No Love For You!
October 15, 2011 10:15 PM   Subscribe

If you were unlucky in love for most of your life, but then things finally changed and you met the mate you feared you never would, what changed? Or was it just a matter of persistence?

OK, I realize this isn't the most original topic, and believe me, I've read pages and pages of questions on AskMefi about dating, but please suffer this weary soul.

I'm 32, have never had a real boyfriend. I'm female. Mostly have had flings, 1-6 dates with many men, a few months at a time with a several guys, etc. I was definitely a late bloomer because of extreme lack of self-esteem. I recently experienced yet another family get together where I got to see that all three of my siblings have a significant other and I do not.

I was dating someone for about 6 weeks recently but it seems he's not interested anymore--I haven't heard from him in over a week. I was the one who made contact for the previous couple of dates, during which he seemed a bit cagey (but not cagey enough to be shy about initiating sex), so I wanted to leave it up to him to set up the next date. I have to admit that we probably weren't the best match regardless.

I got attached enough to him that this is smarting right now and I'm having lovely thoughts like "What's wrong with me," "Why doesn't anyone like me?" blah blah blah.

On the other hand, I have had 3 dates concurrently with another guy who I've realized I'm just not that attracted to, though he seems to be really interested in pursuing things with me. This makes me wonder...maybe it's just a matter of waiting it out until I find someone who digs me as much as I dig them?

So anyhow, my questions is, if any of you see my current reality as your former reality and you are now happily in a great relationship, what do you think allowed the latter to happen?

And yes, I have Intimate Connections and will re-read and do the exercises again!
posted by oceanview to Human Relations (26 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Sent a little message to your MeFi Mail, oceanview.
posted by nathaole at 10:51 PM on October 15, 2011

Yeah, I see your current reality as my former reality, albeit I'm a guy.

I don't think anything changed to allow me to meet my awesome wife. To a certain extent, I think dating is a numbers game. You gotta keep at it, slogging through all those awful, mediocre and perhaps even good dates to find that one awesome one.

Once you find that one aesome one, I think making it work is one part 'chemistry' and one part 'doing things right to make it work'. The former is obviously sexual energy, your personalities clicking and so on. The latter is approaching your relationship as an adult, realising communication is important, not letting yourselves get hung up over the small stuff and also, for people like you and me who had/have low self esteem, doing whatever it takes to not poison your relationship by constantly questioning "why does this person have any interest in me at all?"

If anything changed at all, I'd say it's the experiece of all my prior relationships, both good and bad, coming together to try and ensure I not make the same mistakes in this one. Applying the good, trying to leave out the bad, leaving me with a pretty good experience all up.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:52 PM on October 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

This makes me wonder...maybe it's just a matter of waiting it out until I find someone who digs me as much as I dig them?

This. You answered your own question. Can't say I've exactly been where you've been, so I can't answer your question exactly, but there's are a few things that stand out here.

There's a slight sense in your post that you're looking for a relationship (see the family gathering comment of yours) and see it as something you ought to have by now rather than just being open to having a relationship with the right person.

Being aware of these tendencies will make it easier to find that person (or people- there's more than one person out there that you'll be able to have a meaningful relationship with).

The short answer: don't sweat it. Working on being comfortable with yourself, and not worrying so much about being in a relationship will, perversely, make finding the right person quite a bit easier. I know it's hard to be on your own sometimes, especially when everyone else seems to be coupled up, but it will happen for you. Really it will.
posted by Chairboy at 10:53 PM on October 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Personally I don't think there are any exercises for love. No book to show the way. And, alas, no answers. All I see is that love is a state of being that lies far from the control of the conscious mind. If I was religious I would call it a state of grace. You do not achieve it, it does not come because you 'deserve' it.

