Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Psychology of Boy gets Girl...

So many triggers, so many reactions. In the book i'm reading currently, the author-psychologist tries to outline the psychological triggers that makes people behave a certain way - most notably as consumers. But while reading it, I realised that those very triggers work just as well in the mating dance.

So let's say Boy meets Girl...

Scenario 1:
..in a bookshop. They start talking about their favorite authors and then the girl sees a book that she really likes, but does not want to buy (too expensive, too heavy, whatever). The Boy swoops in and buys the book for her... and gives it to her the next time they "accidentally bump into each other." She's touched and he invites her to join him for a coffee. Without having intended to spend more time with him, the Girl is actually now almost on a date. And thus starts their love story.

Sweet huh? I did think so. Except examine this: As a culture, we feel obligated to 'repay a kindness'. And it's not just India but around the world. Someone helps you carry your bags in the heights of summer, and you invite them into your home for some cold lemonade. Next day, you're a small headline, and a cautionary tale about how to not let strangers into your home. And yet, here you are, inviting a total stranger into your world.

Scenario 2:

... and they have coffee and a conversation.

Boy: (looking at the other patrons) Can you imagine that most of the people sitting here probably think we're girlfriend-boyfriend (haha) just because we're having coffee and laughing (haha)..?

Girl: That would be pretty narrow minded... after all, guys and girls can be just friends.

Boy: Exactly! I mean, just because we're leaning close (leaning close) or holding hands (grabbing hand playfully) doesn't mean we're going to 'do it' (haha)...

Girl: (Keeping hand there, after all, they're friends...) Exactly...

Boy: I'm just so tired of being defined by how the World sees me... I mean, i like someone as a friend, but the minute i am affectionate, everyone tries to label the "relationship"... you know, that's why guys are probably so cut off... I mean, i'd hate leading a friend on... But women and society have these narrow minded definitions... right?

Girl: I'm not narrow minded, but i know what you're saying... The only people who should have anything to say about the relationship are the two people in it, whatever be the rules.

And later.... Boy invites Girl home. Girl isn't sure if she should.. after all, it's late, and there has been this crazy tension building up..

Boy: Oh... Even you think that if you come up to my house, at night then it means just one thing...

Girl: No i don't..

Boy: So much for living by our own rules huh? Come on, we're friends right? You trust me, right?

Girl: Yes ofcourse...

Boy: Great! So come up, i'll make you coffee, and then drop you home. We can chat.. whatever...

Girl: Allright... But i'm not staying long.

And the spider and the fly walked up to the parlour... simply because the fly couldn't break out of her own need to prove her 'consistency' as a friend... We have been taught the value of being consistent because it implies a commitment to "who we are"- our self image. It's what gets us to shop only at Louis Vuitton, wear only high heels, never use public transport, etc. And once that commitment to ourselves has been made, we do anything to justify it in our minds... even if it is breaking the bank, or getting us into "friendships" we don't want.

Scenario 3:

... in a club. Girl is sitting at the bar, with her friends, scoping the place out for cute boys. Suddenly, an un-cute boy shows up next to her, and says, "You have a cute smile / beautiful eyes / any other line that you think may work." The girl raises her eyebrow, and then rolls her eyes at the friends with a "Oh Lord, another one" expression.

The girls titter among themselves. The guy shrugs, takes his beer and goes back to his table... which has a bunch of people (women and men) who clearly like him. He's laughing with them, enjoying his drinks, and a particular very attractive woman is doing everything in her social arsenal to get his attention. In the meanwhile, the Girl at the bar is already re-thinking her initial assessment. After all, if ALL these people like him, then it's pretty certain he's got something.

Sound familiar? This is the standard trigger of social proof of value. If so many others like something, it must be good. It even works in the art-circle, where it's not talent so much as the right people thinking you're talented that gives art it's value. Back at the bar, it's a different matter that the table full of people may just be colleagues, and he may be the easiest target of ridicule in that group and the Hot chikita is his colleague's wife who's doing him a favor of being his "wing-woman". But the end result - the Girl at the bar now wants him... not for any real value that he may have, but the imagined great qualities that merit such a ginormous proof of his desirablity - a table full of strangers.

