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Building a $200 Gaming Mac

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Sub $200 gaming PCs. There are a lot of examples on YouTube that show they can be done, but that they can also be downright good performers for the budget minded gamer. But for some in this world like myself, the Macintosh life is just too ingrained to give up. Gaming on a Mac has long been laughed off, as many of the Mac product lines just aren’t capable of anything beyond lightweight gaming, and the computers that are capable are very high budget. But is it impossible for a Mac user to build a respectable gaming computer for less than $200? I decided to track down the answer to that question.

The Mac Pro

The 2006 Mac Pro. A beast long past its prime.

This is my new to me 2006 Mac Pro that I bought off of eBay for $85 plus $40 shipping or a total of $125. The particular listing drew me to it with its specs. An original Intel Mac Pro, or 1,1 that was equipped with two Xeon dual cores clocked at 2.66ghz, effectively a Core 2 era quad core setup. In addition, I was getting 6gb of ECC DDR2, and a relatively ancient Geforce 7300gt. All of this in the absolutely beautiful Cheesegrater Mac Pro chassis, which was pictured in very good condition. 

This would be the perfect basis for my $200 gaming Mac build. While it wasn’t going to run the latest MacOS, it was capable of running 10.11 El Capitan using unofficial patching methods and Windows 10 Professional would be able to handle the gaming side of things. All I needed to do was find some cheap storage, and upgrade that GPU with something much more respectable and I would be golden.

But that isn’t the computer that I ended up receiving. Instead, I received a Mac Pro in much rougher shape but at the same time, a one that was a pleasant surprise.

The Mac Pro(n)

The 2008 Mac Pro. Now with more cores and porno!


This is my new to me 2008 Mac Pro, 3,1 equipped with two Xeon quad core processors at 2.8ghz, for an effective 8 cores of computing performance. Inside its unfortunately damaged case, which included battered feet and handles, I found 2gb of ECC DDR2, an ATI Radeon HD 2600xt, and a Girls Gone Wild 2 dvd as a slightly revolting bonus. After a much needed HazMat grade sanitizing, the Mac Pro(n) was able to begin its journey from aged workstation beast to capable gaming machine. To get going I needed to purchase a couple of upgrades. Storage, RAM, and a GPU with $75 to work with. 

Upgrades Gone Wild

Graphics cards EVERYWHERE.

Getting a different Mac Pro than I had expected quickly threw my original upgrade plans out the window. My original plan hadn’t included any thought of RAM, as I had decided the 6gb it was coming with would handle the games I would be trying just fine. With what I received only having 2gb, RAM quickly jumped to the top of the priority list. While MacOS can be efficient with that tiny amount of RAM, Windows 10 was going to be unusable. And so, I took to eBay to find myself some additional ECC DDR2. Last time I had bought similar RAM was a couple of years ago, and I was able to find 32gb for roughly $30 shipped. Times have changed though, and the best I was able to find was 16gb for $25 shipped. While I could have gotten by with 8gb easily, it was only a $5 cost difference between the two capacities, and I decided to go bang-for-the-buck in this instance.

For storage, I decided to be extra cheap. While I would have loved to have bought a bargain basement SSD, using ~$20 of my remaining $50 for a 128gb SSD was not something I was okay with while still needing a GPU. I went ahead and grabbed two used 500gb Western Digital Blue hard drives for $5 off each Facebook Marketplace and called it good. One would be able to hold MacOS, the other would have Windows 10, and as a spry young person, I would be able to afford waiting a few years each time I need an OS to boot.

My final part that I needed was a better GPU. With only $40 left this would be a little tricky. Using a Mac Pro presents a few small issues as MacOS really only likes to run on a very small set of GPUs natively, and there are very few third party cards that are fully supported. With their limited supply, fully supported GPUs for a Mac Pro tend to demand higher prices than the Windows equivalents. Another issues stems from the PSU. While being rated for 980 watts, the PSU does not have any standard 6 or 8 pin connectors available to use. Instead, the motherboard can deliver that power through two mini 6 pin ports, which were included with the machine. But these issues could be worked around. Since I already had the ATI Radeon 2600XT that came with the machine, and was fully supported, I decided to use a second, unsupported card to do the lifting in Windows and gaming.

