Am I too picky when I date? Why am I still single?
April 27, 2016 12:53 AM   Subscribe

Lately I've been wondering if I am too picky and if I have too high standards, and dumping people before giving them a chance.

Lately I've been wondering if I am too picky. It's been five years since I've been in a serious relationship, and I'm 27. I am beginning to feel anxiety about settling down and not being able to have children when I want to.

I'm a lesbian, if it matters. I came out relatively recently (about three years ago).

I've been dating a healthy amount - meeting lots of women, and going on dates. But I find it challenging to meet someone who meets my standards. I don't like to drink much, so I find it annoying if they want to spend a lot of time going out. I also like to be in shape, so I want to be with someone who also values being active. I also need to be intellectually stimulated, and someone who bores me rarely make it to the third date.

Because I know what I want, I've been fairly upfront when I am inclined to think there is not really long term potential.

Recently I've been dating a few people who are great, and tick all the boxes...but I am not attracted sexually. And I then dump them (gently).

I also recently had a run in with an ex who was abusive to me, but I found that I was still sexually attracted. I don't know if it was other elements of her personality (she is very witty etc.) After I finally cut off contact with her, but that led to a whole questioning of whether I am doing the right things when I date and if I am maybe bypassing lovely people just because some weird thing inside of me is attracted to unkind people.

I guess I am wondering if I am attracted to the wrong things, and if I should be more open to going on that fourth or fifth date....and if I am doing the wrong thing by having set standards and cutting people loose when they don't meet them.
posted by pando11 to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think a lot of people have this worry. But I don't think you're doing anything wrong. You are dating, and this is what dating is.

If I understand what you've said correctly you've only really been in the dating scene you're in now for 3 years. That can seem like forever but it isn't.

Just keep looking. It should click with someone eventually.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:02 AM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Absolutely not!

We date until we meet the person who does it for us. This person won't be perfect, but they'll be perfect for us. You're doing the exact right thing in breaking it off earlier rather than later.

Enjoy being single and enjoy dating. You may be doing it for awhile. But trust me, when you find your person, it's the absolute BEST!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:39 AM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh honey, this is such a normal feeling. And it's a healthy feeling because it means that you have dignity, integrity and standards.

You're doing it right - keep meeting people. Be open minded, but don't compromise your values. You sound lovely.

Try not to worry about it too much. Best of luck. And hell, enjoy the variety!! :)
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:24 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Given the preferences you've stated here -- not a big drinker, active, interesting, and sexually attractive (to you), I do not think you are being to picky.

I DO think it is possible to be too picky -- I once had a friend who insisted on trying to find women to date in his small Midwestern city who were of the specific (unusual for that area) religious denomination he was (i.e. not just "Christian" or "Jewish" but a specific flavor of that which was not common where he lived), as well as an additional laundry list of things like a specific hair color, a shared interest in all of his interests, having the same dietary requirements/restrictions that he had, etc....I would be doubtful that even one woman existed in his area who would fit every single one of his requirements! Eventually he chilled out and met someone who fit maybe half his preferences and they are very happily married. :)

But, if what you've written here is accurate, I think those preferences are broad enough that lots of people could fit them -- that is, you're not insisting that someone be active by doing YOUR SPECIFIC SPORT, but just that they generally have a physical activity they enjoy and place value on that. And honestly, trying to date people who you are not sexually attracted to and find incredibly boring is a recipe for some really bad relationships! One thing there might be some wiggle room on is drinking -- I know when I was dating, I would often suggest meeting for drinks not because I'm a huge drinker (I'm not) but because it was an easy default option for someone I didn't know well. You might try saying something along the lines of "I'm not a huge drinker, but could we meet for coffee/lunch/a picnic at the park/etc. instead?" If they are not receptive to that and insist on a date full of heavy drinking, you are definitely not a match! But it could just be they like drinking sometimes but are fine not doing it with you.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:47 AM on April 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

On the one hand, I think you're probably doing just fine. It sounds like you're giving people a reasonable chance -- 3 dates or so -- and being clear about what you want. All that is good! On the other hand, I have a question based on the comment you made about your ex. Let me start by sketching out some of the different emotional states involved.

