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Monday, 22 May 2017

All the single fellas

At the risk of sounding like a male Beyonce (a curse I must endure in life in general), I want to say something to all the single fellas and it’s this: There is a good possibility there is nothing wrong with you, it’s just that the world of dating sucks.

Why I’ve been moved to speak on this is that in recent months I’ve caught various friends and acquaintances (actually both male and female) bemoaning their singledom – often in that “I’m just bantering” way that doesn’t fool anyone. I hear them over-analysing the situation, as you do when you’ve been alone for years and are exasperated and just want some kind of explanation: Joking about what wrong-headed unknowables women/men are; joking about how you, yourself, must be a pathetic freak. Lol jokes. Kinda. Kinda not.

I am out of that dating bear pit, thank The Lord, and now comfortably well into something strong and stable (a relationship, not a Tory government) but when I hear the just-mentioned bemoaning from my own kind – the slightly introverted, slightly intense, slightly “sensitive” kind of chap – the empathy glands start pinging away, the bad memories start surfacing and I can end up getting upset on their behalf. Having spent the vast majority of my life single, these are my people, and I feel their frustration acutely. The dating game is simply not set up for a certain kind of dude who tends towards the introverted, intense and “sensitive” – for the reasons outlined below...

Not yet

But before we get into it, I want to make it clear I’m not offering “advice”. As a single man there was nothing that boiled my piss more than someone condescendingly tossing crumbs of “advice” from the safety of the comfortable relationship that they’d lucked out by clumsily fumbling their way into back when we were young and it was much easier to hook up.

And I need to say, there is nothing wrong with being on your own, other than your own desire not to be. Actually, for me, as I got older I made my peace with the prospect more and more, to the point I was quite happy in my own company and really appreciated the freedom of being a free agent when I was. You become self-sufficient. I'd see younger types freaking out about being single after mere months and just think: "Amateurs! Get a grip."

But it's hard not to internalise society's assertion that you are something of a deficient misfit if you are on your own past 30, which is ludicrous as vast droves of society are. This meant my own recent experience shocked me – my current partner and me were both veteran singletons, but getting a relationship going was actually relatively easy and natural and straightforward. I’m not trying to be smug at you ­– what I mean to say is, contrary to what our hind brains may have been whispering obscenely to us in the long, dark nights, there turned out to be nothing freakishly wrong with us, we were not broken, nor terminally “difficult” to be with, we were just normal people who had had some shitty luck in the past. And, it turns out, most of that “dating advice” other people give you is, I can assure you, either completely irrelevant or utter hokem.

Christopher Walken

I’m sure everyone could tell me why their pain and plight is so much worse than that of my male-privileged ass, as is apparently obligatory in these times. But I can assure you the struggle for my type is real – the introverted, intense, “sensitive” male can do just fine in a relationship, but is at a sore disadvantage when it comes to actually getting into one in the first place, or even just a “hook up”.

I don't mean a bit of boo-hooing over how women are so mean and how it's so hard to find "The One": I mean periods of years and years without a sniff of anything at all other than rebuff and rejection; long swathes of time convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with me or that I was cursed; long stretches convinced I simply had no choice in the matter because it had come to seem unimaginable or impossible that any women would want to stay with me beyond a month or two before they went cold or got bored or freaked out and ran away; that is if I could even get past a second date; that is if I could even get a date.

I remember comparing notes on singledom with a female friend who astonished me by wishing it was as easy to get a good guy to stick around as it was to get sex. “Getting sex is easy”, she said, to my incredulity. OMG, the gulf in our experience, as outgoing female vs navel-gazing male! “No, no it isn’t,” I said. Sex for me at that point was an ultra-rare and poorly understood phenomenon that had occurred in the distant past a handful of times, which I had no idea how to make happen again. She didn’t seem to understand how things could be like that for someone, her experience being that men simply rocked up and asked for it, often as a nuisance, from her teens onwards.

Meanwhile, when my shacked-up friends cringed over the now-dwindling memory of their single years, I felt like Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter. In that film Walken and Robert De Niro have a shocking time of it as prisoners of war in Vietnam, but De Niro escapes and comes home, somewhat damaged, and slowly pieces his life back together and adjusts to being a civilian once more. Years later he goes back out to Saigon to track down Walken, only to find him still there playing Russian Roulette, like they were forced to do as POWs. All those years later and Walken never escaped that hell.

That’s me, I'd tell my couple-friends, that's what it's like to still be dealing with the dating scene in your 30s. "I'm still there, I've been there all along!"