Not too long ago, I wrote about swapping my Vega 56 with an RX 460 I had laying around and whether it would meet my needs as a gamer. Well, it just so happens I had purchased that RX 460 off Facebook Marketplace for a whopping $40! Meaning, I could slap that card in the Mac and I would be in business! The RX 460 required no extra power beyond what was supplied by the PCIe slot, so the need for the mini 6 pin cables went away. As an added bonus, the RX 460 is partially supported in newer versions of MacOS so I could use it for the MacOS side as well.

OR, I would have if this computer supported the card. Turns out, the RX 460 requires SSE 4.2 support from the CPU to work on Mac, something the Harpertown Xeons in this Mac Pro do not have. So, for the second time in this gaming build, I am changing plans. Instead, I jumped online, and was able to acquire a GTX 670 4gb model for a steal at $37 locally. This card would handle everything I throw at it with ease, but presented a challenge of its own. Power. My particular GTX 670 required an 8 pin and a 6 pin connector to be powered adequately. The two mini 6 pin plugs on the mainboard can easily be adapted to two regular 6 pin connectors, but getting an 8 pin and a 6 pin would be harder to accomplish. I ended up having to buy a couple of adapters on Amazon to tackle this problem. The first adapter is a two mini 6 pin to single 8 pin cable, and the other is a dual SATA to 6 pin cable. This put me slightly above budget, having cost $12 for the two adapters, but I was willing to let that slide if it meant getting the 670 to work.

OR so I thought again. Turns out that my janky adapter strategy wasn’t going to work. The GTX 670 just refused to display anything when in the Mac Pro, despite working fine in other computers. So I had to rethink my plan again. This Mac Pro is no longer a computer. It is a rollercoaster. I don’t like rollercoasters.

Not wanting to spend a few more days waiting for a new graphics card to arrive, or have to buy another graphics card at all, I set about searching around my piles of parts looking for anything that might fit the bill. My savior came in the form of a GTX 660 Ti my friend’s dad had given me in a computer he no longer used. The card would provide me limited support in MacOS 10.13, but that would once again mean I only had to deal with the 2600XT when I needed recovery or the boot screen. The card also had lower power requirements and therefore hopefully better compatibility with the Mac Pro, needing only two 6 pin power connectors. For the sake of the budget, I went ahead and looked at local deals and eBay to see what a fair price would be for the 660 Ti, and came out with a figure $40. After struggling with the previous two card, it was a relief when the 660 Ti was able to boot into MacOS without issue.

Everything showing successfully in MacOS High Sierra.

Unfortunately, I had still needed to deal with Windows.

Installing Windows itself ended up being simple. This Mac Pro is too old to support Windows 10 through bootcamp, and installing straight from a USB drive was a no go as well. But working around this was easy! All I had to do was install it on a different computer and steal the hard drive! Or rather, take one of the two hard drives I had bought and shove it in another computer temporarily. First boot using the stock 2600XT worked great, and things were looking promising. But, like most of thus build, it all fell flat. Windows refused to show any output on the 660 Ti until I installed drivers for it, and Nvidia drivers refused to install while I was using the ATI card I had running alongside. While I could have just put the hard drive and 660 Ti back in the computer I used to install Windows, and install the graphics drivers from there I decided to make my life difficult and elected to fix the problem in the Mac Pro.

In addition to my 2008 Mac Pro, I recently bought a 2009 Mac Pro. That Mac Pro came with an Nvidia graphics card, the GT 120.With my patience wearing thin, I pulled the GT 120 from the 2009 and violently shoved it into the 2008, hoping and praying that perhaps two Nvidia cards would play better together than an ATI and Nvidia card like before. To my relief, this double Nvidia combo allowed the 660 Ti drivers to install and the card instantly became useable in Windows! With that taken care of, I was able to throw the 2600XT back in the system, verify everything still worked, and move on to gaming!

Using the $200 Mac Gaming Computer

A powerhouse computer sits next to an aging workhorse.