Love yourself, be open to love, and do not be afraid - none of those will make love come your way, but they do seem to improve life quite considerably.
posted by nickji at 10:58 PM on October 15, 2011 [14 favorites]

I was totally where you're at at 32. I did not make that awesome connection with someone until I was 36. We moved in together a year after that, and got married a year after that. He was a couple years older than me, so he was 38 when he met the right one (me). Mind you, I had a number of interesting relationships, some that lasted on and off for years, but it was never quite the right fit for longterm commitment. I, too, often wondered what was wrong with me? Why does it seem to work out for everyone else? What am I doing wrong? The last couple of people I dated before meeting Mr. amusebuche were guys who seemed to "tick off all the boxes" on paper, but who I ultimately could not really click with. They were lovely guys, so I assumed that there must be something wrong with me. But I'm glad I didn't settle for a relationship that was just OK.

I don't know what the algorithm is that allows people to meet when they do. I definitely believe that there are many people out there who are good potential fits for everyone. It's a bit of luck that you cross paths, combined with timing so that you are both in a place to be open and accepting of the other person. But maybe it doesn't happen until you are 40 or 50 or 60. I think we all have many more near-misses than we realise, ships passing in the night sort of thing. I also have friends who endured a bad first marriage, only to find the person they considered to be their "real" mate at midlife.

I do think something shifted in my mid-30's, once I began to accept that I may be destined to remain single. Once I started to visualise a life that did not include a partner or spouse, and felt OK about that, I think it allowed me to move beyond the sense of desperation that hung over all of my dating encounters. It also allowed me to open myself to the possibility of meeting different people in unexpected places-- people who I wasn't constantly assessing for their "match" material. FWIW, one of my colleagues who is a Harvard-educated academic met her writer husband in her late 40's while standing in line at Taco Bell. I guess the lesson is that there are no rules or certainty for where or when you will meet the right person. Persistence seems to be the main driver.
posted by amusebuche at 12:31 AM on October 16, 2011 [20 favorites]

First, "a few months" is a real boyfriend. I'm not sure what else you're using the term to mean, though it might help to know that it is such a broad term that a lot of people just mean "dated a guy for a while."

Second, comparing your singleness to others' partneredness is THE WORST STANDARD IN THE WORLD (and extra pernicious when it's your siblings). You have no idea what goes on in others' relationships, whether they're happy or miserable or (worst yet) abused. Having a steady boyfriend or a spouse does not mean one has a GOOD boyfriend or spouse. It does not mean people are in love (people marry for insurance, social status, money, inertia, filial piety ...). It just means they are married.

My friend whose wedding I presided over when she was 38 just took a while to find the right person. After a while she just focused on having a happy and fulfilling life -- which doesn't require a partner -- and went on dates if she met someone interesting but didn't spend a lot of energy on it. When she met the right guy, she knew herself well enough to know fairly quickly. She also knew she wanted to be a mother -- with or without a partner -- so while she was single she decided to become a mother as a foster parent (though of course you can do it the traditional way too). Being partnered is really just being partnered and not a prerequisite for other great things on life.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:33 AM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Don't think of it as being unlucky in love. Think of it as being lucky that you didn't rope yourself early on to someone who wasn't right for you in the long term, and remaining free to find somebody who is right for you instead.

Also seconding Eyebrows' comment about comparisons. This is a bad idea, and will only lead to a love life version of keeping up with the Joneses. I hope you can see how that's really not very fulfilling.
posted by fearnothing at 3:19 AM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I often recommend "The Luck Factor" by Richard Wiseman.
posted by tel3path at 3:20 AM on October 16, 2011

Yes, luck can change. And so can you.

I was 37 when I met my partner, and had a fluky, flaky relationship life before that. I had decided, though, at 36 that I was really ready for and interested in a long-term relationship, and had been looking seriously for a while - online dating, getting set up, etc.

One thing that I determined in that process was that I really was looking for an actual LTR relationship, probably one with the potential to lead to life partnership. Admitting that to yourself, if it's something you want, is good and OK. It's a completely realistic goal. It's also more than good and OK to let others know that's what you're interested in. Like it or not, a lot of people in their 30s, men maybe more than women because there's no biological clock factor, are not necessarily interested in a LTR. Some are delayed in maturing, some are coming off a divorce or other big relationship and want to be sowing oats, some may never partner up - but they're in the dating pool, and if you're clear about what you want and what they want, it helps to weed each other out.

