Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Carpe la Femme

This seems to have been my year for falling out with people. First and not least there was my wife back last autumn, which I have been through, at length here. Then there the bust-up with my erstwhile friend and sole reader, which I also described here back in March. There was another erstwhile friend I unfriended on FB a little while back. He probably doesn't know why - just thinks I'm throwing a strop but it was a long time coming. We've had our set-tos a few time in the past, on line mainly and this was just the latest. I was already wary of a certain spitefulness of his if I said something he didn't approve of and I knew from past experience there would be no point trying to discuss it so this time I just decided it was time to call it a day. So it's felt a bit like a clearing-the-decks kind of a year. Cutting out the dead wood and so forth. And a good thing too.

So then there's the internet dating. That's been erm... interesting. I've actually had angry exchanges with six different women so far. Not funny. My previous experience online dating was pretty good - ten years ago I met my wife online, and say what you like about what happened more recently, we were very happy together for quite a while. And there was another woman at exactly the same time who I could have chosen - she took me home to bed on the second date. (My ex didn't wait long - probably the third date.) But it was the fact that I met my ex's kids early on (probably on about the fourth date) that swung it - not because I knew right away that I had to have them in my life but because I knew it was a big deal to meet a woman's kids and I didn't want to muck them about. Maybe I made the wrong choice? Who knows?
Prior to that I did a little online dating while still in Southampton and met Pauline, who is still a good friend.
So you'll understand when I tell you I was optimistic about meeting women online.

I don't know what's different now. Maybe I've changed. Maybe the world's moved on. I don't know.
I've had some ok dates - nothing spectacular, but pleasant and friendly, and it's almost always nice to sit and have coffee and cakes. One I met in Arundel I could tell was deeply disappointed as soon as she saw me and we had a desultory cuppa before parting. I didn't have many decent photos of myself at the time and she was going on one that wasn't very old (4 years maybe) but which I now accept was a little unrepresentative. I have better pictures now. Since then there have been a few 'just friends' type experiences - no spark/chemistry. I have a reject message ready to paste in for such instances - "I've been thinking about our date and, although I had a really good time, I really feel we'd be more like friends than lovers. I hope you're ok with that." I've had quite a few long relationships in the past that really should have been friendships but where I didn't want the woman to feel rejected (and I was afraid no one else would want me) so they went on far too long and created much worse hurt in the long run. So far my honesty has been appreciated I think.

Nevertheless, pretty much every woman I've had any kind of lengthy correspondence this time with has ended badly. Part of me is all too ready to take this personally. In fact with so many wallops in such a short space of time I find all my old insecurities coming back. It's been depressing how readily those adolescent miseries have been reawakened and if it wasn't for the work I've done on myself over the last few years I think I might be very miserable indeed. The fact that I'm damn near unemployed, as I explained in the previous post and am very worried about money doesn't help - that if not for my mum's generosity I could be homeless and alone, middle-aged and penniless is not helping, and yet it is still these rejections that hurt the most. And they really do. There have been times when I've just sustained another kick in the guts (which is very much how it feels) when it has seemed reasonable once again to think that there must be something deeply inadequate about me. It's a suspicion I have carried around most of my life but it has been balanced by the suspicion that there is nothing very much actually inadequate about me so much as that there is something about me that makes it difficult for other people to appreciate me - a certain social ineptitude, which is a lesser evil I think. I can at least feel ok about myself when nobody else is there.

