One thing that anyone who is into advice columns – either as a fan or as a columnist – will notice is that letters tend to come in patterns. It’s not surprising, really… as freakish and unique as we all feel our problems are, 9 times out of 10, they’re much more common than we’d realize. You get the folks who know the answer but really want someone else to tell them what they hope to hear. You get the basic relationship questions: I like this person, but I don’t know what to do, we’re having problems and I don’t know how to fix them, that sort of thing. You get the ones where people understand that something is wrong but they don’t know how to fix it.
But the ones that stand out to me the most are the ones from the guys who seem to have given up early. They’re the ones who are absolutely convinced that they’ve done something wrong with their lives and have crossed a nebulous point of no return; at the ripe old age of 17, 19, 24, 30, or older, they have decided that they are forever damned to never knowing love, sex, marriage, whatever.
They have become absolutely convinced that there is something inherently wrong with them that has doomed them to a monastic lifestyle, forever denied the joys of the flesh.
And all I really want to say is “You’d be fine if you’d just get out of your own way.”
This is quite possibly the most common sticking point when it comes to getting better at dating. Hell, it’s something I went through at the beginning of my own journey. I had to get past a metric shitload of problems, from a nasty case of Oneitis to a horde of identity issues and self-limiting beliefs, before I could even start to improve… and even then there were other underlying issues I was never aware of.
All too often, men are their own worst enemies when it comes to trying to improve. We let ourselves get caught up in spirals of anxiety and self-limiting beliefs, holding ourselves up to imagined (and impossible) standards and looking to sex to provide the validation we feel we need so much.
It’s time to get out of our own damn way and accept certain truths.
We Are All Flawed
The hardest thing for anyone to admit isn’t that we’re flawed; after all, odds are if you’re reading this, you’re feeling a lack in your life and you’re trying to fix things.
No, the trouble is accepting that we’re flawed… and that’s ok.
It’s easy to to look at your life and everything that you see that’s wrong – you’re depressed, you’re anxiety prone, you’re uncomfortable around people. You’ve been rejected before – often even. You strive and you strive and yet things that come so easily for everybody else are out of your grasp.
Meanwhile, you watch other people going merrily though their lives, seemingly unplagued by the doubts, fears, anxieties, failures and insecurities you struggle with every single day. When we turn on the TV or go to the movies, we get shown these perfect lives and enviable lifestyles. We’re told over and over again “This is what success looks like. This is what you should be striving for.”
When we don’t measure up – and we never measure up – it’s another little dagger in our soul, another mark in the “Why You Suck” column in our minds.
We believe that we’re never good enough, that we’re too fat or too short or too awkward or too introverted to possibly be worth loving or sleeping with. We measure ourselves by arbitrary benchmarks that we can’t possibly meet and then believe we are somehow lesser for not measuring up.
This turns into an endless cycle – we don’t achieve the ideal of X or Y or Z and we despair that since we aren’t X, or Y or Z already we never will be.
Except… we don’t even realize that we’re comparing ourselves to standards nobody can meet. We’re fighting against our own imaginations.
What’s In A Number?
Here’s a prime example: men who base their self-worth on how many women they have (or, more commonly, haven’t) slept with.
This comes up more times than I care to count. Every day I hear from people who think that because they’ve only had so many partners (or none at all) that there’s something wrong with them and they desperately want to fix it.
Now obviously there can be issues holding you back – unhealthy attitudes, questions of technique or hygiene or even just not knowing what you’re doing – but that’s not a rating of you as a person.
And yet, I hear from guys who believe that their lack of sexual conquests comes from an inherent flaw; that they are inferior simply because they haven’t had as much sex as other people.
The popular view of masculinity equates success with the number of sex partners a person has had. If you’ve had many sex partners, then clearly you’re a better person because REASONS.
Except… what, exactly does it prove?
Is Gene Simmons a better person than you are just because he banged hundreds or thousands of groupies over years? Are Billy Glide and Danny Mountain just more manly because they work in porn?
The Evo-Psych crew will talk about spreading your genes, cheap sperm and expensive eggs… but all this is is a post-hoc rationalization of male promiscuity. After all, we regularly have sex at times when women can’t be impregnated – during menses, during pregnancy, when women are nursing children and after menopause. Moreover, it’s actually surprisingly difficult for humans to have children; it takes on average, having sex more than100 times in order to conceive. Meanwhile, chimp and gorilla couplings number in the double digits to achieve similar results. Humans and bonobos are the only species that have sex purely for pleasure.