At the same time, oddly, like amusebuche above, I was really happy with my life and was pretty much OK with what it might be like if I didn't find a partner. I no longer felt that living partnered would be the only key to happiness n life and that I was worthless without it. I really enjoyed the things I was doing, my friend network, my projects and freedom. But I reached a sort of equilibrium with the partnership question, where even if it ultimately didn't work I wanted to give it an honest try. I realized I'd always been the passive participant in my relationship life, and decided I needed to act like a person for whom a good relationship was a priority, take the reins, and move things along, but that if nothing worked out, I still had a pretty awesome life. The transition was from one of being passive and reactive about my relationship life, to being active and engaged about it. I think this is the most important thing if you are insecure about relationships - you really don't have to just pick up the crumbs and accept what falls to you. It's your life, and you can get into the driver's seat.

Though I ended up meeting my partner before I enacted this next stratagem, after the last fizzled relationship I had before that I determined that I wasn't going to get right into having sex with the next person I dated before they indicated interest in a longer-term relationship based on a broader foundation. It did seem to be a little bit of a mire that I kept getting into - dating people that I had more romantic hopes for, but who really didn't see me as a long-term partner, but at the same time were content enough to carry on having sex with me for longer than they should have because, hey, why not. And all the while I was getting further out of touch which how much this kind of relationship had (not) progressed. My next move was going to be getting better at recognizing this effect that early sex has, of confusing the dimensions of how much is going on emotionally, and not getting into sex until it seemed like there was more to pursue. I actually didn't have to act on that decision because my next relationship that began when I was 37 has been a strong, long-term and happy one. But it's something to consider. If you find a new love interest isn't going anywhere, it's much easier and quicker to get out of if there's no fringe benefit anyone's hanging on for, and no hope on your part that it's about to turn into more.
posted by Miko at 5:05 AM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

I was definitely a late bloomer because of extreme lack of self-esteem. I recently experienced yet another family get together where I got to see that all three of my siblings have a significant other and I do not.

It sounds like maybe you still have pretty low self-esteem. One thing I have realized is that we all have a significant role in creating our own reality. If you believe you are less valuable than your siblings or that nobody likes you or that you're willing to actively pursue someone who is cagey about seeing you even though you know you aren't really a good match ... then you will broadcast those sentiments to everyone around you, and they will treat you accordingly. Lifelong cycle ensues.

On the other hand, I have had 3 dates concurrently with another guy who I've realized I'm just not that attracted to, though he seems to be really interested in pursuing things with me.

This could be part of the same pattern. If someone is genuinely interested in you, then there must be something wrong with him, because it doesn't fit in with your view of yourself.
posted by headnsouth at 5:30 AM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I figured out what characteristics I want to find in that person. Not physique or salary type stuff. I mean someone who's playful like I am, either artistically inclined or sympathetic to artsy stuff, confident, loves his life, is physically affectionate, articulate, trusting, and some other things that I realized--nearing age 40 and after a divorce from someone who was a great guy but ultimately did not have characteristics that matter to me--are the core of what attracts me to another person.

Since I was recently divorced and because of a lot of other circumstances, I found myself alone a lot during this crossroads, so I concentrated on making my life awesome. I went to the gym a lot. I said "yes" to just about every social invitation, and I took artistic risks. I felt great about myself, but I've never had other than situational low self-esteem.

And then I got lucky. Because the imaginary person I described in my online dating profile actually saw my profile and decided I was exactly what he was looking for. (And he'd similarly gone through a recent exercise after realizing that he'd only ever dated people based on convenience/circumstance, not on what he was actually attracted to/looking for.)

So I'd say it was a combination of deciding what I would and would not accept and taking action to find someone, making my own life more rewarding and fun, and pure dumb luck.

P.S. I still do believe dating is largely a numbers game, and that there is no one person for everyone. But I also believe in having a healthy attitude toward holding out for that spark, and that if you feel like you're settling for something, then you are.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:09 AM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

I just sent this article [] to my friend.... you might dig it as well.
posted by ph00dz at 7:08 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was dating someone for about 6 weeks recently but it seems he's not interested anymore--I haven't heard from him in over a week. I was the one who made contact for the previous couple of dates, during which he seemed a bit cagey (but not cagey enough to be shy about initiating sex), so I wanted to leave it up to him to set up the next date. I have to admit that we probably weren't the best match regardless.

