How Men and Women Perceive Relationships Differently

Everything you need to know about my data, how I got it, and what I did with it
Disclaimer: I am a survey and data noob. I know nothing about doing surveys, I just do them and then look at basic correlates.

The data came partially from my own traffic (twitter, tumblr) and partially from my friend Eric’s traffic, redirected from his personality testing website.

I removed all answers that reported not being in a serious relationship, as well as a very small number (<10) of answers that appeared suspiciously inconsistent (e.g., a fundamentalist monogamous trans 65 yo with 3 active partners). This left me with a sample size of 993; about 550 cis women and 396 cis men, with the rest reporting as trans or other. For all gender information I used cis women and men, due to the low trans number. Identified (not birth) gender was used for determining straight/gay relationships.

The data on relationship length was very detailed, and I reduced it to 7 categories of length for most graph purposes – 1 month, 8 months, 1.5 years, 3 years, 6 years, 12 years, and 20+ years. (Categories were “at least” – so someone in a 2 month relationship were categorized as 1 month.)

I also am unsure what numbers are needed to reach significance, so take all discussions about importance with a strong grain of salt. I tried to feel out significance by seeing the correlation between questions I strongly expect to be consistent, and by looking at how strong the correlations are compared to others.

Nearly all questions were asked on a 1 (disagree) – 5 (agree) scale. Assume this unless I clarify otherwise.

[

I measured 7 different scores, 4 positive and 3 negative. Each score was the average a few similar questions. Expand the score to see exactly which questions contributed.

good:

Happiness
My relationship makes me happy
I am in love with my partner
My decision to enter into a relationship with my partner was a good one, in hindsight
My relationship brings me emotional stability and security
, Practicality
My relationship brings me practical (in regards to finances or life plans) stability and security
I share the same hobbies with my partner
My partner and I agree on whether or not we want children
I am satisfied with the division of labor in my relationship

*I am least confident about this one, and grouped the questions together afterward

, Priority
Do you consider this relationship to be the most promising, most important, or best relationship you’ve ever had?
My relationship is the most fulfilling thing in my life
My relationship takes priority above everything else
My partner completes me
, and Excitement
My partner causes me to feel butterflies, nervousness, or romantic excitement
I feel thrill and excitement in my relationship
I feel a great deal of passion in my relationship (not including sexual passion)
My relationship brings me entertainment and novelty


bad:

Insecurity
I sometimes worry that my partner will leave me for someone better
I am more needy than my partner
I am insecure in my relationship
I feel jealousy or possessiveness
, Badness
My relationship causes me anxiety
My relationship causes me grief or sorrow
I take care of my partner more than my partner takes care of me
I suspect my relationship might not last much longer
I fight with my partner
My partner and I have different values
I have broken up or decided to break up with my partner
I would like to leave my partner
I sometimes wish I had never begun a relationship with my partner
, and Undesirability
I doubt I could find someone else who completes me as much as my partner does
My partner is more desirable (to general society) than I am
My partner could have had chosen to date people who are better (worth more, more desirable) than I am
negative of:I could date someone better (worth more, more desirable) than my partner if I wanted to
[

I chose to combine these questions for ease of presentation.

Relationship Length

and good things:

The lowest sample size was 31, for men in 20+ year relationships. Sample sizes for 12-20 and 20+ year categories were between 35-45ish per gender, each. 

Everything good decreases over time, with maybe a slight increase between the 12-20 and the 20+ year marks (due to kids leaving the house?)

In hindsight I dislike the practical score and am going to ignore it. It isn’t present in the Men and Women direct comparison graphs.

Men peak in nearly everything at the 3-6 year mark, actually – or maybe it’s just a climb from their sudden drop at the 1.5-3 year period. This is strange to me, especially because women don’t show the same dip-and-climb.

Could this be due to children? Do couples have kids during the 1.5-3 year period, leading to men handling it poorly, thus leaving the relationship before the 3-6 year mark, leaving only the remaining happy men to bring the data back up? Does this indicate that there’s a ‘danger period’ for men, and if they get past it they’re good?

0-3 years, women report higher priority and lower happiness, compared to men. This flips at 3 years in, when men report being less happy and giving the relationship higher priority.

Women report higher excitement overall, with a more stable decline.

And bad things:

Men report much higher undesirability and women report much higher insecurity. Both of these things even out over time, ending up swapped at 20+ years. Is this consistent with the trope that men age better?

Men report higher Badness at early and late stages, with women most unhappy right in the middle. This is relatively close compared to the other two scores.

Polyamory

and good things:

 

There were very low sample sizes for 5/5 polyamory; only 10 responses for women and 20 or so for men. Interpret the far right side of the graph with skepticism.

