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How do I stop attracting the wrong guys and start attracting the right ones?
October 7, 2011 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I was just broken up with by a really decent, kind guy because there was no "spark." He seemed like everything I ever wanted in a partner on paper. I knew there was no spark but I was perfectly fine with that, because it seems like the only guys I ever have mutual emotional chemistry with are either rageaholics, substance abusers, or commitmentphobes. I was more than willing to trade the spark for not being yelled at, put down, or inexplicably blown off.

Reading through the massive amount of AskMes on this particular issue, I've concluded that most people do want the spark. And maybe I would, too, if I thought it could be with someone who wasn't an unmedicated bipolar alcoholic. The problem is that I have no idea how to create the spark with someone who isn't incredibly fucked up and I suspect that I am simply not attractive to normal, nice men who have their shit together. Despite having a lot of common interests and tastes in things and a very similar child-free, non-work-centric lifestyle, and understanding each other's introversion, the guy and I just could not "feel it" for each other beyond friendship. It sucks because there seem to be so few available men in their late 30s/early 40s who are nice and share my value system.

It wasn't about the sex, either. The sex we had was really good for both of us. We found each other attractive. But there was no OMG I must have you NOW or I will DIE feeling on either side. I liked it that way, though. I was hoping it could develop over time, but he got tired of waiting.

I held myself back a lot from this guy. He never knew about any of the turmoil I had been through. I only showed him my best side and never became vulnerable with him. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I fear I played it too safe and didn't really let him in and maybe if I had been more open about some of my past issues it would have opened the door to more emotional intimacy. I feel like I blew it by being fakely confident and superficial instead of being truly myself, but I thought he would just see red flag after red flag if I told him about my past, and I really do want to do things differently from now on. I wanted a clean slate.

Throughout the relationship, I was friends with someone who constantly gave me advice -- another pattern in my life that I want to change. This person critiqued me and basically told me in so many words that I wasn't good-looking enough or charismatic enough and that was probably why the guy I was dating only wanted to see me once a week or so. This "friend" thought I was sort of a mousy butterface. They gave me all sorts of advice about how to change my appearance, and how to be more flirtatious. I ended the friendship because I felt bad about myself every time I hung out with the person.

I've totally lost any mojo I ever had after this double whammy and my history of unhealthy relationships. Looking back, I wonder if I ever had ANY chemistry with anyone, or was it all just codependency? I feel like I have several choices: resign myself to being single forever; resign myself to having relationships with damaged people; or change into a person that undamaged people like, which apparently I have no clue how to do. And I'm getting older, obviously. I'm not at the most sexually attractive age for women anymore and I'm not going to be any younger or prettier after taking a long relationship break to "work on myself" if that's what's warranted here.

I have read How to Be an Adult in Relationships and I think I am at the point where people who are not good for me are no longer as attractive to me. But how to I make myself more attractive to those who are good for me? Anyone else ever been in this position around age 40? How did you solve it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Get out and do things you love in public or with a community of people. Others will see "the real you" from the fantastic time you're having. If you're engaged and excited they'll see it. That's spark -- seeing someone who is alive and wanting to share that liveliness with you.

That's also why alcohol is a two-edged sword for dating -- it makes people seem more alive due to loosened inhibitions and acting out, but also ruins your own judgement so you wake up in the morning next to mr/ms oh so very wrong.

So, get vibrant and alive, doing something/anything with lots of other people in a non-centred-around-alcohol activity and things -- authentic things -- will happen much more quickly.

--- Also, good on you for nipping off the negative "friendship." Glad that you already know not to hang around people that pull you down rather than lift you up!
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


My theory throughout life is that the only people who are not entirely intimidated by a really you attractive women are the bipolar alcoholic commitmentphobes because by nature they are narcissists and don't care what you think of them so they aren't questioning their worthiness to date you. So, you might need to do the reaching out to a lot of the other kinds of men. Cuz the normal ones might be intimidated. Lots of generalizations there, but hey, it's a theory.
posted by spicynuts at 9:42 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Meet lots of people, filter out rageaholics etc, be open to a connection with the ones who remain, and you'll find a spark.

