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Signals
sword
tiger_spot
(This isn't about anyone in particular. I am just noodling.)

I try not to make assumptions about what other people think of me. When I get signals that would be appropriate for a range of possibilities, I try to remember that the whole range is possible and not assume one particular state is true.

Say someone agrees to drive me to the airport -- I don't know whether that means they like me, or they enjoy being helpful and would assist anyone who asked, or whether they happen to be bored and like driving, or what. Or from the other side, if someone doesn't talk to me for months, I don't know whether that means they've decided they dislike me, or they're really busy but would love to hang out if only they had the chance, or etc.

Because I'm keeping all these possibilities open, I tend to interact in a way that would be appropriate for the whole range. And it occurs to me that that may be why my interactions with others tend to get stuck at a particular level of friendly acquaintanceship. If I'm not told that the other person would be interested in more specifically-friend-like (is 'intimate' the right word here?) activities, then I don't know that they are, so I won't suggest them. Things that would be appropriate to the higher end of the range of possible friendlinesses, but not to the lower end, like one-on-one activities or just hanging out without any particular activity in mind, don't happen, because I don't suggest them. Therefore, the relationship doesn't ever move past 'friendly acquaintance' into proper friendship, because the activities that would support a friendship don't happen.

This may also be why I'm uncomfortable with the concept of flirting; the greater the possible range of what the other person is thinking, the harder it is to come up with responses that are appropriate across the whole range. So flirting of an "either I like you romantically or I like you as a friend" sort doesn't bother me much, because those aren't very far apart, but flirting of an "either I like you or I don't" sort gets distressing.

Also, mixed signals (such as someone explicitly saying they think I'm nifty but then never initiating contact) confuse the heck out of me. Generic middlin' multiply-interpretable signals I can deal with, albeit poorly, as outlined above. But apparently-clear yet contradictory signals I really don't know what to do with.

I'm not sure what to do with that, now I've realized it. Staggering up to people and demanding "Do you like me?! How much?" seems both remarkably awkward and highly unlikely to produce accurate responses.

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Speaking only for myself, initiating contact isn't a good gauge of how much I like someone. (It may, of course, be a good gauge of how reliably someone can count on me to initiate, and if they need that, it's good to know and stuff.) I like a gazillion people. I like dozens of people enough that if I had lots of social energy and lots less social anxiety than I have, I would initiate contact with them, but as it is, I find it really hard to come up with that kind of energy very often. It's not fear of rejection or anything -- it's just that doing social stuff takes time and energy, and those things are in short supply in my life, generally.

^^^ That's a nearly perfect description of my state as well.

As for being open to the whole range of signals, I do a similar thing. Instead of assuming it's one of a multitude of possibilities, I tend to assign probabilities to all of them. I also never assume it's just one -- I know that for me (using your example) driving someone to the airport is a nearly compulsive behavior, but I wouldn't volunteer to do it for someone who was a casual acquaintance that I didn't particularly like (unless it was super-convenient for me already, in which case see above re: compulsive, etc.).

initiating contact isn't a good gauge of how much I like someone

It's certainly not the only thing I interpret as "likes me," but it is one of the clearest. I would say just below "Hey, you're fun to hang out with and I like spending time with you." (I like words. They're so much simpler than behavior....)

If someone seems enthusiastic about hanging out when I suggest it but never suggests it themselves, or replies to e-mails when I send them but doesn't start any new threads, or otherwise doesn't reciprocate initiations, I get a bit confused after a while. I can readjust the sensors for people who make it clear that they would start more things if they had more energy / weren't so busy / lived closer / whatever, but my default position is that there ought to be a balance of who's starting things.

I'm realizing that Nick & I should have made much more of an active attempt to hang out with you (plural) while you were still in Pittsburgh. But we are very shy. And I always felt horribly intimidated by Andres for no well explained reason. And did I mention we are both horribly shy? (Part of why I think we are both such avid gamers, because it forces social interaction but takes away a lot of the intimidating bits.)

