A harrowing incident from this past September is addressed in a very special “fearofsyndication;” about manners.

Enjoy my first attempt at, erm, video…

Lessons on Learning

7 November, 2009

In Psychology 101, we were taught about the way the brain functions, how neurons send signals to your brain and your brain reacts, and learns: your hand touches a hot flame (or, say, steaming wand, as I did today), the pain travels up to your brain, the brain registers “OW!,” sends signals back to move your hand away from the hot object, and as you sit there whimpering, your brain has filed away the knowledge not to touch fire (or hot steaming wands, as the case may be).

In Psych 102, we learned about Pavlov, and the brain’s ability to be conditioned to anticipate results based on certain stimuli: a bell rang every time dogs were fed, after a while, the bell alone, and not the food, caused the dogs to salivate in anticipation of food.

On top of basic 100 level Psych classes, our brain works to learn, and to apply the lessons we’ve learned in order to survive. Sometimes this is very literal (as with the hand in the flame); sometimes this is more figurative (forgetting your wallet at home before an international vacation is a very stupid thing to do, you learn quickly not to do it again). By and large, we get by day to day because of our fancy schmancy, relatively evolved brain and it’s ability to learn + apply. Favorable results = do it again. Unfavorable results = cease and desist.

Lately, though, I find that there is one area in life that is somehow immune to this kind of logic, an element in our social lives that clings fast to the “try, try again” mentality, rather than apply past knowledge of undesirable results and call it quits. Of course, I write of the romantic relationship, and the quest to find the person who eliminates the need to “try, try again.” Why is it, I can’t help but wonder, that despite a variety of “unfavorable results,” we choose to press on and put ourselves out there?

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve been able to “put myself out there” at all. In fact, this whole train of thought came about when, last night, I was recalling to a friend the first time I asked a guy out, in all of it’s horrible, awkward glory. (NB: it should be noted that I was 25 at the time.) I was so nervous my hand shook as I took down his number. I suggested me and this fella could maybe hang out some time. He responded, Sure, but thought I should know that he was kinda seeing someone. I tripped over my “noyeahthat’sok,imeanit’djustbecooltohangoutwithyou” and scurried out the door, not sure if I was properly mortified, or just embarrassed.

Since then, sadly, my track record for success has been slim to nil – at least with the ones who mattered at all. Whenever something glorious like a date actually did come to fruition (and I’d laugh at how difficult I made the whole thing out to be), they went nowhere, sometimes disappointing me, sometimes relieving me. Yet, as I get older and more experienced (in life, perv), I find that I’m more willing to buck up and ask Pourquoi pas? or remind myself that there’s no time like the present, and, essentially, take action – ask for a date, or a phone number, engage and flirt, invite and (on one odd occasion) proposition.

The catch, though, is that as these actions increase, so too does the failure rate. Which would be natural, except that the success rate is not increasing with the quantity of attempts. Sometimes, I feel like the team that’s lost for so long but no one has the heart to kick them out of the league. Or, less dramatically, the kid in class who’s screwing up the curve – I keep endeavoring for something that’s only proving to hurt me more… and is the prospect of Profound Connection (the less-fat, lower-carb cousin to “falling in love”) really enough to warrant this?

It may be true that Love can make men act like fools, make people do all sorts of crazy things. But the pursuit of it – when did we learn of the power that the pursuit of Love commands? Why should that make us so willingly vulnerable?

We can sit around wondering why we are so unable to learn from the lessons that tragically reoccur; but instead, thank that old noggin of ours for having a much wider, sappier, more romantic threshold when it comes to not learning this romantic lesson.