Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dating Notes from a Former Nice Guy

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I used to be a Nice Guy. Not kind, generous, open, and honest. But "nice." The one many of the dating experts warn you about. And yet, too often, you still fall for because ... well, he's just so damned nice.

So, here's what was true about me. I was desperate to be liked. I was afraid of hurting anyone. I was friendly and agreeable. I listened well. And once I had my first girlfriend, I didn't want to be alone.

Except that, I also wanted "space" a lot of the time. I shared my thoughts and ideas, but not really what I was feeling. I was afraid of conflict, and the possibility of loosing someone as a result of conflict. If I was upset with a girlfriend, I'd stuff it until I couldn't take anymore and then would blow. Not violently, but more of an unleashing of a litany of wrongs she had done - and which I'd kept tally of, but hadn't mentioned until then. I took almost everything that happened in the relationship personally, even though often whatever it was had nothing to do with me.

I was, throughout my teens and 20s, depressed more often than not. I had no idea how to ask for what I needed, and was afraid that if I did start asking sometimes, I'd be considered "needy" and ultimately get rejected. The joke is that although I presented myself as almost selfless, and generally did give a lot - both in my relationships and in the community - I also was pretty needy emotionally. However, instead of getting those needs met directly, I'd occasionally suck energy from folks through over the top ranting, or I'd get my needs met through sideways asking that probably was more manipulating sometimes.

Now, the thing is that despite all of that, I was fairly well liked. I had a good circle of friends, got along well with co-workers and classmates (when I was in school), and generally was a productive, engaged member of society. But something was off. I wasn't quite real or authentic. And as a result, many of my relationships and dating experiences weren't so great.

What happened? Well, a lot of things. I began a serious yoga and Zen meditation practice. I had a long term relationship crumble in a way that exposed many of my "Nice Guy" flaws. I decided that I'd use my online dating experiences as opportunities to take risks. And eventually, I committed to being myself, and letting the chips fall as they may.

Let's consider the Nice Guy in more detail now. Here's a good list of traits, from an article exploring the nice guy stereotype.

They believe that if they are good, giving, and caring, that they will get happiness, love and fulfillment in return.
They offer to do things for a girl they hardly know that they wouldn’t normally do for just anybody else they know.
They avoid conflict by withholding their opinions or even become agreeable with her when they don’t actually agree.
They try to fix and take care of her problems, they are drawn to trying to help.
They seek approval from others.
They try to hide their perceived flaws and mistakes.
They are always looking for the “right” way to do things.
They tend to analyze rather than feel.
They have difficulty making their needs a priority.
They are often emotionally dependent on their partner.

Now, say you're out on a first or second date. And perhaps you're wondering how to discern the difference between a mature, kind man and a Nice Guy.

Here are some questions to consider.

What happens if you disagree with him on something? Does he rush to agree with you?

Does he seem "too perfect"?

Is he overly quick to offer to help you with some issue that no other person who barely knows you would? Or is he overly giving right off the bat?

Is most of your conversation about ideas and intellectual interests?

Does he seem to be seeking approval from you a fair amount of the time?

These are all questions based on the traits above. Here are a few more, based upon how I used to be.

Does he paint himself as the underdog much of the time, in order to seek sympathy?

Does he struggle to make eye contact with you when talking about anything more serious?

Does he shut down, go quiet, or change the subject when emotional topics are brought up?

Of course, none of these alone mean a whole lot. But if you've got someone who fits several of the patterns these questions are getting at, then chances are you're dealing with a Nice Guy.

I could say more, but I'll stop there. Thoughts? Anything to add?

Monday, April 7, 2014

How Your Dating Conflicts Are Sometimes Mirrors from Your "Distant" Past

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The issue of communication in a relationship is often tricky. Each person has their own style and needs, which sometimes conflict. However, sometimes the conflicts are about something deeper than just basic differences, such as in this post from a yoga practitioner who's blog I've been reading for awhile now:

I've been unhappy with the lack of communication I had with the bf. We barely interacted besides funny cat pictures he occasionally sent me, so last week I decided to tell him that either we see each other more often, or he calls more often, or I wouldn't see him this weekend.

