Am I unlucky, or unlovable?!
December 13, 2015 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Ok, that was a very dramatic question title. But dude: I'm 32 and haven't had a relationship for 5 and 1/2 years! How do I change this and/or shake the feeling it's because I'm just not worthy?

I haven't had a new boyfriend since my long-term relationship ended at 27. I'm starting to feel like it's because I'm unlovable-- help! Intellectually I know this isn't true, but viscerally I can't shake it. Some information that might be helpful:

--I make new friends easily. It's much easier than romantic stuff.
--I'm a conventionally attractive woman. This does not entitle me to a boyfriend! But it's worth mentioning because I'm pretty sure my appearance isn't a problem.
--I'm not shy, but I am introverted. So admittedly I'm not meeting new people every weekend.
--I've been on and off most dating apps. While I don't hate online dating, it feels shallow and forced. Most of the men I meet bore me to tears. And I've tried sleeping around, but it's very "meh." Things don't get hot for me until that person has "fucked my mind" first.
--I'm not clingy. In fact, I'm usually overwhelmed by the pace of dating and wish the process would go slower. It takes me awhile to warm up to someone.
--On the rare occasion I DO like someone, I feel anxious about them (though I still don't act clingy.) I hate how my emotions can get super intense when I let my guard down.

Sometimes I go months without going on a date, and I don't even think about it! This worries me. I DO want to meet a partner, but it feel disingenuous to hunt for one. There's a part of me that's at peace with being single (I like a lot of things about my life) and very zen about encountering the right person on the universe's timeline. And there's another part of me that is deeply sad that I'm not participating in a very human experience: cuddles! sex! butterflies! I want to live a little, you know? I'm also worried I might be doing something seriously wrong and should start figuring out what that is.

So... thanks for indulging me. (I refuse to count the number of times I just used the word "I." ) What can I do to shake myself out of his rut, or at least not feel bad being in it? I am a cool person, damn it.
posted by dryersock to Human Relations (15 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Since you have nothing to lose really, how about just copying your question directly into one of those dating sites and see what happens. Seriously, don't change anything, just put it out there. Call it an experiment.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:56 PM on December 13, 2015

It's fine! Most men are bad! From your description, it sounds like you could have a boyfriend if you wanted any old boring-ass boyfriend. You don't want to settle for that, and good for you.

Relax, tune in to the part of you that enjoys being single, go out and do things that aren't dating, and cultivate patience. For people like you (and me, and lots of folks), the cuddles, sex, and butterflies aren't worth all that much all by themselves -- you have to like the person you're cuddling with. That's bad news for cuddle frequency, maybe, but not long-term bad news for you.

People will tell you stuff like "you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet a prince" but who wants to kiss frogs? There are a lot more frogs, granted (most men are bad!), but they're sort of unpleasant to smooch. Doesn't sound to me like you're doing anything wrong except maybe driving yourself up a wall wondering what you're doing wrong.
posted by babelfish at 4:01 PM on December 13, 2015 [18 favorites]

No answers, just commiserating. I'm much older than you and am just going back into online dating after a very long hiatus.

One thing: be glad you can let your guard down and feel strongly. One can become so cautious and guarded that it's paralyzing. Ask me how I know. Massive anxiety in a relationship might be something to address in therapy, though.

I really doubt you are doing anything "wrong." You have the audacity of pickiness especially when it comes to physical intimacy. By all means, keep it.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:03 PM on December 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Maybe the type of person you're seeking is somehow the type that also bores you to tears. Go to a speed dating event. I know you want it to start slow, so there's also all sorts of clubs, but get out in person.

I doubt you're doing anything wrong from the way this question is worded as well. I was basically despairing from online dating after many years when I suddenly met someone at a party. It only has to happen once. Just be open and happy with yourself.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:16 PM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

If an intellectual connection of a certain type is really, really, dealbreaker-important to you, it might be worth trying to filter for this before you even get to meeting someone. My previous approach was basically give meeting anyone in person a chance, even if there didn't seem to be much in the way of a stimulating back and forth online conversation, but I'm starting to heavily question this. Now, there's no guarantee that someone who can engage and express themselves well in written format will be able to do the same in person - but it certainly doesn't hurt their chances. It's pretty draining to meet a lot of people who you're just not clicking with if you're an introvert, so trying to reduce the number of people you meet but improve the likelihood of an initial connection might help.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:27 PM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I was single, I took the approach of, well, this is probably not going to be a permanent state. I don't know when I'm going to meet the person I'll be with for the rest of my life, but once it happens, I'll have someone else I'll have to consider. With everything. And if I have kids, even more so. So this is my last chance to really be so called selfish.

