Throwing in the Towel

Yesterday my therapist suggested that I quit online dating. In my brief re-experiment with putting myself on the market, I’ve had dates with three guys who were just OK, and corresponded with two other guys who I gave up on after repeated e-mail exchanges that were no more than two sentences long each on their end. The most “success” I had was the guy I went on about five dates with, over the course of a month, who I never even touched. It wasn’t a huge surprise when he stopped calling me after his last business trip, and it didn’t feel like much of a loss on my end either… except that everything feels like a loss or a failure at this point in my life. I passed another birthday this week with no one to share it with. I’m about to go back home to upstate New York where I’ll see one of my close friends get married, meet another’s new baby, and will be the third wheel on innumerable hanging out sessions where husbands, boyfriends, etc. are always present. I, as usual, have nothing new to share about my love life.

My therapist’s advice to quit dating came after I burst into tears when describing myself as “that thing at the store that’s left on the shelf while all the other things get bought, and you just look at it and you know it’s been there forever.” That is truly how I see myself. I have no delusions about who I am–I’m smart, I’m at least moderately attractive, I’ve lost over 30 pounds and don’t drink like a fish anymore. I run half marathons, I almost have a Ph.D., and I’m a good teacher. But that doesn’t seem to be what matters to men. I feel like I’m invisible sometimes; and I’m as bad at meeting people online as I am when I go out in person. As I get older, it doesn’t get any easier.

I think my therapist’s idea was that, by taking myself off the market, I relieve the pressure on myself. I save myself the constant feeling of rejection that I get when online dating–or any kind of dating–just doesn’t pan out. She pointed out that I’m planning to leave Arizona in a year or so anyway and that “it’s probably just not meant to happen here.” But in my heart I’ve started to believe it won’t happen anywhere. My last serious relationship ended almost six years ago back in New York. Before that, I was raped by a guy I met at a bar. The last guy I loved here in Tucson just completely stomped on my heart (as I let him reject me over and over again). At this point, even the thought of going out and meeting new guys who can hurt me again makes me a little sick to my stomach. There’s something called path dependence, and I feel like someone who has been so spectacularly unsuccessful at finding and forming healthy relationships in the past is quite unlikely to do so in the future. The truth is–there’s just not someone out there for everyone, and lots of people go through their whole lives without ever finding a love that lasts.

I just wish I could stop wanting it.

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Texts I’d Like to Send

I’m convinced that backsliding is a part of getting over every relationship. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself so that I don’t feel like a total loser. A little over a month ago I hit the dating scene again in an attempt to get over the guy with whom I was in a “non-relationship” for some time. (Recap, more recap) I’ve been out with a few guys, including one who I’ve been seeing for almost a month now. I know, shocking.

I still think about D. daily. I still peek at his Twitter, and I wonder whether he does the same or whether he reads this blog. I’m always thinking of the things I’d like to say to him if I decided to break down and text or e-mail him again. Top of the list:

  • If this wasn’t a relationship, please explain in your own words exactly what you thought it was and what “I love you” meant to you.
  • You started it.
  • An apology would be nice.
  • What the hell were you thinking, anyway?
  • How’s living with your parents working out for you?
  • You are a gutless coward who will never amount to anything and I hope you die alone. (OK, only on my very worst days.)

Yesterday was the first day that felt like real progress in almost four months since my last fight with him. I was thinking about my upcoming date with the person I’m seeing now. The new guy is great in a lot of ways. He’s not magic, I don’t love him, I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen. But he also doesn’t turn me into a clingy basketcase by giving me endless mixed signals, constantly flaking out or showing up late, disappearing for days at a time, or (my personal favorite) letting me spend Thanksgiving alone.

(D.: I’ve talked to several people and it’s pretty unanimously agreed that you deserve a place in the Asshole Hall of Fame for that one. You’re lucky I didn’t decide to throw a turkey at your head.)

Yesterday, I really felt like I wanted to move on. I was sick of feeling stuck, I was sick of giving so much time and attention to someone who didn’t even seem sorry for breaking my heart. I was excited to have another date coming up with the new guy. Today, the progress feels a little less. You see one thing that reminds you of him, you have one bad day, and you just put all that frustration right back in the old places. One step forward, two steps back.

Online Dating: Eight Tips for Guys

If only it were so easy...

I’ve been actively online dating over the past month but, more importantly (or shamefully) I’ve been on and off of various online dating sites for years. While I’ve met a few decent guys this time around, it seems that guys change very little over the years. I’ve been seeing/experiencing the same annoying behaviors for a long time and I’d like to share some tips. This isn’t to say that women don’t make mistakes too, and I may make my own “lessons learned” the subject of a future posting, but I’m sharing things from my perspective–and I hear these complaints from a lot of other women, too!