Stupid huge country between here and there. Why do the coasts need to be so darn far apart? :)

And I always felt horribly intimidated by Andres for no well explained reason.

'Cos he's horribly intimidating! And usually doesn't notice when he's being horribly intimidating. And doesn't consider it a problem when he does notice....

Why do the coasts need to be so darn far apart?

It's all those unnecessarily large states in the middle. But they resent it when you call them 'flyover country'. Silly states.

I'm not sure what to do with that, now I've realized it. Staggering up to people and demanding "Do you like me?! How much?" seems both remarkably awkward and highly unlikely to produce accurate responses.

If I'm bothered by mixed signals from someone I tend to observe them for a while longer until the mixture resolves itself into something clearer, and/or I let how I feel about the person guide how I act - IOW, if I like them and I'm getting some positive signals I might take the next step toward developing a closer friendship.

(Whether they recognize what I'm doing is another issue...)

Generally, if I'm in a position where I can observe the person for a while, this isn't too much of a problem. It's more an issue for people I've met, but am not taking a class with or seeing at a regular group event or otherwise being near on a regular basis. Because that means that if we're going to interact, somebody's going to have to go to some effort.

i'm all over the map on this. if i know what i want, i will initiate. if i am uncertain, i will be passive, i know that. but i'm shy--initiating social outings is hard for me and i need to be strongly motivated with new people. with old friends, e-mail every week and dinner once a month sorts of things seem to happen easily.

when i say i will initiate, i really don't usually mean i will generate a social invitation, what i mean is that i will make myself more emotionally vulnerable in conversation (what i think you mean when you are talking about becoming more intimate in your post) because a letting down of barriers is a type of social invitation and much easier, oddly, for me--less social anxiety than trying to make myself responsible for an outing.

i need to be strongly motivated with new people

I think that's true for a lot of people, and a good chunk of why I've been having such issues with this lately (uh, where lately includes the last several years). I keep moving! I'm always the new person!


Also, mixed signals (such as someone explicitly saying they think I'm nifty but then never initiating contact) confuse the heck out of me. Generic middlin' multiply-interpretable signals I can deal with, albeit poorly, as outlined above. But apparently-clear yet contradictory signals I really don't know what to do with.

I'm not sure what to do with that, now I've realized it. Staggering up to people and demanding "Do you like me?! How much?" seems both remarkably awkward and highly unlikely to produce accurate responses.


Chuckle; I can sympathize. I'm mostly the same way. One of the things I feel I've learned is that you can't ask people how much they like you because they don't know themselves. Sometimes, testing how much they like you is the best thing to do, which sounds manipulative... and it is, if it's not sincere. But inviting someone to do something together, when you'd possibly like to do something with that person, is sincere. And taking that kind of initiative can even cause good feelings that were present to crystallize.

I heard a story about how Ben Franklin had this opponent in some situation or another. He heard that this man had just received a very rare, valuable book. He asked the man to borrow it (in public, I believe) and the man said 'yes'.

The cynical take is, cognitive dissonance took place; the man decided he liked Franklin because why else would he loan him such a valuable book?

I prefer the less cynical take: the man realized that they had a common link, and realized he trusted Franklin not to damage the book, and came to realize that there were other good qualities he admired in Franklin as well.

you can't ask people how much they like you because they don't know themselves

That's a good point.

And Ben Franklin is of course on any good list of Top Ten Coolest Historical Personages. Because he's awesome.

Most of the social groups I've seen have basically one or two people who initiate events. I think people learn, "When X person creates an event, generally a lot of interesting people will show up and it will be a good time," and those people are then more willing to show up to X's events, so it's sort of a self-reinforcing thing.

Like, since moving to MV I've tried to organize a social event... maybe twice? Three times? Generally what happens is I get a lukewarm response, one or two people bail at the last minute, and I remember why I don't usually organize things. On the other hand, once you figure out who's the organizer, it's often possible to get excellent results by nudging that person towards a specific event on a specific day.

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