Theory of Mind: Case Study

September 12, 2008

I will share some details of an interaction I had with Dave to illustrate Theory of Mind (ToM) issues mentioned in my last post.

I am not great at making decisions and would prefer the guy figure out ideas of what to do.  Most of the time, I’m flexible.  Sometimes, however, I am in the mood to do something specific.  For example, two weeks ago, I told Dave I wanted to go to a coffee shop to mooch some wifi and then hang out with him at his place afterwards.  He had a better idea.  He said, how about we go get coffee and talk and then you can use the internet at my house afterwards.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but that worked. 

On the way to the coffee shop we had mentioned, Dave keeps driving, then says he hopes I don’t mind getting something to eat with him first.  Okay, once again, not what I had in mind, but I continue to flex my flexibility muscle (it’s in my brain somewhere) and go along with it.  We go to a restaurant he likes and proceed to sit in the back, where it was dark and gloomy.  I told him this was not going to give me my “cafe fix” and he said they have coffee.  All along, I had been thinking about ambiance and a window view, not caffeine.  He was totally missing the point.

On the way back, we were getting near the cafe we originally discussed.  I was really curious to see if he would go there, so I didn’t remind him.  This was not a trap; it was an experiment.  When he kept driving, I didn’t hold it against him, but casually brought it up after we got back to his place.  His response was that I should have told him I wanted to go to the cafe.  I know what he meant – I was supposed to ‘remind’ him.  For me, that was irritating because I’d already told him twice.  How many times did I need to tell him?

As I said in the last post, hopefully he will learn to listen to (and remember!) what I say instead of guessing what I want, which is really easy to assume is the same thing that he wants…in this case, to go to his house.  Fortunately (or not?), I recognize this “deficit” in him as well as in me.  He tends to get completely immersed in his own perspective and I tend to completely completely accomodate other peoples perspectives to the detriment of my own.  We both have work to do.  We are equally contributing to this imbalance in our relationship.


Tough Choice: Which List First?

September 12, 2008

I started out with a single list…or the idea of a single list.  A list of pros and cons about Dave.  Well, not just about Dave, but about our relationship thus far.  Not everything neatly fits into the pro or con categories.  There are positives and negatives, likes and dislikes, and another independent category of specific complaints/observations.  Last but not least, there are the “negotiables” and the “non-negotiables.”

This list idea turned out to be more difficult than I thought.  I wonder if CremelloQuarterPony is having better luck with her list.  Probably not.  It sounds like she’s too busy having sex to make any lists.  The only list she has going right now is a mental list of all of the new “yoga” moves she’s tried.

Then shdwst (I think this is Shad), also in response to the same post, said he likes lists and is looking forward to hearing about what not to do.  I wasn’t exactly thinking about a list from that angle, but since he asked, I’ll cover that list first.  For some reason, that’s the easiest list. 

Okay, Shad, this list is for you and your compadres (since I don’t really know you, I mean men in general). 

Be confident in your intelligence.  Intelligence takes on many forms.  Think Howard Gardner.  Contrary to popular belief, intelligence and level of education are two distinctly different things.  Dumb people have graduated from Yale (well, at least one, anyway) and smart people don’t always go to college.  Be confident in your varied strengths and don’t beat yourself up over your weaknesses.  We all have them, just different combinations of them.

Be flexible.  Be ready to take charge…or not.  You might think this is a trap, but it’s not.  The key here is flexibility.  When you first start going out with a woman, go ahead and take the initiative to plan things out, like what to do and where.  Share your ideas and see what she thinks.  If she has a different idea, or was the first to suggest a specific idea, let her take the lead. 

Finally, keep in mind the theory of mindTheory of mind (ToM) is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from ones own.  In plain English, ToM is about empathy – the ability to see something from another persons’ perspective…not as you would see it if you were in their shoes, but how they actually see it.  This relates to the issue of flexibility above. 

Bear with me for a moment, as what I am about to say has implications for “normal folk.”

My critique of ToM involves Simon Baron-Cohen‘s application of it to individuals on the Autistic Spectrum, which he tends to oversimplify as an extreme manifestation of ‘maleness.’  I think he’s missing a critical point: ToM is not always a “developmental milestone” people do or don’t reach.  There is a middle ground, where otherwise ordinary people cannot switch back and forth (from their perspective to the perspectives of others) as quickly and easily as other people.  This relates to why far more males than females are diagnosed with autism-related issues.  Women, perhaps because of hormonal and chemical differences, are more likely “evolve past” the ToM stage, but effectively get stuck in “empathizing mode,” while men are more likely to get stuck in “narcissism” mode.

