Not-OK Cupid
February 18, 2013 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I've slept with a lot of guys and only enjoyed it with like 10% of them. Are my standards too high, or too low, or what?

So I know a lot of people say that chemistry doesn't really matter in the long run in relationships, the spark always fades with time, you shouldn't choose partners just based on whether you feel attracted to them, etc.

Well. I (mid20s lady) very frequently find myself out on dates with guys who are fine! Interesting! Attractive! Funny! But I don't feel a spark. I don't feel attracted, but I don't feel put off or repulsed at all either. The guys are just, like, fine. And I figure- well, I might grow to feel more for them with a little more time and intimacy. (Generally I meet these guys online although not always- sometimes they ask me out IRL.)

And then, often, I hook up with these attractive funny smart guys who I don't feel much of a spark with... and it sucks. The sex just does nothing for me, even if I come. And then my ambivalence turns immediately to a feeling of NOPE NOPE NOPE and I stop seeing them because I realize that, no, I can't fool myself into liking THIS one, either. I can't tell you how many times this has happened. Too many.

I've felt that chemistry I lack with them before, though not very often. I'd say maybe seven or eight guys have made me feel this way- my mood improves when I'm around them, I look forward to the next time I see them, I have engaging conversations with them, and the idea of sex with them turn me on. And every one of them has been a guy I met in real life- NOT a guy from online. Some of those guys have been available, some not for various reasons. I've managed to sleep with two of them, and date one of those two- and I pursued them both initially. And sex with those two was far and away the best sex of my life, no question, not even close. The only times I've felt truly sexy, and the only times I've genuinely enjoyed giving head. The only times I've felt tingly when being touched, instead of feeling... nothing.

But. I don't know. It didn't work out with those two guys... and plenty of the guys I dropped for having no chemistry would probably have been good partners to me... so I'm of two minds. One part wants to stop online dating altogether because 30+ guys and zero chemistry equals bad idea, and get extremely picky about who I choose to sleep with, only doing it with guys who I feel this genuine attraction towards... even if that means going months or years without a date, because it happens so seldom. Another part wants to stop making such immediate assumptions, that just because I feel eh about a guy initially and don't love the sex right away I could never fall in love with him, and try harder and not run away immediately when that happens.

I don't know what to do. I only know that I'm tired of this and one way or another I want to fall in love again.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

I don't think it's surprising that you find sex with guys you are really genuinely excited about being around to be better than sex with whatever guys happen to be convenient. You are in your mid-20s and have had good chemistry with 7 or 8 people. That's not bad. That's as good as anyone, really.

If you want to stop dating people if you don't have any chemistry with them on the first date, that's fine. Lots of people do this. You don't have to sleep with them just because they're there.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:16 AM on February 18, 2013 [27 favorites]

I say be picky. Life's too short to have bad sex just because you kinda sorta think maybe this time it will be different.

Wait for the spark. You're still young. Eventually something will work out, and I doubt you'll have to wait years in between dates for that to happen.
posted by too bad you're not me at 10:18 AM on February 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think you're getting things a bit garbled.

The advice about how "you may not always feel excited all the time" is about long-term relationships, and is more about why it's wise to marry the guy who's got the stable career and who treats you decent more so than it's wise to marry the guy who's really hawt but who stays out until 3 am and dances on bartops and stuff like that. The latter guy's exciting, yeah, but he's not the smartest husband material.

That advice doesn't apply to hookups and to beginning to date, as such. I mean, maybe a guy's just sort of "fine" and you decide to give him a second date just to be sure, but you've gotta have some chemistry to sleep together or even to get through the initial first hump of dating. Yes, it's true that maybe a guy you had no chemistry with right away will grow on you, but you still need to wait until that chemistry is there before sleeping with the poor guy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:23 AM on February 18, 2013 [13 favorites]

"Doctor, it hurts when I smash my hand with this hammer."
"Have you considered putting the hammer away?"

Stop doing things that make you actively unhappy.

30+ guys and zero chemistry equals bad idea

Actually that's not a very logical equation. The logical equation is:

Sex with guys + zero chemistry = bad idea.

You're learning things that suck to learn but are essential:

1) love is hard, it is rare, and you will very very very very often be alone.
2) You can't really fake it til you make it in this case. Maybe there are people who can? But you aren't one of them.

