Time Orientation and Suitable Romantic Pairings
I recently had a girl invite me to watch Sex and the City with her. She'd newly discovered the television show after never having really watched it before, and was suddenly addicted.
"Ugh," I said. "No thanks. But knock yourself out."
"Come on, please!" she protested. "It's so much fun!"
"Fun for women," I replied. "Men do not enjoy Sex and the City."
"That's not true!" she said. "It's a great show for men AND women!"
"It's a bunch of women who have no idea what they want doing the same things over and over again, never able to realize they're trapped in a perpetual loop of meaningless emotion–chasing," I responded. "There's little self–discovery, and loads of gossip, which is of course quite interesting to women, but like nails on a chalkboard to men."
She started watching an episode by herself, and soon called out to me, "You're right, I can see why women really like this and men don't!"
But I wanted to think about it some more. Why do women like that show so much, and why don't men? Certainly, there are exceptions – women who think it's trite, and men who think it's wonderful – but they're not the norm.
What I realized was that it's part gossip – women use gossip to stay informed on who's a desirable mate, who's an available mate, and who isn't – which is pretty useless to men but pretty vital to women – but it's also about time orientation... a little thing most people don't think much about, but that has huge implications for their dating lives and relationships.
When I first started working to come out of my shell socially, one of the tasks I set for myself was surrounding myself with as many thrill–seeking types as I possibly could. They had to be educated and intelligent thrill–seekers... but thrill–seekers nevertheless.
My friends were thrill–seekers; the women I dated were thrill–seekers. They lived for the moment; theirs were lives of adventure, excitement, and pleasure.
I did my best to emulate them; to join their crowd and be just like them. I'd do wild, crazy things; I'd go along with their suggestions, and make crazy suggestions of my own.
I was constantly doing things that scared the hell out of me, embarrassed the hell out of me, or both.
But I never enjoyed those things. Unlike my thrill–seeker friends, who'd have giant grins on their faces, loving every minute, it was all I could do to keep myself from calling it quits to whatever dangerous thing we were doing.
While their brains were going, "YEAH! STIMULATION!!!" mine was saying, "Um, at the speed we're going right now, if this thing flies off the track there's a good chance our neck gets snapped and all the other things we want to accomplish in life never happen."
The reason why was not that I am "too stilted," nor that my friends are "too ADD," but rather that our time extensions were different in degree.
What is Time Orientation?
I was first introduced to the concept of time orientation via this (eye–poppingly good) video by RSA Animate:
In "The Secret Powers of Time," Philip Zimbardo introduces the viewer to the 6 main "time zones" that different people are inclined toward:
Past-positive: a focus on happy memories of the past (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). Past-positive people are nostalgic, happy, but cautious.
Past-negative: a focus on negative memories of the past (regrets, loves lost, etc.) Past-negative people are usually bitter and regretful.
Present-hedonistic: a focus on enjoying oneself in the here and now. Present-hedonistic people live life to the fullest, do whatever they want to do, when they want to do it, and don't bother themselves to worry about consequences. On the downside, their lives tend to be more dramatic, less stable, and less healthy (due to all the risks they take).
Present-fatalistic: a belief that it doesn't pay to plan, so why bother. Present-fatalistic people feel stuck in an inescapable present, not really enjoying themselves but powerless to change the future. People who are depressed are almost always present fatalistic.
Future-goal-oriented: a focus on achieving one's goals. Future-goal-oriented types are ambitious, have big plans far out in the future they want to accomplish, and are constantly working to bring their visions for the future into reality. On the downside, the focus on building the future often means ignoring the present, skipping "fun" things now and shirking relationships to focus on building instead.
Future-transcendental: life begins after death. Future-transcendentalists tend to be most concerned with doing what their belief systems mandate they do now in order to have the best possible life after death. Often this means following a religious code, "doing unto others", and regularly praising one's god or gods. On the downside, this can lead to viewing large–scale contributions to human society as meaningless, materialistic, and short–sighted (why build for man when you can build for God?), and can lead to restricting oneself from what most other people are doing and enjoying (e.g., chastity; restrictions on what can be eaten or drunk; etc.).
