I have been philosophizing about communication and the recent popularity of online dating and people forming relationships on social media with people they don’t know. One day I just sat and thought it out and made a few notes, below are my conclusions.
A bit about me
I prefer face-to-face interaction; I speak the love language of Quality Time (click here for more info). I am a visual person, this is typically an attribute of men but women can be visual as well! This means that the most effective way for me to assimilate and or comprehend information is through visual means, eg. film, picture, graph, graphic, cartoon or just observing actual real life. This also means that a visual phenomenon catches my eye quicker than a written phenomenon. Now for me, when it comes to communication it’s the same. I find that the best way I can understand a person is by literally talking to them face to face, IN PERSON! What I see adds together with what I feel and what the person has written to me, to create an overall vibe for the person. This is why I don’t encourage people to form romantic relationships with people they meet online.
Quick tour of online relationships
Online, instant messaging and text relationships typically involve communicating through written means and pictures. One does not traditionally tend to communicate with strangers via skype as your phone number and email address is visible to the people you add. See the TV show Catfish: The TV Show (click here for more information) for more details. The problem with online dating and forming relationships with people online is that when we read words we are missing out on a good two thirds of communication which is comprised entirely of non-verbal elements such as culture and body language. Moreover, an online message or a text is “rehearsed conversation” as opposed to “reactive conversation”, which is more organic and healthy. What do I mean by “rehearsed conversation”? Simply put, you can draft and re-draft a text or whatever and read it through and meditate on how it might make you sound, therefore, you eventually send the text that sends an idealised reflection and version of you and how you want to be heard, not really allowing people to love you for your imperfections, Freudian slips (click here for more information) and other mistakes. It’s easy for meaning to get lost in translation even with face-to-face interaction, how much more can online or written communication of any kind incur miscommunication? A simplified communication cycle can show how even through face-to-face interaction miscommunication can occur.
Communicating through text alone (I don’t mean texts from ones mobile phone I mean through written word, whether that be a text message, email, instant message, facebook, twitter, etc.) is an insufficient way to communicate; it’s insufficient even in face-to-face conversation because sometimes what you are saying is not what the receiver is inferring. Lets look at a basic communication cycle:
- Communicator speaks words
- Listener hears words
- Listener superimposes meaning onto words based on their age and culture
- Listener responds based on what they think the communicator has said
- Communicator hears response
- Communicator superimposes meaning onto response based on their age and culture
- Communicator responds based on what they think the responder has said
As we can see from the above cycle there are roughly four dialogues:
- The dialogue of what the communicator has said
- The dialogue of what the communicator thinks they have said
- The dialogue of what the receiver has heard
- And the dialogue of what the receiver thinks they have heard
We need to remember that words carry no inherent meaning. Language is merely a series of sounds, symbols and jibber jabber. The only thing that makes language functional is us. We ascribe meaning and emotions to words based on our experiences. This theory is called Deconstruction, by Derrida (click here for more information).
Now, because each human is unique and the experience of each human is unique, we each bring our own unique emotional baggage to every single discourse we have. The uniqueness of each human means that I can say things that mean something to me but might mean absolutely nothing or something else to another person. When someone, who is not me, reads what I have written, despite my best efforts to be plain, they will always superimpose their own meaning onto my words. This simultaneous occurrence of stimulus and inference is called Gestural Interconversion, see Philip Tagg (click here for more information). Effectively, we each speak and understand a slightly different version of the same language. Within the English language there is Catherine English and there is my friends English and there is Your English and so on. Even more shocking is the fact that the more we humans lie to each other, the less meaning words have. Getting us to the place where one can’t really take anyone’s word for anything, especially politicians, remember, “read my lips no new taxes”? That’s why we need to be able to see people squirm and look up and down whilst they lie, you can’t do that when you are not speaking face-to-face.
What I like about face-to-face interaction with people is that you get to see a lot of emotional leakage, as face-to-face interaction with someone you don’t know is “reactive” as opposed to “rehearsed”. What do I mean by “reactive”? Well one cannot really plan extensively for conversation on a date or any kind of face-to-face meeting with someone you don’t know. This means that every second of conversation with that person is based on a series of reactions to their reactions. The mark of a man is how he behaves under pressure and when he is taken off guard.