Here is the meat of it:dating and relationships require an advanced ability to empathize that leaves most people in the dust.  This is a particular kind of intelligence that not all people, including (and especially) those with high “IQs” possess.   In fact, people with highly developed intelligence in subjects like math and science are probably the most inept in this area of functioning.

Are you more of an “empathizer” or a “narcissist”?  Let me guess, Shad – you are more of an empathizer.  If this is true, you get so wrapped up in the other person’s perspective that you lose track of your own perspective.  That’s how I am.  Dave is, self-admittedly, more of a narcissist.  He can be incredibly empathetic at times, but is usually self-absorbed.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  The point is to be aware of your own tendencies and try to correct for them.  If Dave proves to be a keeper, he will become more aware of his inclination to get stuck in his own perspective.  He will (hopefully) learn to listen to (and remember!) what I say instead of guessing what I want, which is really easy to assume is the same thing that he wants.

Work, Old Boyfriends, and Blogging

September 9, 2008

I just posted a bunch of content to the Cindy, Working portion of my blog.  Sometimes, I go with the flow of writing and then post it all after I’m finished with the writing spurt.  Two posts briefly mention men I dated 15 years ago, Mike and Greg.  Mike was my first love.  He was my first boyfriend…and my first sexual partner.  I will undoubtedly refer to Mike in future posts because, for better or worse, that relationship had a big influence on me.  Also, we reconnected 13 years after breaking up.  More stories for another day.

Cindy’s Blog Trilogy:

Cindy, Dating: My rants and raves about current and past dating and relationship experiences.

Cindy, Working: Work-related stories I have accumulated over the last 20 years.  A lot of these jobs were really crappy, but the jobs do get better over time.

Cindy, Living: Anything and everything that I feel compelled to write about that doesn’t fit into the above two categories.  This is the catch-all portion of the blog trilogy.

Dating for Dummies

September 4, 2008

Last weekend, I went book shopping for my son.  I would have said I went shopping with him, but he was not very helpful.  He just started middle school and needs to read three books on three different subjects.  After picking the last book, Web 2.0 Heroes, I glanced over and noticed a book on a different shelf called Relationships for Dummies.  My son was occupied with a book on inventions, so I thumbed through it for a few minutes.  I was tempted to buy it, but I hadn’t come to buy any books for myself.  Well, maybe the Web 2.0 book was for me…although it’s my job to train him to become a geek like me.  I put the Dummy Book the back on the shelf.

Later, I told Dave, half-kiddingly, how I had seen a dummy book about relationships.  Without pause, he said he thought it would be helpful for me.  I suppose I could have taken offense to his remark, but I didn’t.  That’s what I like about him.  He is very kind in his intentions and gentle in his delivery, so he can be brutally honest without hurting my feelings.

A few days later, I was getting caught up on the latest Adventures With Dating and saw a reference to the Dating for Dummies book.  I assumed it was the same book I had looked at, but it was not.  As it turns out there are a number of books…Dating for Dummies, Internet Dating for Dummies, Relationships for Dummies, Romance for Dummies, Sex for Dummies, etc.  Apparently there are enough people like me to keep this publisher in the relationship/dating business.

Dating Tips for Men

August 22, 2008

I am extremely open-minded and flexible in terms of what I consider good-looking.  After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Kindness, empathy, and understanding can facilitate the growth of physical attraction.  Having said that, there are many great guys out there who aren’t successful at dating because they don’t realize the way they present themselves is a sexual turn-off for women.


I can’t speak for other women, but I prefer to date men my own age…or at least men with fashion sensibilities similar to my peers.  Regardless of your age, if the way you dress reminds me of a toddler, I will be turned off.  Similarly, if your style of dress reminds me of the way my dad dresses, I will be turned off.  In a way, I feel guilty about this, but in a way I don’t because this is something you have control over.