Using the Mac Pro on the MacOS side is throughly enjoyable. Even with its hard drive, applications feel snappy and the whole system feels responsive. Web browsing and video streaming is handled easily, and light photo editing happens without slowdown. Even though I have been accustomed to the blazing speeds my more recent MacBooks present, the Mac side of this gaming computer is perfectly usable for everyday tasks.

Switching between MacOS to Windows presents a small annoyance, but nothing too terrible. In order to boot into Windows, I had to plug the monitor into the 2600XT so that I could see the boot screen to make my OS choice, and then plug the cable back into the 660 Ti once Windows began to boot. Tedious, but not a deal breaker in order to get the benefit of both OSes.

In contrast to the MacOS side, the hard drive that Windows is installed on makes general usability very bleak. Apps take a long time to load and processes seem to randomly freeze up. Outside of gaming, daily tasks should be confined to the MacOS side of the machine unless you want to suffer endless frustration.

Gaming is a different story though.

Benchmarks

To test the performance of the $200 Gaming Mac, I selected a small set of games and Cinebench R23. The games were selected because they are ones that I have been playing recently and I believe them to be a good mix of CPU and GPU bound games. Where possible, I ran MSI Afterburner to get more in depth statistics, but for some reason it refused to cooperate with a couple of the tests.

Oh boy. That didn’t age well…


Starting with Cinebench R23, the Mac Pro yielded a multicore score of 3127 and a single core score of 407. Despite having 2 physical CPUs and 8 cores, the aged architecture and relatively low clock speeds show their shortcoming here, being handily beaten out by laptop chips, even those a few generations old. And to show how much progress has happened in the Apple lineup, let’s compare it with something newer. My new Apple Silicon based M1 MacBook Pro comes in at a multicore score of 7708, and a single core score of 1511, absolutely stomping the Mac Pro.

Moving on to the games, I started with Valorant. As a free-to-play game, it tends to run well even on modest hardware. Using the low graphical settings at 1440p, the gaming Mac Pro was able to average 59 frames per second, with 1% and .1% lows at 43 and 38 respectively. These numbers were gathered across three Deathmatch rounds, where I was able to perform about as well as I do on my main gaming PC. Which means I at least wasn’t last place. I would be perfectly content playing Valorant on the Mac Pro on a daily basis.

The next game was Destiny 2. Running at 1440p with low settings again, Destiny was very playable for me. Sprinting around and shooting enemies in the EDZ region, the Mac Pro provided an average of 35 frames per second, with 1% lows of 28 and .1% lows of 24. 30 FPS is fine for me, but for those looking to get closer to 60, lowering your resolution to something like 1080p will likely tickle your fancy a bit better.

Civilization VI provided a good test for the dual Xeons in the system. Running the built in benchmark, which simulates a late game scenario, the Mac Pro averaged 24 frames per second, with a resolution of 1440p and using the High preset. With the slow pace of Civilization games, 24 FPS works out alright and being CPU bottlenecked means you are looking at about the best you will get, even if you turned down settings.

Finally, I ran Cities: Skylines. This test was a little peculiar. Loading up a medium sized city of about 31,000 population, I was greeted with reported averages of 12 frames per second at 900p with high settings. Changing to 1440p and high presented zero change, with the reported average continuing to be 12 FPS. Despite that gameplay felt smooth, and I would have easily been able to play for an extended period of time. What makes this a strange result is that the city was built on a PC using the exact same graphics card, but an even weaker Core 2 Quad Q6600, where it averaged 24 FPS. Inconclusively, I am chalking this up to FPS counter error, I think?

Overall, gaming on the Mac Pro was fine for what I played. I believe that all but the newest titles would be enjoyable to play, assuming the CPUs are compatible with the games.

