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Save The Wails

I recently got in touch with my high school sweetheart (AKA the love of my life). He said I had uncanny timing since he’d just gotten divorced, and we met at a club and talked and laughed for hours. He e-mailed later saying I was really sexy, and he’d had a great time. I started e-mailing him about topics I find interesting, like overpopulation and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. First, he was into it, but we had a heated debate about how to control overpopulation (which I feel very strongly about) and suddenly his e-mails dropped to two words at most. What happened? Did my passion for protecting the environment and humanity scare him off?

--Opinionated

Do you want a boyfriend or a bar fight?

You’d like to believe this guy just wasn’t man enough to handle the issues: “Did my passion for protecting the environment and humanity scare him off?” Oh, please. No, probably the fact that he just got divorced, and the idea of bringing a combative woman into his life fills him with about the same joy as the prospect of adult circumcision.

If your in-person chat was anything like the e-mail exchange you forwarded me, one or both of you must take your conversational cues from humorist Fran Lebowitz (“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting”). Of course, e-mail brings out the worst in those with a tendency toward monologue over dialogue. At least in instant messaging there’s an in-the-moment opportunity to correct misunderstandings. But, only face to face do you have all the information -- the ability to notice that something you’ve said has caused the other person to boil with rage, fall asleep, or go over and sit on somebody else’s lap.

What’s with all the typing, anyway? You haven’t seen the guy since high school, but instead of snuggling up to him over a bottle of wine on a red velvet banquette, you’re home alone pounding out position statements on Mahmoud Abbas. Come on, is the point getting to know each other or proving what a little miss smartypants you are? If you simply like to hear yourself talk, why not save him the aggravation, and just leave yourself long, rambling messages on your answering machine?

Now, let’s say you want to save the spotted owl, and he’s sending out Evites to a spotted owl chili cookoff. And maybe he traded in his Hummer for an 18-wheeler with the bumper sticker, “Proud Supporter Of OPEC,” and spends his free time pouring used oil down the drain. The big issue in a relationship actually isn’t the issues. I just read a comprehensive study about this by University of Iowa psychologists Shanhong Luo and Eva C. Klohnen that really surprised me. They found that people tend to couple up with others who are similar in attitude, religion and values, but it’s overall personality similarity that’s the best predictor of whether they’ll be happy together. Maybe that’s how America’s strangest bedfellows, Republican apologist Mary Matalin and Democratic apologist James Carville, make it work. Or maybe they just have some really stupendous sex: “You dirty, dirty liberal!” “Say that again, and you’ll see at least one WMD!”

In other words, you don’t have to open your head, extract all political thought, and refill it with lime Jell-O. You (and whoever) do have to start with a base of good feeling to bridge disagreements -- honeymoon first, irreconcilable differences later. Luckily, it generally doesn’t take much to bond with a guy: Just undo a couple buttons on your blouse and ask him about himself; no need to get right in there and club him over the head with a baby seal.

Posted by aalkon at January 23, 2007 1:22 AM

Comments

I feel like I've been in this LW's shoes before. I think she's also coming off as desperate, too. Desperate for him to understand her, to connect with him, to force a rapport when it should unfold on its own.

I think Amy basically implied this, but to highlight it: she and the high school sweetheart hadn't been in touch since high school. Can't tell how old the LW is, but I imagine that there's at least a few years of non-contact. What about the good ole standbys of "So, what have you been up to? Are you still friends with such and such? How's the job going? Remember that one time in my parents' car backseat, and then that cop flashed a light...." Maybe that last remark is too much, but you get my idea.

I think it's also interesting how she refers to him as the "love of my life." She may have perfectly preserved him in memory (minus all the immaturity and jerkiness typical of adolescent boys), and that always spells trouble for a relationship.

Posted by: Wendy at January 23, 2007 7:16 AM

Maybe the problem is not so much that they do not agree, but that she seems unable to agree to disagree. My husband and I feel very strongly about several issues in polar opposite directions. However, we're able to understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, whether we like it not.

It sounds like she's not only opinionated, but obsessed with proving her point. Sometimes, you just have to let things go...

