Where are all the good guys?
July 14, 2012 7:23 AM   Subscribe

I have started to realize that I am attracted to men who are "bad boys", men who don't have their shit together, who give off a cool vibe, but their lives are just falling apart. The relationships I develop with these men are not healthy, and usually benefit the men with complete disregard of my feelings and emotions. I also noticed that the worse they treat me the more I want to be with them. I realize that this is bad and that I should stop but I keep coming back these men. What can I do to stop this?

The men are the complete opposite of me: disorganized, no career, generally they tend to be broke, they drink a lot / abuse drugs, are late to everything, are flakey, messy. I'm nothing like that: I don't really drink, I don't do drugs, I have a career and make a lot more money than most people my age (so I tend to pay for their food/alcohol when I am with them), I am extremely organized/clean and am never late. I take care of my health, hygiene and my life.

Here's the relationship I'm involved with now: The guy asked me out. We had a wonderful date. I guess he decided I was awesome to sleep with, but he has no interest in my personality. He then started texting me and being very mysterious on a daily basis (making me very interested in him). We started sleeping together. The more we sleep the less shit he gives about me and the more mysterious he is (which keeps me interested and on edge at all times). I crave his approval/need for me. In the mean time he is also making a ton of public comments about being single/wanting a girlfriend (which I hear when we hang out in our group of friends, and see on his Facebook - he posts a LOT about girls/wanting a girlfriend, hot chicks he sees on the streets during the day). What he will do is tell me he hates his life, and that he's depressed, but he says that he will not talk about it. So I worry and worry and he just doesn't give a shit and gets annoyed at me when I tell him I worry, as he continues to tell me about how much his life sucks. He will not compromise for me (comes over, tells me he will spend the night, then gets a text at midnight and leaves), he will not do anything special for me (except cook for me with the food that I buy and please me sexually). We also have a common hobby that brought us together in the first place, and spend time with the same people in a very tight community in our city. The other thing I want to point out is that I am miserable with him in the sense that all the interaction I need to have with him outside of us being alone together is emotionally exhausting. Having to see what he posts on Facebook can really upset me sometimes. And finally just hanging out in a group together and him not acknowledging my existence sometimes can get tiring too. But when it's just us two, alone, usually at my place, I have a great time with him. He also claims that I'm uptight, and that my life isn't as exciting as his because I have it all figured out, and I don't party enough or do enough drugs/alcohol and I won't have awesome stories to tell my kids one day.

The guy I was dating before him was similar: no career, broke, did a ton of drugs (in front of me too, and didn't care that it bothered me), drank way too much, treated me like shit (he did stuff like completely ignore me when I came over until he decided it was ok to acknowledge that I was there). I dated him (he actually called me his girlfriend) for 3 months until he ignored me for a week and then I finally ended up calling him from a different number to ask him if that was his way of breaking up with me. He was also completely inconsiderate towards me , aggressive (lashed out at me if I cleaned something the wrong way) and gave no shit about my feelings (one example: I ALWAYS had to drive over to his place because my place was "shitty" and my room "sucked", and he would say these things to my face. I drove him around and got no thank you's, I would cook and clean for him and he would never acknowledge that either). The thing is, he broke up with ME! I didn't even enjoy being with him, I complained to my friends all the time, I was MISERABLE, and yet I didn't break up with him.

I guess I could go on because I have more examples of these relationships that I get involved in. Generally there's one or two redeeming qualities about these men, usually it's that they are smart and involved in a hobby I'm interested in and are really good at it (just as an example - let's say the hobby is hockey and I just got into it, these men have been doing it and are really good at it and help me out with it).

The problem is that I'll go on dates with more well adjusted guys and they don't interest me at all. They're kind of boring and I'm not attracted to them. And I'm just so desperate to be with someone that when the guys I do find attractive (these "bad boys") show a tiny bit of interest I act crazy, I will do anything for them, and I guess that's also a big turn off (which is why I think they lose interest in me but continue on sleeping with me).