Conclusion

Is the $200 Gaming Mac practical? Is it something I plan to use moving forward? Is it something I recommend other people trying to replicate? No, no, definitely not. There were too many levels of torture involved in this build. And the need for additional hardware to get things working rules out all but those who for some reason have a million other computers lying around to assist your ill-advised scheme. It is also heavily dependent on someone sending you the wrong Mac Pro to get anywhere near the results I was able to get. But in most regards, this project was a success. If you really did want to put yourself through everything to build this Mac Pro, you would have a pleasant gaming experience in Windows, and a usable Mac side for daily tasks. But I think shortly into the experiment the question changed from “Can you build it?” to “Should you build it?”, and the answer to that question is a resounding “No”.



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mkalus
5 days ago
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iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136
sillygwailo
8 days ago
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How video games could save your life

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Covering CCP's Fanfest event is always a uniquely interesting part of the games calendar. With the publisher adopting a more workmanlike commitment to Eve Online's future - rather than the wide-eyed ambitions of old - its annual jamboree in Reykjavik never felt more like videogaming's TED conference than it did this weekend.

“We came up with a crazy idea. Why don't we take these scientific research problems, transform them, and then inject them into major computer games as seamless gaming experiences that are completely integrated into game mechanics?”

Attila Szantner was inspired by citizen science projects like Zooniverse to create a platform called Massively Multiplayer Online Science (MMOS), a new way to provide amateur science enthusiasts with the means to analyse real-world data, and make meaningful contributions to the progress of scientific discovery. Despite the continued accelerating growth of computing power, citizen science solves a crucial problem for research: humans possess the gift of abstract insight, silicon does not.

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Covering CCP's Fanfest event is always a uniquely interesting part of the games calendar. With the publisher adopting a more workmanlike commitment to Eve Online's future, rather than ambitious its annual jamboree in Reykjavik, Iceland never felt more like videogaming's TED conference than it did this weekend.

Read more…

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sillygwailo
13 days ago
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I Bought a Raspberry Pi 400

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Because of how inexpensive it was, and the small size of the package, I bought a Raspberry Pi 400 from Canadian re-seller BuyaPi.ca. The news of its release jumpstarted my interest in the Raspberry Pi, and the 40-pin GPIO header means I can connect a lot of of what I’ve discussed on this site and my humble Arduino mission accomplishments site.

I watched Jeff Geerling’s teardown of the Raspberry Pi 400 as soon as I could, but it was his unboxing and review that sold me on it, especially how easy it was to connect to a TV. That immediately resolved the issue of which display I’d connect it to, and it would make use of the HDMI switch that has gone heretofore unused.


As a result of renewed interest in the Raspberry Pi computing platform, I’ve refreshed the site, converting it from Harp to Jekyll. The temptation to host on GitHub pages was strong, but I want more flexibility with this site, including plugins and web server redirects and URL slugs. I’m looking forward to more Raspberry Pi adventures and documenting them here!

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mkalus
17 days ago
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18 days ago
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Let's Fix OmniFocus — Paul Sahner

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Part Three: The Inspector

The early versions of Mac OS X retained a lot of design elements from NeXTSTEP; one of those elements being inspector pallets. Used as a catch-all destination for controls and information, inspectors were really popular with productivity and utility applications in the early days of Mac OS X.

Even as their popularity among third parties has waned, you can still find them all over the place, though over time many of them have migrated into sidebars rather than floating pallets. Omni, like any good NeXTSTEP developer, has frequently leaned on inspectors as a core part of their UIs...and I think it works really well for the type of programs they make. But putting that many controls in a small area is a really difficult task. It's especially challenging when those controls also need to be translated to iOS/iPadOS.

OmniFocus' action inspector on macOS really shows its age. It stacks labels above controls, groups dissimilar datatypes, and behaves in a very different manner than its counterpart on iOS/iPadOS. The result is a very narrow field filled many different types of controls. There is some attempt at grouping similar fields, but it quickly falls apart. For example, under "Action" you can edit the Status, Project affiliation, and Flag (which is unlabeled – unless you hover for the tooltip). Or there's a collapsible section for "Dates", but a separate one for "Repeat". If things are going to be grouped, wouldn't "Repeat" fit with "Dates"? Instead of acting as an organizational mechanism, these groupings seem to just act as a rough way of allowing them to be collapsed.

