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This is largely a continuation of the discussion I started in Friendship and love a long while ago. You should probably go read it soon. It was getting long, had been in the queue for altogether too long, and I had a particular reason for posting it when I did. But it wasn't the end of the story by any means. This post has been in the queue even longer by now, and it looks as though there will still be more to say. But Valentine's Day seemed like a good excuse to finally post it.

Unlike F&L, which was mainly about the emotion of love and what the word means, this post is about talking about love, and in particular talking about it between friends. I don't have a whole lot of experience in this department -- in fact, I'm so far out of my depth that I can't touch bottom -- so if you have anything to add or to correct in this one, please do. It could probably also stand a thorough going-over to see whether I still believe anything I say in it. It won't get it.

So, is it love? Should we talk about it?

You know, if you have to ask either question, the answer is probably "yes." Well, if I have to ask either question--I don't know how it is for you.

The first one is pretty easy, at least with my definition of love as an emotional relationship worth taking seriously. If the question comes up at all, you're taking the relationship seriously enough to call it "love", at least to a first approximation. It probably won't come up unless one of you has recognized some of the symptoms of falling in love (the subject of a future post, perhaps). How do you refine that approximation? Ask your friend for help.

(As an aside, I think that missing your friend -- thinking about them when they're not around, wondering whether they'll call, feeling happy when they do -- is a good indication that that there's enough of an emotional connection to be worth at least talking about and clarifying.)

You'll notice I'm assuming that you are friends. If not, start by becoming friends, unless all you're looking for is a whirlwind romance that's likely to end quickly and perhaps painfully. I don't have any advice for you in that case.

The second one is even easier, especially if your friend has just started the conversation. You need to talk about it.

I'm also assuming that one of you is a geek.

I'm using "geek" here to mean someone a lot like me: someone not very in touch with their feelings. We geeks tend to be shy, inexperienced, and socially awkward, though there are exceptions and some of us hide a core of deep shyness under a veneer of superficial friendliness. We have trouble expressing ourselves in social situations and especially in relationships. We tend to be very analytical (as you can see), and prefer to overanalyze social situations rather than diving in and going on intuition. We either don't have much in the way of intuition, or don't trust it. We can't "read" other people, and have to rely on analysis again to figure out what the other person in a conversation is thinking or feeling. We don't understand people very well.

I could also have used the term "loner", as I did a few weeks months ago. Perhaps even "introvert". No matter. If you see yourself or your friend in that description, I'm talking to you.

If neither of you fits very much of this description, go for it, and have fun. I probably can't help you much except to say "be friends first." If you're in touch with your feelings but tend to have trouble expressing them, you can probably proceed as if you're a geek; that's pretty much where I am these days -- a recovering geek who's trying to figure out this whole "being human" thing.

The remaining three cases might be better analyzed by thinking about which end of the conversation you're on: are you a geek trying to talk to your friend about your love for them, or are you a non-geek trying to talk to a geek about your love for them? Or, in the third case, are you a geek with a friend who says they love you? Are you a geek in love, in love with a geek, or a loved geek?

We'll take those in reverse order, which also turns out to be in order of increasing difficulty. Did I mention that we geeks tend to be analytical?

Are you a loved geek?

This one is easy, because your friend has already done the hard part and started the conversation. You're loved. Cool!

Now you have to take a good look at your feelings, which isn't exactly easy, but let's face it: you've been given a broad hint about where to start looking. It may take a while to figure it out, but that's OK. The main things to remember are that you're friends, and friends like to talk to one another, and you're a geek, and geeks like to figure things out. It may be a very different conversation than you're used to, and a very different problem from any you've solved before. Nothing wrong with that.

It's not that simple, of course. This may be a completely new experience. Even if you've had people fall in love with you before it probably came out of nowhere, from someone you thought of as "just a good friend". You're going to have to totally re-think that relationship.

If the person who asked is not a geek -- and they probably aren't, considering -- this is probably as new and weird an experience for them as it is for you. Maybe weirder. They may not realize that you're totally unlike anyone they've ever fallen in love with before.

You need to recognize that they probably haven't thought it through -- they're going on intuition. They may be terribly disappointed if you don't immediately say that you love them back, or if where you'd like to see the relationship going is different from where they see it going.

Tough. This might take a while.

You're going to have to figure out what you mean by love. We geeks don't always have "falling in love" as a guide -- if you didn't hear bells and choirs of angels when your friend said "I love you", don't worry. I'd been married to Colleen for years before I had anything approximating that feeling.

