I’m a 43 year old single dad who has a lot on his plate right now. Probably too much, at least the way I see it, to pursue a serious relationship. I’m also a late bloomer, so in my case dates and sexual encounters have been rare, other than the one relationship I’ve been in, which surprisingly to me lasted over seven years.
At present I’ve been single for close to eight and in this time period I’ve been on five dates which didn’t lead to anything and sex (yes, it was with my ex) has happened two or three times. Also, I’ll mention that most of my experience has been from online dating, which may or may not hold relevance to the issue at hand in this letter.
I keep snakes (6) and tarantulas (5) as pets. I also have a cat, but cats usually aren’t an issue with most women I’ve met. The other ones though… Oh my. I’ve had several women abruptly quit messaging me because of them. I mean immediately after mentioning them when they ask about my hobbies and passions. I understand why. Not many women in my age group want to date the crazy snake man. Not to intentionally quote Chandler from Friends. The thing is, keeping and learning about these animals has been a lifelong passion of mine. I even tried to make a career of it by studying Zoology as an undergrad, though it didn’t work out due to other problems.
So on top of the other stuff on my plate, which has led me to avoid anything serious, I have a fairly unusual hobby that makes it difficult to even pursue something casual. I don’t want to give it up. Yet snakes don’t make for good companions.
How does one bring up things like unusual hobbies in a conversation, or really anything that isn’t mainstream or maybe taboo (I have a couple uncommon kinks as well) which could easily turn someone away? To note, I’ve tried to seek out women who are into the hobby and the few I’ve met were either young enough to be my daughter or in a relationship.
I’ll add further that it’s not something that I can hide. I live in a small apartment (house hunting is something I’m working on) and the only place for their enclosures is right next to my bed.
I mean, should I even be trying at this point?
Snake Dad Guy
This, as I’m often saying, is a classic case of “the problem you have isn’t the problem you think you have,” SDG. But before I get to that, let’s talk about dealbreakers and disclosure.
Everybody is going to have things that, for them, are dealbreakers; things that turn a “yes” into a “NOPE”, regardless of everything else that potential partner has to offer. Those dealbreakers are going to vary from person to person. Some people will never date a guy who smokes. Some folks are very clear that they only want to date someone who shares (or is willing to convert to) their religion and values. Some folks won’t date Republicans, some won’t date Democrats, some poly folks won’t date people who’re married and everyone should refuse to date anti-vaxxers and folks who refuse to get the COVID vaccine.
Everybody’s dealbreakers are valid… for them, at least. You might think somebody’s hard ‘no’ is absurd or overly picky, but that’s the thing about people’s boundaries and limits: they ain’t a democracy. If someone has decided that they will never date a person who’s under 6’5″ and isn’t a countertenor, then that’s their business.
(If they go around telling people unprompted that they’d never date a person who is X or who does Y… well, that’s generally a sign they’ve got something else going on, but that’s a different topic all together.)
Now, some dealbreakers are going to be more common than others. It’s not going to be that unusual to encounter folks who, for example, just simply aren’t interested in dating someone who’s in a committed relationship. Doesn’t matter that this person is ethically non-monogamous and it’s all on the up and up; that’s going to be a hard pass for a lot of folks. The same is going to be true for someone who — in your case — owns and raises multiple snakes and spiders. There’re a whole lot of women out there who have an aversion to snakes, arachnids, or both. Or they may be ok with a snake or a spider but not multiples.
And even the folks who are ok with it may well draw the line at having them near where sex is gonna happen.
(That’s not all that unusual in general; I mean, how many people do you know would be uncomfortable if the dog or cat were in the room when they were having sex?)
As a general rule of thumb, I believe that, if there’s something about you that is going to be a dealbreaker for folks, then the best thing you can do is be up front about it and bring it up early on, ideally in your profile on dating apps or before you get together for a date. This allows folks to make an informed decision as to whether or not they’re willing to consider you as a potential partner, knowing that you have this factor that might affect their decision. It means that more people are going to pass on you than they might otherwise… but then again, if it was a hard limit for them before they met you, it’s likely to remain one after.
Now with that being said, there is a school of thought — and one that I somewhat agree with — that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to give it a date or two before bringing it up so that people can have a chance to know you rather than whatever mental image they have about people who do X or have Y. It’s a divisive position (to put it mildly) and one that I think is only selectively appropriate, but it’s an option that exists.
I don’t, however, think that applies in your case, SDG. You have an unusual hobby, and it’s one that’s gonna trigger a pretty strong emotional response from folks. Leaving aside stereotypes propped up by pop-culture, lots of folks are just ooged out by snakes, insects, arachnids and other non-traditional pets. That, unfortunately, is going to just be a thing you’re going to have to contend with. You really only have two options here: you either rehome the snakes and spiders and accept that this hobby was too much of an obstacle and your other goals were ultimately more important, or you accept that lots and lots of women are gonna nope out so fast that they leave a human-shaped cloud behind.
However, let’s get back to the “problem you have isn’t the problem you think you have” part. Here’s the real problem that you’re dealing with: you’re marketing yourself to the wrong people. There’s a saying that I quote a lot that’s applicable here: “you don’t want to be everyone’s cup of tea; you want to be a few people’s shot of whiskey”. The problem with broad appeal is that it tends to be shallow appeal. It’s nice… but generally people aren’t attracted to “nice”, nor does “nice” translate into something that last. That more acquired taste, however, tends to have a much deeper appeal for the folks who have gone out of their way to acquire it. Lots of folks think that Scotch tastes like bandages soaked in iodine… but for some, there’s nothing finer than a dram of a good Highland or Speyside. And for those folks, only Scotch will do.