If you think you can't find one with a decent candidate, then deal with the flip-side of rageaholic-ism - the damage it does to the raged-at - in therapy or AlAnon - so you can find and connect with healthy people.
posted by zippy at 9:43 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I'm in my thirties and feel similar to you. I've somewhat had a steady stream of psychopaths, committmentophobes and stage 5 clingers.

I think that you shouldn't change who you are, honestly, unless you have a major issue that could be seriously affecting your physical health. You are who you are and if you like who you are, then why take the blame for all of these trainwrecks and try to change yourself? Don't do that. It's not you. It's them.

What's helping me is to stop trying to force it and my first step in that direction was ditching the internet dating because it's stressful and ridiculous. Instead I joined a local running club and am hanging out with friends when I can. It feels good to breathe and just relax. Embrace your single status and the ability to be flexible and do awesome things on your own time. Being single is just a temporary state and it would be horribly dramatic and depressing to tell yourself that you'll be single forever. Don't do that either. I've been told that eventually someone just as awesome will come along.

It's not really taking a long relationship break to "work on yourself" but it is IS just being and that also means being open to possibilities and people. Just be yourself and love yourself for it in the meantime.
posted by floweredfish at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's of course impossible to say for sure, but I think it's conceivable that you answered your own question here:

"I held myself back a lot from this guy. He never knew about any of the turmoil I had been through. I only showed him my best side and never became vulnerable with him. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I fear I played it too safe and didn't really let him in and maybe if I had been more open about some of my past issues it would have opened the door to more emotional intimacy. I feel like I blew it by being fakely confident and superficial instead of being truly myself, but I thought he would just see red flag after red flag if I told him about my past, and I really do want to do things differently from now on. I wanted a clean slate."

There's a pretty common conception I see on AskMe where people think that "nice men/women that have their shit together" are on this constant hunt for, as you put it, red flags. At the first sight of one of these flags, they are supposed to slam the eject button, sirens wailing, their kind and gentle hearts racing with panic that they may have been contaminated by the OP.

The thing about actually nice, decent people, though? Is that they don't do this. This is not a nice, decent thing to do. This is kind of a cowardly, shit thing to do.

I'm not saying that you should immediately lay everything on the table for any future prospects. Just that, in your next relationship, if you feel at some point that you would like to talk about those things, I think you should. Because "I didn't feel any spark" seems like an awfully likely consequence of "I held myself back a lot from this guy."
posted by kavasa at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [46 favorites]


I feel like I have several choices: resign myself to being single forever; resign myself to having relationships with damaged people; or change into a person that undamaged people like

Or, you can stop making harsh generalizations and predictions, and just keep trying to meet all kinds of different people, then be yourself around them (be the best version of yourself but not a superficial version), and hope for the best. If you think that this is not going to work, then you are resigning yourself to being single forever, so why not keep trying if that is not what you want?
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 9:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


You're doing just fine and I LOVE that you have gotten to the stage where toxic people no longer feel attractive. You are so close to what you want now that you've made this important change in your operating system.

Now that your head and heart are aligned in pursuit of your well-being, keep that alignment present and fresh, and just get out there! With the right filters in place, it is only a matter of time before you meet someone who is mature, lovely, and has a genuine spark for you. And vice versa!

I remember when I first met my husband (a tall, good looking "international man of mystery" with a serious ability to enter a room and make everyone feel just a little bit better about themselves...) Anyway, I remember thinking he was really wonderful, and he seemed to like me, but that he probably would never really "go" for me. And then we started dating, and I realized that 5 years earlier, I would never have recognized that someone as nice as him was worth dating in the first place. This was probably because, 5 years earlier, I wasn't personally sorted out. We met up when we were both ready for something extraordinary and wouldn't settle for less.

99% of the battle is knowing "right for you" from "wrong for you." Once you've got that in place, it's just about getting out there in life and having fun. It's really that simple from here on out as long as you don't lower your standards.