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sillygwailo
46 days ago
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A proposed redesign of OmniFocus, from someone unaffiliated with The Omni Group. Click through for the full writeup (it's one page, multiple parts).
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mkalus
26 days ago
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Declining Emotional Invitations

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This is a follow-up to the last two posts on emotional consent and how to invite emotional consent.

What if someone makes an emotional offer, either directly or indirectly, and you’d actually like to decline?

Suppose someone starts venting at you emotionally, and you know that if you continue to listen, it’s likely to be draining. Or suppose someone is pretty aware of the importance of emotional consent, and they ask you if you’re up for a heart-to-heart about something important to them. And suppose you don’t feel up to having that kind of conversation.

What’s a good way to decline the invitation, whether that invitation is directly expressed or indirectly implied?

Of course that depends on the situation, your relationship with the person, and how aware they are of the importance of emotional consent. But here are some empowering ways to frame this, so you can decide upon a healthy response.

Is It a Good Offer?

First consider whether the offer of an emotional conversation is a good one. Do you feel good about saying yes to it? Can you say an aligned yes?

Or do you feel it’s a bad, lopsided, or unfair offer? Do you sense some resistance within yourself? Are you thinking something like “Oh boy… here comes some drama,” or “Why do I have to be this person’s shoulder to cry on?” or “Oh no… not more whining today!” or even “How much time is this gonna chew up if we get into this now?”

How’s your energy when you receive the invite? Are you capable of playing the role the other person wants from you? Are you willing to have that kind of experience? Or would you rather avoid it?

Are you feeling generous, kind, and helpful? Or would it be better to decline the offer and focus on other needs and interests?

It’s wise to do a quick check-in with yourself before responding in a way that the other person would interpret as consent to proceed. Even if you do go some ways into such a conversation, you still have the ability to stop, although it’s easier when you catch what’s happening earlier.

If you want to support someone emotionally, that’s your choice. Just remember that it really is a choice. You’re not obligated to be anyone’s emotional punching bag or teddy bear unless you really want to play those roles.

I’d recommend doing a quick assessment (like in your journal) regarding what kinds of emotional offers you’d appreciate receiving. Even say your preferences aloud, like you’re telling life what you want.

I tend to accept emotional intimacy offers that seem:

  • genuine
  • win-win
  • freely made without attachment to outcomes (no neediness or desperation)
  • interesting, fun, growth-oriented or otherwise worthwhile
  • fair
  • honest

I tend to decline or ignore offers that seem:

  • presumptuous
  • obligatory
  • win-lose, lose-win, or lose-lose
  • uninteresting
  • unfair
  • creepy or threatening
  • likely to have a hidden agenda

I like emotional depth, so I’m usually okay having deep and emotional conversations with people. I like them to be purposeful though. Even if it’s pretty one-sided, I want to feel like I’m somehow helping the other person or making a difference. I’m often willing to listen and offer advice and help with growth-oriented people.

I am sensitive, however, to wasting my time and energy. I don’t like feeling vamped or drained. There’s a huge difference between entering an emotional space with someone who has a growth mindset and doing this with someone who has a victim mindset. When I discover I’m dealing with the latter, my shields go up.

Fortunately the victim mindset isn’t too common among my readers, at least not the ones who’ve been reading my work for years. It can be common among their friends, family members, and co-workers though, and good boundary management is essential here.

What are your standards or boundaries regarding emotional conversations? What kinds of offers would you like to receive more of here? Less of?

If you’re not getting many offers in the part of the spectrum you’d prefer, it’s likely because you’re wallowing in partial matches. When you start declining partial matches more consistently, more of the spectrum will open up to you. You don’t get what you want here per se. You get what you’re willing to tolerate.

Declining Misaligned Offers

How would you decline any other kind of offer that didn’t interest you? You have essentially the same options here.

To decline an emotional offer, you could directly decline it, ignore it, make a counter-offer, let it go into your spam folder, etc.

My advice here is to be honest and firm yet compassionate, and let the other person fully own their reaction.

How you respond may depend on how the other person asks. Some invites may be so inauthentic, fake, impersonal, or vampy that you may just delete or ignore them. Others you may politely decline. Others you may accept.

