Television teaches me things about love. In a world with “Beauty and the Geek”, a U of C undergrad will compete. You shouldn’t need to click the link to discern beauty or geek. I have seen the show, but it’s not the jumping off point. Instead, I’ll start from a classic of dating advice, Elimidate. I see the show pretty often, since it’s on late at night when I’m coding, nights like tonight. The show is popular with college students and males of my age group, due substantially to having lots of hot girls. The producers know their market, and make sure to have more male pickers, lots of female selectees, and plenty of bikinis. There are a few basic rules which one picks up. The least attractive female gets cut first, and in general one can identify the two finalists from the four starting pictures; just pick the prettiest. Also, typically the most aggressive female finishes second, no matter how much she grinds on the dance floor (and there are lots of dance floors on Elimidate). But I’m not bringing this up to comment on the women; instead, it’s about what I as a single guy learn about dating. Who is the Elimidate man?
First, there’s the physical aspect. The body is our first impression of another. Elimidate is a pretty shallow show, admittedly less intellectual than my life. Nevertheless, the physical impression matters; it gets people started. I try to look at the market, compare myself to the shirtless hunks on the screen, and not surprisingly fail. It’s revealing to see impression in action. For instance, today I was at the department picnic. A pretty female roommate of a female statistician attended. Her reaction to me was decent and nonnegative, but to compare her body language around the extremely attractive male statistician was just remarkable. Even in a closed controlled environment of relative nerds, it shows the gap. In my optimistic times, I can compare myself to last year or the photos from my birthday four months ago. Improvement is a process that takes time. After all, it took me years to become a good analyst. In my pessimism, nevertheless, I still believe myself substantially below average, almost repulsive, eternally stuck, and there’s the despair of inadequacy, of being lacking and thus doomed to loneliness. Ever notice how the fairy tale heroes are always handsome?
More damaging is my problem with another part of the Elimidate ethos: confidence, belief in self. When the first woman or man gets cut, he talks about his good qualities, or how the picker is missing out. This occurs even when she is a plain size 10 against three hot size fours. That strength, belief that oneself is attractive, I don’t have. It’s possible, in good times, to be confident about my objective strengths. I know how to read a dataset, program good graphs, and organize a dinner party for 40. Yes, in depression even this objective confidence disintegrates, but depression is disordered. Unfortunately, the depression state of worthlessness has insinuated my psyche, and I’m constantly looking for my flaws, the ones that others obviously perceive which I cannot find. I compare myself to markers, the men in my building and workplace; taller, stronger, funnier, better mathematicians, better liked, and so forth. I don’t win the comparison often at all.
Maybe if I applied for Elimidate they would tell me where I fail; then, like the body, I could work. Or they might confirm that I stand low enough to fall into the small percentage of men that will never marry. Based on a friend’s request, I recently read Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Although barely a side note, this sentence from the third page of “The Ethics of Elfland” startled me. “There is the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved BEFORE it is loveable.” Taken literally, that sentence is terrifying. Thus failure comes from outside myself, the lack of instances of confidence. Is it pre-ordained? Or punishment from God for my sins, my fundamental flaw?
Of course, more likely my handicap, my fundamental flaw, is that I think I have a fundamental flaw. It might seem a little strange to interrupt a series developing positive Christianity to talk about lack of self-confidence. It’s the rule of the journal. It takes a little narcissism to write about oneself, hoping lots of people will read your public website. Part of the trade, the enticement, is that the journal, the musings, are more than intellectual exercises. I make no claim that my struggles are particularly newsworthy, or that I lead the suffering league. (The depression is pretty severe, but I have warm shelter and electricity and no physical abuse, for instance.) They’re what I think about, and so what goes to the journal, good and bad. But now, I’m going to look at a source about love the Escrivites tend to appreciate more than Elimidate.