Being willing to stay with Non-Spark Guy was lowering your standards, BTW. Don't be willing to settle for less. Settling just gets In the way of getting what you want and deserve in life.
posted by jbenben at 10:24 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ask guys out. I literally just started doing this myself and I find that if I'm the one doing the choosing? I end up with great, funny kind guys. If I wait for them to approach me they're generally assholes. I haven't started anything serious but I have made some new friends for sure and had a lot of fun.
posted by fshgrl at 10:33 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


I am a dude, in my early 40s, who can empathize very strongly with what you are going through. Not the "being attracted to the crazy" part, but the "being okay with not having huge spark-y chemistry with an otherwise amazing person that I'm attracted to" part.

I am currently still pining and suffering, on a daily basis, over an amazing person who broke things off with me 3 months ago, citing lack of chemistry; she did it via a beautiful, thoughtful e-mail that went on and on about my great qualities etc...this is the kind of thing that happens all the time of course, and we had never even slept together, but I am still haunted by her, and deeply frustrated by the way that things played out.

It's really understandable (to me, anyway) to go to a place, mentally, that is defeatist (i.e. the "choices" that you laid out for yourself) after an experience like this. But it seems to me that you have actually made a lot of progress. To wit:

-You did meet a great guy
-You both, from the way it reads to me, gave your relationship a real try together

This is something to build on - a way toward a future where you continue to meet and try to connect with people who are good for you. This "spark/chemistry" shit is just deeply frustrating, I know...and right now, I'm not the person who can be encouraging about it, but I just want to say that I'm seeing a lot of positives here for you.

I also want to say that with "friends" like the one you describe, who gave you all of that oh-so-helpful "advice," you don't need enemies. However well she may have meant, everything she said was undermining you...you really don't need that in your life.
posted by Angus Jung at 10:47 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


What kasava said x2. When I didn't have my shit together, I always had better luck being myself; that doesn't mean I didn't maybe scare someone away, but it just proved we weren't a good fit sooner. And those that I did put it on the table for would much rather know that then find out later I was lying about who I was.

How do I know that?
1) They told me
2) When I became a person with my shit (relatively) together, I felt the same way.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:49 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is that I have no idea how to create the spark with someone who isn't incredibly fucked up and I suspect that I am simply not attractive to normal, nice men who have their shit together.

You dated ONE guy who was normal, nice, and had his shit together. It's way too soon to suspect ANYthing about how attractive you are to all the other normal-nice-shittogether guys out there. Date more people.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:20 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Don't worry, this is all good stuff. You may have held back from that guy because you don't really feel safe yet - a lifetime of dating assholes is bound to make you a little gunshy.

Anyhow, all that matters is that you started to see what it might be like with a good guy. Now you've got your romantic 'eye in' you'll start to spot more of them...and you'll be more confident about being you. If you meet someone and there's compatibility *and* you're both authentically yourselves it'll be hard not to spark somewhere along the way.
posted by freya_lamb at 11:39 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


First, you just broke up with your boyfriend. That's a traumatic event, and what you might call a "major life change". Breakups never feel good, even when they are probably for the best in the end (as you seem to reluctantly acknowledge may be the case). You *have* to let yourself grieve and moan and go through the normal process of getting over a breakup. It might be a few months before you can see clearly enough to think about dating again.

Second, you have this pressure to be in a stable, long-term, committed relationship, which seems to be self-imposed based on a fear of aging. This is tough because you can't really do anything about getting older, nor can anyone else. It's a fact of life that we're all going to get older. However, it does seem that you place a lot of your value as a partner in a relationship on your youth and appearance. I really wonder how much of that is just a fear of change and time passing.

If you're expecting your partner to bring that "spark" to your life, then you make your own happiness with your life depend on whether or not you're in a relationship. Realize that you're basically setting yourself up for misery here. I think there is some truth to the adage "you need to be happy being single before you can be happy in a relationship". Contrary to Hollywood's depictions of happy couples, healthy relationships are NOT based on a mutual dependence, as you seem to acknowledge. Healthy relationships are about two people that make each other happy.

I think you need to figure out what makes you happy before you can expect to find someone else that will make you happy.
posted by deathpanels at 12:29 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


You knew that there was no spark, but you were ok with that. He clearly wasn't. It does not logically follow that there is no one out there who can have a pleasant, sparkless relationship with you. It means this guy didn't want that.

