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Trying and Not Trying on Valentine’s Day: or, SEO-Juice Me Baby One More Time

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Valentine’s Day has sprung up on me like a giant koala from the Wilderness Society. Sneaky fuckers all. Just when I’m trying to cough a lung into the gutter, I realise too late I am being watched. Yes, Dysatisfunctional friends, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of ocular social judgement. Skimping on flowers or the restaurant surcharge? You must not TRULY LOVE.

But I say a rose by any other means justifies the ends: a sauntering jaunt through your average inner suburb will yield quite the resplendent handsome stash. So as all writers and totalitarian despots know, solutions are only the cause of further problems:

Romance Taken Seriously

Romance Taken Seriously

What the fuck, now I need someone to give these flowers to. If you’re in a relationship and you still can’t figure out who, you deserve the absolute withholding of sex for the rest of the year. Even your birthday won’t climb over your partner’s “headache”, because YOU’RE the headache. Not  many can be that stupid, but you might be wary of overt, out-of-character displays. Fret not–no matter how sparse your affections throughout the year, Valentine’s day is that one time you can spring up with flowers without necessarily implying you feel guilty about an affair. So get ready to swipe that card for love! For other couples, Valentine’s won’t be a particularly big deal, since despite your busy interdependent schedules you still find time to be mutually supportive and remind each other, and yourselves, how lucky you each are. Still, another opportunity for humble appreciation to translate into hours, even minutes, of hot sex. As a friend of mine posted to her beau: “Honey, the safe word tonight is ‘kebab,’”

For singles, the day takes a measure of your overall approach, for good or ill. You may have several crushes to ask out, with full control on the dial of safe, ironic distance: “let’s share and laugh together at how inane this whole day is, let’s blur the line of where we take the piss and where we’re just SO. CRUSHINGLY. LONELY. and what comes next hey bust-a-move…” You can be all anti-consumerist as you like, but today gets people laid, and with a modicum of birth control awareness and basic hygiene in place, this cannot be a bad thing.

Alternatively, Valentine’s day shines a light on your complete absence of participation in your own life. You have no one to call, your cat loves you every day anyway, your parents try to give you “the talk” and somewhere somehow you’re confronted with other people’s happiness until it cuts DEEP. First things first: most of that happiness is fake, with grimace cheer for bad relationships that never recovered from “that thing s/he did” back in 2005, so fret not. Second, the best thing you can do is to admit how sad and lonely your life is, identify all the ways you made it so, and use that dissatisfaction to power some genuine reform. Like Young MC says: “Don’t hang yourself on a celibate rope.”

Perennially single people often report a lack of control in others, how others see them, and submitting to that is empowering. Meanwhile, they don’t much like to admit they are in control of themselves, from haircuts to social habits. Want someone to accept you as you are? Perhaps try to be less of a pig. Reform here is a longer topic for another time, but accepting your own authorship is a good principle from which to begin. It lets you realise, if nothing else, that you’re single because it kind of suits you; if not the worst parts of you, the weird parts of you. There’s heaps of good reasons to be single, so maybe your answer is to drop the yearning for something you demonstrably don’t want.

The basic message of this post was originally going to be, partners: try harder, and singles: try less. There’s a Dysatisfunctional way to be single I will get to one day, but for now, I’ll leave you with the idea that the best way to attain your goals is not to fixate. Establish good practices, good training (for yourself/others), have a good time, smell the roses (on the table of the couple next to you, as you read your book and overstir your coffee…). The flipback for couples is a coda for the same principle: having allegedly gotten what you want, go ahead now and prove you were right to want it. Your habits, training and good times shouldn’t change tack because you suddenly ‘arrived’ at a perceived goal. Single or taken, work according to a persistent ethic, and your most prized goals will arrive and zip right by, ideally without you realising. When someone asks you the best moment of your life, you’ll be in good shape if you can’t pick one: “Was that romance? Why yes, I suppose it was…”

This Christmas, spare a thought for the goblinese

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Christmas brings with it plenty of weird and sad shit that should be different but is not. When is it harder to avoid the failure of our most cherished ideals? If Christmas doesn’t get you, New Years will definitely involve that quiet reflective moment. Perhaps that is why everyone makes such an effort, to try to beat down the niggle. Weird and sad shit can visit us in many ways, most often via our loved ones, but we might spray it onto whoever happens to be standing there. *Some* succeed in having an actual good time, while others go watch The Hobbit. Sweeping crap under the carpet is just not the Dysatisfunctional way, so here’s a bit of Yuletide social media justice to stuff in your empty sacks.

