Not OK, Cupid

By Amy Alkon

March 17, 2020 6 min read

A gay male friend set me up on a date. The man was HORRIBLE. He spent the entire date talking about himself. Everything was a brag. He didn't ask one question about me. Now I'm wondering whether my "friend" knows me at all. Why would he set me up with someone so wrong for me?

—Seething Woman

The road to good intentions is sometimes paved with hell.

It's understandable you feel bad, considering your friend's idea of the guy you'd like was a mismatch on par with inviting the vegan neighbors over for a baby seal roast. However, there are probably a number of misperceptions at root here — yours as well as his. We'll start with yours: We tend to believe our minds — our emotions, desires, and intentions — are more transparent and readable by others than they actually are. We also tend to believe others are better at reading our minds than they actually are.

To get a little perspective on this, consider the parallels this fix-up fail has with failures in gift-giving. I used to sneer at gift registries for weddings as cheat sheets for the lazy to buy presents for the greedy. Boy, was I ever off base. Research by business school professors Francesca Gino and Francis Flynn found that married people who'd received gifts they'd listed on their registry appreciated them more than the off-list gifts their guests slaved away finding or making. In fact, spouses they surveyed saw these registry gifts (which could take all of four minutes to pick, click, and ship) as more thoughtful and — get this — even more personal!

This is the exact opposite of what we gift-givers think will be the deal. "Gift givers expect unsolicited gifts will be considered more thoughtful and considerate by their intended recipients than is actually the case," explain Gino and Flynn.

Our refusing to buy from the registry — feeling confident that off-list gifts we toil to buy or make will be more appreciated than the stuff our friends ask for — reflects a failure in "perspective-taking." Psychologist Nicholas Epley explains perspective-taking as imagining another person's psychological point of view. It's basically the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes, to see the world from their perspective, to sense what they want and need.

In contrast, when we give our friends getting married some weird gargoyle-faced decanter (instead of the solar-powered garlic press they asked for), we're answering the question, "What would I want?" rather than, "What would they want?" (which they've helpfully laid out in a big online list).

Epley's research suggests our tendency to fail at perspective-taking comes out of mental shortcuts we are driven to take. The brain is energetically "expensive" to run, and just like those energy-saving refrigerators, it's engineered to avoid sucking up power unnecessarily — like by keeping us from doing a lot of thinking when we can get away with just a little.

Accordingly, Epley finds that in perspective-taking, we're prone to come up with a quick and dirty guess about what another person wants and just run with it. But even in making this guess, our mental laziness tends to be pretty epic. We typically don't even start by considering what they might want. We start with what we'd want, make a few minor adjustments, and tell ourselves it's what they'd want. Helpfully, all of this goes on subconsciously; we don't step back from the tepid whirrings of our mind and realize that we're short-shrifting our friends.

We might catch our errors before we sent a friend off into the jaws of a helldate if we did the responsible thing and checked our mental work — "Hmmm, is he really the sort of guy she'd want?" — and then made any necessary adjustments. However, we aren't about to put our precious cognitive resources into adjusting judgments we've already settled on. So, Epley explains, "insufficient adjustment" — a failure to look closely at our judgments of others' perspectives and make corrections — is "the rule rather than the exception."

In other words, the sort of man your friend fixed you up with probably has less to do with how he appraises you than how mentally lazy we all evolved to be. It's generally wise to expect others to be pretty bad at figuring out what you want. Telling somebody what works for you can sometimes be helpful (if they don't just nod their head and give you what'd work for them).

Accordingly, you should prepared for fix-ups to be horror fests — killing seasons for your psyche. However, you might just get lucky — get matched with somebody great. So, consider whether getting fixed up might be worth it, despite the risk of evenings spent biting your lip to keep from blurting out: "Dude. The line isn't, 'If you love something, make its ears bleed.'"

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email [email protected] (www.advicegoddess.com). Her weekly radio show can be found at http://blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon. Order her new book, "Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence."

Photo credit: StockSnap at Pixabay

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