Posted by: Renee at January 23, 2007 8:23 AM

I couldn't possibly be in a serious and/or lasting relationship with someone who disagreed with me completely on a point of great importance to me, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I felt the need to respond because I got the sense from Renee's comment that she thinks it's somehow more mature to be able to be in a relationship with someone with completely opposite views. I'm not saying in response that those relationships are inferior, just that they're not superior. I'm perfectly aware that others have every right to their opinions, but I'm not interested in spending my time with people whose opinions I think are ignorant or lack compassion, for example.

This was a bit of a tangent, but how it ties is in that I think it's also possible that the thing the LW should let go, if she and her old sweetheart have a serious difference of opinion, is not her opinion, but her fantasy of being with this guy. Some differences can be overlooked; some can't.

(Ultimately, though, it sounds like it was just the over-intensity of the LW's intial communications that spooked him, not necessarily her opinions.)

Posted by: Nora at January 23, 2007 2:09 PM

"I felt the need to respond because I got the sense from Renee's comment that she thinks it's somehow more mature to be able to be in a relationship with someone with completely opposite views."

I wasn't stating that my relationship was any better than anyone else's. I was simply stating that as adults, we sometimes have to agree to disagree. We can't win every argument, and we certainly can't change everyone's minds. If it means that much to her, she should see someone else. However, just shoveling your opinion down someone's throat is not going to convert them to your side of the fence. If nothing else, fanatical opinions scare people away.

The long and short of it is...if she's capable of agreeing to disagree, alls well. If she thinks that the man obviously walks with his knuckles dragging the ground because *gasp* he doesn't agree with every opinion that drops from her ever-flapping jaw, then move on.

Posted by: Renee at January 24, 2007 5:54 AM

Speaking as someone who often gets into e-mail arguments with a man who has vastly differing views from myself, but whom I nevertheless adore, there are times when you do have to just drop it (although he might claim I rarely do that). In this case the lady has to decide what is more important -- her opinion or her friendship. If the friendship is more important, she should either call or e-mail the guy and tell him, "Listen, I didn't mean for the argument to get out of hand. I'm sorry it did. I feel very passionately about population control and sometimes I get carried away."

I think the fact that his responses have become monosyllabic shows he is hurt and defensive. If she wants a future with him she needs to recognize that.

I think Amy hit the nail on the head when she observed that a) the guy just got divorced, and probably isn't looking for screaming arguments; and b) this lady should be looking for snugglies with her long-lost honeypie, and not screaming arguments.

One good way to keep things on an even keel is to remember that neither one of you are going to change the world, just by having an opinion; also, just because your opinions differ, no one has to change theirs. Another would be to ask the other party WHY they believe as they do, instead of telling them how they should believe. This time I think the lady has to offer the olive branch to the gentleman, because he's the one who's being scared off.

Posted by: Donna at January 24, 2007 5:57 AM

When I was in my early 20's and just getting into Ayn Rand, I felt desperate to connect with someone on an intellectual level, too. I was probably guilty of going off on opinionated monologues without stopping to take a breath. It was incredibly frustrating to be stuck dating a bunch of guys who never picked up a book, let alone had an actual opinion about anything they would read. They were just a bunch of former frat brats who only cared about getting drunk and laid. Yuck. As annoying as the LW's behavior probably is, I sympathize with her, too.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 24, 2007 7:04 AM

"It was incredibly frustrating to be stuck dating a bunch of guys who never picked up a book, let alone had an actual opinion about anything they would read."

Yes...ummmm....I'm in my 30s and still looking for that same thing! Not to stereotype by ANY means, however, turn off ESPN for a bit and read something! Again, no offense to anyone, but that's my history!

Posted by: Kari at January 24, 2007 8:00 AM

I'm just curious. Why is it so important to find a guy who is capable of discussing world politics, philosophy, etc. etc. Is the topic of conversation not as important as feeling that you are being taken seriously? Or that you are being heard? Is it validation, that a man respects you?

I'm not being weird here, I'm just wondering...

