That Think You Do
















Framing Decisions

This post is about the intersection of two usually minor things. Gnats, really. Annoyances and not much more. Things you’d just as soon swat as put any real effort into.

However, when they come together and they often do, they come together like two freight trains colliding in the night.

We talking way beyond dangerous here.

Vulnerable

Have you ever had a day when you felt just a little “out of sorts”? A tad discombobulated, perhaps? You’re just not firing on all cylinders and you know it? You’re a little off, maybe?

There are lots of signs that these are true even if you don’t recognize them as such; you take things more seriously than you should. You take things the wrong way. You’re more sensitive to others’ opinions. Jokes aren’t as funny as they should be. You’re melancholy. You feel a little cold even though everyone else is perfectly comfortable. You deny yourself simple pleasures — a stick of gum, a piece of candy, that last cup of coffee — for no real reason you can think of. Things like that.

The common term for this malaise is vulnerability. Everybody has vulnerable moments. It’s normal, even healthy. There’s lots of reasons for a sense of vulnerability. The best thing to do when you feel vulnerable is take a moment and figure out what’s causing it. There’s always a reason. Sometimes you’ve caught a cold or the flu and it hasn’t completely manifested yet. Sometimes your stomach’s upset but not enough to knock you out. Ditto a headache. Other times it can be something that’s happened or happening in your life. A friend is moving away, a raise doesn’t come, a relationship ends or begins. Perhaps a bad nights sleep, or dreams that left you feeling a little off.

Whatever the cause, take a moment and see if you can figure out what’s making you feel vulnerable. Often being able to point your finger at the cause of feeling vulnerable is enough to make it go away.

Decisions

Have you ever had a day when you need to make a decision? Doesn’t matter if it’s minor or major, it can be anywhere from “Should I have another cup of coffee?” to “Should I relocate my family for that job?”

All that matters is that it’s a decision that has emotional elements and is more than a logical “Yes/No” type question.

Train Wreck

Feelings of vulnerability can be thought of as mild or minor depressive episodes. Everybody has them and they’re only a concern when they don’t go away or escalate. What’s important for this discussion is that they’re depressive, meaning that different parts of your brain and different aspects of your conscious and non-conscious selves are not communicating optimally. No where near it, in fact.

You are, in a sense, under the influence of a self-generated narcotic, hypnotic, soporific, take your pick.

The point is, you’re not in any condition to make a decision of any kind. You’re not in the right frame of mind to make a decision.

Make a decision when you feel vulnerable and your decision will be based on avoidance of pain, not on attracting pleasure. You’ll be making a decision in a depressive state, you won’t be thinking clearly, and your sense of vulnerability will cause you to act emotionally, not logically. You’ll flame someone you could just as easily ignore, you’ll say something you shouldn’t to someone you care about or who cares for you, you’ll be less kind when you could be more.

It’s amazing what a little vulnerability can do to our lives.

Looking Both Ways Before Crossing the Intersection

Fortunately, there are some simple fixes for avoiding such train wrecks and they all begin with self-awareness. Literally, do you feel or sense something’s amiss?

Then stop what you’re doing until things pass (and they will). Meetings can usually be postponed, phone calls can be rescheduled, projects can be delayed an hour or even a day with little to no difficulty.

Quite simply, when you sense something’s amiss, take a moment and see if there’s any decisions you need to make. Most will be minor and can be postponed until your vulnerability passes.

Is there something truly important that can’t wait? Ask a trusted friend or co-worker’s advice and help. Strategize with them. Listen, pay attention, seek input and feedback. Is this person truly trusted? Tell them you’re feeling vulnerable. They’ll understand and help you through it. Most times just talking it through with someone helps to put things in perspective and you become aware of what’s causing the vulnerability so you can deal with it.

So the next time you’re feeling vulnerable and have to make a decision, don’t.

That intersection is a dangerous one to cross. Look both ways then look again.

Chances are you’ll figure out what’s bothering you, be able to chuckle and shrug it off, then make the decision with a clear mind and heart. The greatest benefit is that you’ll be in better control of your life. You’ll be able to appreciate and deal with your moods rather than be dictated by them. No small achievement, that.



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Family Patterns

Many, many years ago I was on a panel at a psychology convention. We were discussing themes of abuse (the way abuse reveals itself in society).

I stated something that was so obvious to me (from research, from training, from experience) that I assumed it was both known and well recognized in that community: any rational individual who is the victim in an abusive relationship and decides to stay in that relationship is no longer a victim. Now they are a contributor to their own abuse, hence they are a willing participant in their own abuse and any rational person who willingly subjects themselves to abuse can’t be a victim.