Not dissimilar to Christmas, Peter Jackson delivered all the familiar tropes: too many heavy-handed knowing looks by Gandalf, too many crash-zoom hero shots for Aragorn, sorry Thorin, the giant eagles an ever-reliable Deus Ex Machina to solve any strategic miscalculation by our heroes, er, writers, and BAAAAD physical comedy; all ignoring the law of diminishing returns. But some wins, too, like Gollum just so grotesquely lovable, capable of bringing the best out in Bilbo (and Martin Freeman). Other weird shit of course, like waaaay too many introductions into the story (seriously it starts four times). Dwarves still aren’t taken seriously, but at least they’re not the relentless butt of jokes like poor Gimli from the first trilogy. The fat one in the fat suit sums up the utter fat resilience of the filmmakers to any fat sense of fat filmic immersion. But one thing galled me more than anything, and said much about our options around Christmas:

Those poor goblinese. I really felt sorry for them all. They just get massacred in their homes and they’re so crap it just takes one shot to smash them off a ledge even though most of Thorin’s company are not warriors, including Gandalf (an old man) and Bilbo (a much physically weaker man, with an avowedly timid character). Pathetic little fuckers. Off they go, flung this way and that in scores, by figures much the same size, if not smaller.

dysatisfunctionalhobbit

Seriously, how did thousands of these fuckers, led by big daddybags, fail to stop thirteen guys who mostly can’t fight for shit?

By the end of the dwarven company’s daring and statistically improbable escape, the goblinese losses must number in the thousands, while none of Thorin’s kill-team suffer so much as a broken limb. In short, thirteen little fuckers conduct a mini-genocide, flung into action by Gandalf who demonstrates a profound technological assymmetry he clearly does not respect (enchanted shock and awe). First year anthropology would waken old man river the fuck up. Such a defeat will cripple that community for generations. I wanted to trek into the Goblin realm with some Red Cross nation-building resources. These guys now need trauma counselling, education programs including  some karate lessons, and heck maybe even a few Anthony Robbins motivational CDs to share around.

Sure their king threatened to sell Thorin’s team out to the orcs, but the captives are too high-minded to even venture a counteroffer, and so suffer from their own limited wit. And they are the intruders! Where’s the inter-cultural respect?

Transformers getting it right, way back in '86. "Don't worry, they'll reciprocate!"

Transformers getting it right, way back in ’86. “Don’t worry, they’ll reciprocate!”

The goblinese are in their homes, getting by with their weird domestic economy and social rituals, probably some kind of tiered society I can only guess built out of their massive variaton in physical size, strength and intelligence, combined with the pure cavernous verticality of their civic space. They don’t gel with the outside world and they know it, so naturally they have formed a trading relationship with those outsiders most ethnically similar to them: the surface orcs. Whatever the orc tribes’ failings, it seems they at least implicitly respect the territorial rights of the goblinese! Meanwhile, these Aryan muthafuckers need a lesson in basic natural jurisprudence and intergalactic conflict avoidance.

If the elves, dwarves and humans had bothered over the centuries, they could probably have rendered their goblin foe at least a more neutral party. Hell, their leader totally speaks the King’s English, seems a bookish type and someone who would be amenable to flattery, fine culture, extravagant gifts and hence much capacity to be brought into the surface Aryan fold. With his dulcet baritone, I can’t help thinking if someone invented a telephone they’d all get along great. Except for one thing: big daddybags is really, really, ugly. And fat. Super fucking fat. Just because Jackson himself has slimmed down so that now his old clothes can be strung up as Yurts for the whole crew, he doesn’t have to get all evangelical about it. (“Ex-smokers are the WORST” as they say).

dysatisfunctionalpeterjackson

What’s the problem with Christmas here exactly? Perhaps, as well as convenient movie release timing, Jackson’s film demonstrates how we can be doing some pretty bad shit, right when we think we’re being so bloody good. So who did you treat like goblinese this Christmas? Maybe a store clerk, maybe your waiter, maybe your cab driver. After all, you were busy. Your Christmas, I’m sure, was very important. And yes, it *is* a stressful time. WTF do we do it for again?

Dysastifunctional.com: making your world a bit less c*nty.

