This week, we’re returning to an older feature I call the Post-Mortem. Every once in a while, I’ll get a letter that requires going a little more in depth. Sometimes it’s about opening up the corpse of date or relationship that’s gone and and identifying the cause of death. Other times, it’s about trying to cut through layers of complications and confusion and weighing the organs to find out where it’s all gone wrong. In this case, we have someone who’s dealing with consistent, regular problems with his dating life and he’s not sure why. It’s time to scrub up and snap on the gloves because we’re about to do a little exploratory emotional surgery.
I keep on encountering the same recurring problems, and I don’t know what to do about them.
(reference: 26, college graduate, midwestern small city)
6 months ago, I spent a summer away from my normal setting, improving myself; lost weight, changed my look, bought better clothes, cleaned up my personal habits.
This is a promising start. Getting away for a while can make it easier to make some changes; you have fewer distractions and fewer triggers that can prompt a return to old habits and behaviors.
When I returned, I wasn’t even hoping for an increase in romantic success. But, it happened…sorta. I had what turned out to be a one-night-stand with a friend of a friend, and everything has been downhill since then. After being dumped after a week by her (she “just wasn’t feeling it,” and apparently between her job and watching her sister’s kid, she was never available),
OK, let’s take a moment to clarify some terms. Someone calling things off after a week isn’t getting dumped. Dumped implies that there was a relationship; from the sounds of it, you had a one-time fling that was never going to be more than that. Sometimes this happens; the other person enjoyed the sex, but didn’t necessarily want a repeat performance. No harm no foul… as long as nobody has gotten too caught up in the potential of it being more. One-night stands can lead to long, happy relationships, but sometimes people – men and women both – just want to get their itch scratched and call it good. Sounds like that’s what happened here.
…someone else reached out to me out of nowhere.
Definite progress here…
That went even worse; we chatted for a month and went on 4 dates before she faded on me (apparently she found out mid-date that a guy she’d been crushing on had just become single, and mentally dumped me then and there. Didn’t bother to tell me for a week.), and now she occasionally messes with my head whenever I run into her.
…except it turns out she’s an asshole. That sucks but let’s be honest here: you dodged a bullet.
Massively inappropriately flirty and attention-hungry, twice now she’s said that she wants me back or otherwise tries to jump me in some club or other, only for her latest boyfriend to turn up 10 minutes later so she can glom onto him instead. She apparently sees nothing wrong with this.
And now we’re getting into some of the meat of the problem. This is an indication that you’ve got some weak boundaries. The way she’s behaving is shitty (to you and to whatever poor schmoe she’s dating), but you have no reason to put up with it. There’s no reason to let her rub up on you and demand your attention, especially when you know that she’s flakier than a delicious pie crust. All this serves to do is leave you frustrated. And hungry.
You can be unreceptive. You can be cold and stand-offish when she tries to drag you back into her drama. Hell, you can even just ignore her or say “good to see you!” and then back-turn her to go off and do other things. But until you strengthen your boundaries, she’s going to be using you for easy validation and attention. You don’t need that.
I’ve been trying to get her out of my head, but I don’t think I can continue like this any further. I started reading your site, and tried to put your ideas into practice. I gave OKcupid another try, and from that got a total of 6 replies to my messages, three that turned into actual conversations, and one date.
Said date was an early-morning coffee affair, which went very well; she was a few years older than me, has two kids, loves classic sci-fi literature. Before parting ways, we kissed for at least 10 minutes.
Except that, since then, its been three weeks, and she’s been totally unavailable. I can’t keep up the emotional momentum via texting. I just want to take her out on a fun, normal, multi-venue weekend date, and she’s consistently got some reason she can’t make it. I know she has kids, but…
Well..,. yeah. There are two possibilities here. The first is that she’s giving you the brush off. The other is that she digs you but she has kids. As much as it may suck to hear, but her kids are going to be a higher priority than you. Sorry.
Those kids are going to take up a great deal of her life, both in terms of time and emotional bandwidth. That’s part of the package when it comes to dating single parents and either you accept that as the price of entry or you don’t.
It seems to be a recurring theme.
And this right here is our first clue about some of what’s happening. I hate to be the one to say it, FUD but one of the things you have to consider is that the only common denominator in all of your approaches and relationships is you. It’s entirely possible that you’re meeting nothing but flakey people who’re content to use you for cheap amusement – and in fairness, people like that do exist – but when the same things keep happening over and over again… it’s time to start doing some self-exploration.
I’ll meet someone, we’ll text for a week, and whenever I try to establish an actual date, they’ll enthusiastically agree, I’ll continue to text them, and then they’ll have to cancel at the last minute, but are willing to text back and forth all night, apparently. Wash, rinse, repeat, until I stop texting them or they stop replying.
