Collage by Lia Kantrowitz
After years of trying to decide why my dating life sucks so much, I decided to seek professional help.
Something I continuously hear from friends and people on social media is that the reason I’m still so unbelievably single as fuck is because I’m doing something wrong in the way I go about dating.
I don’t have a specific type of guy I go for, yet almost every one of my brief stints into monogamous dating ends the same way: with me being ghosted. So it would stand to reason that I’m fucking up somehow. But no matter how much time I spend trying to figure out the cause of the problem, I can’t see where I’m going wrong.
This is something I, naturally, can’t stop contemplating. So much so that I decided to put myself to the test and definitively figure out who’s actually responsible for my dismal love life: me or the seemingly never ending supply of emotionally unavailable manchildren in Los Angeles.
Since I’m probably not the most objective person when it comes to analyzing my behavior, I decided to turn to a third party for help. Specifically, I turned to Alan Dybner, a marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles.
He agreed to listen to a recording of me on a first date with Johnny Love, a guy I met through some friends. (Though he made it clear that it wasn’t actual therapy and I wasn’t officially a client.)
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So, the date happened. Johnny was nice and easy to get along with. A confident guy, who was not at all weirded out by being recorded. A plus in my book. We drank, but not heavily. Conversation was easy. I found him physically attractive, if different from the sort of guy I’m usually attracted to. He was fit. Like, cared about his muscles and stuff. He had no Simpsons tattoos, no skateboard, and no Soundcloud page I should check out. He wasn’t an actor, or comedian, or writer. Not once did he ask me for an editor’s email. All pluses. We did get along, but it didn’t feel like an especially flirtatious or romantic date, more like two friends hanging out. Could a third party see our interaction differently from how I felt it went?
A few days later, I met with Dybner to listen to the date together. It was maybe the most awkward 90 minutes of my entire life.
I’d forgotten a lot of it until it was played back. There was the obvious first-date small talk. Like careers and hobbies and such. But we also spoke at length about furries, handjob horror stories, and my love of cunnilingus.
Then Dybner and I discussed the date in relation to my overarching question: Am I the problem?
First, he gave me his assessment of the date. "It sounded like a good time," he said. "Both of you laughed a lot and were animated. It feels like there is a connection there." He asked me how I felt about it, and I told him that I enjoyed it but didn’t feel the connection he’d mentioned, because there’d been very little physical touch or flirtation. I had assumed he wasn’t into me and acted accordingly.
"You assumed he wasn’t interested, so you didn’t let him know you were interested?"
"Why is that?"
"He didn’t make any moves, and I need that sort of thing. At least once. I need the first signal and can go from there."
"Did you ever consider that he might feel the same way?"
"You could have made a move, instead of assuming he didn’t want you to."
Having anxiety over making a move plagues singles everywhere, not just me. "You’re overestimating the risk [of being rejected] and underestimating yourself," said Dybner. His recommendation? "Take the risk. If it doesn’t work out, accept that. Hurt feelings are OK. You’ll get over it."
"The insight is the first step," said Dybner. "But then you have to take action, which is harder." To start, he recommends taking a moment during the date—maybe while in the bathroom—to check in with myself and how I feel about the person I’m with. Do I like this person, or do I just want him to like me? If I like him, what can I do to show this?
It had, for some reason, never occurred to me before that someone I’m on a date with might be feeling the nerves and anxiety I feel. I have a tendency to assume that I’m the one who has to work hard to win my date over, and when physical touch doesn’t happen or follow-up dates aren’t made, I assume it’s because that person wasn’t into me.
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It doesn’t help that, in heterosexual dating, women are largely conditioned to expect the man to make the moves and be proactive. I’ve always tried to reject this way of thinking, and in most other aspects of my romantic life, I have. However, when dealing with someone brand new, I haven’t yet been able to muster up the same courage I have, say, when I demand a guy I’m fucking eat me out. It’s harder to do so in the same dating culture that makes women very easily feel "clingy" for sending a guy a text message. There is pressure to repress communication out of fear of appearing as though we’re eager to commit right away.
But you know what? I do want to commit right away. Maybe my insistence on sticking it out with men who need to take things slow is the problem. Do I have a pattern of falling for unavailable men? If so, I guess I am the problem. Right?
"It’s not fair to say it’s all you," Dybner said when I explained this to him. He agreed with me that Los Angeles is an especially difficult city to date in. "Many people here are more focused on their careers than in relationships," he said. He also suggested that I might be too comfortable in my singledom.
That’s the thing I find myself battling. My gut tells me I am open to love, but the times I’ve come close to it are few and far between. There is a comfort in chasing after unavailable men, and the fact that I live in a city more occupied by these men just makes it easier to live in that comfort zone. Perhaps I do avoid the ones who might actually be serious about dating me, out of fear of settling down. Dybner says it’s common, many people are quick to find something wrong with someone who seems promising as an excuse to break up.
When something is too easy for us, we get scared. Our low self-esteem kicks in, and we think to ourselves something to the effect of: There must be something wrong with that person to want to love me so quickly. I mean, has he met me? I blog about my FUPA and hate sucking dick. What kind of sick freak would want to be with a woman like that?
It might be a shitty conclusion, but it’s one that self-obsessed singles and the people who often try to guide us rarely take the time to consider: The answer isn’t simple. I’m doing things wrong, but so is everyone else. We’re all just scared little shitheads who don’t know what to do with our anxiety. Self-awareness is not enough to fix the problem. Action must be taken alongside it, and that’s where it gets hard. I guess that’s what I have to work on now. Doing something different, instead of repeating the same actions and expecting different results.
Maybe I was too quick to assume that Johnny wasn’t into me, and I should have put more effort into trying to schedule a second date. In fact, that’s what I’ll do. If all else fails, maybe I need to move the hell out of Los Angeles.
Follow Alison Stevenson on Twitter.