Postscript:

To be fair, the film shows a wider obsession with what videogame nerds refer to as the “One hit kill“. The film’s wargs–massive, fast, powerful beasts, go down one after another from the tiniest flick of an axe, or one measly arrow. I’m pretty sure one just gets tripped! Someone like Peter Singer might say it extends the racism of The Hobbit’s goblinese to speciesism, where the wargs’ feral intelligence is completely devalued. If they can’t catch little bipeds, WTF are they good for?

The one hit kill breaks games by upsetting the balance of risk/reward, and in pure narrative media it does the same, in many ways similar to the aforementioned Deus Ex Machina, which is essentially an author’s easy solution to a narrative problem, that often leaves the viewer/reader/gamer feeling cheated out of the ‘rules’ established by the story. Here is a great example by Bro Team Pill that combines the problem of giant eagles with the problem of one hit kills, and is also fucking hilarious:

Better advice than Simon Baker’s ANZ ass-tap

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“Don’t dig shallow wells.” — Cookiemonstergirl, June 2012

What’s that, reader? No post since July? I know! A girl much younger than me wearing a jacket that looked like she’d just hunted and skinned the Cookie Monster (seriously it even had a bloodish, red wine stain) listened to my bullshit dysatisfunctional predicament for about 3 minutes, nodded, said “Hmp”, then gave me the best advice I’ve received since Jon Safran said I could wear my undies four times without changing (“forwards, backwards, inside-out forwards, inside-out backwards”). She told me: “Don’t dig shallow wells.”

Dysatisfunctional cookie monster

I’ll admit it, I’m a bad multi-tasker. Comes from being a perfectionist, which leads to procrastination, which leads to feeling anxious, which leads to me bingeing on extremely unhealthy foods, like our fresh-slain friend here. So I threw Dysatisfunctional.com in front of my singularly determined priority van, like it was Todd in Neighbours.

Todd: more shocked than anyone

Todd: more shocked than anyone

What I took from Cookiemonstergirl’s advice was: if it ain’t payin’ me dollar$, and instead diverting resources away from something that will pay off sooner, faster, louder, longer, then broom it. Sorry to both my fans; maybe they should GET A JOB >>>>>

Now I’m a little more focused, and using Dysatisfunctional.com as a symbol, something terrifying, something…elemental ***sorry fuck that’s Batman*** Dysatisfunctional batman-fail-squirt when a noteworthy thing occurs to my now-singularly determined brain: I’m expanding the self-improvement project to the media, which I’m trained in anyhow, which I do professionally, and which lately I’ve come to think is the single greatest vehicle of dysfunction I’ve seen beyond family Christmases.

Writing this blog is far more interesting for me, anyhow, than the one time per year I decide to write a freelance article, which always gets whittled down to fit the narrow demands of a bulk audience that may only exist as part of a self-fulfilling prophecy and failure of editorial imagination. But because this blog is still not a political soapbox, I’ll say no more on this for now, and instead talk about Simon Baker in the ANZ smartcard commercials. Check it:

 Yeah they’ll make you go Youtube. Fair enough.

I’m convinced this was made by an outsourced freelancer who thinks Australia’s ‘Big Four’ banks suck of the balls. Let’s review: Simon Baker is vaguely Mentallist in his weekend garden vest, almost drops the wrench, needs to compensate so rips on the underling he just hired about his fingernails, which presumably got dirty doing a job Simon was unable (incompetent snob) or unwilling (snob jerk) to do himself. Next, Simon counters an argument the plumber never made–that his cashflow COULD be fixed with a wrench. Hands back the plumber’s wrench like he’s doing him a favour, makes out like payment for services rendered equals ANOTHER favour, shows him a thing or two about REAL modern tools, then grimaces at his mucky shit hand because he couldn’t think of a slick, stylistically consistent way to avoid the pretense of a handshake.

Why is all this the work of a clever filmmaker/advertising culturejammer who hates the ANZ? Because the caption reads, “We live in your world.” when everything about the ad screams: “CLASS DISPARITY!” I bet it was made by the same person who convinced the National Australia Bank to refer to themselves as lowercase “nab” in one of the only countries where banks charge customers for the privilege of maintaining our accounts, instead of the banks being privileged to hold our money and use it for whateverthefuck. This person, textually the same person, is for me a total gun. On the chance this self-parody was unintentional, its creators just effectively culture-jammed themselves, and might be smarter than even they realise.