Case in point: I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the continuing to text them may be part of the problem. There’s keeping up emotional momentum and then there’s overwhelming people by being too eager or pushy to the point of being obnoxious. I’ve seen people snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by getting to chatty – either keeping conversations going beyond their natural expiration point or by focusing too heavily on the upcoming date. Hell, I’ve done this – I turned what was going to be a pretty sure hook-up into a “ya know, I just realized I’m really busy… forever” because I couldn’t just shut up and wait. Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply let things lie until the day of and sending a text that says “Hey, can’t wait to see you tonight. :)”
No one is working very hard to actually see me in person. Its disheartening. I feel like I’m being used as an easy source of attention that needs to be gotten rid of when I get too uppity and want to actually interact with someone face-to-face.
Either that, or I get shut down instantly. I’m putting myself out there at a club at least once a week, often twice, approaching at least three people a night, and its been an absolute shitshow.
Um, dude, if you’re only approaching three people a night, you’re barely approaching at all. I appreciate that it can be disheartening at times, but if you’re going to practice cold-approaches, you need to put the work in. Three approaches a night is like shooting a handful of free-throws a week and wondering why you’re not getting better at basketball.
I’ve gotten a handful of numbers, none of which replied, and lately what’s been happening is that a friend of the girl i’m talking to barges in between us and starts dancing while staring at me and smiling until I go away.
This happens a LOT. On ONE way-too-gratifying occasion, the girl I was talking to objected and shoved her friend away, so maybe i’m not the only person exasperated by this behavior. But apart from that example, every girl apparently has a perky skinny blonde bodyguard who’s only job is to prevent men from ever talking to them. And they do it in such an obvious, obnoxious way that I can’t even pretend that they’re just cluelessly pulling their friend into dancing.
Straight talk, man: the problem isn’t the friend. The problem is you. That “bodyguard” you’re talking about isn’t there to “keep men from talking to her friend”, she’s there to bail her friend out. What’s going on is the woman you’re talking to is giving the “come rescue me” signal to her friends to pull her away, which would suggest that you’re missing signs of discomfort or that she’s losing interest. Yes, occasionally you’ll get an obnoxious wingwoman who’s going to drag her friend away come hell or high water, but 99.9% of the time, she’s sent up a flare. Gondor called for aid and Rohan responded.
I apparently find it difficult to strike the balance between “polite” and “creepy.” It feels like such a catch 22- whenever I try to be assertive and confident, I get given a unresponsive phone number or otherwise ditched indirectly.
This is another sign that it’s in your approach. If you continually get fake or unresponsive numbers when you come in confident, then the odds are that women are giving you a number in order to end the interaction. Giving out a number – either a fake number or a number they never intend to answer when you call – is a socially acceptable way of saying “OK, we’re done here,” without giving offense. You may be coming on too strong and aggressive and making them feel uncomfortable.
If I approach in a more polite and formal manner, a friend steps in to rescue them. It feels like I’m being actively opposed, and I just…I don’t know what I’m supposed to do anymore. Women act confused when I try to approach them, like they’ve never heard of this concept of men approaching women in bars and clubs and trying to strike up conversations with them.
If women are acting confused when you come up to them, then you’re doing something that’s putting them off. It may be the way you’re approaching, either physically (you stalk up like you’re about to start a fight) or energetically (you’re either so low key that you’re incongruous for the venue or you’re so high-energy that you seem like you’re on coke). It may be that if you start with a question (the classic opinion opener, for example), then you’re getting stuck on the question and not transitioning from that to an actual conversation.
But overall it seems that you’re having issues with reading people’s signals and social calibration. And until you get those sorted out, you’re going to have a hard time.
Once, one of my female friends saw me talking to someone she turned out to know, and laughed in my face that I was even trying.
Also, your friend is an asshole. No, seriously. If this played out like you said, then I’m wondering why this person is in your life.
No one ever looks at me or gives any indications of interest, apart of course from the flirty one mentioned above, who can’t not attempt to grope me whenever she sees me.
The same night, one of my friends offered to wingman for me, but his version of wingmaning was to call out a nearby girl’s name, who immediately ran over to hug him. Once her pulled her off of him, he introduced me in the most perfunctory way, and her response was “Sooooo….have you met #NAME?” followed by laughter. Then she started talking to my friend again.
This is one of the reasons why the fact that somebody is your friend doesn’t mean that they’re going to be a good wingman for you. Being a good wingman means not just having skill but actually helping you meet people, whether that means bringing people over or giving you a push to go over and introduce yourself.
This is what I deal with every week. Cold shoulders, girls being rescued from my by their friends like I’m some sort of dangerous bear, phone numbers that never reply. I consider it a SUCCESS when someone tells me “No.” I’d honestly rather be told No to my face. Seriously; whenever anyone actually turns me down to my face, I THANK them and wish them a good night.
As unhelpful as this may sound: that’s actually a sign of improvement. The coldest, hardest rejections are utter silence and being ignored. A “no” can tell you a lot about what you’re doing wrong. But in this case, I think we’ve safely narrowed it down.
More on that in a second.
