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August 21, 2012 9:03 PM   Subscribe

Do we all need therapy? What in the hell is going on?

I'm friends with about 5-6 beautiful, talented, and smart girls. They all work in creative fields, all get hit on relentlessly, and can't, for the life of them, find a functional relationship.

We're all early to mid-twenties, and this has been going on for years. Most of us haven't ever been in a truly functional relationship (but we all desire one). We all have a tendency to be involved with, chase, or otherwise pine after emotionally unavailable, constantly "busy," etc. men.

Some examples: Friend's boyfriend of 6 months all of a sudden has "commitment issues" after she decides to move to his city, and instead of dumping him she's trying her hardest to be as low maintenance and non-needy as possible so he won't leave her, making her miserable; other friend continues to pursue (after 6 months) on-off guy who won't commit to her, but tells her they can be exclusive "friends" (wtf?); one gorgeous actress friend keeps jumping from one "busy" executive to infinitum.

Me? I too chase highly self-absorbed men -- usually successful creatives with traits I wish I had; they often become too "busy" after a month to see me further, or disappear completely without warning after the same amount of time. (I also get extremely anxious when it looks like I'm losing a guy I like, which I know causes me to do stupid point-blank ask him just for sex, even when he seems uninterested in dating.)

Disclaimer: I know we're not special snowflakes. I know dating sucks and this happens to literally everyone at some point. But I'm concerned about this particular group of women, because it's been going on so long and I'm seeing some really unhealthy patterns -- I just can't pinpoint what the exact problem is, and how to address it.

So, give it to me straight, Metafilter: Is it Daddy issues? Low self-esteem/lack of boundaries? Are the stereotypes true and young, urban metropolis-dwelling men only want sex? Are we needy? A bunch of fucking drama queens?

Whatever it is, I don't want to be like this anymore! I'm still reeling after a similar scenario (typical -- went on some lovely dates, slept with the guy, then never hear from him again) and I'm taking a break from men/dating to try to figure out why the hell I keep doing this to myself...but in the meantime, I'd really appreciate your insight. Maybe I can help my girlfriends, too; I hate that we're all so distraught over this.

What concrete steps can we take to get over these hurdles -- or how we can become more attractive (I don't mean in a physical sense) as prospects for committed partnerships? Or do we just need to learn how to screen better?

(Yep, just got back into therapy and am on meds for bipolar II.)
posted by themaskedwonder to Human Relations (39 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: This is called "being in your twenties". It's typically solved by dating assholes for a few years and then not doing that ever again.
posted by anildash at 9:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [86 favorites]

It also sounds a bit "trying too hard". I hear the "finding the right person while not looking" is working for many people.
posted by MinusCelsius at 9:16 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

What he said.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:16 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Uh, both of them.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:19 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a little older than you.

One thing I am only just starting to realize, and which -- mega confession I'm semi-embarrassed to write publicly on the internet -- I think only really hit home watching the HBO series Girls, is that you have a choice in whether to be with someone or not.

In my teens and early twenties, I often defaulted to assuming that, unless someone was absolutely abhorrent, you should accept them and "see where it goes". And thus I dated a lot of people who treated me like garbage.

Hell, I even fell for people who treated my like shit, and who were themselves shit, because I was so sold on this narrative that I needed to find someone. Anyone. Because having a relationship where the other person treats you badly is better than being alone.

Another issue that I have only just recently started to see the light on is that you can't make someone want you. No amount of being a low-maintenance* girlfriend, agreeing to an open relationship or a FWB situation, sitting around hoping they'll call, whatever, is going to make someone who wasn't interested become interested.

Start taking yourself seriously. Stop dating people who treat you like shit.

Develop a life of your own that you are proud of because you love it. Regardless of your love life. I won't say romance will inevitably happen, but even if it doesn't, who cares? You're having an awesome life.

*Ugh. The low-maintenance thing. Look, I'm naturally as fucking low-maintenance as they get. I'm a slob. I don't wear lipstick. I love pizza. I only recently begrudgingly purchased a hair dryer. I hate Valentine's Day. You want to stay in and play video games? Great, I'll bring the book I can't put down. And yet never has this enticed anybody to keep dating me. The high-maintenance bitch phenomenon is a myth. People want who they want.
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 PM on August 21, 2012 [64 favorites]

You could try the George Costanza route and date someone completely opposite of who you usually go for. Someone "nice" and "boring". Someone who won't be manic about his latest art venture but will be happy to see you at the end of the day.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:25 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Everybody's fucked up, if that helps.