As we conclude our maiden foray into a seemingly ever-dysatisfunctional media landscape, it’s worth mentioning that our proletariat plumbing friend actually could get paid faster swinging a wrench, late at night between the car door and the front door. Not to get political, but money could change hands fast if he rounded up some friends, “Oppa-Engels-style”,Psy performs Gangnam Style and many wrenches were swung determinedly at whatever smug executive-class pricks, who we know from this ad can’t/won’t do menial tasks themselves, need to impress their aristocratic airs on those helping them from below, and who find the materialist underpinnings of their basic existence far more distasteful than the virtual online world their money streams through. Though I hear the Class Consiousness App crashes all the time. But even if the revolution never comes, Simon, some people don’t pay their bills on time because they’re FUCKING BROKE, bruz, so don’t get on like an asshole.

I bet Simon casually refuses to indicate when changing lanes in his BMer, too. What has Cookiemonstergirl to do with Simon allegedly living in our world, I hear you ask? Well here’s an example of someone not digging shallow wells. You can bet dude got pai-yeed. And good on him for making it through the role of struggling actor, I say. But there, reader, is your take-away: if you must win, try to do it with some dignity.

Feedback me when you feel the function.

The Woe-Down #1: “Sexy sisters”

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From: Sexy sisters via “Shed Your Woe” (third tab in the horizontal row, above):

“It is weird when you flirt with a mates sister cause you are a flirt. Then you realise what seemed to be a reaction of disgust is actually a reaction of deep desire….wtf”

Well, Sexy sisters, if I may address you as such, I agree that whenever deep desire poses as disgust, or vice versa, it is definitely weird, and no wtf was ever more appropriate. From the information you have provided, I am not assuming you yourself are male or female, but either way there are 3 interpretations possible:

1) You flirt with your friend’s sister, she reacts with disgust, which you never intended because flirting is how you roll, but her disgust is later revealed as deep desire, as you say. The biggest problem when assessing another’s interest in you is your own loss of objectivity, if you yourself want them. But I can’t tell that from your query. Let’s say you’re somewhat interested, or you wouldn’t bother submitting your woe here. If so, sometimes deep desire masquerades as disgust, by way of guilt and shame and complicated feelings about one’s sexuality, or about the circumstances, which might be the case if you’re her brother’s friend, or if you’re a woman, and she is not comfortable with this side of her mojo.

Then again, sometimes disgust is actually simply disgust! This doesn’t mean she doesn’t like or admire aspects of your personality, but are you sure it really is deep desire? The test I suggest to you is not conversational–put it into words and hope itself dies. The test is physical–find socially acceptable ways to create a physical bond with her: light touches, brief leaning hugs as you pass by, accentuating conversational points and gags. If you’re a natural flirt, I’m sure you will be able to tell the difference between this inconsequential, fleeting physical connect, and creepy, inappropriately lingering heavy-handedness. Your guide: it needs to pass as nothing if needs be. Then note her reactions, because actions tell her true feelings, not her conscious determinations. This shouldn’t need to be said, but always does: if she does not react favourably, then she just isn’t into you and you should move on. Unfavourable reactions don’t just include the old cinematic slap to the chops; it could just be a kind of passive physical tension, uncomfortably waiting for the moment to pass. You owe it to her and to yourself to be switched on to reading her.

If you ARE sure she is into you, then finding ways to spend time, create moments and bang out these inconsequential touches are your best way to get beyond her spectacle of disgust, which may well be for her family’s benefit, but probably also her own. Talk to her like you know that she knows that you know that she knows what’s going on between you both, and you can deal with any objections she has to the whole thing without ever crossing into an awkward conversation. You must appear more comfortable with this very natural state of affairs than anyone. Lastly, if the tension is there, along with some ease, because she’s used to you being in her space (thus ensuring it is not actually real-life, marrow-of-her-bones disgust), just kiss her. Then again…

2) You flirt with your friend’s sister, then feel disgusted because you realise you actually dig her. Perhaps your disgust comes from your feelings of loyalty to your friend. I think this is less likely than the above scenario, but some of the lessons apply, regarding your obligations to your friend. So in this case, the dysatisfunctional question here is whether or not it is reasonable to be hands-off a friend’s sister out of loyalty to your friend. I say it is an unreasonable demand, undermining the nature of your friendship and the mutual support that should accompany it. If you can be happy with his sister, whether that is a brief fling or longer range relationship, he should be happy for you. Sibling protectiveness is understandable, and if you subsequently act like a jerk, then you deserve to cop appropriate feedback from your friend. That said, I would hope your friend would pull you up if you acted like a jerk to anyone! Sibling jealousy/rivalry, however, can only be explained if they want to be where you are, that is, with their own sibling, which I’m sure happens more than we commonly account for, but rather than judge, let us say merely that it is not cool. OR…

