Sunday 5 November 2017

It's Not Me, It's You

In recent posts, I have lamented the quality and types of responses I have gotten to my profile on an online dating site.  A friend noted that I seem to attract an unusual amount of hate mail.  I view my profile as honest and straightforward, detailing what I want and don't want to avoid wasting everyone's time.  Isn't the purpose of online shopping to facilitate meeting someone who fits your criteria without all that tedious dating and getting to know someone only to find out they double dip their chips or loathe giving head?
I've received a few messages of awed appreciation from men praising my profile as unique and refreshingly blunt.  But these men have all been quick to add that they are just admirers, not contenders.  Most messages are from guys who have not read my profile; they neither know nor care they don't fit its criteria.  Their usual practice is to send a generic message to every woman whose photo they like, without bothering to check profiles.  There is almost zero chance of getting a response, but it is also low risk/low effort.  What I am waiting for is a message from a man who has read my profile and fits my criteria.  That's the only one I want a response from.  But I also get voluminous hate mail, and a friend opined that my profile's bitter, virulent misandry is pissing people off.  There are also likely to be men who fit my criteria but who find my profile so off-putting they don't contact me.  I could potentially be missing out on these guys who think, "I fit the bill, but I don't want anything to do with this cold, sarcastic bitch."

If I ostensibly want a relationship, why is my profile so hostile?
It's a clich√© that women form their expectations of male behaviour from their parents' relationship, and other relationships they observe in childhood.  If dad's a dick, they gravitate to dicks, confirming their expectations.  Nice guys finish last...because they're polite.
<rim shot>
Seriously, nice guys finish last because women throw up defence mechanisms to avoid being vulnerable and because we don't feel we deserve them.  Women also like a challenge—that broody, moody handsome guy you had a crush on in high school, who never gave you the time of day, got you wetter than that nice plain guy you barely noticed who was always waiting at the door on rainy days to hold an umbrella over you on the way to the bus stop (cue every 80s John Hughes movie).  It's human nature to want what we can't have.  This does not mean women want to date jerks—science has thoroughly debunked the myth that nice guys really finish last—just that women will try to save the difficult guy from himself, perhaps unconsciously trying to rewrite narratives they observed in childhood.  I have never been attracted to macho bad boys but one could find traces of the theme of "choosing a guy you need to remake into what you want rather than one who already is what you want" in my relationship choices:
I spent 7 years with someone who made it clear from the first date that he didn't want a long-term relationship or any responsibilities.  I told myself he'd change, he'd want these things with me.  He tried repeatedly to leave, assuring me that it wasn't my fault ("it's not you, it's me"), it was just time for him to move on, before I finally got fed up, gave up, and let him go.  If he had stayed, it would have been to my detriment since he was incapable of meeting my needs.  13 years later, he contacted me out of the blue to say that the only problem in our relationship had been that he wasn't ready to settle down and now he was ready so would I come join him.  I replied that it was presumptuous of him to assume that was the only problem, that a depressive sociopath was not the sort of partner I want, regardless if he was ready to settle down.  We've kept in touch lightly since then and it's clear he hasn't changed and never will; I was naive in my 20s to hope he would.  But my point is that I chose someone who didn't want to settle down and who couldn't meet my needs and tried to hold onto him for a long time after both those things became undeniable rather than trying to find a guy who did want to settle down and who could meet my needs.  My expectations of men were low; I didn't believe that I could leave him and find someone better because I didn't see him as problematic as an individual, a situation that could be remedied by finding a different individual.
Oh, no.  She'd be the one calling "Next!"
As much as I tried to choose someone very different in my next relationship, I again succumbed to the tyranny of low expectations.  I knew you can't change someone, yet I saw my younger, insecure partner as another type of work-in-progress.  I believed he was the opposite of my previous partner, who was all surface charm with nothing underneath.  This one was a diamond in the rough; he just needed polishing, literally and figuratively.  Because it is the M.O. of narcissists to make you feel like the centre of their universe at first, reinforced by everyone he knew who told him how lucky he was to have me, and because we were intellectually compatible, with many shared interests, taste, lifestyle preferences, humour, etc., I overlooked the fact that he also did not want to settle down nor was he capable of meeting my needs.  As a narcissist, he was a slave to his ego, and his life was devoted to feeding it.  At first, when I was feeding it, he was devoted to me, but that didn't last.  The monstrous ego of a narcissist is a gaping, bottomless well of need, and because you only exist to meet their needs, you will never get any emotional support in return.  But I stayed anyway, because I didn't expect any man to meet my needs.  When he left me for a woman young enough to be my daughter it seemed predictable and fitting: that's what men do.  I blamed myself: I had failed to feed his ego and meet his needs, whereas his self-centred, gaslighting, immature behaviour was just, to my jaded perception, being a typical male.  As in my previous relationship, I did not identify his faults as individual.

