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.