Sunday, March 23, 2008

Long-Term Plans

A friend of mine, Nick, came home from graduate school this weekend for a visit, announcing he had a great new girlfriend. They'd been friends for a while and dating her was "on his list of things to do this year."

Upon further discussion, I realized that this list . . . was a list. A bonafide, written-down-on-a-piece-of-paper, carried-around-wadded-up-in-his-pocket-all-semester list. Complete with more mundane things like "get straight A's, join the student council, and remember Mom's birthday."

Better yet, the relationship with his previous girlfriend -- a woman who'd also made it onto The List -- had ended when she'd found said wadded piece of paper, and discovered that dating her was listed second after dating the woman who was to become Nick's current girlfriend.

I will save for a later column the ethics of pawing through your significant other's stuff (not to mention the total folly of leaving such things out of the locked safe where they belong.) In the meantime, we're going to discuss my reaction to this list business.

I first thought of this as cold and calculating. (Never mind that I did the same thing my senior year in high school. In a moment of triumph I kissed the last guy on the list, Stephen Szoradi, a mere 12 hours before graduation.)

But I quickly realized that was unfair. No one would ever feel that way about the "get all A's" bit, after all. (Imagine: "I've just been ruffling through your drawers and I found this list on which you said you were going to try for a 4.0 this semester. You cold-hearted snake!") Follow Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and you're a smart businessperson looking for self-improvement; follow The Rules and you're a manipulative witch. Both advocate adjusting your natural behavior and personality to get what you want--yet one is somehow admirable, the other a sacrifice of integrity.

Don't get me wrong. I've got plenty of issues with The Rules. You can't live a life devoted to the single cause of Appearing To Be Who You Are Not, but surely there is a middle ground. Surely, dating allows some room for determining what you want and going for it?

Yes, the Long-Term Plan is a perfectly acceptable dating practice. We have them for our schooling, for our careers, for our shopping (Someday the diamond earrings in the Tiffany window will be mine. Oh yes, they will be mine.) . . . and they are allowed for relationships too.

Somewhere along the way, we modern daters have got it into our heads that people should accept us just as we are, and get the hell out of the way if they don't like it. We seem to think that paying any attention to how to best find a date means we're desperate. I'm here to tell you, this relationship fallacy is only slightly more accurate than such doozies as "Love means never having to say you're sorry" and "The next time that weasel asks me to come back, I'm going to say no."

Now, your dates should indeed accept most of who you are. All the core stuff, all the main character traits. Clearly, you shouldn't change the fundamentals of your personality to try to please anyone.

But if your basic technique isn't getting you the kinds of relationships you want, then there is no shame in figuring out how to adjust. If you keep dating losers, or jerks, or wimps, or selfish people, or no one at all, then at a certain point you can safely assume part of the problem is in the way you're handling yourself. So do something about it. (If you kept getting fired from jobs, you might look to a friend, a therapist, a book, a class for some advice. This is no different. It is neither cold, nor calculating, nor desperate.)

Picking a person you'd like to date, following the best plan to do so, yea, even writing her name down on a list -- all completely acceptable. More than that: it's effective. People who know what they want usually get what they want.

Need I remind you that Nick got both girls?

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