Self-Actualization through Alcohol
I'm not sure why I'm so bad at it. Partly, I think it's a consequence of my firm belief in bias. See, if I'm attracted to someone I want to flirt with them. Unfortunately, I also believe in the right of women to not be constantly harassed, so if the interest isn't reciprocal I want to back off with appropriate and dignified haste. The problem is that, since I am attracted, I know I may have a tendency to disregard indications of disinterest and over-emphasize indications of interest. Being aware of this tendency, I don't merely over-analyze the other person's behavior, but the very internal cognitions I use to analyze that behavior. The end product is that I suck at flirting because I can't really manage the interplay very well. It's difficult to be witty and charming while dissecting one's own private shifts in mood and evaluation. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I will die a lonely and bitter man, though I may at least take comfort from the knowledge that this will hardly be a change from the present. I do sincerely hope that my continuing self-destruction is a source of amusement to other people, rather than merely a cautionary tale, if only because that would make it somehow more worthwhile. I suppose that my difficulty with romance has been a source of constant entertainment for my guy friends since, as we all know, the primary purpose of a man's male friends is to mock him at every opportunity. I'd just like to take this chance, then, to say to my guy friends: I love all of you, but you can kiss my fat ass.
My failures as a flirt have been on my mind recently because I was attempting to flirt this past weekend. There were a series of Halloween parties and, at one or more of them, I encountered the object of my affections... and made $40. There's no causal connection there, I just felt like pointing out that I managed to benefit materially from a party without disrobing to any significant degree. In any case, I think I managed to flirt with greater than normal skill, but remain as bewildered as ever by my partner. Or maybe not so much "partner" as "unwitting victim," which is the crux of the matter. Were you flirting back, as I thought from time to time? Were you just being friendly? Was it merely the alcohol? Why am I even asking, as you don't read this blog? Do you read this blog, and I am simply unaware of it? If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around, does Bush get wood? Valid questions, all.
Despite my own conspicuous lack of romantic success, however, there are excellent reasons for me to attend parties. As I have mentioned before, I do not drink. As a consequence, I am often the only sober one in a given bacchanalia which can be fascinating from a sociological perspective. It doesn't hurt that I appear to have the ability to move about stealthily and blend in. I don't personally think that I'm all that sneaky, but my hypothetical-roommate has often complained of my being preternaturally quiet when moving around the house. It is a source of constant distress for him that he often turns around and discovers me ensconced somewhere in the room, apparently for some time, without his having been aware of it. People have accused my hypothetical-roommate of having "super-bat hearing" since he can overhear conversations taking place entirely in other people's heads, so this is no mean feat. I would discount my roomie's observations about my stealth, except that it matches the experiences of my friends in high school and college, who often complained that I seemed to simply appear out of nowhere. I'm not trying to be quiet, it just seems to work out that way.
So, when at such large revels, I have both the ability to move into a position to observe, oftentimes undetected, and the sobriety to attend to what is happening around me. And what were the results of my observations this past weekend, you ask? Simply this: I am not the world's worst flirt. That honor goes jointly to several different undergraduate males. This past weekend, with the assistance of several grad student females, a number of undergrads of both sexes, and a substantial amount of alcohol, I was able to observe the mating habits of the party-going undergraduate male. Allow me to share some of my observations with you.
I witnessed four distinct approaches to romance that I think may provide broad archetypes for clumsy flirting. These approaches were distinguished, in my judgement, by their degree of intended subtlety ("intended" because none were, indeed, what I would describe as subtle) and the extent to which they involved physical contact.
The first approach I will label the "Witty Guy." This specimen of the flirt appears to rely upon his keen rhetorical skills as a way to attract a mate. Those who know me are aware of just how sarcastic I'm being here, since the rhetorical skills of most of our local undergrads are about as keen-edged as a sledge hammer. In other words, they don't so much dazzle with their brilliance, as bludgeon into submission with heavy, flat prose. (My officemate at this point comments that referring to what we see around here as "prose" is itself being rather charitable, but I digress) In any case, the Witty Guy approached my three assistants and struck up a conversation with the question, "So what are you? I bet I can guess." As this was a costume party, it being Halloween weekend, this question was not as obviously offensive as you might think. My assistants attended to his approach with the sort of exaggerated interest that women use to suggest interest to the drunken, and lack of interest to the less drunken. In other words, they were fucking with him, and it was funny to watch. Witty Guy began his guessing with "lollipops" and steadily went downhill from there. The attempted flirting continued for several minutes, and then terminated abruptly when he learned of their grad student status. When discussing the encounter with his friends later (a conversation I was privy to due to my previously mentioned stealth) he expressed his surprise that they were, "like five years older than me" and indicated his fear of either their maturity or their intelligence. So, in this case, Witty Guy was unsuccessful, but he gains points for being merely cheesy, rather than particularly offensive.