With this in mind, I enjoyed the hell out of everything about being single. First kisses. Getting the bed all to myself. Eating popcorn for dinner. Not having to go the in laws house. You name it, there's so many great things about being single. And ultimately, I was right. I was only single for three years, then you know, husband kids blahblahblah, I have to share my bed with three other people and 7am counts as a sleep in. (Obligatory I lovemyfamilyverymuch)

So you need to enjoy being single while you can. Statistically, it's not going to last. (Also, someone who looks like they're having a great time is much more likely to attract a partner than someone who is miserable being alone but that's not why I tell you to do it.) In short, you're single - lucky you! Make the most of it, one day you'll look upon this as a great period of your life.
posted by Jubey at 4:37 PM on December 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

The only thing you are doing is (probably) manifesting a desire for things to go more slowly. The only men who won't take that as a strong sign of lack of interest are men who are only looking for fling themselves.

But otherwise can you start doing things differently.

Put yourself in places and situations where single men with intense interests congregate. Science fiction conventions. Any brew-pub in a 50 mile radius of downtown Palo Alto. I 100% personally guarantee you will be surrounded by smart single men who won't bore you if you volunteer for Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz (as your taste may dictate).

There are a lot more dating apps than there used to be. Try a couple of new (to you) ones.

Broaden your dating criteria. Older, younger, fatter, skinnier, suit and tie or workboots. Get to know people more, prequalify people less
posted by MattD at 5:26 PM on December 13, 2015

Online dating, or any sort of dating qua dating, doesn't work for everyone. It didn't work for me (single for 5 years, from 25-30).

It's ok if it doesn't work for you- there are other ways to meet people. For me, after I pitched a fit and stomped off okcupid (I was sick of going on boring dates, mostly)- I started spending more time doing the things I liked, and that's how I met Mr Nat (now together almost five years).

Turns out I am just a slow burn person. I don't generally get the hots for brand new people, and even when I have it's always someone I spend a lot of time with first. So dating as in going on dates with people i had never met before-- was pretty boring. Maybe some of those people I would have been into in other settings, but I never got enough of a chance to find out and didn't like the actual act of dating enough to do it on the hopes some random person would be interesting.

On the other hand, "do what you like" only works if at least some of what you like involves other people. It doesn't necessarily have to involve them in person, but I personally like that better. So- volunteer, get a hobby, learn a new craft, join a maker space-- but whatever it is do the thing because you like the thing. Meet people because people are interesting-- and if some of them, or their friends, turn out to be relationship material- bonus.

posted by nat at 2:08 AM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Look, years ago I was rejected from eharmony. I signed up, went through all the quizzes, and I got an error message saying I was compatible with less than 2% of the population and they couldn't help me. I'm married now. My bet is you're not doing anything at all wrong.

However, I can vouch for the Palo Alto thing though (and the Bay Area in general - at least ten years ago). It makes me wonder where you live, and if a change of scenery might help. I know dating in my hometown didn't work for me - just not my scene.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:56 AM on December 14, 2015

My current working theory is that it's easier for generic, boring people to meet one another and mistake their sublimated sexual desire for a deep meaningful connection. This seems to explain why the dumbest people I know have been married three times while many of my interesting friends are chronically single. The more you develop yourself as a person, the more selective your tastes become, and the more skeptical you are likely to be about this whole love business.

It also seems to me that people who are financially independent are less prone to falling in love. I personally feel much less urgency to figure out dating now that I'm older and more confident in my ability to master adulthood responsibilities. Why settle for a nice but imperfect partner when you're fully capable of taking care of yourself?

Throw together greater independence, greater selectivity, and a more skeptical attitude toward romance and you get the modern condition of miserable, interesting, educated people who live on top of each other in a big city lamenting that there are no suitable partners.
posted by deathpanels at 5:09 AM on December 14, 2015 [21 favorites]

I feel like I could've written this post myself. I'm going through the same issues as you- in my 30s and would really like to find a life partner, but online dating has never worked for me and meetups aren't very popular where I live.

I can't give you much advice, but a book that has given me some comfort is "It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single".
posted by Lillypad331 at 6:09 AM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

YOU SOUND COOL! You sound like me! Here is what drives me bonkers:

The cultural narrative that we are steeped in is telling us that sexual intimacy is a good/fun thing you should be pursuing, and if you're not pursuing it then you are a no fun prude. It is also telling us that there is absolutely NOTHING as meaningful as a romantic pairing off that becomes an automated escalator ride punctuated by Significant Milestones every 12 - 18 months (DATING then MARRIAGE then BABIES then...MEANINGLESS PAIRED OFF LIFE UNTIL DEATH). It's so fucking dumb! I hate it!

You know what your brain would be doing if you found a partner? It would be sending random distress signals at the same frequency you currently experience: did I pick the right person? am I really ready for marriage? Do I really want kids? Can I get pregnant? Will I be a good mother? Does my partner love me as much as I love them? Is the current intensity level of my life all that there is? Could I have better?

I think the distress signal thing about life intensity is a thing that everyone goes through in their thirties - a recognition that you are staring decreasing potential for your life in the face. You feel like you are giving things up if you are not choosing to pursue things, that time is running out. Is it?