Get better at screening - that comes with time and practice.
posted by heyjude at 9:26 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well, good news/bad news. It could just be about being in your twenties, lots of people outgrow these types of really hideous relationships and move onto greener pastures, you know, just the regular semi-dysfunctional style of relationship that more of less works. But some of us have a harder time of it, the twenties move into the thirties and so on, with that continuing seriously negative pattern intact. So yeah, I approve of therapy, even if you fall into the former category, it will only make you a savvier and healthier person in the long run.
posted by nanook at 9:33 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think Sara C. has it, and I'll add that it's possible that you, or some of your friends, have an implicit assumption that a certain amount of drama and/or turmoil is not only necessary to a relationship, but is, in some sense, what a relationship is. That you know you're really into a guy when he makes you really miserable, and you're nervous and uncomfortable around him. That your connection isn't real unless it's overcome a significant obstacle. That you know a guy is into you when you can bring him out of his self-absorption. Does any of that sound right? Because you should know that those are all bullshit.

There's a lot of really damaging misinformation about relationships floating around in the culture. One day, in one of these Human Relations questions, I'll explain my theory about how we fuck kids up by telling them to read Romeo and Juliet when they're the same age as the characters, rather than later, when they're old enough to see just how insane everyone is acting. For now, I'll just say that this kind of drama is not necessary or even desirable for a good relationship. And that, in a good relationship, you have problems, but they're stultifyingly boring problems about utterly mundane stuff like dishes and money.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:38 PM on August 21, 2012 [45 favorites]

Become the asshole guy(s) that you keep "dating." Go out with them for a few times and then never talk to them again. Be emotionally unavailable/busy. Start developing commitment issues.

You might learn something about yourself.

*Ugh. The low-maintenance thing. Look, I'm naturally as fucking low-maintenance as they get...

And this is utter bullshit. Being high maintenance has nothing to do with appearance, or whether or not you like valentines day. Any girl who subjectively thinks they are low maintenance is not.
posted by lobbyist at 9:38 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Become the asshole guy(s) that you keep "dating." What? Ugh. No. Why?

Become the amazing guy(s) you would *like* to date. Be your own best friend. Find things to like about yourself and spend quality time with yourself and give yourself the gift of experiences that make you genuinely happy. Treat yourself to special treats and take daily care of yourself by eating delicious, healthy food, reading and listening to excellent stuff and getting enough sleep.

And then when someone interesting comes along, figure out whether they can dovetail nicely somewhere in your awesome life.
posted by rdc at 9:52 PM on August 21, 2012 [26 favorites]

Dating horrible people has an steep opportunity cost, which is that on the rare occasions when you meet somebody worthwhile, you're already taken - and so that magical moment of connection where they say "Hey, do you want to grab some coffee/drinks later?" never actually happens. And you end up asking "Why don't we ever meet decent guys?" when the truth is that you've met plenty without even knowing it - and they moved on without wasting time on you, since decent guys also have decent self-respect and don't waste time trying to hit on women who date jerks.

The universe abhors a vacuum. If you consciously create a void in your life to meet awesome people, the universe will find somebody with the qualifications to fill it. If that spot is already taken by somebody inconsiderate, however, then you're much less likely to meet that person. That's simply common sense.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:03 PM on August 21, 2012 [21 favorites]

Any girl who subjectively thinks they are low maintenance is not.

Disagree. There's no such thing as "any 'girl' who thinks X = Y."

Bah! I don't know your situation, lobbyist, but oy. Some women are just not into Valentine's Day. Some are. Some are into hot pink lipstick, some aren't. Some are into dead lifting their own body weight while wearing hot pink lipstick. All of this is perfectly great! Any of these people can be "low-maintenance" or "high-maintenance." It's not like there's a concrete definition.

(My friends and I consider me pretty chill, naturally, but I also am learning to stand up for what I want.)

OP, I'm 31 and am occasionally (argh) annoyed by this stuff. I'm pretty sure it's part of just being human. But I know one thing. Owning whoever it is I am, finding stuff and people I love, and just doing what I do as best I can, is what makes me a more fulfilled human being.

In other words, this:

Find things to like about yourself and spend quality time with yourself and give yourself the gift of experiences that make you genuinely happy.

Does it work 100% of the time? Nah. Does it work about 75% of the time? Yeah! And that's really not bad, in the scheme of a hopefully long life.

Hope this helps.


