Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday Madness [Self-Serving Bias]

¡Hola! Everybody…
Well, the holiday weekend is over and I’m totally scattered. I haven’t had a vacation in over a year. This Friday I will start a much-needed two week
hiatus in which I will do absolutely nothing. Fuck being productive, efficient or any of that bullshit. I’m going to be idle.

* * *

-=[ The Self-Serving Bias ]=-

Even when attempting to be honest, there are so many factors at work filtering our actions, thoughts, and beliefs, that it’s extremely difficult. One of the subtle ways we sabotage ourselves and our relationships is the problem that is known as the “self-serving bias.” I see this at play all the time, especially on the internet. Simply put, without realizing it, people have a tendency to interpret events in a way that puts them in the most favorable light, or that serves their own self-interest. The self-serving bias exerts strong influences on their perceptions, making them believe they look better in the eyes of others and themselves. In this way, when lovers argue about, say, who has contributed the most to the relationship, or who has made the most sacrifices, they will portray their roles in a way that enhances their self-esteem and in that way, “prove” their moral superiority.

Of course, the self-serving bias causes gaps in understanding and communication in relationships. Obviously, there is a significant amount of self-deception in this process, and it requires an extraordinary amount of psychic effort in order for us to see ourselves – stripped of our elaborate facades – as others see us. Just as much effort is needed in order to recognize how, without our realization, we selectively choose and assemble the “facts” in a given situation to serve our own interests.

We've all heard the cliche about the two sides of the story and then there is the truth...

Related to the self-serving bias is the tendency for some people to get “technical” about relationships conflicts. We tend to rationalize or intellectual away our accountability in relationships. I call individuals with this tendency “relationship lawyers.” These are the people who will get technical once something negative happens, drawing subtle distinctions in order to avoid accountability in the relationship.

I’ll give you a personal example: I once had a woman visit me here in NYC. We met over the internet. She had made it known that there was an attraction and I in turn had made it clear I was not looking for a relationship other than casual. Her response was that she didn’t “do casual” and I respected that. I let her know that there wouldn’t be any pressure and that, in fact, we should take away the sexual agenda so that we could enjoy each other’s company.

I was serious.

I picked her up at the airport and we were making out like teenagers before we got off the taxi.

She initiated the kiss, not I.

At that point, seeing that we were both hot, I reiterated that we should be mindful about escalating anything sexual because of our differences. She made it clear that we were going to screw. Again, I restated my position regarding my not wanting to be in a committed relationship. I explicitly stated that no matter what, I would still not be looking to be in a relationship even if we had sex, and that she shouldn’t feel she had to have sex with me.

She persisted, she didn't care, she said, and we fucked each other’s brains out.

Almost immediately after sex, she started asking me about former lovers, something that always makes me uncomfortable – even with women I am in a relationship with. I will never ask you about your sexual past. It’s really none of my business. I let her know I was uncomfortable sharing with her that kind of information and she became hurt. That’s when I caught the move. She was hurt that we had sex, but I wouldn’t share with her my sexual past. “We were just intimate,” she told me.

Oh boy.

No, the sex is never worth it, people. I took for granted she didn’t have an agenda. I sure didn’t. Anyway, I told her that maybe this was a mistake, which made her feel worse. I had two bedrooms, so she went to sleep in the other bedroom and the weekend had just started. The tension was thick.

Now, you might say that I didn’t do anything wrong, that I was honest about my intentions from the start and that her hurt had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with her own issues, and technically you would be correct. However, I was now part a situation that was bringing suffering to another human being. I don’t know about you, but for me being right is a poor substitute for being a decent person. I had to look honestly at the role I played in her suffering. To make matters worse, the next day I met another woman at an event we all attended and there was an immediate chemistry. This woman told me she wanted to screw me and at the bar, she pushed up on me, rubbed her poosie on me, and kissed me long and deep. Of course, my guest caught us making out, which made her feel even worse.

Now, I'm aware that my guest needed to face her own manipulation and technically, I was right, I didn’t fool her into having sex with me under a false pretext. No strings attached. So, my self-serving bias would’ve told me I was in the clear, morally speaking, but was I?

I don’t think so. I believe that if you’re in a situation that is causing another human being suffering then you have some accountability. Sure, I can’t (nor should I) be accountable for her own issues of low self-esteem and her own attempt to sexually manipulate me, but I had to take stock of the bigger picture and see what I was doing to bring this person misery. Though I really wanted to be with this other woman, I explained to her the situation and she understood. Actually, both women stayed at my place that night (no, there was no ménage-a-trois!).

The next day, we had a talk and I tried to explain to my guest that I valued her as a friend (we shared many interests) and that yes, we had sex, but that it didn’t mean we would be lovers or that our relationship would ever evolve into anything other than friendship. We were able to salvage some of the weekend, but my resolve not to revisit the sex issue her bothered her, as it seems it was attached to her self-esteem.

If I had been a “relationship lawyer,” I would’ve rationalized this woman’s suffering as, “Well, I did tell her that if we fucked, it didn’t mean we would be lovers.” And technically speaking, I would’ve been right. However, what would that make me as a human being?

An asshole, that’s what.

When people fall into the self-serving bias trap, they fail to realize their biased perspective and become blind to their own thick-headedness. This is merely a combination of egocentricity and narcissism that people try to pass off as being real, but it’s anything but real.



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