A long-winded axe to grind

“What we believe to be the motives of our conduct are usually but the pretexts for it.”
— Miguel de Unamuno

In 2011, Aaron Rodgers was the best quarterback in football. Through eleven weeks — leading into their matchup with the New York Giants — Rodgers had thrown 33 touchdowns to just four interceptions. His lowest passer rating to that point was 111.4. These are video game numbers. He was, to put it simply, playing on a different level than everyone else. But in that game against the Giants, he threw an ugly interception right into the arms of Chase Blackburn — a player who wasn’t even on an NFL roster the week before.

Understanding how Rodgers could make such a poor throw helps illuminate what a great quarterback he actually is. The Giants were playing a defense familiar to football fans as the Tampa 2. Without going into too much detail, this means that the two safeties are responsible to cover deep halves of the field, and it’s the job of the middle linebacker (Blackburn) to get as deep as possible to help cover the space between them. Blackburn failed to do this, and as a result got an easy turnover.


When we face a familiar sequence, we store it in our memories as a single unit. This is a phenomenon known as “chunking,” and it’s why you can remember your Facebook password or phone number without really thinking about it. This is also why experienced dancers can acquire new choreography so quickly, why chess masters can memorize a game in progress but not randomly placed pieces, and it’s also why Aaron Rodgers couldn’t see Chase Blackburn until the football was in his arms. Rodgers’ understanding of football is so advanced, he doesn’t see twenty one other men on the field with him. He sees three or four discrete units, and understands without conscious analysis where everyone will be after the snap of the ball. The vast majority of the time, this enables Rodgers to play his position at a level as high or higher than anyone else in the NFL.


The interesting thing to me now is understanding how this applies to dating.

We make a series of snap judgments about the people we meet and interact with using this process in concert with a part of our minds known as the adaptive unconscious. We don’t have enough time to evaluate everyone we meet in depth and detail, so our brain has simplified this process. Ever gotten the feeling you couldn’t trust someone you just met? That’s your adaptive unconscious at work. (That or they have a Snidely Whiplash mustache, in which case they’re bringing it on themselves.)


Knowing all of this, let’s turn our attention to the man who tries to gain the confidence of a woman while nurturing surreptitious romantic feelings. (This is the sort of man who finds himself consistently entrenched in the friendzone.) Never mind the fact that women prefer a man who has the confidence to be direct. Women — maybe without even realizing it — have a very finely-tuned ability to detect authenticity. This is one of their gender’s many chunking advantages. I’m not saying they can see right through the lie of omission; rather, this perception will make the man seem inauthentic. More often than not, that is a bad thing. On top of all that, when those feelings do come out in the long run, they end up seeming either cowardly or devious. Which of those sound appealing to you?

Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying men should just announce their affections to a woman as soon as they realize they have them. (I plan to write more on that later.) Rather, I am saying we shouldn’t pretend we don’t have them. It is possible to be both sly and honest. and anyway, the real key to beating Aaron Rodgers isn’t lucking out by doing the wrong thing, but by doing things exactly the way you are supposed to do them.

Hmm. That feels kinda strained, too. Good thing the real tie-in was chunking and not that silly metaphor.


One thought on “A long-winded axe to grind

  1. Pingback: Love and some verses | The Dying Away

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