For the sake of all of the nice guys out there who have a hard time finding dates, I am offering advice.  If you lack fashion sense, get help!  If you haven’t gone shopping in 15 years, go shopping…and get help with it!  Ask a female friend or acquaintance to help you update your look.  Or ask a female salesperson to help.  Little changes can make a big difference. 


For your sake, I will share the unfortunately too-common turnoffs I see in men.


I like bald men.  I like men with hair too.  I grew up with a lot of bald male relatives, so baldness isn’t a big deal for me.  However, if you are going bald, please avoid the following:

  • combovers (yes, I’ve seen single men with these)
  • long hair
  • medium length hair
  • ponytails (as a friend reminded me to include)

If you’re going bald, embrace it.  Shave your head or keep your hair trimmed to 1/4″ or less as a general rule.  Letting your remaining hair grow any longer makes you look like you hit your prime in the 1970’s.  Particularly, if you think you are enough of a stud to attract a woman significantly younger than yourself, this is important.  No matter how rich, intelligent, and kind you are, having the same fashion sensibilities as her father is not a sexual turn-on for her.  If it is, I suggest therapy.  Likewise, if you find toddler shoes to be erotic, please seek professional help.


Men, please don’t wear fanny packs.  If you must, man purses are preferable.  Also, Never wear shoes with velcro closures.  I know I capitalized the word never, but this is for a good reason.  Wearing shoes that were originally designed for toddlers and preschoolers is NOT attractive to women. 


Last but not least, if you wear glasses, pick out some stylish ones.  I don’t care how old you are.  I dated an older man who had glasses very similar to my dad’s glasses.  This is the guy whose moves I rebuffed on the second date.  I was trying to be open minded and see if an attraction might develop over time, but he rushed the process and ended up completely turning me off.  If his wardrobe and glasses weren’t so similar to my father’s, he very well might have had better luck with me.

Social Skills and Gender Roles

August 19, 2008

As I mentioned in my previous post, Social Skills, or Lack Thereof, I’m clueless when it comes to men.  Whatever social skills I’ve developed for other areas of my life don’t always carry over when I deal with men.  I think it’s because I’m not sure what my role is.  Thanks to feminism and the women’s studies classes I took in college, I am painfully aware of how limiting and oppressive gender roles can be – for both men and women. 


I am a woman, so when it comes to men, what is my role?  I rarely cook or clean.  I’m not crazy about kids in general.  When I see babies, I think, “Thank God I’ll never go through that again.”  I’m a brainiac and I would have definitely killed myself had I been born a few decades earlier.  As a matter of fact, my maternal grandmother committed suicide.  Prior to that, she coped with alcohol and cigarettes.  And my paternal grandmother wasn’t really into children, although she had 6 of them.  She coped with food.  She was obese, long before it was the norm.


Anyway, traditional gender roles are out for me.  I just don’t fit into that framework.  I don’t want to be anyone’s wife, in the traditional sense.  So does that mean I want a wife – a Mr. Mom?  I’ve thought about it.  It’s a definite possibility.  Or do I want to be with a financially stable man?  We could afford to hire a wife, so to speak.  We could contract out the cooking, shopping, and cleaning for the household.  That way, neither one of us would have to do it.  I’m leaning towards going in this direction.

Social Skills, or Lack Thereof

August 19, 2008

Did I mention I’m socially clueless, especially when it comes to men?  Contrary to popular belief, social skills don’t always come naturally.  At least for some people, they are a set of skills that are learned.  I’ve always had a hard time with social skills.  Although my friends don’t believe me, I swear I really am a shy person. 


I don’t feel comfortable around new people, especially if I don’t know anything about them, like how they see the world.  I need to understand your social and political ideology before I can have a conversation with you.  I’m serious.  Unless you’re a freaky liberal and/or really smart, I can’t have a conversation with you.  I don’t know how to talk to ‘normal people.’


Normal people talk about the weather, sports, what they did last weekend, and what they are doing next weekend.  They share stories about the times they got pulled over by the police and the times they came oh so close to missing their plane.  Oh, the drama!  I’d rather stab myself with a fork than listen to small talk for more than 30 seconds.


My social skills are better when I am fulfilling a role of some sort.  For example, in the workplace, I need to work with Jack and Jill to carry the water down the hill.  Or I need to go to a conference and staff the tacky conference booth.  Last time I did that, I got a job offer from the person at the next booth, quit my job, and moved to a different state.  I can be smooth at times.