Go on dates if you want. Enjoy yourself if you want. Hook up if you want BUT ONLY IF YOU WANT. And you know what I mean by want. Don't hook up with them if you aren't dying to hook up with them. If they get all butthurt? They are ASSES and you kick them to the curb.

A lot of them will be butthurt asses. That is why you will very often be alone. But you'll also meet a number of people who will want to keep hanging. They'll want to get to know you as a person, they'll want to build a friendship with you. And that will be how you really discover that chemistry you've felt before.

Look, I'm a slow burner; I've had relationships where I felt ambivalent until 3 or 4 months in. There's something to letting things build slowly; but the slowness has to apply on all fronts: physical and emotional. Otherwise like you say, disgust overtakes the whole endeavor.

TL;you didn't read: stop sleeping with people you don't wanna sleep with; keep meeting people. Recognize that loneliness is frequently the human condition. Stop hitting yourself with the hammer.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:25 AM on February 18, 2013 [24 favorites]

So I know a lot of people say that chemistry doesn't really matter in the long run in relationships, the spark always fades with time, you shouldn't choose partners just based on whether you feel attracted to them, etc.

"Attractiveness" is not the same thing as "chemistry".

It is possible to find someone mind-blisteringly sexy and attractive while not actually wanting to have anything to do with them, let alone sex them up.

It is also possible to find someone basically okay-looking and want to jump their bones at the earliest possible opportunity because you get along so well, enjoy their company, etc.

The former is attractiveness, and it's nice, but it's a pleasant bonus to a long-term romantic relationship, not a sufficient and certainly not a necessary condition for one.

The latter is chemistry, and you basically don't have long-term romantic relationships without it. Because what's happening there is probably going beyond just physical attraction and moving towards attraction to them as a person. When two people have sex, two people have sex, not just two bodies. Isn't a sufficient condition for a healthy LTR either, but it's probably a necessary one.

Rule of thumb: if you don't want to have sex with someone, don't have sex with them. Even if you feel like you're "supposed" to want to. Even if you hope that you'll start wanting to have sex with them after you start having sex with them. If you don't want to do it from the outset, don't do it. Wait until you want to maybe, but then, and only then, make a move. Not before. This is not to say that you should make a move on everyone you want to have sex with. There may be excellent reasons for not doing that depending on the circumstances. But it does mean that you shouldn't make a move, or be receptive to one, with/from someone you don't want to have sex with.
posted by valkyryn at 10:25 AM on February 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

There's a big difference between "you shouldn't choose partners just based on whether you feel attracted to them" (emphasis added) and "chemistry doesn't really matter in the long run in relationships".

Some people make too much of infatuation and imagine that marriage or other long-term relationships are like a never-ending version of the first few months of an exciting new relationship. That's why there's lots of advice out there about the difference between a crush and a real, long-term relationship. I think you've taken that advice in the wrong way.

Chemistry does matter, along with kindness, compatible life goals, and many other factors. A relationship should start with a basic attraction between the people involved. Sure, there will be plenty of problems down the road and times when the couple isn't feeling that way, but better to start with a basic attraction for each other and have to work on re-discovering those feelings if necessary than to have never had that chemistry.
posted by Area Man at 10:30 AM on February 18, 2013

Oh and also: 7 or 8 people you've had sexy good chemistry with? That is not a drought, my dear, that is a flood. I think in my life (and I'm rather older than you) there have been perhaps 3. Your odds of replicating something that's already relatively frequent in your experience are good.

Another bit of perspective that I found helpful back when I'd scan OKC profiles for an hour and find only a single, mildly interesting one:

Think of OKCupid as an avatar for the real world. (because it is, essentially, just sorted for age and gender!) Are you attracted to 80% of the people you see on the bus in the morning? No. Why would you be attracted to 80% of the people on a website?
posted by like_a_friend at 10:31 AM on February 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

Not wanting to sleep with people you are not attracted to is not being too picky at all.

I'm not sure but based on your question it sounds like you start off feeling ambivalent: "Well, I guess I could sleep with him, he is smart and nice, maybe the attraction will grow." And then afterwards you are certain that there is no chemistry.

You can trust yourself to know when you are not attracted to someone. In my experience if you are on a date with someone and they are touching you and flirting, and your response is "Eh" or "Ick" then tell them (nicely) to back off. Either move on or keep things in the shallow end for a while. It's ok to have several dates of just hanging out and talking and maybe some light kissing.