I’m running out of things to improve. Most of my friends are in relationships or otherwise romantically successful, and all I ever hear is “oh, you’re so great, you’ll find someone, just keep trying, what ever happened with so-and-so, you were hitting it off so well with her?”
I’m very, very tired of being told how great I am. When reality fails to bear that out, it just makes me feel like everyone is lying to me because they’re not willing to admit to me that I’m a lost cause.
Cold hard truth time: when somebody says “you’re so great, just keep trying,” it means one of two things: they legitimately don’t know what to say or they don’t want to tell you what they actually think. More often than not, friends tend to be cautious when they’re asked for their honest opinions because the one asking for the advice doesn’t appreciate what they’d hear. So it’s easier to mouth some cliches about lids for pots and fish in the sea instead of saying “look dude, you creep people out when you roll in like The Joker.”
i’ve been apply damn near every single one of your articles to my attempts here; from the texting game to the approaching to how I dress, and its…not working. I seem to attract nothing but unstable attention-hungry women who treat me like crap, or single mothers who resent me for my wanting to actually go on a date with them. Everyone else ignores me.
See what I just said about not wanting to hear the truth? This is part of what I’m talking about. You’re bubbling with anger towards people and that doesn’t incline others to want to get involved too deeply in trying to help you. The last thing one of your friends is looking forward to is giving you honest advice and watching you get angry at them for it. Because, not gonna lie, you’re coming across as hella bitter right now and that’s going to screw you.
Everything seems perfectly set up. I have a nice apartment, well-paying employment, aspirations towards graduate school in the fall, various non-nerdy interests like hiking and sailing, and…nothing is coming of it.
This is kind of my point. Having a good job, an apartment and a life isn’t part of a checklist that gets you pussy, dude, it’s an indication of your personality and your maturity. It’s like I’ve said before: dating is a holistic process. People aren’t dating you because you have a nice apartment; that nice apartment is (usually) an indication that you’re someone who’s mature enough to have their shit together and they find that appealing. But if you’re giving off other signals, then it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a penthouse on Central Park West.
It’s pretty glaringly obvious that you’re seething with resentment and bitterness and that’s going to drag you down, no matter what else you have going on in your life.
No one will even SPEAK to me, and now I’m in a situation where I can’t be honest with anyone.
Why not? Admitting you’re frustrated isn’t a bad thing.
I feel like if I let anyone new I meet find out about how my life actually is, I’ll be revealing my desperation and instantly making myself disgusting to them.
Alternately you could try being honest without tossing there everything out like a garbage truck making a run to the dump. You’re allowed to be frustrated. Dating can be incredibly frustrating. There are going to be dates that go nowhere, people who decide that you’re just not doing for them and people who have priorities that take precedence over you. That’s life.
Putting up a confident and charming front feels increasingly like a mask, and I have to constantly resist the urge to drop the act and say “Look, I’m so tired of flirty texty-text and power games. I find you attractive. Would you like to talk for a bit and see if we have any interests in common?
Fed Up Dude
OK, now that we’ve gotten to the heart of the mater, I think we can deal with what’s actually wrong. Brace yourself because this isn’t going to be fun.
First and foremost: you need to take a break from dating. You are in no goddamn shape to be putting yourself out there right now. You need to take some time off and focus on some self-care. This means doing things that are good for your soul and make you feel good, whether it’s hanging with friends, indulging in your hobbies or just having a week long comfort tv binge. The more you bang your head against the wall, the more you’re going to make things worse and just set yourself up in a constant feedback loop of failure, frustration and more failure.
Next, you have to decide if you’re actually a club guy.
It’s totally cool if you’re not; not everybody is. Shit, it took me years to figure out I wasn’t a club dude and to adjust my life accordingly. It doesn’t do you any good to continually subject yourself to places that annoy you, filled with people you don’t like; even if you do have some successes, they aren’t going to bring you any satisfaction.
Now, whether you are a club guy or not, if you’re going to do cold approaches you need to practice. It’s pretty obvious that what you’re doing now is putting people off.
This means that you have go back to the basics: initiating and maintaining simple conversations with people. You start with very simple approaches – asking people on the street for the time, for example – and work your way up to more involved approaches like playing “tourist” in your own town and asking for directions and recommendations. The more comfortable you get with approaching people and – critically – talking with them like they’re people instead of potential targets, the better you will do in an actual cold-approach situation.
If you’re going to be making approaches in clubs, then you need to spend time doing practice approaches there too. This means going in without expectation of things going anywhere. You are just there to have a pleasant (and brief) conversation before peacing out. You’ll need to put extra practice into reading people’s signals and learning when it’s time to disengage.
Now, if you have a friend you can trust to give you the honest (and useful) truth, it may be worth having them along to watch your approaches and judge how you’re coming off. If you don’t, then you’ll want to trouble-shoot things as best you can – switching up your approaches, trying different behaviors and seeing what changes.
But the most important thing you can do is process that frustration and resentment. Because until you can deal with it, you’re going to be shooting yourself in the foot every single time you go out.