Moreover, the idea that we’re naturally obsessed with spreading our genes is cultural rather than inborn. In fact, the idea of established paternity didn’t enter the human experience until the development of agriculture. Pre-agricultural societies – even ones that still exist today – don’t obsess about parentage the way we do; a number of them believe that babies are the product of many fathers.
So if it’s not about producing children then it means that you must be that good at seduction, right?
Well… maybe. Maybe not. You can sleep with a lot of people – even celebrities, women famed for their beauty or their desirability… but what does that mean, ultimately? Are you inherently a better person than someone who has only slept with one woman?
(I’m just going to apologize now for getting this stuck in your head…)
What if that one woman is the mother of your children, someone who surprises you on a daily basis, who knows you better than anyone else and can make you happier than you ever dreamed you’d be? Does that somehow lose value because you didn’t have sex with twenty other women? Are you not as good as someone who slept with Kate Upton or Bar Rafaeli, even if the woman you did sleep with was someone who you could share your hopes and dreams with?
The worst thing about sex is when you’re using it in an attempt to prove something.
When I first started trying to get better with women, I was obsessed with numbers. I was determined to prove that I was different… that I was cool. A player. Not the Guy Who Wasn’t Good With Girls. I could be the guy who could have any woman he wanted…
Because of that obsession I went to a pretty dark place. I was treating women like toys; I wasn’t having sex with a person, I was fucking a number – #69 in a series, an 8 out of 10. But I didn’t care because with every lay I racked up I was proving once again that I wasn’t the old me.
Here’s the thing though:
You’re not going to get a free toaster if you rack up the 100th notch on your bedpost. Airlines aren’t going to be sending you free upgrades to first class tickets if you’ve railed 500 women. Maxim isn’t going to put you on the cover for having 5 new sex partners in the same month.
The only people who obsessively keep track of how many women they’ve slept with aren’t people you want to be associated with. They’re hoping to impress other people with numbers, looking for external validation by saying “Look at how many women wanted me… that’s got to count for something right?”
(Before anyone else gets into it: yes, we can acknowledge the irony of my saying this when I frequently point to my own dating life.)
My friends – at least, the ones who weren’t my wingmen – really couldn’t give a shit about how many women I slept with each month. In fact, they were getting pretty tired of my going on and on about it. Women weren’t impressed; just because I’d slept with X number of women didn’t necessarily mean that the sex was amazing or that the women even liked me much in the first place.
Worse though, are the men who hold themselves up to unrealistic standards. We keep comparing ourselves not just to other people but to our imaginations. We try to match up with where we assume others are and it makes us all miserable. We believe everybody else is having far more sex than we are without any evidence.
In fact, the CDC did a survey of Americans’ sex lives. The average number of sex partners for an American male between the ages of 15 and 44? 5.11 Moreover, fewer than 25% of men have had 12 or more partners.
I’ve received letters from guys who were borderline suicidal because they were in their early 20s and yet had only slept with 3 women and they felt so far behind everyone else… when they were comfortably headed to the middle of bell curve.
It’s easy to rack up numbers; all you have to do is drop your standards to almost nil and you’ll be knee-deep in tail… and absolutely miserable.
It’s better to look for satisfaction, whether you’ve had hundreds of partners… or just one or two. Which is going to bring more meaning to your life, dozens of random partners or two or three incredible people who enriched your life?
Having only been with one person isn’t something to be ashamed of, especially if he or she is the right person.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to sleep with many people or having many sex partners… as long as sex is just a natural part of who you are, rather than something you’re using to try to fill a hole.
The Problem With Selective Perception
I’ve talked about the elephant and the mahout before – that elephants in Thailand and India are raised by mahouts and grow up believing that the mahout is bigger than they are. Even though the adult elephant outweighs its caretaker by several tons, it thinks of it’s mahout as being huge. As a result, it follows the mahout’s words and prodding without realizing that the only reason the mahout is in control is because the elephant doesn’t recognize the truth.
When we develop certain beliefs – “Women only like guys who are X (where x = “quality I don’t have”)” or “I’m too Y for women to find attractive”, we subconsciously look for evidence that validates our beliefs… and disregard evidence to the contrary. Men insist that women only date men who are “alpha” or who have rippling washboard abs or who make six-figure salaries and ignore all of the fat guys who have hot girlfriends, or the happy couples shopping at Wal-Mart. These guys “don’t count”.