The problem with meeting in person is that while it's easier to determine the level of attraction, the person you are attracted to might not be single, interested, or meet your requirements. The problem with meeting online is that the person you wind up on a date with might not be attractive to you despite having many qualities you appreciate.

The answer to both is to meet more people, know what you need, and set boundaries that work for you. And be patient.
posted by bunderful at 10:32 AM on February 18, 2013

There is a middle ground here -- you can still go on online dates and hope to feel that chemistry with people and then not sleep with the ones you don't have chemistry with. Maybe you will literally never ever meet someone online that you have that chemistry with, but it seems doubtful. Online guys are just like regular guys, some of them you'll like and some of them you won't. You don't have to sleep with the ones you don't like in hopes that you will learn to like them.

One question to ask yourself -- are you meeting the same types of guys (in terms of interests, education, opinions) online as you are attracted to in real life? Sometimes those questionnaires and algorithms can throw us at people who are like us, rather than people we like. Or they can throw us toward what we think we want instead of what we're actually attracted to. So be cognizant of whether you're just meeting the wrong people online.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:41 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

In general, I think having sex with someone too soon is a great way to kill any chemistry. (Not always, of course.) But getting to know someone, letting attraction grow on both sides, and being comfortable with them when you're fully clothed and standing up is a pretty good precursor to having great sex. Best sex I ever had was with someone I knew for about a year before we ever kissed.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:44 AM on February 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm all about being picky and waiting for the right guy to come along. I'm living proof. I met Husbunny when I was 38 and I married him when I was 39. We've been together nearly 12 years.

I also believe that if having a solid bond with someone makes sex better for you, that it's not a good idea just to jump into bed with a guy.

Some people love sex and every time is a good time for them. More power. You just don't happen to be one of those folks.

The first date should be enough to determine if he's someone you're interested in and if you have chemistry. So feel free to reject people who don't make it past the initital screening. Chemisty is either there, or it isn't. It's not manufactured.

But, just because you're interested and have chemistry, keep going out with the guy for a few more dates. Really get to know him. What are his attitudes? Is he nice to the waitstaff? Is he nice to you? Do you have a lot in common. Only when you're really feeling it (and it isn't random horniness) should you sleep with someone.

There are tons of folks out there on OK Cupid who are "hit it and quit it". They're fine with a one-night-stand. You have discovered that it doesn't work for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:56 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The first date should be enough to determine if he's someone you're interested in and if you have chemistry.

Well. . . maybe. It's probably enough to tell if you don't want to do this again, but I can see room after the first date for "I'm not totally sold on this, but I'd still like to go out again." But a lot less room after the second date, and no room at all after the third. If something's going to happen, it's almost certainly going to happen by then.

This doesn't rule out changing your mind about someone, but that needs to happen after the growth of a legitimate platonic relationship with no expectations on either side. That isn't always a possibility, and if it's not, you have to just let it go. There are plenty of people who went out once or twice, didn't go anywhere with it, but continued to interact socially, only to try again a while down the road and things turn out differently. But there are relatively few people who find that, after they've been dating for a while with one party having significant reservations, that it's suddenly working out.

Further: the people who find that they've known each other for a while, and maybe dated a while back, but are suddenly an item, and it's great? They almost always have a reason for seeing each other that's embedded in an existing social context. They go to school/church together, they work together, they have friends in common and run into each other at bars, whatever. They didn't meet on the internet with no mutual acquaintances or common social universes.

So if you have a good time on the first date, sure, consider going on a second, even if you aren't immediately struck by that person. But if you don't feel anything the second time, it's probably time to write that one off. If you have reason other than dating to see this person, hey, that's great. If not, go your separate ways. No harm done.
posted by valkyryn at 11:21 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

One part wants to stop online dating altogether because 30+ guys and zero chemistry equals bad idea, and get extremely picky about who I choose to sleep with, only doing it with guys who I feel this genuine attraction towards... even if that means going months or years without a date, because it happens so seldom.

When dating, there's no reason to have sex with anyone you don't feel any chemistry with. Have sex only with guys you really want to have sex with because you are really attracted to them, not just because they're decent guys. If there's no spark there, don't do it. It's true that sometimes chemistry takes time to build, but think of sex as the result of attraction, not the other way around.