I asked people to rate how monogamous or polyamorous they identified, with 1 being monogamous and 5 being polyamorous.

The overall trend seems to indicate that medium-poly relationships do the worst, particularly for men. Full poly relationships beat out full mono relationships on happiness, but come slightly short on excitement and priority.

Women see a similar jump on happiness, but this occurs at 4/5 poly, not the 5/5 poly required for men. Women also don’t have to be as poly as men to report excitement increases, and seem to get total larger excitement boosts from polyamory. They also don’t get the 5/5 poly boost on priority that men do, though again, we’re dealing with low sample sizes here so we don’t know for sure.

It seems that men have a higher poly dedication threshhold to start reaping rewards, while women can be happier at mid-ranges of poly.

and the bad:

It appears polyamory widens the gender insecurity gap, with women getting a slight increase and men a bigger decrease. Polyamory does seem to (be correlated with) lower feelings of undesirability. The Bad score is the coolest, with women peaking at 3/5 and men peaking at 4/5.

Religion

and good things

the X axis marked religiousness, with 1 being ‘not religious’ and 3 being ‘very religious.’

Men show generally more positive effects from increased religion, with the strongest difference being the Priority score. The more religious a man is, the more his partner takes importance in his life – by over a half point! Women’s priority remains low and stable regardless of her religiousness.

Nonreligious men are less excited about their relationships than nonreligious women, but this flips for the religious, where men report higher excitement. The same goes for happiness.

So in general, religion has minimal effects on women but strong positive effects on men. I’m really not sure how to interpret this and would love to hear theories in the comments.

and the bad

Turns out religion doesn’t help men’s insecurities that much, with religious men reporting greater insecurity and religious women feeling more secure their heathen counterparts. Very religious women and men report equal insecurity; it’s pretty rare to see that gap closed.

The Bad score sees a slight drop for both, but more pronounced in men. Religious men report a higher sense of undesirability than nonreligious men, with religious women reporting only a slight increase.

So basically, religion might help men with happiness and excitement, but correlates with more insecurity and undesirability, while reducing women’s insecurity.

Abuse

I also asked about abuse. The Abuse Score consists of the average of questions that asked about physical harm ever and physical harm over the last month, emotional manipulation as a pattern and emotional manipulation recently, and sexual assault.

The more religious a man is, the more likely he is to report both abusing and being abused. Religious women only report being abused more, with a drop in giving abuse (but still not as low as nonreligious women).

Everybody reports being abused more over time. Women report being abused more than men, with an exception in the beginning of the relationship. Do people wait longer to abuse women than men?

Up until 1.5 years, men are more likely than women to report both being abusers and being abused. Women then start to report higher levels of giving and receiving abuse (compared to men), but after this the received abuse stays stable (with women as more abused), and the abuser switches again back to men.

For polyamory, women report a weird sharp decline at 4/5 poly in both abuse given and received, but men stay high in both of these. I don’t know what this means.

Some notes: I haven’t looked at the difference between emotional and physical abuse.

It’s also likely that some groups are more likely to admit abuse than others (e.g., maybe religious people are much more likely to consider and report ‘regular’ things as emotional manipulation). It’s possible that low scores are just people in denial.

Also fascinating is the correlations between self esteem and abuse. The higher reported self esteem, the lower the chance of abuse given and received – until we get to 5/5 self esteem, where we enter Narcissist Land, apparently. 5/5 Self Esteemers report a sharp increase in abuse given, and a slight increase in abuse received.

Self Esteem

Things are pretty even here, but anomalies include the drop in priority score in men between self esteem points 1 and 2. Men who have 1/5 self esteem are much more likely to rate their relationships as most important (with questions like ‘most fulfilling thing in my life, completes me, best relationship I’ve ever had).

Everybody’s scores fall a bit between 4/5 and 5/5 Self Esteem, except for women’s Excitement Score, which keeps going up, while men’s only drop. Weird.

Gender Differences by Question

Scores are differences, marked by who got it higher. Respondents voted on a 1-5 scale; the higher the score, the more they agree.

The first initial is the gender that agreed with the question more. The number is the difference in ratings. The numbers in parentheses are the absolute averaged numbers, by gender.