3) You flirt with your friend’s sister, but the reaction of disgust comes from your friend. As above: his only reasonable objection is if he also wants to get with his sister instead of you. Dirty fucker…

I hope that helps. Try to avoid over-reaching and being banned from the family home.

Sincerely,

Luke

Get posting > Click on “Shed Your Woe” in tab above

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All your worries will be dispelled and replaced with new worries you had yet to conjure up here at the Woe-Down. Just “Shed your woe” on the link to the right of the Woe-Down to take part.

Many of you might have useful advice even more dysatisfunctional than what we can dream up here, so go ahead and comment away! Anything too mean will obviously hit the spam box, but well-intentioned criticism is encouraged.

Rethinking the Couple Fail: stats, freedom and effective door stops

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Here at Dysatisfunctional.com, we’re nothing if not innovators/outright copycats. The time-honoured tradition of correspondence between great minds is mildly disturbed here. Bastardising this fine practice on blogs has been done before, but how many interlocutors used to kind-of sort-of date-slash-see each other, THEN get mildly angry at each other for a bit but stay friends AND THEN blog about dating itself? Not many, if any.  Annie is a freelance writer, lawyer, legendary putt-putt golfer and generally nimble thinker in all matters social, and my perfect counterpoint on this topic.

Luke: Annie welcome to Dysatisfunctional.com first of all. Currently and comically single, I haven’t wanted to abuse readers with one-sided rants tumbling through all six stages of singledom: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and back to denial. Two-sided rants are so much more interesting, and you being a) a lady and b) also in a relationship, all but guarantee a more balanced perspective.

I guess the name of the game at Dysatisfunctional.com has been investigating common problems to modern living, via the untapped potential of human frailty and failure. So without tipping over into pointless self-indulgence, I thought our personal history makes you the perfect person with whom to discuss dating matters. Let me ask you first of all: what is a failed couple?

Annie: The epitome, I think, is the couple you see coming into a restaurant, sitting down, ordering a meal, eating the meal, paying the bill and then exiting without speaking a word to each another. They’re out there. (Couples with hearing impairments excepted).

More generally, I’d say a failed couple is a couple where one or more people in the relationship is unhappy most of the time. As for what amounts to being ‘unhappy’, I tend to measure mine in terms of fractions: if the amount of happy times spent together as a couple is divided by the amount of time spent complaining to my friends about that same relationship on the phone is less than 1 = not happy.

Should that quotient be a little higher I wonder?

Luke: Beware mutual stalking, where you each agree to just run each other into the ground. There are too many of these kinds of couples. I’m sure I’ve been there briefly though, right in those days/weeks leading up to a crash&burn. Make sure it’s not months/years though…

I like how your formula works off of time spent. My approach is more qualitative and less interesting: I’m OK to have the cons outweigh the pros for a time, but if that proves entrenched, I hit the eject button. Does a couple have to last to be successful?

Annie: Sadly, I have no nerd-burger formula there but I did find an interview with Vanessa Paradis very enlightening on this point. When interviewed about the rumours she and Johnny Depp had split and whether they were really ‘soul mates’ after all, she said she found the whole concept of having one soul mate a little scary and that with love you’ve got to take things one day at a time.

Maybe love’s not so much a ‘be all and end all,’ but a state of being where, if it comes to an end, then you’ve got the possibility of future connections with others to look forward to. Saying that, I would scrag-fight Vanessa tooth and nail if she said something like that to me soon after a break up.

Luke: ‘Time and place, Vanessa…’ Sheesh. At the other extreme from soul mates then, if two people hook up, once, or for a while, but eventually things cool off, is that failure?

Annie: Not if the quotient in my happiness formula was greater than one, most of the time those two people were together.

Mathematics aside, that question also makes me think of the film Russian Dolls. At the end, the lead guy says each relationship is one doll inside another, in that they change you in ways that lead you into the next relationship, each more fulfilling than the last. Eventually, you get to the teeniest, tiniest Russian doll, which could, I guess, be your soul mate if you disagree with Ms Paradis about these things and believe they do exist.

