I have no idea how to get past the honeymoon period. It's killing me.
May 2, 2013 7:55 PM   Subscribe

I have a history of romantic involvements that usually never get past three or four months (with a single exception that went on for 3.5 years). This didn't used to bother me so much, but it's now starting to make me ridiculously sad. I'm 30. How can I learn to hold someone's interest in me and/or choose better? Sorry for the book below, and thanks for any suggestions.

I'm not even sure where to start, but here goes...

I'm a woman.
Here's the good:
I've been told I'm very pretty.
I have a steady job in a career I love.
I'm fairly geeky about a great many things: fashion, music, physics, film, astronomy, cooking, embroidery, costuming, Linux, language and linguistics, graphic design, sci-fi, animation of all kinds, Japanese and British things...I could keep going, but I'll stop there.
I like to dress well.
I have a steady job in a career I love.
I love sharing things with people, and I love when people share with me.
I don't think I have nothing to offer anyone, and I know I have a lot of love to give. I just can't seem to find anyone who wants it.

The bad:
I don't always find it easy to make friends or keep them. I do have close friends (mostly from college or high school), but none of them are local.
My work makes it difficult to meet people. I'm a cook, and sometimes I have NO energy after a shift. I also don't have much in common with my co-workers.
I can be painfully shy (which cycles. At my happiest, I'm not. Right now, I'm afraid to approach anyone else for fear of scaring them off eventually. I'm still trying to, though). I have struggled my entire life with depression, and I used to withdraw from others at my lowest, because people seem threatened by sadness. Recently I've taken Marilyn Monroe's advice: 'If you can't handle me at my worst, then you don't deserve me at my best.'
I'm not the world's best housekeeper, though I'm working on it.

The ugly:
I get hit on OFTEN, but not by people I would want to date. I keep attracting (not saying yes to) married or poly guys, workaholics, alcoholics, and OLD guys who like 'em young (I still look barely legal). The kinds of people I'm attracted to (other creative people, other geeks, mixes of the two) don't usually give me a second glance unless I speak up. There really aren't that many black geeks period, and I suspect I'm just not on some people's radar...so I usually have to make the first move. For a person who is already shy at times, this is scary as all hell.
The constant rejection would be easier to cope with if it weren't for the fact that people often fall head over heels in love with me. It's not just mild interest, it's DROOLING, GIBBERING MADNESS. I think I end up embodying the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype for some people: I'm...kinda quirky and I seem really different to what they're used to. A few weeks later, they're done. They sober up, walk away, and I'm left sweeping up the pieces. Sometimes I know why:
  • One guy (1.5 mo) thought I was too 'fully realized as a person'.
  • Another, a love-at-first-sight situation on both our parts (4 mo), wanted someone to heal his childhood pain. He didn't care what shape this mythical pink unicorn took (though I didn't find this out until months after he suddenly fell out of love with me, didn't tell me for another month, and THEN dumped me). This was the happiest relationship I've ever been in; he is also the ONLY person I've ever been with who told me that he loved me. Ugh.
  • Yet another (5 mo) thought I would cheat on her because I am open to poly relationships, just under certain tightly-defined circumstances. And like the above guy, she never discussed her concerns with me before dumping me.
The only LTR I've had was with a guy who was attracted to me sexually for 8 months. We were together for 3.5 years. That's a long time to go without sex WITHIN a relationship, and I don't even have a strong need for it (I love sex. Don't get me wrong. I just...don't need it like most people seem to. My desire could be described as reactive; if I'm not in a relationship, I can go without for years). At a year in, I was approaching pon farr levels of horny. Why didn't I leave sooner? I lived with him, and I was so depressed over what was going on in my life at the time (abusive mother stalking me; inability to find work after graduation; uncertainty that I could be happy in a relationship) that I was paralyzed. Why didn't he leave? He wanted to help, and though he never said it, I felt that he loved me. He stood by me until he couldn't take it anymore.

Then there's all the people I've met that I turned down after one, two or three dates for various reasons: shared interests, but very dull; too much of a homebody; too argumentative; too tied up in a career to legitimately make room for someone else; too in love with the sound of his own voice, etc.

To be fair, I've managed to avoid abusive relationships. I look for people who would make great friends and who represent a healthy mix of (stereotypically) masculine and feminine traits (I am a genderqueer tomboy and a bit of a gearhead myself). I'm close friends with three of my exes. I know what I'd like in a partner: an intellectual equal; a friend; someone who is fairly active and likes to go OUT and DO fun things every so often; an equal partner in every sense of the word. I don't want to be dominated; I don't want to dominate anyone. I want to understand, and I want to be understood. (For this reason, situations in which lovers don't speak the same language make absolutely no sense to me. I get frustrated by having to define every third word I use in conversation. I can't tolerate that with a potential partner, though I don't have this expectation of friends) Is this too much to ask? Am I being too picky?

I have no problem expressing my love for people, despite having had the sort of horrible upbringing that often leaves people unable to show affection; but I'm not sure how to make someone feel 'needed', since I've been alone for so long that I've had to be self-sufficient. My 'need' for someone develops with time and my love for them.