Scenario 4:

... at any place, it doesn't matter. The only thing that's relevant is that they just met. Kinda. And there are sparks. But the Boy's about to leave town, the Girl's about to take a vow of chastity, the steady girlfriend is pressurizing the Boy to make a serious commitment... all of which will happen.. Unless.

That "unless" is a potent decision maker. It gives the sense that you may miss out on the best thing UNLESS you go on a date / sleep together / any other enticing option. Because this is a limited time offer. If you don't take it up now, it's gonna be gone. Forever. And you wouldn't ever have known just how great it could have been just because you couldn't commit to a teeny-weeny date/fling?

Most of us don't want to miss out. The greener grass is not a new concept... and we all want it. The promise of something better - more exciting, more passionate, more meaningful - is hard to pass up. How many times have we bought things we don't really want just because it said, "Hurry! Limited stock only!" only to suffer from buyer's remorse later?

There are a few other ways that involve our need to be liked and our desire to be led by a figure of authority...

My point is, this is the time and age of people being relegated to the position of marketable products languishing on the shelves of the relationship supermarket. But if these are the only games we can play, is there a place i need to go to opt out?

Monday, June 1, 2009

On Why Life is Not a Box of Chocolates...

Theory: Life is not like a box of chocolates because somewhere we do know what we're gonna get.

The assumption: A great assembly line manufacturing system for all living things. This is what controls evolution, growth, genetics, etc. And yes, this is the only place where you have free will... kinda.

Here's what i think. Every time we hit the Pearly Gates, we renew our membership to the greatest freeloading party in the sky. There is an all-you-can-consume buffet of values that you can be born with. However, the only catch is the slightly bitter aftertaste that every succulent morsel leaves behind.

A dear friend of mine - Vinter - asked me, "Where is my sexy pool-boy and the rich but mostly absent husband who adores me and buys me lots of sparkly things?" This was just another question meant to float into the rhetorical cybervoid - but then it met me. And i tried to put my theory to the test.

I told her - because it wasn't the birth value you chose, for whatever reason. She, understandably, gaped at me uncomprehendingly.


"Of all the birth values available to you (subject to a hypothetical upper limit of 5), you picked the ones which precluded the pool, the pool boy and the rich husband."

"what should i have picked then?"

"Maybe a lower IQ and blonde hair?"

"That sounds fine, if the pool, the boy and the rich husband were the consequences. Everybody would pick that then."

"Well no... you see, if you picked blonde + 85 IQ, maybe you would have to factor in a poor upbringing, with atleast one abusive parent, a string of one-night-stands and multiple heartbreaks with atleast three pregnancies, finally ending with a rich husband who buys you sparkly things but also cheats on you - with animals - and a pool boy who is robbing you of those sparkly things..."

"Eww.... ok.. so what if i picked blonde and smart?"

"You understand that this isn't the definitive answer, right? I'm sure the real process is a lot more complicated and subtle..."

"Yes yes, but what can possibly be the flip side of being beautiful, intelligent, rich and talented?"

"Hmm. You could be stuck in a wheelchair due to a degenerative muscular disorder, your existence limited by how far the cable from the emergency crash cart goes; or you could be a healthy specimen too, but with a nasty temperament, no friends, doomed to live and die alone in your palace... maybe."

"So what did i pick, then?"

"Well, i don't know. But whatever it is that you picked, you probably picked it because they were the best of the choices available to you, the consequences of which were also palatable."

"A career stuck in reverse gear, no love life, and a weight problem... and these were the best choices available to me??"

"No, the choices available to you were loving parents, a childhood spent on the beaches of Goa, enough money to live comfortably, a prodigal literary talent and a constant support group of friends...."


"What you do with those things is ofcourse entirely upto you."

"I guess between receiving the birth values and returning to the great buffet in the sky is where Life happens."

"Yeah, and maybe here is where you learn to be a lot more specific about what you want your birth values to be... thus being able to thwart or atleast limit the consequences thereof... "

"A little like being trained to look for the loophole."

"Yes. Exactly. And learning to be aware that there is always a loophole. There's a reason why the House always wins."

"What would be the perfect balance then?"

"If I knew, I'd be on the management side of this whole production."

"So... we're all employees, trying not to get too badly screwed?"

"Yep, and with every try, like with every new job offer, we learn a little bit more about the carefully negotiated legal contract... and become a little clearer about what we definitely want in our benefits package and the ways and means of avoiding the tax liability."