F I am more needy than my partner: .65 (F 3.19, M 2.54)
M I am polyamorous: .52 (F 1.66, M 2.18)
M My partner is more desirable (to general society) than I am: .51 (F 2.74, M 3.25)
F My partner causes me to feel butterflies, nervousness, or romantic excitement: .32 (F 3.31, M 2.99)
M My partner could have had chosen to date people who are better (worth more, more desirable) than I am: .32 (F 2.83, M 3.15)
F I feel jealousy or possessiveness: .30 (F 2.60, M 2.30)
F I have broken up or decided to break up with my partner: .28 (F 2.27, M 1.99)
F I share the same hobbies with my partner: .25 (F 3.11, M 2.86)
F My partner and I agree on whether we want children: .25 (F 4.13, M 3.88)
F I feel a great deal of passion in our relationship: .24 (F 3.68, M 3.44)
M I take care of my partner more than my partner takes care of me: .22 (F. 2.84, M 3.06)
M I am insecure in my relationship: .21 (F 2.47, M 2.26)
M My partner and I have different values: .21 (F 2.67, M 2.88)
F My relationship causes me anxiety: .16 (F 2.70, M 2.54)
F I am sexually compatible with my partner: .16 (F 3.85, M 3.69)
M I am satisfied with the division of labor in my relationship: .15 (F 3.42, M 3.57
F I feel thrill and excitement in my relationship: .13 (F 3.38, M 3.25)
F I doubt I could find someone else who completes me as much as my partner does: .13 (F 3.41, M 3.28)
M I have performed nonconsensual sexual acts upon my partner: .13 (F 1.10, M 1.23)
F I am in love with my partner: .10 (F 4.23, M 4.13)
F My relationship causes me grief: .10 (F 2.31, M 2.21)
M I intentionally physically and nonconsensually harm my partner: .9 (F 1.15, M 1.24)
F My partner has performed nonconsensual sexual acts upon me: .9 (F 1.28, M 1.19)

The Rest
M Sometimes my partner is emotionally manipulative: .8
F My partner has exhibited a pattern of emotional manipulation in our relationship: .8
M I suspect my relationship might not last: .7
F My relationship makes me happy: .6
M My decision to enter into a relationship with my partner was a good one, in hindsight: .6
M I have exhibited a pattern of emotional manipulation in my relationship: .6
F Our relationship is very sexual: .5
F My relationship brings me emotional stability or security: .4
M I could date someone better (worth more, more desirable) than my partner if I wanted to: .4
F I fight with my partner: .4
F My relationship brings me entertainment and novelty: .3
M Amount of serious partners: .3
F I would like to leave my partner: .3
F I sometimes worry that my partner will leave me for someone better: .3
M My partner completes me: .2
F My relationship is the most fulfilling thing in my life: .1
M Sometimes I am emotionally manipulative: .1
My relationship brings me practical/financial security: 0
My relationship takes priority in my life: 0
My partner has intentionally physically and nonconsensually harmed me: 0
I sometimes I wish I’d never begun the relationship: 0
I have intentionally physically and nonconsensually harmed my partner: 0

In summary, time is not kind. Relationships show an almost universal decrease in everything good the longer they go on.

Poly is hard, and you have to go all the way to make it work – especially for men. Religion is also great, if you’re a man.

Women get more excited and insecure, men feel undesirable.

I’m going to write a blog post with much more conjecture about the differences in how men and women approach relationships. But for now, if you want to see the rest of the individual graphs, check them out here. The “relationship length” is sorted by months, and with slightly different average points.

If you want to look at the data yourself, download here.

Fuckers Vs. Raisers

Disclaimer: Pure conjecture, riddled with a ton of what-ifs – probably none of which are original.

One day in a stereotypical medieval town, a bard comes through.

This is a very sexy bard, violet-eyed, good with a lute, and experienced in the ways of women. During his short stay he sleeps with four of the village wenches, and then bounces off to a new village, to seduce more wenches.

The men in the town don’t know about this, of course, and when one of the wenches gets pregnant, everyone assumes her husband did it. Years later, a new child with violet eyes is running around. Life goes on.

There are two sexual strategies for men – Fucking and Raising. Fuckers, like our friend the Bard, do the ol’ fuck-and-run. Move frequently, shoot seed everywhere, and hope that this results in violet-eyed toddlers getting raised by other men. Raisers, by contrast, shoot seed into comparatively few women and end up raising the children they produce.

A society probably can only tolerate so many Fuckers, because Raisers are doing all of the work. If too many men are Fuckers, the kids will stop getting raised, and then the Fucking sexual strategy loses effectiveness.

Kind of like charity/hospitality/welfare. A society only has so much excess to give to people who take advantage of it.

My question then is why are women attracted to Fuckers? Is there any female advantage to this?

Women are attracted to men who indicate they would help their child survive – and to a woman, only Raisers will help her child survive. Having a child by a Fucker is dangerous – if she doesn’t have a Raiser lined up, then she’s on her own, and historically this is Very Bad News. If she does have a Raiser and he finds out the child isn’t his, again – Very Bad News.

So when the Bard fingers his lute, why do all the women around him sigh?