I can't find anyone I really like who wants to stick around. I feel like no one will ever want me for very long unless I'm not interested in them, which doesn't make me want to keep trying. The idea of lasting love seems, at best, a lottery and at worst, a cruel joke to me. It's starting to make me near-suicidal at this point...I know that's silly...but I'm not sure what to do about it.
posted by oogenesis to Human Relations (34 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Unless there's more you haven't listed, it seems like you've only had five failed relationships! That's not bad at all, and judging from your description of these people it doesn't seem like they would make great long-term partners anyway. My suggestions:

1) Are you seeing some type of therapist for your depression? If you aren't, start now, especially since you've mentioned suicide. I've had a lot of relationships where the person was head-over-heels with me at first, then seemed to lose interest. Looking back, I realized it was because I'd slacked on my mental health (I also suffer from depression, among other things) and the resulting change in personality turned them off.

2) Have you tried OKCupid? There seems to be a higher percentage of nerdy/quirky people there, you might have more success.

3) Are you only interested in dating other black people? You mention that there aren't many black geeks. I'm a black, nerdy, quirky girl and honestly I've gotten interest from very few black people. So if you're only looking at black people, expand your horizons.

Finally, as a date point, I'm 22 and have had five failed relationships, 3 failed pseudo-relationships that only lasted a few months and numerous dates where me or the person just wasn't interested. Most of my friends are in the same boat, so in my opinion you're doing just fine. Don't worry, keep looking! Though I would suggest that before you keep looking you make sure your depression is properly managed.
posted by Autumn at 8:07 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My best advice is to try to take it a little more slowly in the future, and not hit them with all your awesome at once. Let it trickle out, little by little.

I have had tendencies in the past to seem like a mega-version of myself in the early stages of my relationship which then peters out to a more realistic version within a few months. I think it led people to believe they'd been had. They'd been living around a manic, fun-crazed, go-getting late-night-talker only to eventually find someone who had normal-person faults and who liked cozy/boring downtime. It was hard to see the change in me, but I later learned other people spot the difference more immediately.

Alternately, it could be you attract people who have some inadequacy issues, and they also have a hard time coping with their ideal of you. They might think they don't deserve you. If you think that's an issue, maybe be upfront about how great you think he/she is.

I may be finding similiarities between us where none exist, but I think this may help.
posted by nohaybanda at 8:23 PM on May 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

I hear low self esteem and insecurity in there somewhere. You don't have to worry about holding someone else's interest. Maybe this is what causes you to put yourself on display and turn up the manic pixie for people early on in the relationship... a deep feeling that you're not good enough as you are.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:39 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @Autumn:
I didn't mention my experience with online dating. I've been on OKCupid for years; it's how I met my only LTR. I haven't had a lot of luck with the site otherwise...friendships have come from it, but not partnerships. Since turning 30, I've only gotten interest online from people who are either a little younger than myself (which I don't mind) or way older (late 40s or 50s). I used to date much older, but I'd like someone a little closer to my age now.

I have dated all over the skin color spectrum, and have found too that black men tend not to be interested in me (unless they're drunk and on public transit, or clearly not my type). The people I usually end up dating have Token Black Friends. (This is not by design.)

There are more dead relationships I haven't mentioned -- this isn't all of them by a long shot. But they failed for other reasons: either I wasn't looking for something lasting then, or they were way more into me than I was attracted to them and I had to let them down. That rarely happens anymore.

You may be on to something. Maybe my personality is a little too strong at first. I'm not sure how to tone that down, especially since more of me comes out if I really like someone; I'm not necessarily trying to impress. Then I calm down some after a little while. The inadequacy thing might also be an issue. I'm pretty sure it was with the last guy...the one looking for a mythical pink unicorn.

Dude, If I think you're special, I will shower you with love. I have said to people 'I think you're awesome!' 'I wish I could clone you!' 'I'm crazy about you.' If I say it, I mean it. I go out of my way to spoil people. It seems to make things worse sometimes, esp. with people who prefer to give that kind of attention, not receive it.
posted by oogenesis at 8:50 PM on May 2, 2013

Best answer: You sound pretty awesome to me!

I could have written this about 10 years ago (minus some of the more cool parts of your personality). I seriously thought something was wrong with me that I just couldn't get past the honeymooon stage, seemed to only attract people I wasn't interested in myself, etc. Then I met my partner who I have now been with happily for 10 years. Nothing changed in me to make that happen. I just met someone different, and that person was finally right for me.

All of which is to say: there might not be any problem. I don't see any major red flags. It just sounds like you are a unusual person. I think sometimes unusual people just tend to have unusual tastes. Either that or attract people either interested in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl persona, or who are pretty unusual themselves. The latter kind of person is probably who you want, but it does mean it's harder to find (by definition of "unusual").

I know it's easier said than done to just "keep calm and carry on. " I certainly would not have found this advice helpful 10 years ago. But it was the truth for me, and possibly for you too.
posted by forza at 9:54 PM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

You're 30, and you've had one 3.5 year relationship and a handful of shorter relationships -- honestly, that sounds fairly typical to me, particularly in the big-city, non-exclusively-heterosexual circles I'm guessing you run in.

This state makes you so despairing as to be near-suicidal? I don't think that logically follows. If it did, how many people you know would be in the same boat?

You're turning a perhaps-not-ideal-but-still-not-really-outlying data point into something disastrous in your mind. Maybe a CBT oriented therapist could help?
posted by lewedswiver at 10:46 PM on May 2, 2013

Even though I agree with nohaybanda's advice that it may help things last longer if you try to reveal your awesomeness more slowly, this is not easy to do when you are, in fact, awesome. Partly because it's just you being who you are at your best, and it's fun to have someone discover you and appreciate all the little bits of you and feel like you really "get" each other, which just brings out more of the best in you.