You didn't feel a spark with this guy who was otherwise nice. It does not logically follow that you'll never feel a spark with anyone who isn't a raging asshole. It means that you didn't feel it with this guy.

You're placing way too much emphasis on this one relationship as some kind of bellwether for how your romantic life will be forever. That's understandable, especially after a string of shit relationships, but that anxiety is still fallout from those shit relationships and doesn't actually have much to do with this one. What you've described is actually how many pleasant relationships go: you got together, had a decent enough time, but it wasn't working for one of you, so clean break and hopefully no hard feelings.

I don't think undamaged people exist, so I don't recommend changing yourself into someone imaginary people will like. A guy who is actually good for you will recognize that you have a history and will want to know about it. A guy who is actually good for you will have a history that you will want to know about. I agree that you don't have to lay out your whole shit from the word go, but burying your anxieties in order to make someone else like you is not going to work.

One of my best friends just started dating a new woman about a month ago. He's 44 and pretty great. She's 50 and seems pretty cool. They really like each other. You're nowhere near out of time. Take a deep breath; you're doing quite well, actually. You're breaking your cycle of assholes, which is great. If the next part were easy, AskMe probably wouldn't exist. You're doing fine.
posted by Errant at 12:39 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


(I initially missed the part where you said you ended your friendship with that lame 'friend'...awesome!)
posted by Angus Jung at 12:46 PM on October 7, 2011


I am simply not attractive to normal, nice men who have their shit together.

You have it backwards. What you need to think about is the normal, nice men who have their shit together and who are also attractive to you.

And ask yourself what you mean when you say "normal", "nice" and "attractive". Because it sounds to me like you have, for whatever reason, applied those words to "men I do not find attractive".

"Nice", "normal" and "having their shit together" does not mean some sort of stereotypical, suit-wearing desk jockey who works unpaid overtime, climbs the corporate ladder and delays his inevitable premature cardiac incident by listening to Coldplay and drinking a second glass of Australian Chardonnay after dinner. There are a lot of nice, responsible, reliable, loving, faithful guys out there who get drunk, listen to Merzbow, love BDSM, take drugs occasionally and play loud pathetic guitar after midnight when they have friends over and somebody puts some old-school punk on.

I do not mean to suggest that this sort of thing is what you would find attractive. I mean to suggest that nice guys can also be edgy and fun and a damned good laugh. Lose the expectation of what a "nice guy" ought to be, and you're on your way.
posted by Decani at 12:46 PM on October 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


I thought he would just see red flag after red flag if I told him about my past, and I really do want to do things differently from now on. I wanted a clean slate.

Acknowledging your past doesn't mean you can't do things differently. Refusing to discuss your past or hiding it away -- well, seeming like you have something to hide generally comes off as much more of an actual red flag than this supposed red flag of having had not so great relationships in the past. Not wanting to have a relationship like previous ones probably had a lot to do with you being available to date in the first place.
posted by yohko at 12:53 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


By definition, most people are normal. And by my experience, most are decent. Maybe you are not meeting enough men.

It seems like the only guys I ever have mutual emotional chemistry with are either rageaholics, substance abusers, or commitmentphobes. I was more than willing to trade the spark for not being yelled at, put down, or inexplicably blown off.

If you really believe that, maybe you should see a counselor. Many people lose their temper once in a while, but most people don't behave like that on a regular basis. So if you want to be with any decent guy just because he's decent and he'll spend time with you, I think you should raise your standards more.

Also, maybe you and I have different meanings for "spark" and "chemistry," but I don't get how you're having sex with someone when there is no spark.

But similar to what others said, one shortish relationship with a really decent, kind guy doesn't say anything bad about the future.
posted by maurreen at 1:03 PM on October 7, 2011


Concentrate on getting your shit together - and that includes working on your self esteem. You seem to be under the impression that these good-for-nothing dudes that you have chemistry with are the only guys you deserve. Not true.

So work on yourself, do things that you are proud of, figure out what makes you happy, and be the love you wish to have.

Plus, don't give up on nice guys just because you didn't click with this one nice guy. There are others out there. Just make sure it's the right time for you.