Worst. strategy. ever. He got furious, started listing everything that I have ever done wrong, how I stress him out, and now it's zero communication.

I realized we probably already interact more than he's comfortable with, which is ridiculously little by any normal standards (we might as well be in a long-distance relationship even though we live in the same city). I started browsing through a thousand articles about men and why they stonewall women and how to get them to communicate more and stuff. I already tried to mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario - our break up, but it was still very painful.

Now, this situation doesn't sound terribly promising in my view. She's thinking that he's at his limit in terms of contact, and yet in between seeing each other, they're only sharing cat pics? Seriously, not good, no matter how you slice it. However, there are some details missing that might make an assessment easier. Such as how often they see each other, and also how long they've been dating. So, let's move on.

The most interesting piece to me is in this additional paragraph:

My dad also has a style of rarely talking or discussing things, but it suited my mom because she likes to have complete control over the family and he lets her shove him. She treats him like a small child: she tells him when he needs to put on more clothes; she decided that he should retire early and we should move to North America; she signed me up for all sorts of extracurricular activities without ever discussing with me or even informing me beforehand and made him drive me to these classes while I was young. He put up with all this and never complained much.

Over the years, I've noticed how I have attracted dates and partners that reflect traits of my parents. Sometimes, this is a positive thing, such as finding someone who has my mother's general optimism about life. Other times, though, it's been a major source of conflict, like in the situation above. The unresolved difficulties you had/have with a parent can be mirrored in the person you're dating, giving you yet another chance to face and resolve things, or get tripped up by them.

How we communicate and connect with each other are often driven by old patterns from our formative years. It takes a lot of deliberate focus and effort to overturn such patterns, and to operate from your own ground, as opposed to that which allowed you to handle your childhood years.

My own pattern of heavy self criticism around mistakes, given to me by both of my parents to some degree, needed to be shaken out of me over and over again. In terms of dating, I was prone to finding other perfectionists who triggered my sense of internalized shame around screwing up, even in the most minor of circumstances. It really wasn't until a few years ago, when I dated someone who's streak was so strong that after a month or so of going back and forth between fighting with her and going along with whatever to not upset her, I realized this was old, old stuff. That I would never be "good enough" for her because she didn't think she was good enough herself. All the controlling, endless analyzing of any situation that didn't go well, or how she wanted it to - all of that was just a variation of what I was prone to doing.

Needless to say, that relationship didn't last much longer, but ever since then, I've found it easier to identify the "not good enough" narrative and let it go.

How about you? Have you seen these kinds of issues in your relationships?

Monday, March 31, 2014

The #1 Reason to Delay Having Sex

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No point in getting into a shit storm of a fight over on Moxie's blog about her constant lampooning of folks who want to slow things down, and also her endless suspicion of anyone who doesn't fuck after a handful of dates.

I'll just say here that I think she's wrong. And her advice suffers terribly for it.

In her current post she cites this article, which I think is pretty level headed, if also lacking in details and supportive research.

I particularly like this section:

One might think if American culture has continued to become more open, then the three-date rule might now be the first-date rule. It is, but only with a small minority of daters.

Instead, by becoming even more sexually liberal, our culture is more accepting of a wider range of sexual attitudes and behaviors.

This is a positive, don't you think? Folks who so fiercely advocate against delaying sex seem to me to be, in part, battling against the opposite kind of culture. A socially conservative one where sex is shameful, to be controlled, and littered with oppressive gender scripts. Something that's still present in the U.S., but doesn't dominate our overall discourse, despite the religious right's continued attempts. Of course, regionally there are major differences. Some places are much more open and accepting than others. But overall, we're a nation with a wide mix of views about sex and sexuality, many of which contradict each other.

