I'm not celibate (voluntary or otherwise) but I also came to dating pretty late
in life and I think I may understand part of the cognitive mechanisms behind the problem, having
fought my way free of some of them. I do have at least one friend who I'd likely
describe as involuntarily celibate, but it has been some time since we spoke and
he may have changed. Although if he was the same at 38 as 18, one begins to
despair for him.
I think from the way HD 64760 writes his piece (and I think it well written)
he is framing it up as a problem, a source of some dissatisfaction with life.
It is not clear that he has decided whether he should change or whether society
should change. He brings up good questions and points to some interesting
resources. He brings it out of the closet for examination, non-judgmentally.
So here, let's be judgmental. Let's assume for my article that you have the
same problem and you want to change. Let's further assume that you are a male.
Because I am a male and I'm not going to try to advise women on this problem,
which I think might be different from their perspective. Though they are welcome
to take any value from it that they can. Also, my apologies to the gay reader:
I have, for simplicity's sake (and not for any judgemental reason) assumed that
the object of romance is "she" since is "she" who interests me--please substitute
whatever other pronoun you prefer for that pronoun.
Defining the glass heart problem
I think that a large part of the problem stems from early and excessive escalation
of the emotional stakes placed in a given relationship. Let's call it (for entertainment purposes only)
Emotional Premature Ejaculation. To quote HD 64760:
"It's pretty much true that I fall in love first, then start dating the desired
person, and find that I don't really know how or when to express my feelings
without scaring the person away. I guess the notion of casual dating is foreign..."
Actually, casual dating is the rule, not the exception. It is by casual dating
that people figure out if they want to proceed to not-so-casual dating. Going
out on a first date with someone you are already in love with is, statistically, the
rare exception. I like to think that Darwin's hammer is the cause of this effect.
It is such a devastatingly bad way to approach dating and relationships that
people found a better way.
I'm quite aware of the devastation it causes because I have been guilty of this
approach myself a time or two (especially back in my college days) but I broke
myself of the habit, basically by reengineering myself, by challenging erroneous
assumptions and correcting some cognitive errors I was making habitually:
- I'm worthless
- No one could possibly love me.
- Dating is too much pressure and stress.
- She will freak out if she finds out how I really feel.
- This relationship is my last chance...
Those assumptions (to use a UKism I've always liked) Were a Lot of Bollocks. A buncha hooey. Errors I corrected in my head. Here's
how I did it.
Decide which statement is true: either your attention, efforts, affection, and
love have no intrinsic value or else they do have intrinsic value.
Relationships are transactional. We bring attention and effort to them and in
return we get attention and effort from someone else. If, at your core, you don't
value your effort in a relationship, you should not try to get into one. For my
part, I found during my problem years (on self-examination) that I was devaluing my own contribution and
overvaluing my partner's. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: a partner
will begin to agree with you, perhaps against their own first impression. Once your partner agrees that you are worthless, the relationship should soon finish dissolving.
This intrinsic value (like bloody everything else) is subjective. That is, not
everyone will place the same value on you. You need at least one person to
decide you are really worthwhile and that person is you. You have to decide to
be your own friend if you want anyone else to be a friend to you. If you can't
do that, keep working on it and go no further.
Until you achieve this, you are as to relationships as an addict is to a drug:
dependent. You will not ever achieve a balanced relationship until you value
your own contribution to it as much as what you take from it. Further, you will
be an emotional drain on the other party and she will shed you quickly, if she
has any sense. Why? Because you require constant reassurance of your worth:
"Do you still love me? How about now?"
The reason the Stewart Smalley sketch was funny on Saturday Night Live ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.") was that clearly Stewart had not yet learned to believe his mantra. Whatever your inner cheerleader is chanting on your behalf, you need to believe it before you proceed.
Do the math!
By this, I mean consider the great gulping volume of humanity that is out there.
Billions. Woo! Some of them are like you. It might not be a big slice, but the
pie itself is very large, so it is likely your small slice contains thousands of
people, at least. Some of those thousands will like you and value you. And
some of those are women. It is pretty probable that you will reciprocate with
one of those women. Bingo!
Unfortunately, humanity is not yet indexed in a relational database.
