Long courtships create more durable relationships, that’s the game nature sets up for us

My personality easily falls in the socially awkward group.  My attitude about that awkwardness is probably common for many in the group.  I suspect the common attitude is that my awkwardness has a unique explanation that sets me apart from others.

My social awkwardness is a calculated awkwardness.  Calculated because I’m aware I’m making choices that turn out to be awkward, but at the same time it occurs without thinking.   The explanation of my awkwardness is similar to how I explain how I can walk several miles and end up where I want to be at about the time I expected it would take even though the actual physical movement of walking and much of the navigation does not require thought.

Last night I came up with a possible explanation involving time scales.   Many have claimed that humans are naturally a social animal.   Unimpaired instinct will guide us through social situations with some success.  We do recognize impaired instincts in forms such as the spectrum of autism disorders.   We assign the term Asperger’s to the highly functioning end of autism to describe individual who is able to participate but not without exhibiting some awkwardness.   This is oversimplified description of autism, but my intention was only to identify the condition as an example of an impaired social instinct.

I do not think I have an impaired social instinct.  I actually entertained that notion earlier but convinced myself that it does not apply to me.

When I encounter an social situation, I think my instincts are normal and good.  There is a fast-thinking part of me that can recognize this instinct and make a choice to over-rule it.   As a result, I end up acting awkwardly and often appearing very slow.  In fact, I’m deliberating overriding my instincts for reasons I understand but find hard to express.  My point for this post is not to explain why I override my social instincts, but instead to point out a competition of objectives occuring at different time-scales.  My faster-thinking self over-rides my natural social instincts from some slower-thinking objective.

My explanation is inspired by a book title “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, a best selling book that I meant to read when it first came out but never really took the time to read.  My inspiration is in just the title.

Mars and Venus are planets but the association with men and women attitudes come from mythology.  Mars is about manly war, and Venus is about womanly love.   Again I haven’t read the book (I still intend to read it someday), but I expect the book builds on this notion of somehow men being driven by action and women by affection.   No matter what the actual case is, I agree with the basic premise that there is an natural conflict that is tied to some deep psychological difference in men and women.

When I first saw the title, my reaction was that the mythology got the physical planets wrong.   Venus is probably the least hospitable planet in the solar system.  The surface of that planet resembles the worst conditions in an active battle-space modern war.   Meanwhile Mars is welcoming and at least suggestive of being nurturing.   Certainly it has been unexpectedly kind to the robots we’ve landed there.  Even the size differences are backwards.  Mars is smaller and weaker than Venus.

In terms of physical qualities of the planets, the cultural norms of the two sexes may be better described as Men are from Venus and Women are from Mars.

But there is something about the properties of the actual planets that does seem to make a case for the mythic-inspired association of Men with Mars and Women with Venus.  In particular, I am thinking about the orbital period or the length of year on these planets.  The orbital period was the one thing the ancient people could observe about the planets.   Compared to Earth’s 365 day year, Venus’ year is 225 earth-days, and Mars is 687 earth-days.  A year on Mars is three times as long as a year on Venus.

In my engineering education, I was most drawn to control systems theories and I was fascinated by the mere concept of a time-constant.  The time constant was a factor in a mathematical exponential formula and it refers to how fast a system responds.  We describe time constants as being fast or slow and these terms match the response times of the associated system.   But instead of just treating this as a practical way to manage systems, I became fascinated about the philosophical implications of differences in experiencing time.

In several earlier posts, I discussed my thoughts about how time can obscure an underlying intelligence.   Humans are biased in their search for intelligence.   This bias presents an inherent contradiction of wanting to find an example of human-like intelligence in non-humans.   This standard seeks a non-human that we can engage in a worthwhile conversation.   We haven’t found that intelligence and I don’t think we’ll ever find it although we are close to creating it in the form of electronics and software.  This bias that insists on human-like intelligence confirms our claim of unique access to intelligence.  Intelligence must be something in the uniqueness of the human brain.

Our best hope in encountering non-human intelligence is our efforts to emulate the human brain using software.  Unfortunately, that achievement will only exacerbate our misconception of unique access to intelligence.   We will accuse nature of being unable to create intelligence that we demonstrated was so simple that we were able to create it ourselves.