  1. Cell Phone Self-Portraits Are Soooooo 2003. Back in the days of MySpace, I understand that holding your cellphone at arm’s length or using it to snap your pic in the mirror might have been your best chance at a good shot. But there are options now. Look at your laptop. It probably has a camera. If you have an iPhone, the front-facing camera will let you take a picture of yourself without being obvious. Or, here’s a novel idea–find a friend and actually have them take a picture of you doing something. It appeals to women when you look like you have a job, or a hobby, or friends and you don’t spend all your time trying to make your best Jersey face for the ladies on OK Cupid. A plus if the picture is well-lit enough for me to: a) be able to pick you out of a line-up and b) determine definitively that the photo wasn’t taken inside of a jail cell.
  2. Shirtless Pics–Also a Bad Move. Women are not men. I’m sure some of us are looking for a casual connection, but those ladies are probably in the minority. If you’re taking your shirt off for me before we’ve even met, it makes me wary that you’ll be expecting me to do the same on our first date. Not into it.
  3. Read My Profile Before You Contact Me. There’s a reason we have a profile and not just a picture. Though it may seem unfair at times, photos are undoubtedly important on a personals site–that goes for all genders and preferences. However, they’re not the only thing. Even if you picked me out because I’m a pretty face and have a nice body, I don’t want to know about it. Take the time to learn something about me. This will also help both of us not to waste our time if one of us violates a deal breaker. If I’m not interested in guys over 40 and you’re 55, if you only want a Christian girl, if I don’t want to date a guy with kids and you have seven, know that I’m not going to write you back if you message me. Save us both some time and move on.
  4. Give Me Something to Read, Too. In case it’s not clear from items 1-3, women are not purely visual. A great photo might grab our attention but it’s often not the only reason we’ll write to you or write back. Say something, anything on your profile. And try to do so in relatively clear English. A profile with one or two typos can be overlooked. A profile with seventeen is a hot mess. Also, one-word answers imply poor first-date conversations down the road.
  5. You’re Not Looking For a Girl From Your Past, So Don’t Put Her in Your Profile. This is one women are definitely guilty of, too. It’s likely anyone over 25 has had a bad relationship and carries some baggage, but no one likes to be reminded of that. No reference to or bitterness about past relationships should appear anywhere on your profile. If you’re talking about women who aren’t “real,” your painful divorce, etc., it tells me that at best that you’re not fully over someone else and worst you have some potentially dangerous feelings about women and relationships. As I said, women often complain about men, too, but women are especially on-guard about who they meet online and about the potential for violence. Any woman with sense will see this and run, not walk, in the other direction.
  6. Be Prepared to Convince Me. Let’s be honest. Any woman on a dating site who is even moderately attractive is going to get a lot of visitors and a lot of messages from guys. That means you need to stand out. This isn’t as hard as it sounds–since at least 80% of guys who contact a girl are probably making one of the mistakes listed here. You significantly up your chances of a girl writing you back by doing a few simple things. In addition to heeding notes 1-4, when you message me you should tell me why we’re a good match. Why are you contacting me in the first place? Is there a hobby we share? Did something on my profile make you smile? What do you want to know more about? If you can’t talk to me in your first message, I’m going to wonder what we’ll talk about on our first date. Fill me in. And, unless you’re under 18 (in which case, why are you writing me anyway?), don’t message me and tell me “let’s text.”
  7. Never, Ever Send a Form Letter. This should go without saying, but a lot of guys do this and the vast majority are not smart enough to pull it off. Form letters have a distinct and unsavory flavor, and they will end up where the rest of my spam goes.
  8. Understand That I Received Your Message and if I Don’t Write Back, Just Move On. As the saying goes, there’s a lot of fish in the sea. If you take the time to follow these steps, odds are you’ll stand out from the crowd. But if a girl who strikes your fancy doesn’t write you back, cut your losses and move on. This practice may seem unfair or rude, but think about it: Do you respond to every unsolicited piece of e-mail or junk mail you receive? The guy who sends me a rapid-fire string of increasingly insistent/hostile messages gets blocked. Then the party’s really over.

A Bad Date and a Decent Hike

Yesterday I had a lousy date, but a decent hike. Bachelor A. is someone I’d been out with once before, but it seemed we were in that awful space where we had a good rapport online but no chemistry in person. I wanted to give him another chance because we seemed compatible, had common interests, and he generally seemed like a nice guy, but the cracks were showing. It took us a long time to plan this second date, both because I was in California for a week and because his repeated attempts to get me to agree to a second date at his place–which I made it clear I was not comfortable with–rubbed me the wrong way.