1. There's sexual attraction -- feeling lust for someone, feeling like they look good, wanting to be close to them, being intrigued and turned on by them.

2. There's limerence -- feeling the high of new relationship energy, being completely infatuated, getting nervous and excited all at once, getting totally stoked on the risk-taking of new intimacy.

3. And then there's what I will loosely refer to as bad drama -- that queasy roller-coaster feeling of never being sure what's coming next, wanting more and afraid that you won't get it, having all your attention sucked up by someone else's unpredictable decisions.

I'm guessing that, if you're going on a date with someone at all, there's at least a little bit of #1 (sexual attraction) going on -- at the very least, an acknowledgement that, yeah, this person looks good to me in some way. I'm guessing that what you're missing is the big hit of chemistry that comes next.

What I'm wondering is: are you mixing up #2 (limerence) and #3 (bad drama)? Both can be a big high, and they can be hard to tell apart sometimes. Bad drama can give you a sense of heightened reality, suspense, and unpredictable excitement that can be downright addictive, even if with your rational brain you know you don't want it in your life. If you're waiting for that kind of intensity to kick in with your dates -- well, you may find it, but probably not from someone you actually want to be with.

Limerance is also a high-intensity experience that shares some traits with bad drama, but it's really not the same thing. In my experience, bad drama is fuelled by someone else treating you dangerously and unpredictably, while limerence is fuelled by the emotional risks that you choose to take yourself. Making yourself vulnerable to someone else can be scary, and the relief of having that go better than you imagined can be a huge hit of wheeee. If you're holding yourself in an emotionally safe and removed place during the dating process, it may be that you're not giving the limerence a chance to start.

Knowing what you want is good; filtering out the assholes and the bad matches is good. But, if you find yourself with someone and you're saying to yourself, "I like this person and theoretically this should be working for me, but I'm just not feeling that big hit of chemistry," then maybe try being a bit more vulnerable, taking a bit more of an emotional risk with them, and seeing if that takes you anywhere. It might not always work, but it seems worth trying.

Good luck!
posted by ourobouros at 6:21 AM on April 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

Definitely not too picky, but a bit tougher, and worth it. I had the same requirements and more: No drinking; no smoking; would rather cuddle at home than go out; have one or two super amazing friends rather than a bunch of simple acquaintances; physically active; higher education; didn't use hair dye; didn't wear make-up; no potty-mouth; not church-going but not atheist; extremely high sex drive but still sexually conservative. Income and dating history didn't matter....and I found someone--the very first person I dated on, actually (I tried other sites before that and it was a disaster).

So, it can be done, but it takes time, but it is completely worth it in the end. My wife and I have been married 11 years and I am far more into her now than even when we met. Don't settle. I did that once and, nope, don't do it, even if you are 40 before you find someone right for you. Be realistic, but don't settle.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:39 AM on April 27, 2016

In my experience, if you've grown up used to "relationship means bad drama" it can be really difficult to even identify attraction when there's no bad drama. This can feel like you're not actually attracted to anybody - it's the equivalent of not being able to identify hunger because you've spent all your life doing emotional eating.

Forgive me for this question, but - are you progressing to the making-out point with these people before you decide that you're not attracted? If not, it might be worth while to try a little light physical contact; that can kickstart feelings of attraction in a post bad-drama situation.

Also, perhaps the kind of porn/pin-ups/etc that one finds on tumblr if you don't look at that kind of thing already? This might help clarify some things about bodily attraction for you, and might help you make that leap from "I can't feel attraction because this person isn't terrible, so I don't even know whether I am attracted to them or not" to "I am often attracted to people who [look like this] so perhaps I could try making out with this person".

