How to look after your emotions as a middle-aged single man dating?
September 20, 2022 11:35 PM   Subscribe

I’m a cishet neurodivergent single man around 40yrs old. After a long period of being single and pretty okay with it, I had a short but wonderful relationship this summer which has rekindled my desire to find a life partner. So I’m dipping my toe back into online dating, and wondering if any other men here can give some advice on how to take care of my emotions in the seemingly-horrific online dating landscape?

The emotional pinch points that are coming up for me are something like:
- Knowing that the numbers are very much against me, the possibility of finding a partner is minimal and feeling defeated before even starting.
- Struggling even to find people who reply to my initial messages and feeling rejected or overlooked.
- Feeling commodified, alienated. and dehumanised when writing and maintaining a dating profile. Feeling like a product rather than a person. Concerns about authenticity and honesty in a “sell yourself” environment.
- Feeling out-competed by the many wealthier, healthier, younger, better-looking, more charming or more accomplished men on dating platform.
- Feeling like a very low-value and easily replaceable commodity. Increasing insecurity and self-criticism as a result.
- Increasing sense of never being enough and needing to work on myself in ever-multiplying ways (more exercise, more therapy, more X, more Y, more Z…).
- Knowing that as a neurodivergent man who is an outlier in some ways (eg employment and disability), the pool of compatible matches for me is already much smaller than for most men on these platforms.
- Deeper sense of alienation and disconnection as more time spent on these platforms.

I’ve worked on myself a lot over the past several years, had a lot of therapy, contribute more to my community and family, have more friendships, am more active in every way, I take classes, I go to local meet-ups. and I have been growing in a healthy and conscious way for some time. After many years of social isolation I also get a lot of positive feedback now from friends and other contacts who know me and appreciate my personality, how I make them feel, and the values I live by. This summer an amazing woman that I know offline actively pursued me for a relationship which went very well but which couldn’t last for logistical reasons. So in many ways the world has been telling me I’m good enough, I’m valued, I’m giving and I contribute and help others, and other people feel good around me. But re-joining the online dating scene is bringing up some very difficult and opposing feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, worthlessness and so on. I would love to find a way to maintain my emotional well-being while very actively seeking to date and eventually find a long term partner.

So I’d really like to hear from some other guys who have had similar feelings and have found ways to emotionally cope or even to cultivate emotional security and positivity while online dating, particularly if you’re an outlier and feel alienated by mainstream dating advice and culture. Thanks!
posted by d288478 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of women

prefer a man who can:
communicate about his emotions in a clear and non-manipulative manner;
treat them with respect;
does his share of the housework;
supports their hobbies;
supports their work ambitions;
makes them laugh;
is generally pleasant and fun company

to a man who is one or more of thin/young/rich, but a selfish arsehole.

I know men who are greatly in demand despite not being young or rich because they are funny, charming, care about their partners feelings, are generous in bed, and are good cooks.
posted by carriage pulled by cassowaries at 12:16 AM on September 21 [15 favorites]

The most evergreen advice I've ever received is to make sure that, whatever you do, prioritize the parts of your life that you can share with someone else joyfully. Not just in your profile(s) and how you aim to connect, but in the face-to-face world, too.

Let's say you're really into geology and rockhounding, but it's something you prefer to do on your own, don't lead with that. Don't mention it in your profiles, don't make it a topic of conversation with someone you might want to date. They're going to get frustrated when you don't get gleeful at the thought of sharing your hobby. Likewise, if something takes up a lot of your time but you don't like it very much, that should also come up well after you're starting to get to know someone. That statistical analysis software that you use 8 hours a day for work, the one that you might be a national expert on, but your potential partner knows nothing about and can't contribute to conversation about? Save it for later. Instead, think on your happy medium. What do you like to do/daydream about/plan for/listen to other people talk about? What can you lead with that combines your interest, enthusiasm, and has room for someone to join you?

I take classes, I go to local meet-ups

Consider these opportunities to ground what you're feeling about your online experiences. Working a profile can feel like maintaining a complicated machine instead of a pleasant way to advertise your strengths and desires with the aim of meeting someone in person to carry on from there. Chatting with people you're in a class with, or who've come to the same meetup, should remind you that interacting with people can be pleasant and breezy in the moment, in contrast to the long list of anxiety-inducing worries that come with the very abstract, forward-looking, definitely not in-the-moment experience of online dating.