We eventually settled on a hike, but we had to go earlier than I would have liked and I just ended up tired, annoyed, and wondering why I was spending time with this guy who kept peppering me with questions the entire two or so miles we walked. It didn’t help that he showed up in a sweater, jeans, and wearing 10 tons of cologne. Did he think we were going to brunch? Ugh. Rarely do I feel like I’ve ever been a “bad date,” but yesterday around 8AM I just didn’t care about being fake nice to a guy who, two minutes into the date, I had decided I never intended to see again. In fact, I was such a bad date that after our two-mile hike I returned to the parking lot, said my good-byes to him, and then went out hiking again on my own. Ah, well. At least I brought back some pictures. I also saw a cardinal, quail, hummingbirds, and some other fun desert creatures.

Dating and Age Difference: How Much is Too Much?

Well, it’s day 4 of a nasty cold and since I haven’t been doing much exercise, going out, or work, I’m feeling a little stir crazy. This is clearly why I spent much of my Sunday in a snit about dating and about a heated debate I got into with a friend online today. This “friend” is actually my college ex-boyfriend, and though we haven’t been romantically involved or even lived in the same state for years, he managed to push my buttons today. We dated over ten years ago, when I was about 20 and he was about 26. Today, I’m almost 32 and he will turn 38 around the same time. Both of us are still single and, as recently as a year ago, he was still dating 19 and 20 year-old women. It popped up in my Facebook news feed today that he’d been commenting on a friend’s blog post about online dating, so I couldn’t resist checking it out.

In the blog piece in question, the author–a 60-something man–is complaining about the quality of women he meets on dating sites. I can certainly relate to this, but it becomes clear as the posting goes on that his troubles may relate to some unrealistic expectations. Namely: 1) He wants a woman 20 years his junior; and 2) He is only willing to accept a mate who will move to his farm and help him work the land. Hmm.

My friend’s comments on this were what really pushed my buttons. He seemed largely sympathetic to the endeavor, and his Facebook comments were happy to pile on about how women in general are “unappreciative” when they find an “eligible” man (which seemed to imply only that the man had a job and basic verbal skills) and my friend surmised that women in this country in general are “fatally flawed” and perhaps men like him and his friend should start looking for women overseas.

Guys, is this really what we’ve come to? You’d rather turn to the mail-order bride industry instead of pursuing a domestic model your own age who might, *gasp,* actually have her own life and career and be unable to drop everything and help you plow the fields? There are two aspects to this that made me profoundly sad: First, that it seemed to be implied by both parties that a woman having a career and an education was counterproductive to a relationship. I don’t even want to waste time addressing that now because I feel like millions of couples in this country prove that is not the case. People may be getting married less often and at older ages, but the numbers show that the most enduring marriages and the lowest divorce rates happen among college-educated couples who are relatively affluent.

The second annoying point here is about age difference. Any woman my age and younger who has been on dating sites can testify to the fact that there are many men out there for whom age matters. Even if your upper age limit is, say, 40, you’re likely to get contacted by men older than that on a fairly regular basis. Men who date younger women often seem to do so because they believe it conveys status. These men are often professors, attorneys, managers. There is a power dynamic in every relationship, and it’s creepy to me when men want younger women because it’s not just about physical beauty, it’s often about the need to dominate and control. Take this case, for example. Widely reported in the news in the past month or two, the relationship between 41-year-old teacher James Hooker and 18-year-old student Jordan Powers came to a “shocking” end after allegations that he’d been sexually involved with another student who was 17 at the time, making the earlier encounter a crime. He was arrested and is in jail, and Powers, who says Hooker claimed he’d never been involved with another student before her, ended the relationship. The involvement between these two was deemed so scandalous that it made the rounds on network news and even on the Dr. Phil show. Yet somehow these relationships are deemed “acceptable” when they involve, say, a 40-year-old college professor and an 18- or 19-year-old student.

Are there some women who do this too? Sure. But despite the persistence of “cougars” in pop culture, men are far more likely to pursue matches outside their age group. This infographic shows (at the bottom) how age preferences change.
online dating: men vs women [Via: online dating]
Basically, an average woman will consider a 26-year-old man to be an acceptable mate starting at about age 18/19, but she “ages out” of looking for mates that age when she’s around 30. Meanwhile, an average man considers a 26-year-old woman to be fair game from about the time he’s 22 until he’s nearly 50. According to Marie Claire magazine, over the past century the average age difference between married couples is only 3.5 years. This certainly seems to undermine some men’s perception that dating far younger women is an entitlement or a norm. It also only makes sense. I’ve dated a few guys who were 10, even 15 or 20 years older than me. It never worked. I’m happiest with guys of my own generation, with whom I would share memories, life experiences, and an understanding of gender roles. I’d also be happy with a guy who wants to have a family, and who won’t be punching his AARP membership card before junior graduates high school.

