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I mentioned in an earlier post that, despite my misgivings, I’d registered for an online dating service last month.  I was a bit dismayed by many of the messages I received, but there was one in particular that struck me immediately and has become a sort of shorthand for all of the inappropriate comments strange and nearly-strange men make.

Oh, there are many worse messages out there, but there’s a distinction in my mind.  At a certain level of vulgarity, I have to assume that it’s intentional, that a man is looking for something fast and cheap and wants to make that clear from the beginning.  But this type of message seems different; it’s so common that I can only think of two possible explanations:  there are more truly vile men out there than I want to believe, or they think they’re being complimentary.

The first message in this series had the subject line “sexy”, and the entire text of the message was “your sexy babie”.

I’m a writer by trade, so the first thing that struck me was that the message was three words long and two of those words were misspelled.  When I got past that to the substance (using the term lightly), the whole thing just got worse.

I’m not one of those women who takes offense at words like “baby” (when they’re spelled correctly), but I do believe they should be reserved for people you…well…know.  And I’m certainly not opposed to a man telling me he thinks I’m sexy if a) he thinks that and b) I know him and c) he’s basing his impressions on more than a thumbnail headshot.  Coming from a complete stranger who knows nothing about me, it can only mean one of two things:  either he says it to every woman he contacts because he thinks that’s what we want to hear, or his criteria for “sexy” can be applied with a brief glance at a couple of photographs and two paragraphs about me.  In either case, he’s not a guy I want in my life.

I’m sure there are women who are flattered by that kind of comment and respond positively, and I was going along happily believing that men like this were simply looking for a certain kind of woman with those comments and probably finding them.

When the same man sent me “your sexy honie” and then “your hot sexy!!” (with no apparent recognition that he’d contacted me before), my theory was supported.

But just about the time I thought all was well again and was just cheerfully deleting those messages without a second thought, Mike went and told this woman he barely knew in an online forum that he’d like to see her under his Christmas tree.  Rocked my world, I gotta tell you.

See, if I’d seen that comment from a stranger, I’d have written him off pretty quickly. It’s not much of a leap to make assumptions about a guy who sees a woman as something that should be wrapped up and presented to him–especially a woman he doesn’t know anything significant about.  I’d think “tacky” and move right along.

But I know Mike.  I couldn’t make those assumptions, because I know who he is.  I know that he’s a great friend and a great dad, that he’s looking for a serious relationship and that he takes fidelity very seriously.  I know he’s smart and funny and creative, and that he takes pride in his work and feels strongly about doing what he’s said he’s going to do.  In short, he’s exactly the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to write off on a dating site or in some other public forum.

I shot off a quick comment to him about that line being pretty much on a par with “your sexy babie”, and damn if he didn’t defend it all over the place.  I’m not going to get into the details of his point of view–I’m sure he’ll do that himself.  But the bottom line is that it had never crossed his mind that the comment might send any of the messages that it sent to me.

That discussion, and both of our subsequent conversations about the issue with other friends of both sexes, have me thinking that this is an area in which there’s a real perception gap, and one that might have decent men cutting off whole huge sectors of the population as dating options and women ruling out guys who will never know what they might have done wrong.

Photo credit: xenia from morguefile.com

heartmazeI am a hopeless romantic at heart and, at the moment, I am feeling a bit jaded.  But failure after failure leads me to this point where I simply sit back and think, “My God, it shouldn’t be this hard”.  I don’ t think that I am asking for too much by any means and I would think that women would want the same thing.

Why is it so hard to find someone to team up with on this journey we call life?  Someone to laugh with (it’s always funnier when there’s two of you), someone to listen to and talk to and know on an intimate level.  So many times throughout my day I find something interesting or funny and wish I had someone to share it with.  I find myself sitting on the couch watching television and looking at the empty space next to me.  Or wanting to go out to dinner and not have a table for one.

I think that we expect too much and have this idea in our heads about what our ideal mate is like and it’s impossible to see beyond that.   We get in our own way and move on too quickly without giving people an honest chance, without even trying to get to know who they are inside.  We play games to get what we want rather than ask for it.  We get advice from members of the same sex on how to relate to members of the opposite sex.  And we take that advice, going against our own judgment and gut feelings.  If you want to know what a man wants don’t ask your female friends, ask him.  Doesn’t that make more sense.  And yes, it is that simple.

I don’t mean to sound like my life is empty and I am miserable being alone.  I’m not.  I enjoy my life and I am perfectly comfortable being single.  I do, however, get frustrated by the fact that I know so many single women who want the same thing, someone to share their life with.   Women who make excuses like, “I’m focusing on my career” or “It’s too hard to date when I have kids to raise”.

Really?  Because I have those same things going on.   I’m not looking for someone to take care of me.   I’m not looking to be a burden, I would hope to be an enjoyable addition in a womans life, an asset.  It seems like a negative outlook on dating to see it as a burden or one more thing to take up her precious time.   Time that she could be spending complaining to her friends that she can’t find a good man.   When the truth is that she could have what she want if she could just get out of her own way.