Also, I have successfully had relationships with people who like going out to bars - we just don't go out to bars together. They go out with their friends, and sometimes I join them for one glass of wine and then split. This requires, of course, a person who is happy to reduce their bar-going so that they can spend time with me not going to bars, and it requires a person who doesn't go out to get falling down drunk, but it's not impossible.
posted by Frowner at 6:44 AM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am the pickiest person on the planet and I don't like ANYBODY. Believe me, I'm well aware I should settle.

However: wanting to fuck someone is literally the number one requirement of having a romantic relationship unless both of you are asexuals. Everything else about the person could be great, but if you literally don't want them to touch your vagina, you can't be with them. That's why dating is so hard as opposed to friendship. That is one thing you really can't make yourself settle for. Unless you are secretly a hooker and have the magic ability to boink people you have no attraction to without recoiling, anyway, then maybe you could. But who wants to settle down with someone who really at heart doesn't want to boink them? You aren't doing those people any favors to "give them a chance" because they never really had one in the first place.

I don't know if you're a jerk magnet personality or just not meeting the right people. If every single person you ever wanted to bang is a jerk, then maybe it's time to try a therapist. But in your case it sounds like it was one ex, and you still like their more charming personality bits.

I think like everyone else, you probably just haven't gotten lucky yet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:51 AM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

People can be boring at first because they do too much nervous talking. People can be boring because they have no deep thoughts at all. Or possibly people can seem boring and blah if you have a mild depression with a sprinkling of anhedonia.
posted by puddledork at 6:58 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

The criteria you've listed don't seem too picky to me.

I'm not sure what your target age range for dating is, but I'm wondering if you might do better opening it up to slightly older folks. People talk about queer folks being a decade behind in terms of when they do the "go out and drink" thing--people come out and then live a second adolescence/second "early 20s" life. This is not everyone, but it might be a phenomenon that's working against you if you are dating people who are the same age as you when you are having anxiety about wanting to settle down.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:27 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you're being too picky, but if you want to consider broadening your options, you could think about why your criteria are so important to you. Regarding the drinking, for example: why is it a problem if they want to go out more than you? Is it important to you to spend every single night together? If not, does it matter what they do when they're not with you? Or do you assume it's symbolic of immaturity, alcoholism, etc.? Is that assumption true? Have you ever tried to make it work with someone who likes to drink more? If yes, are there things you could have done differently?

Same thing with "valuing being active." Is this code for a physical appearance thing? Would you be okay dating someone slender who never exercises, or someone fat who does? If it is an appearance thing, have you tried widening that standard a little bit? (I found that once I got people outside of my usual preferences naked, they ended up being really attractive to me.) Or is it that you want to share this hobby with them? Is it okay if they like to do something totally different from you? If you're a swimmer and they're a boxer, is that okay, or does it mean too much time apart? Do you just need someone who accepts that you like to spend a lot of time exercising, and encourage you, even if it's not their thing?

There's nothing wrong with your standards as long as they really are prerequisites to compatibility with you, and if these things are, then don't change them. But some people assume that the people they date need to be a lot like them for it to work, and I haven't found that to be the case. Certain fundamental values need to be shared but a lot of other things can be worked around.
posted by metasarah at 7:42 AM on April 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

I felt this way. It's a sign you're doing something right, if you ask me. Cisgender bi male, for what that's worth. I'm not going to muse on the way the stupid universe works its stupid magic. All I can say is, I'm glad I was honest with myself and kept dating. My partner now is wonderful in that stupid way I never believed somebody could actually be wonderful. She's got my sense of humor, her hobbies and interests match up with mine -- but it was work to find her. A lot of bad dates, disappointment, rejection, etc. Stay true yourself, don't settle.

Hope this helps.
posted by smashthegamestate at 8:43 AM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

OK, so there are a lot of things here.