A woman who doesn't want a dude who doesn't appreciate awesome dresses, sailboats, dustbunnies, weird dogs, nighttime make-up and day-time bare face, third world countries, Miu Miu heels, and muddy hiking boots.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:17 PM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

It's ok to be single. It's much, much better to be single than to be in an angsty relationship. It's better to be celibate than to have sex that winds up making you feel bad. Know it. Believe it. If it isn't true, make it true.

Speaking as someone very happily married... I spent years single, and I didn't like it, but it was better than putting up with shit or being bored by people who weren't right for me. The two things that I think helped me get through those years and to keep my standards high, which eventually let me connect with my now-husband, were (1) having a very low tolerance for boredom, disrespect, or unkindness; and (2) having very good, deep friendships with girlfriends that kept me from feeling truly lonely. So... my advice would be to cultivate your friends and seek out the company of other girls who are ok being single. If your girlfriends aren't there for you to have fun with because they're all angsting over some jackass, then you may also feel like you need a jackass to pass the time with. (If your friends are happily paired, though, it sets a good example and is generally a much better vibe. I'm not suggesting you should only be friends with always-single girls.)

Good luck. Twenties are hard this way!
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:26 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Try being alone for a bit. Not only without guys - take a break from the girls from time to time.

Finding out who you are as a person, and learning that you are a full person, as you are, will help. If there are pieces of your life that don't work, take time to make them work, from your perspective (does someone always, say, remind you when your oil needs to be changed? Start putting a reminder in the calendar yourself).

It doesn't sound like you "need therapy", but what it does sound like is you desperately trying to find a "partner". Why are you so desperate? Is there an actual timeline on the table, or are you simply telling yourself, "I need to have a partner to be happy!"?

That's the message that we usually get - "you're a lonely half, looking for your other half!" Bullshit. You're a whole, functioning person, and the other people around you make your life better, but they don't make you "whole".

Finding a great person is wonderful, but in desperation to find "the one" people can make themselves pretty miserable. Especially, as said above, women are often expected to give guys "the benefit of the doubt". Oh, he's an asshole? He must have had a troubled past, and you shouldn't hold that against him! ....or maybe he's simply an asshole and you are not his therapist.

Guys are freer to turn women down (it's not they are more prone to this naturally compared to girls, they're just less likely to be called a "bitch" or "cock-tease" if he says he doesn't want to go out with someone). So they do.

I guess what I'm saying is... Don't give your heart away just because he's there. In my experience guys that are in love are AMAZING, and you can really tell. If you're not sure, he's probably not in love with you. Carry on the relationship if you want, but keep that in mind. "If he's not in love with me....should I really fly across the country to see him?" You might say yes anyway, cause you need a vacation and he's fun to watch movies with.... but it's not going to make him love you....
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

I have to disagree with "it'll happen when you're not looking for it" and "the universe abhors a vacuum" stuff. They all sound nice, but I for one prove that both of these things are absolutely not true for some people. It sounds comforting to say and (it used to be comforting to) hear, but pretending you don't want it doesn't bring true love on, and neither does genuinely no longer wanting true love either. It's not a question of "the universe gives it to me when I don't cling to it," really. And while I do agree that it's best to cut the lame ones to the curb, that doesn't necessarily mean a good one comes along to replace them either. You need to do stuff for yourself, not as a way of finding a guy. Whether or not you ever find a guy, you need to do whatever you can so that you can live with yourself. There's no guarantee that you'll get someone if you behave right or not, if you want it super badly and resort to creepy dating books or if you don't want it at all. To some degree, it's luck. And eventually being mature. And eventually a dude in the future also getting mature at the same time that you do.

To some degree, this is being in your 20's. To some degree, it's the dudes you're surrounded by. You're working on maturity, they may or may not be doing the same. And I totally agree that the "give him a chance" dating doesn't ah, work for every guy you try. Nor does the "settle for" dating. When they're starting to go bad, cut them loose faster. If a guy is already making noises that he wants out (like your friend who's trying to be the "cool girlfriend"), just let him go already, because once they want out, you can't make them stay. Don't bother to hang on to guys who want to leave. Don't get super attached to guys right off the bat (if you can help it) until they prove their interest and that they want to stick around. Play it cool for awhile until you stumble across a keeper.

Beyond that, I don't know what else you can do. It's hard to develop a "picker" and I don't know if any of us can tell you how to pick better dudes to be attracted to. That may just come with time and learning the hard way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

People generally want to feel they were lucky to get the partner they did. And your point of view on what would make you feel lucky seems to be changing for the better.

