And no, unavailable is not code for married...
January 11, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I've realized that I can only relax and be myself around men I'm attracted to if I believe they are unavailable. How do I break through this mental barrier so I can relax with men who are available?

I've never had a lot of luck attracting men I liked. Emphasis on men I'm attracted to and not men in general. As a result, I don't have a ton of relationship experience, but I have had a couple of relationships. I've realized that the overwhelming theme in my successful romantic ventures was that I believed that the guy was unavailable or totally inappropriate for dating when I was getting to know them, and most importantly when they started liking me back! Some examples:

I initially thought an ex of mine was much older than he actually was (I was much younger then and age differences matter less to me now, but still matter somewhat)

Thought a couple guys were in relationships

Guy was close friend of a relative and I thought it would be way too messy (got over this, but had zero intentions of dating him when I initially got to know him)

Guy lives too far away (this one has happened more than once)

I realize I am a bit of a shy person and I have problems with anxiety, but I obviously have no problem getting to know a guy, flirt, and be myself when I don't view him as a romantic prospect. I realize I should just try and pretend that no guy I've just met is a romantic prospect, but those kinds of mind games never work for me, as I clearly know I'm attracted to the guy.

The other thing is I've become friends with many of these available guys I've liked in the past, so it's not like I'm doing anything bizarre. For a long time I just felt that most of the guys I was attracted to were out of my league, so to speak, but looking back I realize many if these guys ended up with girls very similar to me and many of the guys I have dated were far more conventionally attractive than any of these guy that barely gave me a second look.

I have a very dry/dark sense of humor and a pretty odd background and interests. I think I might downplay this with guys I'm attracted to because I know my slightly unusual personality doesn't appeal to everyone. Of course, I feel like I do this a bit with all new people I meet until I'm sure it won't scare them off or offend them and that hasn't prevented me from making friends.

So how do I pinpoint what I'm doing wrong? And how do I get past whatever I'm doing so I can me my normal charming, flirty, offbeat self?

Fwiw I'm a late 20s straight female.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Potentially crucial point: how do you generally meet men? What's your usual dating process?

Oh yeah, you're anonymous, so you can't answer and we'll just have to guess. (This is one of the many problems with anonymous AskMe questions.)

Well, maybe try online dating. That can make it easier to force yourself to break through your bad dating habits. Everything is laid out so clearly for you to see, rather than the IRL system of floating through life and "letting things happen" (or, not happen).

For instance, you can simply decide one day: "I'm going to find a man around my age who is listed as single, who I find attractive from his photos, and who I seem to have a bunch of stuff in common with, and I'm going to message him and try to go on a date." It sounds like you might not have much of an issue with sustaining a relationship once it gets going; your issue seems to be more with making that initial connection. Sometimes you just have to force it even if that goes against your basic impulse.

I don't know if that'll be useful or if you've tried that. Just a thought.

One more thing:

I have a very dry/dark sense of humor and a pretty odd background and interests. I think I might downplay this with guys I'm attracted to because I know my slightly unusual personality doesn't appeal to everyone. Of course, I feel like I do this a bit with all new people I meet until I'm sure it won't scare them off or offend them and that hasn't prevented me from making friends.

I'm glad that hasn't stopped you from making friends, but it could be especially problematic in the world of dating. OK, so maybe your sense of humor and interests are just appealing to 10% of men, and you could fake a different sense of humor and interests that are appealing to 75% of men. But ... that 10% of men are the ones you're actually going to be compatible with. Inauthenticity is easy in the short term but counterproductive in the long run.
posted by John Cohen at 9:32 AM on January 11, 2011

Instead of constantly adjusting your personality based on who you are or are not attracted to, try being your true dry-humored, quirky self around everyone. Those who stick around will be worth pursuing.

You say that you "downplay" your odd background and interests around guys whom you're attracted to for fear of scaring them off (I assume), but I think you'll save yourself a lot of angst and aggravation by just being yourself and letting your freak flag fly. If your charming, flirty, offbeat self doesn't attract a certain guy you're attracted to, wouldn't you rather know this sooner than later? Putting on an act to attract someone you're interested in is exhausting, demeaning, and ultimately unsatisfying because you can't keep that act up forever and the other person never gets to know the real you.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:36 AM on January 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

I think it's natural to have a subconscious desire to want something that someone already has, as long as you don't act on it. An analogy would be an employer who prefers to hire currently employed applicants over unemployed applicants. A man who's already in a relationship with someone who is similar to yourself, is more appealing because he could *possibly* (even if it's only a slight possibility) be in a relationship with you in the future.

