Friday, May 2

Plausible Deniability

This post isn't about the tactics some governments use to get away with the bad stuff they do - I mean since when do I care about the dregs of daily politics? No, I'm talking about a different strategy altogether, that of showing another that you're interested in them without risking your social neck.

Simply put, the idea is to be vague enough about propositioning someone in order to leave yourself with the ability to deny any true intent you may have (if necessary, of course; hopefully you won't need to). So for example you could create a project you can both work on and ask for their help, or invite the other to an innocent public gathering or even go out on an explicitly platonic date[1]. It's a bit like creating an ice-breaker but in a more purposeful, long term, directed and (in my opinion) useful way.

For once I can't claim to have come up with this on my own. In fact it's an age old way of doing these things, with various examples dotted throughout history. My favourite is how women, back in a time when it was all so easy, used to accidentally-on-purpose drop their hankies in order to allow their fanciful retrieve them. In more modern times girls dropped books or shopping; now they don't do anything at all except sit back, watch and wait (much to my disappointment).

So both parties knew what the score was, but neither could accuse the other of anything either. The point is that it didn't matter - by that point they would have gotten to talking and getting on with business. The benefits of such a set up are clear - if the guy (in this case) isn't interested then he can make it clear via his polite language and behavior but without being explicit. If the relationship doesn't work out on its own accord then there's no face to lose either - after all no one actually made a proposition.

Plausible deniability isn't about playing games or being an ambiguous tease though - no, the assumption is that you're serious about wanting to take things further with that person in particular. You shouldn't be dropping your hankie for everyone and anyone just because it officially doesn't mean anything or because there's nothing to lose. No, plausible deniability is a tool that should be used under the right circumstances and not flippantly.

In these days of simple singletons looking for complex relationships it's a skill worth working on. Prepare a repertoire of contexts and scenarios that you can use to innocently get to know someone better. And leave your opposite room to plausible deny themselves - pick up on the signs they give and don't ask them to be too explicit.

If done correctly, allowing yourself some plausible deniability when showing an interest in someone is something that could save all involved a lot of hassle, heartache and embarrassment. Surely that's something none of us need during such a time?

[1] I obviously don't have any personal examples of my own to draw from. And even if I did, I'd have to be careful not to mention any of them - that would kinda defeat the point of the concept.

Originally drafted 30th January, 2007