I personally think that it’s better to form relationships with people face-to-face. Personally, I find it easier to judge a persons intentions taking into account their whole person, not just what they write but observing what they do and say and how they do and say it. Women especially have to be careful because we typically are physically weaker than men and men can be such scoundrels, even the nice Christian ones want sex too so try not to get your Christian boyfriend too worked up because you can’t have sex with him till you’re married and it’s not helpful. I remarked to a male Christian colleague of mine that the only difference between Christian guys and non-Christian guys is thus, both want to have sex with you in the back of their car but you expect the Christian guy to have the decency to marry you first…. He agreed lol.
Another reason why I prefer face-to-face communication is that when communication is just through words we miss out on the important “pre-conversation conversation” which begins before you are even at arms length of each other. Let me explain, we are communicating all the time, as soon as you walk into a room you are communicating. Very simple things about a guy’s demeanour can tell you a lot about him before you have even spoken. If you have an opportunity to meet with him informally with other people or you get to your date venue before him or when you arrive you are able to see him before he see’s you look out for the following because if he thinks you’re not watching him he will behave how he really is.
So to judge the character of a man that you want to date one must yes look at what he writes on social media, text etc but one must also take the time to scrutinize the following seemingly trivial and unimportant physical phenomena that are integral parts of his personality such as:
- His body language
- His dress
- How he interacts with the public
- How he interacts with his friends and family
- His gesticulations
- His eyes
- Does he respect your personal space?
- What is the first thing he does when he walks into the room?
- When he finally see’s you what does his face and body language suggest?
All of these categories will tell you something about him, something that you will miss out on if all of your interaction with this man happens online through words. There is a whole rich other language that is non-verbal that happens even before you have started talking to each other face-to-face that we miss when we only use words. Let’s give some detail to the list above to see why we need to look out for these things.
- His body language: Does the guy walk into the room with his shoulders slumped or with his back straight? What do you think that says about him? This speaks volumes about one’s self-confidence. Do not take this as a criticism, if his back is slumped he maybe is shy and just needs some love but be aware that he does.
- His dress: What is the guy wearing? Is he unkempt? Is he unkempt in a cool way? Is he dressed in a way that can lead to gender ambiguity? He might be gay and not know it, that’s possible. Moreover, there is dressing like an individual and then there is dressing in a way that shows either a blatant disregard for ones audience or a lack of awareness of ones audience, both are undesirable. Go easy when judging someone based on his or her clothes because not everyone has money to dress up. As a general rule of thumb I would judge the situation like this: If you are going to the Ritz and he has the means to wear a suit but he just refuses for no good reason, that’s when you have a problem.
- How he interacts with the public: Does he brush past people rudely, or does he say “excuse me”? If he’s rude to the public, he will be rude to you in private.
- How he interacts with his friends and family: Is he nice to them? If he’s nice to his female friends and female family members he might be nice to you, that’s not a given. However, the way a man behaves towards his mother will tell you something about his views towards women and how he might treat you, the potential mother of his children and his daughters.
- His gesticulations: are they broad or small, aggressive or non-threatening? When he talks to you are his hands and body parts doing things that make you feel unsafe? If he’s doing that in public what will he do in private? Think.
- His eyes: Are his pupils dilated? That’s a sign that a man is attracted to you. Where is he looking? Is he looking at your breasts whilst you’re trying to sign for a package that he has delivered to your door? (this actually happened to me)
- Does he respect your personal space? Does he observe a polite distance (polite distance as dictated by his culture not yours, as cultures differ, what’s important is that he behaves in a way that he knows is within the bounds of propriety as he understands it. You cannot blame him if he does not know propriety according to your culture because he is not familiar with it. British culture suggests a good distance, arms length to be precise, whereas on the Continent (the continent of Europe as opposed to the island of the UK), or Asia, that distance is much smaller. When I went to Sri Lanka people stood really close to me, even touching me at one point but I realised that that was their culture and they were not being rude.)