I subscribe to that old Kentucky* saying "If you go out and you come across a jerk, they're probably a jerk. If on the other hand you go out and everybody's a jerk, then it's probably you that's the jerk." So I've given what all these women have said a lot of thought, as you'd expect and come up with a few ideas. The main one is that I perhaps try too hard to be rational, which might sound like a good thing to some but I know how much it winds people up. It's really a topic for another essay but suffice it to say here that my attempts to get to the bottom of misunderstandings have not helped. I guess most people would just leave it and let it go but my instinct is to try to sort out the difficulty. My thinking goes this way - to me very often, these difficulties seem to stem from some misunderstanding of something I've done or said. In almost all cases the person is under the impression that I've said something judgemental or rude or prejudiced or insensitive perhaps, when in fact I've been trying to be witty, or my meaning has simply been literally misunderstood.
Obviously the ambiguities of the written word come in here - sarcasm and irony do not transmit well, but with people I've known a while I would hope they'd know me well enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. I'd hope they'd know that a. I have some intelligence, b. I have a sense of humour, and c. I am not a bigot, but apparently not. This is always a disappointment to me, especially with people I tend to assume a, b and c of. My suspicion is that many people simply skim read things and only register the things that fall into a fairly narrow set of pigeon holes and they assume that's what's being said. My problem is that I'm often trying to say something a little different to what is normally said (otherwise why bother?) My mistake, I suspect is to assume that the people I communicate with are as insightful as they think they are, when often, they're not.
The problem then, is that if I do just leave it, I'm leaving the situation with them thinking I'm stupid or obnoxious. If it's a debate, I'm leaving them thinking they're right when they're not - that they've won when they haven't. Why would I do that? For the sake of the friendship? But what's the point of a friendship where one person is looking down on the other? I may destroy the friendship by insisting on pursuing the argument, but is that worse than being friends with someone who thinks you're a fool or worse? I don't know the answer to that one.

There is a deeper problem here though in that I don't think most people want to think rationally about things - they just want to have their feelings and beliefs and express them almost as if they were a favourite dress or song or meal. I've talked a lot about reason and belief on here in the past and will do again probably. One of the big fallings-out I mentioned was with a woman who I'll call Amanda 2 who I'd been having a fairly casual relationship with since our first date. We didn't have much in common but the sex was good. The problem came because she believed that many of the phenomena science has not explained can be explained by alien intervention (the pyramids, human evolution...) I didn't pursue it (I'm quite prepared for friends to have beliefs I don't agree with. I have Christian friends and Pagan friends and conservative friends) but she brought it up a few times and seemed to want to have a discussion about it. Unfortunately the discussion didn't go the way she expected. In fact I'm still not sure what she expected. It came down to the fact that she wanted to discuss her understanding of human evolution with someone who knows a lot about about evolution, despite the fact that she knew almost no evolutionary theory, or biology, or indeed science. I'm not sure what she expected me to say but the gist of it was that she considered her beliefs about the subject to be equally worthy of respect and consideration as my knowledge and training. I suspect a lot of people would agree with her, but my point would be that there is such a thing as expertise. Some people simply do know more about subjects than others. No doubt she knows more than I do about what she does, and I said this to her as nicely as I could but she took it as me trying to make her out to be stupid. We had a bit of a row about it one evening when she invited me over to dinner but I'd thought we'd got past it and I was not keen to broach the subject again. But then more recently she sent me a link to that silly article about octopuses being aliens that was doing the rounds. I sent her a link to another, more scientific article and again she accused me of 'showing off' and thinking she was stupid. She was very angry.

Now, whatever the merits of the original debate, the problem here it seems to me was that she had a hang-up about people thinking she was stupid. Like I said, I don't have a problem with people having strange opinions - no doubt many of my friends think some of my ideas are a bit strange - and I certainly don't think of them a stupid, and I never thought of her as stupid (quite the reverse - she was much more worldly than I will ever be.) Of all the things I'll talk about here today, one thing I am sure of is that her idea that I looked down on her for being less intelligent than me did not come from me, and my strong suspicion is that it's her issue - something about people looking down on her, from her childhood, her school experience, ex husband, whatever. We all have them, I certainly do, as I've said at great length before. The difference, I would maintain, is that I'm aware of mine but most people aren't, or will certainly not 'fess up to them. They think because they feel something to be true it must therefore somehow be true, and to challenge it is somehow to disrespect them.
So when I try to 'be reasonable' with people, part of what I say almost invariably includes an attempt at an honest appraisal of the part my own hang-ups and misunderstandings have played, leading, hopefully, to a six-of-one/half-a-dozen-of-the-other type reconciliation, but no - the most depressing thing about almost all these slanging matches I've been in over this last year has been the determination of the other person to simply make it my problem. Without exception, none of them will accept any part of the responsibility, and I find that very hard to accept or let go of. Me just going on and on, trying to make them see how it can't all be my fault and they have their own hang-ups just seems to make matters worse.