The realization that these distinctions even exist in the first place clears up a lot of disconnects between different kinds of people. For instance, the religious folks who occasionally comment on the "Just Be Yourself" article objecting that why should they change... God has a plan and it will all work out. They legitimately feel they don't need to set goals for the future because the future will take care of itself. So my recommendation of, "Work hard and yourself," sounds like needless, unnecessary, and wasteful extra work to them.
It also highlighted – for me at least – why I don't like Sex and the City – it's a bunch of present-hedonists running around indulging with one another.
Strikes me as quite silly, wasteful, and meaningless... much as those future-transcendalists view my future goal oriented recommendations.
But for people who are themselves present-hedonists, Sex and the City is nothing more than a good, fun romp.
Just as those types of personalities are in real life, too.
Hanging with Hedonists
Now don't get me wrong... I don't dislike present-hedonists.
A large portion of my friends have strong present-hedonistic tendencies. Those are the types most usually attracted to pickup and seduction – the folks who love to indulge.
And I just can't be around men who aren't good with women anymore (men who suck with women, you will find, tend to have this dominate their conversations: "Women are so terrible!" or "WHY are women so hard to understand??!", and they're usually not very good at socializing with men, either).
So I tend to mostly be around people who are moderately to strongly
We do tend to shake our heads at one another though (in good fun, of course). They don't get how I can care so much about this "future" that always isn't now, and I don't get how they can care so much about the fleeting feelings of the here and now, which are gone as fast as they come.
In fact, Western culture has been on a trajectory of increasing degrees of present-hedonism lately. I'm not entirely sure why, but my guess is that as life has become easier and easier over the past century, the need to plan ahead for the future has become of lower and lower importance. Actions have fewer consequences, and a life of indulgence, which feels quite rewarding in the moment, also comes with fewer negative long–term consequences than it did in times past.
More and more, in most areas of life, I find myself surrounded by
hedonists, and media messages touting that it's all about "living life
to the fullest" and "living for the moment" (probably because impulse
buying is tied most strongly to present-hedonism - if you aren't living
life to the fullest, right now, in the moment, you almost certainly
also aren't buying 95% of the products advertisers have for sale,
What's the "Right" Path?
According to Zimbardo, the doses of each of these that are ideal for an individual in Western society are:
- High in past-positive
- Moderate in future (goal oriented or transcendental)
- Moderate in present-hedonism
- Low in past-negative
- Low in present-fatalism
How important is your time perspective in your quality of life? Have a look at these interesting results from "Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual–differences metric":
Validity for the Five Scales on the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory
|Need for Consistency
Note. CFC = consideration of future consequences. N = 205 (from College of San Mateo). * p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001. "Ego Control" is actually scored as ego under control.
Here's another one from the same study:
and Single Self-Report Item Correlations
|How Often Steal
|How Often Tell Lies
Note. N = 566 (from College of San Mateo
and San Francisco State University). * p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p
So what's this all mean?
Well, it sucks to be
past-negative and/or present-fatalistic... you're bad in all the wrong
ways, and good in few of the right ones. Your life is a mess, and so
are you. And you definitely
don't want to date
a girl who's past-negative or present-fatalistic, either. She will lie
to you, steal from you, throw fits around you, and reek of nervous
anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
And present-hedonism is a mixed bag. While it doesn't have quite the downsides of the past-negatives or the present-fatalists, it does lead to constant novelty- and sensation-seeking and continual breaking of routine in order to experience whatever's new and exciting. A girl who's high on present-hedonistic is among the most outgoing, but also among the least consistent.
Meanwhile, future folks are educated, hard workers, and very consistent... but also very high ego, and usually not a whole lot of fun compared to everybody else.
The only one that everybody can agree on is good all the way around is past-positive... past-positives have the highest self-esteem and are the happiest overall of any time orientation.
You should quickly be realizing that your own time orientations are going to have a big impact on your life... and the time orientations of the women you date will have an equally large impact, too.