In Mike’s last post, he questioned whether love was really love if it went unreturned.  It’s a question I’ve heard debated many times, but I think it’s a silly one.  Love isn’t dependent on getting what you want; love is the opposite of “what’s in it for me?”

I think this question is a reflection of the sad fact that we’ve largely twisted the definition of love to mean something like “something that makes me feel good”.  Of course, love can make us feel good, but there’s much more to it than that.

If my adult child decides that she hates me and huffs off to never speak to me again, will I love her any less?  When my beloved grandmother’s senility eroded her brain to the point that she didn’t recognize me, did I stop loving her?  Of course not.  So why would the standard be different for love that included an element of romance or sexual desire?

The important question that seems to be raised in Mike’s post is a different one altogether:  “Should I continue this relationship?”

The answer to that question is probably crystal clear, but it’s not dependent on what that other person might or might not feel.  It’s dependent on what you need to be satisfied with the relationship and whether or not you’re getting it.

You’re not going to bring him around.  You’re not going to wear him down.  He’s not going to learn to love you if you just stick around long enough.  He’s not going to see the light and realize that you’ve always been the best thing that ever happened to him like some teenager in a John Hughes movie.   It is what it is and it’s up to you to take it or leave it AS IS.

I’ve discussed this issue with a lot of people, and there seems to be a general assumption that “take it or leave it?” in this context is somewhat rhetorical, that if you truly accept that you’re not going to get what you want, walking away is the only thing that makes sense.  I don’t necessarily think that’s true.  In fact, sticking around has worked very well for me.

For years, I had an on-again/off-again relationship with a man who loved me far less than I loved him.  For the first six months or so, it was painful, and it might have seemed the wise thing to just walk away, but I made a different decision. I decided instead to embrace reality.  What we had together was wonderful.  It wasn’t what I’d originally hoped for and never would be, but when I removed my goals from the mix and looked at the situation as it really was, it was all good.  We learned from one another, supported one another, played well together, thought well together and really, truly enjoyed each other’s company.

“So what was the problem?” you might be asking.  I certainly asked that in the beginning.  But I quickly recognized that it was the wrong question and abandoned it.  The idea that there was a problem was born entirely of the fact that things weren’t proceeding according to my original goals.  In other words, that I hadn’t been able to bend him to my will.   The reality was simple:  there were things about our relationship that really worked, but he wasn’t ever going to marry me.  He wasn’t ever even going to be my boyfriend.

If having someone in my life full-time had been important to me at that stage, then it would have made a lot of sense to walk away.  If you know what you want and it’s clear that you’re never going to get it, there’s little to be gained by hanging around beating your head against the wall and hoping that at some point it will stop hurting.  But that wasn’t how it was for me.  I was happy with where I was in life and he added to that; he wasn’t standing in the way of anything I especially wanted or needed.  In that context, it made sense to simply take it for what it was–and what it was was good for a long time.

But you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t play at accepting the way things are but secretly keep hoping that they’re going to change.  You can’t say “friends is better than nothing” when you really mean “friends leaves me in a position to keep hoping things will change”.  Reality is.  Start there, and it won’t matter in the least whether you decide to name it “love” or not.

One question that I see popping up all the time is, “I like this person who doesn’t like me, what should I do?” I feel sympathetic because I have been in that situation. It’s nice to know that I am not alone in this. The only thing I could do is make my feelings known. Beyond that, there seems to be no way to make the feelings reciprocate. If anyone has the magical solution to make this work, let me know. Also, if you could include Jessica Simpsons phone number I may be able to put this magical spell to good use.

The real question here is “Do you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you?” That’s not a pleasant road to be on because it’s very one sided and a lot of work for you. I found myself constantly vying for this persons attention because they just didn’t think about me as often as I was thinking about them. It became a very unfair playing ground, making someone a priority in my life when I was simply an option to them.

I also found myself to be completely and exclusively devoted to this so called relationship. I was oblivious to any other possible relationship prospects at the time. Instead, choosing to remain committed to someone who wasn’t even remotely committed to me. I was hardly being fair to myself or anyone who may have been more worthy of my attention.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I wasn’t even being myself. I was constantly morphing myself into what or who I thought this person wanted. Thinking, quite possibly, if I changed myself enough I could have what I originally wanted. The truth of the matter was that I had gotten so far away from reality that what I wanted had even changed. The only constant was the “Who” I wanted but I had no real clue as to why.

Is it really love if it is not returned or is it trying to force your will onto someone else? It doesn’t sound like love to me to try to control the way that a person acts, what they like or who they are. Especially if it means trying to keep up an acting job just to be with the person you think you want.

Timing is Everything

No, I’m not talking about the “right place, right time” sort of timing. I’m talking about realistic expectations about the development of a relationship. Mike’s written two posts recently that contained passing references to time frames that twisted my brain into knots. One was his attempt at getting inside a woman’s head with a recitation of the things she might have wanted to consider before giving up and moving on.

