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Fragmentation Theory of Dating

December 27, 2009

In a recent discussion with a friend about my blog entry on why I’m intentionally single, my friend (who is a few years older than me) brought up a theory on dating and women that he ascribed to “back in the day.” I’m going to quote his description of the “fragmentation theory” below, and then I’ll follow with my remarks:

The Theory: “You hang out with Woman X because, say, she’s a brilliant conversationalist, Woman Y because she’s comforting and uplifting and maternal, Woman Z because she’s sexy as hell and you have an animal attraction and sleep with her, Woman A because you both love to go to museums or write, Woman B because you both love sports, or whatever.

“Of course, there’s a great deal of churn in putting this “theory” into practice, because for the most part most women ultimately are searching for a life mate, but on the other hand, there is a companion theory (not mine, my old girlfriend’s before I got married, but I adopted it and still use it in conversation) of “attract and retain.” This theory states that a woman (and I guess to a lesser extent a man) is either in attract or retain mode, that is, she is trying to attract a mate, or she is trying to retain a mate she has decided (consciously or sub) is a potential life-long companion, and in my experience (now absolutely useless and out of date, I realize) that transition occurs relatively quickly.

“So, putting these two theories together, you can “fragment” among multiple women as long as they still consider you from the perspective of attract mode.”

Jamey’s Take (Complete with Confessions!): Needless to say, I thought this was very interesting. Just to put this out there, I don’t think this is about using people. I think it’s about connecting with different people in different ways instead of relying on one person to satisfy all of your needs, which a ridiculous posit even in the happiest of marriages. Your marriage is no more an island than you are.

That being said, I see a great deal of reason in this theory, particularly for an intentionally single guy like me. All of the people I hang out with on a regular basis–my friends–are guys. But as I wrote about in the entry linked to above, there are things I desire from women and relationships as well. But particularly right now, I don’t want one woman for all of those things.

I remember about 7 years ago there was a younger woman who I was incredibly attracted to but I wasn’t interested at all in what she wanted to talk about. We simply didn’t connect in terms of conversation. When I mentioned to her that I was interested in a physical relationship with her but I didn’t want to date her, she was genuinely hurt that I only viewed her through sexual lenses. I can understand her hurt feelings, especially since she had given me signals that she wanted to date me. But I didn’t want to pretend I liked her on a deeper level just to get in her pants, so to speak.

On the same note, there are women with whom I’ve connected on a conversational level, but I wasn’t physically attracted to them. Of course, those were the women who wanted to be physical with me. See the pattern? I think women–people, really–want to be the whole package. They don’t want to be a fragment of one person’s needs. But I simply don’t think that’s reasonable unless you find someone who you truly want to be with. Otherwise you’re just compromising.

I don’t mean to place judgment on anyone–really, I’m talking about me here. Right now, this fragmentation theory is perfect for me, because I don’t want to find someone who is perfect for me. I want to be single, and at times when I yearn for female connection (physical, conversational, emotional, or even just companionship, like going to the movies), I’d like outlets for that. In fact, I feel like I already do. Pretty close to it, at least. I think the one thing I’m missing is a pretty movie date now and then. So if you know anyone in St. Louis who wants to fill that role and no other, let me know. 🙂

I’m really curious about people’s reactions to this post. Is this an offensive concept? Is it human nature to want different things from different people? How do you fragment in your life, whether you’re single, married, or something else?

(Also, as the picture eludes to, this theory is one of the reasons that I truly love and relate to Definitely, Maybe.)

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Lorena permalink
    December 27, 2009 10:32 pm

    On a separate note, I saw Avatar tonight. We will have to chat about that one once I’ve seen it again in 3D/IMAX, minus the goodnight kiss–what woe.

    • December 27, 2009 11:28 pm

      Avatar: Barely related to this entry at all. 🙂 But a very good movie, in my opinion. I will soon be posting my favorite movies of 2009–nay, the decade. Avatar is one of the best action movies of the decade, but will it make the Top 20 overall? We’ll see.

  2. December 28, 2009 8:35 am

    Your honesty is so refreshing, you cad. 🙂

  3. December 28, 2009 9:15 am

    Listen – I think you’re totally right: if you don’t want to get married, don’t get married. Sometimes people enter into a marriage because they think they’re supposed to, and that’s just a recipe for disaster. I don’t know about all this fragmentation stuff, but I do think you’re allowed to do whatever you want!

    • December 28, 2009 10:08 am

      Thanks, Anne. I actually wrote a guest post specifically on the topic of marriage for Harley’s blog–she’ll post it soon, I think. I’m definitely not against it…in fact, I’m all for falling in love again and finding someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. But even then, I think I’ll need other outlets for different sides of me. I don’t think one person can provide it all.