The fact that you're meeting these guys online has nothing to do with it. It just sounds like you're forcing things because you "want to fall in love again," but that's not how love works.
posted by wondermouse at 11:51 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having sex with someone you don't feel chemistry with seems like a poor idea. Chemistry alone is not enough for a good relationship, but IMO it is one essential part of a good relationship.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:10 PM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I can relate, anon! I'm a woman who just hit her 30s. I lack chemistry with a good 95% of the people I meet. Of the 5% that sparks, maybe 5% of the time we both turn out to be available. Now I could be exaggerating the odds here, given I am working with a smaller sample size than you(!) But I've got 10 years of arguably "adult" experience here, and according to my dataset, that rhetoric "chemistry doesn't really matter in the long run" just doesn't work for me.

For a long time I thought it was because I sucked at engaging men. But I tell you what --I HAVE been with guys who were "fine" for me. They were engaging, funny, had their own things going for them... and push come to shove, IMHO the lack of spark contributed to the non-viability of the relationship. If you're not feeling it, then in all likelihood neither are they. Not really, anyway. In my last serious relationship with a perfectly fine guy, it became perfectly obvious to me: at some point down the road one of us will likely cheat because neither of us are really getting what we want and need from each other. Even though we like each other, and even though we're friends and work well together. Even though no one had really done anything wrong. In this case I'd say over time we became increasingly aware of the gap and instead of addressing it, it fed into resentment. The relationship was my lesson to me that trying to "fake it" in this department is not going to work. The only real way is the "hard way", it seems.

So you say you've "felt it" 7-8 times? I think you're doing FANTASTIC. I'd say I've been fortunate enough to even be aware of it maybe 2-3 times. As like_a_friend said above, Recognize that loneliness is frequently the human condition. Being single at 30 feels lonely at times, yes. But I've got a rich inner world, lots of drive, and no one holding me back (IN FACT if I wanna blow time on metafilter all morning, I've got NO ONE riding my back!!!) So hang in there, anon! I think you've got good data. I don't think a 10% hit rate reflects too high standards, but rather a woman in tune with herself :)
posted by human ecologist at 12:11 PM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's also pretty normal to not have great sex with somebody you don't know well, no matter how attracted you are. Sometimes it takes getting to know each other and having sex multiple times for it to really get good -- even with someone you're very attracted to.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:35 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think some people grow into love/lust after weeks/months/years and some folks know right off the bat whether or not they have that chemistry. It sounds like you are trying to be a grower--but you're not a grower. If you already know you don't likely-like them like that, it doesn't change or get any better when you sleep with them. You've tried this a lot of times and have you ever grown into love/lust for one of those dudes you weren't feeling it about? Apparently not. So...don't do that. Don't do the "give them a chance" sex, because it has never worked for you to make you love a guy. It's not going to work for you, so don't do it any more.

I hear you on online dating, because I am rarely attracted to anyone either. I need to know people IRL so I can know right off the bat, rather than the leading-them-on thing that seems to happen with online dating.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:54 PM on February 18, 2013

It sounds like these 7-8 guys you've "clicked" with have been people you've known for a while beforehand. The chemistry has emerged in the course of getting to know each other. You may just be one of those people (there are many of us) who don't feel the animal attraction until the mental connection has kicked in.

Is it possible, then, that you're jumping into bed with your OKC dates too soon? Why not try an experiment? Assuming your answer to the OKC question about "how soon to have sex" is something else, change your answer to 6+ dates. (It'll screen out some people. No biggie.) Assume (and go ahead and say, if it's necessary) that you won't be sleeping together until you decide that the guy is worth seeing exclusively. This will slow things way down, and give you several dates to give the chemistry a chance to emerge -- or to prove definitely non-existent. It will also relieve you of the pressure of trying to gauge whether you feel any physical spark that first or second date. Instead you can just focus on whether you enjoy his company. You might be surprised what develops after nine or ten hours of stress-free conversation!
posted by artemisia at 1:49 PM on February 18, 2013

Feel free to think I'm square, I guess, but... umm, isn't that why love/sex/etc is supposed to be such a great prize? Because it's hard to come by, it's rare, we don't feel amazing with any given Tom, Dick or Harry... even if it's okay and he does things 'by the book'. Maybe it's a girl thing, but nevertheless, why not own it? Yeah. We're girls. We.. are picky. And not easily satisfied. And stuff. What? Yeah, it makes us more awesome.

