Dating: Heading Towards Exclusivity – The Halting Problem

Since my last post, things have moved forward from the eyes open kissing. And by moved forward, I mean that I remember to keep them closed, most of the time. The rest of the time, I work on getting her used to the idea that sometimes they’ll be open. I think what’s happening is usually what happens. We enjoy the kissing too much and start caring less about other things that used to seem strange.

Now, I’ve not said this in this blog, but I feel that romantic relationships pretty much have three stages. Dating, boyfriend/girlfriend, and marriage. I don’t consider friends with benefits, one night stands, or bootycall relationships as being a romantic relationship. They are not. If you are a bootycall and somehow think there is something romantic going on, I 100 percent guarantee that your feelings are completely one-sided. Of the three stages, dating is the most broad.

  1. Dating – this encompasses the period between meeting someone and getting to know them through dating (ie spending time with them in different situations), talking, and learning more about each other until the two of you have decided that you are boyfriend and girlfriend. In the initial period of dating, you may be dating or getting to know multiple people. After some time, you may decide to exclusively date one person, though not necessarily bump up your relationship status to being boyfriend or girlfriend. While people sometimes enter into this part of the relationship unilaterally (without discussion with the other person), typically once such a conversation has actually occurred and both express that they do want to proceed exclusively, the next stage quickly follows.
  2. Boyfriend/girlfriend – now, you are exclusively seeing each other. This is an intermediate stage that should be used to seriously evaluate long term compatibility with each other. During the dating phase, you should have established that your goals, life plans, attraction to each other are compatible – you’d talk  and experience about where you see your careers heading, how many children you’d want to have, how you plan on raising them (education, religion), where you see yourself living, how you  spend your free time, what things are interesting and important to you politically. But in this phase, you are going deeper – does the way he brushes his teeth bother you? Could you be happy sitting in silence for 4 hours while he/she reads a book without speaking to you? Could you see yourself hanging out with his friends for the next 10 years? Do her spending habits get on your nerves. I argue that long term compatibility is about the little things – things which seem so inconsequential and silly when you tell your friends about a fight you had but so important when the two of your were fighting. Toilet seat up or down, brand of laundry detergent, calling you in the middle of the day to say hello, saying I love you. In the dating phase, you’re scanning the big picture for compatibility. Here, you are sifting through much smaller grains – and that’s partially why you will be in this phase longer. (Presumably, you are evaluating spending the rest of your life with this person).
  3. Marriage – this encompasses the period from engagement on. Pretty much, marriage is a legal formality. If you are engaged, that means that you have asked or agreed to commit your life to someone else. So, given that you have already made that lifetime commitment, it seems stupid to me to think that somehow you are not actually committed until married. All that is different is from a legal standpoint, you have a much easier time exiting such a commitment pre-marriage.

So, the big question is how do you evaluate when to move from dating people to dating just one? I have always had this problem. In all of my long term relationships, I have always developed strong feelings and attachment to the women who became my girlfriend just as I was getting to know someone else who may also have been very interesting and had girlfriend potential. In all the cases, I happened to have spent significantly more time with my girlfriends than the other women so I’ve never been in a situation where I can rationally say that I objectively made the decision. And now again, I find myself in the same situation. I’ve gotten to know someone very well and a couple others not as much. And things feel that they are moving in such a way that I should discontinue dating others and just see one exclusively. But without dating the others in a similar manner, am I in a position to make this decision?

What compounds things is that it’s not like I met everyone at the same time and just happened to like one more or we ended up always making time for each other. The others just haven’t legitimately had a chance to make an impression. And given my feelings now, is that even possible?  Does it make sense to impose a minimum time spent dating during which all candidates should be evaluated? Is it important that everyone get equal time or would I naturally gravitate towards the front runner regardless of time spent with her? The whole point of dating is to evaluate multiple people and sort through this whole process faster than going through one person at a time. But then again, is that always necessary? I have this idea that I need to be able to say that I did my due diligence. Though since my last long term relationship, I’ve dated several people. Most didn’t get past the first date. Doesn’t that count as well?

Why is it that whenever I get to the point where I’m seeing someone with girlfriend potential, someone else comes up that is interesting and as interested in me. Before this, it is easy, either I don’t end up wanting more with her, or she with me. Things either aren’t really going anywhere or they’re moving forward with multiple women at once. I’ve never gotten to the “I think I’d want to date X exclusively” moment without there being someone who evokes the “well, if I got to know Y a bit more, I may want to date her exclusively as well” response.

For the non-computer science or algorithms people out there, the halting problem is one of defining how a program or algorithm determines when it has either successfully achieved it’s goal and should end or cannot find a solution (or reach it’s goal) and should also end. With certain types of processes, this is very easy – if I’m adding two numbers, then I stop when I’ve calculated the sum. For others, typically ones that involve search of some sort – the conditions under which you should stop are much more difficult to define. Finding the person with whom you move on from dating to boyfriend/girlfriend is essentially a search problem and like any search problem of actual interest, defining the halting condition is difficult, subject to many interpretations, and specifically in this case, often results in suboptimal results. That the results are sometimes near optimal doesn’t help either because you can’t really learn from experience.

What does that mean, beyond a certain age, assuming you’re not an idiot and you are actually evaluating people for marriage, those that become your boyfriend or girlfriend have a very good shot at being with you for life. So good that for all intents and purposes, if things don’t work out, you can’t really say you chose wrong. The next person you end up with has a similar shot of being the one you walk down the aisle with. To put this into more concrete words, given how close I’ve been to marrying my ex-girlfriends, who can really say that the pattern of my past relationships is actually wrong (and so I shouldn’t worry about trying to even out the dating before deciding who to be with exclusively).

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