The Muppet Factor

muppets

“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films – these things matter. Call me shallow, but it’s the fucking truth.”
-Rob Gordon in High Fidelity

It’s advice I often give to my friends when they are considering the pros and cons of a partner or potential partner while stumbling through the minefield that is dating. It becomes especially true when viewed as encompassing more than just our taste in entertainment; but for a first date, it really is a good starting point.

To recap on last month’s article, each member of a couple frequently bids for connection with their partner by bringing their partner’s attention to something that they, themselves, found interesting in some way. When the musician hears an amazing baseline in the song playing on the radio, he or she turns to their partner and says, “Did you hear that baseline?! That is on point”. The partner can then “turn toward” the bid by acknowledging and/or engaging, or “turn away” from the bid by ignoring and/or showing little interest. According to John Gottman, (the psychiatrist who wrote about this bidding behavior), the higher percentage of times that partners turn toward each others’ bids, the longer and happier the relationship tends to last.

In my article, I talked about being generous with our partners and giving them that connection for which they are asking. In this article I propose that if there is nothing (or very little) our partner likes that we like and visa versa, it’s going to be a real bummer trying to turn toward each other’s bids for connection. In essence, you’re not going to have anything to talk about. I further submit, like Rob from High Fidelity, that the tastes we have in books, music, and film, might shine a light on how compatible we are or will be with a partner.

Some people say it is ridiculous, but I always had certain up-front compatibility tests when it came to men, and they were comprised entirely of music and movies. Does he like or at very least, appreciate, Muppets? (Obviously, he isn’t required to enjoy any post-Henson Muppets). Does he love Michael Jackson? What are his all time top ten movies? How many of the movies I’m listing in my top ten does he like or dislike? He thought Inception was hard to follow? That’s a shame. He had such pretty eyes.

When I met my boyfriend, he mistook Muppets for Sesame Street puppets (yes, there are some crossover, but let’s not worry about that for now)…I don’t draw hard lines: if there are enough other areas in which we agree, I will look past an indifferent Muppet man. But really, they can’t utterly hate them. It means our senses of humor won’t match up: tried and true. Just like I know I wouldn’t be besties with a woman who thought Fifty Shades of Grey was the best book of 2011 or a person who thought The Other Woman was a funny movie. There are things you just know about a person according to their tastes in entertainment. It doesn’t make them bad people, it just means they might not be in your tribe.

Taking into account that my boyfriend grew up largely in Uruguay, I forgave him the Muppet infraction. Once he saw a good sampling of Muppets, he got it, and I knew he would, because he’s the type to like them…he’s in my tribe where entertainment and humor are concerned, and subsequently, we’ve aligned on a great deal of more important things. Coincidence? Not in my way of thinking.

It’s why I thought of the High Fidelity quote when I read John Gottman’s study on bidding behavior. Much of what we learn from life, be it accurate or not, is from books and movies and even songs. We take on speech inflections and catch phrases of our favorite characters, we quote funny movie lines and sing childhood cartoon theme songs to make each other laugh. We dress like and do our hair like the men and women who entertain us. Some people even choose their career because it seemed so amazing in that book or movie. Oh my and how we brood over and feel deeply, certain song lyrics or melodies, or the timber of a person’s voice. I mean, if someone isn’t at least a little touched by Dan Folgelberg, “Leader of the Band”, they might be a sociopath. If a person’s spirit isn’t lifted at the sound of a massive choir singing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, then I suspect they are dead inside, and I don’t want that person in my life. When I think of all the aspects of me that are drawn from a lifetime of entertainment, I really start feeling like Chip Douglas from The Cable Guy. It’s pathetic, but its there, and I can’t deny it, and I know I’m not the only one. We learned the facts of life from watching the facts of life. 

My point is: why wouldn’t the things that entertain us reflect a deeper layer of what we value in life? In many ways, what we like becomes what we are like, and that’s why it matters.

Taking this concept of taste in entertainment into a broader context, you might say something like,

“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Space exploration, death metal, skate boarding, fitness, fantasy football, Tim Farriss podcasts, hip hop dancing, foodie culture; these things matter…”

Suddenly it doesn’t sound as shallow, because if you imagine being with someone who shares none of your interests – none of the things you like – it becomes a very boring picture. If you imagine being with someone whose every favorite thing is ridiculous to you, it sounds annoying and exhausting. It does for me, anyhow.

As I said earlier, according to Gottman’s study, the more frequently that couples turn toward one another’s’ bids for connection, the longer and happier their relationships are. Why make a relationship harder than it already is by partnering with a person with whom you share little or no interests? Turning toward bid after bid for which you couldn’t care less would be exhausting. And sure, just because someone doesn’t like Muppets doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t share a myriad of other amazing interests that I too would enjoy and be interested in, but as I said, there is no need for hard lines in this train of thought; only a discerning eye watching just how many differences in taste there are. I don’t often lay out concrete advice, but this is one of those rare moments. I propose an exercise in dating for those of you looking for love. Think of a few litmuses: your top five or ten books, movies, and/or bands. Throw them out there on a date and see if the person across from you is picking up what you’re putting down. If nothing else, it’s a good conversation starter.

I am no expert, and I have no doubts about my potential miscalculations in my many philosophies, but this one has always served me well.

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