Luke: So we’re really beating back ‘failure’ from all kinds of different relationships now hey. Dare I say, that’s where you and I sit, isn’t it, in that murky-somehow-pseudo-educational-twenties place? It wasn’t always super-comfortable. Sometimes I think I learned heaps about relationships in that time, Russian Doll style (whoah, that sounds a lot more sexist when I say it…), but the dysatisfunctional part of me wonders if that’s truly the case. Do we perhaps assume progress as part of a kind of post-Enlightenment Western hangover, and in fact follow instead a cycle of the same old stuff? I guess it might look that way to some of my settled friends.

If I had to defend myself (and I DO at times…), I’d say the same old issues that come up are at least a true expression of my personality. So, you know, I might not be happy but at least it’s the real me who can’t get no satisfaction. Our mutual friend Gary, if you remember, grew and cut off a massive millennial afro, citing that he couldn’t compete with his own hair. He said that without the ’fro, girls stopped calling him, but at least it was the real him they weren’t calling!

Annie: I do recall Gary shaving off his fro and I also recall his identical twin Claude deciding to grow a fro at about the same time which confused the hell out of me. Perhaps it was Claude who ended up getting ‘those’ calls?

Luke: Haha, maybe. Twin genius. We will have to get them to clarify on a future post. Dysatisfunctional.com is all about embracing failure, as a kind of inoculation against it. People talk about their ‘failed relationships’ all the time. Is 50 years of marriage, but divorcing in old age, still a failure?

Annie: I think anyone who can hold down a relationship for more than fifty years deserves some sort of personalised message from the Queen. Could be Queen Latifah – I’m not fussed.

For all the older couples I’ve observed, I’ve wondered why some relationships lasted and others didn’t. It’s strange but often the couples that seemed more ‘in love’ and romantic didn’t go the distance as much as couples who seemed more low key.

One set of parents who are still together were an arranged marriage: the wife flew over to Australia, having not much control over the situation and no idea what to expect. They actually have quite a loving, supportive, fun relationship and contrary to what you’d think this woman is really confident, forthright and independent. Not that I’m an advocate for arranged marriages and Luke, you must be breaking into hives over this…

Luke: I’m not as opposed to this idea as you might think. I call those quietly successful couples ‘third gear couples’, and they make me question the pursuit of romance, of finding the answer for everything I need in one person. Romantic monogamy does seem a tall order. I don’t want to tear down couples who appear to have it all, but I see all sorts of compromises being made to stay there. So why not compromise on the serendipity of how you meet your spouse? Arrange away, I say, because many of our perceived freedoms are illusory, including the very desire to be free. Most of us are looking for comfortable cages. I know I am.

Annie: The only cage I’d be happy with is like a go-go dancing cage where I get to wear high white PVC boots and shift dresses, dance the Watusi and can climb in and out whenever I like. I guess I could apply much the same principle to relationships.

Luke: That’s a powerful metaphor for your ideal relationship, Annie. Please let us know how you go. Do you see any problems with how we typically distinguish between picking up, hooking up, ‘seeing’ someone, dating, going out, ‘getting serious’, getting married?

Annie: I look back with longing to when you could explain your relationship with an a series of vague terms like ‘just seeing’ and ‘getting serious.’ Now, it’s all on Facebook and you have nine options that are very specific and your status update is published for all to see. And the option of ‘it’s complicated’? Sometimes it’s not ‘complicated’ at all. You just don’t want the world to know exactly what’s going on or you’d like to reserve the right to choose how you define your relationship or what you want the world to know about it.

Luke: But explaining why you don’t want everyone else to know what’s going on might be quite complicated. I tried to remove my ‘it’s complicated’ status in 2007, which fielded the status update: ‘Luke’s relationship status is no longer complicated,’ and I received several congratulatory messages which was the opposite of what I was going for.

Annie: Also, I take issue with the word ‘dating’. When you’ve been in a relationship for a while you don’t really go on dates anymore unless you could order take-away, sit in bed next to each other as you either admire or admonish your partner’s farts. And if you try and institute date night, you spend most of that time noticing how much more effort and cost is involved in going somewhere for dinner or paying for overpriced cinema tickets when you’d rather be cuddling in bed at home. Wait a minute…is that the preliminary stage before you become one of ‘those couples’ in Question 1?