What I find so fascinating - and disappointing - about the commonplace heterosexual arguments in favor of sex right away, or nearly right away, is that they're usually built on really old stereotypes about male sexuality. In particular, the idea that men can't wait, won't wait, and those who do must have some issue (sexual dysfunction, they're closeted, etc.) These folks think they're being so progressive in voicing all this, but they're actually peddling the same old patriarchal nonsense that has dominated the sex lives of generations of women and men before them. Yes, they're free to have sex whenever they want now. But their thinking isn't that much better than their grandmothers and grandfather's was on the subject.

If a man runs his dating life on the premise that he's got to have sex early on, or else he's going to move on, he's not "liberated."

If a woman runs her sex life on the premise that men are going to bail if she doesn't have sex with them early on, and/or that guys who don't want sex right away are "damaged" somehow, then she's not liberated either.

True sexual liberation, in my opinion, is being able to engage the current dating situation as it is. To be able to let go of the stories and propaganda you've swallowed over the years to face, and embrace, the person before you as they are. To learn each others' actual needs and desires and go from there.

The number 1 reason why waiting a bit is a good idea is that it takes time to wade through each others' conditioning and fears/hangups from the past in order to actually engage sex in a more liberated way. Hell, the first month or so of most relationships, you're operating almost completely on a fantasy sketch of who someone is, and how they are in the world. Add on that all the mixed messages you've swallowed over a lifetime, plus your past dating/relationship history, and it's gets complicated really fast.

Which doesn't mean you can't have casual sex, or that sex on the first or second date dooms a relationship. I'm just saying you're fooling yourself if you think that just being able to have sex whenever is a liberated position. That you're somehow have so much more freedom just because you can fuck whomever whenever.

Because You don't. It's not that special anymore. Take a look at the underlying motivations and rationales. Consider whether your ideas about men and women are actually your own, and also whether they help you be the best person that you can be in a relationship. Having a liberated sex life is much more than just being able to do it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

When Gathering Evidence Becomes a Dating Crutch

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In my 20s, I was an endless evidence gatherer. In fact, that even was true with women who I never dated. I recall one in particular who demonstrated a bit of interest a few times, but then didn't really respond to my "let's get together sometime" kind of comments. I sat around for weeks, rethinking the conversations we had had. Did that look mean she was interested? She really liked the poems I had written. That must be a sign. But she didn't want to get a drink with me? Is she a recovering alcoholic? Should I ask her about that? The questions were endless, as was the tallying. All for a woman who probably thought of me as some nice guy she had a few conversations with, and that's about it.

I have had to train myself to cut off the evidence gathering mind. To know when enough information is enough, and when it's time to make a decision.

You have to learn, for example, how your mind rationalizes the poor behavioral patterns of a partner, or the ways in which you discount or marginalize your own needs in a relationship as a way to keep the peace. Or out of a fear of losing the person. You also have to learn to see through the cooked up stories your mind makes about ambiguous situations. It takes some discipline, and really a willingness to let go of knowing for certain what's going on.

In other words, it's all about balance. I think it's especially difficult in the beginning, when you don't know the other person well. And also when trying to decide if something should end or not, where emotional attachments and feelings of not wanting to give up on something you've put a lot of effort into come into play.

When it comes to those of us who have challenges with leaving, it's really important to remember that you don't have to justify everything. You don't have to have reasons for every last thing you don't like about the relationship, nor do you have to explain all of that to the other person. Offering some of that to the other person, especially if you've been together a long time, is probably a kind thing to do. However, if somewhere in your mind you believe that you have to explain your way completely out of a relationship, then what you have built is a prison, not a relationship.

If you find yourself spending numerous hours tallying pros and cons about a relationship, and/or constantly digging for more information or opinions from others about your relationship, this is probably just another form of endless evidence gathering.

At the end of the day, it's all about trying to avoid pain and suffering. Which never works in the long run.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Boys Don't Cry:" One Reason Why Modern Men Struggle With Grief and Other Emotions

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You ever wonder why so many men struggle with their emotions? Or why in particular men don't seem to handle grief well, or cry very often? Well, I don't have all the answers, but in my latest post over at Life as a Human webzine, I share a bit of my own story and talk about how modern economics plays a role in how men deal with grief. Check it out!