I think their sighs don’t have anything to do with the fact he’s a Fucker – I think it’s because his traits, if they were present in a Raiser, would be ideal. He’s presenting confidence, skill, and high social standing. If a Raiser like that moved into town, all of the women would be trying to wife themselves at him like crazy. The Bard also is a potential Raiser in the women’s eyes, and he probably has to emphasize that idea in order to get her to sleep with him.

This is maybe where the trope of “guy tells girl he loves her in order to sleep with her” comes from. Women don’t want to fuck Fuckers, but they will fuck Fuckers disguised as Raisers. And when they find out, they usually describe the feeling of “being used.”

This makes me think that women’s sexual strategy involves defending against Fuckers at all costs, and that there are minimal or no evolutionary benefits for women to be charmed by the Bard (beyond maybe getting some fresh gene material into the town?). Fuckers only succeed by disguising themselves as Raisers.

This frames things a lot more in terms of ‘battle’ between the genders. I have held the idea until now that human sexual strategy is a lot more of a complimentary competition, but this seems like it has really disproportionate benefits.

Of course this is very general, and cultural norms are changing. Birth control means that women aren’t threatened by Fuckers, and so Fuckers don’t have to pretend (as much) to be Raisers to get laid anymore. Sleeping with a Fucker who isn’t pretending to be a Raiser has given rise to the new fun sort of relationship called Casual Sex.

Okay I am done writing now but I don’t know how to do a closing paragraph. I don’t really want to learn.

One Day, We Will Make Offensive Jokes

Yesterday, my friend told me an offensive joke. It went like this:

Q: What’s something good about Islam?
A: It encourages Muslims to die.

I laughed. It was a terrible joke, and I laughed.

I’m currently visiting my family, and soon after my friend told the joke, my parents walked into the room. I started to tell them the joke – but stopped.

My parents probably wouldn’t laugh. They might laugh a little, then chastise me – and that scared me. I didn’t want to see my parents not laugh at this joke.

Why? Because my parents really, really hate Islam.

When I was about to travel to Turkey last year, my Dad sat me down and told me all about how Muslims are taught rape is normal and that I need to be very careful because they don’t have morality and that they would be happy to do terrible things to an innocent foreign girl. My parents believe Muslims are the biggest force of Bad in the world right now, that their faith is a disease, and that even moderate liberal Muslims are still dangerous because of their beliefs. My parents speak publicly and write popular articles about the dangers of Islam and terror attacks are a natural and normal cause of regular, everyday Islam.

They probably wouldn’t like the joke – because it was too close to being true. They don’t advocate for actually killing Muslims, but their hostility towards the religion might be misconstrued for it. If they laugh at the joke, people might think they actually do want Muslims to die.

But when I laugh at the joke, nobody is going to think I actually want Muslims to die. I can do it safely – and they can’t.

This is why I feel suspicious of some groups that strongly oppose offensive jokes – they have the suspicion that every person is like my parents – that every human “actually wants” all the terrible things to happen. This is why they believe telling offensive jokes carries weight, and this is why they strongly oppose those offensive jokes. Telling an offensive joke, even privately, isn’t ok, because it “contributes to global racism/sexism/discrimination” – but it can only do that if it’s influencing the people who tell and hear the joke to ‘actually believe it.

According to these groups, nobody can be so far distanced from a bad idea that they can make a joke about it, and that feels like an ugly assumption to me. I personally hope we can get to the point where everybody is comfortable making offensive jokes – but we’re not there yet. People like my parents aren’t there yet.

The Amory Spectrum

In discussions about monogamy and polyamory, I find I’ve recategorized the two ideas into something that feels more functional for me, and I accidentally try to use them synonymously with the original words. This ends up getting pretty messy, so I’m going to do the obvious thing: invent more words and then explain them!

(there’s a good chance someone has already written about this somewhere.)

Presenting: The Uniamory/Multiamory Spectrum

Your position on the Uniamory/Multiamory spectrum depends entirely on how many restrictions you place on your partner’s romantic/sexual behavior. It doesn’t matter what restrictions are placed on you, or what your partner actually does, or what you actually do, or the functional habits in your relationship.

You are uniamorous if you have rules, expectations, or agreements placed on your partner that state they cannot engage in relationships besides you.

You are multiamorous if you have no rules, expectations, or agreements about your partner’s romantic/sexual behavior with people besides yourself.

