I’m kind of a control freak. Seriously. There’s a reason why NerdLove Industries is pretty much a one man show: I have a hard time not being in control of things. I get twitchy if I’m riding shotgun instead of driving myself1. Hell, I barely tolerate cut-scenes in video games because Nathan Drake’s suddenly not doing the shit I tell him to do.
But… I had to learn how to be willing to give up control in dating. And to be perfectly honest, it was one of the best things I could have done. The need to try to control everything in dating is understandable – ambiguity and uncertainty can be intimidating after all – but more often than not, that need to try to account for everything ends up frustrating you and holding you back. Learning to relax your metaphorical grip on the reins can help loosen you up and give your social life the shake-up it needs.
Standing In The Way of Control
One thing I see all too often amongst guys is the need to somehow keep a hold of everything when they’re dating. Part of it is the desire to feel as though you’re the ultimate captain of your fate, rather than accepting that you are often at the mercy of forces and influences you can’t perceive, never mind affect. And part of it is, frankly, a way of managing fear. When you feel as though you have control over something, it’s no longer something that has power over you and, thus, you don’t have to fear it any more. This is one reason why pick-up is so popular; it promises to reduce dating to a system, something mechanical where you can always anticipate reaction B to stimulus A. It’s like running to GameFAQs to solve a perplexing puzzle – you’re told exactly what to say and when to get what you want. Why risk going for the kiss and getting the cheek – or worse, rejected entirely – when you can run the kino-escalation routine that inevitably leads with the “kiss close”? That’s the sort of certainty that people pay money for… and it’s something that nobody can actually give you. You simply can’t account for every variable, and you only frustrate yourself when you try. In fact, the tighter you hold on, the more everything slips through your fingers. You may as well be trying to hold smoke in your bare hands.
Part of dating – or any social experience, really – is coming to understand that there will always be things that you can’t control. Trying to change these is a waste of time that will only leave you more frustrated and confused than you were before. The sooner you learn to let go, the happier you will be.
There’s No Accounting For Taste
The first thing you have to accept is that everybody has their preferences… and sometimes those preferences simply don’t include you. This is the key complaint whenever guys complain that women “only date assholes”, “only date rich guys”, “fuck alphas and cheat on betas” , that 80% of the women only sleep with 20% of the men or that women only want jocks, musicians, movie stars, tall guys, buff guys, “hot” guys or engage in “creep shaming” of less-attractive men who have the temerity to approach them. The underlying complaint is “women only want quality X” when X = “NOT YOU”.
Whenever I hear people complain about how women – individually or as a collective whole – only like X guys, they are usually complaining that they weren’t given a chance and are being cruelly excluded from the sexual marketplace. The implication, of course, is that this is somehow unfair.
Frankly, it makes me wonder what their standard of comparison is.
The fact of the matter is that women – just like men – have their preferences. They may be superficial – someone who prefers gingers but won’t date brunettes, someone who will only date men taller than her or especially jacked guys – or they may go deeper. They may only date within their subculture, their religion or their political affiliation. They may not be willing to date vegans, smokers or meat eaters, men above a certain age or above a certain weight or the unemployed. For some these will be hard and firm deal breakers. Others may be willing to be flexible if the right person comes around.
You may be that right person. If you bring a lot to the table that that individual woman values – a great sense of humor, an incredible lifestyle, even just a sexy accent – you might inspire them to look past their preferences. But you might not. And there’s nothing you can do about this. Whinging about the “unfairness” of it all only makes you look like a child and demonstrates low emotional intelligence – an almost universally unattractive trait. All this does is mark you as someone who doesn’t believe that women have a right to be attracted to the people they like…. something to keep in mind next time a woman you think is below your standards hits on you.
You ultimately have two choices: you can try to change yourself to match what these women want or you can move on to find someone who is turned on by what you have to offer.
You Can’t Avoid Rejection
I’ve known far too many guys – nerds especially – who won’t make a move, even simply approaching someone, unless they feel that they are assured of 100% success, because they’re afraid of the sting of rejection. They don’t want to face even the slightest chance they might get rejected. Even the vaguest hint that things might go wrong is enough to wave them off. This is part of why Nice Guys prefer the Platonic Friend Back Door Gambit – it’s a way of insulating themselves against rejection. Why risk a definite “no” when you can try to insinuate yourself into her life and wear her down from the inside? Nice Guys thrive on keeping hope alive and rarely confess their feelings until outside influences – usually the woman getting a boyfriend – “forces” their hand.
Rejection is an inevitable part of dating. It sucks and it can hurt… but you can’t escape it. The various strategies men and women both employ to try to ward off rejection are a waste of time and energy.
For example: guys often write to me asking how to keep a girl from flaking on them. While you can prevent a flake-out, it’s both rare and difficult; no matter what social pressure or head games you try to bring to bear, the problem ultimately is that she’s just not that enthused to see you. She may have agreed to a date and thought better of it, she may have decided that she’s just not attracted to you after all, or she may have met someone else who cranks her gears in a way that you don’t. You could spend time trying to save the date… or you could accept that she’s not that into you and find someone else who is.
Women aren’t exempt from trying to avoid rejection, either. Any woman will tell you about worrying whether a guy is just interested in them for sex, or whether she slept with him “too soon”. The unwritten rule about not having sex until the third date (at the very minimum) is about trying to avoid appearing “too easy” and losing a guy’s respect. Most of The Rules involves trying to avoid rejection by constantly keeping a man off balance and perpetually in “chase” mode2
The problem about approaching any interaction with an eye towards avoiding rejection is that you’re ultimately not actually connecting with the person across from you. You’re spending so much time trying to get everything “right” to get that second (or third, for that matter) date that it becomes about the goal – the next date – rather than learning more about the person you’re with and whether the two of you are compatible.
