Monday, September 13, 2010

An email about good old-fashioned romance

Just over two weeks ago, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I've been reading your blog on and off for a year now and have been really enjoying it - thanks. Congratulations on the new email address and web domain!

This evening over a cup of decaf at a local pub, I had a rather interesting discussion about relationships with my brother, who is also gay but four years younger than me. I'd be interested to know what you and any of your other readers thought:

The conversation came about as my brother joked that his life plan was to civil-partner someone rich and cute (ha, ha); however, as the conversation became more serious he claimed optimistically that in principle anyone might fall in love and end up in a relationship with anyone else. After all, he said, "you only need one person to fall in love with you". Perhaps I'm just too deeply cynical (quite probably), I replied that whilst I'd love nothing more than to settle down with a boyfriend working in the City to a blissful life of Colefax & Fowler swatches and surrogacy (really, I would), at the grand old age of 34 my days of five evenings a week at the gym are long gone and as a teacher I was never going to land Mr Darcy as I simply no longer held enough points!

Basically my line was this: In relationships everyone pairs off with those who they are fairly equal to based roughly around three areas: (1) Physical attractiveness; (2) Money/Power; (3) Intellect/Personality. This can be both or either a sub-conscious or conscious decision. You don't have to score the same for each of the three areas but in total you need to score roughly the same. Therefore, the super-cute, sexy, 20 year old, blond, Abercrombie jeans model ends up with the slightly overweight, Oxbridge educated, 45 year old hedge-fund director because overall they score about the same. In my world-view, dear old Jane Austen and every Rom Com writer since have simply been trying to make the single, aging, drooping ones of us perceive some ray of hope so we don't all throw ourselves under a train tomorrow.

Perhaps I am too sceptical and bleak - goodness I hope so. What do you think? Are you with my brother, or me?

I immediately sent the reader an email, telling him that I'd happily address his queries. Having thought about it at length, I can see merits in what both brothers say.

It's interesting that the reader mentions Jane Austen because ever since I read Pride and Prejudice, I've been a big fan of her work. But in her novels, it always seemed to me that it was the personality and intellect of the heroine that enabled the heroine to marry the richer man. That means that even in Jane Austen, there is a balance of attributes in the three areas that the reader mentions. So perhaps the reader's idea that couples have to score a similar amount in the combination of those areas is correct?

But then, doesn't everyone have at least one friend where the thought is "I really don't know what my friend sees in his partner, I'm sure that he could have done much better"? No doubt that's the situation that the reader's brother is referring to. The person who thinks a friend could have found himself a better partner is probably assessing the situation based on the three areas that the reader mentions.

I was discussing this with boyfriend T a couple of days ago, and he had a good point to make.

"I definitely thought that one of my friends could have found himself a much better wife," he remarked, "but eventually I found out what my friend saw in her."

"Which was?" I ask, intrigued.

"It was the sex! He told me one day after a few drinks that she was absolutely amazing in bed :-)."

I guess what this means is that there are many more categories than the three areas that the reader mentions. However, I think it also means that people probably do pair off based on the qualities in their prospective partners, but exactly which qualities are important varies from person to person. No doubt that's what the reader's brother was referring to, namely that people can have hidden qualities which make them attractive to people that otherwise would not be attracted to them. I think it would be fair to call that the mystery of romance!

So what are the two brother's chances of finding themselves nice boyfriends? The younger brother is clearly an optimist, and in general I think that's quite an attractive quality so I'm sure that he'll be OK :-). However, the older brother who sent me the email is in danger of turning into a jaded and cynical old queen, given the way that he wrote the email! But with the right attitude, there's absolutely no reason why he won't be able to find himself a nice boyfriend too :-). After all, I was older than he is now when I met ex-boyfriend P, and older still when I met boyfriend T.

Do any other readers have any thoughts on this subject?


Anonymous said...

How old are you GB? Weren't you with ex-boyfriend P for a while?


Daniel Jason Binks said...

I'm only 21 years old and I'm losing hope in monogamy.

Anonymous said...

The Score Theory, even a very complex one, with a number of objectively selected parameters may eventually explain why two people start a relationship.

The problem with all such static theories is that there is no way to explain why do people stay in such relationships even when the score approach does not work for them anymore.
Bluntly, you can play around with the figures but you still won't be able to predict the durability of the given arrangement. Thus, for practical reasons, the approach has a limited applicable worth.

LTRs are more productively viewed as a set of complex agreements based on subjective perceptions. Many people will tell you that you "can do better" than your present BF. Yet, it is only up to you to estimate how realistic this really is.

Numbers and scores can explain a number of things, but the phenomenon of attraction is simply too complex and too changing to be set in stone for all the practical purposes.


badabing said...

How about desperation as a factor ? Two people simultaneously deciding that 'oh-fuck-it-you'll-do'.

Jeremy said...

I very much believe in the matching theory of attraction I think it would be better to partner with someone your equal. From the practical point of view, things would much be easier to come by with someone that is essentially the same as you. Scientifically, they've came up with all sorts of data that show how men and women would marry someone from the same background i.e. socio-economic status, level of education, attractiveness scale, etc.
Then again there is another theory about how love could grow between 2 people in time. Witness the custom of arranged marriages, studies have shown that couples that had pre-arranged marriages were more likely to stay married than couples that initially were mutually attracted to each other. The study also shows that the pre-arranged couples would come to love each other through the course of the relationship.
What we can take from here is that there is hope. Even when one becomes desperate there still is a good chance that we might find happiness with someone you can respect and care for. We human beings are capable of feeling and giving love and if that is so love is natural for all of us.

gaymedic said...

For anything to last, I certainly think one has to look beyond superficial criteria. Sure they can be important, it's much easier to get along with someone who has similar attributes to you, but one would be limiting his options unnecessarily. What happened to the saying 'love is blind'? =p

Anonymous said...

Hubby and I started off as polar opposites. I think that's what kept it interesting over the past decade. If anything, us taking on traits of the other has been the root cause of most problems.

A matching points system might give you the start of a relationship and may smooth over initial bumps, but long-term I doubt it counts for much.

Personally, I wouldn't advocate over-thinking relationships. Dive in, get your heart broken a few times, grow as a person and find your place in the world, either alone or with another person (or several).

Eric Whitney said...

My own dating outcomes improved about 10,000% when I decided to get over myself and learn to like guys who already seemed to like me.