Remember this is a spectrum, going from lots of rules (no flirting) to medium rules (you can kiss but no sex) to no rules (you can do literally anything you want). For fun I’m going to provide the Amory Spectrum:

  • 0. Exclusively uniamorous; all extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed; no flirting, sexting, nude photos; can include forbidding being alone for too long with other people or ‘leading them on’; usually uncomfortable with watching porn or expressing attraction to others
  • 1. Predominantly uniamorous, only incidentally multiamorous; all obvious extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed, but leniency for flirting or engaging in light touch. Acceptance of expressing attraction to others and porn use.
  • 2. Predominantly uniamorous, but more than incidentally multiamorous. Most extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed, but with strong leniency; can include approval of nude photos, kissing and light petting, or attending sex/nude/kink parties (as a couple, without interacting with others). Most camgirl’s partners fall within this category.
  • 3. Equally multiamorous and uniamorous: Includes swinging, having threesomes, and occasionally allowance of very casual/occasional extrarelationship interactions, but with disallowance of any serious or regular extrarelationship interactions.
  • 4. Predominantly multiamorous, but more than incidentally uniamorous: general extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed with several rules, such as strongly enforced relationship hierarchy, and can include regulations of number of partners allowed, the frequency of their interactions, or moderate restrictions on their sexual activities
  • 5. Predominantly multiamorous, only incidentally uniamorous: the majority of extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed with few rules; can include light prescriptive hierarchy or minimal regulation of sexual behavior.
  • 6. Exclusively multiamorous: all extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed; no rules or requirements are instituted, and no prescriptive hierarchy is instated

Also: rules for the purpose of sexual safety, such as getting tested regularly or using condoms, do not count towards the multiamory spectrum.

If you date someone for twenty years with no rules about what they can or can’t do, but they never actually get involved with anybody else, then you are multiamorous but functionally monogamous.

If you prefer relationships that tend to be functionally monogamous, you can actively search for monogamous partners while both of you remain multiamorous.

If you insist that you and your partner will only love each other forever, that neither of you even experience the desire for others, and you also have rules that your partner can’t act upon desires even if they do have them, then you are both uniamorous and monogamous.

If you have no rules about your partner’s behavior but they have rules about your behavior, then you are multiamorous dating a uniamorous person, in a monogamous relationship.

Uniamory instituted out of fairness does not count; if you are level 6 multiamorous but dating someone who is level 2 uniamorous, and your partner agrees to not take advantage of your level 6 leniency because it wouldn’t be ‘fair,’ and instead acts as though you are level 2 uniamorous too, then this does not make you uniamorous.

Polyamory and uniamory aren’t really compatible, but sometimes you see poly relationships that rank low on the amory spectrum. If you consider yourself poly but are a 3 on the amory scale, then you might be on the uniamorous side of polyamory.

Basically, I think putting “restrictions placed on partner” into a highly defined, separate role to be a strongly illuminating way of looking at relationship structures. Frequently I find people citing monogamous motivations to explain their uniamory implementations (e.g., “We’re level 1 monogamous because neither of us find anybody else to be attractive!”)

Internet communities: Otters vs. Possums

Most of my friends have been on the internet, and I’ve spent many years as part of various internet communities, many of which I have moderated as either part of the mod team or the sole creator. (this also applies to irl communities, but the pattern is more obvious with online ones)

There’s a pattern that inevitably emerges, something like this:

  1.        Community forms based off of a common interest, personality, value set, etc. We’ll describe “people who strongly share the interest/personality/value” as Possums: people who like a specific culture. These people have nothing against anybody, they just only feel a strong sense of community from really particular sorts of people, and tend to actively seek out and form niche or cultivated communities. To them, “friendly and welcoming” community is insufficient to give them a sense of belonging, so they have to actively work to create it. Possums tend to (but not always) be the originators of communities.
  2.        This community becomes successful and fun
  3.        Community starts attracting Otters: People who like most cultures. They can find a way to get along with anybody, they don’t have specific standards, they are widely tolerant. They’re mostly ok with whatever sort of community comes their way, as long as it’s friendly and welcoming. These Otters see the Possum community and happily enter, delighted to find all these fine lovely folk and their interesting subculture.
    (e.g., in a christian chatroom, otters would be atheists who want to discuss religion; in a rationality chatroom, it would be members who don’t practice rationality but like talking with rationalists)
  4.        Community grows to have more and more Otters, as they invite their friends. Communities tend to acquire Otters faster than Possums, because the selectivity of Possums means that only a few of them will gravitate towards the culture, while nearly any Otter will like it. Gradually the community grows diluted until some Otters start entering who don’t share the Possum goals even a little bit – or even start inviting Possum friends with rival goals. (e.g., members who actively dislike rationality practices in the rationality server).
  5.        Possums realize the community culture is not what it used to be and not what they wanted, so they try to moderate. The mods might just kick and ban those farthest from community culture, but more frequently they’ll try to dampen the blow and subsequent outrage by using a constitution, laws, and removal process, usually involving voting and way too much discussion.
  6.        The Otters like each other, and kicking an Otter makes all of the other Otters members really unhappy. There are long debates about whether or not what the Possum moderator did was the Right Thing and whether the laws or constitution are working correctly or whether they should split off and form their own chat room
  7.        The new chat room is formed, usually by Otters. Some of the members join both chats, but the majority are split, as the aforementioned debates generated a lot of hostility
  8.        Rinse and repeat—

One problem is when Otters misinterpret Possum ideology. In Otterland where everyone has Otternorms, everyone is welcomed with open arms no matter who they are, and it takes seriously grievous offenses to get rejected from Otterland.

