Dating at Con
July 11, 2013
The skeptic world runs on cons. We're a fairly spread out bunch, and the way that we tend to disseminate information and create community is by holding conventions. I have a theory about Cons. I have a theory that unless your relationship is stable and longterm, both individuals have friends and support, and you have clearly laid out your expectations, you should not attend a Con with your significant other. Or even with a not-that-significant other who you happen to be sexy with. Or perhaps even a friend who wants to have sexy times with you. So far I have been to two major Cons (CONvergence for the past two years and Skepticon for the last ), and every time I've been to one I have seen relationships fall apart around me (or seen my own relationship fall apart).
What is it about Cons that can put so much stress on relationships? Why might it be better to separate your relationship from your congoing activities? Is this just an anomaly that I'm making a huge deal out of (quite possibly)? Most of the answers to these questions are generalizations and won't apply to everyone, but might give everyone some brain fodder for whether they want to go to a big event with their significant other.
I suspect the biggest problem with Cons is that they're noisy. I don't mean this literally. In every sense of the word, there is noise everywhere at a Con. There is social noise and intellectual noise and visual noise and literal noise and often smell noise and excitement noise and emotional noise. There's just a lot going on, and your attention will necessarily and always be divided. In addition, you come to the Con for the noise: You're there to see people and learn things and have fun and geek out. You don't really come to be with someone you're dating. It might be nice and you might want to share all of these other experiences with them, but the point of going to a Con is not to go on a date. (I mean, maybe it is for some people but wow that would be an expensive and not very intimate date.)
Now this works out well enough if you're there by yourself or if you're there with friends, because typically friends don't expect you to be somewhere for them. They enjoy your company, but they realize that unless you've set something out explicitly as close friend time or unless they're having a crisis, they don't expect to be the center of your world. They don't always expect you to make time for them. They might be a little miffed if you don't talk much during the weekend, but they don't expect to have your undivided attention for very long.
Unfortunately, society tends to train us to believe that our significant others should always pay attention to us, or that if something is good then it must always be SO MUCH BETTER if it involves your significant other. This can be disastrous at Cons, particularly Cons that have many events going on at once. (CONvergence is a prime example of this: I want to go to one panel and you want to go to a party room. While I might be fine splitting up, you might not be. Unhappiness ensues.) Particularly if one party is there to have fun for themselves and the other party is there to be with their significant other, you get a lot of resentment about the activities that get chosen, or even the fact that the activities are the focus instead of the relationship. Because there's simply so much going on and people want to experience it, they tend to not pay attention to their significant other. This can lead to hurt feelings, confusion, frustration, and a sense of abandonment. Because we expect that we should be with our boyfriend/girlfriend, or that they should want to be with us, it's hard to navigate a situation in which they might prioritize other things over us.
Besides things, there are also lots and lots and lots of people at Cons. There are lots of fun people. There are friends. There are new friends. It's great! You spend tons of time talking to new people and getting excited about them, seeing old friends again and catching up, hugging and meeting up with people and finding people and getting lost and running into them again. Sometimes it's like trying to herd cats, but overall it' s just really cool that there are so many wonderful people to be around.
It is also a petri dish of jealousy. When you only have a finite amount of time and far more people to pay attention to than you ever could in that time, and about a billion ways of losing people at various points in time, someone's feelings are going to get hurt. And more often than not, it's the person who expected the weekend to be a big long date that doesn't involve other people who gets hurt and disappointed when the weekend turns out to focus on friends, groups, socializing, and other things that are not them.
These problems are compounded by the fact that if some sort of snag does pop up at a Con, it is almost impossible to deal with in that setting. You are in public. It's loud. It's difficult to talk. You feel pressured to continue enjoying yourself and to not let the weekend get ruined. Emotions also tend to run high at cons. You're sleep deprived and coffee fueled, as well as full of adrenaline and excitement. These are not good circumstances to have a serious heart to heart and hash out the boundaries you want to set or the needs you have. Oftentimes there is simply no way to get privacy and talk at all, and you're simply left with passive aggressive comments. It's obviously not the ideal place to handle feelings of jealousy or insecurity which might be better served by a comfy couch and a cup of hot tea.
It's understandable that people in a relationship would want a Con to be a time to share together, but it's also pragmatic to remember that Cons cannot and will not ever be about one thing and one thing alone. They are packed as full as they can be with things to take up your attention. So if you are planning on attending a convention with your significant other, there are some things that you might want to take into consideration before you go and then discuss with your partner. How much time do you expect to spend together? Are you ok with it if you don't see each other much or choose to go to different panels and activities? How will you deal with it if an issue does come up? What can you do as damage control if the weekend starts going south?
These are issues that might come up in any setting that is over a few days and is busybusybusy and exciting. Having these conversations ahead of time is always a good idea, and can help make your relationship stronger for a fun weekend.
About the Author: Olivia James
Olivia James is a recent graduate from St. Olaf College who is now navigating the post-college pre-grad school waters. She was a philosophy and religion major and was a member of St. Olaf's SSA. She is also an avid swing dancer, voracious reader, and all around nutjob.
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