So obviously I'm aware that this is a problem and that I need to stop letting these men take advantage of me and abuse me emotionally (because sometimes I feel like that's what they're doing). So why am I finding it so hard to stop? Why am I only attracted to these men who are complete failures? I'm female and in my early 20s, and these guys all tend to be older than me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not usually a fan of the genre but I loved this book. You may find it interesting, if not useful.
posted by kcm at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2012

There is absolutely no guarantee that once you have a full understanding of the dynamics and get all your "why" questions answered you will stop this destructive behavior. It will stop when you stop doing it and behave in your own enlightened self interest. It is usually only by behaving responsibly that your confidence in managing things in your own self interest will develop. it would seem that therapy is indicated--not to better understand why you do these things, but to teach, lead and support you in stopping and developing alternative strategies. Really, you need to stop this, step away, thrash around in anxiety and self doubt while stopping and get support for moving in more adaptive ways. Absolutely the first and initial step is to stop this--if you want to analyze this do it after you have already moved in a different direction. I wish you the best because if you keep this up you are going to be one unhappy person. In case I have overlooked mentioning it--stop. Then work on understanding. People do not stop drinking because they understand why they drink--understanding may help support sobriety but it does not lead to it.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:50 AM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Set boundaries for what you want. Think about your ideal partner, which will change, and then compare that list to who you date. From what you'd said above, I'd dump them as soon as possible. I couldn't tolerate that behavior, and you should know that you are much more valuable than the attention you seem to be getting here.

Work on yourself, the attention you're getting seems to be holding you back from finding what you want. Realize that your SO shouldn't be a project or your source of validation. I've had some heartache recently, but it forced me to recognize this. You are your own source of value and validation, there's no reason to seek that from the people you are.
posted by neveroddoreven at 7:54 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Talk to a good therapist about your relationship with your father.
posted by nicwolff at 8:02 AM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Listen to the little voice that's telling you that this is not the way healthy, loving, mutually respectful relationships work. Because it isn't. You're worth more than the way you're being treated; setting different boundaries and sticking to them is a way of reminding yourself that you are worth more than this. Don't settle because it's temporarily fun, or because you think that bad boys confer a different, more daring sense of self on you. Figure out the self first, and the relationship horizons will broaden.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:03 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's something I realized recently. I am generally attracted to a different type of Bad Pony -- not the "douchebag" or "alpha jerk" variety, but the "insane" or "brooding" type.

What Bad Ponies have in common is that, either intentionally or subconsciously, they convince the woman that they do not need her. Because of poor installation and bad wiring of the psyche in our earlier years -- I suffer from it, and I suppose you do too -- we confuse a man's indifference and cruelty for strength and independence. This is what our traitorous inner selves find so attractive. (Many men have this complex, too, of course.)

Naturally, I am just pulling this out of my head, but I have had a hell of a lot of problems of this kind in my head, so you can take it for what it is worth. Look at a prospective guy and ask yourself: What is strong about this man?
posted by Countess Elena at 8:40 AM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

Hopefully you are still fairly young and can change your behavior now. I have a friend in her 60s who has never gotten off of this treadmill of awful relationships with men her friends see as disasters after one meeting, but it takes her years and much abuse to see it every time. Her own daughter and son and law are totally fed up with this aspect of her life, even though otherwise she is a kind, lovely, generous, talented and beautiful woman. She is even now involved with shady mysterious semi-employed bum number 1000 whose previous wives and partners "just didn't understand him." It is horrible and frustrating for those of us who care about her to watch unfold one more time.

Take the good advice of others here and stop acting this way now, even if it feels bad at first. Change your behavior, ditch the bum, and analyze it later. A good therapist you are willing to listen to and work with to change your behavior could help, but it is up to you to want to do it and stick with it. You could have a whole wonderful relationship and life with a normal, respectful and loving partner waiting for you, but you have to want it and do the work on yourself to get there.
posted by mermayd at 8:50 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Talk to a therapist about why you do this. It may be because of your relationship with your mother, not your father, but someone in your life taught you that it was important to get affection from people who were withholding, and that affection freely given was boring.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:07 AM on July 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

Also read about Harry Harlow's primate experiments. I think that that and the book Facing Codependence were the two most useful things in getting me out of the cycle of craving approval from shitheads.

My mum, for many reasons including some that were beyond her control (chronic illness), ran hot and cold like whoa. This fucked my little child mind up just like Harry Harlow's little monkeys that sometimes got milk and snuggles and sometimes electric shocks. It is not difficult to find partners of any gender who will replicate that feeling of emotional whiplash when you grow up.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:12 AM on July 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm not a therapist, but it seems to me like you have unacknowledged feelings of self-hatred that you are trying to externalize by dating men whose criticisms and negative opinions of you mirror your own internal monologue, and thus your escalating attempts to "win their approval" are really an attempt to silence your own inner critic.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:36 AM on July 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

I am reluctant to play the "see a therapist" card, but…see a therapist.