The other thing I do wrong is get too involved too quickly. I know this is my problem - it always has been a problem and it's disappointing to say the least that it has come back just as strong as ever to screw up my attempts to be with any woman I'm genuinely attracted to. I mentioned before how so many of my past longer-term relationships were with women I should, by rights, have been just-good-friends with. The reason these relationships have been so 'successful' is I think partly because I didn't care too much and I didn't try too hard. I'm not saying that the women in question were responding to a 'treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen' approach (although that might be partly the case) but that when I feel like I stand a chance with a woman I genuinely fancy I go slightly nuts. I just can't seem to wait for things to play out. I start visualising my foreseeable future doing things with them. In short, I become infatuated and a little obsessed. When I was young I went into deep and protracted periods of misery, going over and over imaginary conversations and even stalking them a little. I had two first dates in quick succession just a couple of weeks back where this happened. I am more in control of it than I used to be and most of my obsessing happens away from the woman of my dreams (this wasn't always the case) so she doesn't get to see it.
The first of the two was a very lively woman of Latin parents (let's call her Blanca), born in the UK but grew up in Vegas. Very in-your-face, extremely talkative, quite loud. I have found most of the women I've dated this year to be big talkers. I've got used to mostly sitting back and trying to look interested and to ask relevant questions. It's not ideal but at least this one had something interesting to say, plus she was very lovely to look at (much better looking than me). She really had some sort of charisma and at the end of the date, one of the best kisses I ever had. The problems started because she had an eight year old daughter who she was not prepared to tell she was dating. Plus she had no family nearby to help babysit and was unhappy about asking too much of her friends so it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to be seeing each other again any time soon. Instead we had phone calls. Now I hate long phone calls. It was one of the reasons my relationship with my ex went sour so soon after she left for Canada. Even with people I know well I find it difficult. I think I need to be able to see their face and their body language, and with this one, I really wanted to be able to touch her. Plus I am sure phone signals are much worse than they used to be, or my hearing is worse, and my arms ache holding the receiver for more than about three quarters of an hour. My fault in a way - I should have cut the conversations short but I just wanted as much of her as I could get, and I didn't want to put her off. In the end the conversation just became not fun. So I emailed her the next day to 'explain'.
The next phone call in less than a week is better initially but then gets much worse. I try for a little sexy talk (something I've never been very at home with, much as I'd like to be - I am my mother's son after all) mentioning how one girl I knew liked to be spanked and she proceeds to tell me in some detail and in very earnest tones all about the four year BDSM 'lifestyle' she lived with an older man back in the 80s, and how Fifty Shades of Gray is the story of her life (only her life would be better written). I try to play along - be cool with it. I have nothing against BDSM per se, although probably not into it myself (and to be fair she told me she probably wouldn't ask it of anyone again), but thinking about it afterwards I'm not sure I'd want to hear about any girlfriend's previous sex life in anything more than innuendo, and certainly not after one date. Again I tried to be cool with it but it wasn't good and again I tried to 'explain' the next day by email. In return I got a shitty email about how I was judgemental and hypocritical and I sent back an equally shitty reply and she blocked me.
Would it have worked if I'd been cooler? Probably not - I suspect she'd have worn me out quite quickly. I was out of my depth and we wouldn't have shared the necessary wry humour to get past it. I could have done with some more of those kisses though. Those days though - waiting to see what would happen with her - less than a week - really horrible.

