Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Monkey See, Monkey Do Approach to Dating

You probably don’t think of dating as an athletic contest.

If you are looking for a relationship, I also hope that you do not see dating as a spectator sport.

Yet, it makes some sense to prepare for a date as you would prepare for a tennis match. Surely, you want to feel confident and in control, no matter what is going to be thrown at you.

On the other hand, it is not a good thing to see your date as an opponent you are trying to run off the court.

Those caveats firmly in place, Neely Steinberg offers a helpful lesson about how to motivate yourself to play better tennis. Here is one way she used to prepare for matches:

For many years, I was a competitive tennis player, both on the junior tournament circuit and at college. One of my favorite pre-match activities was to watch a professional match on tape, featuring the best female tennis players in the world. I'd study their strokes, their perfect racket follow-through, their footwork. I'd also observe their focus, their confidence, their body language, their fire (Serena!). I'd then attempt to emulate their stroke precision, footwork, and persona in my own matches, especially when I was nervous, competing against a tough opponent, or my game was feeling off. I'd visualize the women I had just watched and pretend to be one of them while on the court. Monkey see, monkey do, also known as "modeling."

Doesn’t this explain why people who are involved in competition, whether in sports or in business, gain sustenance from watching great athletes compete? By emulating greatness and by adopting some of the characteristics that make for it, you will be improving your performance.

Now, you know why sports is such big business.

And yet, it is best to emulate someone you can relate to. Very few men will improve their ground strokes by watching Serena Williams. It’s not that they would not do well to emulate Serena but they will not be seeing themselves in Serena's outfit. 

Roger Federer, perhaps; Serena Williams; less likely.

I will leave it to Steinberg to teach you how this applies to dating, but I think it fair to add that when a woman prepares for a date she is likely to read through Vogue or Elle. And she might watch a romantic comedy or read a Harlequin romance.

When she does so, she is picturing herself looking her best on a wonderful date with a wonderful man that leads to a wonderful romance. If you don't believe it can happen it is less likely to happen.

It’s like the guy who works on improving his sales pitch by watching Rory McIlroy,.

For those who are still stuck in the therapy culture, I emphasize that Steinberg did not hone her competitive edge by cultivating her capacity for empathy. I doubt that the woman who is watching a romantic comedy will improve her chances in the dating game by empathizing with the girl who did not get the guy.

It is interesting that Steinberg calls this imitative behavior: monkey see, monkey do.

The label is not inaccurate, but it does tell us why so many people don’t do it. People reject helpful techniques because they see themselves as serious thinkers and they believe that their serious thinking in and of itself ought to produce the results they desire.  

If any monkey can do it, it must be beneath their dignity.

Thus, more than a few people box themselves into losing strategies because they believe that success is beneath their dignity.


Sam L. said...

A/The problem is recognizing a monkey doing something successful and being able to replicate it. Each set of human interactions are different, and seeing the differences and replicating the similarities is difficult. I believe emotions can get in the way, as well as unrealistic expectations. And missed cues.

Anonymous said...

In The Myth of Mental Illness author Thomas Szasz uses dating as an example of communication using iconic signs. An icon is a picture-like object or script which points to something similar.

He says psychologist who try to explain behavior as "motives" or "rational thinking" ignore the fact that most people's behavior can be predicted by the context in which the person follows a social script.

During dating, people have motives or desires for social intercourse, and instead of making a contract, they exchange messages in iconic codes, by playing social roles and revealing information indirectly.

This is fun for some people all the time, fun for others some of the time, and intensely painful for others some of the time.