They’re probably no longer rational in the classic psychological sense, and equally they are no longer a victim.

This is fairly obvious reasoning to me. I thought it would be obvious to everyone else.

I was escorted from the conference under guard. The negative response was that intense, that visceral. Things were thrown at me, I was shouted at, insulted and if people got close enough, I’m sure I would have been eviscerated. Nobody quoted Blaming the Victim at me and, to be honest, the intensity of the response indicated I’d probably revealed an uncomfortable truth rather than said something idiotic. We laugh at idiots, we punish truthsayers.

That was then. Now this concept is pretty well established in the therapeutic community: if you don’t leave the abusive relationship you’re no longer being “abused” in the traditional sense because you’re participating in the activity.

Echoes Dying in the Canyon

Recently that experience came back to me via a couple I know, Tom and Jenny. Tom left Jenny and his two children. Jenny was close to gathering them and had made plans to leave Tom because he was increasingly psychologically and emotionally abusive to her.

She was very close. To protect herself and her children. Very close.

And, she told me, in the middle of one particularly hellish bout where he was yelling, she was crying and the kids were screaming, he stopped.

Stopped, she said, as if he’d been shot. His face changed color, she said. His jaw was clenching and unclenching, his cheeks were so tight and white they looked like painting canvas. The muscles in his throat looked like they were strangling him. His eyes were swollen and so red she thought he might have had an aneurism or burst a vessel somewhere.

And he looked at her and through clenched teeth said, “Jenny, I am so sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing. I have to leave. I can’t do this to you or the kids anymore.”

He grabbed a jacket, walked outside, closed the door, got in his car and quietly drove away.

The sudden lack of yelling, crying, screaming and shrieking, she said, was more deafening than his raging at her.

But the echoes of his abuse remained.

A Voice in the Wilderness

Tom called her a few days later. He was in therapy. As part of his therapy, Jenny was asked to come in for one session so his counselor could explain things to her.

Warily, she agreed.

Tom, the therapist explained, had contacted him and described, quite calmly, what he’d been doing to Jenny and that he hated it. He didn’t know why he was doing it. He couldn’t seem to stop it.

The therapist said that Tom’s coming forward on his own was an incredible step. The therapist could not guarantee that Tom would change but Tom’s coming forward was a very strong indication that Tom, at his core, wanted to change.

Jenny, if she was willing to help Tom, would need to learn a few techniques for handling confrontational behavior.

She would need to learn to talk loudly, distinctly, clearly, confidently and affirmatively to Tom should he become abusive. Not yell back, more like yell with. Instead of “Why are you yelling at me?” more like “Think about what you’re really yelling about! What’s really going on here?”

She would need to be a voice of reason, a voice directing Tom to health when Tom needed to gather all his mind’s energy because he was becoming lost in some primitive emotional wilderness.

Patterns recognized can be interrupted

Slowly, things are getting better. Tom is still in therapy. His treatment of Jenny, it turned out, was learned.

From his father.

Who probably learned it from his father.

Taichi Sakaiya wrote “Any form of society that becomes fully established and passed down through generations has self-perpetuating cycles to reinforce the conditions it requires to exist.” in The Knowledge-Value Revolution and what is true of societies is true of families and groups. Lines of force, fields of energy pass from father to son, mother to daughter, across genders and generations.

There is no telling how far back this type of behavior goes. Therapists know that families display behavioral patterns generationally. A perfectly understandable behavioral pattern in one generation is passed to the next generation and is slightly exaggerated. That slight exaggeration is picked up in the succeeding generation and exaggerated even more.

The common examples of such things are irrational fears. Someone demonstrates an intense fear of spiders (for example) and, tracing back, we discover that their mother had to thoroughly clean any room where a spider was found and that their grandmother was always uncomfortable seeing a spider.

The behavior is a response to some trigger. Together and done often enough, a pattern forms. Good therapists help clients recognize and change the patterns.

But Patterns Here Need to Match with Patterns There

Patterns, especially behavioral patterns, need matching patterns to thrive, kind of like interlocking puzzle pieces. One piece in isolation tells you nothing about the puzzle but without it the complete picture isn’t revealed. Psycho-behavioral patterns are evolutionary in nature. Therapists are aware of this, too, and call it enabling. This brings us back to the individual who stays in an abusive relationship. That individual is enabling the abuser to be abusive by staying in the unhealthy relationship.

The person with the irrational fear of spiders will only retain that irrational fear if they are routinely around others who allow, encourage or enable that fear to be demonstrated by acting against the trigger (the poor spider in this case). If that irrational fear — that behavior — isn’t encouraged, nurtured, enabled, it will not flourish, what therapists call “fail to thrive”.