Because we don’t want them to count. If we let these exceptions count, then it means our beliefs are wrong and we don’t want that to be true. We all like to believe we are rational beings and that we change our minds in the face of evidence, but the truth is, we hold onto our beliefs harder than ever whenever we are confronted by proof that we might be wrong.
This goes doubly-true with these self-limiting beliefs. These beliefs – that we can’t possibly do something because reasons – are usually formed out of pain: we got our heart broken, we got rejected by somebody, someone we liked ended up dating somebody else. We opened ourselves up to someone and, as a result, someone delivered a critical hit to our egos for massive damage. We naturally try to insulate ourselves from pain and rejection, so as a result, we develop these beliefs like a callus. They provide us with a ready-made excuse for why we shouldn’t even try… and our brains naturally turn this belief into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you believe that no woman could possibly love you because you’re too white/ethnic/short/fat/tall/skinny/poor/whatever, you will unconsciously reflect these beliefs in your interactions with them. When you believe women are hypergamous bitches who only are looking for Mr. Goodbar, then you’re going to treat women like bitches… small wonder then, that they’re going to think you’re an asshole and react accordingly.
How do you break these beliefs? You start by accepting that you could be wrong. This is incredibly difficult to do – after all, you have a lifetime of “proof” backing you up. You have to be willing to open your mind and your eyes and look for people who contradict your belief and accept that they’re exactly as they appear to be. You can’t look for the “proof” that there’s something wrong. You can’t disqualify them because “she’s not hot, so she has no other options” or “yeah, but he’s funny” or “yeah, but he can sing”.
You have to accept that you’re making excuses to insulate yourself from failure and then make an honest start at trying again. Instead of making blanket assumptions – that women aren’t going to like you because you’re heavy or not rich – try assuming that you’re the exception: that you’re capable of being so charming, so uniquely, awesomely you that women can’t help but find you attractive.
Mind you, this isn’t a reason to not improve yourself, not to dress better or to try to learn how to get better at interacting with women… otherwise you’re sabotaging yourself in order to reinforce your beliefs again.
Perfection Is the Seeking of Improvement
Let’s acknowledge some truths. You’re not where you want to be. You’ve got thousands of miles to travel before you reach the level where you think you should be… and that’s fine.
You aren’t as confident as you’d like to be. That’s ok.
You aren’t as skilled with women as you want to be. That’s ok.
You might have to work harder to get where other people are. That’s ok too.
Yeah, maybe your situation sucks. Maybe you’re awkward. Maybe you’re not good with women. Accept it. Allow it.
We are all flawed. We are all imperfect. We all have areas that we’re not happy about, aspects of our lives that we find wanting.
And that’s OK.
You just have to try to make things better.
As long as you’re moving forward, working towards getting better, then all will be well. As long as you keep improving, then it’s all good.
One of the hardest things to understand is that you will never be perfect… because perfection is found in the striving to improve. We naturally look towards some level that, if we were to reach it, would mean that we had arrived… but it doesn’t exist.
To put it in perspective: I started studying martial arts when I was 13. At the time, I assumed that once I got my black belt, that was going to be it: I was was at the peak. Of course, I soon realized that getting my black belt was just the beginning of what I had to learn – I reached what I thought was the summit only to find there was so much more to climb.
When I first started getting better at dating, I’d thought that I would reach that level when I was regularly getting new sex partners every month. It took me a couple of years of devoted practice, going out three or four times a week working on cold approaches before I was willing to say that I was pretty good at wooing women… and once again, I realized that there would always be room to grow and improve. I would never be as good as I thought I should be, because there would always be another level to reach.
I have a tattoo on my forearm that commemorates when I finally accepted this. It’s the 63rd hexagram from the I-Ching, Water over Fire. In the book of the I-Ching it means “After Fording” or “After Perfection” – the idea that you are never finished growing or striving.
(The fact that it’s also the mark of the Arashikage ninja clan is entirely coincidental.)
Accepting that you’ll not be perfect isn’t giving up; it’s accepting that you’re human and you’re getting better.
I’m a funny guy but I’ll never be as funny as some of my friends. But by having them around, I’m inspired to try even harder.
I’ve got friends who are better with women than I’ll ever be, who are more comfortable and at ease in social situations than I am. But I’m ok with that, because I understand that I’m still getting better.
I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be. But I’m getting better.
You’re not where you want to be. But that’s OK, because you’re improving.
You’re OK. I promise.
- The .1 is presumably for the times they played “just the tip”. [↩]