I disagreed with almost everything Mike said in that post, but one thing that really jumped out at me was that he was talking about a woman giving up on a relationship because she wasn’t getting the level of serious response she wanted after three weeks.  And I just kept thinking, “didn’t give her his heart”?  In three weeks?  Really?   I’d be a lot more concerned about a guy who thought he WAS “giving me his heart” in three weeks.  I could flip a coin, maybe:  Liar?  Or just an immature guy who has no idea what love is?  Either way, he’s not stellar relationship material.

I had the same reaction when I read Mike’s post about introducing women to his daughter, and learned that some women felt it was unreasonable that he didn’t want to make it a family affair in the first few weeks. In my mind, the “couple of months” Mike mentioned was wildly ambitious.  Of course every situation is different, but in my mind the reasonable point to start thinking about introducing someone to my daughter is between six months and a year.

And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I read a discussion in an online forum in which it seemed that a large number of people thought that if there hadn’t been sex by the third date, something was missing and you’d better just move on.

I can’t help but think these accelerated time-frames are part of the reason that endings are so accelerated as well.  False intimacy is created when we say “I love you” after two weeks, to someone we barely know.  False intimacy is created when we have sex with someone we’ve been dating for a month (and think that’s “waiting”, because so many people would have done it the first night).  False intimacy is created when we drag someone we barely know into the tableau of our family and try to create not just one relationship on a foundation of sand, but many.  And when that false intimacy doesn’t hold up, we break up, move out, get divorced, move on and start the whole thing over again.

Maybe, if we’d all slow down in the beginning, the ending wouldn’t come upon us quite so quickly.

As parents we don’t enjoy the same freedoms as single people who don’t have children, We have more to think about than our own feelings when it comes to dating. If you share the excitement of your new date with your children then you will probably end up sharing your misery if things don’t work out. So, when is it safe to introduce the kids to the new person in your life?

It seems that most people can put their best foot forward for a couple of months. Beyond that, their true colors start to bleed through the painted on mask of good qualities. Whether it’s the man who is secretly a control freak but has to get his hooks well into you first or the woman who saves her frustration so she can let it all out at once and blame PMS. Heck, I’ve known women who didn’t just have a period once a month, they had an entire novel.

Am I suggesting that you lie to your children when you start dating a new person? Of course not, you just don’t tell them details. You wouldn’t tell your children the details of your sex life so why tell them the details of dating. When my daughter was younger I would schedule my dates around times when I knew she would be at a friends house or the skating rink. This allowed me to date and yet avoid any questions from my daughter when I got home.

It was a red flag for me when women would be offended that I would hide them from my child. It’s not offensive to try to protect my daughters feelings and I would hope that any new woman in my life would understand that not all dates turn into lasting relationships. It worried me if a woman was being too pushy about taking a place in my family within the first few weeks of dating. After all, what is the rush if we are planning on spending the rest of our lives together.

It can actually be enjoyable to get to know someone before you complicate things by introducing your children into the scene. It can also be less stressful by avoiding some of the pressure and additional expectations that come along with dating parents. Eventually, you will have to tell the kids and integrate them into the new relationship. But that is only if the dating actually leads to having a relationship and you won’t know that for a couple of months.

Okay, Mike, let’s say for a minute that I buy your rationale.  I don’t–I think that the vast majority of the time the reason a man (or woman) holds back is that he (or she) doesn’t want to commit.  Maybe that’s because of where he/she is in life and maybe it’s the specific person in question, but for the most part I think that people do what they want to do.  But I’m going to go with it, for the sake of argument, because I think that your theory has a fatal flaw even if you’re right. Because any relationship founded on machinations is doomed to fail, and that’s what you’re describing.

Anyone who is trying to guess the right thing to do to “get her to like him” or to keep her interested or send the right message isn’t being genuine–and I think that any relationship not based in honesty is completely pointless.  I kind of think you believe that, too.

So in the scenario you describe, we have a person who isn’t willing to be himself, isn’t willing to act naturally, isn’t willing to take a risk, yet really does want a relationship.  But any healthy grown-up knows that you can’t form a relationship by playing people and manipulating them, by showing what they want to see instead of who you are.  So that only leaves us with two possibilities for the guy who is attempting that guessing game, doesn’t it?  He’s either not a healthy grown-up, or he knows what he’s doing can’t possibly lead to a meaningful relationship and he’s doing it anyway.

So it seems that you’re suggesting that we gals should cut a guy some slack when he acts distant and disinterested because really he might be a great guy who just doesn’t want to show it because he doesn’t know how to act, is trying to guess how to get the reaction he wants from us, and is getting bad advice from his friends.

But, geez…I almost think intentionally distant is better than what you’re describing.  The last thing in the world I want is to be with a guy who doesn’t trust his own judgment, isn’t willing to take a risk, and consistently goes to the wrong people for advice.

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