Love: The Shifting Paradigm
It’s been an extremely long time (about a year and a half or so) since I’ve done a post about being single, dating, relationships, and all that jazz, despite my last post on the subject (The Third Date Dump) becoming at least somewhat popular and even entering the lexicon of some of my friends. Some of that has been due to a desire not to screw up or bias women that I’d been contemporarily dating (nobody wants their dirty laundry aired, even if names have been changed, as anyone who knows the two probably can figure out what or who the blog post is talking about). But even a bigger part has been that something strange has changed since the last time I posted. It was kind of a slow process, but the playing field is a little different now than it has been, and I’m not quite sure how to proceed.
Long-time readers of this blog know that I’ve done quite a bit of complaining/soul searching/whatever on the subject of being single and dating. Almost all of it, however, have placed me in the helpless victim column. You look at almost any post in the category and you can see that I’m either blaming my failures on something else or lamenting my inability to gain whatever undefinable skills are necessary in order to succeed with women or making elaborate excuses (or just simply complaining). In pretty much all of those cases, wherever I had put the blame, the underlying theme was similar: this is how things had been, how they are, and how they will always continue to be. You will always be alone because you aren’t attractive to women (whether physically or mentally or financially or whatever) and, barring something utterly miraculous, you’ve just got to get used to it.
That was how I saw the world. It also isn’t true.
The woman I was dating when I made the “Third Date Dump” post didn’t dump me on the third date. Or the fourth. Or the fifth. We actually had a pretty good thing going for quite some time, and I was actually the one who broke it off. Since then I’ve been in a few more relationships, and all of them have either been broken off by me or ended mutually (or at least it seemed that way on my side). What’s more, I’ve been informed that a few women that I haven’t dated have been interested in me nonetheless. I’m not going to go into any details, but this represented a whole new mindset for my dating habits that has just begun to coalesce into something more powerful than I’ve ever had before.
More broadly, I’ve noticed in the past year and a half or so that women’s attitudes toward me have changed, at least generally speaking. Part of this might be due to the fact that I’ve now turned 30, and then 31, and the women in my life are somewhat more mature than all the 18-21-year-olds from my YSA wards. Part of it may be that I’m living on my own, in a situation where I feel I’m in control of my life and at least somewhat satisfied with how things are going. Part of it may be due to the de-mystification of women for shy guys (not those shy guys) that has been helped along by things like Facebook (seriously, I could write a whole blog post about that topic alone). And part of it may be that I’ve been starting more and more relationships with online dating, where at least everyone’s there for the same purpose, so you never have to perform the surreptitious ring-finger glance or start flirting with someone until their boyfriend shows up. But there’s more to it than that, and it has much more to do with me than it does with anyone else.
One of the hardest ways to start a relationship with anybody is from the pity side, where the person is only going out with you because they feel obligated or just want to be nice, or whatever interest they may have had gets squashed pretty quickly once they get to know you. This has happened to me a lot, as I assume it has happened to most people that make it to their 30’s as singles. The problem comes when you get stuck in a mindset that every relationship you start will be that way. That every date you go on is doomed to the Third Date Dump (if not sooner). Then, when it isn’t true, you see it that way anyway and try to pre-empt the pain of breaking up later, in effect ruining whatever budding relationship you may have been building. And if both the man and the woman have this mindset despite being quite attracted to each other, why, that’s the saddest thing of all. I even wrote a song about it recently as part of my most recent “52 Weeks of Music” project, about the assumption that all relationships will end before they begin and the missed opportunities that result. It’s stifling. It’s painful. It’s damning, in the old sense of the word (i.e. hindering one’s ability to progress). It leaves one powerless. And it totally sucks.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, most people are attractive to somebody. I have seen some of the strangest people somehow get married, but when you see the spouse you go, “Oh, oh, OK, no, that makes sense. That works, somehow.” And a big difference between those who succeed and (some of) those that don’t is that some people never try (or make a token effort every once in a while, expecting failure). They’ve bought into Hollywood’s notion that either a white knight or some sort of Zooey Deschanel pixie dream girl will swoop in and fix everything. Or even worse, that since that type of thing is not going to happen, no relationship will ever work.
What’s the difference? Confidence. Confidence that, yes, somebody out there will find you attractive. A lot of people will find you attractive. And you have to assume that this is the default case. You don’t have to fight an uphill battle with literally everyone you date.
This isn’t arrogance. This isn’t that one douchey guy who thinks he’s God’s gift to women. That’s swinging the pendulum a little too far in the other direction. Assuming that every date you go on will end with your date hopelessly in love with you is just as out-of-touch with reality as assuming that every date you go on is a pity date, or just a “friend thing.” This is just operating from a different viewpoint. You may still have failures, relationships that don’t work out, and even maybe some pity dates. But it’s much better to assume a relationship may go somewhere even if eventually it doesn’t, than to assume that a relationship will go nowhere even if eventually it could’ve.
And here’s the kicker: it’s the very act of recognizing this, and changing your attitude to fit it, that makes you even more attractive! And this applies not only to men, either. I’ve seen women who own their lives and make something of themselves vs. those who are just piddling around waiting for a man to fix them (or waiting for a man for them to fix, putting him in her debt), and the former are much more attractive (to me, anyway). It doesn’t guarantee success in love, but it at least makes success possible and more likely.
For some who may be reading this, all of this seems pretty obvious. But for others it may seem pretty hard to believe. It’s certainly been my major sticking point for many, many years. And it’s a viewpoint that’s really hard to shake. It’s a scary viewpoint to shake, because it destroys victimhood and instead fosters responsibility. The old catchphrase from Spider-Man is “With great power comes great responsibility,” yes, but the inverse, “With great responsibility comes great power,” is not only just as true, but much more useful. Responsibility doesn’t just mean that it’s your fault if it goes wrong, but that you have the ability to make it go right. And it’s a lot easier to focus on the first part of that sentence than the second, especially for me and people like me when it came to dating.
So, in the end, what does this mean, in terms of how I will proceed in my dating life from now on? I’m not quite sure yet, because fundamental shifts in viewpoint tend to take a while to shake out bad habits, but so far it’s helped me realize that a successful relationship is indeed within my grasp, and it won’t take a miracle. Indeed, the real miracle is this change in my way of thinking. (A pessimistic part of me would say that it would be a second miracle for me not to fall into my old ways of helpless victim thinking before I actually see any success, but ignoring that part of me is essential to this working.)
I’m not sure this blog post made quite the point I was planning to make, but I like the point it did end up making, so I’m sticking with it.
P.S. One more thing that shows how my way of thinking has changed: I realized that I’ve stopped using the term “girls” and started saying “women” when I refer to people I date. I’m not sure exactly what that portends, but I think it’s a good thing.