I have nothing against Abilene. I’ve been to Abilene, KS and it was a nice town, home to the Eisenhower Museum. I’ve not been to Abilene, TX. But I’m really talking about the metaphor described in the management education film called “The Abilene Paradox.”
In the film, adult family members are visiting their parents and discussing what to do on this hot, humid afternoon. A few possibilities are floated. Someone suggests going to Abilene for dinner. Another agrees, and pretty quickly they are packing themselves sardine-style into the old, air-conditionless car and making the hour-long drive. When they return 4 hours later, they sit on the porch trying to cool off and recuperate. Someone finally says that the trip was a debacle, and another says she only went because she thought the others wanted to go. Soon everyone has chimed in that they didn’t’ want to go, but only joined because they didn’t want to be a spoilsport.
Now, back to dating. Have you ever done something like this? You and the guy you’ve dated six times are discussing what to do on a summer Saturday. He says, “I’m open. What would you suggest?”
Here’s your moment of truth. You’d really like to sit on the shady back patio and read your book alongside your guy while sipping lemonade. However, you think he’ll think that’s boring, and by implication you are boring for suggesting it. You’re still in that wanting-to-impress stage.
You’ve heard him talk about how he used to take his kids to the beach, so you suggest something you think he’ll like. “I know — we could go to the beach.” You hear yourself saying this even though you don’t like the hassle of beach parking, you burn quickly so have to douse every exposed skin cell with sun screen, and you aren’t fond of just sitting in the hot sun. The water is too cold to swim, so spending hours floating isn’t an option. However, “Are you crazy?” never crosses your mind because you want to propose something that will please him.
He says, “Sure” agreeably but not enthusiastically. Soon you are sitting on the beach in your long sleeves and hat, with every exposed part slathered in SPF 1,480,272 sun block. You feign enjoying yourself so you won’t appear wet blanket-like. After several hours, you return home and are both relaxing on the patio with lemonade. You say, “This is the life. It’s so lovely right here. I wish we’d just stayed and relaxed here all afternoon.’
“What?” he exclaims. “I would have loved that. The beach was okay, but I don’t go very often because of the crowds, the sun, and the water is too cold to swim. I used to take the kids because they loved it, but it was never top of my list of great places. I only went because I thought you wanted to go.”
You just went to Abilene — no matter where you really went.
Even though I’ve known the Abilene paradox story for 20 years, I still find myself going there occasionally, just as you might. While I’ve gotten much better at telling the truth about what I want and don’t want, I still get detoured down the Abilene bypass once in a great while. It happened last week.
A group of 10 gal pals convened in San Diego. We made reservations for the Hotel del Coronado for dinner. For various reasons, only 5 of us attended. It was a beautiful restaurant, right on the water. However, instead of asking for a table outside, we dutifully followed the hostess to a windowless private dining room set for 10. While this would have been fine for a large group, it was too big for the 5 of us. None of us thought to ask to be seated outside. But if we had, we would have not only enjoyed the evening air and the ocean’s waves, but could have basked in the private fireworks show for the wedding reception held at the hotel. We heard the pops, but saw nothing.
Even among this group of highly successful, assertive business women none of us seemed to want to rock the boat and bring up moving. Only afterward did we discuss how dumb it was to be cooped up inside. If we hadn’t gone to Abilene we would have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Have you gone to Abilene with dates? How have you learned to avoid this trip to nowhere?
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