Executives and successful creatives are probably jerks in about the same proportion as any other group, but there are a lot fewer people in those categories, so your friends are selecting from a small pool, probably engaging their sense of luckiness just by finding someone with that kind of status.

As you evolve your criteria toward stability, functional relationships, etc., you may need to widen the pool a bit and look for folks whose successes are more personal and not as obvious, but that make them nonetheless amazing.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:37 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sounds like screening is the major issue although it's not uncommon in your 20's but I will repeat screening is key.

Either way, the fact that you said we're all so distraught over this makes me feel like there may be a little neediness/desperation involved. I would advise to STOP stressing over if you have a relationship or what the current guy your dating is going to do next. Date and have fun but love yourself first and foremost. Just for fun, consider every date with a guy your last date with that guy and make yourself not only ok with that but totally comfortable with that. Then, you can relax about the relationship, focus on fun and what you want. The fact that you are so comfortable with yourself and in any environment, in return, may also attract the opposite sex and keep them attracted.
posted by MyMind at 10:39 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

first of all you're young yet, so you could still have the potential of experiencing this for another decade or more. stop looking at every guy you date as someone who MUST BECOME A RELATIONSHIP. either accept that this is what happens in one's 20s (even in one's 30s) or do not pursue men who are emotionally or otherwise unavailable. it took me a long time to learn this and frankly, i'm more content being single and (honestly) not looking than to date someone who is emotionally or otherwise unavailable to to date just for the sake of dating. work on making yourself the most fabulous version of you that you can be. the rest may follow (or not) but if it doesn't, than you've taken the time to find out who you are and to like that person—with or without a partner.
posted by violetk at 10:43 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend giving Attached a read. It's a very accessible book on attachment theory (much better than the wiki article.) While you may find you don't buy into some of what they say, the book provides particularly good tips on identifying counter-productive behaviour in yourself and others, which you seem to have a bit of a lead on. Everyone above has good points about selection; I find this book provides concrete examples of things you may want to consider "dealbreakers" and why.

And as a bonus, if you do identify with one of the categories (anxious, avoidant, secure) it provides tailored advice.

I should add that it's been a bit since I read it but one of your friends' stories sounds almost exactly like one of their case studies/anecdotes.
posted by pahalial at 12:35 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some examples: Friend's boyfriend of 6 months all of a sudden has "commitment issues" after she decides to move to his city, and instead of dumping him she's trying her hardest to be as low maintenance and non-needy as possible so he won't leave her, making her miserable

You answered your own question several times within the question itself - I just chose the example where you stated it most starkly. It's not a matter of being unable to "find" a functional relationship, it's a matter of not even looking for a functional relationship because of being fixated on a dysfunctional one. Your friend has been in this relationship for six months already, and will continue for some indefinite amount of time trying to delay its inevitable messy end. That's 6 months + x future months that could be spent looking for or actually in a relationship that does not make her miserable, but instead she's off the market.

As soon as it becomes clear that a guy can't/won't give you what you want, you have to be willing to a) accept the truth and b) walk away. This is really really really hard, especially when you really really want to be in a relationship - you'll want to explain away, justify, and accommodate all sorts of red flags, which honestly tend to pop up way sooner than we like to admit. (Let's be real, your friend's boyfriend's commitment issues probably didn't appear "all of a sudden.") Facing reality and prioritizing your own welfare takes a lot of confidence in one's own self-worth. Unfortunately, that very quality gets trampled on by....shitty relationships. So (as has already been mentioned) I think your focus, for awhile, should be on taking care of yourself outside of the dating world, so that you're able to take care of yourself in it.
posted by granted at 12:53 AM on August 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Most guys these days are not looking for a long-term relationship when they are in their early to mid twenties. That was me 10+ years ago and really I just didn't care that much about taking relationships seriously.

I wasn't intending to marry any of the women I was with and just saw it as all as a bit of fun. Messing about till something else comes along.

None of my friends really settled down until they were 30+... thats just the way it goes. Stop worrying so much and trying so hard.
posted by mary8nne at 12:57 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well if you're going back into therapy, talk about this and bring up the question of "what is in it for me in pursuing the unavailable/self-absorbed type of men?" because there is always something sort of benefit you're getting from that type of preference and attraction, else you wouldn't have it. It doesn't mean it's a 'healthy' benefit, of course, that's obvious - but suspend the whole right/wrong judgemental attitude towards yourself for a bit. First, understand and accept; then, work on rerouting towards a better balance of healthy and self-damaging, stability and risk etc. - I find this is the only way with dealing with desires that tend to be self-sabotaging.