I've also had the fascinating experience of falling in love without realizing it at first, and taking even longer to figure out just who I had fallen in love with. It's going to be hard for your friend to understand just how unsure you are of your feelings. Talk it over.

Are you in love with a geek?

(I'm assuming you're the non-geek in this conversation. Otherwise it reduces to the next case.)

If you're waiting for your geek to start the conversation, to say they love you, don't hold your breath. Seriously: even if they know they love you back, they're probably too shy to say anything. And they probably don't know. You may be dead certain that they love you, but they aren't likely to have even thought about it until you speak up.

Don't hint, either. They won't notice. They can't read people the way you can. You're going to have to be direct.

Bear in mind that this is probably going to be at least as weird an experience for you as it is for them. Maybe weirder -- it's entirely possible that your geek has had relationships with non-geeks before. You probably haven't.

If you're comfortable saying "I love you" to someone you've fallen in love with, you're probably used to getting an instant response: either a quick "Oh, I love you too!" or an equally quick and hopefully gentle rejection. You're probably not used to bafflement, stunned silence, or outright fear. You've probably never heard someone say "I have no idea what that means." Brace yourself.

The geek you've fallen in love with might well find that they love you without having "fallen in love" at all. Or they might not have any idea what love is -- the prevailing cultural myths and assumptions about love don't apply to them. Figuring it all out is going to take time. Maybe months. Maybe longer.

Hang on to your friendship. That's your lifeline, your connection. Work with your friend on figuring out what your relationship is, and where it wants to go. Don't get too hung up on whether you both call it "love" -- that's not the important thing. The important thing is to figure out what you both want. I'll get back to that.

Are you a geek in love?

If you have to start the conversation -- if you love your friend but they haven't said anything about loving you -- things may get a little complicated. Maybe not -- it's possible that they love you too, and simply were too shy to say so. In that case, the game's over: you both win. Keep talking.

(There are lots of reasons why your friend might not have said anything. Maybe they're a geek too, and simply hadn't noticed or hadn't thought about the possibility. Or maybe, especially if they're not a geek, you simply didn't fit the "person in love" pattern they're used to. They don't realize that the "falling in love" part may be optional for you, or that you've gotten good at hiding your emotions, sometimes even from yourself. But it doesn't matter: you're talking.)

It's also possible that your friend doesn't love you, or hadn't thought about the possibility, or simply has such a different idea of love that they can't wrap their head around your version. It's important to remember that, in that case, you still have your friendship. And what's more, you're talking about your friendship.

Of course, that means you have to start talking. That's the hard part. It's also the part of this discussion where I have the least experience.

My friend [livejournal.com profile] pocketnaomi occasionally speaks of "my habit of throwing my heart over a wall and jumping after it" -- and of sometimes having to haul it back by main force and worry about how many pieces got left behind. She's very shy, but she isn't a geek -- she knows where she wants her heart to go.

My own experience is more like having my heart dive off a cliff and wait at the bottom -- sometimes whimpering plaintively, sometimes making silly faces at me where I can't see it but everybody else can -- until I finally figure out where it went and summon the courage to dive after it. My main worry is whether I'll land on top of it and squash it flat.

Usually my friend throws me a rope; jumping off on my own would be scary. I think the biggest fear is whether saying something about love would damage the ongoing friendship. All I can say is that it probably wouldn't. It never has, when someone said it to me, or when I've said it to someone else.

Hmm. I think there's a lot to say here, but in the near-total absence of any recent experience, I'm probably not the one to be giving advice.

I do know this: you can't start exploring without starting the journey. If you don't start, you're always going to wonder where it would have taken you.

What do we talk about?

Mostly, you have to talk about what your relationship is, and where you want it to go, not what to call it.

Yes, one of you might feel more strongly connected than the other. One of you might even be willing to call that connection "love", while the other continues to insist that's it's merely deep friendship. One of you might have fallen in love, or noticed the symptoms, while the other hasn't even considered it as a possibility. Very likely, speaking from my own experience. But how can one really tell? Is it a difference of emotion, or of committment, or merely of personal terminology?

You have to ask questions like "What do you mean by {love, romance, friendship}?" "What do you want out of this relationship?" If you're starting the conversation, you should have at least preliminary answers ready.

Again, this is something that I have no recent experience with, though I can speculate. More later, perhaps.