Luke: Uh-oh. Nothing preliminary about it, my friend. I’m a big fan of dates in couples, but not date night exactly, and certainly not ‘instituting date night.’ *forest unicorn dies* I just mean special stuff, surprises.

What’s the difference between two couples living this suburban dream you so vividly scribe, in which one couple is happy and the other perpetually dissatisfied? Well, I always say love is like the ending of The Matrix: if Neo and Trinity both think Neo is The One, he is. If not, then he’s not. Your partner might sick their Rottweilers onto you for burning the fish fingers, but if you think it’s working, it is. Until you think it isn’t. They might sell their Rottweilers, give up the crackpipe and start a charity, and this might ruin your snug codependency. My point is that love is gloriously self-sustaining, completely self-fulfilling, and utter, raving madness.

Annie: Neo wasn’t The One?

Luke: Yes Neo is The One! But he could easily not have been – that’s our predicament. So finally, it’s not an elephant in the room but more like an armadillo bunking with the neighbours: according to everything discussed above, are we a failed couple?

Annie: Like Neo being The One, it’s all how you look at things. I tried to make a flowerpot in a pottery class that kind of collapsed in on itself but made for a serviceable door stop. Sure, it can’t hold pretty flowers but holding doors open is nothing to sniff at. Our failed dalliance opened the door to a beautiful friendship, Luke. Flowery enough of a metaphor for you? Or is it a simile?

Luke: Wow that is grand. I’m pretty happy to be the door guy. Well I guess we’re always part of each other’s equations. Not always comfortable, but I wouldn’t have it any different. Thanks Annie!

**Applause lights flash**

Seeking Compromise, Part Three: the Upsides to Downsides

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“usually when you think you’re compromising with someone else, you’re really still compromising with yourself.”

The more avid reader might have noticed two posts ago that I set an agenda around compromise, before getting waylaid by the pros and cons of optimism and cynicism. Yes I set a goal, then deferred its realisation off into the distance. See what I did there? So meta. It wasn’t deliberate.

What could this feelgood/feelshit disparity in world-views possible have to do with compromise? Well, compromise means getting away from our ideal scenarios. If optimism and pessimism establish internal order, compromise is where those values and methods meet with cold, hard circumstances. Optimists deal with compromise just as narrow-mindedly as do cynics. The optimist might strategically block out limitations and downsides, while the cynic might just as strategically rule out hope. As we explored already, both are irrational certainties, and nothing much to do with how events pan out. Very little indeed will stop us from continuing to see the world exactly as we are most comfortable with, but optimistic/pessimistic tendencies might inflect how we are forced to compromise, as we shall see.

Compromise is important here because it puts our values into action; it is the nature of Plan B, and Plan B goes to the heart of Dysatisfunctional.com. It means giving up control; working with the elements. We compromise with other people whenever we share space, time and wants. But more often—in fact, all the time—we compromise with our own competing ideas, observations, judgements and desires. It’s only a little more complicated when we have to compromise with another party, because we are slightly less in control of their competing desires than we are of our own. In any case, compromise is an inescapable predicament, for everyone, all the time. No exceptions.

We compromise over the most ordinary decisions. How much to work before our health and happiness are both shot. How much to study, before our brains melt down or our friends start to think of us as that person. How much to stop and smell the rosaries. Economically speaking, the price of ANYTHING, and I don’t just mean money. The self itself is at stake, though I mean ‘self’ almost metaphorically. The question is not, “Who do I want to be?” on a macro scale; it’s always an infinite regression of micro-decisions—compromises, that combine to make you whoever you end up ‘being’, regardless of who you’d like to be. So get it right! I’m only half-kidding—such a view puts the onus on the responsibility of our decisions more than some ever-futile self-image. Dysatisfunctional.com starts from the basis that your preferred self-image is impossible to realise, and not just because it is endlessly deferred.

A friend of mine is deciding on a wedding dress. The only one she will ever wear, with any luck. She likes several designs for different reasons. She can’t wear them all, so she has to compromise. Whatever decision she makes, she is confronted with the path not taken. If we never put those paths away, multiplied by every decision we make, our lives would be miserable. Luckily our brains conduct handy tricks on our behalf—most of the time, and some of us more than others. All the cons for the chosen dress are minimised, as are all the pros for the alternatives. The chosen dress pros are enlarged, as are the cons of the alternatives. Seamless compromise. Problem solved. If she’s aware of this operation (and she is—she told me), the resolution will depend on being able to enjoy the dilemma with a sense of playful, ironic detachment, to avoid constant second-guessing.