I like what forza told you--just keep on keeping on. When you're feeling pessimistic about your dating history, think of this favorite Isabel Allende quote: "Perhaps we are in this world to search for love, find it and lose it, again and again. With each love, we are born anew, and with each love that ends we collect a new wound. I am covered with proud scars."
posted by gubenuj at 11:43 PM on May 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: @lewedskiver:

Among those I know, my situation is decidedly NOT typical: a substantial majority of my acquaintances/co-workers and friends have multiple LTRs under their belts, even those younger than me. (I include almost all my exes.) I live in LA...but I don't really run in circles. My friends are packaged individually; I've had little luck joining larger groups and tend not to 'fit in' most places.

I try not to compare myself to others, but it's hard not to feel that I lack a certain je ne sais quoi that keeps a partner interested when I'm surrounded by wedding bands, engagement rings, the divorced and people who talk about their LTRs ALL THE DAMN TIME. Yes, this really fucking hurts. I'm not trying to be dramatic; I want to know what I'm doing wrong, if anything.

Re: therapy -- waiting 'til my insurance kicks in at work. I can't really afford it otherwise.
posted by oogenesis at 11:51 PM on May 2, 2013

It's not your fault. Stop seeing it as a personal failure. You can't make an LTR happen.
posted by discopolo at 12:16 AM on May 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: a substantial majority of my acquaintances/co-workers and friends have multiple LTRs under their belts

This is a shitty measuring stick, stop using it.

It's funny to come back to this and realize that some of the stuff your parents said when you were a kid was actually deep ass shit™, but as a tiny child whenever i'd ask my mom "Hey, why does that person get to do XYZ and i don't" or "Why have they done XYZ and i haven't?" She'd just go "Someone else doing something, or getting to do something isn't a reason to do it or to worry about not having done it. They aren't you, and you aren't them".

I'm in my mid 20s and i've had about the same relationship history as you. I know people a few years older than me who have had dumpsters full of short honeymoon relationships. I know people about that same age who have had only one or two relationships. My partner is my age and has only dated two people, and one of them is me. I also have friends who have had a couple serious, 4 year + relationships. They're all completely different people, and i don't really ever find myself wishing i've had more or less experience on either side of that fence than i do. They just aren't me, and their relationships probably aren't much of anything like relationships i'd have on the macro or micro scale. There's very little useful comparison to be making there.

That didn't stop me though, when i was a bit younger from really letting it get to me. It used to really bother me that almost everyone i knew had more experience than me, or had been in several serious relationships when i had only been in a handful of honeymoon ones, etc. I found myself constantly asking well, myself questions like what you wrote out here. Tallying up a score for myself vs a score for them, and looking at the reasons my relationships had failed and thinking i was somehow doing it wrong or a fucked up person or something.

The 3 examples you give sound like relationships that needed to end, and shitty dynamics. None of this reflects on you badly in any way except that you guys were a bad combination(and wow, the first one especially made me want to sock that person). I can especially relate to feeling like the ridiculous out of the box new crazy thing to try for some people, but as long as you're being genuine and not trying to play some part like that, i think the blame for using and discarding you lies solely on the other person a bit, but mostly on it just being an oval peg in a round hole type thing. It fits for a bit, but it wasn't actually made to fit.

I think choosing better is something that evolves by itself over time. You consciously notice now that you may be stuck in a rut, or on (a) specific type(s) of person/people. Now, going forward you'll probably notice red flags earlier that they're a completely wanker like some of your examples made the people sound like. I've definitely gone through several short relationships with wankers that helped tune my butthead radar far better.

I definitely think most of the problem here is with being discouraged, not with you or anything you're doing. The problem is that when i felt the way you do right now, it would have been really hard for anyone, even future me in a time machine, to convince myself that i wasn't the problem.

I've never said this on here before, but after having several relationship-related bummed out close friends, i really think therapy is the solution here. That and just getting out and meeting people.

On reskimming the thread, i'm basically saying what forza said. But yea, i agree with that. The problem here is not you, but i really really really really wanted to just say that relationship histories of people you know is a shitty measuring stick. ugh.

Also, on preview, something to keep in mind is that the people who end up in good comfy LTRs basically won a game of chance. Nothing is wrong with you if you have to try a huge pile of people before you find someone who fits. Some people are a lot more one size fits all about spouses within certain boundaries, and some people take a really specific person to fit with. The sort of thought process you're engaging in here always seems to bug me since it comes off, on some level, as "I want to mush myself up so i fit in more slots and have a better chance of finding someone" and reeks of the whole disturbing thing in society that being in a committed big boy pants relationship is some kind of checkered flag finish line to cross that validates your existence compared to other people.

Don't settle, and don't let yourself get too discouraged. The search can be discouraging, but don't look at yourself as damaged goods or anything. You're just weird, and not in a bad way. The right person will see that weird and go "fucking AWESOME!". The wrong person will give you some fucking crap like the "fully realized person" thing(wow, that still pisses me off looking at it again. just, wow)
posted by emptythought at 1:35 AM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: For what it's worth I'm sorry things are hard for you. And it does sound hard, very hard, to feel this way. Please take care of yourself and make sure you are well-supported. If you are really feeling near-suicidal, please consider getting some professional help, both immediate in the form of a crisis line, and long-term counselling. Negative thought patterns that make you think about ending your life are not "silly" under any circumstances, but rather indicate that you are dealing with a lot of pain and you are struggling to cope with it.

