the Mother to get married.

The penultimate episode of the show has Barney and Robin getting married in a heartwarming ceremony, Ted meeting the mother we were so rooting for him to get together with, and all is happy.

Then in the finale, the mother gets terminally ill and dies, and Barney and Robin turn out to be just as terrible as you’d have suspected, and get a divorce a couple of years later.  Ted grieves for the mother for the better part of six years, dating no one – until his kids tell him to go date Robin, and he shows up on her doorstep in a callback to the first episode.  Roll credits.

And if you look at it, it’s actually a good plot, but the individual episodes kept pulling the punch.  Because the producers of HIMYM didn’t ever want a downer ending, only bittersweet ones at best (and happy ones being the default), and so every episode was contorted to make it seem like Barney and Robin were going to make it.  The Ninth Season was full of “Barney and Robin run into another dealbreaking issue” – which is good!  if Barney and Robin aren’t going to make it, then that needs to be seeded so we’re not surprised! – and then kept backing off by having a big schmaltzy romance with Barney and/or Robin doing something romantic to show us how this wedding would be good for them.

So you had the entire season going, “Hey, maybe you’re a little worried about Robin and Barney – don’t be!  Feel good by the end credits!  We don’t want you to leave this episode feeling bad!” And every scene (with a “scene” being an “episode” here) was actually actively misleading the audience as to what was happening.  If you were rooting for Barney and Robin (and I was), then seeing them crumble in the last episode after so many sweet moments of them kissing was like getting slapped in the face.

And I know that’s the point: that some marriages, no matter how much you want them to work, don’t.  And that’s realistic.  But you don’t serve us well by showing us an entire season of them working out their issues and then having it all collapse in ten minutes of mostly off-screen ugliness.

HIMYM had to do the brave thing of raising the specter of “Is this marriage really going to be good?” and leave that hanging… but then they would have a couple of bad scenes (read: episodes that ended in ways that would have been unsatisfying as the ending of a sitcom episode), and they were fucking terrified of that.  So instead, they inadvertently kept bait-and-switching their audience by making them feel faintly uneasy, and then reassuring them.

Then the “mother dies” aspect of the plot was poorly done as well.  Because we were attached to the mother.  We liked her.  We wanted to love her.   And just as we meet her, and savor the fruit of this long-delayed union, she dies.  And again, because it’s an hour-long finale, she dies in fifteen minutes.  Which is too much.

I heard a lot of people saying, “Oh, Ted learned nothing in the final episode!  He was still a stupid, flighty romantic!”  Which is patently untrue; Ted didn’t date anyone for years, he was so heartbroken by his wife, just concentrating on his kids and making sure they were all right.

But we didn’t see that.

And in truth, as an audience, we needed to see both halves of that – but again, those would have been fucking depressing episodes.  We needed an episode where we got to see Ted and how he handled his wife’s disease, showing us as an audience how Ted had changed, how he wasn’t the dumb romantic, how he’d finally understood the difference between love and infatuation.

Then we needed – and I’ll defend this to the death – another episode where we see Ted grieving.  Just a half an hour of Ted trying to make sense of his life, rejecting random attractions because they’re no longer satisfying to him, living his life without Robin, us seeing the space that Robin would fill – and fill well, now that she was divorced – but Ted missing it because he’s moved on and doesn’t understand that he and Robin could actually work together.  We needed to feel that time the way that Ted did, not a single flash-cut but a long emotional journey that took us along the way from disbelief to grief to the wandering unsurety of “What do you do when you found your great love, and she’s gone?”

And again, that would not play well in syndication, and be hard as fuck to make full of snappy gags…

…but the point of this essay is that if you’re writing a story, all things have to serve the story.  HIMYM had a mandate that every episode was mostly heartwarming or bittersweet, and what you needed to sell this plot was a couple of downer episodes where we got sold, and sold hard, on Ted’s Life After Mother.

No story is more important than a single scene.  But HIMYM kept doing the bad revision error of prioritizing individual moments over cumulative impact, and as such wound up with a finale that was, largely, poorly reviewed…

…even though if they had done that work, and convinced us that Ted was a new guy now, and this wasn’t just a rekindling of the same annoying issues we’d loathed in Ted since the premiere, that ending with Robin would have worked and worked well.  It didn’t work as it was shown, of course, because Robin and Barney were presented, repeatedly, as a Good Couple – but if you want to understand how writing works, you have to strip away the “What actually happened” and look at the bones underneath of how you could have shifted this story around to make Robin and Barney’s wedding not a culmination of happy love, but that uncomfortable moment where two friends you love dearly should not be saying their vows today, and you all have to stand stiffly and pretend it’s all right because you can’t convince them otherwise.

And yes, you could argue that the show needed an entirely different ending… but that’s not what I’m discussing here.  If we’re talking about How To Revise A Story, then what we have is the ending we’re striving towards, and sometimes as a writer you realize you have a great ending, but the individual moments in the tale thus far don’t actually Voltron together to fit to make that ending work.

