Help a guy keep his eyes on the prize in dating and romance
June 7, 2016 2:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm a straight man in his mid-40s who has lost the ability to romantically fantasise. After a late start with the business of touching other people, and some relationships with awesome people where I just wasn't having fun, I've gone too cynical and lost sight of the fact that intimacy makes people happy. Are there stories or dramas that will help me imagine a fulfilling love life?

I realise that I should get out there and date, and I'm not getting younger, but it's hard to feel enthusiasm since I've no positive memories (and some very negative experiences[*]) to draw on. Reading online on forums like AskMe doesn't help this specific issue, because people talk about problems a lot, unlike the positive things which are maybe too obvious to most adults for them to think about spelling out.

I don't read fiction, and wonder if that contributes to the problem: novels from the trashy to the literary have love or seduction themes, and maybe that feeds readers' fantasy lives. I'm working on the assumption that if I enter a story in my imagination - could be from a novel, a memoir, or some compelling drama - I'll be more able to daydream/ think more positively about being in a relationship. Again, I'm talking about intimate relationships with emphasis on both words: I'm not looking for porn, nor for romantic fantasy in an immature sense. My trust of the whole idea of intimacy as a good thing has been damaged, so I seek something - in a word - credible. Any recommendations welcome.

[*] I've had therapy to deal with the special snowflake issues that led me to seek and stay in these situations that weren't good for me or the other people. Here I'm asking about the next problem.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Lois McMaster Bujold and Terry Pratchett both have fantasy/SF versions of incredibly normal intimacy and relationships.

Barbara Kingsolver is less fantastical, with more problems, but it's a wide range of work that is mostly about finding vulnerability again.

Good luck, it's hard, but it's a worthwhile journey.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:28 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I hit a similar slump a few years ago regarding marriage. I had been divorced for several years. My marriage had been horrible, an absolute nightmare, and others around me didn't seem very happy in theirs. I knew I wanted a happy marriage at some point but it felt more like a fantasy than a reality, and I ditched any man who even hinted at the thought of marriage, because it felt like the beginnings of another trap. It took me making a new friend and hanging around her and her happy marriage to see all that it could offer, and to see that, done right, with the right person, a good marriage is a reality.

With all these dating sites and everyone being single way longer than we should, there are so many options out there that are mostly the wrong person. It takes finding the right person, that one special man or woman who is the right fit, before you can be happy. It sounds like you have been with all the wrong people and maybe it is okay if you don't fantasize for awhile. Maybe your fantasy time is over and it is time for you to start looking for your reality.

Instead of looking for romantic, sex filled books, read stories about happy couples. Look to your community and interview happily married friends. You will figure it out.
posted by myselfasme at 6:54 AM on June 7, 2016

An oft-cited TV example of a great marriage is Friday Night Lights.
posted by travertina at 7:38 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

You might not think that President Nixon's chief economic advisor would be the first one you'd look to for this sort of inspiration, but he should be: Watching the Couples Go By, by Herb Stein:

"I look particularly at the women in those couples. They are not glamorous. There are no Marlene Dietrichs, Marilyn Monroes, or Vivien Leighs among them. (It is a sign of my age that I can't think of the name of a single living glamorous movie actress.) Some of them are pretty, but many would be considered plain. must assume that they are, like most people, average.

But to the man whose hand or arm she is holding, she is not 'average.' She is the whole world to him."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:04 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Julia Child's biography My Life In France includes a portrait of her marriage which is wonderful. The 'Julia' portion of Julie and Julia movie is also so great (Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci!) if you can ignore the 'Julie' bits.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:31 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I realise that I should get out there and date

Perhaps before doing so, and before giving yourself stress and such over it, it would be effective to examine that statement. Why 'should' you be doing anything? Try looking at why you feel like you 'should' do this, and reframing it as 'I want to do this because.' The thing about 'should' is that it doesn't reflect either reality or your wants; it prioritizes a world that doesn't currently exist, based on ideas--in- or externally imposed--about some idealized reality.

Is a relationship something you truly want to complete a part of yourself?

I don't think that daydreaming from fantasy depictions of romance is likely to lead you anywhere useful, because the reality when it happens won't measure up to the fantasy. Probably more effective w/r/t intimacy (as well as taking this question to your therapist in your next session) will be to make the current relationships you have more intimate. Share more (appropriately) with friends. Deepen the connections you have right now, and learn to trust more; we usually use the word 'relationship' to denote only the romantic ones, which sets up a false distinction between colleagues and friends and romantic partners as being separate categories, when to me they exist on a continuum. I think if you work on your current friendships and make them closer and more emotionally intimate, you will find yourself realizing how pleasurable that is, and how nice it would be to meet Someone Special of your preferred gender and share even more with them. At which point you talk to your now-closer friends and say "y'know, I've been thinking it would be really nice to meet someone. If you happen to know anyone you think I'd work well with, feel free to introduce us." Plus, close friends will often notice that their friend is a pretty awesome person and just straight up say "So my friend Sam is single, I think you two would get along, why don't we have you both over for dinner?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:21 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

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