Rejection hurts because we feel as though it’s a judgement of us as a person – as though we’ve been weighed, measured, and found wanting. Moreover, we feel frustrated and embarrassed for having invested so much in somebody else, only to have it all fall apart.
And yet, rejection just as often has nothing to do with you at all. You can do everything right and still get dropped after a couple of dates… or even shot down before you’ve gotten as far as her number, because sometimes it’s not about you. She may have come to the conclusion that she’s not ready to date anyone right now. He may have reconnected with an ex-girlfriend. Work may have piled up to the point that she simply doesn’t have time to date. He may like you as a person, but realized that he’s just not feeling any chemistry.
Sometimes it’s something you did. Sometimes – more often – it isn’t. In the end, it’s better not only to accept rejection as a part of the process, but to embrace it. More often than not, rejection is a sign that things would not have worked at all – there was some fundamental incompatibility and the two of you are better off looking elsewhere.
Accept rejection. Learn from it whenever you can. But don’t waste time trying to avoid it.
Love Isn’t Always Enough
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was to accept that sometimes relationships just aren’t going to work out, no matter how much you want them to.
I was looking for a girlfriend – something serious. Maybe not leading directly to marriage but definitely something with long-term potential. She wasn’t. She was newly single and loving it; she was looking for something casual, more of a friends-with-benefits affair than anything that even smelled of commitment. And I, in my foolishness, was convinced that I could change her mind.
I couldn’t. All that happened was that I over-invested myself in a relationship that was never going to work; we wanted entirely different things out of life and my trying to ignore that only set me up for a break-up that left me an emotional wreck for nearly a year.
This happens all too often in the dating scene; two people with incompatible goals or lives trying to make it work because they really, really want it to. More often than not, one person ends up in deeper than the other, only to have everything yanked out from under them. You may want commitment; she may just want sex. You may want her all to yourself and she may be incapable of monogamy. You may want the house with the white picket fence and the 2.5 kids and she may want a foot-loose and fancy-free life of travelling the world whenever the whim takes her.
If you can accept that any relationship with them will be short term and embrace them for who they are rather than who you want them to be, then you can have a wonderful time while it lasts; with luck you can end on good terms and part as friends. However, all trying to force the other person into your mold is going to do is end in tears.
Not Everybody Is Going to Like You
Some people simply aren’t going to like you no matter what you do.
It doesn’t matter who you are; no matter how charming, handsome, sexy or otherwise God’s Gift To Women you may be, there will inevitably be people who just aren’t into you and never will be.
The sooner you learn to embrace this, the happier you will be. Getting caught up in trying to get that one specific person to like you – especially when all evidence says she won’t – is a waste of your time. It makes for great fodder for movies, but it in the real world, all it does is shred your self-esteem and keep you from finding the people who do like you.
Much like the men who twist themselves into knots trying to avoid rejection, many guys can’t accept that they are never going to go 5 for 5 with women… or even 3 for 5. Once again, pick-up is popular because it promises you the secrets to undeniable attraction, learning how to inspire uncontrollable lust in any woman you desire. They teach you that any girl is attainable, even if she has a boyfriend or a husband; it’s a tenet in many PUA circles that any woman will cheat given the right man. And so they teach techniques “guaranteed” to win even the hardest heart over. Does she have a boyfriend? Here’s how you bring him down in her eyes so that you can get in her pants. Is she being cold, dismissive or even rude? Here’s how to dismantle her “bitch shield”. Some especially desperate guys study neuro-linguistic programming in order to try to sway women from being uninterested into madly in love with them… or at least unbelievably horny. And it’s all worthless. It’s part of a refusal to accept that there will always be some people you just won’t connect with, even if you want it so badly your balls ache with frustration. But just wanting something doesn’t make it happen and when you spend all of your time banging your head in against the wall, all that happens is that you get a headache.
This is one reason why it can be so hard to escape the Friend Zone; even if someone cares about you in his or her way, if they don’t have a romantic or sexual interest in you, you can’t make it happen. You can try to inspire those feelings. You can learn to be more attractive and desirable. But in the end, people want what they want and feel how they feel and you can’t change that. You can accept things and let go, or you can continue to waste your time and energy in a pointless fight that will get you nowhere at best or actively alienate the other person at worst.
There are literally millions of women out there in the world. The more time you spend trying to win over someone who doesn’t like you is time you’re losing to find someone who is looking for a guy like you.
Pain Is Inevitable. Suffering is Optional.
After talking about everything you can’t control, I want to focus on the one thing you can: yourself.
How you see the world and how it affects you is entirely up to you. You can let rejection destroy you or you can pick yourself up off the ground, dust yourself off and do better next time. You can focus on the negatives – all of the women who shoot you down, all of your failed relationships, all of the women you want who don’t want you back – or you can focus on the positive and all of the glorious potential arrayed before you. This is the value of an abundance mentality: you realize that no matter how bad things get, there’s always a new opportunity for things to get better. Yes, she may have rejected you. Congratulations, you’re now one step closer to finding the woman who is perfect for you.
Having a positive outlook on life directly affects your dating success. Someone who believes himself to be lucky is more likely to see the opportunities that come his way because he’s looking for them. A positive outlook is more attractive to others because we instinctively like positive people; they’re more fun to be around. They make us feel good about ourselves. Meanwhile, someone who is relentlessly negative and is wallowing in his suffering is going to radiate his anger, frustration and misery through every pore; it affects everything about you.
Finding the strength to keep going even in the face of repeated failure, to be willing to be optimistic even in the darkest times, can be difficult.
But in the end… it’s worth it.
Do you have questions about getting better at dating? Then join me this Monday from 3 to 4 PM EST as I do a live Q&A with Lifehacker.com!