Monday, March 10, 2014

What Do You Hate About Modern Dating?

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I'll be honest. I'm not much of a hater. Hate is entirely too strong of a word to describe what is usually either an annoyance or simple dislike. In addition, as I have gotten a bit older, I'm less charmed by the idea of bitching and moaning as a past-time. Or even as a warped mechanism of bonding with others. In other words, if I'm being critical, or offering judgments, I try to have a good reason for doing so.

With that said, here's a short list of my modern dating dislikes and/or annoyances:

1. The shopping mentality so many people seem to have. Treating people like items in a catalog rather than as living, breathing human beings.

2. The obsession with "instant, mama said knock you out chemistry." Seriously, if your aim is to be struck by lightning, go stand on a rooftop during a rainstorm with a pitchfork in your hand.

3. All the pressure some folks place on first dates. I used to be one of those folks, trying to "act perfect" and spending the entire time obsessing about every last similarity and difference.

4. The plethora of one sized fits all dating gurus. I get it. People like to be told exactly what to do. But seriously, when you keep failing to find a good partner, and are swamped in self loathing or endless self improvement efforts as a result of thinking someone else knows better, it's time to stop drinking the kool aid.

5. How easy trivial things seem to trump everything else. Things like being an inch or two "shorter" than desired, or a few pounds heavier, or not having the high powered job that supposedly demonstrates personal ambition. This goes part and parcel with our consumer culture, which glorifies materialism, celebrities, and fairy tale romances in ways that our ancestors never had.

What about you? What drives you nuts about modern dating?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fears of the Friendzone are Overblown

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Anyone who has been reading this blog awhile knows that I'm not impressed with speed. There seems to be no end to advice that boils down to "you snooze, you loose. This post, from the Urban Dater, is no exception.

Many guys think that they’ve been friend-zoned because they did something (wrong), but often times, it’s because they didn’t do something. They failed to take action soon enough. Does it takes balls to take action? Absolutely, but this is something that is within our power. Just keep in mind that guys who get friend-zoned are the ones who “played it safe.” You must strike when the iron is hot.

Ah, the "friendzone." I felt like I spent much of high school there. I can recall multiple women in college with whom it seemed I was lost in the long tunnel of maybe, but not quite. Even in grad school there was one woman. But since then, well, the term doesn't really apply to anything I have experienced. Furthermore, both in college and grad school, there were people who were attracted to me in my friend circle that I had little or no romantic interest in. Perhaps they felt trapped in the friendzone as well. I honestly don't know.

Here's what I think. The friendzone is a concept that is not only over-applied, but also is yet another excuse for folks to rush things, instead of act naturally. The fear of being labeled not interested or simply lumped in with someone's friends feels no different than the commonplace advice to "lock in" whomever your dating online because there's "so much competition." It's all about fear, and not about reading reality.

In reality, a lot of the time you "land in the friendzone" is because the other person just isn't that into you. When I look back at my school days crushes, I honestly don't think most of them would have dated me. They liked me well enough, but my lack of making a move wasn't the issue. The reverse is also true. I wouldn't have dated most of the people I knew had crushes on me. I just wasn't that interested.

Which brings me to my next point. How much of this is rom-com fantasy? I have a hard time taking the concept too seriously, even though it does happen sometimes, even between middle aged adults.

They say timing is everything, right? Well, we've all heard of those long term friendships that eventually become romantic partnerships. They aren't the norm, but they do happen. And the thing is, there's not much you can do to speed something like that up. Nor would it be wise to bank your life on something like that, no matter how great someone is. However, it strikes me that to whatever extent the friendzone is real, it's also not something that's fixed.

That's the problem with life: it doesn't conform to human ideas.

Which doesn't mean you shouldn't make a quicker move sometimes. Sometimes, that might be right thing. Does it make sense given what's present, or is it forced? The answer will be different every time.

Fears of the friendzone are overblown. Even if you are really shy about dating, like I used to be, odds are the ones you think "got away" never would have been yours anyway.