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What Has Politeness To Do With Love?

Falling asleep during intercourse is emotionally offensive

"A Code of Honor: Never approach a friend's girlfriend or wife with mischief as your goal. There are just too many women in the world to justify that sort of dishonorable behavior. Unless she's really attractive." Bruce Friedman

The spontaneous, direct, sincere and profound nature of emotions is to a certain extent contrary to the deliberative, indirect, artificial, and conventional nature of polite behavior. In intense emotional states, it is more natural not to pay attention to practical constraints or conventional good manners. In such states, terms like "proper" or "improper" become meaningless. Although good manners often have moral value, profound moral attitudes go far beyond politeness. Murder is not considered impolite; it is a grave moral crime. Similarly, falling asleep during intercourse is not merely impolite; it is emotionally offensive.

Emotions can often hurt other people, whereas the main function of good manners is to prevent such harm. Accordingly, good manners are a useful means of hiding genuine emotions. Teaching children good manners is teaching them, among other things, to hide their real emotions. At least in this sense politicians are well educated (see The Subtlety of Emotions).

In loving relationships, in which the role of spontaneity, directness, sincerity, and profoundness play such an essential role, the role of politeness-which is a measure to prevent certain kinds of offense from being given inadvertently-is of less importance; accordingly, lovers are less careful in what they say and do. This opens the way for a lover to easily get hurt. As a wonderful song indicates, "You always break the kindest heart with a hasty word you can't recall." The price of being able to behave freely in love without having to consider every consequence of your deeds is saying and doing hasty things that may hurt your lover.

Moreover, as each partner in love usually has firsthand, intimate knowledge of the other, hasty use of this knowledge hurts considerably. Truth is usually more painful than slander, since it is more difficult to dismiss. Indeed, flattery, which is a kind of deliberative, artificial, and superficial praise, is common in good manners. Concerning flattery, Richard Stengel gives the following advice: "Never ever be candid when a person asks you to be candid." He explains that people "are seeking compliments, not candor; support, not frankness-so anything even mildly negative is interpreted as a harsh criticism."

While communication connects people, it is also a form of intrusion. Good manners attempt to reduce the damage caused by this intrusion. An extreme form of such etiquette is that prevailing in Victorian England when speaking was considered a breach of privacy; hence, the (paradoxical) instruction: "Do not speak unless spoken to," and the rule that no gentleman should address a lady until she had first spoken to him. Because of the intrusive character of communication, the early appearances of modern means of communication, such as the telephone, radio, television, and the Internet were accompanied by concerns about what code of politeness was most appropriate to each form. A new technology often generates a new social environment in which the appropriate behavior has not yet been determined.

Online communication, which is more informal in their nature, further reduces the role of good manners in online romantic relationships. In such relationships, the participants are engaged in a direct, sincere and intimate conversation about issues they care about. They do not have to beat around the bush. Accordingly, conventional politeness is less common on the Net; emotional sincerity is more important. It is not necessary to be polite and respond to every message that is sent; if you do not want to pursue a particular online relationship, you can simply not respond to the writer. No excuses or avoiding strategies are required: you can just say "No" or say nothing.

Although good manners are less significant in online relationships, they still have a role, since it is not a monitor you correspond with, but a real person who has values and emotions and who can be offended. Thus, although it is easy and common in cyberspace to end an unwanted romantic affair by ceasing all further correspondence, this impolite behavior may hurt the other person.

In light of the novel nature of cyberspace, there are several manuals detailing online etiquette. Here are a few examples of "netiquette."
• Do not type your message in capital letters-it is considered tantamount to yelling.
• Do not abandon a conversational partner without saying good-bye.
• Keep it clean-vulgarity is never impressive.
• Write a new and relevant subject line for your message.
• Acknowledge that you received the message (even if the message only says, "I'm not interested").
• Do not try to force a woman to reveal her telephone number or agree to a face-to-face meeting.
• Do not complain about the opposite gender or make generalized remarks about men or women.
• Once both cyberpartners have been satisfied, or faked satisfaction, at least say thank you.
• Familiar deceptive compliments-such as telling the other person that she certainly does not look her age in her photo-are recommended (see Love Online).

Some of the rules constituting netiquette run counter to the spontaneous, direct, sincere, and emotionally loaded nature of online communications. Thus, Miss Manners ((Judith Martin) even forbids the use of email for love letters; she approves of email for neutral or positive business communication, but not for bad news or for emotionally charged good news. Another etiquette expert argues that you should never mail or post anything you would not say to your reader's face. Such advice identifies online and offline relationships and tries to apply similar rules to both. This is inappropriate, however, as the two types of relationships are different, each having its own advantages and flaws. This is not to deny the presence of some rules that are common to both relationships. But when two people spend hours writing back and forth to each other, there is little value in being formal or dishonest (see Love Online).

In online relationships, flattery is less common since people are less vulnerable and there are fewer practical benefits to gain by flattering the other person. Moreover, since cyberspace is a more egalitarian environment, hierarchies are less significant there; thus, there is less incentive to use flattery. In online relationships, people are not seeking to be flattered, but really want you to be candid. Hence, genuine compliments are more frequent. This may somewhat compensate for the imaginary nature of cyberspace. In a dream you can be candid, as you are less accountable and less likely to hurt others. But dreams often express our genuine emotions and needs.

Politeness does have a role to play in love-or, some might say, particularly-in such relationships one partner's can hurt the other with hasty words and careless behavior. However, in light of the great role of spontaneity, directness, sincerity, and profoundness in love, politeness is of lesser importance here than it is in many other types of relationships.

More from Aaron Ben-Zeév Ph.D.
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