I've seen this dynamic play out before—a female friend dating guys who are bad for her in more or less this way. In the end it's because the friend had some deep-seated shit to work out. A therapist should be able to help you do that faster than if you just stumble along until you have a "Eureka!" moment.
posted by adamrice at 9:52 AM on July 14, 2012

I think it's important to realize that no one will ever love you like you need to love YOURSELF. If you (we) don't figure out how to treat ourselves with love and compassion, and a real CARE for our own happiness, how the hell will we ever find someone who treats us with the care and compassion we need? Treat yourself at LEAST as well as you'd treat your best friend. You'd be pissed (I hope) if your best friend was twisting in the breeze for some jerk. Be your own best friend here in this situation and always.

These people who are users and abusers see sweet, forgiving, overly understanding people with visibly low self-esteem as easy targets. I can get away with treating you like shit, and you'll deal with it. In fact, you'll come back for more. You might as well hang a sign on your forehead that says "kick me, I like it". They are getting their fucking jollies from making you miserable, because they can. Nice guys worth a damn don't do that.

You think that THEY are the poor, wounded birds who need extra care and understanding? BULLSHIT. YOU need extra care and understanding, from YOURSELF. No one else can make you snap out of this self-destruction. YOU have to come to the realization that you are worth all the time and attention and care in the world, from YOURSELF first.

What are any of these men doing for you that you couldn't do for yourself? How much is your dignity worth? Isn't being alone a thousand times better than feeling disappointed at every turn? Isn't being alone a thousand times better than feeling disregarded? It's hard to break these self-destructive patterns, but hard is not impossible. You just have to hit your limit of shit you will tolerate. I highly recommend you decide once and for all that "bad boys" are nothing but BOYS. Selfish, immature, user BOYS.

Let it go, Anon. Let yourself off the hook of feeling like you somehow deserve it. You don't. Those times in the past when you tolerated such nonsense and lack of proper care were in the past. A shitty chapter, but one you learned from. Close this chapter out. We'll call this Chapter "The Era of Shitty Boyfriends." It's closed. In the future, the next chapter will be something along the lines of "The Era of Anonymous Caring about Herself Finally and setting her expectations much higher".

Ha, I could write a novel about this, but I won't. You can do it, I have faith in you.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 9:52 AM on July 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

Very young guys with their acts together can be very boring. Success is about prudent risk-taking and when you're in your early 20s your life story is going to be very heavy on the prudence and light on the risk.

Try dating a 30-year old surgeon or investment banker. They'll be a lot more interesting than the 24 year old versions, and if there's a part of you that sees being smothered by affectionate attention as off-puttingly beta-maleish, well they work 80 hour weeks and so won't be able to do that.
posted by MattD at 10:08 AM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

And I'm just so desperate to be with someone that when the guys I do find attractive (these "bad boys") show a tiny bit of interest I act crazy, I will do anything for them, and I guess that's also a big turn off (which is why I think they lose interest in me but continue on sleeping with me).

Oh lordy, do I know all about this. Be sure and send your dad a nice Father's Day card because this is his gift to you.

Everyone wants to be loved. Some of us grew up in situations where we were taught that the love we wanted to receive was conditional. Childhood should be the time where you can count on unconditional love - not getting that turns every future relationship into a transaction. We think if we just do the right thing, we will receive that love we crave. It's conditioning, and it invades our psyches and poisons our feelings of self worth.

You should be very proud of yourself that you've recognized what's going on. So many people spend their entire lives without realizing how sick their need for love has made them. I whole-heartedly join the chorus that's recommending therapy. I also highly recommend that you stay single until you can get a handle on this. As it is, you're setting yourself up to be abused again and again, and this abuse will damage you in ways you can't even imagine. Stop now, get help, and learn to provide the love you need to yourself before you look for it in someone else. Big hugs to you.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:10 AM on July 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

1. Therapy.
2. Lots of work, applying what you learn about yourself in therapy.
3. A resolution to never go on a second date again (nor bed down with) anyone who MIGHT be in your bad-boy type.
4. Explore BDSM with a trusted, NON-bad-boy lover (or even just your fantasies). I've found roleplay can exploit some of the sexual/romantic triggers in me that emotionally abusive women tend to also trigger. But when it's with a trustworthy, thoughtful partner... it's safe.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:03 AM on July 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Okay, well your problem doesn't seem to be that you don't know what is wrong with these relationships (no, autocorrect, I didn't mean "relearn tonsils", thanks) because you know in precise detail what is wrong with them. You seem to be saying that you know better but are choosing to ignore what you know.

