G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Men: how many of you have experienced this?
It’s the norm to over-share. My friends and I are guilty of this. We divulge every serious and petty aspect of our dating lives, but there’s one detail that we are shy about sharing: the names of those we are speaking about. We hold back our excitement, manage our expectations, and heed with caution—all by referring to those we’re seeing as anything but their given names. As soon as we begin to tell a story about a date we had, or someone we’ve just met the first question is: “Wait, what should we call him?”
Sometimes the nicknames are creative: The Crusader (super religious with a wild side in the bed), HGB (short for Hot Gym Boy), and The Meatball (round, stubby, and Italian). One woman told me, “one of my favorites is the guy my friend is dating now—he was formerly a bit of a slut, so we call him TRW, for The Repentant Whore.” Then there’s the self-explanatory: Hot Hat-Wearing Balding Guy, or Formerly Fat Chris. And the more generic ones that still serve their purpose: The Writer, The Brit, The Professor, SoCal. As time goes by, and there’s more than one guy who could be described by a particular nickname, we feel the need to affix new descriptors for clarification purposes (i.e. The Brit Without the Maniacal Laugh). Some even have formulas for nicknames, such as taking their real first name and adding the bar or location in which they met as their last name.
I know of just one time that I was given a nickname that a girl I was dating addressed me by to her friends and on her blog (sorry to play it close by not revealing the moniker). You’ll notice a bit of mockery in most of the nicknames, which I suppose are what nicknames are for in the first place. Even the nicest are backhanded compliments. The tendency to grant nicknames to potential suitors probably varies geographically. In large urban areas where people date far outside of their normal social circle and where it is less likely that the guy will even casually know the woman’s group of friends, these names protect against inevitable repetition. “Which Chris was this?” The girl who nicknamed me had recently moved from a much bigger city and didn’t have any close friends nearby so dropping my familiar name into a conversation might have felt weird. Online dating also fosters the use of these barriers to intimacy.
The author proposes competing theories for the nicknaming of insecure relationships:
Because she had never invested her emotions into naming him, it was relatively easy to laugh the experience off. The fact that “ghosting” is a frequent occurrence leaves many, like Janie, to rely on nicknames as a defense mechanism.
I called a love doctor to find out why nicknames are so prevalent in the narratives of dating lives in this day and age—to make sense of this culture of disappearance, low expectation, and nicknames as a means of asserting control. According to Pat Love, Ed.D. (and yes, that is her last name), a certified relationship educator and author of popular books like Hot Monogamy and The Truth About Love, this phenomenon is reflective of our current social atmosphere. “We’re dating lots and lots of people, never before in our history have we had the insight …and access to so many individuals. And that’s new in the history of our species.”
Love continues, “And I think, that along with that, comes the phenomenon of short-term dating. Prior to this era, when you met somebody, and you really were travelling in smaller circles and because just the mileage that we covered was smaller, we’d have the opportunity to check them out -you went through that initial screening process before you had a date.”
It’s a subconscious psychological mind-game that we play with ourselves—and it is heavily supported by our best friends who legitimize and often help initiate these name games. We’re not purposefully giving those we date names to keep them at arm’s length, though it certainly does protect our emotions when and if the relationship doesn’t pan out. It stings a little less when you never acknowledged the person’s name or legitimized them.
One 23-year-old in New York City explains, “I have always said that we can call them by their real name when they are worthy! Most of them never make it that far!”
Is this the fault of men, as that last sentence (and most of the article) implies? Who knows, but this reminds us of the Beauty Contest problem (also here). Satoshi Kanazawa had an interesting take on this mathematical problem addressed in a 1966 paper titled “Recognizing the Maximum of a Sequence”. When trying to maximize the odds of choosing the most attractive person among n potential suitors, the most optimal strategy is to choose the first suitor that is more attractive than the previous 37% of suitors. This strategy maximizes overall odds of selecting the most attractive person in the entire pool of potential suitors. A person has no idea how many people are actually in their pool of potential suitors, but a city-dweller would be expected to recognize their greater potential in absolute terms and to just date and date and date and screw all along the way. So, basically, you get more Games there, and one of those Games is chicks giving dudes dumb nicknames.