My argument is that we are surrounded by intelligence.  In one post, I claimed that reality is incomprehensible to the human mind.  Instead the human mind makes sense of data made intelligible by some other intelligence.  I described the process of intelligence as supply chain of information.  Reality exists in an infinitesimal instant and that reality is incomprehensible.   Intelligence emerges through the passage of time (picoseconds, nanoseconds, milliseconds, etc) with each timescale occupied by intelligent entities that make sense of the information from the smaller timescales and elevates that information to be comprehensible to the larger time-scales.  Human intelligence is one step in this supply chain: we can only make sense of the world because some intelligence has made the world intelligible to our minds.  Likewise, I imagine that there is almost certainly something operating as a longer timescale that is interpreting our contributions.

The above long diversion was meant only to introduce the concept that reality can proceed at different timescales.   Something similar is occurring at each time-scale so that the primary difference is the time-constant of the response times.

Slow response times operate on longer time scales.   It takes a long time to begin showing a response but once the response starts it takes a long time for the response to return to the original state.   In contrast, a fast response time more quickly responds and returns to the original state.  Another consequence of a faster response time is that it requires a higher frequency of stimulation.  A fast response time needs frequent “reminder” impulses to keep it at its heightened states while slow response times have longer memory of distant past stimulation.

The Mars and Venus analogy is that women operate on a faster response time than men. The two sexes are operating on two different time-constants.   In particular, I am referring to their emotional lives, the elements that are essential for making relationships.

Reading this article reminded me of this older idea of mine of different constants in men and women.  That article describes the emotional consequences of intimate relationships even when the intention started with an expectation that the experience would be brief and with no lasting consequences.   As we interact with each other through varying degrees of intimacy, different emotions are provoked and these are accompanied by release of brain-altering chemicals and hormones.

These chemical reactions can lead to physical changes that we recognize as somehow changing us after the intimate experience.  This occurs even for something as slight as a hand-shake.   Something changes inside us even without the intention of a permanent change.  I have read somewhere that this extends to the genetic level where dormant genes will only become activated when certain types of stimulation will release just the right chemical to activate it.   Once this chemical turns on the gene, the gene’s expression changes the organism.   A change at the level of gene expression is a pretty fundamental change.

I agree with the argument of that article.   I also believe that men and women share the same mechanisms for emotions and in particular they share the same mechanisms for emotional bonding.   At the same time, I think there is a fundamental difference between the sexes that explain their operating at different time-scales.   The specific mechanisms described in the above article involve fast time constants.   Both sexes experience the same mechanism with similar speed.

However, there are other mechanisms involved in emotional bonding.   As I stated above, both sexes have access all of these mechanisms.   The difference between the sexes is the relative importance assigned to the mechanism either due to abundance or strength of influence.   Complementing the fast response of chemical releases resulting from intimacy are slower responses of other mechanisms.

The conflict between individuals occurs when they select different mechanisms for establishing a bond.  Men, being like Mars, inherently select the slower response bonding mechanisms while women, being like Venus, select the faster response bonding mechanisms.

When I was studying control systems, I learned that such a mismatch of time constants on a closed-loop control system will likely result in instability or failure.  A human relationship bond is much like a closed-loop system of two entities cooperatively interacting to sustain a controllable situation.   Combining the control system analogy with my assertion that men and women choose mechanisms operating at different timescales, I can see an advantage of same-sex partners in that they are more likely to immediate share the same bonding approach (and time constant).   Same-sex marriages have this advantage over opposite sex marriages.   More commonly, the popularity for exclusive men’s or women’s clubs for friendly interactions is probably because people of the same sex can relate to each other more readily.

When it comes to opposite-sex relationships, there is a conflict.  I think much of that conflict is centered on the mismatch of time-constants for the naturally selected mechanisms for bonding.

This is just my observation and I have not evidence to back it up.  However, I frequently hear of tales of romantic obsessions.   When the story involved a woman’s obsession with a man, it often seems this obsession starts with a touch of some sort and this obsession starts quickly.   When the story involves a man’s obsession with a women, the story usually involves distance that never is close enough to ever touch.  The obsessed woman wants to repeat what she enjoyed earlier, while the obsessed man is frustrated in never enjoying a connection in the first place.