I want to talk about this kind of thinking a bit. This state makes you so despairing as to be near-suicidal? I don't think that logically follows. If it did, how many people you know would be in the same boat? You're turning a perhaps-not-ideal-but-still-not-really-outlying data point into something disastrous in your mind.

It's not wrong. On the outside, your situation doesn't sound abnormal. Many people have a similar relationship history at this age and this, *by itself*, is not the kind of stressor that would lead most people towards the kind of hopelessness you're describing. The fact that you *are* feeling such hopelessness is not an indicator that you are being silly, or bad at processing your emotions, or are otherwise deficient. This is just your depression, conspiring to make you feel worthless again, using your relationships as fuel. There is no shame in feeling sad or hopeless when you have a lot of pain going on. It's not silly to be in pain. You have good reasons. Just remember it's not your fault, okay?

I really think you're doing things right. Reading about your approach to relationships, there's nothing I would change. You have not met the right person yet and you should not settle for someone who is not that person. But based on some of the things you've said, especially about things you can do to make other people want to stay with you, I think you're in danger of making your happiness and self-worth contingent on the love of that partner you have yet to meet, rather than finding that intrinsic happiness in your own life that lets you be a true equal in a partnership. Such situations are poison for healthy relationships. And it's even possible that you're putting out vibes to that effect that people are subconsciously picking up on, and this is affecting the kind of people who talk to you and flirt with you.

There are any number of reasons why you may be enacting such patterns. Sounds like your upbringing had a role. Those of us who missed out on the whole adult expressing emotions part of growing up have work to do when it comes to relationships and emotions and connections. It's okay. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You're doing fine. You're worthy of love. None of this is your fault.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:35 AM on May 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

It's ok to be single.

Get help for your depression - that will continue to screw with you.

On OKC, do you wait for men to contact you or do you look for the men who have the characteristics you want, and write them? If not, maybe try that.
posted by bunderful at 4:02 AM on May 3, 2013

Best answer: Someone along the way once said, "Become the person you want to be with." To which another replied, "The people that you attract reflect how you see yourself."

There are two ways to go through life I suppose. One is an outcome-oriented focus. With respect to dating, this looks like, "dating is a shit process of confusion and wasted time that one has to go through. When it's done right, the result will be a relationship."

The other is a process-oriented focus. With respect to dating, this looks like, "The way to find a partner is to date people until someone sticks. Since I don't know who will stick, I may as well enjoy the process..."

The problem with outcome-orientations is that they focus on results and ignore the process, when the process is what will determine the outcome. It's not unique, lots of people seem to go about life this way. For some people I think it works, and for others it doesn't. If it hasn't worked for you, perhaps learn to enjoy the process.

The funny thing about relationships is that they just happen. A date leads to another date which leads to another date and so on... eventually there's a relationship. Thus, the focus can be on just enjoying the next date. Rather than thinking about finding the right person for ever, trying to get to the next date. If The Weirdness emerges, there is no third date. If The Weirdness does not emerge, proceed to the fourth date.

A mentor once said "my marriage has been like thirty years of dates. Each morning, I decide to keep dating this person. Each day I decide that my life is better with him than without him."

So I guess:

1) Focus your energies on the one thing that you can control, how you spend your own time. Trust that someone will find when it is your time.

2) Consider the people you are attracting to be feedback on the energy you are putting out. Accentuate time spent on things that produce more of those people. Discontinue time spent on things that produce The Weirdness.

3) Look at a long-term relationship not as a 3.5 years, but a thousand days.
posted by nickrussell at 4:18 AM on May 3, 2013 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Change your approach.

Do some empirical work. Look at the men you know who are married. How do they differ from the men you have been dating?

It's an inherent weakness of online dating but DON'T limit yourself to men with whom you share current interests or hobbies. Almost every man I know well married at or younger than the age you're looking for, to women of quality, and while some happened to meet their wives in the pursuit of some shared interest, in zero cases I know of was his wife's hobbies or interests of more than the smallest consequence to his initial attraction or eventual desire for a LTR. Men like intelligence, kindness, beauty, and responsibility. The couples I know who have a passionate shared interest often developed it long after marriage, or it was something one of them loved but the other had never experienced or sometimes even didn't know about before they got together.

Consider moving to where your good friends or family are. A deeper social network could help a lot in fitting a relationship into a more permanent framework.

Reconsider some of your criteria. Your inclusion of "workaholism" -- which is a virtuous state of being a serious grown-up given the perils of the modern economy, or the basic nature of many professions -- in a roster of vices like drunkeness and cheating, seems pretty wrong-headed to me, especially if you're looking for man with the appetite for a serious relationship. Even the geekiest or most creative of guys is going to be a lot more businessman than aesthete if he's made anything of himself by his mid 30s, to say the least of older. A guy in that age range whose most salient characteristic is "geek" or "creative" is not likely to be LTR material by his own choice or through harsh realities of life.
posted by MattD at 4:49 AM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds a lot like what I went through. I have a strong personality and quirks, I suffer from depression, etc. and when i got in to a relationship I not intentionally but still unavoidably barfed my strongest/weirdest/most likely to scare them off traits early on. I think I was unconsciously trying to make sure they would like me even when I was at my worst. I also took things too fast, relationships went from a date to OMG BOYFRIEND in days.