"SELECT * FROM People WHERE People.AttractedTo = 'me' ORDER BY People.HooterDimensions DESC"
does not return any rows. We have to search for them by actually meeting them,
one at a time for the most part, unless you are suggesting something outre. Not
easy, but also not impossible. For one thing, people like you may hang out in
some of the same places you do. Although it can also be useful to go looking in
Okay, I realize that some of what I am saying you have to take on faith. It can
be boiled down to the cliche about there being someone for everyone. But: if you
don't believe that there is someone out there you can have a balanced relationship
with, then you are right to go no further.
I date quite a bit more now than in my misspent (that is to say, unspent) youth.
I had more dates last month than in my senior year of high school. Okay, kick
junior and sophomore years in there too. Unfortunately, that is still not a large
number of dates, though I do fine and have no complaints. In my experience, I find
that finding someone you'd like to spend your twilight years with is rare but
finding someone you can enjoy dinner with is very do-able. Finding someone to
sleep with, if that is what you want to do, is also pretty do-able.
You need to mentally decompress the dating situation.
Remember that most dating is casual dating, even if the end goal is not casual.
It is fine to have a long-term objective of finding someone to build a life with,
but accept that achieving this will take some time and experimentation. A lot
of time and a lot of experimentation would be pretty much par for the course.
Consider the divorce rate (somewhere around 50%) as Exhibit A. You can consider
the amount of dating I do to be Exhibit B.
Well, but no programmer expects his program to run without errors on first compile.
No scientist expects his theory to be conclusively supported and embraced by
the world after his first experiment. Not unless those folks are quite naive.
No, we debug. We experiment, change variables, try new things. Anything worth
having will probably require some work and effort and will take place in
incremental steps. The truth is that these incremental steps can, in and of
themselves, be enjoyable too. If you can stop them from being pressure cookers.
The way you decompress the situation
is by (tada!) casual dating. You start small and you start early. Don't wait
until you fall in love to ask a woman out. Consider the question: what's the
worst that could happen? If the date is casual and it goes poorly for you or
for her, well, that's okay. You figured it out early and there was not too much
skin in the game for either of you. By contrast, if you are deeply in love with
a woman and the first date goes badly, it will devastate you. If she realizes
that is what has happened (and if she is also a decent human being) it will
devastate her too. Nobody worth dating likes to break hearts.
If every date is fraught with great import, you need to redefine "date." To
quote HD 64760:
"If the game you are playing is a no-win one, stop playing, rewrite the rules."
I couldn't say it better myself, and I have said nearly those exact words many
times to myself. The purpose of courtship is to enable mutual discovery, and
also express mutual interest, starting small, but maybe growing over time. By
waiting until you are in love to start dating, you escalate the stakes of that
game to a virtual one-roll-takes-all crapshoot. Remember the math: she's
probably out there, but you will not meet her right away and you have to survive,
emotionally, long enough to discover each other.
Women and men, ultimately, are people, not strange aliens or inimical beasts. We are more similar to each other than we are to other
species. A helluva lot more similar. Treat this like the advantage is truly is.
Do things you like to do and invite someone who might be interesting to you along
to do them with you. Lunch is nice. Movies work. Coffee is great. Lectures,
theater, shopping in a used book store, etc. Remember this: if you are ultimately
looking for someone to fall in love with, well, it would be real convenient for
you both if you liked to do some of the same things. Casual dating is one way
that we find out what other people like to do.
Be honest and disclose your interest earlier rather than later.
If the invitation you are making to someone is something you think of as a date,
make sure they realize where you are coming from. Not all surprises are good.
Completely casual friendly meetings or lunches are great for prospecting, but
if you want to ask someone on a date, use the word "date" so they know. If that
word (or any plain-spoken declaration) is too heavy for you to utter, try dropping obvious
hints: bring flowers.
Side note: Start with inexpensive flowers! Do not lead off with a dozen long-stem
red roses. In fact, wildflowers are a good place to start because they are personal,
something you picked especially for her. Long stem roses are nitro-glycerin.
Remember Step 3, Decompress! Use LSR's only when truly appropriate.