Often restraining orders against male stalkers of women are of men who have never actually met the woman.   Conversely, the restraining orders for women are for past friendships (typically lovers).  I admit this is just my uninformed impressions, but I am describing my impression of the accounting of these types of stories.

Nevertheless, the impression suggests that the way a man bonds is through a lengthy period of frustration of inability to reach a goal.  The harder it is to reach the goal, the more dedicated the effort he invests to achieve it.  Also the memory of the struggle encourages the man to hold onto his gains once he achieves it.   Something that is obtained without a period of frustration does not invoke this method of bonding.  Obsession occurs when the frustration leading to the strong bond is permanently inaccessible.

Meanwhile, a woman bounds through the immediate experience of intimacy and attention.   This mechanism provides a faster bond but it needs frequent reminders to keep alive.   The obsession occurs through a kind of addiction to the prior experiences.

Again,  I believe both sexes have access to the same bonding mechanisms.   There is just a tendency for men to select the longer time-constant mechanisms compared to the mechanisms that women select.

I imagine that this explains the frustration of the quick hook-up culture especially during young adulthood where the man is more likely to sleep with a different partner the next opportunity while the woman is more likely to want to repeat the experience with the same partner.  When that scenario happens, it may be explained by the fact that the initial relationship was not sufficient to establish a bond within the man but it was sufficient to establish the bond with the woman.   I don’t know if this is true, but it is how my theory explains it.

This difference bonding mechanisms sets up conditions for a game that may be played during the courtship.   A successful courtship will result in a long-lasting dedicated bonding between the partners.   To reach this goal, the man has to be frustrated from his goal as long as possible.  During this period of frustration, the woman has no bond to the man at all because the frustration involves denying the man’s access to the physical touch and attention she needs for bonding.

This game set-up provides an rationale for the old-fashioned courtship rituals of lengthy courtships that keep a distance between partners for a long time.   During this period, the man’s frustrations develop his bond to the woman, but the woman remains uncommitted and available to others.   Her availability is simply a fact that she has not yet experienced what she needs for bonding.

In the old-fashioned courtship, the woman denies access to intimacy (even as she desires it).  The rationale for the courtship was never explained, but it didn’t need an explanation because it was a custom to be followed.  However, there may very well be a rationale in that the man needs that period of frustration to bond, and the woman can wait because her bonding will occur quickly once intimacy begins.   The game strategy for the woman is to defend her faster-responding bonding mechanism until after the man’s slower-responding mechanism has fully committed to her.

While the man is building his bond for the woman, the woman is postponing her bond to the man.  This makes her available for other men as well, as long as she treats all the same in terms of not releasing her own bonding mechanism.  The earlier suitor has the advantage of a head-start over the others, but to win the woman’s heart he has to keep working at winning her attention.   The man’s bonding mechanism requires continual new attempts that end in frustration.

Sometimes a woman will have multiple suitors and only one will win.  The other suitors will likely include some who are bonded to the woman.  The man’s bond works on a long time-scale and it takes a long time to get over it.   What happens next can either lead to obsession, or an ill-advised redirection of that bonding to some bystander woman, or a period of unwinding to be prepared to start fresh again.

As described in the article, the woman’s preferred bonding mechanism involves releases of emotion-altering chemicals.  The best more durable bond most likely will be the first one.   She needs to defend this first time to preserve this bond potential for the right man.   This defense was part of the custom that we called protecting her virginity but unfortunately misplaced the emphasis on the body instead of the mind.   What really matters to the woman is the mental/emotional bonding that comes from physical intimacy.

In contrast, what matters to the man’s bonding mechanism is the frustration of having quick access to physical intimacy.

This is why the feminist-inspired celebration of early sex fails.   I do not doubt that women enjoy sex as much as men do.  There is no barrier that prevents immediate satisfaction of the enjoyment.  The failure is the emotional disappointment of not being to sustain a lasting relationship.   The barrier to overcome is the one that separates the couple from a lasting bond.   Achieving a sexual experience is easy if both agree to cooperate quickly.   However, if this experience is so pleasurable, then establishing a lasting relationship is a good strategy to obtain it more than just once.   The old-fashioned courtship model may capture some wisdom of giving the man the time he needs to build his bonding mechanism as a result of the woman’s defense of her bonding mechanism, where that bonding mechanism is strongest for the first man he wins her affection.

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