Women are naturally less future-oriented than men are, but have closed some of the gap as they've moved into the workforce, according to "Future: Links to Motivation":
“Literature on future orientation and motivation was examined for gender differences. Research revealed gender differences from five theoretical orientations: achievement motivation, future time orientation, possible selves, expectancy-value, and social-cognitive. Some of those differences seemed best explained in terms of generational differences in gender role expectations. Gender differences were found in extension and density of future goals. Men had further extension but fewer goals than women. Evidence suggested that women's future expectations have become more similar to men's in the career realm, although women also have maintained their focus on interpersonal goals. An implication is that schools are a potentially powerful sociocultural context that can encourage students to envision futures that are not constrained by gender, race/ethnicity, or other stereotypes.”
It's important to keep in mind here that, as a man, you will generally be at least somewhat more future-oriented than the women you meet... although there certainly are exceptions.
Also interesting to note is that men generally have fewer-but-longer-term goals than women do, while women have more-but-shorter-term goals than men do. I've generally found in my experience that smaller numbers of goals are more manageable and achievable, and that people tend to start out goal-setting with larger numbers of goals and gradually learn to reduce the number of goals they target as they become more proficient at it, so my guess here would be that on average men are the more "experienced" goal-setters, which means they've probably been doing it longer and have a longer history of achievement (if I'm on the mark, that is).
Of course, you will find women all over the spectrum. Personally, I very much enjoy meeting and sleeping with present-hedonist women; when they want you, they want you, and just ooze sex. They're lots of fun in the bedroom, too. But a little too unstable for long-term relationships, I find (and, pretty much all of the attached women I've slept with have been either present-hedonists, present-fatalists, or past-negatives).
Sex and the City is an
example of present-hedonism in full swing - it's the tale of women
constantly in search of their next hit of emotional positivity -
sometimes from sex with strangers, sometimes from relationships...
sometimes from whatever's closest at hand. There are scenes like one of
the main characters telling a man she loves him, him not telling her he
loves her back, so her then seeking comfort immediately after in
another man's bed. Pure present-hedonism, plain and simple - and a big part of the reason why on average
the show appeals more to women (who are more present-hedonism
inclined by default) than men
(who tend toward being rather more future-inclined by default).
But one woman is not a carbon copy
of the next. So, next, let's talk about what time orientations
you want to avoid... and what types you'll want to search for, and why.
Needless to say, the most implacable hedonists can be loads of fun... and loads of trouble, too.
That's because when your focus is always on maximizing pleasure within the moment, with little to no concern for the future consequences of indulging in that pleasure, you frequently take roads that lead to short-term gratification and longer-term pain.
That can include things like your fun, vigorous present-hedonistic girlfriend cheating on you with that sexy bartender she just met tonight, and then later getting into an emotional scuffle with you when you start asking her why this guy is always calling and texting her.
Therefore, in my experience, it's usually best that people stick to dating people with time-orientations similar to their own.
Of course, this isn't completely black and white, either; time orientation is as much a matter of degree as anything else.
Steering Clear of the Downers
I talked about people who will bring you down a good bit in the article on psychic vampires. Here, now, is another way of identifying people who will suck your soul simply by your being in their presence: by looking at time orientation.
“The authors hypothesize that socially excluded individuals enter a defensive state of cognitive deconstruction that avoids meaningful thought, emotion, and self-awareness, and is characterized by lethargy and altered time flow. Social rejection led to an overestimation of time intervals, a focus on the present rather than the future, and a failure to delay gratification (Experiment 1). Rejected participants were more likely to agree that "Life is meaningless" (Experiment 2). Excluded participants wrote fewer words and displayed slower reaction times (Experiments 3 and 4). They chose fewer emotion words in an implicit emotion task (Experiment 5), replicating the lack of emotion on explicit measures (Experiments 1-3 and 6). Excluded participants also tried to escape from self-awareness by facing away from a mirror (Experiment 6).”
