Perpetually Abandoned

Friday, December 07, 2007

Question

I just got dumped—on the phone, no less, by someone who seemed very warm and passionate at first, but then got more and more distant. This hurts me more than it would probably hurt the average person because I have never had a long-term relationship. None of the people I've dated have stayed with me for more than six months. I never break up with them; they always leave me. I think I am a loving person. I can't see what I am doing wrong. Maybe I'm cursed or fated to be alone, and I should just accept it and stop tormenting myself by hoping that the next person will work out. I feel like the latest candidate for a romance is keeping a secret from me, and I wish they would just tell me what is wrong so I can try to fix it. I'm tempted to call or e-mail them and ask them to just be honest with me and explain why they stopped being interested in me. Maybe I did something awful in a past life, and I am paying for it now. Can you tell me if there are some people who just can't find a relationship? Why would that be when there are so many lonely people in the world? I'm so depressed about this, I wonder if life is worth all the effort and pain it takes to get from one day to the next.

Answer

It's tough enough to contemplate a celibate life if you've freely chosen that path because you want to commit your life to another calling. Involuntary celibacy or singlehood feels completely crappy, and I want to commiserate with you for feeling betrayed and abandoned. Our need for touch, intimacy, and love seems to be hard-wired into the primate brain and body. Doing without creates genuine suffering.

But it's not easy to see yourself from the outside and figure out what is going wrong. Very few of us is capable of being objective about our physical or emotional flaws or behavioral shortcomings. Since I don't know you, all I can do is list a few of the things that I've seen interfere with dating success. But you might need the unflinching honesty of a close friend or the careful empathy of a therapist to unravel your own barriers to a good romance.

First let's check off the obvious things. If you have poor hygiene, you give the impression that you aren't of average intelligence, you're very poor, or you aren't good-looking, other people will be turned off. It's important to appear as normal, clean, prosperous, and attractive as possible. If you have a personal aesthetic that isn't mainstream, don't try to date people who wouldn't understand your visual signals. If you're a punk rocker, don't pursue the prom queen, unless you are in art school.

Please understand that I think some of this is just discriminatory bullshit. It makes no rational sense for people to reject someone for stuttering, being disabled, or having a bad complexion, just to list a few common issues. If you are struggling with a handicap, don't get fixated on pretty people who have no empathy. Shop for a lover in places where you are met with understanding and welcome. For example, I'm a fat guy, so I don't hang out at Anorexia Anonymous meetings looking for cute chicks to ball. I have better luck at bear conferences and pastry shops.

Other issues can be more subtle and harder to address. If you feel desperate about making a connection, others can sense this, and it is likely to make them uncomfortable. It puts too much pressure on them to make up their minds and commit—or flee. The initial stages of dating need to be kept pretty light-hearted and casual. Don't invest in someone who hasn't made the first move. Let them show you that they want you. People often want what they think will be difficult to get. Somebody who is too available arouses suspicion. Juggling this paradox, by the way, sucks razorblades. I remain unsure how to navigate this correctly, and often screw it up.

Personality problems can be as much of a turn-off as halitosis or a huge permanent erection. Some people give off a vibe that they are not glued together very well. If you had an unusually awful childhood, it can set you up to be attracted to people who are abusive or unavailable. You may have trouble sensing verbal or physical cues that the other person needs a little more physical space. Sometimes it's hard to tell when to stop talking and let the other person have a turn, or be aware of what constitutes over-sharing. A lot of repressed anger can also make others pass you by. Some of us don't realize that we have undiagnosed mental health problems like a bipolar condition, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficits or hyperactivity, Aspberger's, or a dependence on drugs or alcohol.

This is why I suggested some counseling might be helpful, to clarify if there are underlying serious problems that are interfering with your quest for a life mate. If you are simply having trouble with social skills, a cognitive-behavioral psychologist can be very useful. They won't psychoanalyze you; they'll just focus on the present and help you to set and meet reasonable social goals.

Most of us have trouble finding a decent relationship. It seems like the world is full of takers, so if you are a giving, caring, and honest person, you have to be on guard, or you'll get stepped on. Everybody wants a 10, even if they are a 5 and ½. This is why Paris Hilton gets away with being her shallow and sad little self. She's rich, beautiful, and bitchy. And bitches, in the realm of dating, rule. I prefer to opt out of that level of the dating game and look for nerdy people like me who have a macabre sense of humor and a strong desire to destroy western civilization as we know it. If I can't live in an episode of Star Trek or a Michael Manning graphic novel, there's something wrong with reality, some deep injustice that needs to be opposed with every fiber of my being. In the meanwhile, my television set has probably recorded a new episode of Dexter. But I digress.

Don't give up. And don't settle. There's somebody out there for everyone. You are someone's type, someone's ideal, somebody's true love. It really hurts to have to sift through the false starts before you get a winner. But if you are willing to put some time into fine-tuning your well-being and your game, I think you'll eventually succeed. Do whatever it takes to make your depression more manageable—brightly colored clothing, happy music, medication, refined sugar? Don't hurt yourself because other people are too stupid to know you are a great person with a lot to offer. We're keeping score here, and we don't want the stupid people to win. I guarantee that when you do find a soul mate, you'll look back wistfully on your single phase, when you had all that free time to spend however you wanted, and there was no "honey do" list.