Navigating Institutions for Better Dating Success

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Post by kleenestar on Tue Nov 18, 2014 10:51 pm

On the main site, I was talking about how "being able to navigate institutions" can be one skillset to build for effective dating. It includes things like understanding what kinds of institutions attract the people you are looking for, knowing which events actually support your relational and social strengths, and figuring out what are socially acceptable ways to engage in that particular institutional context. There's also a geographic piece; I have always done research on institutions before considering moving to a new city, just for example, because this is so much a part of how I think.

I was taught how to do this from a very early age, I think because I grew up in a Jewish community where participation in institutionally-supported dating was assumed - and not just for young singles, but throughout the lifespan. It's one of those things where I am having trouble breaking down the skills because they seem so natural to me, but I figure if I start a conversation maybe we can figure some of this out together!
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Post by waxingjaney on Tue Nov 18, 2014 10:59 pm

This approach has the peril of running up against "X is not a dating service" sentiments.
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Post by The Wisp on Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:01 pm

Could you give some examples of what you are thinking of when you're talking about institutions? What kinds, in this context?

Also, this:


kleenestar wrote:...and figuring out what are socially acceptable ways to engage in that particular institutional context.


is something that I wonder about. It seems to be something that would be of a... high difficulty level. It seems like it would be very easy to slide into creeper territory trying to get dates in institutions that aren't explicitly about dating. This is even riskier because, presumably, you would have more invested in an institution than just getting dates.


kleenestar wrote:I was taught how to do this from a very early age, I think because I grew up in a Jewish community where participation in institutionally-supported dating was assumed - and not just for young singles, but throughout the lifespan. It's one of those things where I am having trouble breaking down the skills because they seem so natural to me, but I figure if I start a conversation maybe we can figure some of this out together!


And I have lived a pretty atomized life, probably because I grew up in a western suburb in a non-religious white family! So I'm the opposite, I'm not sure what to ask beyond generalizations.
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Post by kleenestar on Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:06 pm

The key is the mindset, I think. You're not there to get dates ... but you're also not there not to get dates. There's also some skill involved in telling which institutional contexts (of which there can be many within a single institution!) are more and less open to dating.

I'll see if I can unpack it some more tomorrow!
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Post by nearly_takuan on Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:14 pm

Given that several somewhat immutable elements of my identity are defined as not being part of an institution—I'm not religious, not sexual, and not comfortable drinking alcohol, even though I'd change all of those things if I could—I'm definitely more interested in looking at institutions one can choose to be part of no matter who they are.

Unfortunately, the only ones I can currently think of are conventions (which have a bad reputation and are thus more prone to the "X is not a dating service" problem).

So, that might be an okay starting point—how do we identify institutions, and in particular tell apart which institutions are going to be navigable as a dating resource and which ones are already too icky?
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Post by Lemminkainen on Wed Nov 19, 2014 2:38 am

I've found that universities and academic departments are very exploitable for these kinds of purposes, and probably would be so even for people who aren't students or faculty members. Basically, a university (especially a major one) is a giant agglomerator of smart and liberal people. The insane competitiveness of the academic job market basically guarantees that young faculty members will be brilliant and most graduate students will at least by very intelligent and intellectually curious. And, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, academics are way leftier than the population as a whole. (Among my own cohort of graduate students, the furthest-right person is one who identifies as "liberal" rather than "socialist" or "anarchist" like the rest of us)

So, if your preferences include intelligence and/or leftiness, a university is a good place to find people. If you go to a bunch of talks and events (which usually tend to be fairly open to the public), you'll likely run into a bunch of them. People are usually quite happy to talk during or after these things, so you can easily get into conversations, expand your social network into the university, and maybe hit it off with some people. I met my current partner at a talk about Michel Foucault.

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Post by nearly_takuan on Wed Nov 19, 2014 3:00 am

Oh, that's an interesting thought. I imagine the grad students would probably be out of my league (so to speak) but there might be other non-students in attendance when it's an open/public forum. The university I graduated from also sometimes does events that alumni are invited to attend; might be worth checking there (quite a lot of them look interesting, and I only haven't been going because an hour of public transit in each direction is exhausting).
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Post by Lemminkainen on Wed Nov 19, 2014 4:37 am

nearly_takuan wrote:Oh, that's an interesting thought. I imagine the grad students would probably be out of my league (so to speak) but there might be other non-students in attendance when it's an open/public forum. The university I graduated from also sometimes does events that alumni are invited to attend; might be worth checking there (quite a lot of them look interesting, and I only haven't been going because an hour of public transit in each direction is exhausting).

Grad students probably wouldn't be out of your league-- you seem like a smart, thoughtful person, and, as a lot, we're poor and hold a low-status societal position. (I tend to tell people like hairdressers and so forth that I'm a historian rather than a graduate student, because being classified as a "student" obscures the amount of time people in this line spend teaching and doing independent research.) Alumni events seem like a great idea, though! You have an instant in, and your shared experience of attending the school something easy to talk about with everyone you meet there.

