A topic of conversation came up whilst I was on a date last week. It popped into my head again three days ago as I ran along the beach. In the spirit of this blog I thought I’d write about it and see what came out. Welcome back to my inner workings…
This has been a challenging piece to write, because my first draft was written from the heart, based on what I believe(d), but then, like an idiot, I made the mistake of doing some research on the subject and promptly started to question everything I believe(d). The more I researched, the more I questioned, and the longer the post became.
Side note: whilst I was back in the UK a couple of my mates told me that they like to read this blog whilst sat on the toilet. Lads, make sure you’ve got 10 minutes for this one. Take your time doing your ‘business’.
Back to the date – the topic of conversation was this: why do people, often friends and family, criticise single folk for their ‘singleness’? The gal I was on a date with raised it. We talked about it. I related. This post isn’t a whinge, I’m not in a whinging mood, and haven’t been since THAT weekend, but I’m going to explore the topic, and the story of my love life over the past two decades. You’re welcome to read on. There is some brutal self-analysis to enjoy.
Below are the sort of comments I regularly receive. My date, let’s call her Anna (she’s not called Anna) had heard them too, and she’s been in more long term relationships than I have. I’d suggest that almost anyone who is over the age of thirty, and has been ‘without partner’ for a while, will have likely heard a few, if not all of these:
“I don’t think you’re ready to meet someone”
“You’re too picky”
“You’re not ready to settle down”
“You’ll never be happy”
“You’ll find fault in everyone”
“What you’re looking for doesn’t exist”
Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but are they right?
Let’s backtrack. My romantic endeavours began well as a young lad, 24 years ago (Fuck!). At primary school I called Katy Bell my girlfriend, she was cute, all the boys fancied her (as much as a ten year-old can). We’d hang out on the playground during lunch, target each other during games of ‘Kiss Chase’ and flirt awkwardly in class. Tragically though, she dumped me for a boy called Scott, because he had better ‘curtains’ (the hairstyle made famous by Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys). I remember her coming up to me on the school field with her friend, it was a warm day, she quietly informed me that she was going out with Scott because she liked his hair, gave me a peck on the cheek and skipped off.
This is what happens when your Mum cuts your hair with a salad bowl for style guidance. Scott really did have great curtains though. The ones that looped up and around in the middle and wisped out to the sides at their periphery.
From eleven I attended a boys-only secondary school, and so my exposure to girls became restricted to a Friday night youth club I frequented. My interest in the opposite sex at said youth club was dampened by my preference for playing football with the lads. And so my next milestone came as a spotty 15-year old, staying at a caravan park on the Dordogne in the South of France, with my friend Joe and his family. It was there that I drew the attention of a lovely blonde lass called Laura, from North London. I remember finding out, after several days of boyishly flirting with her by the pool, that she fancied me. I was ecstatically excited when I found this out, I fancied her right back.
The following day I made my move, and before you could say “teenage crush” we were snogging behind the camp restaurant. It was truly exhilarating to get the girl. It was mortifying in equal measure when our dental braces locked together mid-kiss. We had a short, whirlwind romance for a few days before I was due to head back to Blighty. I almost lost my virginity on that trip, frustratingly we were interrupted by a responsible adult just as things were getting steamy. When we got home we wrote soppy teenage love letters to each other, but eventually they dried up. I regret losing that collection of love letters – they’re the only ones I’ve ever received in the mail. I do have a rich archive of flirty WhatsApp conversations, but it’s just not the same.
This is going to sound terribly sad, but since those two early dalliances with romance, I have systematically succeeded at falling into relationships with women that I shouldn’t have been in relationships with; blowing my chances with the ones I probably should have been with, or just doing really well at avoiding relationships full stop. Don’t cry for me.
In my last two serious relationships I was a crappy boyfriend, because, in hindsight, my heart wasn’t it. I persisted with those relationships because my head told me to. They were fantastic learning experiences, but why did I persist against my better judgement? Well:
1) because I’m human, we’re programmed to seek out love and connection – it’s inevitable that we fuck it up occasionally.
2) because I was an inexperienced idiot who wanted to prove the people who called me too “picky” wrong.
3) I’m no psychologist, but I’d hazard a guess that the dysfunctional example of love which I witnessed at home whilst growing up, has probably programmed me in certain ways that are not exactly conducive to being great at relationships.
Hard Hitting. I know my mother will read this, she reads all my blogs, so I have to quickly add a clarifying comment that I blame my parents for nothing. They did a great job, and succeeded at developing me and my two sisters into smart, inquisitive, strong and pretty all-round decent human beings.
Without doubt though, I was influenced by their troubled marriage and difficult separation. I’ve had feedback from women in the past that I’m a tough nut to crack, that I’m too guarded, won’t open up, that I’m hard to please. The pop-psychologist in me would look at that feedback now, retrospectively, and accept that they were probably right. At the time I thought they were just being dramatic.
Watching my parents’ relationship fail created in me a strong desire to not re-produce something similar, and it’s worked. I have been fantastically successful. I have seemingly decided on settling for nothing short of spectacular, but is spectacular possible without a lot of persistence and effort? I imagine Roger Federer would advise me that it’s not.