Date: 2009-02-15 11:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jilara.livejournal.com
Wow, great discussion. Speaking as a geek, I understand very well the "I have no idea what you mean by that" in terms of love. People watching me and Andrew nowadays don't realize I actually had to learn a whole new model of love, to be able to say "I love you." At least and have it sound like something authentic. I could do "I care about you," but love...well... It sounded like a lie. It had to fit into some new paradigm for me to feel comfortable with it.

New things to learn, in lots of ways for us, since our relationship (because of the age difference) wasn't based on more conventional models, from the start.

Of course, I don't think most non-geeks would "get" being sent on a silly deductive treasure hunt for Valentine's Day, either. Or fixing curried lamb heart as a punning Valentine dinner.

Date: 2009-02-16 06:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mdlbear.livejournal.com
*nods*

There's the "what do you/I mean by that?" question, and also the "how do I/you know that you/I understand what I mean?" questions. You can easily get into an infinite recursion there.

Date: 2009-02-16 12:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] acelightning.livejournal.com
You'd think it would be easier for two geeks in love, since they at least speak the same language. But that's not necessarily true. For one thing, if both participants have trouble analyzing, defining, and expressing their feelings verbally, you wind up with a conversation that consists largely of stammering, sentence fragments, and awkward pauses. Fortunately, it's rather rare that both participants are that evenly matched... and once one person begins expressing their feelings, even if it's still pretty inarticulate, it tends to open the floodgates for the other person as well.

Date: 2009-02-17 03:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mdlbear.livejournal.com
Agreed; getting the conversation started is usually the hard part. After that it's easier -- geeks are good at analysis.

Date: 2009-02-17 10:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] acelightning.livejournal.com
There's a special level of humor, though, always lurking in the background in geek relationships. Back when I was a teenager, the concept that females could be geeks didn't even exist; nevertheless, I was one, and most of my friends were geeks. Of course, the concept of simple friendship between women and men was a pretty radical idea at the time as well. Anyway, there was one particular friend of mine who, after a while, started behaving rather oddly towards me. He developed a habit of liking to sit with his arm around my shoulders. I eventually deduced that he must have fallen in love with me. I had absolutely no such feelings towards him, but I really didn't want to hurt him, so I sort of played along for a bit. When he tried to kiss me at a party, I decided I'd better have a serious talk with him. He listened to me, and then started to giggle... "You mean you thought I...? But I thought you....!" Yep, each of us had leapt to the same erroneous conclusion, and were trying not to hurt the other one's feelings. Pretty soon we were both laughing so hard we were in danger of wetting our pants. (But that was a contributing factor to my eventual decision to be "just like one of the guys"; it greatly reduced the chances of such miscommunication, as well as getting me taken more seriously as a tech.)

Date: 2009-02-16 08:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] septemberlilac.livejournal.com
Speaking as a non-geek, it seems to me that "the 'what do you/I mean by that?' question" isn't unique to geek/non-geek pairings, but such couples may be much more aware that the question exists. Those outside that equation often just take it for granted that both parties are defining love in exactly the same way when they aren't. The waters in *that* river get murky real fast.

The importance of friendship as the basis and/or underlying support structure of a romantic relationship is something that gets far too little acknowledgment in our society. Love is all very well and good but it's friendship that will enable you to get through the rough patches. Falling in love with someone you're not sure you like is a sure recipe for disaster. What I semi-humorously call the ill-fated grand passion of my life fell into that category but I was too young at the time to see it or to know that friendship was a necessary element.

Date: 2009-02-17 03:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mdlbear.livejournal.com
Good point; I don't have much experience with non-geek pairings.

I tell people "be friends first" whenever the opportunity arises, which isn't quite often enough. I can see how it wouldn't be necessary for a one-night-stand or something equally transient, but have no experience with such things.

Date: 2009-02-18 07:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aerowolf.livejournal.com
I...

...have to admit that I just shared this with a close friend of mine, one with whom I hope to form a more romantic relationship.

The point of fear is, for me, after the point when I acknowledge my own feelings, after the point accept them as my own, and just before I communicate them.

the point of relief is/was when the person I expressed them to blinked, and said "I was afraid that if I told you how I feel I'd scare you off, and I'd rather have a lesser, more restrained friendship with you than to have you not be part of my life at all."

Date: 2009-02-20 04:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mdlbear.livejournal.com
I'm glad it helped. It's that kind of thing that keeps me writing this stuff.

Yeah, I know that fear. Very much so.

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