Therapy is great. Friends you can talk with about your feelings (not just but maybe especially trusted guy friends) is maybe even better. Your feelings are important, and they are much more important than the gender codes that say men shouldn't be able to name and feel and talk about what drives them and what worries them and what they love and what they fear. Cultivating those friendships is a huge, enormous adjunct to building a life that has comfortable space for a partner (because ideally you'll be introducing these people at some point and it's amazing when they can all recognize what you see in one another).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:04 AM on September 21 [15 favorites]

Heh, I recently had to enter that fun world of dating for the first time in well over a decade. I think the biggest thing to keep in mind during the dating process is really for anything that hasn't progressed to 5 dates or more: it isn't about you.

Really quickly, I'll say make sure that you've got a great profile if you're trying online dating. All of your pictures need to show you smiling. They need to be clear and in focus. And they can not be selfies. I got pretty good pics on my own setting up plandid photos with a cheap tripod from amazon that came with a bluetooth clicker. Your profile should talk about your hobbies, interests, and what you're looking for (positive things only). One of the bigger complaints I've heard from women about online dating is that so many men have horrible photos or a crap/blank profile.

With that aside, it isn't about you. A lot of people out there on the dating sites are, sadly, not actually ready to date. There's married people, and people in relationships looking for validation that they're still desirable. Or looking to cheat but not ready to launch yet. While I had above average stats for converting a conversation into a scheduled date, at best 50% of my arranged dates would happen. Some would cancel (and not arrange a new time) the day or so before. Others would just disappear/stop talking when I'd look to confirm that the time/place was still good on the day the date was to occur. Do not show up if they haven't confirmed within 24 hours unless you're hoping for that "stood up" experience. One woman simply deleted her account the day before the date.

None of that was me. I mean seriously, someone gets to the point of being overwhelmed enough at the concept of an upcoming date so they delete their account? That's clearly her. It's mentally healthy to assume all other failed situations are also not you. Since the pandemic there's a lot of depressed people struggling with anxiety. It sucks for them. But it also sucks that they're not being honest with themself, much less other people, by signing up to attempt dating.

Don't think of a first date from online dating as a date; think of it as a meet and greet to see if you want to date. How someone is online has little to do with how they show up in person. One woman seemed like an interesting match and was pretty cute in photos. But in person, there was zero chemistry in both directions. It happens; the two of you just weren't a good match: it isn't about you.

Related to dates: manage your expectations. Going into early dates you need to walk a fine line to balance being excited enough that you'll be a great version of yourself on the date. But you can't have too much hope or emotion invested because most first dates don't lead to a second. So if this is one of the ~90% that doesn't you can roll with it. If you go in thinking, "This woman matches me so well, and is amazingly my type. I bet we could do X for our 2nd date, and maybe she'd be up for Y for our 3rd!" and she doesn't want a second date, you're going to crash hard. Balance; you need some hope to be engaged in the date. Be interested in the experience with this person that you might not see again.

Let's assume that you have a few dates that you think went well, but suddenly someone doesn't want to see you. It's still not about you. This is the day and age of "Assume everyone is multi-dating until you've had a conversation about exclusivity." They might have been 8 dates in with someone that they're committing to. They might have had a death in the family, or some stress that caused them to reprioritize their life. After less than 6 dates, they don't really "owe" you an honest explanation. There's so many things it could be, and they don't owe you the truth. So assume it's not you.

Be patient. I'm also ND, I look geeky, and I have facial piercings which are a strong turn off for many. It sucks when you have no matches. Just choose to keep concentrating on the rest of your life. Hit a new park. Look for events going on in your city. Keep up exercise and getting sunlight/fresh air. I know that you talked about feeling overwhelmed with always having "more" to do. Don't think of it as "more" to do, but rather just something to do. Ideally if you're not going on dates, you want to have something other than just streaming/games to do.

If you're feeling too alienated about the process to be enthusiastic if you do have a match, or to not be looking super forward to a date if you get one setup, then it's past time to get a break. You list a lot of the negatives about online dating; but keep that in perspective. Don't use that to think "this process is cursed, and it will never work." Think "I have no matches right now because most women are overwhelmed with being spammed with likes from low quality guys. With patience eventually I'll be seen." Use the negatives as excuses for why this isn't about you.

Just in case it wasn't obvious, I think you need to be a duck and let the wet mess of online dating slide off of your back. With the right attitude I was able to find this fun and an interesting experience, despite the curveballs.
posted by nobeagle at 6:03 AM on September 21 [20 favorites]

I agree 100% with the first answer. Overall, men are being asked to bring a lot more emotional maturity to a relationship than has been expected of them in the past.
But the stereotype of the "6 foot tall rich asshole" being the only desirable mate is mostly perpetuated by men, not women.

These days, women want a partner who is just that - a partner. Not a child to take care of and clean up after, not a stonewalling, emotionally handicapped paycheck provider, and not a perpetual fence-sitter who wants every aspect of a long term relationship from a woman without commitment or emotional support on his part.