You’re functionally an acquired taste, SDG. Your hobby is intensely polarizing and provokes a strong reaction in a lot of people. However, there’re women out there who love them some creepy-crawlies. They think snakes are precious noodle-friends with adorable snoots, that spiders are fascinating and tarantulas are unjustly maligned. Your biggest issue isn’t that women find your hobby unusual and off-putting, it’s that you’re making it harder for women who love reptiles and arachnids to find you. And I promise you: they’re out there. Trust me, I know several folks who squee over the stuff that squicks others out.
Now I know you said you’ve looked for other folks in the hobby and found women who were either too young or partnered up. But that’s only half the battle. Those are the folks who you found, not the sum totality of the people who’re out there. The other half of this particular battle is to make sure that others — the ones you don’t know about or who may not travel in the same circles as you — are able to find you.
This is why you want to be up front about your less traditional pets, especially in your dating profile: it not only waves off folks who aren’t compatible with you — the various women who go radio silent on you — but it makes it much easier for folks who love reptiles and arachnids to find you. It’s good dating app SEO, as it were. While yes, this will cut down the number of messages and matches, it also means that when you do match with someone, it’ll be because you’re the shot of whiskey they’ve been looking for, when everyone else has been offering them tea.
Though, honestly: finding a bigger place is a smart idea too; it’ll be easier to find folks who might be willing to take a chance on you if staying the night didn’t mean running the risk of bumping into the tarantula enclosure when they get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I am getting to know a girl who I feel is very compatible with me. We have similar interests, she’s attractive, and most importantly we share similar views on future life goals. She is very kind, empathetic, and fun to talk to.
I expressed my feelings towards her and while she understands and likes me, she said that any semblance of long distance relationships give her feelings of trauma due to past relationships. I don’t want to force her to unpack anything she doesn’t want to just because I want a shot at being with her. But right now we’re at this stage of flirty friends. I want to give the situation more time before formulating anything concrete, but I feel like I have to just go with the flow and see if an opportunity presents itself where distance isn’t an issue (e.g. a trip where one of us visits the city of the other). She’s expressed that if we so happen to be in the same city she’d love to date me, but doesn’t want me to be the only reason I visit her city.
I could use another perspective because on one hand, long distance sucks. But on the other, with so many people in this world, who’s to say the right person for you necessarily lives in the same city as you?
Thanks for your time.
Somewhere Across the Sea
There really isn’t much to be done here, SAS. Your potential honeybunny has made per position pretty clear: she may like you and would date you if you two lived in the same city, but she won’t do long distance. Like I just said to Snake Dad Guy, everyone’s going to have their dealbreakers; one of hers just happens to be long-distance relationships. And honestly, I can’t really blame her in this case; LDRs are hard to do in general and especially hard when the relationship starts as long-distance and doesn’t have a projected end date. So, unfortunately, you’re kind of stuck for an answer here. Unless you or she are willing to move, you’re just SOL.
Now with that having been said, I think you’ve got more issues here than you realize. Going by your letter, it sounds like you and she haven’t met in person yet. That changes the math rather significantly, and not in your favor. I realize that in the year of our Lord 2021, people strike up relationships with folks they haven’t met in the flesh yet. Hell, I have friends that I’ve known for decades who I’ve yet to actually meet in person. However, as the sage once said: love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood screaming at you to work its will. That is: while you and this woman may have great emotional chemistry, romantic and sexual relationships have a physical component to them as well.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old saw about how only 7% of communication is verbal. This is 100% true… and that applies to dating and attraction. There is a vast array of signals that dictate who we are and aren’t attracted to, long before we ever talk to them, that we can only perceive in person; even Zoom and Skype sessions aren’t going to make up the difference. This includes things like the timbre of their voice, how they treat the waitstaff, how they smell… things that can only be picked up on when you are in physical proximity to one another. This is part of why, for example, you’ll meet people on dating apps who are perfect for you on paper but who are about as arousing as dry toast when you meet in person. The emotional and intellectual engagement was there, but there were factors make your limbic system go “nah” when you were together in the flesh.
This is why I’m a firm believer that, until you meet in person, you’re not actually dating yet. The last thing you want is to invest emotionally in someone and in a relationship, only to have it all fall apart when you discover that you and they simply aren’t physically compatible with one another when you finally meet up.
Incidentally, I’d also note that her interest in seeing you is somewhat conditional. She says that she doesn’t want you to be the only reason you visit. That, in my experience, tends to be a sign that you’ve been coming on too strong and putting strain on your budding relationship. Generally, someone who’s eager to date you isn’t going to say “I’d love to see you but not if I’m the only reason you’re coming to visit”. They tend to be excited for you to come and to show you around and so on. Someone putting a condition on it — “I don’t want to be the only reason you’re here” — is telling you that your coming just to see them would make them uncomfortable. And in fairness, they’re not wrong. If the only reason you’re going somewhere is to see one particular person — especially someone you’re romantically or sexually interested in — that can put a lot of pressure on them, intentionally or otherwise. That can be really uncomfortable, especially if they’re not necessarily feeling things to the same degree you are.
If there were some (non-contrived) reason for you to be in the same place, that would be one thing. She’s not the sole focus of your time, attention or presence, nor would she feel like she’s responsible for your enjoyment while you’re there. But if you’re just coming to see her… well, that runs a really high risk of things going in a direction you wouldn’t like.
(And let me tell you: been there, done that, 0/10 would get in a TARDIS to retroactively undo it.)
So my suggestion: slow your roll, my dude. Keep your friendship with her, keep talking to her, flirting (if she’s comfortable with it) and so on. But at the same time: diversify your attention and give other people priority in your search for a partner. She may be an awesome person, but current circumstances mean that you and she aren’t in the right place at the right time… metaphorically and literally.