You don't get to choose your own desires. Trying to ignore them is useless, getting pissed off about them is useless and only adds frustration, thinking you can force yourself into going for the opposite type is another exercise in futility and frustration. If you're totally honest with yourself, maybe you will see there are some qualities you are pursuing, and those qualities are not all 'bad' and maybe they could be pursued in more 'constructive' manners once you identify them and try and spot them in others too. It could be you're attracted to the extra bit of risk, the extra bit of excitement and intensity of the chase after the unavailable type, etc. or yeah call it the drama but you know there's no need to be so dismissive and self-judgemental about it.

Especially given the crucial bit of information in the last line of your post - and I don't mean that in a bad way, but just because, as someone else with her own issues to deal with, I cannot ignore that they affect my relationship patterns a huge lot, so, it's not just 'oh yeah oldest story ever told'. And I do see both a similarity and a difference with some of my younger girlfriends who never had major obstacles to face (depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, fucked up families, whatever) still have had their phase where they were attracted by the drama and 'bad boys' and unavailable types, and then that phase kind of was naturally over, petered out, and they ended up with really lovely nice stable guys they're happy with. It was a phase of exploration for them. It was the fun and wild phase. And then they got sick of it and needed and found a more stable relationship with someone far more reliable and available and loving and all - the desires changed spontaneously.

When they don't change spontaneously, and this lack of change makes you feel frustrated, and that phase goes on for far longer than you yourself like or want (nevermind what others think about that, nevermind what kind of relationship you're supposed to be in or 'should' have - no one gets to judge or sentence what kind of relationships are "better" than others universally!), well, there are very likely deeper underlying issues, and you have to be more clever and patient and honest and understanding with yourself. Most of all be very honest, do consider what you're getting out of it and don't see it all as 'bad' thing. It may all have served you as a self defense from deeper emotional involvement that you weren't ready for. There's nothing "wrong" with that. It's only wrong when it all starts being too much of a frustrating burden for yourself, and the fun parts are eclipsed by the non fun parts, and you start getting the desire for something different.

Good luck and make the best of therapy, even when it's hard to dig deeper, it's always worth it when you do need and want a change.

Don't make the mistake of interpreting everything about your own relationship pattern as a cliché - that's confirmation bias. If you were stuck in a dull unhappy marriage, you'd be seeing dull unhappy marriages all around you (and you would have ended up with the kind of friends who'd have had that similar path in life, because, well, that's how we connect with other people...). It's your own life. Find out what works better for you.

(Apologies if this sounds preachy or whatever, it's not meant like that, just writing off the top of my head, and this could be "stuff I could generally say to myself" and have indeed said to myself. Hope some of it is helpful).
posted by bitteschoen at 1:20 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

and instead of dumping him she's trying her hardest to be as low maintenance and non-needy as possible so he won't leave her

Somewhere, at some point, a lot of us got the idea that guys like "low-maintenance" or "cool" girlfriends, and it's a pretty damaging idea, because a lot of us (myself in my twenties included) just ran with it, and put up with a lot of bullshit we hated in the interest of being "low-maintenance." Guy stayed out late and didn't call/never holds your hand in public/flirts with your best friend/always wants to go to the same restaurant/tells his friends details about your sex life that you wish he didn't? Oh, well, I'm a "cool" girlfriend, I won't make a fuss over something that small.

It's okay and healthy to be irritated about those things and ask him to do it differently. Asking for what you want and to be treated like an equal partner is not "high-maintenance," it's the foundation of a good relationship. There's neediness and clinginess, of course, and you don't want either of those things, but it's not needy to ask your partner to take your wishes into consideration and compromise a little. If you don't feel comfortable asking for that, of course you'll be miserable.

One of the most fundamental characteristics of any healthy relationship is the ability for each partner to be comfortable asking for what they want, and for the other partner to give it genuine consideration. This is a good benchmark for you and your friends to keep in mind.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:49 AM on August 22, 2012 [30 favorites]

The best antidote I know of for the 20s dating gauntlet (which is becoming a distant memory) is to find a hobby that you really enjoy doing and forget about dating and socializing. About the time you become really comfortable doing your thing among friends you find that interesting person who has some meaningful overlap with your hobby. Because you are confident and happy doing your thing it is easy to asses if new entrants into your life affirm your self-assured direction or detract from it.
posted by dgran at 6:04 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

we're all so distraught over this

Drama! Seriously, you're all addicted to your own and each other's. Step 1: stop talking about it to each other. Make a rule that the inconsequential details are private and gossip is trashy and that you will only go to each other if you need help with a dangerous situation. Then find something else to talk about.