We all want to fall in love, that's the problem. Alas! We are also impatient. Double alas! If we are attractive, 'they' are persistent. (I should stop saying 'we', sorry). What I mean is, errr I think this is normal? But try not to sleep with people 'just to test', and like, trust your gut more. If you're not excited, be 'just friends' for awhile. Most people out there are cool, you know, but we can't all just get along in one great big orgy (and that's okay). So, I guess, if you just want to get laid, only do it with the really hot (to you) guys, so you don't feel guilty or like you 'missed out' on anything-- attitude is important. And likewise, if the guy is cool, hang out (rather than dating) and get to know more cool things about him. Sometimes it takes awhile. And sometimes you just find new friends that way. If all these guys are interested, what you have is choices-- so let that work for you.

The stress doesn't help-- worrying about things 'meaning' something, I mean. That's what's so sucky about dating. It's like constantly being tested and testing others, with sex playing the role of final exam. If you try to have more low-pressure no-testing non-evaluative and exploratory interactions, love may just flower. These things tend to happen in their own sweet time; love in particular is especially perverse, which sucks I know.
posted by reenka at 6:44 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

As another online dater, I've been thinking about this problem quite a lot. This is what I came up with, it may or may not be applicable to your situation.

I've thought a lot about the elusive concept of chemistry. I've been trying to see if I could perhaps give the ephemeral concept a more concrete meaning, and my conclusion was: Chemistry or "that spark" do NOT actually have anything to do with how well you get along, or how attractive / nice the other person is. Chemistry is actually that tension we feel when we are with someone slightly intimidating, the thought that "Oh wow, this person is a catch, I have to be on my best behavior so that I impress this person!" Those butterflies in my stomach that I associate with chemistry are me feeling the anxiety that comes with trying to impress someone else and not being 100% sure that it's working. Of course, when I try to impress someone, that also creates a sort of self-justifying cycle...if I'm going through the effort to impress then this person must be worth impressing. I start to find more things about the person that I like and I find to be good qualities.

Some of the thinking behind "The Rules" and "The Game" seem to give evidence to this fact. Negging and playing it cool are basically tricks into getting the other person to think that you are someone worth impressing by attacking their self-confidence. However, these techniques don't attack the root of the problem and only address the result, they're like the "No Child Left Behind" philosophy applied to dating. The problem is actually tough and time-consuming to solve, you need to become an interesting person with impressive (and maybe even slightly intimidating) achievements.

What I found from my experience online dating was I had a very poor understanding of the kind of things that I find impressive in a woman. Whatever my filtering process was, I tended to go on dates with nice women, but I would fail to find any sort of connection with them. They were usually nice, decent looking, decent conversationalists, but were always missing that crucial element that made me want to see them again.

Thinking back to the good relationships that I've had, the ones that've always developed into long-term things were the ones where we were mutually intimidated by each other in the beginning. To meet someone where this is true is rare, which is probably why the process of dating can become so difficult.

This also doesn't say anything about long-term compatibility, just feeling that sort of anxiety and passion in the short-term. Sometimes long-term stuff develops out of it, sometimes not.
posted by C^3 at 7:38 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been trying to see if I could perhaps give the ephemeral concept a more concrete meaning, and my conclusion was: Chemistry or "that spark" do NOT actually have anything to do with how well you get along, or how attractive / nice the other person is. Chemistry is actually that tension we feel when we are with someone slightly intimidating, the thought that "Oh wow, this person is a catch, I have to be on my best behavior so that I impress this person!" Those butterflies in my stomach that I associate with chemistry are me feeling the anxiety that comes with trying to impress someone else and not being 100% sure that it's working.

Hmm, I don't agree with this. I've been on many many online dates. Wished I wanted to have sex with these men, and then randomly met someone in real life who makes me weak in the knees, who I can't stop fantasizing about.

I felt intimidated by some online dates, but very little attraction. My own theory is it's probably a biological mystery, perhaps something to do with MHC. Until OKcupid discovers that formula, I'm going to have to assume I'll have to date A LOT of people if I want to find a more biological match and that I should not focus my dating efforts solely on this- I should go to parties and other things where I might meet such a man. And ultimately I have to decide whether that's important to me, whether if I got to know someone longer maybe I'd feel attracted to them, but in my experience that hasn't worked out well. The sex doesn't have to be great at first- we can work on that, but I have to be able to want to have sex with them.
posted by melissam at 6:44 AM on February 19, 2013

« Older How do I start giving 150% at work?   |   Getting control of bank account from parent? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.