"Right now" + "that nice guy" obviously wasn't it since you kept things very superficial. Stop thinking you are unworthy of love. Learn to love yourself, then it will infinitely easier to allow someone else to love you.
posted by Neekee at 1:07 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


commitmentphobes ... hmm. i kind of get what you're trying to express with that word, but i think you shouldn't use it, and if you do that it might broaden the pool of available men for you.

my problem with that word is that it pathologies something that is not inherently bad. let's acknowledge that there are people who avoid commitment and it is part of deeper problems. but someone who wants less commitment, or wants it at a slower rate, is not necessarily bad, just different. you could equally pathologies people who want a lot of commitment/want it quickly as insecure and needy, and while some people are like that, not everyone is that bad, right?

so, i'd suggest trying to let go, at least to some degree, of a want to lock someone in, to make them *commit* to you. we're all adults and ultimately can leave whenever we want, so commitment is a bit of an illusion anyway. all we have is now. so, if you're with a guy, and he doesn't have a long term plan to marry, have kids, etc. whatever you think "commitment" means ... can you be ok with that? with some degree of that?
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:54 PM on October 7, 2011


Stop holding yourself back and presenting only superficial perfect you. Let the next guy get to know you.

And, it sucks when you meet someone awesome you don't feel a spark with, because man oh man wouldn't it be great if you did because, again, they're awesome. But don't settle for that person. Someone better for you is out there.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:31 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nah, the reason you feel like you've lost your mojo is the friend who was making you feel like you're a mousy butterface in need of a dating makeover. Instead of saying to you, "anonymous my friend, maybe this isn't the guy for you" or "girl, you're perfect the way you are! If he's any kind of man, he'd see that," he/she was trying to give you dating tips. You don't need that kind support. You really can be your true self. Really. It's the only way to find the right guy for you. No ones wants a perfect superficial version of you, and you don't want that of a guy. We love people because of their quirks, not in spite of them.

When you meet the right guy, he's really not going to care about your past with rageaholics or substance abusers. I don't think it matters to anyone. It's discouraging for sure, when you look at your dating past that way but it's all just learning and figuring out who you are and what you want. I'm with someone now, but when I was dating, I'd eventually reach a point with a guy where I'd say something in my head like, "nope, no more guys who just want to go to a bar and get wasted." After that, my guys-who-like-to-drink-way-too-much radar was ON. I wasn't going to compromise on that. You've learned. You're over those kind of guys.
posted by biscuits at 8:05 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


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SAMPLE SIZE TOO SMALL
CANNOT DEDUCT FACTS OR TRENDS ABOUT DATING NICE GUYS FROM ONE NICE GUY FAILURE

You're just practicing at dating nice people. Sounds like it was a partly positive experience - you'd like to do it again, with some things that you'd do differently. Sounds like you're on target. So make a small change. Do the same or similar thing over, date a nice guy.

Make small adjustments. Be a little less forced and a little more vulnerable, which I read that you yourself want to do, there'll be an edge to that, which will probably help induce a spark. It'll be easier next time.
posted by krilli at 12:15 AM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not entirely convinced you can't have it both ways (a spark plus all the 'healthy'/'adult' aspects of attraction in another person). Doesn’t it just seem like they're out there?
posted by sergeicheddar at 5:48 PM on October 8, 2011


kavasa: "There's a pretty common conception I see on AskMe where people think that "nice men/women that have their shit together" are on this constant hunt for, as you put it, red flags. At the first sight of one of these flags, they are supposed to slam the eject button, sirens wailing, their kind and gentle hearts racing with panic that they may have been contaminated by the OP."

This is where the spark can come from -- not having your shit together during a time of intimacy with another human being can really bring you closer to them.

I'll add also that some people feel the spark with people and some don't. I think as relationships mature there's less of this desperate "I must be with this person or I'll DIEEEE" drama. That intensity is cool and all, but it's not going to last anyway, so better to be in a relationship where the spark isn't the glue that's holding everything together.

I agree that there aren't really undamaged people. Some people are just more damaged than others. Real, prolonged, solid love is looking at someone right in the eyes and saying, "This is the most damaged part of me. Can you hold that in your heart in the same way you hold my beautiful qualities?"
posted by Deathalicious at 11:39 PM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


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