Here, researchers are showing that socially rejected individuals fall into present-fatalistic time orientations, in which:
- Time seems to proceed much more slowly
- Gratification is unable to be delayed
- Life appears to be without meaning
- Lethargy and apathy increases
- Emotions decrease
- Attempts at escaping self-awareness arise
These individuals - the "downers" - are the ones who are neither:
- Fun present-hedonists, or
- Productive future-focused individuals
Instead, all they do is mope around all day, talking about "woe is me, nothing even matters, what's the point?"
They make you want to tear your hair out if you aren't already like them yourself.
How do you avoid ending up dating women like this (and making friends like this)?
Simple: by screening them.
All people break down into one of three dominant traits:
- Future oriented
- Present-hedonistic oriented
- Present-fatalistic oriented
While past-negative and past-positive are important (and we'll talk about them in a moment), they're more a secondary trait so far as I can tell from the research.
It's possible to be high present-fatalistic and high present-hedonistic, too; this is the person who chases pleasure, but is depressed about it ("I only do it because nothing else is worth doing"), as opposed to the pure present-hedonist ("I chase pleasure because I LOVE pleasure!").
How do you screen out present-fatalistic downers? Simple: they have zero real ambition for the future and are not excited about the present. During the course of your conversations with women (and you should be deep diving and eliciting values), you'll be asking her what she wants to do with her future, and what she enjoys doing now.
If she's a future-oriented person, her responses to future questions will be like:
"Oh! Well, I really want to open my own hair salon; I've been saving up for years, and..."
"After I complete my PhD, I'm probably going to look to join a research team doing marine observations for at least a year..."
"I'm really stuck on learning Japanese right now; I'm convinced that the future is in Asia, and I want to be able to be a point-person for whatever company I'm working for when I get there."
If she's a present-hedonistic person, her responses to what she loves doing questions will be like:
"I am SUCH a foodie. I LOVE food. Especially Italian food. I've been to every single Italian food restaurant in the city; I can't get enough of it."
"I love the beach. There's just nothing better than stretching out on the sand and letting the sun beam down on you and listening to the ocean."
"I'm a total movie geek. I've gone to the cinema like 10 times already this year and we haven't even hit awards season yet."
But if she's not future-oriented, her answers to future questions will be like:
"Oh... hum. Well, I'll probably keep working at the company I'm at now... I guess. Maybe I'll find a better job."
"If I was doing something different than what I'm doing now? Is napping an option? Or maybe wealthy and retired? haha"
... and if she isn't a present-hedonist, her answers to present-focused questions will be like:
"My favorite thing to do? Sleeping, I guess. Having a day off from work/school."
"I don't really have passions. Let me think... nope, nothing I'm passionate about."
Basically, if she's passionate about the future, she's future-oriented; and if she's passionate about the here and now, she's present-hedonistic.
But if she's passionate about nothing... she's present-fatalistic.
And while you might be able to be around her long enough to sleep with her once or twice for fun, provided you want to and she wants to, I'd strongly recommend you don't keep company with her later than that, unless you want to be down, down, down.
Where the Past Comes Into Play
If you're wondering where the past shows up, that's what we're going to talk about next.
Remember victim mentality? Yep, you guessed it - past-negative and past-positive is just another way of saying "has victim mentality" or "doesn't have victim mentality", respectively.
Your view of yourself as a "victim" or not has very little to do with what's going on in your life right now, and very much to do with how you perceive your life's trajectory to have gone.
Is it possible to see yourself as a victim if you view your past as having been awesome and excellent? Occasionally... fleetingly. But only when something really terrible happens to you, and the feeling doesn't last long.
When your past appears littered with bad events and misfortunes, however, it's next to impossible to not see yourself as a victim.
I remember a study - I can't remember what it was called, or find the research itself, unfortunately - that looked at people who had good days and people who had bad days, and found that on average, both parties had roughly the same number and quality of good and bad things happen to them. However, the people having "good days" tended to remember the good things more and forget the bad ones; the reverse was true for the people having "bad days", who quickly forgot about the good things that had happened to them but held onto the bad ones.