For one thing, when I was dating online and presented with hundreds of possibilities, going out on lots of dates, etc. I found it harder to zero in on one person. I think online dating can be really good, but I also think it can lead to a kind of "browsing in the bookstore" kind of approach where you lose focus of what the point of the whole operation ever was. Especially if you're looking for something long term, which it sounds like you are because you're worried about being intellectually stimulated and for them to not like going out and such. Try being less selective within whatever app you use, and then focusing in on individual women once you make the jump to in-person meetings.

However, there are some ways you can use dating apps to do a lot of this filtering work for you.

1. Only like physically fit people? Look for evidence in profiles that supports this. Do they look physically fit? Do they have photos of themselves doing fitness activities or mention physical fitness stuff at all in their profile? ONLY date people who do. They could be fudging, or your levels of interest in it might not be compatible, but dating someone whose hobbies include baking and binge-watching Netflix is less likely to be what you're looking for than someone whose profile picture is them running a marathon.

2. You could try to filter for people who explicitly don't drink.

3. If it's OK Cupid or another app that allows people to write at length about themselves and their interests, look for people who seem smart. For what it's worth, Tinder never worked for me because in 140 characters there's just no way I can figure out if you're smart enough for me.

It's perfectly OK to filter down to only people you KNOW share your interests, and then meet them and discover you're not necessarily sexually attracted to them. That's how it works a lot of the time. I got discouraged when I was dating around because I had a quirky complex of attributes that my ideal partner needed to have, and a lot of the time it seemed like I was NEVER going to find the right person. I ultimately found a few right people over the years, one of whom I'm currently engaged to. The pond is smaller, sure, but eventually you will catch a fish there.

Also, it's gotta be said: if one of your main things is filtering out partiers, to the point that it bothers you if potential partners drink, you're going to have to start coming up with early date ideas that don't involve alcohol. A lot of early internet dates default to a drink because it's a low-stakes way to spend an hour or so with someone without any real pressure, but with slightly lowered inhibitions that can act as an icebreaker. If you're assuming that "wanna grab a drink sometime?" = "this girl is a total lush", you may need to adjust your expectations.

FWIW I have successfully transitioned plenty of relationships from early dates in bars to the nice squishy homebody lifestyle I prefer as we got more serious. Just because your first three dates were in bars doesn't mean this lady is a straight up party animal.
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 AM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your lifestyle dealbreakers and your timeline for sussing them out & moving on seem fine to me. I'd give the intellectual stimulation/boredom a bit more time though, maybe in varying settings. Some people take a while to warm up and they're often people worth knowing.

I think it would be worth your while to look deeper into that attracted-to-unkind-people thing. It's poison to potentially healthy, mutually fulfilling relationships.
posted by headnsouth at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

There are a lot of people who having boring or unattractive partners but it's rarely because they aren't picky, it's because they couldn't choose to stay single out of family, religious or economic obligations, or because their partner became boring or unattractive after the relationship had reached a point of no return (for family, religious or economic reasons, once again).
posted by MattD at 9:53 AM on April 27, 2016

I'm way pickier than you and I found someone who meets my "standards". However, I didn't meet them at 27. I met them in my 30s. It can take a while to find someone who is a good fit .. I agree with headsnsouth that if you have noticed you might be attracted to people who don't treat you well, you should look into that. Explore your attractions and figure out why you might be drawn to a jerk -- this work will help prepare you for a serious relationship with a nice person.

In the meantime, don't date "nice people" just because they're nice. Conversely, don't date abusive assholes just because they're attractive. Explore the nature of your attractions in therapy or on your own with books, journaling, etc.
posted by Gray Skies at 9:56 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

What are the chances you are submissive, in the BDSM/kinky sex sense? There is a very wide range of activities and attitudes to be interested in there... If you are dating sweet gentle women who don't light your fire, perhaps look into someone a little more aggressive/not so gentle? You don't want someone abusive, but more direct or controlling might work for you.

There are a ton of places to find out more and meet ladies of this type.
posted by Jacen at 12:05 PM on April 27, 2016

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