Information overload: Shading the truth is all geek to me

WHEN I told a colleague that I was making hot water for tea and asked him whether he wanted some, he froze up and stuttered. I had committed the sin of ambiguity, and he could not tell whether I meant to offer him tea or hot water.

I hang out with software developers, mostly males, and we avoid saying inaccurate or imprecise things because those DO NOT COMPUTE. We don't work at it, and we don't pride ourselves on our honesty. We just can't help it. We nitpick ourselves before our conversational partners can, if we can help it; otherwise, they'll be glad to help debug our arguments.

Working with computers engenders a painful honesty that can be a downer. I used to think that it made communication simpler but harsher. At work that's true. In personal relationships, especially in romance, I don't know anymore.

As a female geek, a heterosexual woman in a field with lots of heterosexual men who have trouble finding partners, I benefit from the gender imbalance in the industry. Or I would if I weren't in a committed relationship. Even though I just moved to New York and my social networks have just started growing, I suspect I already know guys here who would go out with me if I were available.

I would find out quickly, since I am stubbornly honest and direct. Again, I didn't work hard to achieve those virtues, if virtues they be; my parents, culture, or wiring set the ball in motion. I've asked guys out, and I've been rejected, but I've also been kissed.

But, as sweet as kisses taste, they shrink in relevance when I try to figure out what I want from relationships.

In software development, you find certain pairs of goals are aligned, like localization and internationalization. And some are opposed, like permissions systems and ease of use. The goal of straightforward information exchange aligns with the goal of getting the date or the kiss sooner, more efficiently. But it opposes the goal of lingering infatuation.

Romance dies when all is revealed. To leave the crucial item unresolved, unsaid, is what piques interest in a story or a suitor. I use up the novelty right away. "I think you're attractive" boosts self-esteem temporarily, but it's the wondering, not knowing, that keeps a person awake at night. My information-dump conversational style kills curiosity.

A year ago, when I saw several women wearing very low-cut shirts, I found myself warning one of them that her right breast was threatening to escape its minimum-security prison. She thanked me and adjusted her display levels. In my memory, the red of her tank top arrests my vision. It seems bad user interface design to make a tank top that can't hold in a woman's chest, but the tank top implements good UI for the rest of us; we quickly process the wearer's self-labeling as sexually available.

As a binary-minded pragmatist, I welcome the victory of form over function in women's clothing. But I want to attract men's glances sometimes. Free company T-shirts and jeans wouldn't send the right signals, but artfully revealing and concealing clothes would.

Eros comes from stimulus and from mystery. Desire is a spark that only catches fire if I act miserly with its kindling.

Faith can be that way, too. The idea of God has a dual role, as an explanation for mysteries and as a comforter in hard times. The more science can explain, as sacred mysteries get stripped away by physics and biology and statistics, the more that believers have to come to terms with the role of God as a security blanket.

How do you manufacture intrigue when the solution to your mystery is a Google search away?

I've tried being coquettish, but I can't keep it up. My real directness always cuts through in the end. If spilling the secret might get me a date, I can't keep it to myself. If it'll cause a fight or a painful re-evaluation, I get nauseous and don't sleep, eat, or work well until I come clean.

My workplace is trying to train me in management skills, so I'll soon learn how to shade the truth and how to skillfully process and emit incomplete information. I won't freeze when someone ambiguously offers me tea, but will this put my love life in hot water?

Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can e-mail her