I think part of it is learning to conserve your energy. Usually the warning signs are visible at the very beginning; if you can see that "we probably weren't the best match regardless," then bailing early is a lot better than spending six weeks sleeping with a guy who isn't going to work. Looking back, I know I spent a lot of time and mental energy on people who were giving every sign of failure; spending that time and energy on them meant I didn't have it to spend on myself or on finding someone better.

I know I've said this here before, but there are only very rare exceptions to the rule that the way you are treated at the beginning of a relationship represents the person on their best behavior; that's generally going to get worse, not better, by waiting. Part of respecting and loving yourself is setting your criteria high, and not being with someone who doesn't treat you as well as you deserve to be treated.
posted by Forktine at 7:20 AM on October 16, 2011 [16 favorites]

"So anyhow, my questions is, if any of you see my current reality as your former reality ... "

In college, I had one date, which didn't lead to anything more.
At age 23, I had my first girlfriend. That relationship lasted about 2 or 3 months before she dumped me.
At age 27, I got laid for the first time. I started an on-again-off-again relationship with a friend who wasn't having luck with romance either. Neither of us saw the other as a long term partner, but we were there for each other on those lonely Friday nights.
Along the way, I had a few single dates that didn't lead to anything and a couple of flings that lasted a couple of months.

"... and you are now happily in a great relationship, what do you think allowed the latter to happen?"

At age 35, I met the woman I would eventually marry. The chemistry was immediate, but I took the time to work out some issues and let the relationship develop before I was ready to make a lifelong commitment. We got married a couple of months after my 40th birthday. 7 years later, we are still very happy together.

As far as what allowed this to eventually happen ...

1) I worked on developing my general social skills.
2) The short term relationships I did have taught me a lot about what I needed out of a relationship and what I might be able to bring to a relationship.
3) Time, numbers, and luck. I made friends with a lot of people. Whenever one of those people was attractive, available, and seemed potentially compatible I took the chance to see whether she would be interested in romance. Eventually that paid off.
posted by tdismukes at 7:34 AM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Hmmm... my attitude changed, without my realizing it had, and then I met my life partner a month later.

Seriously: I had had some flings but whenever I daydreamed of a serious relationship or marriage it would end up in drama because subconsciously I thought that relationships were a conduit for hurt, disappointment and heartbreak. The combination of my parents' marriage and my extreme sensitivity saw me shy away from anything that had the potential to be a relationship. I was very uncomfortable when anyone even brought up the idea of my having a boyfriend.

Then several hook-ups later I was in my twenties and attending the wedding of 2 good friends. Nothing lavish there, just 2 people who loved one another in a judge's chamber surrounded by a maximum of 20 friends and family. It was over in 20 minutes, we made our way back to her parents' place where her aunts had prepared a great spread of hors d'oeuvres. We stood around reminiscing about good times, telling funny stories about the bride and groom; it was about 5:30pm, I was driving and had not even drunk a full glass of wine.

But at some point I was standing by myself, taking it all in, and then choked up when I realized the organic and unadulterated beauty of 2 people committing to spend their lives together, to grow old with one another. My face started glowing, my eyes welled up with tears and I suddenly felt this euphoric rush of happiness for my friends. It was a completely intoxicating feeling, so much so that the groom noticed that I was flushed and teased me about having to much to drink. Looking back I think that's the closest I've come to experiencing a "zen" moment, whatever that means. But it was like a lightbulb went off in my head and I finally understood why love makes the world go round.

A month later I was on a personal interest course and noticed my husband. I found him very attractive, so started plotting to hook up for a one night stand. Little did I know he had a different idea. We went out for a drink a week later; consummated our relationship 2 months later; and 2 months after that committed to spending our lives together. That was 16 years ago and I truly don't believe I was ready for love before my moment of enlightenment at my friends' wedding reception.

I realize that this is not an answer that you can apply directly to your own life. I guess it's more to say that things come suitable to their time. Love in particular. Deep down inside I did want to meet someone but never thought I could make it work. Somehow, for some reason, sharing in my friends' happiness did something to change that thinking. Go figure.