Of course relationships are more complicated than a simple Freudian reduction to our basest motivations, but both relationships, as dissimilar as they were, fit a narrative of having low expectations of men and low expectations for what I deserved.
I've had a few friends-with-benefits situations with married men that were textbook older man/younger woman mutual ego stroking.  Of course they were going to cheat, that's what men do (low expectations for men, although women cheat nearly as much).  According to this narrative, participating in a situation like that means that I don't think I deserve a man who belongs to me.  I'm reluctant to accept that because there are features that make these situations appealing without resorting to a self-deprecating explanation.  Frustrating as they could be at times, some of the constraints were useful because I got the best parts of a man—romance, affection, hot sex—without having to put up with all the crap in a full-time relationship.  It was a fantasy veneer of a relationship, untainted by the familiarity of day-to-day living that kills desire.  I never lost sight of that nor deluded myself that we could be a couple if they were single.  Yes, it's unlikely such a relationship would survive being together full-time with no impediments, but then most relationships don't.  It mightn't be as hot without the limited contact, the clandestine nature, but then no full-time relationship stays hot indefinitely.  For the married person, having the benefits of a full-time partner and also getting that excitement in your life is understandably appealing.  You get to have your cake and lick it, too.  A lover keeps you in a better mood and helps you put up with your partner for the long haul.  These situations save many marriages:  You can express facets of yourself that you can't in your marriage, which lessens frustration with your partner.  In France they take a civilised approach, where it is understood that both partners in a long-term relationship will have lovers.  They view it as helping, rather than harming, the primary relationship.  For a single woman, having the benefits of living alone but still having sex and romance in your life, is heaven.  I don't think one needs to justify its appeal with the belief that you don't deserve a man to yourself.
I can add one final relationship that fits the script:  My high school boyfriend was a total mensch: devoted, considerate, generous, cute, crazy about me.  He assumed I'd go to university locally, we'd move in together, eventually get married.  He was devastated when I left for a faraway college and broke up with him.  We remain platonic friends and there is nothing he wouldn't do for me.  He has carried a torch all these years.  30 years after I left, he'd take me back in a heartbeat if I'd have him and devote himself to me completely.  Yet, I have never had the slightest interest in getting back together.  This is "nice guys finish last" on steroids.  But that doesn't mean I want a partner who is an arsehole, and there are plenty of valid reasons why my high school boyfriend and I would not be compatible as partners now.

All this is to say that my bitter belief that men are dicks may be self-reinforced by writing a profile that labels them as such preemptively and pushes them away.
When I was a child, I loved The Chronicles of Narnia.  Of course I became disenchanted with the books as soon as I was old enough to recognise the religious allegory.  I wasn't the only one—the collective disillusionment of secular readers who had grown up hopefully feeling the back walls of their closets became such a thing that it spawned The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia.

One of the religious references Lewis made in The Last Battle stuck with me for entirely secular reasons:  When the dead characters are exploring the book's version of heaven—a warm, sunlit, endless, idyllic landscape of plenty—they see a group of dwarfs huddled together, convinced that they are in a dank, dark stable.  The sceptical dwarfs believe that the delicious food and wine are hay and water.  Aslan explains that they are prisoners of their own minds.  The message that Lewis was imparting was about religious faith, but the scene can be interpreted in an entirely different fashion.  In every area of life and human interaction, we view the world through our own lens of expectations.  If, like me, you don't trust anyone, you will see all around you confirmation that people are untrustworthy, but the reverse is also true.  How can two people find proof of opposing views?  We ignore information, not least in politics and relationships, that contradicts our biases and expectations.  Thus, it stands to reason that in holding a cynical attitude about men, I attract men who confirm that critical view.

Am I going to revise my profile to overcome confirmation bias?  No.  I am who I am.  They say you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  But I'm not trying to catch flies, and flies aren't that picky:  They'll swarm around shit as readily as honey.  I'm looking for someone who prefers the tart sharpness of the vinegar.

1 comment:

  1. Now I want to read and edit your profile a smidge, to make it less sarcastic, and yet, still caustically funny enough to appeal to your kinda guy. And I imagine your kinda guy is someone that is older and wiser, into your bod, super smart, kinda snarky himself, and extremely confident about his brains, but also wants to fuck a lot. Someone in their late 50s-early 60s. There are few men that meet this criteria in W. Mass, alas.