It sounds like you're well ahead of the pack on all that score, so don't get too down on yourself for not adhering to an ideal that was created by and for the male gaze anyway. Be a good communicator, be kind to yourself and your dates, and don't try to only date women in their 20s. Best of luck.
posted by ananci at 7:10 AM on September 21 [5 favorites]

focus on having a good profile with good pictures, answers that aren't too wordy, a short list of actual personal interests, and try to be just a little bit funny and self-effacing. women will (very occasionally) reach out to you if they like your profile. they already see you as a potential partner so you have a much higher chance of entering a relationship versus women that reply when your send the first message.

(my spouse sent me the first message on okcupid fifteen years ago)
posted by noloveforned at 7:25 AM on September 21

Feeling out-competed by the many wealthier, healthier, younger, better-looking, more charming or more accomplished men on dating platform

If you'll permit it, as someone who's dabbled in the online dating scenes as a woman in her 40s, I would really, really like to encourage you not to think of it as a competition, particularly not along just those axes, which, to be blunt, fail to include just about every quality that would make you a worthwhile long-term partner to a woman who's old enough to know better (*). You need to bring emotional maturity and genuine care for your partner to the table. Fortunately, it sounds like you already have better insight and emotional awareness than many guys do. This is something that's hard to demonstrate on a profile or even a first date (since you obviously can't/wouldn't care about someone you've just met the way you would someone you've been seeing for a while!), but it's something that will get you to your goal in the end with some persistence, so I encourage you to keep working on that. Not just to make yourself more attractive to women, but to be an actual whole, healthy, as-happy-as-the-circumstances-allow human being. It's heartbreaking how few men seem to ever get there!

(*) I auto-rejected any guy whose listed acceptable age range didn't at least go a couple of years older than himself. You're open to dating women roughly your own age, right?
posted by praemunire at 8:00 AM on September 21 [4 favorites]

I think to manage your anxiety about this process you should give yourself some boundaries about how much time you're going to spend on these sites. Maybe limit yourself to no more than 30 minutes a day or every other day. That will help you limit the feelings of commodification and competition.

Try to write thoughtful intro messages. I almost never responded to one word, "Hi," messages, but people who had clearly read my profile and mentioned a common interest or curiosity about one of my hobbies would at least get a thoughtful response.

I also think that it's helpful to approach online dating with a "golden rule" attitude - treat people the way you want to be treated. Don't ghost. Let me down respectfully and kindly if you're not interested. Be thoughtful in your communications. Even when the online dating world was bringing me way way down, I could feel a little better about not contributing to the cesspool.

And 150% yes to dating women in your own age range. I too would reject people or pass on even looking on their profile if they wouldn't date women their own age.
posted by brookeb at 8:18 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]

Because actively dating is stressful and emotionally exhausting, especially because the odds are against it working out for me, I try to make it a small part of my life. I tend to go in spurts; meeting as many people as I can in a given week and then if none of them are good fits moving on to other things in my life for a month or two. You may find it works better to spend a lunch break once a week swiping on new people and trying to fit in one date every couple weeks. Making it a "possible bonus" part of your life rather than a "huge priority" part of your life will probably help make it negatively affect your mental health as much. It's like casually keeping your eyes open at relevant job listings even when you're not eager to leave your job: a hopeful possibility rather than a stressful need.
posted by metasarah at 9:11 AM on September 21 [3 favorites]

Your profile is really bad. I don't say that based on any specific knowledge of you, but a statistical statement that >90% of profiles are just...bad. Negative attitudes or ambivalence about dating usually shine out like a beacon from profiles.

I would suggest starting with doing profile reviews with 5 or so friends, and if you have a friend who works in marketing? See if they will help. Or you can look up some articles on how to write a good profile. If you're brave maybe one of the profile review groups on Reddit.
posted by medusa at 3:10 AM on September 22

For me the emotional hard part is after a good date. If I think a date went well and I get excited about the person it's really disappointing if they don't want to do a second or third date. The above commenter's advice about remembering "it's not about you" is great. But easier said than done :)

For first dates I always enjoyed them. It's fun to meet people and hear their stories! But also mostly I would pick dates that I was already interested in doing: "play tennis", "try out a bar/restaurant/movie/museum I'd been wanting to go to". This let me keep my hopes and expectations in check and just focus on the activity itself. As soon as I get too invested in the result rather than process I start to get very anxious and have a terrible time.

Otherwise I would try and put your authentic self front and center. You want people to not match with you after reading your profile instead of after talking to you / going on 6 dates, since that's way more emotionally draining.
posted by aaabbbccc at 6:56 PM on September 22

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