“It’s like he didn’t give me a CHANCE.” pouted Ariel, sounding almost child-like.
She and Rob, an internist at Mount Sinai hospital had been hot and heavy with one another for a good 3 months before he called the whole thing off. They went from not being able to take their eyes and hands off one another, to de-friending one another from their respective facebook accounts, after he abruptly ended their passionate love affair with an email.
Another friend of mine, Emily, too had called me some months back, to complain about how this Williamsburg hipster guy she had gone out on just one date with, never called her again. She said she knew it was because she was not cool (or rather, “deck” in hipster slang) or enough of a hipster for him, what with her bubble-gum pop Britney Spears itunes favorites and love of too-good-to-be-true Hollywood Happy ending movies, which was in stark contrast to his professed love of litle known indie music bands like Matador and Smells Like Records, and steady diet of foreign and indie (or better yet, foreign indie) film instead of real food, which probably helped explain his 2% body fat level. “I feel so upset not so much because of the rejection, but because I felt like he just never gave me a chance to prove myself. I mean if he had gotten to know me past ONE miserable date, he would be able to see beyond my preppy cheerleader countenance and gotten to know the REAL me. And he might have really liked what he saw!”
I connected the two laments and started to wonder whether this was the perspective that women operate from when it comes to dating. Do we feel like we are contenders in a race or game, one in which we have to “prove” ourselves to the other person, in order to “make it” to the “next round” (whether it be the next date, becoming his girlfriend, moving in together or getting the ring). Do we, women brought up in a post-feminism go-getting culture – one in which we are taught that we can be do and have anything we want, as long as we worked hard enough and proved our own worth, transpose the same mentality into the dating arena?
Another good friend of mine, Sara, had a guy whom she actually chased after. He was playing the “I’m not sure whether I want you romantically or as a friend” game, but she being a woman who has never failed in any of her academic or professional endeavors, would not give up, and the more he vacillated, the harder she tried. All of which flew in the face of the Rules and Why Men Love Bitches wisdom propounded by modern dating gurus, who advise women to sit back, luxuriate in their goddesslyness, and let the men do the chasing.
“There must be SOMETHING I can DO to get him back” ponders Ariel, interrupting my musings as we brunched at Essex in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
“I know. I am going to get into really good shape, show up at his gym in the sexiest yoga outfit, and make him WANT me back.” She proclaims, as she crosses her toned runner's legs and raises an arm capable of giving Michelle Obama’s a run for their money to flag down the waiter.
“You are already in great shape” I protest.
“Well, there is always more work to do,” she replies, and after a thoughtful pause, she continues “You know, maybe it is because my body is something I can actually control. There is NOTHING in this situation within my control…he wanted out, he doesn’t see me as the perfect fit that I see him as… but my body? THIS I can do something about to win him back.”
So there we had it. She felt like she had to, could, in fact do something that would have Rob running back into her already toned arms. And her body was the one controllable variable in the messy equation of man plus woman equals everlasting love.
I reflected on how the dating realm is indeed difficult waters for us modern day women to navigate. We have been taught from a young age that we are in control of our lives and our destinies, that as long as we did certain things well and worked hard enough, we could get what we wanted – the good grades, the good school, the good job.
Perhaps our mothers should have also warned us however, that such rules do not apply in the world of men and dating. There are no right or wrong things that we should or should not do, that will enable us to get a guy to fall in love with us, no ten step plan to getting the man of your dreams. Human beings are so complex and diverse, that there is no straight and narrow path to love. Yet because we have been so used to success in other aspects of our lives, success that comes about as a direct correlation to the amount of effort we put into ensuring its procurement, that even when it comes to men’s hearts, we think it is a matter of doing the right thing in order to get the result we want.
I too, used to be a victim of the mentality that I had to somehow make myself better to get a guy, or that if things were not working out there must be something that I can "do" to make things better. I now know that viewing myself as a candidate in the dating game, in which my self-worth and respect are based on the evaluation and judgment of another, is just one, too esteem destroying, and two, not based on the reality of the nature of love. There is no one set of criteria that all women can be measured up against to determine her deservability of being with a man she wants. Every man’s perception of a woman is going to be colored by his own journey and life experience and he knows himself and what would work for him better than I do. His tastes and preferences in women have been formed by a series of occurrences and experiences even he probably has no conscious knowledge of. If he likes blond curly haired women with cute freckled button noses because little Suzy who sat next to him in grade school had those qualities, and I am a dark straight haired Asian woman with no freckles to speak of, there really isn’t anything I can do about it. Therefore if a man I thought had great potential is not interested, I adopt the far healthier and self-esteem preserving perspective that he has known himself all his life, and has a far clearer picture of what would and would not work for him than I would based on a 2 hour dinner date, or even after 20 dates together. It is better that I respect his choice now, because he is just saving me a lot of time and future pain by making the inevitable decision now rather than later. I have the same mentality when it comes to break-ups. In all likelihood, given more time, the broken-up with party would come to the same realization as the heart-breaker, who just happened to see it first.
I learned this lesson because of a guy I once fell for in college. I felt like he was perfect for me, and given the great connection we had, I could not see why he would not reciprocate the sentiment. This guy has remained a very good friend of mine, and having gotten to know him so much better over the span of the past 10 years, I now know that even if we had gotten together in college, it would have never worked out. Yet he knew this WAY before I did, because he knew himself better than I did, and could see more clearly than I could that we would not be the right fit!
I therefore think it would be healthier and less emotionally destroying if women stopped viewing ourselves (whether we do it consciously or not) as candidates (or even worse, competitors!) in a dating game, realize that we really have nothing to prove to men, and that getting a guy and keeping him is not about working or trying harder. That ultimately the best matches come about when two people feel perfectly comfortable being just themselves, and are what my psychologist friend calls “in sync” with one another. I therefore think the best practice is for women to just be who we are, allow ourselves to be wooed, enjoy getting to know the other person and letting ourselves be known by another, and most importantly, for us to know that we are inherently worthy of love.