Step 2: Go be interesting. Learn some skills, have some experiences, do some things that actually belong to you as an independent person. Talk about THAT with your friends, who are also off being interesting.

Mating is not actually the most important thing you could be doing with your lives right now. If you're dating men your age, men your age are not necessarily ready for decent relationships either. If you're dating older men, which it sounds like you are because 25-year-old men are rarely "successful", you're either being used for sex or assessed and rejected (more or less instantly) as wife material. Take a two-year hiatus from actively pursuing relationships and pursue one with yourself, and then when your hiatus is up you'll be your own biggest supporter and you won't want someone who isn't awesome.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:23 AM on August 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If this required therapy, there wouldn't be enough therapists to go around. This is just dating in your twenties. There's nothing wrong with any of you, your friends or the guys you are dating. It's just the reality: there's a huge disparity in emotional and social development between men and women at this age. Generalization ahead: guys at this age are still struggling with emotional availability and getting balance.

Women tend to know how to balance personal life-social life-work/school much earlier than men. I find that guys in their mid-twenties are still trying to figure out how to do this. They either party too much and neglect their careers and girlfriends, work too much and get stressed because their romantic and platonic relationships suffer, or become extremely attached to their girlfriends to the point of smothering. I've dated all three models (and in my thirties, no less; I have a bad habit of younger men). It's frustrating, but this too shall pass.

Try not dating, or try dating older guys. My most enjoyable relationships, though not the most successful or longest lasting (for various reasons) have been with men 4-7 years older than me. It's a good match as far as equal maturity.
posted by peacrow at 6:37 AM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

To steal another Seinfeld line, I think he said 95% of the population is undateable. Of that 5% remaining, at least half are already dating someone else. Finding a match is about numbers, and what you are willing to accept or settle for in a relationship.
posted by gjc at 7:06 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with many others, could just be a twenties thing. But you're also describing men who are successful and who apparently have no shortage of hot women wanting to be with them. That could turn even the nicest guy into an asshole. Such a man would have a ton of self-confidence, I would think. Have you thought about considering men who are less self-confident, or maybe show their self-confidence in different ways -- men less successful, or maybe men who define success in ways beyond career track and money?
posted by troywestfield at 7:06 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

troywestfield - If I meet a guy who has a high paying job and a dysfunctional relationship, I don't think he's successful. I think he's got a lot of shit to work through that he's probably ignoring, perhaps using work as an excuse not to deal with it.

OP, you might want to recalibrate what you consider "successful". Flaky people shouldn't fall under that category, no matter how good they are at their job.
posted by Dynex at 7:33 AM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

You know what you need?

A theme song.

It sounds like you and your pals are chasing something that you think you want and are finding out that you will end up missing out on the things that you really need. For that, Audra McDonald can help by singing "Stars and the Moon" by Jason Robert Brown.

Like everyone else, I think you need to step back and re-calibrate. Whether you do that in therapy or just by disengaging from the flirting and the hooking-up-under-the-assumption-that-it-is-going-to-lead-to-more-without-any-really-explicit-understanding-of-what-you-and-your-new-partner-are-looking-for and the wallowing with friends, it doesn't matter.
posted by jph at 8:05 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some of you may need therapy; others of you may not.

Some of you may be “taking your knocks,” as I call it. What I mean is: I have this theory that people have to learn to stand up for themselves in relationships. Usually this manifests itself in romantic relationships because they are the most intense, intimate relationships you will form in your life, and because it is really hard to find someone who is truly compatible with you. We like to believe that we make a mistake, fix it, and then never make that same mistake again. But real growth usually doesn’t happen like that. Real growth takes time. Real growth takes making the same mistake again and again, until you are ready to stop.

Some of you may need therapy. Mental unwellness often manifests itself in ways we don’t recognize. We stay with friends who bully us because dad bullied us as a kid; we get into romantic relationships with unavailable guys because Mom was unavailable, etc. As you work on becoming well, you begin to change, and you change in ways you may not realize are related to your unwellness.