  4. December 28, 2009 12:24 pm

    I will post it soon. I will. I will. I will also get WordPress set up. I will. I will.

  5. Dionne permalink
    December 28, 2009 2:53 pm

    First off, “Wow”. You have grown tremendously in your candidness in your posts. Who can fault you for being honest with where you are at in life. You finally know why you are where you are at and are comfortable with being there for the time being. I know that what you “confessed” will not sit will with some people, but so what or WTFC. This is your life and as long as you are not hurting anyone in the process then continue to be who you need to be.

    I do hope that as you evolve as a man/person/writer/dreamer/ecetera, and progress towards a more consistent self-actualized being, that you find the happiness that is right for you. It may not be a person, but, rather, a psychological/emotional “place” in your life. I’m sure there is a collective breaking of hearts after some of your admirers read that just as there is probably an equal collective of high-fives being dolled out too.

    I believe that this fragmentation theory is true for some people, but I have no evidence of that being applicable to my life. Through much heartache, introspection, and yes, therapy, I have realized that being in a long-term, serious relationship doesn’t mean I have a guarantee that the person I choose to share my life with will be my “companion” in all things I enjoy. A relationship should not make or break what one enjoys doing or not doing that’s why i have a strong support system of friends (both male and female) that I connect to for various activities (i.e. movies, concerts, distinguished lecture series, festivals, art shows, etc). Now of course the person I choose to be with in a relationship will also be the one that I have a sexual as well as emotional connection with. Those two things MUST coexist for me or I have no reason to be in a long-term relationship with that person.

    • December 28, 2009 4:16 pm

      Thank you, Dionne. I’m glad you and other readers appreciate my candidness, and I’m grateful that so many of you have opened up in the comments section as well.

      I think you’re wise to differentiate between companionship and much deeper connections. I agree that various forms of companionship can be spread out among many people, and I’m always surprised when couples try to fulfill those needs only between one another. With sports, for example. If I want to play tennis, for example, I’d like to find someone who is close to my equal in the sport so it will be a fun exchange of serves and volleys and whatnot. I’m not all that great, but I’m decent. There are many women who are talented at tennis, but if my girlfriend isn’t one of those women, why would I turn to her for that physical outlet? My friends and I have debated this before.

      That being said, I can’t see myself ending up long-term with someone who I don’t connect with physically, emotionally, AND intellectually (conversation and humor). I’m talking about connection, not standards. Right now, as a single guy, I still seek those traits in women, but I’m not seeking all of them in any one women. Hence the fragmentation theory.

      • Dionne permalink
        December 28, 2009 4:20 pm

        Thanks for mentioning intellect as another requirement for a relationship. I second that.

  6. leelander permalink
    December 28, 2009 8:58 pm

    People are fooling themselves and setting themselves up for disaster when they enter into marriage thinking that other person will actually complete them and fill their every need. I know, because I did it.

    I agree about fragmenting yourself out. Being single again has helped me realize how important that is…being yourself – not losing yourself or identity in any one person…being with different people – both men and women…doing lots of different things. No one person can or should fill all of another person’s diverse interests – and that needs to be ok…because that is just being real. It would be down right freaky if you found someone just like you.

    Having said that…I think you still do need to be careful though. As you are aware of that attract and retain mode…there is also a healthy and unhealthy mode. Dealing with the opposite sex can be wonderful and sometimes get really complicated. Being upfront is the whole key thing. Just because you are aware you are not ‘using’ someone, doesn’t mean they are aware. I think to make that work, you both have to be on the same page.

    Also – personally – I am not sure how it will work in the future…if I ever did find that special someone. I know I would still fragment out and I would want them to as well, but I am not so sure doing that with the opposite sex is a good idea. I don’t know. I am not a good judge because my last marriage ended when my husband had an affair that I naively mistook as a ‘fragmentation’ friendship. I’m still a bit sensitive, but I would like to believe it is possible.

    But perhaps that is why I may remain single for the rest of my days too. Still a work in progress figuring it all out. Your theory is very interesting though. Ironically I just wrote an article a few days ago called single-itus that has a different take, but embraces this whole single life thing.

    Your writing is good stuff. Love the honesty and vulerability. Confident but not arrogant.

    • December 29, 2009 9:43 pm

      Thanks for being so open with your experiences in regards to marriage/fragmentation/etc. I like this: “No one person can or should fill all of another person’s diverse interests – and that needs to be ok.”

