Black Boxes and Filling in the Blanks — Early Dating and Compatibility

Dating has long been a subject I’ve avoided on my blog. First, because I tend to want to write things about dating when I’m feeling frustrated with it and I don’t want all that logged in the public record. Second, it’s usually a lot of personal things. I try to write when I feel that I have something useful to contribute to a discussion. I’m allowing myself this post as an exception because I feel like it satisfies the requirement on contributing to discourse and thus I would appreciate your comments and thoughts.

Anyone who’s spent some time with me likely knows that I go on a decent number of dates. Typically a lot of first and second dates and every so often I actually date someone for a bit to see if things work out. I’m single at the moment, so things have not worked out, but I manage to wake up most mornings feeling optimistic that they will some day.


I recently went on a few dates with an attractive young lady with whom I felt some chemistry. Fast forward a bit and I find myself on a hike with her where she’s telling me that she just doesn’t feel that we click and she doesn’t want to date me any more.  I wonder:  What happened?  I need some better information here.

The beginning of the end was this (as she told it): I had been fighting off a cold for a few days before our last date. At the beginning of the date, I gave her a quick kiss and we went on with our date as planned. About 20 minutes into the date, I mention that I had been fighting off a cold. She was subsequently pretty unhappy about my kissing her while sick.

The Model

I won’t go into the rest of the details about why we won’t be dating any more, but this particular story made me realize something:  There are two  kinds of changes people can make in relationships — one based on denying one’s self and one based on new knowledge. (There are probably others too, but for the sake of this idea, let’s discuss these two that are on my mind now.) Denying one’s feelings is the type of change that people talk about when they say things like: “don’t try to change your partner.”  I agree with this sentiment. It’s not possible to change someone, one has to do it for one’s self.  The interesting type is change based on knowledge, which I believe can be very healthy.

Back to my example of kissing this woman. Before she got upset, I had not thought twice of kissing her — I was borderline sick, I didn’t make out with her, and in the past I’ve had a lot of women I’ve dated tell me that they didn’t care if I was sick and would kiss me anyways. (Now I don’t want to say that she was in any way wrong by being upset by this, that is entirely up to her and I feel bad for having upset her by kissing her.)  The question I have to ask is this:  Did this represent a fundamental deal-breaking difference in how we live our lives, or is it bad information?

Speaking for myself, I believe it was bad assumptions and information.  Suppose I have a black-box machine that accepts apples all day and turns out apple pies.  If you watched it take a handful of apples in and  saw an apple pie produced, it would be reasonable to assume that it can make apple pie.  Assuming that the machine would need fundamental changes to behave otherwise is a mistake, however.   Without understanding the fundamental building blocks of the machine, one can’t make that assumption.  Perhaps if you put in bananas and rum, you’d get bananas foster.

The analog for this as part of my previous story is this:  my fundamental building blocks dictate that I’m fundamentally a compassionate person (I think so, at least).  Given those blocks and different input knowledge (“I really don’t like getting sick and don’t want you to kiss me when you are”), the output would be different.   I would avoid kissing a woman who expressed a desire not to be.   Not because I had to deny my true nature to do so, but because my knowledge of the situation changed.   Given new information, my actions changed.

Going Forward

How is this useful?  It helps to ask oneself when considering compatibility if an upsetting event one is revealing the building blocks of the person’s being or if it’s merely unlikely or unreliable input data.  One of the hardest things about early dates is navigating through communication mismatches. We all have our backgrounds and assumptions about the world that we bring with us into any new relationship:  she may say something she meant as endearing that he hears as an attack, or he might invite her to a restaurant where unbeknownst to him she got food poisoning at once.  These can either be lack of information, which is easily remedied, or they could be signs of fundamental incompatibility — these types being oceans away from one another in meaning and importance.

Avoid the latter by sharing what comes up and giving the person information they may be missing:  what you perceive, what you feel about it, and what you want/don’t want.  It may change the output, it may not, but don’t see an apple pie come out and assume that’s all they’re capable of if what you really wanted was some ice cream.  You are always communicating — it is literally impossible not to send out information about yourself every moment.  Try to fill in as many blanks for the other about who you are and what you feel and want, or they will fill it in with their own historical data — which, if they are anxious, will be anxious thoughts and beliefs and feelings (not ideal!).

One thought on “Black Boxes and Filling in the Blanks — Early Dating and Compatibility

  1. Hey, you were fighting off a cold, not AIDS. But I don’t have all the information I need, so we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe in high school her first love promised the highest fidelity and long walks at the beach – and then delivered serial fickleness and her first case of the crabs. That changes a woman, yeah? Or maybe she’s just always been kind of a bitch…

    Either way, it’s her, not you. I enjoyed the post – interesting equation you’ve authored here, keep filling in those variables. The hike you save may be your own…



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