The trick is to take things a lot more slowly. Seriously. Scale everything back and slow down your process. Have it take a week (or longer) to progress to a point in a new relationship that you normally would reach in days.

also, if you're getting hit on by people you aren't interested in, maybe take a look at how you're presenting yourself and the signals you're sending. I was getting hit on by a lot of hick-ish, unintelligent people which was extremely frustrating, but youknow I was showing a LOT of cleavage and not exactly presenting myself as the educated, bright, strong, confident woman that I am. Then when I started dressing in classier, better looking clothes and just behaving in a classier way I started getting hit on by classier men. WIN!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:34 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: >a substantial majority of my acquaintances/co-workers and friends have multiple LTRs under their belts

>>This is a shitty measuring stick, stop using it.

Agreed. Here's the thing- if you had wanted to, you COULD have had plenty of LTRs right now... with all of those guys you weren't attracted to who hit on you. You could have just shrugged your shoulders, picked them, and given up trying for something better. But you didn't, because you're mature and self-actualized enough to know what you want and what you DON'T want.

I am also picky, and I have also had only one relationship longer than 4 months. Sometimes this really gets me down. But honestly, I would NOT have wanted longer relationships with many of the guys I've met, and when I look at certain friends of mine who seem to basically TOLERATE their SOs because it's better than being alone, I am so happy that I'm not the settling type.

As for solutions: it sounds like you will be in therapy soon, which is great. I think it would be beneficial for you to join some sort of regularly-meeting group activity- something cheesy like dodgeball, whatever. And you don't have to be friends with everyone in the group... but you might meet just one or two people who you click with, and they might have some other friends who you'd really get along with, and THOSE friends might be friends with your future husband or wife.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:44 AM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's not you, it's the nature of things.

Everyone in a successful LTR has a string of disappointing false starts. That's how it works, you find people you like, you both hang out, and then, after time, you discover that you're not compatible. End.

Now, I admit, it sounds like you get really into people who aren't worthy of you, or who aren't telling you the whole truth, or whatever. I did that when I was younger too.

As you get older, your bullshit detector gets better, and you learn to assess what you're being told and weigh it against what you see.

I agree, getting out and into activities you enjoy outside of work is probably the best way to meet people you'll enjoy. Both for romance and for friendship.

Estabilishing relationships on shared interests is a very good start, but it's no guarantee. Nothing is guaranteed.

Hang in there though, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:22 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not sure how to make someone feel 'needed', since I've been alone for so long that I've had to be self-sufficient.

I don't always find it easy to make friends or keep them.

Not knowing you, I'll guess the above may have something to do with it. Relationships and friendships are based so much on skill rather than luck. You could try to develop these skills - read, observe people who are good at maintaining friendships online and in real life.

The kinds of people I'm attracted to (other creative people, other geeks, mixes of the two) don't usually give me a second glance unless I speak up.

It sounds like you may be coming across as not-to-be-taken-seriously because of the way you present? Hmm. It bothers me that the first thing you said about yourself is that you're pretty. Are you one of those people who simultaneously enjoys attention and complains about it? You may not be, but if you are, that complex is annoying and girlish. People need to take responsibility for the way they present to the world. Project the image you want others to see.

Have more friends in your life. Clean up your house.

And don't take relationship advice from Marilyn Monroe!
posted by inkypinky at 7:30 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I try not to compare myself to others, but it's hard not to feel that I lack a certain je ne sais quoi that keeps a partner interested when I'm surrounded by wedding bands, engagement rings, the divorced and people who talk about their LTRs ALL THE DAMN TIME. Yes, this really fucking hurts. I'm not trying to be dramatic; I want to know what I'm doing wrong, if anything.

Don't compare your insides with their outsides. Some of those people may be "settling" in ways that you wouldn't consider. People do; they panic around your age or they just get tired of shopping around. There was a comment on the green-- wish I could remember where-- about how 30 is an incredibly competitive age for partnering up and there's a scarcity. People who were in a hurry to partner up have done so, although they may be getting divorced later. I have no way of objectively confirming this but it really sounded plausible to me; there's a first wave of marriage that has swept up a bunch of people. That doesn't mean there are not a bunch left, but you have to make more of an effort.

Concrete advice? You say you have trouble meeting people so maybe do it artificially and efficiently. Seriously, speed date or enroll in a dating service. Find a way to meet a lot of potential candidates. Don't let anyone take up a month (or two, or four) of exclusive dating right away. Just meet a lot of them and wait for someone to emerge from the pack. There is still the challenge of deciding who to get exclusive with but if you are dating more people you may make better choices.
posted by BibiRose at 7:32 AM on May 3, 2013

Best answer: I'm with PuppetMcSockerson. I think the Marilyn Monroe approach makes sense.. after six months or so, when you know this is real and this person is going to have to deal with some of your traits that are difficult. When I look back on my string of failed brief relationships, I took the most joy in completely dumping all of my emotional junk on my "boyfriends" within the first few weeks. My favorite thing was to lie in bed late at night and talk with them about the deepest darkest secrets of my childhood. This is not how you build a sustainable relationship - it's depressing, all of the mysteries are gone very quickly, and you're putting your partner in a very awkward situation.

You didn't say in your question if this is something you do, so I apologize if I'm just extrapolating erroneously. But learning this lesson was HUGE for me, and led to my first really healthy LTR.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:44 AM on May 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

I would say try to focus on your present and your future, not your past. I don’t see any obvious destructive patterns in your dating life*, so I don’t think your past has any predictive value for your future. Flipping a coin and getting tails 5 times in a row doesn’t make it more likely that you’ll get tails the next time.