This ending could have worked.  And worked well.  (Not universally, of course, but that’s a danger in any show; the moment you say “These two people worked out, these people didn’t,” you’ll have rabid ‘shippers who would never be happy unless Ted and Barney got together in a gay romance and did high-fives over massive orgies.)  And if you want to dig how writers think, it’s an interesting exercise to not go with “I hate this ending, I’ll rewrite it” and instead ask, “So let’s assume this ending is good, how could we rewrite the lead-up?”  Because honestly, you do that a lot, too.

Anyway.  It ended.  The ending worked for some people, and for those people, I think they felt that journey of Ted from douche to mature guy and got the implications without having to see it.  But again, that’s what revision is for; you give it to your beta readers, they tell you “I don’t see why Ted’s any different,” and you realize Oh shit, I need a big long post-death scene here to show Ted, without Robin, focusing on the mother he lost.  And you scrap some other scene and shim that one in.  And then more people get what you were going for, although as noted you’re not gonna please everyone.

But yeah.  I maintain the ending, as plotted, could have been a fine ending.  They just needed to build to that ending – which, given the complaints, they didn’t.

Comme ci, comme ca.

 

“But If One Person Rejects Me, I’ll Die Alone And Unloved!”

Yesterday, I wrote about the game of “Cruel or Incompetent,” where I said that for certain core needs of your personality, it doesn’t really matter if someone meant to transgress those rules or not.  If someone needs to be told “By the way, buying a blowjob from a sex worker counts as cheating in our monogamous relationship,” then chances are really good that they’re full of other hurtful behaviors they’ll need to have explicitly programmed – and are most likely not a good fit for you.

To which I got some concern from people about how bad this was for people with Asperger’s, who often need to have the rules told to them.  The folks with Asperger’s people can’t read emotions, goes the worry, and sometimes they need to be told things.  So if everyone took my advice and abandoned these poor Asperger’s people when it turns out the aspies did not inherently grok their needs, people with Asperger’s everywhere will die alone and unloved and abandoned.

I have good news!

Nope.

I’m not recanting on my idea that there are some basic considerations in a relationship that you shouldn’t have to explain.  But the people concerned that “You should consider leaving someone if they don’t instinctively get these core values” are missing one vital fact:

Everyone has different core values.

For some people, buying a hummer at the massage parlor doesn’t count as cheating!  And that’s the glory of people: there’s fucking billions of squishy humans, each of them totally different in every way.  If you don’t get the core values of someone you’re dating, well, sucks that you don’t get to stay with that person, but that doesn’t mean that you’re condemned to a lifetime of isolated anguish.

It means you have to find someone whose needs are more in line with your instincts.

Yeah, your aspie friends may have to date more people to find who they’re looking for… but just because one person would find it stressful and harmful to have to explain their fundamentals (and all the ramifications thereof, as I’ll explain in a bit), that doesn’t equate to “There’s nobody out there for them.”  Because everyone has slightly different fundamentals.  Including your aspie friends, who doubtlessly have their own rules they need to feel safe and beloved – and you wouldn’t tell them, “Well, stay with this woman who doesn’t understand what makes you happy because, well, it’d be rude to her to reject her for that!”

Plenty of Asperger’s people date, and find love.  That’s because the truth is, there aren’t that many core fundamentals that need explaining.  Someone commented, “Well, you had to educate Gini on your core fundamentals,” and the answer is that I really didn’t.  We both agreed that people in love who make reasonable complaints to each other should be listened to, and loved. What we disagreed on was the definition “What is a reasonable complaint?” and that’s a debate that, fifteen years later, we’re still having.

But the minute the other partner becomes convinced the complaint is reasonable, no matter how mad they are, we drop everything to fix it.  That’s why we’ve survived.  And that’s something, thankfully, that we’ve never had to explain, we just agreed on it.  Hell, it took me a moment to actually pinpoint what this fundamental was, because in a decade and a half of almost-constant analysis, we have never once argued about that.

The thing about fundamentals is that they seem like one fact, but actually they unpack all sorts of other vital information about you that are also necessary to your functioning.  There are some people for whom really trivial stuff is a core fundamental to them – “You have to call if you’re going to come home late.”  For most people that’s a nice-to-have as opposed to an I’m-leaving-if-you-don’t-do-that-without-asking, so it seems silly to just contemplate walking out if someone forgets to call a time or two.

But wrapped in that single fact are all sorts of other assumptions that people who want to be with you intimately should probably get – “I worry about things,” “I’m big on protocol,” “Unknowns will drive me crazier than any known fact,” “I drift towards worst-case scenarios.”