As for compromise = sharing with others, usually when you think you’re compromising with someone else, you’re really still compromising with yourself. This post isn’t about negotiating the best possible result for yourself, while hoodwinking the other party into believing they’ve actually done well. We might have something to say about such practices in the future. To show how compromising with others is still really about prioritising your own values, think about the start of your last relationship. Many things weren’t quite how you wanted them to be, but you were putting your most optimistic foot forward, giving their peccadillos the benefit of your actual doubt: ever running late, clothes hung up on the floor, inconsequential lies, secret-surprise smoker’s breath, chewing and talking at once, an obsessive avoidance of odd numbers, crying after orgasm, drunken violence, refusal to go see a doctor, or capricious bursts of unseemly competitiveness. Some are more endearing than others, and some less funny.

When a peccadillo first arises, you might casually tease your new flame, joke about it, or politely ignore it. All these are subtle discipline procedures. Once identified as entrenched or compulsive behaviour, peccadillos can be dealt with two different ways: zero in on each one, allowing no margin for error until your partner leaves you, citing your impossibility, OR acknowledge the theoretical existence of your own flaws, accept that theirs are part of the package, and keep rolling with the good times. This IS the more optimistic path, which doesn’t mean it is more open-minded, which in turn doesn’t rule it out as the best course of action. Classic compromise.

Your eyes might glaze over when irritating habits occur, or you conveniently find something else to do, momentarily looking in your bag for your glasses (which you are always already wearing) until the crisis passes. And, tellingly, this might well constitute your own peccadillo for your budding flame (“S/he’s great but s/he’s SOO absent-minded…”). Your chances of minimising the peccadillo itself are lower than your chances of minimising how it impacts your life, and the second course is ethically superior to the first, as well as more practical. The optimistic course here is to reduce it down or away, while the cynical course might be ironic detachment, if not a wholly sardonic (re)framing of the relationship itself. Significant compromises both; in fact a series of perpetual compromises, as you assess, recommit and devote your energies each day.

Optimists might well be bummed about this described state of affairs, and cynics gloomy minus surprise. But I say fear not! The inevitable upside of these inescapable compromises so close to our hearts, is that downsides can work in our favour, just like with my friend’s wedding dress. The critical optimist path, introduced last week, is to stay aware of the peccadillo in question, as cynics would, but in context with what you value about the relationship and the person. If the balance plays in your favour, I hope you’re satisfied, or dare I suggest—happy. If the balance tips poorly for too long, you call it a day. Optimism and cynicism matters here because your assessments depend upon your expectations and decision-making methods.

Ending a relationship, or having it ended in your face, is where critical optimism prevents eschatological hysteria or defeatist nihilism: all those peccadillos you fought down now become the excellent proof for why you’re suddenly so much better off. The operation applies no matter which side of the power imbalance you find yourself on. This explains the disjointed phenomenon so many friends and loved ones experience, when a partner or relationship goes from being championed with so much conviction, to becoming the sudden object of repulsion, exasperation, even vilification. In Freudanese, it’s textbook ‘return of the repressed’. If the reversal can’t be explained in this way, are we seriously to believe that reality was instantly so categorically turned on its head? Surely not, though I’d love to hear your alternative explanations.

Some caveats: you can only use these peccadillos to power critical optimism through this tough time, if you’re aware enough of them in the first place. This rules out unbridled optimism. Meanwhile, if you do nothing but wallow in the relationship deficits you were all too constantly aware of, those peccadillos are wasted potential. This rules out committed cynicism. Perhaps I could have explained the upsides to downsides without spending a month on optimism and cynicism and their evolved mutant hybrid, but hopefully you can now see why we went there.

In his new book The Shape of Design, and his latest round of international talks, renowned designer and author Frank Chimero advocates the long way around for creatives specifically, and perhaps indeed for life more generally, since design for him is about making decisions that bring you closer to how you want the world to be. This long way around is all about compromise, reframed as exploration, innovation, surprise, and engagement. More than design tenets, these make great self-help tenets. Harnessing the deviations and downsides of compromise is absolutely dysatisfunctional, and simultaneously, to your benefit. Even—as the last four weeks of blog posts here demonstrate—by utter, ignorant mistake.

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