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May 24, 2004

  • The Passive-Aggressive’s Guide To Dating
  • You want to ask someone out? What do you do? Go to them and, you know, ask them out? Maybe say to them directly, “You know I think you’re attractive. Would you like to go on a date?”

    Of course not.

    While there are many individuals that would use an approach that would be, well, honest, the rest of us mere mortals are shy and vulnerable and don’t want to be unnecessarily hurt. There is, as a result, a tendency toward more indirect approaches in asking out people.

    For some, this might seem as exciting as non-contact hockey or as fun as soccer with a comprehensible offside rule. For others it contributes to a rich and intricate inner life and it enables a certain degree of decorum and politeness and, more to the point, no one looks bad as a result. (Or, as one friend put it to me, “there’s no shame insubtext when everyone is clear on what it means.”)

    Whatever the case, I’m something of an old hand at this after a decade or so of dating and after talking with others who use such techniques, I have, as a public service, compiled a non-alphabetic glossary of the covert tactics used in the art of relationships.

    Roundabouting: The process by which one party indirectly suggests a mutually shared activity that might, or might not be, construed as going out. It allows the respondent to give an indirect answer in such a way that it can be inferred they are not interested. For example:

    Party A: Maybe we could go out for lunch sometime? (translation: I think you’re very hot and I’d like to ask you out, except I’m going to suggest we do a more socially conventional activity just in case you’re going to put my heart in a combine harvester).

    Party B: That would be great. Maybe we could invite some other friends along? (translation: “Unfortunately, you’re right about the combine harvester because I’m not interested…here’s the level of social interaction I’d like.”)

    (In)Visibility Check: Contrived visits, phone calls or e-mails that are on completely different topics than one’s interest in the other person but are done to see if one is still on another’s radar. If they respond, you’re good. If not, well… (See also: Sorties)

    The Pre-Date: any activity designed to get two people together alone without actually going out. In University, getting together to study was one sure-fire method of achieving this (the workplace offers similar opportunities). The idea is that by getting together to actually work on a task, you can test out your skills in interacting with the other and provide positive reinforcement for when you do ask them out. Mostly it causes people to have unnecessarily sweaty palms during discussions about Fourier Transformations.

    The 3/30 Rule: An inviolable rule that states that a person will mention they are going out with someone at least once within three consecutive 30 minute conversations, or one conversation lasting 90 minutes. After this period, one is free to assume the person they’re interested in is unattached. (See also: (Less Than) 20 Questions)

    Sorties: A deliberate attempt to quickly move into someone’s space, exchange witty repartee (or something almost approaching it) and take off again before they start to wonder while you’re really there. For example:
    “Hey how are you?”
    “I’m good. How are you doing?”
    “Good. How’s your [detail picked up in previous conversation to show interest and concern]?”
    “It’s alright. Thanks for asking.”
    “You have any exciting plans for the weekend?”
    “Not really. You?”
    “Nope. Anyway. I should probably go drop this off with [name of co-worker/friend on the way so it looks like a casual interaction]”

    Triangulating: The process of using friends to determine if someone is a) otherwise attached and/or b) interested in you. This process isn’t used all that much outside of Junior High, but every so often there is a person will be willing to be Larry Mondello to your Wally Cleaver.

    Don’t Mention The War Syndrome: A terrible affliction that affects anyone in prolonged contact with someone they desire. The sufferer wants to enjoy the moment they’re in, but don’t want to mention their desire for fear they’ll spoil everything. There is no cure.

    (Less Than) 20 Questions: In order to aid the process of allowing the 3/30 Rule (q.v.) to happen, people may ask their intended the odd casual question to elicit an answer regarding their attachedness without baldly asking “are you seeing anyone?” Questions like this might include:

    • Do you have any roommates?
    • What are you doing/did you do this/last weekend?
    • If it’s a heterosexual woman, any question about last night’s game featuring the local sports franchise (note: will not work if she’s an athlete)

    Playback: The recounting with one’s friends afterward of any encounter with a person one is interested in, outlining the encounter in minute and hyper-nuanced detail. This is done in the hopes that the friends will reflect back what you see. It almost always requires overlooking the central philosophical flaw that it’s reflecting back your experience. Often futile, and yet that doesn’t stop one from hitting the speeddial button the second an encounter is over.

    Did You See…: The use of a television series, movie or world event as a way of building a common bond. It helps if you know they’re a fan of it: Survivor has probably kept the ratings it has by virtue of potential boyfriends and girlfriends tuning in to find out what happened for strategic conversation the next day. It’s probably the only reason Friends lasted as long as it did.

    There are more, but unfortunately I have an upper word limit that I’m about to break.

    It is difficult to say how long a person can last just using indirect measures such as these. I think I spent the better part of my twenties employing them, and only asked out a handful of people, so I’m fairly sure you can drag it out as long as you can.

    If dating can be thought of as a dance, then these sorts of covert, passive aggressive methods of not-quite-asking someone out is an elaborate Renaissance dance; full of slight turns and calculated steps and elegant, though somewhat un-sensual, movements. It’s elaborate and complex, but it can be a bit fun.

    Enjoy the madrigals while you can, though. Sooner or later you’ll have to rock and roll.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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