55/38/7, part 1

What do the numbers 55, 38 and 7 have to do with ethical non-monogamy?  Probably a lot more than you realize.

No, they aren’t some twisted measurements.  And they have nothing to do with the number of sexual partners you wish you had vs the number you claim vs the truth.  Although I suppose they could.

Instead these three numbers are related to how effectively we communicate.

I want you to ponder something for a couple of minutes.  How do you make initial contact within the confines of your ethical non-monogamous lifestyle?
*looks at watch*

OK.  Times up!

If you are like millions of Americans you use some sort of online dating service or app to find willing, like-minded people to share your life, or at least yourself, with.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center 15% of U.S. adults report that they have used some form of online dating site or dating app.

So the good news is you’re not alone.  Everybody (or at least 15% of everybody) is doing it!

What’s the big deal then?  Why does that matter?  Maybe it doesn’t.  After all, who has time to go out and meet people weekly?  Furthermore, what if you’re already married and you are just looking to enhance your life through an additional relationship?  Ultimately you could put yourself at risk of being outed.  Communicating online has literally become a near necessity.  But it comes at a cost.

And this is where 55/38/7 comes in.  According to research performed by Albert Mehrabian our communication can be broken down into the 55/38/7 formula.  In simple terms this formula states that 55% of our communication is body language, 38% is our tone of voice, and 7% is what we actually say.

This research was originally performed in 1967, long before we relied on personal electronic devices for so much of our communication needs.  One could argue that our experience with said devices have given us the ability to pick up on subtleties via text or email.  And maybe that’s true.  But how much?  And how can we be sure?

A closer look at Mehrabian’s findings show that the problem doesn’t lie with the actual message that is being sent through the written word, but instead it lies with trying to establish context.

For example, if you’ve ever had children you have received a crash course in how to read non-verbal cues.  Little Timmy falls down and hurts his arm.  You ask him if he is OK, and he says yes.  However, he is grimacing in pain and has tears streaming down his face.  As a parent you know by reading these non-verbal cues that he is actually in pain and is just trying to be tough.  He may in fact be injured, and you have to investigate further to know for sure.

Now imagine the same scenario, except you are at work and Timmy texts you to tell you that he has fallen and hurt his arm.  Once again you ask if he is OK, and he replies with a simple “yes”.  You go on with your day because he has answered your question.  There is no body language to evaluate.  He could actually have a broken bone, and you wouldn’t know until you arrived at home and could evaluate things more closely.  The words were they least important part of this interaction.

When we text, we lose our ability to be sarcastic, to flirt, to fully master innuendo.  Words can easily be taken out of context.  Words that are meant to be funny can hurt.  Mild curiosity can be confused with genuine interest.  And politeness can be mistaken for a green light to pursue whatever it is you are interested in.

It’s like having a conversation at a rock concert.  So much is missed.  And ultimately it can backfire.

My only advice as it pertains to communicating through electronic means is to be completely forthright.  Leave nothing to guesswork.

I tell anyone I chat with that I can’t know for sure if I’m truly interested in taking things a step further until I meet them in person.  There have been times I’ve really enjoyed chatting with someone, but the spark wasn’t there when I met them.  Pictures often lie, and there does have to be some physical attraction for things to work.

Add to that voice, smell, facial expressions–all of the little mannerisms that make us who we are–and a bombshell can become truly unattractive.  On the same token, someone who isn’t really turning your key can knock you off your feet when you meet in person.  It’s just impossible to know.

Set realistic expectations for yourself, and for others.  And know that there is no such thing as a sure thing, regardless of what people say.





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