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Post by kleenestar on Thu Nov 20, 2014 12:43 am

So, I think both takuan and Wisp have identified one critical skill: how do you even figure out what institutions are available to you, especially if you have grown up in a fairly atomized culture. I've been thinking about how to tackle this all day, because I haven't had to think about this question in a dating context for a long time. But then I realized that I've actually had to do a lot of this work as I settle into a new city - so I'm going to give a lot of examples that probably don't work for dating per se, but that might help expose the skills I use that would be applicable to dating. Does that make sense?

So, a few things that I knew I was looking for when I moved and needed supportive institutions.

1) An institution doesn't have to be official. What it does need to be is not reliant on my personal time and energy for logistics. To me that's what draws the line between networking and institution-exploitation. An institution will have social structures that continue without me, and that I don't have to actually form personal connections to participate in.

2) An institution that will be of value for me in forming relationships has regular events. I can get a lot of practical value out of, say, a once-a-month meeting, but that doesn't help me achieve relationship goals. This is going to be even more true for dating - because what institutions can help you do with dating is establish familiarity and connection, and that only works if you're seeing the person on a regular basis.

3) An institution should share my values and attitudes, but not necessarily my specific interests. For example, no amount of awesome Jewish events is going to be useful for me if they're being held at the gender-segregated synagogue down the street. On the other hand, even though I'm not a big foodie, getting involved with our local farmer's market introduced us to a bunch of awesome hands-on, DIY, community-building types.

4) This may seem obvious, but engaging through an institution should be lower in "cost" than the alternative of doing it yourself. I put "cost" in quotes because you'll have to figure out the relative balance of time, money, social energy, social capital, etc. for you. In the past, I've been short on money but long on time and ended up organizing a lot of my own quasi-institutional events; right now I'm willing to throw cash at a problem to make it go away because oh man being pregnant is sucking up all my extra energy and time.

So with all that in mind, here's how I went about identifying some institutions that were relevant for me.

First, I mined the formal institutions that I'm affiliated with - in my case, work and synagogue. At work, I asked a mentor about unofficial ways to get to know people, and she pointed me at a biweekly new faculty lunch - which in turn got me on a mailing list that had all kinds of announcements for new faculty, including lots of other lightly social events. I also started attending a weekly lecture series that I knew other like-minded folks were likely to attend. Looking at posters around campus also showed me a ton of other things I could connect to - game jams, a technology meetup, etc. - but I didn't need to overload myself until I saw what was working.

At synagogue, it was easier because showing up at Shabbat services got me access to lunch hangouts afterwards, but that was a little large / impersonal and hard to connect with people. Things really started to happen when we figured out that the smaller weekday services had a tighter-knit crew who would welcome us and be an entry point for us to the rest of the community. My husband also volunteered for a scut-work job that would put him in contact with some of the most knowledgeable and expert people within the institution, who were then able to guide him toward the most rewarding parts of the institution for what we needed.

As a second set of efforts, I looked for local community institutions that had nothing to do with work or synagogue. This meant looking geographically, based on interests, and based on relationships. Geographically, I found a local coffeeshop that did a board game night just by walking around neighborhoods where I spent time and paying attention. Based on interests, I checked out local improv troupes, and discovered a weekly music group that sings and performs opera. Relationally, I asked the most awesome people I met what they were involved with, and got invitations to a knitting club and a book group.

This process took several months to really get rolling, but the payoffs are enormous. I'm letting existing social structures do a lot of the work of building relationships for me, instead of having to DIY every interaction.
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Post by The Wisp on Thu Nov 20, 2014 1:14 am

Interesting. I like how you define a helpful institution. It does seem that the key (aside from geography) is to be on the lookout for institutions that will help you. It would be so easy for things to slip right under your nose. As an undergrad at a large state school, I'm spoiled for choice in that regard. I haven't really been putting much effort into finding them at this point.

It's reassuring that you say this takes time. My introverted self would be exhausted scouting out multiple new institutions a week!
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Post by KMR on Thu Nov 20, 2014 11:20 am

In the case of school/university, I found it really helpful in forming social connections when I would see the same people across multiple contexts. In high school, my friends were ones I had several classes with and we also played in the orchestra. In college, I made friends with people I met in a few different clubs I was part of and who also turned out to have the same major as me and thus were in the same intro classes. Seeing the same people across contexts helps form a sense of familiarity with them pretty quickly so you feel more comfortable around them even if you've never directly spoken yet (and they feel the same about you). You almost start to gravitate toward each other--deliberately sitting next to each other, for instance--because you're seeing a familiar face. It also gives you an instant easy connection to start a conversation over. "Oh hey, I saw you at X also! How are you liking it so far?"

When I had started college, my strategy for trying to make friends was to join 4-5 different clubs that interested me, which had the dual effect of letting me try them out and see which ones I'd want to stick with (because I knew I wouldn't have the energy or motivation to stick with all of them) and to see if I could make a few friends from one or more of these clubs. After a few months, I was down to just one club I continued to be a regular member at, but I made a few social connections before I quit those clubs and found that I was seeing those same people in other places even after I left the clubs, so I didn't need that club as a connection anymore.

