The Catastrophe Model

The lower surface represents the state of approach and avoidance of the boy and girl towards each other.

People will normally start somewhere in the middle with no particular avoid or approach. A typical courting sequence is:

The upper folded surface is a measure of the interaction between the couple, as a function of their respective avoids and approaches. As can be seen, the man has found that the result of his approach to the girl is to reduce the interaction between them - and not an increase as might he might have expected. Consequently he may reduce his approach (increase his avoidance), and the courting sequence continues in the following form:

The feature of the upper folded surface is the Catastrophe Fold. This represent the fact that a certain point the interaction between the couple jumps to a much higher level. In our example, the approach by the girl may be sufficient to take the interaction outside the fold - and therefore cause it to jump to the high level. More likely, however, the process will have to be repeated - and as illustrated above a further sequence of approaches by the boy and girl occur before the interaction jumps to the high level.

This Catastrophe model is a good representation of real life, and is commonly portrayed in the popular novel. The shape of the upper folded surface may change with the people involved - but its elements will be present in most boy - girl encounters.

It is possibly due to the tensions set up, especially in the girl, in a new encounter. This tends to inhibit the interaction. At some point however the interaction generally breaks through, the tensions being released.

We are now in a position to look at some standard features of the boy - girl interactions when a couple initially meet.

1. All girls will show avoidance if the man's approach is too large.
We have already pointed this out in the extreme example at the beginning. Many girls will not show avoidance tendencies, because the man's approaches go in sufficiently small steps, each one followed by a further approach by the girl.

If one plots the successive boy - girl approaches (above, left) it proceeds in a regular stair-case pattern. But if one consults the folded catastrophe surface it will be seen that the interaction between the couple may still be going down slightly, until the folded surface is reached - and it jumps into the high interaction region. The man may get on quicker if he keeps his approach less than the girl's:

commonly, her approaches will be larger, and the high interaction region hit sooner.

If the man's approach is a little too large, then it triggers an avoidance by the girl, which is generally short lived (minutes), and the plot appears as:

If the man's approach is far too large, the girl's avoidance will be larger, and she will take longer before she re-commences her advance (hours - days).

The general feature is that below the fold a man's approach will tend to reduce the interaction, while the girl's approach will increase it.

The critical point at which a girl's avoidance is triggered, and the size of that avoidance, depends on the girl. A girl showing very high avoidance and low triggering point in terms of the man's advance will be known as Scared Girl. It should be noted that some girls react as Scared Girl to some men, and not to others. An unusually high degree of attraction for the man by the girl can cause her to react as Scared Girl; the time for her avoidance to revert to advance can be long (days - weeks).

2. Girls will show large avoidance if a date is offered below the fold.
We have said a man must offer a date for the relationship to proceed - but this must be preceded by a series of approaches which brought the couple into a high state of interaction.

These initial approaches are where the courting ritual really starts.

They are just as likely to be initiated by the girl as the boy. They may consist of a sequence such as glances, perhaps smiles, moving closer, engaging in conversation, laughing, repartee, and so into high interaction. The process can occur swiftly in the right context (minutes), but it generally takes a lot longer (often requiring the right situation for the couple to meet).

It is only when the girl has got to know the man and demonstrated empathy between them that she will usually accept a date. Until the interaction has jumped to the higher level, an offer of a date will be treated by all Scared Girls and most others as an oversized advance. They will show large avoidance and delay before they advance again (weeks or more for Scared Girls).

The man will interpret this as her not being interested - but if she is, she will resume her advance after a delay.

3. If a girl's advance is followed by a man's avoidance, the girl will strongly avoid.
Further advances by the man are likely to result in further avoidance by the girl, and a delay before she re-commemces her advance:

                                                   ← GIRL − avoid

Small avoidances by the man may be tolerated, or the delay short (minutes). But large avoidances perceived by the girl won't be. It is important to appreciate that this is what the girl perceives - it may not be what the man intended - the scope for misunderstanding is high.

The same is true in the high interaction region above the fold, producing in addition a large drop in interaction. If this sequence was caused by a misunderstanding, then the man will probably also show large avoidance. The couple may end up in the back right hand corner of the Catastrophe surface. This avoid - avoid area is one of quite high interaction in terms of their effect on each other - but is hardly satisfying for the couple.