And then within a week another really good first date - let's call her Denise - an on the face of it lovely freckly red-haired woman who I chatted to for ages in a coffee shop in Hove - and no, she didn't just hold forth like some of the others - we had a good equal balanced conversation and then I offered her a lift home to Burgess Hill and we spent the afternoon talking and kissing and listening to music in her lounge and then I went home (because if not things might get 'too complicated'. Fair enough.) I sent her an email next day just to say 'Had a great time, looking forward to seeing you again. X'
I still don't really understand what happened next. I got no response all week and began to go 'slightly nuts' again, wondering what was happening. I sent her a 'good luck' message for an interview I knew she had and she wrote 'Thanks' back. I wrote another (I hoped) humorous message then about how she'd maybe gone off me for being too short. Apparently the first email hadn't arrived but she said she understood that I thought she'd been ignoring me. We tried to arrange another date but I managed to insert an extra digit in the phone number I emailed her so she couldn't call me all day to confirm (although she already had my number from the first date). By the time I read her email (about 6.30) it was apparently 'too complicated' and too late to go out. We tried again for the following week - a meal out in Hurstpierpoint. A few hours before the date I texted her to change the arrangement because she was a veggie and I'd been round the restaurants to see if they did a good veggie option and they didn't. I made a reservation at a place I know in Henfield. (Neither Henfield nor Hurstpierpoint are that far from Burgess Hill.) Anyway there was some confused texting and me trying to phone her and her not picking up and long story short, by the time she eventually got in contact she told me she'd been home gardening (so she could have picked up the phone) and it was again 'too late' and she suggested meeting at 9 in Hove. I was furious - after all that, to go all the way into bloody Hove. My guess was (and is) that she just wanted enough time to dump me and then go and see some friends living nearby. I wrote back to say no, 8, and I suggested a pub nearer to both of us. So again I got a shitty email completely rewriting what had happened to make me the baddie - that the email about her going off me was 'rude' and I wasn't really 'committed to dating' and how she was pissed off that I'd changed the arrangement for the meal (even though it was in order to make the evening better for her) and it was just all 'too complicated'. Needless to say I sent a really shitty email back but nobody needed to block anyone because her account on the dating website had expired.
I don't know. Again, maybe if I'd been cooler - less emotional? I should have asked if she got that first email instead of assuming she'd changed her mind. She told me it was 'too complicated' three times but really, there was just a missing email and a typo. That doesn't seem very complicated to me, if she'd really wanted to see me again, as she assured me she had. But by then it was too late.

Finally this week I had what I thought was an ok first date (we'll call this one Amber), although she told me off for interrupting right at the beginning which immediately set off alarm bells, but by the end of the date it seemed like we'd laughed it off and were going to see each other again. I'd thought at the time that the reason I had to interrupt was that she tended to go on a bit, but as I said above, I know a lot of people who do that. If I objected to that I wouldn't have many friends. Anyway, this time I didn't get a shitty email. This time it was merely patronising - about how she finds men who really listen (and don't interrupt presumably) very sexy, and she thought I should get out more, presumably to get some practice at not interrupting people. I sent back a shitty email about her inability to have a normal conversation and called her an arrogant cow. Then I blocked her.
There have been a couple of others - one (who we'll call Noelle) who lived too far away to date but who I had a very lively conversation with online. A time came when our conversation was getting quite graphic and I was starting to think 'It's only Oxford. It's not that far...' but she slapped me down by telling me no, she needed 'an alpha male' and 'only a silverback does it for me'. I'm not sure how she thought I'd react. I tried to explain how offensive and hurtful I found that with predictable results. I tried to take back some of the things I said (manipulative and spoiled for example) but that was that.
The only other example was the first woman (who I'll call Amanda 1) I went on a date with after the split with my ex, who after a very enjoyable and drunken first date and ending up in my bed, started making plans to move over here. I really did attempt to talk her down kindly because I know what it's like to get fixated on someone but she was angry with me and told me that I didn't know what I wanted. I told her I did know, and it wasn't this.