As for the practical reality of how to meet someone, all I can say is that for myself, my sister (at age 36), my friend (at age 35)... it all happened in the course of pursuing our own lives and interests. Somehow in each of these cases we finally just tripped over the guy while we were busy doing something else!
posted by braemar at 7:54 AM on October 16, 2011 [13 favorites]

Here's what changed for me: I got myself into therapy and therefore out of some destructive patterns I kept repeating in relationships. I'm convinced that it wasn't a coincidence that around the time I learned to set boundaries and be clear about my needs, my on-again-off-again relationship with a wonderful man changed to officially "on," and has been ever since.
posted by corey flood at 8:39 AM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, first and foremost my advice would be: STOP giving them easy sex! Second would be: stop dating guys after easy sex! My rule of thumb is no sex before 3 months. It drove my long term GF kinda nuts, but she agreed it was for the best and gave her very good ideas of my intentions :)

Do you meet all your guys in the same places? (Stop going to bars for date hunting? :) )

Maybe ask some of your closer friends to critique your dating techniques (And don't panic/react bad when they are honest)

For the work on you: Do you like yourself? Do you love yourself? How can you expect other people to love you if you don't? If you love yourself, aren't you worth good things? Then shouldn't you insist the guys you date live up to your standards?

Above all, Don't Panic. If you do it right (and possibly even if you don't) it will come. But, steering the ship is better than drifting into icebergs.
posted by Jacen at 9:08 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I really believe that even if you find someone (or think you find someone), if you don't love yourself, that relationship will be based on the wrong things. Your partner will not and should not do the job you have to do yourself when it comes to loving that person inside of you. So I guess at the end of the day it's not about finding someone who likes you, it's about how much you like yourself. The rest will come.
posted by emphatic at 9:22 AM on October 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

What changed? ME.

First, I worked my balls off shedding that shitty self-esteem. I realized I must treat myself as if I was a friend. (Really, imagine that).

That meant forgiving myself for all the bullshit I had put myself through thus far, that meant nixing the constant loop of "not good enough", that meant caring more about myself, and loving myself, MORE than I loved the other person, so if they weren't good for me, or the relationship just wasn't up to a decent standard of happiness, I could let them go and move on if it wasn't right.

I deserved that much. I deserved to NOT suffer in a shitty relationship, where disappointment is a daily thing. (Or, continue to date someone, when it was CLEAR it wasn't a great match or even a good one.)

I decided on characteristics in a person and a relationship that were important to me, and I kept dating until I found a person with those characteristics and more. I don't even know what that disappointment looks like, anymore. I certainly do remember what it feels like. Never again. I'm all done with that.

I dare say, having no boyfriend at all would have been preferable to some of the shit I have endured in the name of "love".

Love YOURSELF, oceanview. Don't waste your precious, precious time on cagey guy, don't waste it on inattentive guy, don't waste it on angry guy, drunk guy, abusive guy, immature guy, waste of time guys. Not just what they do, but what they DON'T do.

A numbers game is right. I would advise you to do your thing, go about your business, set your standard for what you want, and continue to work on your self esteem. As a former member of that club,(and having relationships with other members) I can tell you, being "with" someone with low self esteem is horrible in its own ways. If you do set high standards (ie being treated well), you should bring good stuff to the table, as well. I seriously could write a book about that.

Work on you, present your best self. You just do you.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 11:28 AM on October 16, 2011 [16 favorites]

I am a happily married man who met the love of my life when I was 34 and married her when I was 36. She is 2 years younger. The role of luck in these things is very large; you should do whatever you can to increase it. Yeah, it's in part a numbers game. This means: increase your numbers.
posted by Mr. Justice at 1:43 PM on October 16, 2011

Miko said a lot of what I would have said :) I am 34 and finally in a great relationship after lots of on-line dating and such. Two things I found, in hindsight, that made a huge difference:

- As Miko said, I had accepted my life as it was. Yes, I did still want the whole relationship thing, but I had accepted that if it didn't happen (or didn't happen now) life would go on and I had good friends and constructive hobbies. Actually, one of the things that my present partner finds attractive is that I do have a life and personality and interests outside of him. He has had other relationships that broke down because the women were very helpless and clingy. He likes that I have a job and I have interests and I can look after myself, and that---while I do obviously enjoy being with him---he can go off to the baseball game for the day with his dad and I won't wither and pine away for him while he's gone.