The remedy is to leave until the girl shows some renewed approach, and start again. And don't show large avoidance oneself.

4. If a date is not offered after high interaction, the girl will show avoidance.
The offer of a date is a significant step. It translates the relationship from a purely social one into an openly sexual one. The girl may have initiated many of the previous advances, but she won't initiate this one.

However if there has been high interaction and the man parts without offering a date, the girl will interpret this as a large avoidance, and she will react as in (3) above. The delay before she recommences her advance may be long (months), or she may recover in days and try again. It depends on the emotional state of the girl; and it tends to be longer the more initiative she took in increasing her advance in the first place.

If the man makes any advances during this period he is likely to find they are met by her avoidance. We will call this the Isobel Syndrome, to be discussed later.

5. Scared Girl may run away from man she wants.
We think that Scared Girl is a very important feature, and one of considerable bafflement when a man encounters her. There is evidence that this condition is sometimes brought on when a couple are unusually attracted to each other. A girl who is very proficient in chatting up and getting her man, may become a Scared Girl when she encounters a man she is extremely attracted to but does not know.

We have suggested that the Catastrophe effect is due to tensions in a couple when they first meet. When there is extreme attraction, the tensions will be very high.

We said in (1) that Scared Girl shows unusual avoidances to a man's advance. But this is too simple. The avoidance tendency may not manifest itself at once, but only after several normal approaches. Indeed she may exhibit unusual advances herself, perhaps several successive advances (which are generally only seen in Scared Girls) - and then exhibit an unusual avoidance.

A plot of her advances and avoid will show a complex pattern:

                                                   ← GIRL − avoid

In all cases the offer of a date is a big advance. In many cases Scared Girl will treat this as an advance which is too large, and shows a large avoidance (if she accepts she may not turn up or cancels it). There may be a long delay (months) before she re-commences her advance - which can be dramatic as before. But again, if he responds too strongly, and offers a date, he may get another strong avoidance.

Many men make the problem more difficult by themselves producing a large avoidance to her avoidance. If this cycle is repeated several times, they tend to start off from a greater avoidance position each time round. And as the strength of the advances seems to be less in each succeeding cycle, the relationship tends to move towards the back right hand corner of the Catastrophe surface.

It is possibly true that many relationships that are destined to last a life-time will start as Scared Girl. We will discuss other variants on this later.

While they are baffling if encountered in the field, it is worth developing strategies to counter them.

Clearly a date will have to be offered when one achieves high interaction, or one will get caught on no. 4 (Isobel Syndrome). Its better that she runs away knowing you are interested than thinking you aren't. Bide ones time, keep ones cool; if she's interested she will start to advance again. But don't over react, remain friendly - let her do most of the work (her advances will increase the interaction, a man's will reduce it).

When the interaction is high again (but not before) one might try offering something which isn't quite a date, but which prolongs the meeting or fixes up another. After all, if a girl already has a date offer, her job is to cooperate in fixing firm arrangements. If she cancels one pleading diary glitches she should have come with alternatives - providing these can constitute letting her do most of the work - if you can nudge her in this direction. It might work.

After a date has been accepted these rules will begin to change. She will probably wait to be asked for the second date, and perhaps the third. But after half a dozen she is likely to be suggesting them, or at least enquiring when they will meet again.

Gradually many of the initiatives up the sexual ladder will switch towards the girl - in many couples the girl will take most of them. The man may try and have sexual intercourse, but he may not really expect to succeed. When the girl wants sexual intercourse, she expects to succeed. When the man wants to end the relationship (but the girl doesn't) she may not take 'no' for an answer or at least she will try subtle things to get him back (see Oscillating Syndrome).

But this report is mainly about pre- and immediately post-dating periods. After this, if the couple are really suited to each other it is generally 'plain sailing' - once formed, the bonds holding the couple together can be very strong.

However these bonds also operate if the couple aren't suited to each other - and this and some other instances of the post-dating situation are discussed later. Since divorce rates have risen to near half of marriages these are obviously very important issues. Even the extending of the courting process to living together in recent decades has not enabled couples to pair up as really suited. As the trend has also been to couples not getting married at all, with marriages rates declining, we do not have data on the long term-fate of these relationships. We must assume a similar proportion of them do not come into the class of really suited.

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