Don't waste your time doing things that don't make you happy. Dating apps don't make you happy - so cut that shit out. Don't pay attention to your brain when it has twinges of panic on this kind of thing - do something productive (read! go outside! stay inside! hang with friends!) and make it shut up. If anything, your lifestyle is the one with the most potential for happiness: you are giving yourself the opportunity to seize the right person if they come around and are only passing up on the type of relationship you know you don't enjoy. That is great!

A thing that actually made me happier was starting to express my contentment with my life. I broadcast my satisfaction the same way that everyone else does and it a) surprises the hell out of people (because not enough people talk about alternatives to the escalator ride, it is assumed that single people are lonely crones) and b) helps me find other happy while single people to play with. So join me - be a diplomat for our kind. The funny part is that this attitude will probably help you find the right person someday. Good luck!
posted by skrozidile at 7:47 AM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

Well, I think if you really like someone, you should act like that, rather than focusing so much on not acting clingy. I'm actually quite "clingy" with people I like (as in, I want to spend time with them, and if I miss them if they're not with me) and so far, nobody's complained.

In fact, I have a friend who would actively try not to be clingy, but she ended up just sending really confusing signals to her dates.

Also, it's fine to actively look for a partner if you want one. Why do you think your perfect partner will just happen to find you? I mean, it might happen. But I think you increase your chances if you actively look. (OK, to be fair, I was online dating when I met my partner, and I did meet him online but through another channel. But our OKCupid match was something stupidly low like 60-some percent. So maybe look at people who are not "good matches", since those algorithms find people who are exactly like you, but sometimes, opposites attract.)
posted by ethidda at 11:35 AM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm wired pretty similarly to the way you describe yourself, and I wound up spending basically my entire twenties single. It took a few years to start kind of bothering me and a few more to start feeling really, seriously lonely...and a couple more before I got to know the person who's now my long-term partner. It's hard not to feel like there's something wrong with you when you're perpetually without a relationship and you (at least sometimes) would like to have one. But there wasn't anything wrong with me, and there isn't anything wrong with you -- life is just not fair, and it sucks sometimes.

If you find someone who's right for you, you'll probably find them while you're doing the things you love and living your fullest life. It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on things already, tbh.

You do mention one concern you have that you could look into working on on your own -- those extreme emotions and crushing anxiety that come with actually liking somebody. Maybe it just needs practice: ask people out when you like them, possibly get rejected, recognize that you went ahead and did that and the world didn't end, high-five yourself, gradually find those crushworthy people less terrifying. Maybe it's something that impacts your life in other ways and you would wanna look into with a self-help book or something? I got a lot of help from David Richo's How to Be an Adult in terms of, like, managing my feelings, becoming more resilient about what other people think of me, getting past stuff that was weighing me down. YMMV, just some reflections from my own experiences.
posted by backtotherain at 1:17 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I second the recommendation for Sara Eckel's book 'It's not you...' – it will make you feel a whole lot better, I promise. I think one of the key things is just shifting your attitude – not so that you're positively glowing with delight about your lack of romance, etc, but learning to appreciate what is, and understanding too that it could change any day (it really could) so you might want to savour it as much as you can now!

Also, Eckel talks about how to handle loneliness and those crushing feelings of 'it's never going to happen' really well. So, yep, it's a kind, generous and wise book that will make you feel better about this.

As it happened, I was 32 and hadn't had a relationship for 11 years , then all of a sudden I had a boyfriend. It felt miraculous, but also, life went on as before – bills to pay, job to go to, faulty dishwashers to fix, etc etc. I had to break up with him recently for various reasons (there are two whiny questions I asked mefi about this very subject), but the point is that it's not as though I was unlucky or unlovable before; it was just the way things were.

In fact, if anything, the ONLY thing that made a difference as to whether or not I had a boyfriend – and why it took so long for me to find one – was the kind of men I was going for. Prior to 32 or so, I'd be infatuated with men who liked me well enough but had zero intention of committing to me. I'd spend months being strung along by them, just because they were 'nice' to me, and I'd survive on the crumbs of their attention. A lot of therapy and hard work later, I resolved to only pay serious attention (my precious, precious attention!) to the ones who *really* liked me, showed up repeatedly, and proved that they were genuinely interested in a relationship with me. These are the guys I'd totally dismissed in my 20s. It took a while, but after I began to see how idiotic and useless the men I'd been picking were, things did change. *might* be the kind of men you pick; it might be worth looking at that and seeing if you're repeating any particular patterns or pursuing any particular types.

Or it might not! Either way, read the book – it will help you feel much, much better about it. Also, I still think online dating is okay. If you can sleuth anything out about the guys before you start chatting with them online (eg. if their mention their twitter tag on their profile etc), you can make a better call about whether they'll be an intellectual match for you, and will therefore be less likely to waste your time. Be as smart as you can be about it; open, but smart. Good luck!
posted by considerthelilies at 12:52 AM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

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