A lot of success or failure at anything comes down to that, really.

If you want a method for heading these relationships off at the pass, I recommend "Why Men Love Bitches", which MeFi strongly disapproves of because it's written for a female audience in a popular style which contains sexism. So if you can't stomach that, read "Intimate Connections" which more or less says the same things and is pretty much one of MeFi's recommended texts. I think the former is actually better for instantly usable techniques, but, de gustibus ain't what dey used to be.

The reason why you're ignoring what you know, though, is that pursuing bad boys is rewarding to you, but at a high cost. You tried some non-bad boys but found them boring.
Well, for one thing, and I bet you already know this, is that the bad boy behaviour is a kind of reward/punishment intermittency cycle that has you texting and jumping through hoops with the desperation of a pigeon pecking a lever in a Skinner box. It's operant conditioning, but the emotions are induced rather than natural.

It might help to focus on the thought that a) the "reward" is getting high on fake emotions and is more like a drug euphoria than anything real, and you know this anyway, and b) the reward/punishment intermittency cycle is actually more of a constant punishment/punishment cycle because the rewards aren't real - they're just there to trick you into accepting more punishment.

Another thing people in your situation are often told is that they should avoid people who seem "shiny" to them. This part is actually good advice. You just know when someone has that shine, right? You know. And there are people who are charismatic but don't have that same shine. You know that too. The other half of the advice, though, is to go for people who seem boring, that good relationships are boring, that you should immerse yourself in the mundane details of boring everyday boring boredom. NOOOOOO. I think that sends a very bad message. Good things are NOT boring, they are just rewarding in a more slow-burning way AND the prize doesn't get withheld at the end.

Let me explain this. In my early twenties I got sucked into a performance group with a very "shiny" leader, and it was pretty much a cult experience and of course I got devalued and discarded at the end having scarcely had a bite of the carrot that was dangled before me throughout. A year or two ago I signed up for a similar performance group, and early in the work I saw, in the mirrors, someone coming into the room and rehearsing someone else at the back. And I thought, holy shit, it's $CULT_LEADER. She's part of this group. I never expected to see her again. I think she saw me staring at her via the mirror because I got a nod of acknowledgement. Well, then that session ended and we started the next part of the rehearsal and I got a closer look, and it wasn't $CULT_LEADER at all. It was the same person who had led the last session, but she'd had her hair up in a head wrap. With her hair down, from a distance, she just looked exactly like $CULT_LEADER (who was very distinctive looking).

Well, this time around, we did some terrific work and had a very successful conclusion with a devised piece that was exactly the kind of thing, in every detail, that I'd craved to do for years. It couldn't have come out better if I'd fantasised the whole thing. The group leader, this time, shared my enthusiasm and was so pleased with the outcome and we probably will work together again sometime, but I look back on that as one of the happiest and most worthwhile projects I've ever done. But it didn't sink in how much fun it was until afterwards, and that was partly because my mind was still messed up by some Skinnerian jerk that had screwed with me in not wholly foreseeable (then) ways.

See what I mean? Evil Director and Good Director in the mirror. Evil Director wants you to think Good Director is somehow "boring", but it's actually Good Director who gives you what you want. The excitement ramps up gradually and the satisfaction is lasting.

To flog the analogy to death, if anyone had advised me to go for "boring" projects I wouldn't have picked that one, though it wasn't clear for a while that it actually was going to be exciting either. So, don't go for "boring" guys, but when you get one that doesn't induce catalepsy in you from the get-go, AND isn't getting you high on Skinnerian fauxcitement, give him some time. He could turn out to be more fun than you think.