Possums with Possumnorms don’t have this system. In Possumland, not sharing the core culture is all it takes to get kicked out, and it’s not considered a grievous offense.

So when Otters enter Possumland, they see someone get kicked out, and get upset that Possums treat “dissenting thought” as a “grievous offense.” Possums, of course, don’t view it this way at all. They think the people they kick out are great and would love to interact with them in every context… outside of Possumland.

Otters and Possums tend to get into the “is elitism good” discussion – Otters will generally say things like “I want an inclusive and tolerant environment” and “I don’t want people to have to watch their every step” and “The thought of testing or filtering people for being good enough for admission here makes me really uncomfortable.” Otters tend to have experienced a lot of rejection in the past, and don’t want anybody else to suffer that feeling.

Possums are on the other side, saying “but you can’t just have a free for all,” or “this community is here for a specific purpose and it’s ok to get rid of people who don’t want it” and “I like having strict admission standards” and “we shouldn’t have to tolerate people who actively detract from conversation”

I think at the core of this is Otters interpreting Possum censorship as something personal, because their standard for feeling a sense of belonging is just ‘human decency’, and it’s difficult for them to empathize with a motivation of exclusion based on things beyond ‘human decency.’

I don’t really have a point with this, but I am interested in methods we can take to help preemptively solve this inevitable Otter vs. Possum clash and the dilution of group members. One idea is to have a periodic ‘chat splitting,’ where every 3-6 months (or when membership hits a certain number) there is a new forum/chatroom made, and people have to choose which group to join. This would help separate the Otters from the Possums in a way that is inevitable, thus hopefully creates no hard feelings. It could also be a giant explosion of drama, who knows.

Also, possibly normalizing the social differences between Otters and Possums and loudly labeling chatrooms by their spectrum on the Otter-Opossum scale. That way, if someone knows they’re stepping foot into Possum territory, they know that being kicked is more likely, and it’s also probably not personal at all.

There’s also lots of ways to try to filter out Otters from joining in the first place, like tests for entry, interviews, and trial periods. Otters tend to have little problem finding cultures in general to join, as they aren’t very selective, so I don’t think keeping Otters out of heavy Possum territory will actually be problematic for them at all.

Also strongly adjacent reading: Well Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism

How I Lost My Faith

I was homeschooled my whole life by a professionally evangelist father and a stay at home mother. My media was censored, my computer use secretly monitored, and my friends vetoed if they were not also sufficiently close to the Christian homeschooler sphere.

My science books derided evolution as a baseless idea. I was taught that the founding fathers were Christian and founded the United States for God. I attended a Ken Ham seminar. I protested abortion clinics. We switched out Bill Nye for a Christian version. For years we had Bible study 5 nights a week and went to church 3 times a week. I managed to get all the way to adulthood without once uttering a swear word.

I believed in Jesus and the Bible with all my heart – but this wasn’t an unquestioned belief. We studied ‘logical Christianity’, and I had many nights where I would discuss my doubts about Christian philosophy with intelligent theologians. I was surrounded by people from the Church who were open to any question, invited doubt, and presented answers in gentle, rational tones.

I wanted to be rational. The existence of other heretical, yet devout religions served as a huge, constant warning light to me in the back of my mind, and I feared that whatever fooled them might be fooling me now. I was aware, somewhere, that I might be wrong, but I had a lifetime of mental systems with which to handle that. I debated constantly. I studied atheist arguments and had my own refutations to everyone. I thought I knew.

I lost my faith shortly before I turned nineteen, and it wasn’t any one thing that did it.

I mean, I guess there was one thing that did it, but an echo in the mountains does nothing if there’s not already a bunch of snow built up and ready to fall.

Losing my faith was horrifying and painful. I refer to it as my

losingfaith.jpg
an art i made

‘faith’ and not my ‘religion,’ because religion is a word we use from the outside, as the observer watching the person bowed in prayer. For me, the person bowed in prayer, it was my faith, and to call it a religion feels like it undermines the meaningfulness of the feeling of “loving God”.