I would also suggest making an effort to broaden your social circle to include more singles, both men and women. Maybe a Meetup group for single women in their 30’s? Or some other group centered around something you’re interested in. That could help your skewed perspective that you’re the “only one” your age who’s not partnered up, which isn’t true at all.

Also, a relationship with a guy not working out says just as much about him as it does about you. Don’t blame yourself.

*Except possibly that you date guys who seem to fall for you really quickly. IME, the guys who are making grandiose declarations of love early on aren’t the kind of guys who are realistic about love and looking for something lasting. “OMG you’re so amazing, I’m in love with you” on date 5 is a red flag.
posted by Asparagus at 8:06 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had a string of failed brief relationships in my 20s and 30s. What changed were two things. First, I realized I was depressed and had anxiety issues, and I got treatment for them. Second, I got a dog and learned that I had been missing some part of upbringing that included unconditional love, and having raised a puppy and dealt with her health issues (that required surgery) prepared me to tolerate the bad that comes with the good and to realize that even when someone is angry with you and in pain that they still love you.

I'm not saying "go get a dog and get a shrink" -- but these things are food for thought. Before those things I either had a string of failed relationships, or I had disastrously, spectacularly bad and unhealthy relationships. I had a few failed relationships after those things, too. But the tables had turned in that I suddenly wasn't the one that failed at the relationship, or they failed for other (good) reasons instead of bad reasons.

Every attractive woman has to deal with the creepy old men and the guys who are only sexually attracted to her. It's easy to put those guys down. It sounds like you're mainly attracted to people who are healthy and accomplishing things; those are good things to look for in someone to have a relationship with.

What's funny is that you sound like someone I went on a couple of dates with in Portland in my 20s.
posted by SpecialK at 8:12 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Before I was with him, my own husband's approach to dating was basically stay with the girl for up to 3 months, and if by that time he didn't think it had potential for marriage then break up and move on to the next one. By that measure you've been very successful then. So... it's all about your approach I suppose.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 8:19 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think given what you've described, you might need to start regarding the DROOLING GIBBERING MADNESS as a red flag and put serious distance between yourself and the MPDG seekers. There are lots of men in their early 30s looking for their pink unicorn of life-rescue (I really am bewildered and saddened by what seems to have happened to a LOT of the men in our generation...they are super lost and rather thoroughly drugged up and honestly, kind of floundering) and as you know, they are not ready for dealing with actual humans.

I am wondering what specifically you mean by "speaking the same language" and "defining every third word." Is this a matter of you simply having highly developed verbal skills, which many people cannot match? Or is it a matter of you just having, effectively, your own secret language? Because that latter can be really off-putting, as the other person a) cannot communicate with you, and b) starts to feel stupid or plodding or closed out of your private exclusive world. You gotta meet people where they are, to some extent (and they must reciprocate): nobody is going to fit seamlessly into the partner-shaped hole you carve for them.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:21 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Other people here are suggesting that you have some deep personality issues or you're lacking in social skill. I think that kind of talk is not warranted until we address the more obvious things.

You buried the fact that you're black, and genderqueer. I get it; these things do not define you and you don't want a relationship centered around your racial or sexual identity but rather a personality match. But just speaking statistically for a moment, these two things alone make you part of a very niche dating pool and I think they are the cause of your bad luck more than anything else. It sucks that black women with stuff to offer like you get fewer dates than other women, and being non-hetero probably reduces your odds further, but these things are facts across the population. This means you are going to encounter more noise and more unwanted advances and more bullshit, so either you can get better at ignoring this stuff even though it sucks and isn't fair, or you can get more targeted. Figure out where your kind of people are hanging out IRL or online and go a little farther seeking them out, instead of letting things happen with randoms, because your probability of finding a match with any average person off the street is lower than most. Better friend networks tend to bring you in contact with more suitable matches, too (presumably your friends have good taste in people if they like you, and they probably know people you would like) so extra effort there may be fruitful.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:41 AM on May 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If I had to take a guess, your problem is weak boundaries.

Somebody once told me that it's a mistake to try to endear yourself by revealing vulnerability when you're first getting to know somebody. Pity kills attraction unless somebody already has a vested interest in you. People really do have a sixth sense for weak boundaries.

What are some clues? Basically people with weak boundaries don't respect their own boundaries or other people's.

Not respecting your own:
-being emotionally or physically intimate too fast.
-making yourself too available
-inconsistency is a huge tell: trampling on your own boundaries that you've previously asserted to please the other person, going back and forth in an attempt to manipulate.

Not respecting others means disregarding social norms by:
-asking probing/overly intimate questions
-making off-color remarks that are likely to make the other person uncomfortable. Not sure if this is something you do but I used to sort of "test" people out to see if they were down with my weirdness by saying slightly provocative things and seeing how they reacted. I think I actually thought this made me cool and more likeable.
-asking for reassurance or making demands

I have a male coworker who had been dating this girl for a few months. The other day I asked him how things were going and he said he had broken it off with her. I asked him why but I already knew the reason. He told me she had "freaked him out" with a few of her "personality quirks" and that she was taking their relationship "way too seriously." I guessed as much because I had met her a couple of times and could tell just from how she dressed that she had low self esteem. So even subtle things like clothes can be tells.

Men are generally a bit slower at picking up these cues than women are so it may take them a few months before they catch on, especially when they're distracted by lust.

