Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Date Burn

They say "Just be yourself". People have told me that all my life. Well, no, since I left home they've told me that. Before that my family, teachers etc were very clear that ideally I should try to avoid being myself as much as possible. But later, mixing with people who were a bit more free-thinking - post '60s people, people who smoked a little weed, liked Hendricks and The Doors, people who travelled and read more widely than we did in our family. They all told me to just be myself.
I was an anxious, socially awkward teenager who never really believed that anyone would choose to be in his company, given other options. Nevertheless he tried to make friends. He worried about what people thought of him and thought a great deal about how he might come over better - cooler, wittier, more relaxed, more fun to be with. There was a conflict in his thinking because he didn't want to just do like everyone else did. He didn't even want to conform to the standard rebellions that were going around at the time - punk, ska, new romantics, goths. I think, it's probably fair to say then, that he wanted to be Himself. But he also wanted people to like him - not everyone - not even a lot of people - just a few people to hang out with, plus maybe a close friend to talk to, and a girlfriend of course (that was almost the most important one. But girls don't like you if you don't have friends.)

It's taken me a long time to work out who Myself is, and to accept him, and to even like him. That's a lot of what my earlier series of posts (entitled This Time it's Personal) are about. I do finally know who I am, and, perhaps more importantly, I don't feel ashamed of him any more. I'm not regularly infuriated by him. I understand. I like him. As a result I'm no longer always going over it in my head - why I am as I am - trying to explain myself - justify myself.

This change has however exposed a new problem. Sure - I feel pretty good about myself, but that doesn't change how others see me. Part of the reason those free-thinking friends told me to be myself was because they saw that I was trying too hard to be different in order to make friends and it was kind of pathetic, and desperate. What they were saying was 'If you are more yourself, other people will like you more', but sadly, that doesn't necessarily follow. What you have to accept, when you make the decision to just be yourself, is that people might well not like your self. You have to face up to the possibility that you may be less attractive, less interesting, less likeable. You might be comfortable in your own skin, but you might make others distinctly uncomfortable. No doubt they had in mind those charming energetic, creative free-spirits who don't care what anybody thinks of them, who everyone kind of admires, but not all of us 'individuals' are like that. Don't get me wrong - I still think it's infinitely better to feel good about yourself than to be constantly second-guessing yourself (I absolutely never want to go back to that) but it doesn't naturally lead to popularity and fulfilment.

This has become sparklingly clear with the online dating. I've been doing it for some months now, as I said in the previous posting, and I'm beginning to get quite a clear picture of what women, by and large, like to see in a man. I'm aware that I'm generalising from highly subjective impressions but so far as I can tell they want us to be confident and out-going, positive, sociable, and with a good sense of humour. They also generally want us to be taller than they are. The preferences were a bit different in the first site I went to (Zoosk) to those in the one I'm on now (Guardian Soul Mates or GSM). The former were more concerned with their men being 'financially savvy', family oriented and wanting to make the woman laugh. The women also wanted to be looked after more. In the latter the women are more self-reliant and want their men to be 'adventurous'. In both cases travelling and generally getting out and being busy seem extremely important, although there were plenty of mentions of quiet nights in with wine and DVDs on Zoosk.
Either way it's pretty obvious I do not fit the bill, but it's also very obvious that almost nobody I ever met fits the bill either. I'm sure such romantic paragons do exist but I apparently don't mix with them. I suspect they're extremely rare and probably kind of up themselves.

But my own tastes have been interesting to observe too. Having set my search criteria to realistic limits (age 40 - 52 [my age], not more than 50 miles away, doesn't want children) almost immediately, I was aware that I was dismissing a lot of women purely on the basis of their photos. In a way this is inevitable - there are literally thousands of them and there has to be some basic winnowing process, but it's not as blunt an instrument as you might think. Looks most certainly aren't everything but they are crucial. If you can't imagine snogging that face, or more scarily, looking at it whilst having an orgasm, you might as well forget it. They might be lovely people and make great friends, but for me at least, the physical side of the relationship is still hugely important. If you don't fancy them, well, they might turn out to be a friend, but they won't be a lover. Physical attraction is 'necessary but not sufficient' as the philosophers say.
On Zoosk I quickly identified several categories that I would not even 'like' :-
1. Sad and desperate, haggard and worn. No doubt some are actually in care or rehab of some sort, and my heart goes out to them, it really does, but I really don't want to even try to have a relationship with them.
2. Too old. It doesn't matter so much about actual age. One woman I dated had beautiful skin and firm boobs and she was several years older than me. Another woman in her late 40s looked like a little old lady with very tight lips and a lot of loose skin.
3. Smart, functional, sexless. This isn't so much about age as dress sense - there's a very sensible, well-turned out look some people get with age. It tells me they're probably not up for a lot of sexy romantic nonsense.
4. Trying too hard. I've never gone for women who wear a lot of make-up or look like they spend a lot of time on their appearance, but some, on Zoosk especially, looked like they were trying to be teenagers.
5. Too skinny/athletic/boyish/bird-like. I'd avoid anyone really obese too but I have a lot more lee-way on that.
6. Too beautiful. Lovely to look at but I know my limitations. I'm a 7 at best, on a good day. Even if Bianca (see previous posting) had wanted to be with me she was at least a 9 and I suspect I would have felt quite insecure with her in the long run.