This requirement that behavioral patterns find enabling matching behaviors is also why, when one person seeks to stop some behavioral pattern, their partner is faced with a tough decision: Either they recognize their own behavioral pattern and change it as well or deal with the (often painful) change in the relationship.

In other words, if person A is the abused member of an abusive relationship and decides to leave that relationship, person B either has to find someone else who’ll participate in their own abuse or stop being abusive.

Wallace and Pat

Also long ago I met a couple, Wallace and Pat, who were “swingers”. One day Pat confided that the only reason she took part in swinging activities was because she believed it was the only way she could keep her marriage together. I could have told her that she couldn’t complain about her husband’s behavior nor could she voice disfavor. Instead I asked, “What is Wallace providing you that you believe you can’t find elsewhere?”

She thought long and hard. Finally she said, “Identity.” And behold, there was a memory of her father’s flirtations with other women in the neighborhood and her mother’s toleration of his behavior. Thirty years later Pat was with someone who enabled her to be the kind of woman her mother was but only more so, thus providing Pat with a familiar identity “perfected”.

The Devil You Know

Pat was comfortable with a known devil, specifically a devil that helped her recognize who she was in the world. Pat, if she left Wallace, would either have to consciously craft a new identity for herself or find a new Wallace who would help her perpetuate her old identity, one based on her mother’s behavior.

And the Devil You Don’t

Tom hated the devil he knew and is working to create a new identity for himself. He and Jenny say they’ve fallen in love with each other all over again. They also admit there’s still some moments when things are rough. Jenny’s recognizing some things in herself that need changing. They’re learning how to recognize devils and avoid them.

The kids, after some touch-and-go times, seem to be enjoying the ride.





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Excuses

I have been studying the excuses people make to avoid things.

One of my all time favorites comes from someone who openly admits he wants everyone to love him and like him. He does this by lying to them. He won’t tell them something he believes they don’t want to hear so he makes something up. He once told me, “I have no trouble lying to people.”

I smiled because I suddenly found myself on the Island of Liars where one of the inhabitants walks up to you and says “Everything I tell you is a lie.”

What is the proper response? Basically, if you want to be involved with this person, you have to continue the relationship knowing that he can be trusted to deceive you.

But what an incredible excuse for lying. “I want people to like me.”

And when those who trusted you discover you’ve lied? Hmm…Crazy making behavior, that.

The Frog and the Scorpion

I’m reminded of the fable about the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion wants to get across some water but can only do it by riding on the back of a frog. The frog says he won’t do it because the scorpion will sting him. The scorpion promises the frog it won’t sting it, gets the ride and stings the frog half way across the water. The frog cries out “But you promised,” and the scorpion replies, “What did you expect? It’s in my nature” and both frog and scorpion drown.

Hmm…

I’ve also been told that someone could only take on jobs that interested them because they’d get bored otherwise.

I’ve got that interesting-bored thing pretty well figured out. Given my options I’d rather do things that interest me, too. What an excellent excuse for for being habitually unemployed, though! I can’t work if I’m bored, sorry. I won’t pay attention, patients will die, things won’t get done and what gets done will only get done to the point where I lose interest.

Whoa! There’s a person you want on your payroll, yes?

Better than a year ago I asked someone for their research data, something they’ve released a product on. They’d love to send it to me, they’re simply too busy to do so.

“Is it close by?” I asked during one phone call.

“The file’s right here on my drive.”

“Do you have your email open?”

“Sure I do.”

“Then zip up the research data file and email it to me. I can walk you through how to zip the file and email it, if you’d like.”

“Oh, gosh. I’d love to but I have to get to a meeting right now.”

It’s amazing how many meetings that person has.

There are lots of valid excuses. Life, for example, often gets in the way and we need to disqualify ourselves from taking part in something. The kids need to be picked up or dropped off. This is the only time I could get a dentist or doctor appointment. Tonight’s my bowling night.

But I do wonder sometimes…

Saddest of all is that excuse-making falls into the “if I am a thief then you must steal” category of interpersonal relationships. People who lie automatically believe others lie to them. People who make excuses automatically assume others are making excuses.

I was going to write more on this. I’ve got great, earth-shaking ideas on it, you know.

But someone told me there’s air outside and I really need to investigate that right now.

And I have a bone in my arm.


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How Do You Define “Love”?

Long, long ago in internet time (okay, back in 2005 or so), a personals/online dating company came to NextStage and asked if we could create a tool — a Love Gauge — that would tell if people were a good match for each other, ie, would fall in love. Even better, could the tool determine how long lasting that relationship would be. We responded, “How do you define Love?”