- Tactility: is he always trying to touch you outside of a normal (normal as dictated by his culture) level of physical contact that goes on between two people who are not intimately close? Does he give you more than a hug? Does the hug last for longer than you wanted it to?
- What is the first thing he does when he walks into the room: is he eyeing up ALL the ladies in a really obvious way? Behaviour like this raises questions about his fidelity…
- When he finally see’s you, what does his face and body language suggest? Does he look at you like you’re a lady or like you’re a piece of meat? (Obviously this is dependent upon you dressing and behaving like a lady)
So how does anyone ever understand anyone? Well, as I said previously, communication involves a number of non-verbal elements, it’s combining these elements with words that helps two individuals to form a “common language”. This “common language” exists! Think about it, have you ever noticed that you speak one way with your family, another way with your friends, another way with your colleagues and another way with strangers? This is because there are different levels of relationship and experiences. Even within my family I will use different terms and sentence structures with different people, some family members even communicate with me using a mixture of English and French! But that is our “common language” and if it needs to be a combination of different languages, to facilitate understanding, then so be it.
Non-verbal elements that add to a “common language” include things like a smile. When it comes to people who I don’t know very well, like say a guy I’m meeting on a first date, I may not understand what the person is saying but I can recognise a smile or a frown, representing the base elements of what they are trying to communicate. For example, if a guy says to me at the end of a meal “lets have dessert” and smiles whilst doing that. If I didn’t know what dessert was I would assume that it was a good thing and enquire further, with an understanding that this might be something that I want because people smile when they are happy, that is a natural human reflex. I like dessert by the way… Just saying, if one ever takes me out on a date… Obviously people can change their non-verbal behaviour to trick you, that’s a given, so ladies beware.
Conversation can become awkward when you are unable to find a “common language”. However, the good thing is that for those who do find a “common language” by going through the interplay of communication, response and the continuous adjustment of words and phraseology in order to ease understanding between two people because they usually end up more bonded. Even more so than people who talk online all the time because people do not have the time to redraft their conversation, so you are more likely to get the raw “real version” of a person and their oral mistakes say just as much as their written accomplishments and it is the “real version” of a person that you need to be in love with in order for your relationship to work.
The interplay of communication, response and the continuous adjustment of words and phraseology in order to ease understanding between two people also has other benefits. It also exposes your compatibility, for better or for worse or how awkward both of you are lol. This is partly due to the nature of men. Men want an easy life. If he is trying very hard to form a “common language” with you in order to get you to understand him, it shows he is interested in what you think and feel and how you think and feel about him. Men want to feel appreciated and to be appreciated they need to be understood. Think about it? Let’s reverse this; if I don’t like a person I won’t be communicating much with them, I won’t bother to create a “common language” with them unless I have to because I don’t care. Rendering what they think about me a non-entity. Furthermore, whether they appreciate me or not doesn’t even register as a thing to be bothered about. I do care if my loved ones appreciate me or not, however.
This brings us to the crux of the matter, can you fall in love with someone over the internet by just seeing their picture and reading their words? I’m going to say no. Not real love. Longing, infatuation and fantasy, yes, remember, it’s not necessary for men to have a real relationship with a woman to enjoy her. We have got to look at what he does as well as what he says, do you have a “common language”? There is a difference between love and longing. Longing does involve love but regrettably longing is the kind of love that develops because the physical desires are barred from achieving self actualisation (click here for more information) and are not fully realised or satisfied and the communication cycle has messed up again, there is no “pre-conversation conversation”, sentences are always a form of “rehearsed conversation” and you do not have a “common language” rapport that you would have if you knew each other face-to-face.
Do you know me? The real me? Have you touched me or experienced what it is like to be in my presence? No? Then you can’t love me because you don’t even know who me is. However, you can be in love with what I have allowed you to see of me. I’ll say that’s fair. Men, are you in love with her or are you in love with the idea of her? Are you saying “I’m in love with you” when you really mean what Ed Sheeran said, in his rather candid pop song, “I’m in love with the shape of you, I’m in love with your body…”. Click this link or play the song in the embedded player below to understand what I’m saying from the song.
Love Catherine Waithe-Arnold x