Make It Stop: “All The Guys I Date End Up Being Really Self-Absorbed”

I’m 31 and live in Brooklyn. My problem: I keep attracting perfectly nice, smart, but utterly self-absorbed men. I’m a giver and a nurturer. I like listening to other people talk about their problems/interests/days/whatever. I like offering advice and think I’m good at it. I truly am happy to show my partners that I l care for and support them in whatever way I can, but despite the variety of “types” of guys I date — funny nerds! quiet writers! outgoing ad sales dudes! — and the fun we have together, they do very little to offer as much support/attention/interest as I give them. They don’t ask me as in-depth of questions, they aren’t as giving in the bedroom, they don’t seem as concerned or caring when I’m having a hard time. I try to lead by example, and I don’t want be LESS kind/nurturing/supportive as some sort of test or just to prove that I’m not a doormat. I like being a generous person, I just don’t understand why I can’t find a partner who’s as willing to be generous towards me. What am I doing wrong?

The kinds of guys who are attracted to living in New York City—driven, ambitious, self-starters—can be the same kinds of people who can be challenging to date. Sure, they look great on paper (who doesn’t love an employed fella!) but they didn’t always make the most fantastic partners. You know why? It’s because they put their energy and emotion into their career, not their personal life. And they may be willing to share dinner with you, but they aren’t as willing to share their heart. It is incredibly frustrating.

Your perfect scenario would be meeting the guy who is the last in his group of friends to be single and is looking to settle down. He might not be as flashy in his profession, but he might be more willing to build a life with you and be invested in your happiness. You can keep dating online, if you aren’t already. Pay attention to the answers he gives on his profile. If you get a cool vibe from him, like he’s ready for a relationship, give it a shot.

If online dating sounds horrible and you want to keep meeting guys in person at bars and parties, ask him early on what he’s looking for. Yes, it’s scary and a little forward, but you don’t want to waste your time on a guy who isn’t serious. If he says, “I don’t know,” or “I’m just trying to have fun,” then be on alert. He doesn’t sound like he’s ready to be anyone’s partner. Sure you can still date or sleep with him, just don’t be so quick to put him in the “relationship” category.

As for how to screen for a more emotionally available man, you can tell a lot by how he talks about his friends and family. Is he close with his parents? Is he a loyal friend? Does he express interest in having the kind of relationship his parents or married friends have? That’s a big clue as to what he’s looking for.

And pay attention to the kinds of questions he asks you early in your relationship. If he doesn’t express interest in how your day is going from the time you two start texting, I’ve found he rarely gets more interested as time goes on. Weed out the duds earlier. And keep looking!

My younger brother and I, after years of not really seeing eye-to-eye or getting along, are finally on really good terms with each other. Dare I say it, but we’re maybe even approaching what you’d call “close.” However, things he does drive me crazy: he talks about himself incessantly, he’s especially communicative when he needs something, and when he dogsits for me he leaves my apartment a total sty when he leaves. But because of our history, I feel nervous about rocking the boat and creating tension by calling him for the things he does that really bug me. How do I talk to him about having better manners, without coming off like the naggy older sister with a stick up her ass?

It’s hard to be an authority when he’s seen you in braces and a headgear and knows you used to piss the bed when you were little. Unlike your other friends, you didn’t choose him, but you’re stuck with him and trying to make the best of it. You don’t need to talk to him about his crappy manners, you just need to adjust your expectations about what a relationship with him looks like.

Your challenge is to minimize points of potential conflict. Keep your hangouts short, before his quirks get on your nerves. He talks about himself a lot? Go to a busy restaurant. Or a movie. Or meet for a beer so at least you can drink while he bores you. Get the face-to-face time in, but don’t linger around long enough to do any serious damage to your mojo. Also, try your best to schedule plans with a favorite friend after you see your brother so if he annoys you or puts you in a bad mood, you can bounce back from it quickly by venting to your homie.

My instinct would be to get a new dog sitter to give him fewer opportunities to disappoint you. Or, you can pay him to dog sit and make it clear what your expectations are, like he can’t turn your apartment into Oscar the Grouch’s trash can. By taking dog sitting out of the “favor” category and place it into the “job” category, he might be more likely to observe your rules as he will consider that part of the job. If he still is a careless dog sitter after that, then absolutely find another dog sitter.

There’s not much you can do about him only calling when he needs something. Every family has someone like that it seems. I would accept it as best as you can because that’s what family is: overlooking each other’s flaws! It’s thankless work, but that’s the trade-off of having a relationship with him. The quicker you accept his idiosyncrasies, anticipate them, and engineer your response to them, the happier this relationship will be.

Make It Stop is a new weekly column in which Anna Goldfarb — the blogger behind Shmitten Kitten and Shlooby Kitten — tells you what’s up. Want a fresh take on a stinky dilemma? Email [email protected] with the subject “Make It Stop.” She’ll make it all better, or at least make you laugh. Girl Scout’s honor.