How I decline (if I do that directly) may depend on the invite. It could take one of these forms, for instance:

  • No, thanks
  • I’ll pass.
  • I don’t have the capacity for that kind of discussion right now. Hope you understand.
  • Normally I’d love to, but ___ is a priority for me right now… gotta pass.
  • My intuition says no on this, so I’ll have to pass. Hope you understand.
  • I’m not up for talking about ___ right now, but if you want to talk about ___ instead, I’m game!
  • We’ve talked about this at length before. Why do you want to discuss it again? What other project are you procrastinating on?
  • Goodness no… not a match!
  • Not a fair offer… no.
  • Various expletives

Sometimes you may have to decline more than once, especially if it’s an in-person invitation and the other person is trying to run the entitlement script. You might need to physically walk away as part of saying no.

Incidentally, some people invite an emotional discussion as a delay tactic. It’s surprisingly common actually. What are they avoiding by inviting an emotional discussion, especially one that could chew up a lot of time? Hint: It’s probably some kind of challenging, goal-oriented work.

Also note that it isn’t your personal responsibility to educate everyone who makes a bad offer on how to make a better one. But you may find that worth doing if someone genuinely asks you.

Sharing emotional intimacy can be wonderful, but as with any other part of life, there are aligned offers and misaligned ones. A good way to shift over to the aligned side is to get really good at saying no to misaligned invitations.

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sillygwailo
56 days ago
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How to Invite Emotional Consent

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In my previous post, I addressed the importance of emotional consent. In this post I’ll share how to ask for emotional consent when you want to have a heart-to-heart with someone.

It’s pretty straightforward in terms of the words. The intention behind it is what matters most.

You could start with a line like this:

  • I want to share my thoughts and feelings about ___.
  • Something’s really bothering me, and I’d like to discuss it with you.
  • I’m feeling stressed/worried/anxious/____.
  • I’m stuck on ____.
  • I’d love some help with ___.
  • I had a really difficult experience a while back.
  • There’s something I think you should know about me.

Then add something like this:

  • Is this a good time?
  • Can we have that kind of discussion?
  • Do you want to hear about it?
  • Is it okay if I tell you about it?
  • Are you in a good place to hear about this now?
  • When would be a good time to talk about this? (if it’s already a normal part of your relationship to have these discussions, so there’s at least some pre-consent for that)
  • I need to vent my feelings to someone… can you play that role for me?

And then if the other person consents willingly, you can have that kind of discussion.

It’s also important to let the person be free to withhold consent or to get clarification, so honor their choice if they follow up with something like this:

  • This isn’t a good time. How about ____?
  • I’m not up for that. Maybe you could discuss this with ____ instead?
  • How deep do you want to go?
  • Do you need a certain kind of response?
  • Are you wanting empathy and understanding, a solution to a problem, both, or something else?
  • Unfortunately I’m too tired/distracted to do that now, so I don’t think I can be a good listener at this time. I hope you understand. How about ____?
  • Do you sense this would be a 20-minute discussion or a 2-hour one?
  • If I’m not available, how would you handle this instead?
  • What’s your intention for such a conversation?

The words are just to give you some examples. It’s best to use your own words and match them to the situation and to how you feel.

What’s important here is that you invite the other person to enter freely into an emotional discussion or connection with you. Don’t demand it. Don’t assume that you’re entitled to it. Don’t try to make the other person wrong for declining. Give the person space to say yes or no without trying to box them in. Think abundance here, not scarcity, even if you’re feeling emotionally needy.

If you make emotional invitations with a hidden agenda or some attachment to how the other person responds, you’ll probably pick up some resistance when making such invites, especially in the person’s tone of voice or body language. People can often sense when you’re trying to manipulate them instead of honorably asking for their help.

Some people are really good at this. They respect that sharing emotional intimacy can be risky or draining, and they know it’s best if the other person can say yes genuinely and not feel baited or trapped.

Other people could definitely stand to improve in this area, especially by letting go of entitlement and attachment to outcomes.

Hearts connect best when they choose each other freely, not when one tries to manipulate or control the other.

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