Some people will think that flowers are a cliche that makes stereotypical
assumptions about women and what they may like or dislike. Okay. Except that
I don't know any women (even my most extremely feminist friends) who don't like flowers. If
you think flowers are politically incorrect (the dying, dismembered sex organs
of oppressed plants, after all) substitute something more correct. Make a
chrysanthemum out of tofu. Think of something. The important thing is express your
Flowers (and their tofu analogues) are a pretty unambiguous hint--if you are
meeting your buddy for lunch, you don't generally take him flowers (unless he is
a botanist and they are specimens). If she asks if you are romancing her, don't
deny it. At least say "maybe" but don't be afraid to say yes. It is, after all,
the simple truth and (Remember Step 1!) It's Nothing To Be Ashamed Of!
This is not always going to lead to romantic success, but if she knows your
intentions early (before you let your own emotional stakes escalate) she can let
you know if the attention is unwanted before it is a big fat hairy deal.
Oh no! Rejection. Yes, rejection. Two things about this: first is
that it is inevitable. GM does not sell a car to everyone who visits a
dealership either. Second is that rejection gets easier to handle with time,
particularly because it won't happen every time. Sometimes, she will be
flattered and interested.
Actually, almost everyone will be flattered to find out that someone, anyone,
even a geek like me, finds them attractive. We all like to be liked.
Rejection is the cost of risking acceptance. You must pay the piper. Think of it
as debug. With time and practice, you will get better and spend less time there.
The important thing is to accept it when it happens and regard it as situational.
That is, you were rejected for this one thing, but not for all things. Remember
Step 1. You are still worthwhile to yourself and to someone else, somwhere else.
But not here. No biggie, accept it and move on. Because it really is not a
big deal. Don't make it into one.
This builds from Step 1. If you are worth having, you are worth working for--so don't give yourself away too cheaply. Don't give your heart up too fast. For one thing, remember that you are still getting to know this person. Take some time about it. Again, this gets easier with practice, but if your ultimate goal is a robust, enduring relationship, take some time to build it right. Have some idea of what you are looking for and what you are looking to avoid. Match this person against both lists. It doesn't have to be a list, by the way, but remember that there are thousands of women who might be right for you. Don't bet everything on one person who is wrong for you, just because she actually likes you. It is possible, no, likely, no dammit it is certain that someone else will like you too.
At the same time, don't be afraid to risk things with one person either. Sadly, this advice is like what my Dad told me about riding a bike without the training wheels on it: useless until you have done it. Then you get a feel for it and you know.
Don't be afraid to abandon a hopeless cause.
This goes right back to Step 1. If you are a valuable, lovable person then you
don't have to put up with shabby treatment. If your car was a lemon, would you
say: "Well, the manufacturer is a better person than me and deep down, I really
deserve a crappy car that doesn't run well."? No. Assuming you successfully
negotiated Step 1, you'd realize that not everything will work out. Sometimes
the best way to fix the program or experiment or machine or relationship is to start over.
From scratch. With someone else.
How will you recognize a hopeless cause? One way is when she tells you, in
plain language: "This is hopeless." Believer her when she says this. Love (most especially unreciprocated love) does not conquer all.
Not everyone will speak so plainly. If she
does not want you to touch her, if she does not return your phone calls (no
matter how many messages you leave--oh, another side note: stop leaving messages at 1 or 2 at
the most. Three or more messages on the phone is not cute, it is clingy), if she dates other people and sleeps around, these are all symptoms.
I remember when a geeky couple I knew in college broke up: she refused to hold
hands with him or allow any display of affection for a month ahead of time.
And he was still surprised when she finally broke it off!
Here's a real simple way to recognize a hopeless cause: loving someone will
involve pleasure and pain, but when the pain consistently outweighs the pleasure,
think about breaking it off. At the very least, think about communicating that
pain to her so things can change. Or think about seeking professional counseling.
If you can't take care of yourself, you can't expect anyone else to do it either.
There is no Step 7. Nor are there steps 8 through 12. It is only a six step
program. This is not self-help bloatware, buddy. But I'll let you know if other steps come up.
This is what helped me get out of those particular woods. If it does not apply to
you, well cool. If you like it in the woods and want to stay there, that's cool
too. As some of the comments in the article that inspired this one have noted, not everyone sees this as
a problem. When it was me looking at myself, I did see it as a problem. It all seems like common sense to me
now, but there was a time that I didn't get it. And I was not happy with myself
or my life much back then either. If this describes you and if what I've written helps you I am glad to
have someone to share it with. Good luck and good hunting.