While I'm aware there are some people with absolutely terrible pasts - victims of extreme physical and sexual and psychological abuse, for example - there are plenty of people who didn't have it nearly so bad who view their pasts as great tragedies, and plenty of people who did have it pretty objectively bad who still view their pasts as largely filled with good anyway.
It's all in how you see it. And just like with determining whether an individual is present-fatalistic or not, you should be screening for people who are past-negative when you first get to know them, too.
How do you do this?
Simple: get them talking about their pasts.
When a girl is past-positive, she'll have plenty of fun and happy stories to tell you about her past. She'll be BURSTING with positive memories she wants to share. Even the bad things get twisted around into valuable experiences for learning and growth in her eyes - what didn't kill her made her stronger.
Conversely, women who are past-negative won't want to talk about their pasts. They'll dodge the subject, or have little to say about it. That's because they don't want to think about it... and they can't think of anything to say in conversation with a relative stranger that won't come off like whining or complaining, either.
Therefore, if a woman isn't bursting with happy memories to share with you when you start enquiring about her past, write her off as relationship material.
Otherwise, you're opening yourself up to someone who is happy the least, lies the most, has the worst temper, has the lowest self-esteem, the highest anxiety, the highest aggression, the deepest depression, and the lowest impulse control of all other time orientations.
Not such a good mix for commitment... not even the kind of person you want to have around you in any real capacity no matter how you cut it, really.
What if YOU are Past-Negative / Present-Fatalistic?
I'm sure there are a few people reading this article thinking, "Look at that, I'm one of those people he says you don't want to have around you. Hmm."
If you're present-fatalistic, your response is most likely to shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, whatever. It doesn't really matter anyway," so I won't bother giving advice on that one (and you probably wouldn't take it or see it through even if I did, because what's the point, right?).
However, if you do want to get out of it, see this article: "How to Overcome Depression."
That's how I got out of it, after almost a decade there.
If you're past-negative, your response is most likely to throw your hands up and cry, "But my past really IS a minefield of despair and desolation!" To which I'd say: horse crap. I've met people who've been tortured, who've lost limbs, who've lived in dire poverty (that is, huts built from sticks, and dirty drinking water) their entire lives, who grin like idiots and tell you that life is good and regale you with fun stories from their wonderful pasts. If you have all your limbs, drink clean water, and don't live in a yurt, there is not a damn thing you can say to convince me you've had it worse than they have.
If you're past-negative and you'd rather switch to past-positive, read this article: "How Victim Mentality Can Stifle Your Life – and Luck with Women."
So Who Should You Date: Builders or Thrill-Seekers?
That's an interesting one: do you date future-oriented builders, or present-hedonistic thrill-seekers?
Well, on the upside, the future folks are highly reliable and consistent, they're not going to cause you a lot of drama, discomfort, or stress, and the odds of them straying from your relationship or suddenly leaving with no warning or otherwise dropping a bomb on you out of the blue are pretty low.
On the downside, future-oriented individuals may just be playing it too safe for you... they may well be boring.
Also on the upside, present-hedonistic folks are full of energy, spunk, and vigor. They're constantly chasing down the next new, exciting thing, and are generally speaking (so long as they're not also present-fatalistic) a continual source of positive vibes.
On the downside, present-hedonistic folks are subject to changing on a whim, to doing things impulsively without considering the future consequences of their actions, and to destroying the things they've built - on purpose or by accident - in exchange for just a brief short-term hit of emotions.
My top recommendation here has to be this: choose someone who's oriented like you.
If you're a builder, date someone who's a builder. If you're a hedonist, date someone who's a hedonist. When both match each other's personalities, you'll avoid either growing bored (usually the hedonists with other types) or annoying each other (usually the futures with other types).
Of course, the best of these is for both you and her to have that mix of traits that Zimbardo recommends:
- High in past-positive
- Moderate in future (goal oriented or transcendental)
- Moderate in present-hedonism
- Low in past-negative
- Low in present-fatalism
That way, you'll best be able to balance working toward the future with enjoying the here and now... and so will she.
Except for when she gets too wrapped up in watching Sex and the City, that is.
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