It could be true that you're punishing yourself through others, but either way this is the kind of lesson you can only learn by doing. Try it and see how right it turns out to be.
posted by tel3path at 12:09 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've dated some guys like that. Before I ever tried drugs or alcohol I was very attracted to addicts. For one thing, I have a pattern of dating people I secretly want to be. One of my friends said just that, "Maybe instead of dating all those cowboys you should be a cowboy yourself." But also I think there is such a thing as second-hand substance abuse. Even when I decided I didn't want to be with guys who would drunk-dial me and forget they slept with me, I dated someone who was sober for years but still had that personality. I said to him, "You know, I think you have the personality of a drug dealer." He said, "Funny; my last girlfriend said that to me too." One day he said something truly horrible to me; I got out of his bed and went straight to a 12-step meeting. A week later I broke up with the guy by leaving a message on his phone. I now think he was using me they way he used to use drugs, for that control and ego fix. And I was using him right back.

If these guys are all substance abusers, maybe one AlAnon meeting?
posted by BibiRose at 12:42 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding rmhsinc on the importance of stopping the cycle now.

I went for the same type of "relationship" (glorified FWB, emphasis on the B) over and over again until eventually I just stopped because I was too angry and it hurt too much. I was sick and tired of being the bitch of guys like that. I put up with an amazing amount of low to high-level emotional abuse in that time, though. I stopped in my mid-30's; as some people say, you can get off the elevator any time you want to, and hopefully you'll get off sooner than I did.

BTW, I got rid of the last big asshole by responding to his once-yearly email with a Jesus-loves-you screed. Never heard from him again. So if you must respond to Current Asshole's contacts, give that a try. Better just not to respond at all, though.

I've been hearing good things about Why Love Hurts by Eva Illouz, for a sociological look at the phenomenon of cold/withholding men and "needy" women. BTW, I don't believe that all men are like that, but it's a pretty common problem.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:43 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Therapy is definitely good for this.

I had a similar, though not identical, pattern in my teens and twenties. A few things really helped me break out of it:

- I started trying to figure out what I was getting from these relationships. Because clearly, I was getting something or I wouldn't keep falling for these guys. For me, it was partly the challenge. I'm a pretty driven, goal-oriented person, and these guys gave me a "goal" (their affection) to go for. They also reassured me that I had my shit together, at least in comparison to them, something I was a bit self-conscious about. And finally, these guys are just fun. Until they are really, really not.

- Once I figured out what I was getting from them, I was able to start working on ways to get these things without the heartache (still working on that, but I figure it's a process).

- It's such a cliche, but look at your relationship with your parents. I resisted this for a long time because I come from a happy, healthy family. But your relationship with your parents really does teach you patterns for your relationships as an adult. I finally realized that my dad, while very loving and supportive, was also very blunt and could be critical. So my mind had made this connection in my mind that criticism=love. This is not a good connection to have if you want to build a loving partnership. So I had to sever it (which made me pretty pissed off at my dad for a few years, but that's another story!).

Good luck!
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 1:21 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

>There is absolutely no guarantee that once you have a full understanding of the dynamics and get all your "why" questions answered you will stop this destructive behavior.


Skip the "why" and focus on the "how". Once you find a new "how" that works for you, you'll probably understand "why" the new, more rewarding "how" is much more in line with your image of who you want to be.

More precisely, notice what happens, in terms of your feelings, when you compare one of your mental pictures of an Exciting Bad Boy with a Boring Nice Guy. You'll *probably* find that there are structural differences: the exciting picture will seem closer, or brighter, or have more color, or more movement.

Also, notice that your internal voice will probably be different, when you talk to yourself about these two guys-- one voice will sound excited or charged up, the other will sound dismayed or repelled.

After you do an inventory of the parameters, switch them. Deliberately think of Bad Boy while talking about him, to yourself, in a bored, slow, sluggish voice... and making your mental image of him ever more dull and faded and small; conversely, talk to yourself about Nice Guy with a purring, charged voice.

Do this for at least sixty seconds, without interruption.

Notice how you can allow your own feelings to evolve, in a direction that accords with your values.

And, yeah-- basic NLP.

>So why am I finding it so hard to stop?

Perhaps you've already begun the process of letting yourself stop this behavior, by posting this question. Maybe, by posting this question and actively gathering information about things you can now do differently, you've already started the process of letting yourself do something new.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:04 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

From personal experience, I would suggest that there is a strong relationship between your being so "perfect" -- organized, successful, on time, on budget, etc. -- and your taste in these men. This can be the result of a few things:

- Seeking love where it can't be found: Trying to get love by achieving unattainable perfection and trying to get love from unavailable people.