Our second contestant finishes our "primarily verbal" flirting category. I will refer to him as "Crazy Eyes." This is because he approached his flirting target, one of my assistants, on the dance floor while staring very, very hard. That he wasn't actually dancing at any point during his approach only served to make this more obvious. He began flirting by asking his target if the male dancing nearby was, "your boy." For those who are interested, I believe the boy in question was me. The target made non-commital gestures and continued dancing. Crazy Eyes, for his part, continued to stare in what was either confusion or a chemically-induced stupor. Once he shook himself loose from this, he approached more closely and attempted to continue a conversation. My assistant did end up chatting with him for some time, apparently out of whimsy, but terminated the contact when Crazy Eyes asked her back to his dorm. Apparently dorm-dwellers are the Morlocks to a grad student's Eloi. Crazy Eyes moved on to greener pastures, which in this case meant smoking up with a few buddies in the middle of the dance floor. In my assessment, Crazy Eyes gets points for being clear, but loses points for seeming a little... scary. Also: asking a female you just met back to your dorm within five to ten minutes is probably less than flattering. Just a thought.
Our third example of masculine ineptitude comes courtesy of a grad student. This fine man I shall refer to as Hula, for reasons that you would only find funny had you been there, and inaugurates our primarily-physical category of flirting. Hula used a rather abrupt approach, engaging one of my assistants in conversation through a mutual acquaintence, chatting for a few moments, and then rubbing her side like she was Aladdin's lamp while saying he thought she was, "very cute." My assistant's response could be described as, at best, lukewarm and Hula decided to cut his losses and move on. Specifically, he moved on to one of my assistant's friends, who also happened to be my second assistant. I should probably also mention that my second assistant was standing right next to my first assistant at the time. When that failed, my third assistant, who was standing beside the second, was the next lucky lady to earn Hula's attentions. Overall, I would rate Hula's initial approach rather favorably. He was relatively articulate, given the circumstances, and made good use of weak ties. His advantages, however, were far out-weighed by his early shift to physical contact, and his apparently probabalistic approach to flirting. By that I mean, if the n is large enough, sooner or later, you almost have to reject the null.
Our fourth and final contestant will be known as Grind. He made use of the classic, "sneak up on a dancing female and attempt to grind hips with her." This approach was made all the more effective for his willingness to make use of whatever side of the female's hips that was available. This suggestive approach, however, was also the most markedly ineffective, in that my assistant fled from his approach, more or less obviously, managing to hold the distance open. I must say, however, that their wordless dance of approach and avoidance was poignant. Also: goddamn hilarious. Overall Grind would receive minimal points, as such an approach requires either that one be startlingly physically attractive, or that the target be quite inebriated, and in either case relies upon a distinct lack of respect for one or more of the participants.
So what conclusions can I draw from this twisted little ethnography? None. I'm not a fucking ethnographer, and this is science on par with Intelligent Design theory. However, I think I can comment that despite the relatively ineffective nature of the four approaches above, they may in fact be more useful than I've given them credit for. In order to evaluate how useful a strategy is, we must first understand the goal. In the case of the last three approaches, the goal was quite likely a hook-up with minimal collateral involvement. If that was, indeed, the intention, then each of those strategies were likely quite useful. Given that they were more or less well-masked versions of the crowd favorite, "Nice shoes, wanna fuck?" their utility was in their simplicity. Individuals who would not respond positively no matter what the approach, would be weeded out reliably, while those who were also inclined to a short-term engagement, might still have the option of responding favorably. Most of the approaches, then, for all their bluntness were highly efficient. It was only Witty Guy's conversational approach that permitted significant ambiguity, and thus ironically was probably the least effective.
In short, then, this particular party represented a social context in which extreme selection pressures were in effect. Witty Guy, while possibly a relatively nice individual, was making use of a technique that is clearly inappropriate for packed, drunken parties. Under those circumstances, impressing someone with your intelligence or character would likely be nearly impossible. The other three individuals, in contrast, were using strategies that would be distinctly inappropriate elsewhere, but could be quite effective given the involvement of a receptive target. And by receptive, I mostly mean "very drunk." The main advantage of these techniques, however, was temporal efficiency. Since such a party is a time-limited phenomenon, any approach that minimizes wasted time may well be thought to maximize potential effectiveness. Thus, even drunk, our male contestants were behaving in a manner I might describe as rational. This simply goes to show that seemingly-irrational behavior is often predicated on a set of goals, or causal beliefs, not shared by the observer. What seems irrational to an onlooker, may be highly rational for the person engaged in the behavior. As a further conclusion, this provides suggestions that one must pick one's battles. As my dancing at best resembles the motions of a gut-shot walrus and I am far too self-aware to make use of Grind's approach, or Hula's casual bluntness, revels are simply not a location where your beloved host, Drek, is destined to find romantic fulfillment.
Hours of gut-busting comedy, however, I can manage.
I would like to offer my sincere thanks to my assistants, who were unaware of being assistants at the time. If any of you read this: seriously, thanks! For any who are wondering why I didn't intervene to scare off "Grind" or "Crazy Eyes," what do I look like? This is the 21st century, short of physical intimidation or harassment, I'm going to assume that a given woman can make her own decisions. If one of my female friends seems to be in danger I will, of course, make myself available to assist, but I will not otherwise behave in a manner that implies a female need for male protection. No walruses were actually gut-shot in the making of this blog post. It is, however, an interesting factoid that, like the Walrus, I too can squirt high-power jets of water out of my mouth to dig for clams buried in mud.