There are three basic kinds of Love

Humans are capable of three basic forms of love; Agape, Philios and Eros. Most people can figure out Eros pretty quickly; it’s the ritualization of reproductive sex. I write “ritualization” from a cultural anthropology perspective. Our brains’ most powerful circuitry, the neuroanatomical pieces that will win every argument every time, still rule our lives in this order:

  1. Can I survive?
  2. Can I mate?
  3. Can I eat?

People are amazed at how much time our non-conscious minds devote to insuring those three things can happen. All that talk about altruism and giving one’s life for another? Those are easily explained by behavioral ethology. All that talk about fidelity? Look to cultural anthropology. Making sure everyone has enough and the right things to eat? Watch the Food Channel.

So Eros, erotic love, is pretty much physical in demonstration and mental in causation. Humans need to think sexually in order to perform sexually and the former, the thinking, must always take place first.

Philios is the “higher” form of love and the term from which Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love”, gets its name. Philios is the love we have for our family, our friends, our neighbors and so on. On a cognitive level, are there things you’d do for your friends that you wouldn’t do for your lovers or vice versa? If yes, those differences are demonstrations of how you consciously and non-consciously segment Eros from Philios.

Agape is the love “God has for man” and is actually recognized in two forms, top down — God to us — and bottom up. The love we have for our chosen deities is the “bottom up” form of agape love. Not only that, but the “love” we have for country, for causes, for institutions, for groups, et cetera, all fall into the agape category. Whenever we believe there’s a “love” relationship between us and something we recognize as “greater” than us, it is coming from the parts of the brain that register and respond to agape love. The emotions a toddler has for their parent, recognizably older siblings and adult near-family members (grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, etc) is agape in nature, growing into philios (we hope) as they mature.

Part of human neural design is that we are capable of experiencing these three loves separately, simultaneously and in all mixtures possible.

It’s wonderful, how we’re designed.

Back to Making Tools

The company that wanted a Love Gauge was, it turned out, primarily interested in Eros and Philios, and they weren’t particular which one dominated at what point in the relationship so long as people were satisfied with their partnerings long enough not to blame this company should a relationship turn sour.

Our tools’ technology base currently is capable of recognizing agape and philios, but not eros.

Darn, huh?

So we told them that. We shook hands and walked away.

NextStage's Compatibility Gauge- NSCGBut not before we developed a Compatibility Gauge. We developed the Compatibility Gauge because we thought going through the motions would help us figure out how to recognize and measure eros.

Well, it didn’t.

But then I got a call from a friend who’s also a regular client in a completely unrelated industry, one that builds on and offline communities. We got to talking about recent projects and I mentioned NextStage’s Compatibility Gauge (”NSCG” for short). I explained philios and agape to him and he said, “So it can determine if two people will get along, just not if they’ll fall in love, right?”

Yep.

“Can it determine if two groups will get along?” Yep.

“How about someone coming into an existing workgroup. Could it determine if they’ll fit in and contribute?” Definitely.

“How about if someone would be a good manager for an existing team?” Yup.

“Can it determine if two companies should merge?” To a point, yes.

“How about if someone would be a good CEO for an existing company?” Ayup.

“Brands and fans?” Yes. “Brand persona and Consumer Persona?” Yes.

“So it can figure out who should be accepted into a particular branded community for testing purposes?” Yep, sure can.

Not to mention who’d make good political running mates. Or who’d be good friends.

And thus a tool was born.

But wait, there’s more…

A while later (a long while later in internet terms) I was talking with someone else and they made an offhand comment that got me to thinking about a way to modify one of our existing tools, NextStage OnSite, NSOS. NSOS traditionally reported on website visitor en masse, not individually. It could determine group behavior and response but wasn’t designed to report on individuals.

But what they said gave me an idea of how to modify the math inside that tool so that it could report on certain elements of individual behaviors. The results of that can be seen on NextStage’s Facebook page (and please beFriend and Like us while you’re there).

Modifying NSOS brought me again to a Love Gauge concept. There had to be a way to do it, I simply wasn’t understanding the problem correctly.

So I asked our technology “What is Love between two people?”

First, yes, we can actually ask our technology such things and get an understandable response. Second, because our technology currently “thinks” like a child albeit a child with a vast knowledge of how humans interact, it responded with

  • Eros: Pleasurable compassionate attention to another’s person
  • Philios: Consistent demonstrations that another’s peace and understanding have equal value to the self’s peace and understanding
  • Agape: Trust beyond knowledge, understanding and experience

We’ve gotten use to our technology being Zen-like and Koanish. For example, “Pleasureable compassionate attention to another’s person” makes quite a bit of sense when one breaks the phrase up a bit; “Be aware of their physical, emotional and psychological pleasure/pain thresholds and move between them as they wish. Focus more on them than on yourself.”