- Wanting to live a more free life: Living vicariously through these guys as they enjoy life, experiment with drugs, and generally have a good time.

- Wanting to give someone what you didn't have: Giving them the relaxation, support, unconditional love, etc. that you don't have and haven't yet given to yourself.

- Just being used to being around deadbeat guys: Maybe that's what you've seen through most of your life and you don't really get attracted to other guys.

- A few more, as listed above.

There are some excellent substitutes for this type of guy:

- Exciting guys who are NOT assholes. Echoing MattD above, look for 30-year-old bankers, surgeons, entrepreneurs, etc. They will be exciting but have less of a deadbeat asshole component. They will also appreciate your maturity level and youthful looks.

- BDSM relationships. A lot of the drama, less of the emotional fallout. Very fun.

- Nice guys with a bit of an asshole edge. You can find guys who are, for example, not deadbeats, won't ignore you, etc.... but who also are involved with a very rough, manly hobby, or who have a wicked sense of humor or who are really busy a lot of the time.

Best of luck, and feel free to memail.
posted by 3491again at 2:21 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

As you note, once you're in the trap where someone's respect is becoming increasingly more valuable to you because of it's increasing scarcity, you've already lost that round and it won't end well.

I think the key is to find someone who hits your buttons (in that they appear exciting) without the drawbacks that are normally associated with that package. There are people who have their shit together, and also lead something of a double life - do some of the bad boy things that draw your attention.

Here's something I learned and never really looked back since:

The exciting life of exciting crazy of the people you describe, actually pales next to the exciting life of exciting crazy of someone with a solid career that enables them to do stuff. When someone can more than keep up with you financially, and still has the mindset to do exciting things, the difference is amazing.

Your previous guy might take off on a motorcycle to brood. That's nice. But the next one - Hey look! Our favorite $Rockgroup is playing live in Germany tomorrow, there isn't time to pack - just grab some clubwear - if we can get to the airport within an hour, we can probably make the last flight, but we'll have to RUN!
posted by -harlequin- at 2:38 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

- BDSM relationships. A lot of the drama, less of the emotional fallout. Very fun.

I meant to say this. I think that before I realized that I was into BDSM, I sought out guys like this because they gave me some of the "power play thrill" I was looking for. It's a lot more fun and a lot more emotionally healthy to get it through negotiated, consensual BDSM than through trying to please and keep the interest of an asshole. I've talked to others with the same experience. YMMV of course, but it's something to think about.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 2:38 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would say that you shouldn't be trying to date anyone at all. Don't decide to go for older bankers, or whatever, STOP DATING. Say that for one year you will have no dates. No matter how attractive and interested the men you meet are, you are date free for one year starting today. Tell everyone you know you are off the market.

Spend that year putting all the energy you would have into someone else, and put it in you. Therapy (so much therapy), yoga, retreats, mindfulness, spa treatments, read every book you find on this subject, go the gym, train for a marathon, attend AlAnon, learn a new skill/hobby, travel, there is SO much you can do for yourself. No one should be more important to you then yourself, and these men are not only taking time away from you without giving you any benefit, in fact they are actively harming you, they are also preventing you from spending that time on you.

Stop dating! The more the idea scares you the more you need to do it!
posted by Dynex at 4:08 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't know you, and I think it's very possible that the other posters are right--that you are seeking a challenge, or that you're really into BDSM, or that you have issues with an emotionally unavailable parent. But my initial, kind-of-projecting-from-my-own-life take on this is that you don't find the lifestyle you have completely fulfilling. You prioritize doing the right thing, because you can't really imagine not doing the right thing. Doing the right thing can be pretty joyless and boring. If it weren't boring to you, you'd enjoy dating these guys who sound exactly like you: punctual, responsible, and serious. Instead, you're fascinated with the people who color outside the lines and break the rules, because they represent a world you don't know and want to explore.

I am in no way saying that what these guys did to you is right. They were disrespectful and unkind, and you did not deserve to be treated that way. However, I agree with the posters that you are living vicariously through these guys. You get to witness, first hand, what it's like to drink to excess, do drugs, and be disrespectful of other peoples' time, effort, and money. But you don't actually have to be that person. You can judge and observe instead of making mistakes. As a result, you're never going to be on equal footing with them. They have more of what you want than you have of what they want.