Have I been so sub-consciously keen to avoid a bad relationship that I’ve likely pushed away several chances of a good one? And if we’re really going to go deep on this, have I also chased women whom I knew were not suitable, or whom I wasn’t actually that keen on, or whom were just plain unavailable or uninterested – because those options had an end date (or no start date), and with that came the security of not getting involved, or hurt. Thereby avoiding a bad relationship. Smart huh.
So I ask myself the question; have I just spent 20 years trying to find that same rush of excitement that I felt when I found out that Laura from Bedford was reciprocating my interest as a precocious 15 year old? I think it’s quite possible. In the absence of a better model I reckon I’ve placed too much importance on the initial ‘feeling’. I’ve been drawn in by the Hallmark Greeting Cards School of Romanticism that tells us we have a soulmate out there waiting for us, that ‘you’ll know when you know’, that fireworks should erupt, that the sex should be instantly incredible, that the perfect person exists.
The more I delved into this the more I start to realise it’s a crock of shit. Just watch the talk by philosopher Alain de Botton (linked to at the bottom of the post) if you want a realistic slant on it.
If I’m brutally honest with myself, I know that I’m too quick to find fault with potential partners. And I’m not alone in this, my experience of dating over the past few years is that those whom find themselves single in their late twenties / thirties quickly develop a tick box list of criteria that must be fulfilled in order for us to be willing to take the plunge and risk our hearts.
I make the age reference because if we make it to 30, and find ourselves single, chances are that we’ve fucked up in the arena of love at least once and now consider ourselves wise – we think we know what we want, and won’t settle for anything less.
I had a woman turn down a second date with me because I don’t eat pizza. I turned down a third date because I was fairly sure she wasn’t over her ex. I got binned after several dates because I didn’t text her for three days. I binned someone because they didn’t like hiking or camping. And if they live more than a 20 minute Uber away it probably aint happening.
Recently I had a friend message me suggesting I go on a date with her friend because I ticked most of the boxes on her list – and she sent me a copy of that list. Having a list written down is a dealbreaker on my list… it’s ok if it’s in your head though.
It’s madness. And dating apps have ensured over the past few years that we have descended into a neverending cycle of finding fault with each other. It’s not just madness, it’s horrible. People, most of them wonderful, interesting, and perfectly flawed human beings, are disposed of with such speed now, because they do not fit the image of perfection that so many of us are holding a torch to.
The process is in danger of complete melt down. This can be evidenced by the enormous number of messages on social media declaring that ‘Single is a Choice’. Sure, it’s a choice, but I’m not convinced it’s a particularly good choice, and I have a suspicion it’s a choice being made because the alternative is a cycle of disappointment and rejection.
The dating world has changed, flaws are no longer acceptable. Which is a big problem, because as humans, we’re all flawed. I found an absolutely wonderful video on this topic that everyone, single and attached, should take five minutes to watch:
No one could accuse me of not trying. This past year in Sydney has been an international tour of duty; I dated a leggy, raven-haired Lithuanian, gorgeous, but she didn’t laugh at my jokes. I met a Serbian on a boat, she was SO my type, we sporadically texted for weeks, months even, before she finally agreed to meet for a date, only for her to turn up with two friends. Awkward. Then came a Filipino who was insanely fun, too much fun for a chap who likes to be in bed by 10pm… There was an Irish lass who was intensely smart, interesting and beautiful, but didn’t believe in reaching into her purse. Most recently I dated a Venezuelan who looked like Eva Longoria, with tattoos – cute as hell, but I was too extroverted for her introverted ways. And she was vegetarian. I’ve also been on numerous first dates that never progressed to a second, sometimes because I wasn’t into them, sometimes because they weren’t into me.
I’m not losing any sleep over any of this, I’m doing just fine, but love & intimacy are basic human needs, and of course I want, correction: NEED, that. If I were to try to analyse why nothing has stuck in the last two years, honestly, I just don’t know anymore.
My last two serious relationships have undoubtedly taught me to not get involved when it’s not making my heart sing. But I was already cautious in this area long before those. This thought process has made it a whole lot easier to accept it when things haven’t gone the way I wanted them to.
I guess this is the whole point of life really, making mistakes, messing shit up, learning how to do it better, learning how to be responsible for one’s own happiness. I firmly believe that the most successful people in life are the ones who accept they’ll fuck it up sometimes, but go for it anyway. Here I am in my thirties trying to become one of those people. Just writing this blog post has changed my perspective a bit. I heard somewhere that compatibility is an achievement of love, not a precursor. Too many of us, me included, expect it up front. Compatibility takes work. There’s a lesson in there for everyone.
The lessons I’m choosing to take are; to be more patient; to not look for flaws, but to learn how to look for, and love the differences; to give people more of a chance.
And to keep on trying.
Ironically I did meet someone recently who lit me up, like proper lit me up. She lives in the UK.
Unlucky, but plucky, in love, you see.
Footnote: Here are some quotes I found which I couldn’t fit into the piece, but want to share anyway:
“If you met someone and didn’t get that ‘special feeling’…. it probably means they were too normal and didn’t satisfy your requirement for the dysfunctional…”
“Romanticism says we should be ourselves in a relationship, total honesty – terrible idea, we have to choose between total love, or total honesty. Total honesty is a sure fire route to loneliness.”
“Romanticism believes in the acceptance of the whole person, not in education / growth to something better. Which would you prefer?”
And here is the talk by Alain de Botton that I referred to earlier in the post: