I am an attractive writer, divorced for almost four years. For as long as I can remember, I have never been at a loss for male attention. Since my separation, I have dated plenty of guys. But, the only guys I seem to attract who are not paralyzed by the idea of even commitment-lite are already married to someone else!
For my entire dating life, I have shied away from appearing needy, bitter, or desperate because those three qualities make my skin crawl. I have had a good number of great first dates where we seem to click on many levels. Yet, at some point, same guy will shift to texts and phone calls, evading a second or maybe third meet.
I am not ready to give up. I enjoy the company of men. And I do really want to be in a loving relationship with someone available. Especially since I had a 15 year marriage of convenience — for timing and “appropriateness” more than affection, sex, or love.
So, am I destined to be Kryptonite for commitment? Or can I change my game plan of appearing independent? – Beth
Beth, your email contains equal parts heartbreak and hope. In that order.
Commitment is the tragic ambition of all humans. We seek it constantly. We yearn for unconditional love. But when the wrong person asks it of US? Eww. Gross. Go away. Why the fuck do we do this to each other? Why do we take the risk of breaking our hearts, and those of others, over and over again, looking for this ineffable thing called commitment?
It’s because true commitment is the cat’s knees. It’s the bee’s pajamas. It’s the greatest thing on earth. It’s the closest we ever get to complete and total acceptance from another human being. It’s The Womb, Part 2. But it’s also exceptionally rare. Genuine commitment is like a diamond, or a good vintage shirt at a thrift store. For sure, it’s there to be found. And there is enough on the planet for everyone. But this wonderful thing happens to be buried under a giant mountain of worthless shit you don’t want. Like anything wonderful and rare, we place huge value on it. But the seeking of something so extraordinary takes its toll on our sanity. The disappointment and the rejection adds up, and you find yourself writing to strangers on the internet, asking “Why am I still doing this?”
I’ll tell you why. You’re doing it BECAUSE it is hard. It is SUPPOSED to be hard. If finding commitment were easy, it wouldn’t be as valuable. We’d read novels and watch movies about other stuff that’s hard, like sticking to a flossing routine, or finding good Mexican food in New York.
So in the nicest possible way, here is my advice: toughen up, and keep going.
And here is the HOPEFUL part of your email and my reply.
You are doing exactly the right thing. You are not “destined to be Kryptonite for commitment.” And you should not “change [your] game plan of appearing independent.”
You say you shy away from “appearing needy, bitter, or desperate.” Good. Great, in fact. If this is true, you are miles ahead of the emotional game. Any trace of these qualities is the death-knell for attraction. Stay the course.
You are going on a lot of dates, and the guys usually drift away from contact. Good. They are doing you a favor. They are ruling themselves out of contention. They are another shovelful of dirt, or handful of crappy sweaters, cleared from your path toward the perfect man/shirt/diamond. (Is this analogy breaking down? Not sure. I’m pressing on regardless.)
Have faith. Live your life. Make connections. Do all the things possible to expose yourself to the random serendipity of the universe. Book clubs, civic activism, online dating, hot yoga, cooking classes, box-kite appreciation societies … whatever. The guy you want is out there. Finding him just takes time, patience and trust that it will all work out. And he (whoever he is) IS GOING THROUGH THE EXACT SAME THING. There is only way to truly “lose” him. And that is not to try and find him.
UPDATE: Last week I asked for feedback on my style of advice-giving, and you responded brilliantly. I wanted your take on my default piece of advice: the need to create deadlines, challenges and obstacles to for men to overcome in their relationships with women. I often say stuff like “dump him, and give him the chance to fight his way back, because that gives dudes an opportunity to grow, and to take ownership of his intimate life.” My favorite response was this from Weebs:
I respectfully disagree… Once you get to be in your mid to late 20s and older, this type of game-playing is completely unnecessary. I don’t mind the thought that a woman who is a challenge is attractive to a man. That’s typically true. But that should not be contrived. Men need to take ownership without female/partner intervention and likewise for women. Men should grow themselves. Men should own their intimate lives themselves. All individuals should (in a perfect world). Maybe a deadline is not a bad idea for a couple that has been dating for over 5 years and one of the parties just will not commit. You’ve heard stories about women setting deadlines for an engagement or marriage (because let’s face it, it IS mostly women that do this). But any other challenge or obstacle presented should be a therapeutic endeavor where both parties are involved – they discuss together how to make their relationship better and do “homework” that may involve facing challenges and obstacles and how they would overcome them. I sort of think that any other way of dealing with it is not advancing the relationship in a positive way.
I love Weebs. Just love her to death. Here’s my response to her. Yes, I agree, men should grow themselves. But we’re not in a perfect world. And too often, they just … don’t. Biology is on their side, and they can whittle away decades in a kind of sad, selfish paralysis that they hate, but can’t break out of. I think in practical terms, ultimatums and challenges can be a helpful little jolt to get the “growth” ball rolling. Weebs would prefer couples discuss together how to make their relationship better and do homework, facing challenges and obstacles and planning how to overcome them. I know this is a “mature” approach. Really, I do. In an ideal world of Spock-like supermen, I see the benefit. But I live in the real world, and to me, the word “homework” just makes me want to puke. It turns relationships into a chore. There must be a more elegant way of working on a relationship than to turn it into some kind of class project.
So here’s my follow-up question: Am I wrong? Has “relationship homework” worked for you? Or was it a complete disaster? What methods/books/approaches did you use? And if you don’t do explicit “homework,” what DO you do to keep growing in your relationships?
Let me know in the comments. And thank you all in advance for being so responsive and so damned smart.
This is our friend Tom. He’s a married guy with tons of relationship experience, and a skilled advice giver who’s here to answer all your pressing sex, dating and relationship questions. Have a query for Tom? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org! All questions will be posted anonymously, unless otherwise requested.