So without further ado, here is how things got like that, at least up to around my mid 30s, for this slightly introverted, slightly intense, slightly "sensitive" male:

1 Opportunity

This is probably the major factor – you simply don’t get to meet a wide variety of eligibles. You live in a small town, most of your friends are male and quite cliquey with it, you were never an outgoing party animal in the first place and now you’re getting older your friends go out less and stick to their own when they do. People will constantly tell you you need to get out more, do more things, but this in itself is a problem – because you don’t really enjoy being the social butterfly, you just want to be having pleasant nights at home or with the people you know and love like many others your age do. Forcing yourself into a constant round of new faces and activities begins to feel exhausting and desperate, but if you don’t do that, you might get to have a conversation socially with maybe one new eligible female about every six months. It’s just not enough. Thank god for internet dating, though that has its own soul crushing problems.

2 “You don’t try your luck”

This one is a revelation for you, but it’s so true – if you are a “sensitive” type you probably sneer at those sleazey, cocky, alpha-male wankers who are always thinking with their dick, pulling "moves" and dropping cringeworthy lines. But then you wonder: “Why does my delightful dry wit always miss out to the meathead who isn’t afraid to put his hand on her knee?” You write it off as women being idiots and falling for the transparent tricks of Neanderthal nobs, until a female friend takes you aside and berates you: “You don’t try your luck!” What she means is, it isn’t about slick moves or swagger, plenty of women see through that – but the meathead is at least giving a green light, and you aren’t. You are hard work. It’s about letting women know you’re actually interested and worth a shot, giving them a clear sign, an easy way in, something exciting to respond to – but no, there you are, too noble and “sensitive” to do anything but act the distant chivalrous friend and wonder why she’s lost interest when you finally ask her out two months later.

3 The laser focus

In line with your intense and idealistic nature you are also simply quite narrow-minded in what you think you want, and hung up on that, even though you think you aren't. And you've spent far, far too much time pursuing and weeping over people who it was just never going to work with. It can’t be helped, because you go a bit mad when those chemicals bite, but SMH, the wasted time! You just couldn't broaden your focus and realise what a wide and wonderful world of other lovely, fun and sexy people was out there while you spent, for example, a fucking year mooning over some dickhead you had convinced yourself was your true love even though you’d never shared much actual intimacy, they didn’t particularly give a shit about you and it's questionable if you would actually even get on as a couple. Amazing what the heart will do.

4 Intense reactions

One of the problems with not being used to a relationship is that, initially, your reactions can be a little over-intense – partly because actually getting to dating is so rare that there's a vast amount at stake and it's nigh-on impossible to take it lightly; and partly because you're so inexperienced at being in a partnership that you take your cues from films, fiction and your own imagination as to how you should be acting – and that is often way too heavy and intense, way too soon. You have a tendency to write looong emotional essays to the unfortunate objects of your affection at the slightest hiccup, and it never, ever, helps anything. You also want to talk “deep and meaningful” pretty much all the time. One ex told you: “Women just want someone fun who is there for them – not a psychotherapist!” Another revelation. The shame of it is, that's not even your everyday self, which is actually pretty laid back and goofy  but your date will be out the door before she knows that.

5 Don't bother

You give up, you stop making an effort and worrying about it. This is part learned helplessness, part self-preservation as otherwise it risks defining you, becoming an obsession and having a bad effect on your mental health. And this is right  you are a world unto yourself, there is no reason why you have to be tied to someone else and there is plenty to enjoy about being single. Ironically, of course, being desperate to not be single makes you less attractive so not being bothered may be good strategy; in practice, though, the idea "It'll happen when you're not looking for it" is sadly not true because when you stop looking, as you do periodically for long periods of time, you basically don't meet anyone (see 1) or "try your luck" (see 2), so your singledom becomes entrenched.

Don't freak out

But perhaps I’m getting perilously close to offering “advice” here and I said I didn’t want to do that.

All I really want to say to all the single fellas (and ladies) who struggle for the above reasons is: Don’t sweat it. Don’t beat yourself up too much, don’t write off all members of the opposite (or same) sex as cruel and shallow shits, and don’t think it’s all your fault.

Being single is tough and modern dating often a ruthless and soul destroying pursuit. People are just shitty to each other when it comes to being respectful and considerate of the feelings of their potential or discarded matches. And also, as is very clear these days, no one really knows how to do it and there isn’t a right way to do it anyway, because everyone is different – so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

For the long-term single who doesn't want to be, your only “problem” is finding the right circumstances to meet the right someone, and being able to successfully navigate though that early awkward bit of a relationship without one of you freaking out and running away. That and the Herculean task of maintaining your self esteem through the rejections and apathy and patronising comments of your couple-friends.

When people look at you like you’re someone to be pitied and open their cake holes to dispense “what you need to do” platitudes, please laugh a light laugh and tell them, with the air of a wizened Vietnam vet: “You don’t know what it’s like out there, man.”

And if they persist, tell them, politely, to fuck right off.