I'm fairly sure that if anyone is reading this, that at least some will be fairly aghast, if not downright outraged by this list - so flagrantly judging women on their appearance - but putting aside your presumptions a moment, have a look at the qualities I've mentioned. None of them are the obvious young-and-blonde, slim-with-big-boobs stereotype we expect of men's tastes in women, and I happen to know I'm far from alone in this. I'm not overly worried about weight or age. More importantly, to me, the way people look (not just women) tells you a lot about the kind of person they are, and the kind of person they are has a huge effect on how they look. Appearances are not superficial. Unless the person involved is an expert make-up artist, or actor (or psychopath) appearance is a very honest signal. I just know that 1, 3 and 4 (and maybe 5) will probably not suit me. There will inevitably be exceptions but I think it's a valid place to start.
But anyway, I think I'm allowed to have physical preferences. I like certain kinds of face, and eyes and lips especially. I like good skin. I like curves. I don't like short hair. I don't like flat chests. I have almost never been attracted to a black woman but I am often drawn to Latin and Middle-Eastern women. I can't help what I'm attracted to, no matter how politically incorrect that might seem.
More importantly though, there is no implication in this that one look is right or superior to another in any absolute or general sense. It's purely my personal preference. Other people will have other preferences. What I happen to fancy has no more meaning or power than that.


Once I move on to their profiles other issues emerge. The fact is that a lot of the women in my age bracket have just left marriages, child care and steady jobs and are ready to go out and do everything they ever dreamed of, and they want a man who wants to do it with them. This was the main problem with me and my ex, as I said before. She was in exactly that position and she didn't understand (couldn't comprehend the possibility) that after a life spent running about, trying to get a career, living in a different place every year, I was ready to stop and settle down. Setting up the nursery should have been a big clue. I'd love to think I'll do some more travelling but it's not a high priority for me now, and frankly it seems more important to me to learn to feel genuinely satisfied and fulfilled by ordinary life, by the things I have around me every day, rather than living for my next adventure, with ordinary life just a hiatus between thrills - a place where I survive and raise funds for the next expedition. Home is important to me. The area I live in is important to me. Having a job that is fulfilling and/or doesn't take up too much of my time is essential to me, even if it means living fairly frugally. Naturally this wouldn't go down well with a lot of the women at GSM or Zoosk.
Another alarm goes off when they talk about spending a lot of time with other people. The ladies at Zoosk like to 'have a laugh' all the time (one question in the questionnaire said 'How often should the man try to make you laugh' Some ticked 'All the time'. All the time? Seriously?) They often say 'My children are my world' (so what would I be - some sort of satellite?) The women at GSM like to go out a lot too and, like my ex I suspect, don't really understand that a person might be content with their own company a lot of the time.

There's been a lot in the media lately about introversion. It's not what we thought. It doesn't mean people who are just miserable, moody, antisocial losers who spend their time just thinking about how sad life is. Apparently some of us just need time away from other people. Introverts find company tiring whereas extroverts find it gives them energy. Spending too much time with other people leaves me jangling and enervated. Sometimes I'm fine the whole evening but generally I'm good for about an hour. Then often I need to back off. Sometimes I just can't face it at all. What neither me nor my ex realised was that 'other people' includes family, and more specifically, her kids. (People have suggested it would be different if they were my kids but it seems a bit risky to find out.) We introverts don't hate other people - quite the opposite - but we have our limits. On the other hand if we're pressured to join in and be sociable we really can become miserable, moody, antisocial losers, and I think that's what happened to me during our marriage. The fact that I have a tendency to depression adds to the problem.
None of this bodes well for the dating sites where women expect men to be confident and out-going, positive, sociable, and with a good sense of humour, pretty much all the time.


I have a lot good going for me - I really do know that now - I like me - but reading about what women want on these dating sites, and especially after living for six years with someone who fell for the hype about what men should be like, and didn't understand that the reason I was not like that was not because I wasn't trying hard enough - well, it's not encouraging. I have to accept now that it's quite possible that I am simply not the kind of person women want, and that I will spend the rest of my life alone. I'm not being self-pitying. It's actually a genuine possibility. Of course I'll keep trying. I am both hopeful and realistic, but I know enough about statistics and probability to know what the odds are. It is no good me, like those fat and wrinkled woman, staring at themselves in the mirror, going 'Why can't they take the time to see the real me?' Maybe I'm just not an attractive person.
I'm not prepared to 'settle for' a woman I'm not physically attracted to, even if we're the best of friends, so there's no reason I should expect women to settle for an introverted home-body like me, no matter how good looking I might be. Both sets of criteria - the men's and the women's - are equally idealised and superficial, but none of us is prepared to settle for second-best. We'd rather be alone. People used to settle for loveless, sexless marriages, for the sake of decorum and the children, but contrary to popular legend, I seriously doubt they were happier in those days. The simple unthinkable fact is that many of us now will end up alone, not because of widowhood, but because we never found the right one.

But I have met a couple of women online who liked me very much - I just didn't feel that way about them. And even the ones I really liked but fell out with (see previous post) liked me initially. The trick is to remember, in dating as in so many things in life, that we are not trying to appeal to as many people as possible. We are not Tesco or McDonalds or the X Factor. We are bijou, niche and indie. We are trying to attract the few who appreciate what we are. It's easy to see this dating as a whole string of rejections but in fact it's exactly as it should be - given that we are all properly compatible with almost no one. Almost everyone we see should be rejected - or to sound less ruthless - passed by. It is a numbers game. If I have enough encounters - initial online chats, followed by first dates (I've had 14 first dates this year), sooner or later I will fancy someone who fancies me back and there'll be a second date. Of course that's only the beginning. We could have a few months or even years together and still break up and have to start again. Almost certainly that is what will happen, and possibly several times. (I prefer not to dwell on that.)

So despite everything I remain hopeful. Bruised, but hopeful.

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