I’m romantic ennui specialist. It’s not an area of study I was looking for, but after seven years of post-40 dating and listening to my men friends wax on, I feel competent to speak on the subject.
Romantic ennui is the murky feeling that no matter who you meet and engage with, it’s never quite right, or enough. There is something more out there (who knows what?) and if you only partially give of yourself to the present person, you are emotionally free to keep striving.
It’s a modern existential crisis. We want connection but have no idea how to navigate to it. We are parched with no shortage of water.
Whenever I write about my experience of being on the female side of dating (or sex) I get an avalanche of email from men. So much so, I daydream about pitching myself to GQ or Esquire for a column called, “Ask a Broad.” I would be paid to pierce men’s nonsense ideas, hopefully with a sexy picture of me at the top of the page.
Hey, a girl can dream.
You want straight-forward answers on love and women? I’m in. Kudos to men for wanting to dig a little deeper, better late than never.
To that end, I’ve put together a handy list of persistent questions men ask me, and I presume, themselves, over and over. My answers follow:
I’ve dated lots of interesting, considerate, accomplished women, but every time I’m just not ‘feeling it’. Is it me? Yes, it most definitely is. You are harboring some fairy-tale notion of two people instantly understanding one another and that being a sign to proceed. Or, even worse, waiting to want a woman so strongly that it overwhelms your doubts about coupling. When that does happen, by the way, that’s not the beginning of love. If you had a distant Mother who also loved you, you will fall hard for the woman who is semi-available (but feel similarly rejected). Therapy is very useful for this.
What about 'chemistry’? The bar for chemistry should be, do I like spending time with this person and am I looking forward to getting naked with them? Saddling women with any more than that sets them up for failure, and frankly, it’s kind of awful to require a person to fulfill ideas of romance set in adolescence.
But, Rebecca, these women aren’t instantly lifting my soul or lighting up my dark places? Dude! This isn’t something another person can do for you. Seriously, that’s what’s called taking responsibility for your own happiness.
Are you sure the problem is me? Mmmhmm, yes, I’m certain.
Am I going to die alone? Yes. I’m kidding, probably not. In a just world, you would die alone. The ratio of available men to women post-fifty makes that unlikely. What is likely is that you will hem and haw for so long, always finding a way to wriggle out of, or decelerate relationships, that by the time you realize (oh shit!) you are actually getting old, it’s going to become exactly the game of musical chairs you were hoping to avoid.
Rebecca, did you write this about me? Sadly, this male, middle-age, romantic malaise isn’t unique to you.
What if I just go get a really young one? I’m sure that would be fun for awhile. An ego boost. A temporary sex haze masquerading as love. I adore young women, but wonderful things developed in me in the last twenty years. To make these choices equivalent is to lack imagination about how women evolve, and what one can be to your life. Also, I hope your dick falls off.
Holding a woman at arm’s length and subjecting her to a gauntlet of scheduling nonsense or commitment-phobia with the vague idea that if she powers through all that and 'something develops’ is not a winning, love strategy. It’s a recipe for being lonely and leaving an awful wake behind you.
Good relationships have a lot in common with good sex. It takes a little time, effort and generosity to make magic happen. Love, is what you make.
That one, weird trick?
Date a woman like it matters right from the get-go.
Find a good one who likes you back, give her room to blossom in your company, be reliable, don’t attribute your periodic unhappiness to something lacking in her. Give her the optimism and attention that assumes she is of value instead requiring her to prove it to you.
See where that gets you.