I agree with the recommendation for online dating (or going to an RL singles activity) to find people who are single. Put your cards on the table and find someone who likes you for your sense of humor and your background/interests. You'll be much happier in the long run.
posted by wittysobriquet at 10:24 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to assume that you already know what the others are saying in their answers and that the problem isn't one of knowledge but one of anxiety--that is, you are unable to be yourself because you are too tense if the guy is available. Well, now you need to realize that you've failed. He's no longer available to you because you're too anxious to be there as yourself. So give up. You've lost him. There's no chance. He's unavailable to you.

Now you can relax and just be yourself.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:00 AM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Think like you have a boyfriend already. So a relationship with this other person is (or, feels) off the table.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:46 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah, I've been there too many times - being really into a guy, so I kind of get flustered and overeager around him, and totally botch things. Or the flipside, when a guy seems really nice at first but then I realize he's far more into me than I am into him and he tries to rush things in his overeagerness and I get disinterested. How does one learn to relax and be yourself around someone you're secretly dying to be with? It takes a while, but going on lots of dates is how I did it.

Online dating has absolutely been a big help in a) having confidence when meeting new people and b) learning to tone down my hopefulness when someone amazing comes along. I've especially enjoyed it considering I'm a rather eccentric girl myself, so putting my eccentricities in my profile has attracted some pretty cool people with similar interests - eccentric is a perk rather than a flaw.

First I was just so amazed to meet someone who likes this same thing too (OMG)... eventually I met enough of those and was like, well that's nice but what ELSE do you like too? I met a few really super-hot guys and felt OMG you're so sexy and you're interested in me too? awesome I want to keep you forever... and then eventually it becomes yeah, so what? I've met a dozen hotties like you, what makes you interesting though? And your heart gets broken a few times, you have to break a few hearts too along the way, but each time it gets a little easier since you know that it's not the end of the world, you know from experience that there will be other guys who will come along soon enough. I became a little less eager, a little more emotionally guarded, a lot more relaxed and less caring about whether something pans out or not... and then it becomes all about getting to know someone as a person, not about impressing them. And that's alluring, because that's having confidence.
posted by lizbunny at 12:51 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stick to meeting guys at activities and whatnot, rather than in a dating context where you know darned well they are (probably) single.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:03 PM on January 11, 2011

Instead of constantly adjusting your personality based on who you are or are not attracted to, try being your true dry-humored, quirky self around everyone. Those who stick around will be worth pursuing.

Yes, except I would amend it to "Those who stick around are potentially compatible with you"--the others might well be worth pursuing for someone else.

Being yourself is the best way to find a partner who digs people like you, not people unlike you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:27 PM on January 11, 2011

What relationship hack are you going to use when you start dating someone and you are madly in love and he's not yet in love?

I once knew a guy who used to find flaws in the girls he liked and I always assumed it was to calm his nerves while he chased them and I always thought it was pathetic.

Everyone loses their nerve sometimes, have you never felt the triumph of being yourself in the face of fear of rejection?

I was just watching the film, une Liaison Pornographique. She says: "Why have you never made a declaration of love?" "Because I was afraid... of being ridiculed, of failure." After so many North American romantic comedies with stupid, coy men and women, it's a nice reminder of courage.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:36 PM on January 11, 2011

Muting your sense of humor seems like a pretty obvious thing you might be doing wrong.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:14 PM on January 11, 2011

i hope you can find your way to a breakthrough, anon. i like LuckySeven~'s advice alot ... but, you know, easier said than done.

what about some introspection time: journaling in a cafe with headphones on, staring out at some water, feeding narwhals, whatever you like to do! ask yourself: why do i feel like i don't deserve what i want? (i'm only guessing that you do, since that is the source of much self-sabotage. the 'those guys are out of my league' points to it, but it sounds like you've already started to untangle that one ... kudos!) what is it about 'unavailability' that lights me up? (is it really that you have 'nothing to loose?' or are there some early-in-life sibling interactions that gave you a flair for competitiveness?) why am i scared to initiate the 'next level' with guys i have no problem befriending? (fear of rejection is very common. but think of it this way ... if you make a move and he says 'no,' it's not the end of the world. you are no worse off than you are right now. and actually, you are better off ... since the more you venture, the more likely you are to find your 'yes'!)

finding whatever constructs shape your behavior can help you break free of it. you might not come up with perfect answers at first and it may take more than a couple of hours, but think of how freeing it would be to dredge up some incident/interaction that gave you this negative self-view and break the befuddling power it has on your psyche.

lastly, something Dr. Wayne Dyer said in a lecture has stuck with me: that we often spend the last moments of the day ruminating on the bad stuff that has happened or being anxious about what is to come. this is tantamount to feeding your subconscious junkfood. instead, visualize acting the way you want, with who you want, before you go to sleep. maybe your subconscious will take that and run with it!

best of luck!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:05 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

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