I’ve been trying on men lately like Goldilocks testing out chairs and porridge, vacillating between one extreme and the other — scalding hot and limply cold, too soft and too damn hard.
Sunday night’s premiere episode of HBO’s new comedy “Girls” drove home this idea of extremes when it comes to self-selecting men: the difficulty of finding one that is just right and why we continue to dwell on the very, very wrong ones.
Judging from my social media streams and a litany of text messages from friends, most of us watching “Girls” were struck by the dilemma of dating the asshole versus dating the nice guy and how neither is a viable option.
In the show Lena Dunham’s Hannah dates a masochistic deadbeat named Adam, who as she describes it, “treats her heart like monkey meat.” He never texts her back, he criticizes her body and he glowers at her with smug disdain throughout the pilot episode, even when she gamely rolls over and allows him to attempt some very awkward anal sex.
About six months ago I started seeing a sharp-mouthed, emotionally-damaged gentleman with his own serious commitment issues.
He didn’t return emails or calls or make plans with me.
The first time I went home with him he ignored me, put on his pajamas and climbed into bed, leaving me standing in his living room. “You can come in,” he called and patted the bed beside him.
“What do you like about me?” I asked him.
“You’re brunette and you have a vagina,” he replied.
When I asked what he expected to get out of our relationship, he told me to stop acting like a turkey. Then he shrugged.
“I don’t date girls longer than a fiscal quarter … and I don’t trust women. I’m easily bored.”
I was a little in love.
The meaner he was, the harder I fell. He once called me a retarded slut right after we had sex. On second thought, he might have still been inside me at the time. I was angry and disgusted. I stormed out of his house. I texted him some nasty expletive along with: “I should come up there and smack you.” He evenly replied: “You don’t have the code to get back in. Stop being a turkey.” It was the equivalent of Hannah’s boyfriend on “Girls” telling her: “Let’s play the quiet game.”
I was mad for maybe a few days and then I politely asked (begged) for more.
Around this time I was interviewing Dr. Helen Fisher, the chief scientific advisor for Chemistry.com and one of the leading experts on how and why our brains respond when we think we are attracted to someone or in love with him. “Why am I addicted to this horrible human being?” I moaned to Dr. Fisher.
“When a person feels rejected, brain regions linked with craving, addiction and obsession become active,” she told me. “You can’t stop thinking about the person. You become obsessed. Someone is camping in your head and you can’t get them out. Anytime there is a real barrier in the relationship and you are not sure if you can win the relationship, it heightens the craving. The less you think you can win the person, the hotter the craving.”
I lost every time. It was hot.
For the exact length of a fiscal quarter, he built barriers, I tried to tear them down and my cravings reached a fever pitch. At the close of four months, as promised, he informed me that we should no longer date over the post-modern Post-It note: GChat.
“It’s not like I owe you anything,” he typed, not even having the courtesy to include a sad face emoticon.
Next up, I believed I wanted someone to be nice to me.
I met him at a wedding. He was a friend of a friend. He was tall and funny and completely stable and even-keeled.
It was a full-frontal assault of niceness. He would meet me anywhere that was convenient for me. He texted. He emailed. He told me I was smart and pretty and that he thought every little thing that I did was awesome. He wanted to meet my friends. He wanted to meet my dog. He wanted to meet me anytime and anywhere even on the interstitial moments I had in between business trips that included an hour at a train station bar.
On our first date he told me about his divorce, but how he really did believe in fairytale romance.
He kissed me on the street outside of the bar that night. “I don’t want to play games. I really like you,” he said.
I hated him. Like another character in “Girls,” Allison Williams’ Marnie, who can’t stand her too-adoring, too perfect-seeming boyfriend, I was disgusted by his niceness.
Similarly, there wasn’t an ounce of my loins that could quiver for this man. I even tried the age-old libido lubricant beer goggles in an attempt to spark some physical passion.
Five shots of Jameson later I couldn’t even fathom a cuddle. He made my skin crawl. “His touch feels like a weird uncle at Thanksgiving,” is how Marnie described it on the show.
I had flash forwards of me as fat Betty Draper Francis on “Mad Men.” I would eat Bugles and become enormous if I stayed with someone who was so bloody accommodating all the time.
But I would likely pull out my hair and become a madwoman if I kept pursuing men like suitor number one, he of the retarded slut and turkey name-calling.
There has to be some kind of middle ground between these extremes.
There has to be one that is just right.