Again, who knows which of your friends need therapy and which don’t. I don’t have the medical background to make that determination. But if someone is making the same mistake over and over again, wants to change, and can’t do it on his or her own, then it’s probably time to look into therapy.
posted by emilynoa at 8:14 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not sure what the right answer to this question is. My right answer was to stop dating people who were only vaguely interested in me, that I wasn't interested in, and to stop trying to make things work with people who were just "good on paper." I don't even go on one date with anyone who is obviously an a-hole. I am a well-rounded person with numerous friends that is generally tired at the end of the week becuase of the socializing that i do all week long.

On the other hand, know that this limits the amount of dating experience you will have and that you may land in your 30s without a partner and anxious if you want to get married and have kids. That's why I don't know what to tell you. Because I look back now and think, "maybe I shouldn't have dismissed some of those people so quickly/easily." Sure, I've had less heartache, but I also have less funny stories about dating, and have had less opportunities to be in relationships. I'm proud of who I am, what I've become, and the amount of enjoyment I get out of my life. However, it would be wrong to say that I don't feel out of practice and a little worried about not finding someone, which has resulted in me questioning my earlier decisions.

So, I guess I would say, trial and error is a good thing, but don't wait 6+ months to get out of something that isn't working. And definitely don't do anything that demeans your worth as a person (e.g., settling for FWB if that's not what you want). Also, keep in mind that, because there are 20 women in the wings that will do what you may no longer be willing to do (for example, because you and your friends are willing to do this, someone may pass on someone like me because, "why bother?"), so this change may be hard. Especially if you are dating guys in the 20-early 30 range (I picture you in NYC dating 25 year old i bankers, but I may be imagining this). However, if you can find a better class of guys (great job + very intelligent does not = great, considerate guy), you may find someone who is more worthy of your attention.

Good luck!
posted by superfille at 8:17 AM on August 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Casual sex is the crazy maker. Period.

Equating sex and emotional intimacy is a recipe for heartbreak. Casual sex, or friends with benefits, is exclusively meant to be used in situations where you do not care at all. If he is everything you want in a boyfriend, only interested in sex, and also geographically convenient (such that you can hook up all the time) then you are doing it really fucking wrong and it is going to hurt every single time.

The girls that did not seem in need of therapy were the ones who treated casual sex as a one night stand only arrangement, and who then pursued dating with the formality it tends to require once you are out of your early twenties.

The coolest hippest people tend to be so busy pursuing what they want out of life that they don't even hardly realize they've picked up a dream boat on the way. I hate those people.
posted by skrozidile at 8:25 AM on August 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Just for fun, consider every date with a guy your last date with that guy and make yourself not only ok with that but totally comfortable with that.

Seconded vigorously. This goes in the same category as trying to live each day as though it's your last. Or at least with awareness and acceptance that it might be. If and when that thought makes you uncomfortable (and it often does!) hold on to that discomfort, study it, ask it what it wants. What felt incomplete, lacking, misdirected about this time, this experience, this person?

Then resolve to do more of those things, tomorrow / next time. And when someone interferes with that intention, bring back the memory of discomfort and use it for strength. They're trying to make you feel that way again, relive an experience you've decided you don't want.

Go be interesting. Learn some skills, have some experiences, do some things that actually belong to you as an independent person. Talk about THAT with your friends, who are also off being interesting.

Also seconding this vigorously. Relationships are just one of a number of dimensions to a life that's right for you. They don't magically address the others. Make sure you balance stuff out. "I sure do finally have a great relationship with someone else, the interesting one" is likely to be an unsatisfying corner to live your life in.
posted by ead at 8:28 AM on August 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Ever walk past a shoe store display and stop and stare at all the wonderful shoes? *

Then you go inside and try them on. "Ow! These ones hurt, but they're so pretty, I'll pay $400 for them."

Next time you wear the shoes, they hurt like hell and give you blisters.

"Maybe they'll stretch out," you think.

So you keep wearing them over and over, and by this time, you've got blisters and bunions and foot cramps every night.

This is free advice for you and all of your girlfriends:

Don't waste time on uncomfortable shoes. In fact, if they aren't comfortable from the get-go, don't waste a minute of your time thinking about them. If you do make a painful purchase, get rid of the shoes as quickly as possible, because even looking at painful shoes will cause you to remember your mistake. After all, there may be some other woman out there who could get use out of your shoes and doesn't mind walking around in them. But they're just not right for you.

Looking at shoes and trying them on, however, is perfectly acceptable. Just don't buy them!!!

