I was at a party recently, when a girl beseeched for my help: “My relationship is so perfect that I’m freaking out about it. I’m pushing him away even though he’s so sweet to me. I’m sabotaging what I have and I don’t know how to stop.”
Pretty heavy for a first encounter, but no problem, I can handle it. I implored, “What’s going on, how are you freaking out?”
She said, “He’s just too perfect. He’s sweet and funny and intelligent and sees the beauty inside of me. But it seems too good to be true. You seem really close to your boyfriend. Can you just tell me some stories about your experience?” She looked at me like I bore some secret recipe to relationship nirvana because I am generous with physical affection. Or maybe after I told her I was interested in psychology, that it meant I could impart wisdom borne from months of dating data collection and the designer relationship I have now fabricated after multiple failed trials.
No, I don’t have the answer to a perfect relationship, and all that data I’ve collected hasn’t helped.
People have suggested that I continue the practice of keeping a data set by documenting the interactions between my boyfriend and myself. Why not keep track of the frequency and duration of our meetups? Analyze the text within our emails and texts to see what we *really* feel? Keep a log of who texts who first? If I can optimize dating, why shouldn’t I be optimizing my relationship too?
There was an author in The Atlantic that shared the very same sentiment. While Emma Pierson did a textual analysis of 5,500 emails that were exchanged between her and her boyfriend, I never got around to keeping track of anything. And despite what you’d suspect me of me, I don’t think I ever will.
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Likewise – if data isn’t mined and put on a blog, is it really insightful? I am dating just one person now, and the poor guy doesn’t have the cover of 52 other guys to be made anonymous with. Obtaining consent may very likely affect the results of the experiment.
But more seriously, I’ve learned that keeping score never bodes well in a relationship. It’s not in the spirit of giving and taking, and appreciating our differences in communicating care and affection. Emma found that she missed her boyfriend more than he missed her based on textual analysis of their emails. But the truth was, he simply preferred talking on the phone more often and that’s where he claimed his mushiness came through.
The girl I spoke to at the party was worried about coming off as too giving, and also worried about how sincere he could really be. Perhaps I should have told the helpless girl to compare her boyfriend’s current behavior to her in relation to his historical patterns. What I mean is this: if he has historically only called his ex-girlfriends 3x a week, and he calls her 4x a week, she should actually be pleased and not be perturbed that she calls him 5x a week (when she has historically called her ex-boyfriends 5x a week too). Everything is relative, right?
But then you get into this vortex of quantifying the emotional, and making petty comparisons between the past and the present (and totally neglecting that person’s ability for evolution). Even though I’m all about amassing information, doing so in a relationship can be like scratching an itch. Like Emma says, “relationships are weird: endearing moments seem bizarre when coldly quantified; it’s full of truths that might be softer if only dimly perceived.”
Here’s what I wished I could have told that poor girl:
“I’m in a new relationship too. The fuck do I know what I’m doing? I may have read a ton of scientific literature on relationships, but I’m still as clueless as anyone else. And get this: I freak out too. When you freak out you lose sight of the issues that are imaginary and those that are real, and you start overcompensating in ways that only exacerbate the delusion. Just enjoy your feelings of infatuation – reality will set in when it needs to set in.”
But as always, it’s easier to give advice than to live it. *breathes deeply*