Posted by: Chris at January 24, 2007 8:48 AM

Chris, speaking for myself, it's not important to me to find someone who can quote Philosopher X or Y, or drop the names of leading thinkers or politicians. (In fact I usually find that pretentious.) But I find that some people sort of "let" life happen to them without getting behind the wheel and steering it in a specific direction. Guys like that are boring. They have no idea why they are several-times-divorced with kids scattered everywhere, and what do you know - the only things they talk about are sports and work. Their brains don't seem to be occupied with much outside the day-to-day details of getting around. (Disclaimer: There are plenty of women who are the same way!)

On the other hand, I am a person who can actually articulate what my values are and draw a connection between my choices and the consequences of my actions. I value self-ownership, freedom, and independence , and this is reflected in the personal lifestyle choices I've made as well as the political views I have. I read a lot and take an interest in what's going on in the world around me. I'm a thinker, and while I'm not trying to sound all superior about it, I do have to say it has kept my life disaster-free.

I don't have to ram my opinions down someone's throat or hang conversion scalps on my mantel. And sometimes it's nice just to smoke a fattie and neck on the couch for a while. But a guy who sits around and talks about his favorite team or TV show all the time is quite simply going to bore me to death.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 24, 2007 9:50 AM

To Chris:

>>>Why is it so important to find a guy who is capable of discussing world politics, philosophy, etc. etc. Is the topic of conversation not as important as feeling that you are being taken seriously?<<<

Because intelligent women don't enjoy being bored. Ever heard Judge Judy's saying, "Beauty fades, dumb is forever?" A guy can take me as seriously as he wants but if he can't hold his own in a reasonably intelligent conversation, he's not going to hold my interest for long. The man I mentioned in my earlier post disagrees with me on a variety of subjects, but at least he's able to discuss them. Ever heard the old joke, "why is a man better than a cucumber? Because a cucumber can't take out the trash."? Well, other than taking out the trash, an ignorant man who has no opinions on anything really isn't much better than a cucumber.

Posted by: Donna at January 24, 2007 12:16 PM

I think it's very important for a lot of people to be able to have have intelligent conversations with their significant others. It's funner that way, and also can help bring two people closer. But intellectual, intelligent conversation need not include belligerent hornlocking.

Posted by: Wendy at January 24, 2007 12:59 PM

"It was incredibly frustrating to be stuck dating a bunch of guys who never picked up a book, let alone had an actual opinion about anything they would read."

"Yes...ummmm....I'm in my 30s and still looking for that same thing! Not to stereotype by ANY means, however, turn off ESPN for a bit and read something! Again, no offense to anyone, but that's my history!"

Since this letter discussion seems to have gotten off the issue originally represented, I have to vent my frustration with these comments. As as 20 yeard old RIGHT NOW, im a guy who would like a girlfriend who seems to care about such things, though I'd have to say that Ayn Rand isn't exactly my cup of intellectual tea. Im going to leave that one be. My point being is that i know hundreds of guys who read on a daily basis, I hapen to be one of em. You pass em over, its your own fault. So dont go making claims about guys my age not being able to connect intellectually. You just looked in the wrong places, I guess.

Posted by: Scott at January 24, 2007 1:05 PM

Chris:

Because intelligent women will quickly get bored if their man is little more than a cucumber who can take out the garbage. Do you think that men should not be capable of discussing different topics intelligently?

Posted by: Donna at January 24, 2007 1:44 PM

This is for Scott,

I usually don’t post comments, mostly very entertained by reading them.

You proudly stated that you are 20 years old and then followed by saying “other stuff, like mum, totally not true etc. (without going into detail)

Have you ever heard of the saying; “It is better to be quiet and look stupid, rather than open mouth and remover all doubt.”?

Your comment, with all it’s fault in grammar etc., alone, and defending your “species” just validated our topic more.

You have many years to grow up, and hopefully you will expand “intellectually”…..

P.S. Not attacking the species, the guy's just obviously an idiot

Just my opinion

Posted by: not claiming to be that bright, still learning ... at January 24, 2007 5:28 PM

"They found that people tend to couple up with others who are similar in attitude, religion and values, but it’s overall personality similarity that’s the best predictor of whether they’ll be happy together. Maybe that’s how America’s strangest bedfellows, Republican apologist Mary Matalin and Democratic apologist James Carville, make it work."