A lot of men are definitely drawn to the manic pixie dream girl archetype. They like a coating of crazy but they will freak out if it runs too deep.
posted by timsneezed at 9:54 AM on May 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

Maybe I'm grasping at straws here but is it possible that you hide behind your weirdness as a way of protecting yourself? I can think of many examples of people embracing and emphasizing things about themselves that have made them targets throughout their lives and alienating others more in the process. I remember reading an article about this homeless man in LA who won a settlement, started renting a luxury apartment, and was eventually evicted because he refused to bathe or change his soiled clothes. In his years on the streets he had erected a shield of filth around him that had become part of his identity and he stubbornly refused to change it. His philosophy was, "well I don't want them if they don't want me!" But in the end he was still alone.

Maybe you were teased by others for being a tomboy growing up and have now gotten really into identifying as gender queer as a means of rectifying that? I just think if you start to openly tag yourself with a trendy different label and talk about it a lot with others you really are narrowing down your dating options. And it's not really because people are necessarily freaked out by the philosophy behind it, so much as they don't want to get involved with somebody who spends a lot of time thinking about identity and gender roles. Why not just let them discover that you're a tomboy rather than telling them outright that you're "gender queer"? Maybe this isn't what you do, and I'm apologizing if I'm assuming too much.
posted by timsneezed at 10:33 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're me! Or me a few years ago. What sticks out here: you're smart. Being smart can seem like it's killing your relationships. Many many many many many people who want to date you will be intimidated by that. Even other smart people. I don't know why this is so, but it seems to be the case. But I wouldn't necessarily change anything if I were you. It's their problem, after all.

Dating sucks at any age. To paraphrase the AA gurus, don't judge your insides by other people's outsides. The people you know may look like their relationships are great. But everyone has problems, and it's particularly hard to navigate romantic attachment in your twenties. It's hard for EVERYONE, not just you!

When I stopped thinking of it as, "I'm now auditioning for a relationship," it got better. When I realized that I wasn't shooting for some award or prize, it got better. When I realized that it wasn't all about me, it got better. Worrying endlessly that there's something wrong with you is just another form of self-obsession. It's the "nice" version of self-obsession (the obnoxious version is "I'm so great"), but it's still self-obsession.

Anyway, don't lose heart! You sound AMAZING. You have love to give, and you will find it! omg, if I could do my twenties over again - actually if I could do my thirties over again - I wouldn't date at all! I wasted so much time trying to be acceptable to people who didn't deserve the effort. God, if I could get those years back! But what can you do? It's all part of growing and getting perspective on life, which you're acquiring right now. (Isn't it fun? LOL)

The thing is, life is hard, and relationships are hard. And it doesn't ever really get any easier. Even after you find "the one" and become happily ensconced in a nice long ten-year LTR, you're STILL going to have problems. They'll be different ones. It never ends. It.just.never.ends.

YOU ARE AWESOME. You will have an amazing life, and it will only partly be about the quality of your relationships. Just stay open, and keep soaring!
posted by cartoonella at 10:54 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree with slow graffiti. I suspect that at least part of the issue is the racism and sexism in the online dating market, not you per se.

There was a thread on AskMeFi a few months back about racism in online dating. This sucks more in that there is nothing you can do about it, but it also means that there is nothing "wrong" with you or your personality or your quirkiness or intellect.

Of course, your quirks may be contributing, but I wouldn't rush to judgment that it's a personality flaw on your part that is impeding your dating success.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:11 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have only skimmed the answers but I don't see this specifically suggested:

A) Stop gushing at people about their awesomeness. I am some Shirley Temple type burbly personality by nature and this is nothing but trouble. It reads as "ditz" and "easily impressed" (aka "loser"). Also, given that you sound smart, etc, probably people that impress you are in fact pretty impressive and thus they are probably used to the compliments. It only convinces them you are beneath them. (It makes me froth at the mouth that I feel like I can't just be nice to people but, seriously, this is read completely wrong by most people. I have been so badly burned so many times by this. I am a lot more circumspect than I used to be.)

B) I am not a fan of online dating. But what does have a track record of leading to happy marriages for geeks is active participation in an online forum. I suggest you participate more actively on MetaFilter and go to MeFi meetups, not with some agenda to "meet romantic partners" but just to meet more people generally. To some extent, this is just a numbers game but how you meet people also matters. Meeting people because they are part of your online social circle is very different from meeting people from a dating site. If there is more to you than initially meets the eye, this can make a big difference.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:08 PM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: OP here again. I wish I could mark most of these as best answers; y'all have given me a veritable feast to chew on, with some perspective for dessert. Thanks, everyone.

I think I just need to calm down about all this. I never thought turning 30 would be a big deal for me at all; I certainly didn't expect to be miserable for not having reached certain milestones by this time. I mean, I still haven't learned to drive, but I'm not suffering as a result.

I am aware that another LTR wouldn't be 'happily ever after', as I expect to have problems arise in relationships. (Now when things seem too good, I worry.) A LTR says to me 'Someone thinks you're worth sticking it out for.' 'Someone loves you enough to deal with your faults.' Things might still not work out, but at least the person gave you a fucking chance to prove yourself.