- I also think that resolving to go out there and have a life regardless did in some odd way make me more attractive and send out the right signals to the universe that I was ready for somebody proper to come my way. That's not a great way of explaining it. But to give you an example, I signed up for a class I wanted to take. My goal was to learn something interesting and just get out of the house and be around people. I didn't mean the guy there. But I think that the fact that I *was* going out and being around people sent out the right energy so that when I did meet him, he found me confident and attractive and interesting. I was being proactive and taking steps; those steps did not lead in a direct path to him, but I think they were part of the process.
posted by JoannaC at 2:23 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

This makes me wonder...maybe it's just a matter of waiting it out until I find someone who digs me as much as I dig them?


I was you when I was 32 (it rhymes!) except I was even less experienced. When I was 33 1/2 I met and then married the mister just before I turned 34. I wasn't looking for anyone; I had, mostly, settled for being single. But I bought a computer and popped into a chat room and we're still together almost 12 years later.

I don't know that I changed, per se, but it was so much easier to get comfortable with him (and other people; I was extremely shy and chatting in a chat room really helped - now I'm just shy) because we weren't face-to-face. Also, my self-esteem was low then and it's still low now, so that definitely was not a factor. (I'm still amazed that I managed to marry such a wonderful person.)
posted by deborah at 6:51 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Amy Spencer wrote a book addressing this very issue. It's a bit cheesy, but in a good way, and has lots of very sensible advice.
posted by M. at 8:17 AM on October 17, 2011

I do think something shifted in my mid-30's, once I began to accept that I may be destined to remain single. Once I started to visualise a life that did not include a partner or spouse, and felt OK about that, I think it allowed me to move beyond the sense of desperation that hung over all of my dating encounters.

This. My only difference was that I didn't come around until I was 40, mainly because I bounced around from one not-quite-right LTR to the next between the ages of 25 and 38, without ever stopping to really work on "me stuff" or do any worthwhile introspection about what was going on. For a long time I internalized that awful message that mainstream society tends to portray that I was only worthwhile if I was "taken".

When I finally took a break to work on "me stuff" and just decided that I just didn't care anymore, and wasn't about to embark on another 2-5 years of "making it work" with a side of ho-hum sex, well of course then was when my (now) husband and I hit it off. Statistical datapoint: we'd actually known each other as friends and teammates on my cycling team for several years prior to dating. Because I was in such a (for lack of better term) Mindset about finding The Right Guy, I'd never considered him a potential partner.

Not everyone has these issues, and many people aren't such late bloomers as I am. But I have to admit that in my case, that snarky saying about the common denominator in all my failed prior relationships being me is absolutely spot on.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:19 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why are your keys always in the last place you look?

Or, to put it another way, all relationships fail until one doesn't. This is true whether you're a precocious dater or a late bloomer, whether you date one person a year or 25. Rejection and disappointment hurt, but they're also just sort of par for the course, until one day they're not.

It is absolutely true that working on yourself and getting to know yourself helps your chances finding someone compatible with you, because you know the you to find compatibility with. There are things you can do to increase your chances of finding someone special and who's likely to care about you, and you have a lot of good advice here. But if and when stuff doesn't work out, as it often doesn't, keep in mind that you just haven't found your keys yet.
posted by Errant at 4:08 PM on October 17, 2011 [9 favorites]

I was totally remiss in not mentioning that I was in therapy, too, at the time I was going through this transition about the way I think about relationships. So it's not that I woke up one day with new ideas magically in my head - I got some excellent help understanding myself, seeing some of the errors in thinking I had been habitually making, and broadening the ways I had been used to thinking about relationships. It was actually a huge help, and it's kind of funny that here I am glibly forgetting to mention it, as if I just got better at figuring things out all on my own because I just decided to. not quite.
posted by Miko at 11:13 AM on October 18, 2011

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