That “Be aware of their physical, emotional and psychological pleasure/pain thresholds and move between them as they wish. Focus more on them than on yourself” is actually something our technology can measure and report on because love, regardless of the form, is more about the mind than the body and a lot of what’s in that definition is mind-based, not body-based.

We’ve gotten use to our technology being smarter than us.

And by the time my next That Think You Do post is published, that Love determining tool should be available. We’ll be making it available here for your…um…pleasure.

So stay tuned.

And in the meantime, go play with The NextStage Compatibility Gauge. It might save you some headaches before you go out on that first date.


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A 3AM Phone Call

The phone rang at 3AM and even as I rose from slumber, I knew a casual conversation would not ensue. Phone calls at odd hours are indicative of great emotions, usually. So it was with this one. Someone was calling because they were in emotional crisis. They called me because they knew me — sort of — and had read what I’d written about being overwhelmed (see Five Simple Ways to Take Back Your Life and A More Serious Look at “Setting Unreasonable Goals”) and felt I was someone they could reach out to.

First, give them credit that they knew the problem was a massive feeling of incapability, of being unable to do, to perform, of not being able to meet expectations.

Second, give them credit that they reached out for help. Feeling overwhelmed is often a prelude to depression, so good for them. They caught things in time.

With any such challenge, having these two elements means you’re better than 90% of the way to a solution, so congratulations to you. What I offer here is a path to going the other ten percent. Remember, I’m not a professional therapist and you should seek out a professional therapist if feeling overwhelmed habitually plagues you.
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Men Get Stupid Over Sex

I’ve been laughing my head off over some recent research findings. I’m laughing because the research is…well…funny to me. Kind of like certain types of comedy. Some forms of comedy derive their power by demonstrating our own foolishness. We’re actually laughing at ourselves through the safety of the comedy.

So it was with this research. My chuckles came from a friend’s one line commentary, used as the title to this post.
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Make Her Laugh

Okay guys…you’re in a bar or restaurant or the office or in the grocery store or wherever. You see an attractive women whom you want to meet and are having a severe attack of ice-breaker-itis (known to some as pickup-line-itis and chatup-line-itis).

Let’s say you’re in the grocery store. She’s carrying a basket, not pushing a cart and you oh-so-carefully glance in and notice there’s Swanson Dinner’s-For-One, a couple of apples and not a dozen, a small bag of grapes and not a bunch, a quart of skim milk and not a gallon. Okay, good, she’s probably single.

A can of tuna fish…no, wait…a can of cat food. No, two cans. Okay, she has a cat. Even better, you love cats.

You want to introduce yourself and she’s heard so many pickup lines before and you’ve never been great at this, what to do, what to say?
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Fear of Rejection

I was contacted recently by someone who’s personal life is interfering with their public life.

First, in a Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter world, I detect some kind of oxymoron in the thought that public and private lives are still separate.

Second, throughout all history it has been impossible for most people — barring sociopaths — to keep their private life and public life separate. I’ve known some people who are remarkably adept at compartmentalizing things and this doesn’t mean they’re keeping things separate, only that they’re letting specific things through.

The reason it’s impossible to keep different aspects of our lives separate is because all aspects of our lives are “powered” by our core psychologies and beliefs. Someone who’s a joy on the job and a terror at home is simply bringing their work frustrations home and letting them out there. The reason people act out at home (private life) more than at work (public life) is because the relative safety of the home allows for more of the core to manifest itself.

Usually.

But this post is about Fear of Rejection, so lets get to it…
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Arguing in Public

I’ll make it simple. Don’t do it. Ever.

Let me amplify. Don’t start an argument in public. You may win the argument however everyone around you will think you’re a poot. “Poot” is a technical term, I know, and I think you get the idea. Everyone witnessing or hearing the argument will side with the individual who didn’t start the argument. Depending on who’s around you when the argument is started, this can be either a plus or a minus.
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Why did I get all the girls?

Male friends in college were often envious of my abilities with the womens. It was not uncommon to hear comments such as “How do you rate?”, “I knew you’d know her” and some less respectable phrases.

Even after Susan and I got together women had no problem sharing their intimacies with me, the secrets they’d normally only share with other women, seeking me out for this or that. Fortunately I’m amazingly dense and Susan usually has to let me know when girltalk becomes flirting (too much of an anthropologist, me).

What makes me so attractive to women?

In a word, I’m average.
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