When you find a comfortable pair of shoes, you will know it, and hopefully they will be with you for a long, long time.

* Shoes = Men.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:13 AM on August 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

I agree that this just sounds like dating in your early-twenties. This stuff is what teaches you how to spot a good thing later.

I whole-heartedly agree with "relationships should not be all drama." Having giant fights, constant turmoil, misunderstandings- even when it's paired with magic moments of sublime togetherness and awesome sex- is STILL a bad match. You need to date more people, and stop dating every single person that gets complicated in less than a month.

you have to get it into your heads that being alone is better than being with someone who isn't a good match. At least when you're alone you have the hope of meeting someone better suited.

As well just because a person isn't a good match, doesn't make them an asshole. That means you don't have to (and in fact shouldn't) stick with someone who's a bad match just because some dude is a nice guy. That also means if some dude is trying to give you the axe, it's not because he doesn't like you or you are in someway lacking. It's JUST NOT WORKING.

Love yourself, look at people with long, happy relationships for examples, don't gossip and don't waste your time trying to make someone like you more.
posted by Blisterlips at 2:33 PM on August 22, 2012

I don't know if it's just being in the twenties. I know women, attractive and smart and in their 30's, who still behave this way. I think it has more to do with a culture that values women based on their sex appeal, and leads women to believe men should be the focal point of everything. This message is so easy to internalize. It is everywhere, all the time. What amazes me is not that women act like your friends, but that there are women who have healthy self-images.
Personally, I did a lot of reading on what healthy relationships look like and I did go to therapy. I can't really describe what happened, except to say I gained a cooler eye, some objectivity, and some self-worth. I really recommend that path if you find it at all attractive. The peace of mind is a whole new thing.
posted by amodelcitizen at 4:34 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Aw, I'm sad I saw this question so late in the game! OP, I hope you're still reading.

If you haven't already, do what Sara C. mentions earlier upthread and watch the entire first season of HBO's Girls. Really.

Some people hate this show because it's about four totally self-absorbed women in their early twenties who are rotten, clueless, privileged and funny. I love the show for this reason. Here is my favorite part of the season, sorry for the spoiler, but you need to hear it:

So, one of the characters has been chasing this guy around all season, and he doesn't seem totally into her. It's painful, painful to watch her try to please him and keep him interested. At one point she goes to a party and meets another woman who also knows this guy. The other woman mentions that the guy is in AA and stone-cold sober. Our girl is shocked. She never knew that about the guy. The woman's eyes widen and she says, "How could you not know? That's, like, his thing." And the girl confronts the guy later on, asking why he never told her he was a recovering alcoholic. "Well," the guy says, confused, "you never asked."

This is probably pretty lame on my part, OP, but that scene made my entire world fall around my ears. Here I'd been, watching this character trip all over herself for a disinterested guy, shaking my head at the antics I had once done in my early twenties, rolling my eyes at this classically apathetic dude. "You're too good for him!" I'd been screaming at my television screen. It took that one, stupid scene to make me realize the truth about that awful time period in my life in which I dated selfish, fickle men:

I was ALSO fickle and selfish. Even when I was bending over backwards for a guy's attention, even when I was sacrificing my needs for his, even when I thought I was being a doormat, I was still being incredibly selfish and fickle. I didn't care about the guy, or his feelings - I just wanted someone to love me and take care of me during an incredibly scary post-collegiate time in which I had little money or direction with my life. I wanted to feel special, as special and taken care of as I'd felt in college when I made straight As and my professors loved me and I had still had health insurance. I didn't actually care about what made my boyfriends tick, not in a real and visceral way, certainly not in the way I love my husband right now. When I compare how I felt about my boyfriends of my early twenties and my husband of today, I laugh at how convinced I was that some dude was actually the love of my life, he just didn't know it yet.

As everyone said upthread, your early twenties are really about dating selfish, fucked up people while you are currently going through your own selfish, fucked up phase. You work out a lot of your kinks in this time period, make plenty of bad mistakes, have one too many beers at the bar, convince yourself that you're doing great, it's these other assholes who are crazy. Then you grow up. And you probably meet another grown-up. And ta-da! You treat each other better, always keeping those awful couple of years of selfish, fucked up actions in the back of your head. Now you can appreciate nice people, and you can recognize the assholes.

In short, congratulations: you are a totally normal twenty-something year old. I had a blast in my early twenties, even though I thought I was miserable the entire time. I also wouldn't relive them for a million bucks.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:54 AM on August 23, 2012 [26 favorites]

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