That, and the fact that, when they first started dating, he used to make crawfish etoufee, bring it to the campaign office when she was working late, and feed it to her. (In a G-rated way, though I think this need not rule out the possibility that they do indeed say naughty politics-related things to each other in bed.) Note to guys: Do this while still displaying a spine and you will go far.

While on the topic: I'm a smart woman who's looking for a smart guy who can discuss/debate topics intelligently, but I can think of only a very, VERY few people on this planet with whom I could get into an e-mail debate involving strong emotions and have everything remain relatively civil. "A heated debate over e-mail" is a recipe for driving most non-masochistic sane people away, in my opinion. Arguing when there is no immediate give-and-take and no emotional context is, in my experience, disastrous. If I found out by e-mail that someone disagreed with me over a political/moral topic, I would likely bring it up again when I saw him in person or at least spoke with him over the phone, but debating fiercely through e-mail? No. Having said that...

"Speaking as someone who often gets into e-mail arguments with a man who has vastly differing views from myself, but whom I nevertheless adore, there are times when you do have to just drop it (although he might claim I rarely do that)."

...SOMETIMES the e-mail debating thing can work. Donna, I'm guessing that you and your guy either manage to remain relatively civil or have worked out another system that is fine with the both of you. That, in my experience, takes time and is difficult to try to do in the first flush of lust/hormones/whatever of a new relationship.

Posted by: marion at January 24, 2007 8:29 PM

When I was in my early 20's and just getting into Ayn Rand, I felt desperate to connect with someone on an intellectual level, too. I was probably guilty of going off on opinionated monologues without stopping to take a breath.

I was in-fucking-sufferable. The way A.A. makes people go apologize to everyone they ran over or whose carpet they threw up on, I should have to do for people who knew me in my early 20s.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 25, 2007 12:42 AM

Touché, Amy! Perhaps one of your next blog topics is how most 20-somethings (especially the liberal arts majors in college) are obnoxious. Please, before you ream me, I was a very obnoxious English lit major who would barely make a peep while out but write reams and reams of bad poetry. And then try to read them to other people, desperate to connect intellectually and desperate to be understood. As equally insufferable.

To the poster who addressed that 20-year old guy Scott:

I read, re-read, and then re-re-read his post. What is it about his one meager post that gives you enough material to call him an idiot? Or, is he a regular poster here and you've developed some kind of grudge against him? What you wrote wasn't very nice--nor a valid argument, because again, I don't see anything particularly bad in the writing of his post--and like with the original LW for this column, it's much easier to be vitriolic behind the anonymity of the Internet than in person.

Posted by: Wendy at January 25, 2007 6:45 AM

Thanks for the answers to my original question. I used to be very set on having a guy that I could have intellectual discussions with, but that faded with time, and I was trying to figure out why it had been so important to me.

What I've found is important now, is what is mentioned in the quote below:
"They found that people tend to couple up with others who are similar in attitude, religion and values, but it’s overall personality similarity that’s the best predictor of whether they’ll be happy together"
I only date guys now that are similar in temperament to myself. One guy I'm seeing is the same as I am on an emotional and personality level. He is very intelligent, but he is an engineer, so not inclined to talk much about any topic that isn't practical, in his world view. He's smart enough to be able to learn how to make me happy, and appreciate a good thing when he sees it, so he won't screw up our relationship and then not know what happened, like the un-self-aware guy might do.

And to focus on the original post, I wouldn't get into a fight with him because he doesn't want to discuss existentialism.

Posted by: Chris at January 25, 2007 7:53 AM

Marion:

"...SOMETIMES the e-mail debating thing can work. Donna, I'm guessing that you and your guy either manage to remain relatively civil or have worked out another system that is fine with the both of you. That, in my experience, takes time and is difficult to try to do in the first flush of lust/hormones/whatever of a new relationship."