Nearly-nineteen, sitting there in that dorm room, I could feel my faith slipping away from my fingertips, and it was like trying to avoid a car crash in slow motion. No, no no no. I scrambled for answers, but all the ones I had studied so well suddenly seemed far away. I cried out to God to save me, because I couldn’t do it myself. It was a desperate, last plea to my beautiful savior and friend, and the silence I got back was utter despair.

The life I had known died right there. The way I knew the world – my education, my society, my purpose, my understanding of ethical behavior, of sex, obedience, submission, logic, origin of the universe – all of it crumbled around me and I suddenly knew nothing.

People sometimes ask the question of why it took so long. Really I’m amazed that it happened at all. Before we even approach the aspect of “good arguments against religion”, you have to understand exactly how much is sacrificed by the loss of religion.

People in bad relationships rationalize all the time. Relationships give a sense of purpose, of meaning, love, and stability. Breaking up really fucking sucks, and requires laboriously putting the pieces back together. We all tend to put off breakups for far too long, and we all probably know someone (maybe us) who has come up with a thousand reasons why the relationship is ‘actually fine’ while their life is getting slowly poisoned.

Expand the notion of a ‘relationship’ to your ‘entire life story’ and ‘connection to your entire community,’ and you might understand exactly why Christians are coming up with a thousand reasons as to why their faith is ‘actually right.’ Our brains are incredibly talented at making us feel like we have logical reasons to avoid pain and social exile.

Onto the arguments.

Christianity isn’t ‘wrong,’ really, or not obviously. For every objection I raised, there was an answer. It sometimes wasn’t an amazing answer – but then, science isn’t always full of amazing answers either. After enough questions and answers, I formed a general structure, complete with patterns and themes, “around” my sense of self, if you will oblige the metaphor. My mechanoid belief structure worked. With it I could deal with my community, my life, and my existential questions.

When other people attacked (why did God of the Bible kill innocent people?), I could fend off their assault on my structure with little pew pew shooty ‘don’t judge god with human morality’ guns (which had been preemptively installed by a sermon at age 12). I viewed things from my structure. My primary focus was building, maintaining, and defending my structure.

What the nonreligious get wrong a lot of the time is the idea that if you can just lead a Christian along the right logical path, they will realize that they are wrong. This is generally bullshit. Christians (and humans in general) are incredibly talented at organizing their structure in such a way that logic works to their favor. If a ‘good argument’ could bring down a Christian’s faith, then it would have happened a long time ago.

What brought down mine was not a good argument. It was a semi bad one, in hindsight, or at least weak in the idea that Christians have figured out some defense guns against it. I won’t specify it here, mainly because I’ve talked about it elsewhere and it would be too identifying.

What the argument did do was, for the first time, allow me to consider that maybe I was wrong.

If you’d asked me before to “consider you’re wrong,” I would have answered that “I have! All the time!” I would insist that I seriously considered other view points. I genuinely believed that “I was wrong” was an option in my mind.

But it wasn’t really, not like this. The argument jolted me so badly that I saw my own worldview from the outside, and it was all suddenly apparent to me how much patchwork I had needed for my defense, how teetering it was, all of the rationalizations I had pulled and twisted every which way. I was living in a structure built for defense, to which function came secondary.

Did it function? Yes, but I’d never before seen how ugly it was.

There are a few things I think that prepared me for this event. One is that for the last year or two I had increasing exposure to nonreligious communities. Somewhere deep down in subconsciousland, I began to realize that, ethically speaking, they weren’t much different than me. I could look at an atheist and feel, deep in my bones, that they were smart, that I could have been born them, that they were aware and thinking just like I was, and they didn’t seem to be evil.

I was “exposed to sin.” I saw people sinning (being gay! stealing a pencil! premarital sex! swearing!), and they were happy and fulfilled, sometimes even more than I was. Christians talk about “being a witness in word and deed,” but this is exactly what the nonChristians were doing to me.

The combination of reducing religious exposure and increasing nonreligious exposure was like starting to spend time away from an “abusive relationship” in the company of “new friends.” Even though I had no conscious intention to “break up,” somewhere subconsciously, the thought of leaving became a more viable option, less terrifying.

I’d also seen a LOT of atheistic arguments against Christianity. I could refute each one, but it took a little bit of effort and rationalization each time. This caused me to (again, very subconsciously, I never would consciously have admitted this) associate ‘effort and rationalization’ with my belief system, which primed me for leaving.

The argument itself had a few traits that made it a good trigger. One was that I hadn’t heard it before, and thus had no preconstructed defenses to ward it off. I wasn’t near my Christian community, so I didn’t have a pastor to quickly refute it for me.

Second is that the argument was nontrivial. It didn’t challenge something like a minor biblical inaccuracy, it challenged the very nature of God himself.

I was already primed, environmentally, to feel safe stepping outside of my structure, and a new argument was just the right thing to jolt me outside.