Assuming that this is true, my recommendation to you is:

1) Take advantage of your youth, break some rules, and have adventures. You may make some mistakes, but you will grow a lot in the process. You will also have a greater sense of your own character; it's always very revealing to see how people handle pressure and bad situations of their own making. It is also incredibly humbling and perspective-widening. Right now, you know that these guys are deadbeats, because they are breaking all the rules you follow. However, you don't have the experience to know this intuitively. Go out and drink and party for a couple of weeks, know the shame of flaking on your friends, and then the feeling of reverence you have for these guys will turn into pity.
2) Realize that you are on equal footing with these guys. You are smart and inquisitive enough to keep up with them--and you have drive, self-discipline, and people skills. That will take you so much further than they will ever go. You are the whole package, whereas they only have part of it. When you are their age, you will look back on these guys and wonder what the hell you ever saw in them. I actually play in a hockey league, and when I was your age I totally revered the older guys. Now that I'm their age and have seen where some of their choices have taken them, I think they're kind of sad. To me, it's telling that they always date younger women who want to learn from them; I feel like they don't have much to offer their peers.
posted by sockomatic at 4:08 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sorry, should have finished this sentence:

Go out and drink and party for a couple of weeks, know the shame of flaking on your friends, and then the feeling of reverence you have for these guys will turn into pity ... when you realize that they don't know how to stop, while you do. You can stop doing that at any time, because you know better. They don't and likely never will.
posted by sockomatic at 4:14 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few things:

I guess he decided I was awesome to sleep with, but he has no interest in my personality.

When this happens, and you don't wish to do the casual thing, you dump him immediately. You're still in a relationship with him? DTMFA.

I crave his approval/need for me.

No, you don't. The chemicals in your brain tell you that you do, but you tell those chemicals to fuck off. You DTMFA and those chemicals will die down and you will feel better.

I have a career and make a lot more money than most people my age (so I tend to pay for their food/alcohol when I am with them)

Don't do this. No matter how much you want to. Find SOs and friend who can pay for their own shit. You are not their mother.

The problem is that I'll go on dates with more well adjusted guys and they don't interest me at all. They're kind of boring and I'm not attracted to them.

They probably are really massively boring and it has nothing to do with them being well adjusted. It's just many, many people are boring. And the fucked up ones appear to be the least boring because it's the most obvious thing about them. But, the thing is, they're boring as crap too. They have no prospects, they're not going anywhere in their lives. That's boring as well.

So obviously I'm aware that this is a problem and that I need to stop letting these men take advantage of me and abuse me emotionally (because sometimes I feel like that's what they're doing).

Well, start by DTMFA.

So why am I finding it so hard to stop?

Because it's easier to have other people make our decisions for us. Making our own decisions puts a lot of responsibility on ourselves. That's scary. And it's not an age thing. I know lots of people in their 40s-50s who routinely abdicate their personal responsibility. Why - because it's easy. But is it making them (and you) happy - no, quite the opposite. You have to go after what you want and stop letting life happen to you - you only get one go at this.

Why am I only attracted to these men who are complete failures? I'm female and in my early 20s, and these guys all tend to be older than me.

Maybe because you're scared that if you went after someone you really wanted, someone who deserved you, that you'd fuck up. You wouldn't have your shit as together as you much as you think you do. By having complete failures in your life, they are the ones fucking up, not you. But you're going to fuck up in life. You're going to suck at relationships. The only way you can change that is by you learning from it and growing. And allowing yourself to be happy. And only you can really do that.
posted by heyjude at 2:59 AM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Truths to live by:

90% of everything is crap.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Keep DMFing until you end up with one who is neither boring nor useless.
posted by flabdablet at 7:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like I wind up repeating this a lot, but:

1) Find out what qualities you like in the bad boys. I mean, break it down. Like, "Powerful. Sexy. Independent. Blahblahblahblahblah."

2) Then figure out how you can get that without the abusive shit.

3) As others have mentioned, BDSM is not a bad way to do this. But you can't take a situation where you devalue yourself into BDSM and come out with a healthy answer. So...

4) Take a pause. Work on yourself. For real.

5) Then start looking again. Rinse, repeat, refine.
posted by corb at 10:07 PM on July 15, 2012

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