In our case, it is very difficult to have arguments in person as he lives a 2-day drive away. At best we only see each other 1 or, tops, 2 times a year. The thing is that even though we argue constantly, we basically like each other a lot. And we both value the friendship. But sometimes we just have to acknowledge that there are certain topics upon which we will never agree. One of the things I like about him, though, is that he usually gives as good as he gets. So it's not like one of us is a fading flower and the other is an ogre. We're pretty evenly matched. But, in fairness, I do have to admit that sometimes the arguments get a little bruising and we occasionally have to retire to opposite corners. When that happens we back off and talk about more light-hearted subjects.

Posted by: Donna at January 25, 2007 8:57 AM

Chris, you make a great point. Just because a guy doesn't want to talk about existentialism doesn't make him boring. Chemistry and attraction go a LONG way toward making a guy not-boring, don't they! We can always talk about existentialism with fellow nerds among our friends and family. But my eyes still light up when I meet a guy who likes to read and gets passionate about some of the same things I do.

Anyway, like I was saying above, it's not so important to me that a guy be able to QUOTE philosophy as it is that he HAVE one of his own. A strong, confident man who takes ownership of his own life is much more interesting than one who passively drifts along with the current, having no opinions of his own, wondering how on earth things just keep "happening" to him.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 25, 2007 10:24 AM

I guess no one in her life ever explained that you don't discuss politics or religion with the ones you love b/c afterwards you might not be discussing anything with them for a very long time. And why would you come in so damn strong, it just doesn't make any sense, I would feel terrorized if a guy did this to me. Maybe she pushes her Ideas and all the things she supports on this guy so she can reassure herself that the cause she is fighting for is worth the fight. And if she needs that kind of back up support to fight then she has some other issues that probably need to be taken care of first!!!!

Posted by: Alta at January 25, 2007 11:26 AM

"I think the fact that his responses have become monosyllabic shows he is hurt and defensive."

Hurt and defensive? I'm putting this in the same category of nonsense as when a recently-dumped woman says "he's afraid of commitment," and leaves off the ever-important "with me" at the end of that sentence.

More likely that he finds her diatribes boring and tiresome. My old college girlfriend firmly believed that significant others should "challenge one another." Ugh. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the words "Peak Oil," or "Ozone Layer." I get that on the six o clock news. Why would I want that from my mate?

Or, as a buddy of mine once put it - "I'll vote for Hillary Clinton, but I'd never want to marry her."

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 25, 2007 11:37 AM


For Wendy and Scott,

Yes, sorry, I was off “base”.

Me, misplacing my crack pipe should be my own problem…

I didn’t mean to offend you or anybody with my virulence.

Scott, will you marry me?

Seriously, I love this blog and its creator.

Sorry 

P.S. Amy rules!!! Do I get a whaaaaaa waaaaa

Posted by: just an idiot being facetious at January 25, 2007 4:12 PM

If I had a dollar for every time I heard the words "Peak Oil," or "Ozone Layer." I get that on the six o clock news. Why would I want that from my mate?

Or, as a buddy of mine once put it - "I'll vote for Hillary Clinton, but I'd never want to marry her."

Exactly. On both counts.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 25, 2007 4:17 PM

If the person is right for you it won't matter if the two of you agree on everything. I think it's important to be with somoene who has an intellect that you can respect, but not important at all (and maybe a bit boring) to agree on all of the issues.

I'm a vegan who is totally in love with (and shacking up with) a carnivore. He doesn't insult me for being a bit of a bleeding heart libeal, and I don't bother him over eating meat. We live and let live. It's more important that we share a sense of humor, and that we love each other and respect each other's depth of personality.

Posted by: Jaylyn at January 28, 2007 9:22 AM

Wait, Amy didn't weigh in on the all important situation as it now stands: since this guy had gotten the lay of the land and is now barely speaking to LW, can this situation be saved if she wants to try to, or is this a liver and learner?

Kaput or not?

Posted by: Susan at January 31, 2007 3:21 PM

Probably not saveable. Typically, once you wear a guy out, he's worn, and that's that.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 31, 2007 4:06 PM

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