      As for your cautions, I totally agree about being up front with people, particularly people of the opposite sex whom you’re drawn to. And even more so if you enjoy flirting with those people. I think flirting is a healthy thing to do regardless of your relationship status (obviously on various levels of appropriateness), but you have to also be clear with the person about your intentions.

      Your perspective on fragmentation with the opposite sex while in a committed relationship is really interesting. I definitely think there are limits (depending on the relationship). And there are some sacrifices, although I’m not completely sure where I stand on these. For example, say your boyfriend loves to go to the movies, but you don’t. Sure, sometimes you go anyway, just for a night out, but sometimes you also encourage your boyfriend to go to the movie with other friends. Gender may not matter in that case (although I can see your hesitation given your experiences). Even that depends on the status of the relationship. Like, for me, as a single guy, I’d love to go to the movies and intertwine fingers with an attractive date. I would be up front with her that it’s not a date and that I’m not looking for more. I’m guessing many women wouldn’t be up for that. But that’s okay. I have male friends to see movies with, but it’s a different experience with them. There’s no “buzz” around seeing a movie with a friend.

      I’m with you when it comes to figuring out where my single-ness will take me.

      I’d like to read your single-itus article (as may my other readers). Would you mind linking to it?

      Last, I really appreciate you saying that my work here is confident but not arrogant. That distinction is really important to me, and it’s tough to convey my “true” tone in writing, so I’m glad it’s coming across that way for the most part. Feel free to call me out on that if I dip into arrogance! 🙂

  7. Lisa permalink
    December 29, 2009 10:14 am

    I agree with many of the sentiments expressed in previous replies, especially:
    1) This concept applies to marriages and friendships both.
    2) Marriage will not fulfill you – you need to have an array of hobbies, friendships, adventures, etc., which can be shared to varying degrees with your spouse (ie, one level is you tell them about how great that game of tennis was, another level is you participate in skiing with them, etc.)
    3) Possibly most importantly – the real danger here lies in not being completely honest (with yourself or your partner) about what’s going on. I could imagine a case where jealousy arises because you’re not honest with them, or where one uses fragmentation theory as a reason to be in an unhappy union. Either way, I posit that many guys, particularly younger guys, subscribe to fragmentation theory (perhaps not in so many words) but are not clear with whoever they’re dating that this is their theory. That’s where I think it gets most hairy.
    4) Relatedly, I also really believe that you know when you’ve found “the one.” Society, particularly parents, do a real disservice to their children by constantly asking “why aren’t you married” type questions (or, later, “why don’t you have kids”). Setting up these types of false, external pressures encourages people to make major decisions for the wrong reasons, instead of doing things in their own time.

    • December 29, 2009 9:48 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I like that you pointed out the various ways to share in activities with your spouse/significant other even if they’re not participating in all of those activities with them. It’s one thing to go to the movies with someone else and not say a word about it when you get home; it’s quite another to engage him/her in a discussion about the future of theater based on what you saw on the big screen during Avatar. And so on.

      I have a question about the honesty portion of your comment. I totally see your point about being up front and clear. But do you believe it’s necessary to share everything with a significant other? I can think of a ton of situations to ask you about, but I’ll just post the general question and see what you think.

      I hope you’re right about knowing when you find “the one.” I think it’s one of those things that I’ll have to experience to truly believe.

      • Lisa permalink
        December 31, 2009 12:05 am

        Honest to me is more “emotionally honest” than “factually honest.” The significant other in question is unlikely to need or want a play-by-play of the time you spent, and you’re unlikely to want to give it. But if you’re intentionally avoiding telling them things (including emotional things) you’re fooling both your S.O. and yourself… it’s going to come out sooner or later, so figure out how to deal with it now. Either S.O. will figure it out, in which case you’re “that guy” (or girl) to add more baggage to the world of people dating, or you will know it which can go a number of directions (all bad). Does that help?

        • December 31, 2009 12:13 am

          That’s a helpful perspective. The trouble for me is that sometimes it’s difficult for more to be emotionally honest with myself. Do I enjoy an innocent flirtation because flirting is fun, or do I feel something real for that person? I have an entry I’ll write on this in the near future. I will undoubtedly come across as a jerk through this entry, but that’s okay. I was a jerk, albeit an emotionally confused one.

  8. December 29, 2009 12:00 pm

    I LOVE THIS POST. As an intentionally single woman, I think you hit many points so well. I also wish I lived in St. Louis! I love non-dates!

    • December 29, 2009 9:31 pm

      Thanks, Penelope! I really appreciate it. I checked out your blog–looks like you offer a really interesting perspective over there.

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