Once I saw my structure from the outside, that was the end of it all. There was no way I could step back into it, even if I wanted to. I left, and without me inside to hold it up, it crumpled into a thousand pieces that I could never put back together. I felt naked.

For a year I tried to salvage the ruins and ended up clothing myself in some ideological remnants like deism and evolution denial. Eventually I turned full skeptic-atheist, and then a few years later ended up attracted to zen, or a system of thought that seems similar to zen.

Belief systems aren’t “the things we’ve logically concluded about the world.” They are structures that give us a way to interact with our environment.

I can interpret my previous religion as something which allowed me to function in the environment in which I was raised. It’s amazing that something so motivated by function can result in beliefs that feel incredibly real. I have memories of sobbing on my knees, alone in my room except for the presence of Jesus. To me, my faith from the inside was powerful and tangible.

But it was this internal passion that was the necessary fuel to keep the teetering, haphazard structure of my belief intact. Religion would never have survived if at least some people didn’t feel it with all their might.

If you want to ‘deconvert’ someone, view it as if you want your friend to leave an abusive relationship. All you can do is be there for them, give them love, acceptance, and a safe space. Sometimes your friend might be receptive to arguments about why their relationship is bad, but usually they’ll just be defensive. Maybe one day they will leave, maybe they won’t. Remember that the relationship, no matter how bad it is, is fulfilling something for them. Try to be that fulfillment for them.

Sacrifice-blindness

I just read a comment on an Uber fundraising page for a lady with cancer. It said, “Uber should provide healthcare for all drivers instead of doing gofundme pages!”

I’m not here to debate whether or not that would be better, but rather to point out a phenomenon of sacrifice-blindness.

My friend sent me an article today about a kid falling out of a window on LSD. She doesn’t like that I do LSD. I told her that LSD was really safe and that more people fall out of windows on alcohol. She said,
momlsd

Frequently we point out things that are Good Ideas Motivated by Goodness, such as:

*Everyone should have access to health care
*Nobody should fall out of windows
*Avoid war no matter what
*Jobs should pay enough to cover all basic financial needs
*Terminal illnesses should be researched and cured
*Nobody should be racist
*Our culture should be protected from criminals
*We shouldn’t have our freedom infringed
*Provide the homeless with housing
*We need more after-school programs
*Employers should provide medical benefits to employees

I don’t disagree with the desires expressed by all these things, and I suspect almost nobody would. If I could press a button and magically everybody gets health care without any cost to anybody, I absolutely would.

And I don’t mean to make this an argument against the individual ideas expressed. Whether or not universal healthcare should be instituted is a whole different idea. What I am arguing is to eliminate sacrifice-blindness.

I am on a birth control that puts me at significantly increased risk for stroke. A few years ago I would have never considered taking this birth control, because “avoiding all things that increases health risk is a Good Idea Motivated by Goodness.” Good health was paramount above everything.

But really? Above everything? Even all the positive benefits the birth control pill gave me? By blindly accepting this rule of Goodness, I failed to consider what I was sacrificing to follow this rule – medication that would improve my quality of life. And once I stopped to actually consider the practical results of the options I was facing, my choice changed.

Preserve Human Life No Matter What is a frequently touted Good Idea Motivated by Goodness, but we don’t act according to it. We drive our families around in cars, putting them at risk of car accidents and death. Realistically speaking, the law we follow is more like Preserve Human Life As Long As It’s Mostly Convenient For Us.

And this is fine. Outlawing LSD to preserve safety might be a Good Idea Motivated by Goodness, but it ignores the sacrifice made for this – human autonomy in their own safety and all of the benefits of LSD.

Now, you can look at this evaluation and make a choice, and I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong. If you’re fully aware of all of the things you are sacrificing in order to gain “nobody falls out of a window,” then I cannot blame you, and now our discussion switches to one of personal value.

With the example of Uber and medical benefits – would it be a Good Idea to make Uber provide benefits to its employees independent contractors? Yes. But what would we be sacrificing in order to make this happen? Would this raise the cost of Uber, making Lyft a better option and putting Uber drivers out of business? Or making it less affordable for poor people in communities to have easy transportation? Or raise the barrier of entry for people who want to be Uber drivers, thus reducing the number of potential income sources that a desperate person might need to feed their family? Would requiring Uber to give out healthcare actually end up hurting poor communities the most? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe even if it did, it would still be worth it. But whatever our final choice, let’s not be sacrifice-blind.

I find that in the majority of political discussions I see, parties from all sides engage in sacrifice-blindness in pursuit of touting Good Ideas Motivated by Goodness. I suspect that if everyone knew exactly what would be sacrificed if their idea was actually perfectly implemented, people would agree with each other much more often.