The thing that differentials these core fundamentals from a one-time lesson is that explaining them to people often means all the cascading lessons that stem from that core value don’t get learned.  If you have someone who goes, “Oh, right.  Okay, I’ll call,” and marks that off, there’s a really good chance they haven’t understood the other things that will drive you nuts – like how you worry, like how you require a certain politeness in your lovers, like how leaving you in the dark will drive you batshit – and because they don’t comprehend all the ramifications they will accidentally step on your worst fears time and time again. You may be in for months of your lover stepping on your nuts with stiletto heels and going, “Oh, crap, kinda forgot you had those.”

Whereas it’s not a guarantee – nothing is – but if one of your core values is “Call when you’re running late,” and the guy calls without being told to, you’ve got a far better chance of having someone who’s synced with you on a really critical level.

And yeah.  It’s totally fucking tough to figure out what your core values are, as opposed to just a thing that can be hammered out in discussion.  Because these dealbreakers vary for everyone.  It’s all fine and well to say “If you’re dating me, you have to realize my kids come first,” but there’s plenty of parents for whom that doesn’t apply at all.  It’s all fine and well to assume that core value of “If we’re monogamous, you have to be faithful to me,” but for many people that actually reads as “You have to not get caught.”  (Heck, there’s plenty of people for whom fidelity and their children aren’t core values at all.)

Unfortunately, that means you have to date around enough to understand which aspects of partner-ignorance can be worked out with a little education, and which things are the sign that whoah, this means we’re not really suited for each other.

And to repeat: if someone rejects you, that means you’re not suited for that one person.  Which sucks, it really does.  But there are thousands of other people in your city, each with different personalities, and with luck you’ll find someone for whom your natural instincts don’t clash with their fundamental needs… and their instincts line up with yours.

Being ill-suited for one person does not mean that humanity is a mass of cookie-cutter ideals and to be bad for one of us means you will be cast out from the herd.  People with Aspergers find love.  Depressive neurotics like me find love.  People with all sorts of really unusual crooks in their psyche find love, and that’s because we should all thank God that no two people are perfectly alike.  You’ll rejected by one person.  Almost certainly several.

But in time, if you work at gaining understanding of who you are and how you interact with other people, you’ll find the partner that works for you.

Or maybe you’ll just stumble accidentally into love.  That happens a lot, too.  Because wow, are there a lot of us, and luck happens.

Cruel or Incompetent?

A lot of relationship problems can be solved by determining the motivation of today’s fuckery: Did they mean to do that? Yes, they eviscerated me and fed my liver to the pigeons, but was that an intentional surgery?

Yet there’s a relationship game show that just isn’t worth playing, and that show is:

Cruel Or Incompetent?

Which is to say that in any long-term relationship, there are certain things your partner should know about you. These are your baseline values: I’m not talking about the little niggly stuff like, “I want a call if you’re going to be out late,” but rather the core stuff like, “If you lie to me, I’m leaving.”

If you’re a full-time mother, you shouldn’t have to hold a Powerpoint presentation going, “My kids are going to come first.” If you’re in a monogamous relationship, you shouldn’t have to hold a class that outlines bulletpoints like, “Our monogamous relationship precludes getting hummers from strangers at truck stops.”

These aren’t universal laws. But they are the core aspects that people dating you should, on some level, fundamentally understand. If you value harmonious friendships, then anyone dating you shouldn’t have to be debriefed on the reasons why insulting your buddies at parties is Right Out. If you’re someone who needs up-front communication to be happy, then dating someone who goes “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” will lead to disaster.

And when those earth-shattering transgressions come, and they go, “Well, I didn’t know!” then you have one of two situations:

1) They’re lying scumbags who did know what you needed, and willingly chose to hurt you.

2) They’re people so oblivious to your inner workings that they’ll waltz past the most mission-critical aspects of your psyche unless you take the time to program them like a computer.

And the answer in either case is that you should get the fuck out now. If they’re liars, then hit the eject button.

And if they’re genuinely that clueless about the quintessence of who you are, then their innocence is not a mitigating factor. They may not be evil people, but if they can’t pass that exam of Youness 101 without a tutor to guide them, then chances are good that there are other really vital parts of you they’re not going to get.

And how much time do you want to spend training someone who doesn’t get you on an instinctive level? I mean, I’ve heard of people who’ve trained cats to fetch their morning paper. It can be done. But one suspects it takes way more effort and frustration, and there are many cats who just won’t do it. And while there’s nothing wrong with getting a cat, if “fetching papers” is your goal you’d probably be better off getting a dog.

But there is something potentially harmful about finding someone who has no real concept of who you are, and spending the next few years trying to instill them with instincts that they probably should have come preinstalled with.

So either they’re a liar – always a possibility – or they require so much work to get them to comprehend Relationships With You 101 that they’re probably not worth the time.

In that case, either one would be enough of a sin to say goodbye. Yes, in one case someone’s acting maliciously, and the other they’re acting innocently. But a hurricane doesn’t need motivation in order to destroy your life. And you can walk away.