Walking out onto the commons after yoga class last week with Mythaca Fest in full swing, everywhere I looked I saw faces I recognized. Seemingly every one of my former high school students was there (most of whom studiously avoided eye contact, or maybe just didn't recognize me in ponytail, sunglasses and yoga attire), and then, standing watching a band play, I saw S. I hadn't seen much of him since he, James and I used to hang out together (which, thankfully, seems like a million years ago now). I tapped him on the shoulder, and he was surprised, and then happy to see me, immediately spreading his arms for a hug. Reminded by the chance encounter of each other's continued existence, we exchanged information and met for a drink to catch up soon after. And as it does whenever two single people start talking, the conversation soon moved to the difficulties of dating, particularly when one is over the age of thirty and lives in a small town, where the pickings are slim and everyone knows everyone. His last relationship ended, he said, ("Ok, I ended it," he said), because the woman he was dating was too agreeable. She was willing to just go along with anything he said, and he needed someone... "Feistier?" I suggested. Yeah, he agreed. "Plus, she was older than me," he said. "I tried not to let it get to me, but..."
I sighed. Been there. I have been the perfectly nice, slightly older woman, hotly pursued and then rejected time and again for...who knows what? A certain, undefinable something, always either lacking or in excess, and the feeling that perhaps there is something, someone, better, or at least somehow more desirable out there. Someone new to pursue and then throw away.
"Carol," I remembered. "I liked her."
"I did too," S. replied almost wistfully. "The worst part was that one of my good friends was also friends with her. After I ended it with Carol, my friend bitched me out." I started to express sympathy, but, "No," S. said, "I deserved it."
It reminded me of my friend Eric, who recently met and fell deeply in crush with a slightly (by three years) older woman; a townie. They were instantly attracted to each other and spent a whirl-wind week or two hanging out together, but then almost as quickly Eric just...stopped. Suddenly, everything she did started to annoy him and became just another "reason" on a long list of reasons why she didn't deserve his attention. "Look, she's texting me again," he said, holding his phone up in disgust, when just days earlier he had been thrilled to spend hours texting back and forth with her, and she, not knowing, or perhaps just starting to sense that something was now different, was simply carrying on as usual. Having been on the receiving end of a very similar scenario, I told him he needed to be clear, unambiguous, and honest with her. "And please," I begged him, "please be nice." He yeah-yeah-yeah-ed me and proceeded to do the exact opposite, prompting a long and expletive-laden text message from the girl in question a few days later, which, honestly, he fully deserved.
It got me thinking. Here was a beautiful, fun girl who, while she may have had more baggage and more crazy than most, still had a lot to offer, and certainly didn't deserve the treatment she got. It was a conversation I had had several times with my friend Pete, who--hold on. Can we pause for a brief aside, here? The long-time bachelor has now, according to Facebook, entered into an actual relationship, a side effect of which is that he seems to have now cut me out completely, all of my attempts at congratulations and/or communication ending up in a virtual dead letter box somewhere. It wouldn't be so annoying if he hadn't spent the last two months detailing his attempts to seduce this, at first, seemingly unwilling girl, to me in agonizing detail. Once or twice weekly he would call asking my advice on one plan of attack or another, or updating me on their most recent communication, repeating her words verbatim and then asking me, "But what do you think it means?" I am happy that he seems to have finally, against all odds, gotten the girl, but, you know, disappointed that it apparently means the end of our (admittedly screwed up) friendship. And without even a word of goodbye. So, congratulations Pete. You jerk. (End of aside.)
One of Pete's qualities that I always appreciated (even if it wasn't one that I always particularly liked) was his brutally honest explanation of the male psyche. "If they think there's even the slightest chance that they can do better in some way," he would say about men, "then they're going to take it. If they think that if they keep looking they might find someone just a little bit younger, or a little bit better looking, then they're going to keep looking." He admitted that a lot of the time these guys were probably delusional. "Let's face it, chances are, Jessica Alba's not going to come along," he said, citing his perpetually baby-faced sex symbol of choice. So the problem, then, is that these men--S., Eric, Luke, Andrew, and countless others even now ripping some poor girl's heart to shreds--what they say is that they don't want to settle down, but what they actually mean is that they don't want to settle.
And why should this be a bad thing? Aren't we forever hearing, women particularly, how we shouldn't settle for just some guy? How this is the worst thing we could do, undoubtedly leading to a lifetime of misery and regret? I'm not so sure...
While I would never "settle" for a guy I didn't like, I think there is a case to be made for settling. Several of the guys I have dated over the last few years have been nice enough, interesting enough, and physically attractive enough that I would have been happy sticking it out with any of them. In other words, I was willing to "settle" for good enough. I wasn't holding out for a male model or a millionaire; in fact, if one had come along, I probably would have turned him down anyway, because I was happy with what I had, with who I had in that moment. And it makes me sad to know that every time I have dated a guy, while I was finding reasons to like him more, he was looking for reasons to like me less. And unfortunately, it's the least delusional males of the species who tend to get married right away, leaving us with, well, the rest. And so the cycle continues.
Countless books have been written on the subject, promising to help women quietly convince men that actually, they can't do better, and if you only follow this set of rules, you will soon have the most die-hard of commitment-phobes begging you to marry him. "Create a sense of urgency," they always tell you in sales, and in the apartment rental business, I hear it from my boss all the time. "I don't care how many apartments we have, there is always only one left." Convince the man that if he doesn't snap you up, and soon, someone else surely will. The thing is, I am a terrible salesperson, in apartments and in life. I hate convincing someone of my inherent value, and with my tendency towards self-deprecation, I am much more likely to do the opposite.
So what to do? I don't think I have it in me to play the kinds of games that seem to be necessary in order to enter into any kind of long-term relationship these days. All I can do is keep hoping that there's a man out there who's also tired of the games. A man who decides that, even though I'm not perfect, and I'm certainly no Jessica Alba, I just might be good enough.