While my experience in finding people I would keep seeing in different contexts was coincidence, I think there are ways you can set yourself up to improve the chances of this happening. You can join clubs that you think might have an overlap in membership because the interests are related (e.g. anime club and board game club both attract geeky types). If you're a university student, you can join clubs that are related to your major and improve the chances you'll see some of the same people in your classes. Or you could just go to one club and ask someone if there are other clubs or social gatherings they're a part of, then join those and you're guaranteed to see at least one familiar person.
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Post by reboundstudent on Thu Nov 20, 2014 12:04 pm

Lemminkainen wrote: Grad students probably wouldn't be out of your league-- you seem like a smart, thoughtful person, and, as a lot, we're poor and hold a low-status societal position.  (I tend to tell people like hairdressers and so forth that I'm a historian rather than a graduate student, because being classified as a "student" obscures the amount of time people in this line spend teaching and doing independent research.)  Alumni events seem like a great idea, though!  You have an instant in, and your shared experience of attending the school something easy to talk about with everyone you meet there.

I'm using this as a jumping off point, because one thing that's always confused me about using institutions is, even if dating is on the table theoretically, the people in that institution are never single. I've met quite a lot of grad students, and by that point in life, most of them are in long-term relationships or married. Similar for churches, job networking, nerd cons, etc. Literally the only place I've ever met single people are bars (and even then it's slim) and online.

Maybe that's just the reality of age (once you hit your late 20's/30's single people are an incredible minority), and institutions certainly are a great place to meet people for other, non-dating reasons.... but is an institution really useful for dating if there's only 1 other single person there?
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Post by Guest on Thu Nov 20, 2014 12:09 pm

Yeah, I agree that when you get to late twenties/early thirties, most people you meet in any context will be coupled. Using institutions just gives you another opportunity I suppose.

Or, you can wait until they're all in their forties and half of them are getting divorced! *hollow laugh*

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Post by kleenestar on Thu Nov 20, 2014 1:28 pm

The data I've seen says that a higher proportion of single than married people participate in institutions of any sort - political, social, communal, religious. If you live in an area with a very high percentage of married people, then yes, the total number of partnered folks in your institutions is going to be much higher than the total number of singles. Maybe that means developing this skillset isn't right for you - but that's your individual call to make. It doesn't mean that developing this skillset won't be useful for others, and I'd like to keep the conversation here focused on what skills you can use to make it as productive as possible given local geographic and cultural constraints.

I do think the point ties back to a couple of things people have said earlier in this thread. Part of being good at institutionally supported dating is understanding what it will and won't do for you. If you go into it with the mindset of, "I will get a date by doing this," you not only risk coming off as creepy, you also aren't really taking advantage of it to its fullest. The biggest benefit an institution can give you is making you familiar to a broader group than you could otherwise access. It's most directly helpful if that group includes a lot of single people - it means you don't need much skill to tell whether continued investment is worthwhile - but non-single folks can also help you if they have useful resources they can deploy on your behalf. That might mean making direct introductions to single friends or family, but it might also mean pointing you toward other places where the single people you might be interested in hang out.
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Post by Suika on Thu Nov 20, 2014 5:57 pm

Depends on how socially competent you are, I guess. Someone like me would probably only get the "primary objective" done, meaning that if I go to a dance school, I'll dance, but I won't meet women. When I was politically active I engaged myself fully and wholly, but I did not gain any friends. All the times that I've gone to convents I have had fun and interacted some with people, but I never maintained contact with any of them. Of course, one would be correct in assuming that I'm pretty hard to approach, or something similar, but I can never find myself being a part of the "community".
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Post by kleenestar on Thu Nov 20, 2014 6:25 pm

Right, and that's a skill thing! Your particular skills may make other kinds of dating more productive for you - but it's a different set of social competencies than, say, engaging with people through networking or connecting with OLD.
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Post by Suika on Thu Nov 20, 2014 6:44 pm

kleenestar wrote:Right, and that's a skill thing! Your particular skills may make other kinds of dating more productive for you - but it's a different set of social competencies than, say, engaging with people through networking or connecting with OLD.

OLD isn't much for me anyway, I've noticed that it makes it much more likely for me to put the people on a pedestal, as compared to talking with them IRL, where I'm more detached to the result. This makes it quite bothersome for me though, as the dating climate in my age here is 80% party/pubbing, which I really can't get down with.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Thu Nov 20, 2014 6:50 pm

I think that's something you factor into cost, too, when deciding whether or not it'll be worth it to try leveraging institutions. Getting comfortable with the idea of doing something like this is yet one more thing you/we may need to spend some time developing. The skillset itself is something that takes time and effort to develop. These are mostly up-front costs since the upkeep for a skill cheapens as you get more accustomed to using and developing it, but they are still costs. If the cost of changing your mindset about OLD, institutions, etc. or developing other related skills exceeds the resources you have or are willing to spend on it, then I agree, it's not worth considering as a solution for you.
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