To each their own, I guess, but I suspect that the men who are holding out for mates 20 years younger than them will have a rough search ahead.

“Tell Me About Your Ideal Man”

I was asked this question recently, and I refused to even try and answer. This was a few weeks back, before I started dating again and when I was feeling pretty fatalistic about love. The truth is, I’ve never considered myself to have a “type.” There are definitely desirable qualities that I want: smart, employed, interested in travel and other cultures, and relatively fit. But I don’t have specifics. Ethnicity? I’ve done a lot of interracial dating. Nationality? I’ve dated several, including guys who spoke only marginal English. Education level? I’ve dated guys with Ph.D.s and guys who never set foot on a college campus. Occupations? Everything from engineers to artists, they’re on the list. I’m not sure if all this places me at an advantage or a disadvantage. I know a lot of girls who have fairly specific shopping lists. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You’d think that dating dozens of men in my decade-plus dating career would give me some clarity, but it only gives me more questions. I want to be able to picture Mr. Right in my head, I want to be able to recognize him when I see him. A couple of times, I thought I had.

Last night, I attended a speed dating event. I was actually coordinating the event, so I didn’t really meet any available men. However, I am planning to go out soon with two guys I’ve been e-mailing from dating sites. It makes me nervous, since these will be my first “first dates” in nearly a year. I don’t know if either of these guys will be my ideal match, but at least I can’t rule it out.

One Toe in the Dating Pool

Well, I’ve gone back to online dating and I have mixed feelings about it. Just under a year ago, I gave up online dating in absolute frustration and vowed to never go back. The move was inspired by some bad experiences, rude comments from men, and more generally by the fact that sending good money after bad and spending 11 years on and off of over a half dozen dating sites had left me with nothing but angst.

What’s changed my mind? Well, for one thing I feel like I’ve spent enough time pining over that last guy I dated. I feel like I gave him his one last chance talk things through, and I got ignored. He’s had more than enough chances to have me over the years that we’ve known each other, and if he can’t step up at this point I just need to move on. Another thing that changed my mind was a conversation with some friends at brunch on Sunday. I met up with a group of girls, some of whom I know but hadn’t seen in a while and others who I was meeting for the first time. At some point in the afternoon we turned to online dating. The conversation was an eye-opener to me. Pretty much all of my close female friends are now married or long-term paired off, so I suppose it’s been a while since I got to really compare my dating experiences with others’. Here’s what came out of the conversation that resonated with me:

1) There is probably nothing wrong with me. In a group of about 15 women, mostly in our 20s and 30s, almost all of us with gainful employment and at least one college degree, only two of the group were married. A few were dating, the vast majority were single, and almost everyone had some experience dating online. So many quality women around my age, still single? That was surprising.

2) There was general agreement that online dating is a must. More than one woman agreed with the statement that men just don’t seem to understand in-person interaction anymore, and it’s hard to meet someone the “old-fashioned way.” With so many of us traveling in the same circles all the time, there’s little opportunity to meet someone new except through the magic of the Internet.

3) Every woman has been harassed on a dating site and has had bad dates. This was the saddest thing to me, because of course it shouldn’t happen. I would never imagine writing to a random stranger on a dating site out of the blue and saying something vulgar or sexual. It’s the online equivalent of running up to someone playing tennis on a public tennis court and shoving them to the ground. It’s baffling, intimidating, and rude. Yet there’s a notable portion of male individuals (especially on free dating sites) who do. Most of the women I brunched with said they ignore these remarks, some suggested tactics like making your profile unsearchable so that only people you choose to message can see it. Still, it made me sad that these bad apples are out there and going after women so often… But this leads into my final take-away from the day:

4) A sense of humor and resilience is required. And this is what I was lacking. I got a little jealous hearing about the good dates women had, and those who appeared to be meeting genuinely nice guys. However, I realized that the only difference between me and them is that they kept trying, they laughed off or forgot the failures and bad dates. I let them get under my skin until I could not stand the idea of looking for love anymore. I’m easily discouraged by dating in general, but contrary to that old adage that I hate, you don’t find anyone when you’re not looking.

So I’ve been back on two personals sites. In the few days I’ve been back, I’ve gotten several “hey baby” e-mails from guys just looking for a good time, but a few seem like genuine nibbles. I suppose, all things considered, it’s not a bad return on a few minutes’ investment since the weekend. So… here we go again.