That's enough. I know nobody reads this but on the off-chance you have, I apologise for my verbosity. I know also that you're only getting my side of the story. The fact remains though that according to me, over this time I seem to have met nothing but jerks. Does that make me the jerk?
Trying to learn from my experiences I look for the common thread so that I can either try to change my behaviour or accept myself as I am and the fact that I will quite possibly never find a woman who will put up with me.
What do they all have in common? As I said, I get way too involved way too quickly with any woman I really like but that only applies to two or maybe three of them. When I feel things might be going wrong I try too hard to explain and reason out the situation.
I think what really stands out though from all these is that there isn't really a common thread. Apparently I am judgemental and hypocritical, I think women are stupid, I interrupt, I change plans and am not 'committed to dating', I am not an alpha male or a silverback and I don't want to commit after one date.
Man I must be the worst most horrible date ever. What a loser!

Or maybe what we're looking at here is a whole bunch of women and their screw-ups projecting their preconceptions onto me. It's not a sexist point - men probably do it too - I wouldn't know. I never dated a man. My hang-up, I know, is that I expect people to change their mind about me pretty much on a whim and that makes me extremely anxious and too keen to please, or if not, then too keen to explain why I failed to please. For that I take full responsibility. But that doesn't explain much. In fact it contradicts most of these criticisms, which centre on me not trying hard enough, which I think is what they expect from men and what they're looking for and what they unerringly find and then blame the men for - assuming my experience is not unique.

As you will know by now I pride myself on having quite a feminist turn of mind but I am getting sick of this easy assumption that if things don't go according to plan in a woman's life then men must be somehow to blame. Blanca expected to be judged and condemned and felt justified in dismissing any men that did not respond with complete acceptance to what she said and did. Denise expected men to be a bit useless and careless and felt it was ok to dismiss any men that weren't completely committed to her having a nice time. Amanda 1 expected men to use and discard her and she could not understand a man who wasn't prepared to enter into a full on committed relationship with her and Amanda 2 expected men to look down on her and dismissed anyone who didn't take seriously whatever opinions she might come out with. Amber expected men to not be interested in what she had to say and felt free to dismiss anyone who did not pay full attention to everything she said. Noelle thought the only men worth bothering with were 'alpha males' and she was free to mess us about as she saw fit.
There's a feeling of entitlement in all these cases - that they are entitled to a certain standard from men which is to be expected without any particular effort on their parts, except perhaps to dress nicely and put on some make-up. I guess it's a seller's market but that's not a good basis for a caring and respectful relationship. Amber did not feel the need to take into account the listener - she just went on and on saying what she wanted to say and would tolerate no interruptions (I think she's quite a successful business person, so I guess she expects to be listened to). Denise did not seem to feel the need to go half way in setting up the arrangements. She just expected me to have everything ready for her. Blanca didn't have a clue about how other people might react to her revelations and didn't feel the need to make allowances. Noelle assumed men are all confident and strong can take whatever she chooses to do to them. Amanda 1 is the one I feel sorry about - clearly she'd been through some tough times and she just needed to be loved. I was as nice as I possibly could be with her but she was still angry. No doubt all these women have had their share of troubles, some of it at the hands of men, but haven't we all, and that's no excuse for crapping all over me. I know there are some horrible men out there and they've done some horrible things, but it wasn't me! It doesn't help to take it out on me. Maybe they take it out on me because I am actually quite a nice sensitive guy and an easy target, unlike the actual culprits, who'd probably slap them around for it. Maybe that's what they want...

Maybe some bitterness is what I've been lacking.

I don't think so. It doesn't suit me.

* well I got it from an episode of Justified anyway

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