The reason I thought maybe it was me: I've done a shit ton of work on myself since I left home all those years ago. Meeting the unicorn chaser, who almost worshipped me in a relationship that never felt anything BUT calm and steady, then tossed me out like used Kleenex...*exhales* Yeah. It's...been a while since, but I seem to have regressed to high school/early college me: sad, way too self-conscious of being quirky and rather quiet, afraid of scaring others off with that, and feeling isolated and miserable as a result. I was actually HAPPY before I met him, and had managed to swat away unhappiness for almost three years. Afterwards? 'I wrangle my personal demons into dungeons, meet the man of my dreams, and I'm so "AMAZING" and "FANTASTIC" even he doesn't want me? Now what?'

I wanted to respond to some of the more common threads here, as well as elucidate some things. Please forgive me my long-windedness:

Too much self-disclosure early on?
Probably so. It ties in to a strong need to be understood...I've only really felt understood by two people in my life, and both are among the closest friends I have. Neither lives within 400 mi of me.

Tomboy bad?
Thankfully, I was never teased for being tomboyish by my peers. My mother, on the other hand, found it greatly threatening. By the end of my senior year, I truly wanted to die. Now? I yam what I yam. Sometimes I like dresses and skirts. Sometimes I like wingtips and waistcoats. No big deal.

@cartoonella: Yeah, I've seen this too. It mystifies me. Someone I dated briefly before we decided that we were best as friends told me that he 'respected me too much intellectually' to date me. WTF.

@Michele in California, and others who've mentioned this:
I rarely meet people I really like (like, maybe once every 3 years or so), so when I do, I get EXCITED. I compliment people judiciously. However, I have been known to glomp people, tickle them, or cook them something really special. I gush to other people I know. I told my recent ex one time that I wanted to clone him.

'Workaholism' is NOT something I want in a partner, and I differentiate it from being ambitious or career-focused. To me, if someone is 'married' to their work, at most I will only ever be a mistress. I have dated at least one person who actually self-described as one. Weeks of forgotten dates and meetups -- not rescheduled, FORGOTTEN -- and turned-down invites to hang out kinda made me wonder whether I actually mattered to him. (I didn't.) I am busy, too -- I work more than 40 hours a week -- but I'm not that busy.

@timsneezed & @slow graffiti:
'Genderqueer' is buried, as you put it, precisely BECAUSE it doesn't define me or my identity. As I have little interest in gender/identity politics, I have never mentioned the word to people I date. The most people usually know is that I'm bi (it's on my OKCupid profile). If I'm not meeting someone from online, it comes out merely in passing during the sharing-of-relationship-histories phase (if things get that far). No one I have ever loved has minded one way or the other.

I was being literal about two people speaking different languages. It's the former. I really don't want to apologize for possessing a decent vocabulary, or feel like I'm obligated to hide it from people. Perfectly OK with toning it down for acquaintances or friends, NOT OK with subsuming this for a partner. It's part of who I am. I once dated a girl who was impressed by it but couldn't really reciprocate: 'I have no idea what you're saying, but I love how it sounds coming out.' Um, no thanks.
posted by oogenesis at 10:41 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've given some advice but I just want to say that I really empathize with your struggle, especially this: "Too much self-disclosure early on?
Probably so. It ties in to a strong need to be understood...I've only really felt understood by two people in my life, and both are among the closest friends I have. Neither lives within 400 mi of me."

I also have only two people in my life who have ever really understood me, and like you I feel an urge to show my insides too soon. I'm always feeling people out to see if they're potential kindred spirits. It's almost this superstitious belief that the right person won't be turned off by the order in which I reveal myself and whether I follow the right protocol, because they'll immediately get me and be the same.

I wonder if, like me, you long for somebody who will love you because of your sad parts, rather than in spite of them. If you feel like an outsider, you spend so much of your life trying to hide odd parts of yourself that the though of somebody actually loving you because of those parts is incredibly comforting.
posted by timsneezed at 5:16 PM on May 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: We're in almost exactly the same situation. There's so much pressure at this age to pair up or be paired. And a lot of men do seek manic pixie dream girls. Smart girls with low self-esteem get targeted to play this role so often. In the past year, I've dated someone who hoped I could help him "feel something" for the first time, and someone who hoped I could replace the mother who abandoned him. These were projections. Also, I was projecting onto at least one of these men the role of "boyfriend" when he was in no position to offer me anything that remotely fit that description.

None of this is your fault. None of this is about flaws in your personality or missteps. Though it's healthy to take a good look at yourself and decide whether what you're projecting is an accurate reflection of the best parts of you, it's not healthy to do that when you're depressed, because your entire perspective is skewed. You have lots of love to give? Try redirecting some of that love toward yourself. It's not healthy to give away so much love that you have none for you. You will undoubtedly need a guide to help you with this. A therapist is good. A counselor is just as good. I'd recommend not getting a prescription for antidepressants and calling it a day. Find someone who helps you see yourself accurately. This will take a long time and be so painful.

Also? You don't have to confirm or deny or respond to people's speculations and diagnoses of you on this thread. Looking inwards like that, so intensely, is painful and often fruitless without a guide.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:13 PM on May 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

I really don't want to apologize for possessing a decent vocabulary, or feel like I'm obligated to hide it from people.

Well in that case I got nothin' for ya but endless empathy. Finding people who can keep up with a vocabulary that rises past a certain level (and with whom you'd want to bother talking in the first place) is, verily, a bitch of a task.

I agree with the general consensus, though: you're neither flawed nor even really behind any kind of curve. Dating just sucks until it doesn't suck. Sometimes it never stops sucking. There's virtually nothing any individual person can do to change these things.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:25 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older I have been looking for years for a screensaver...   |   Help me remember this quotation... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.