Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Ask Polly: How Do I Find True Love And Stop Dating Half-Assed Men?


My question is a simple and boring one: How do I find love? And, more importantly, how to I cultivate self-esteem? I'm in my late 20's, and I tend to get into relationships with dudes that are only half interested in me, and then I badger them to death about their half-assed interest until the relationship slowly dies. What I want most, MOST, in the world is a happy family. Children that I feel joy with. A genuinely happy marriage that lasts until I kick the goddamn bucket. I grew up with very unhappy, miserable parents that immigrated to the states, and I don't even know what to look for in a partner or a relationship. I feel like if a guy is "nice," (i.e. doesn't hit me or call me names and has generally good character), then I should just quit whining and wondering about why they're not crazy about me, why they never pursue me, why they are always so goddamn tepid.

I want a big, passionate, happy, funny, fun love. I am afraid I will never find it. I think I am as likable as the next person, but I'm not sure how to make myself attractive to men. I guess I just feel ugly and unlovable, and I would like to stop.

I love your advice. (Is straight-up "I love you" too much? Probably, but still: I do!) I've been reading your stuff for a couple years on Rabbit Blog, and now I stalk you on The Awl.


A Reader

Dear Reader,

I love you, too, mostly because 1) you love me already, 2) you've put in a little effort to follow me here, 3) I can relate to wanting to tear my hair out over tepid motherfuckers for years, and 4) when you ask me this very simple question, I feel like a mathematical genius or a historian whose thoughts separate into layers and then keep expanding to infinity, so that I don't know where to start because there are just so many possibilities, all of them rich and exciting. And even though a regular person who didn't love me and didn't follow me here and isn't frustrated over tepid motherfuckers will read that and say, "Jesus, lady, you're an advice columnist, not a fucking math genius or historian, and if even if you have fifty million approaches to this woman's totally mundane heteronormative fixations, that hardly qualifies you as one of today's great minds. I'm sure she creeps men out because she's boring or her ass is enormous, and you're creepy, too, because you're fucking old and you're still dedicating all of this time to twentysomething girl trouble when you could maybe be doing something vaguely worthwhile with your life, if you weren't so smug about your pathetic little interwebs hobby."

See how it works? You dig me, you put in effort, you aren't remotely tepid, we can relate to each other, and you make me feel like the things that are patently fucked about me are actually thrilling and vital and they somehow matter. (And I know you're exciting and I love your juicy booty, but that's not the point.)

Now imagine for a second that someone writes to me and says, "Look, you're just ok and you're old and you're wasting your time on this bullshit." (Um, no one does that, because this isn't Salon.) But imagine that someone does tell me that. And imagine that I spend several hours of my time explaining why I'm awesome and my work here is incredibly significant to the health of the planet, and I fucking matter and I have great ideas, brilliant fucking ideas, I'm a genius, and seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you? Suddenly this tepid bit of flotsam is taking up my time, and instead of turning away from it, I'm making claims that my work is deeply important (which, well, is a highly subjective stance).

I'm starting to sound just like Kanye.

I love Kanye, and he sounds the way he sounds on Jimmy Kimmel for a very good reason. He sounds that way because he's an artist with great ideas who not only lives in a racist world (Go read this awesome essay by Cord Jefferson on the subject) but who also lives in a world that isn't all that appreciative of someone who delivers a passionate, angry response to his critics. He lives in a world that devalues free-flowing, emotional discourse from a black man unless it's packaged very neatly into a rap. (Please note: this world also devalues free-flowing, emotional discourse from a woman unless she's also funny AND sexy. If you're not super fucking hot and funny first, you can go fuck yourself, ladies.)

Kanye isn't perfect, but you pretty much either love him and think he's a genius and then he makes some sense to you, or you don't get it and he seems crazy. Maybe you don't love him because you don't love his music or some of the mistakes he's made in the past, or maybe you don't love him because you're a racist, but those two responses actually look the same to him, and why shouldn't they? Because the world is, verifiably, filled with racist motherfuckers, this is not a confused response. It's an emotional one. He doesn't love you either way. Maybe it's a mistake for him to keep talking about it. Or maybe he's helping everyone by being the symbol of a kind of anger that people are vexed by and afraid of. All I know is, I feel for him. Because lots of people don't understand what he's doing, so they belittle him. And he's right, they DO just want to meet him, leech off him, take photos of him, point at him, get him to sign some deal to do this or that, kiss his ass and laugh behind his back. To which he says, "Fuck you AND your Hampton house, I'll fuck your Hampton spouse, came on her Hampton blouse," etc.

I know, misogyny, added to my ass objectification. Look, I have to be my brutal self, too. This is the texture of the world we live in, and stepping around it politely makes me feel crazy.

So here's where we land: You need to tell tepid to fuck right off, Kanye-style. If you vow right now that the second you see tepid, you're going to back up and say "No fucking thanks," and move on without looking back, then your self-esteem will immediately bounce back from years of abuse. That means retiring the soliloquy about how great you are. That means no more badgering. Replace the badgering with a rap. Write it down, file it away, move the fuck on. (Fuck you AND your futon. I'll fuck your best friend Sean. I'll fuck him 'til the dawn. I'll make your man my pawn. Fuck having late-night drinks. Fuck playing tiddly winks. Fuck all your tepid kinks. Your half-assed shit still stinks.)

And you know what? OK, I'm stretching this Kanye metaphor beyond the breaking point, but bear with me. We live in some crazy fucking times. Sexism is everywhere and we're not even confused by it anymore, we're just drinking it down like water without thinking. How can we make enemies of people we want to get dirty with, and get love from, and make babies with?

And men are great, let's be honest. Those filthy, simple-minded, government-bungling ball-scratchers. We love those dicks. Love. Sincerely, desperately, quietly, devotedly. I have one in my own home, in my bed, of all places. Who let him in here? But he's great, really, much more honorable and kinder than me, as a matter of fact. Sharp as a tack and best all around.

But here's a little anecdote for you: I went out to a bar the other night with some women, and it was late at night (this is rare for me) and there were some men there, regular guys, reasonably ok looking, flirtatious high-fiving types? And they started shooting the shit with us. And we women were polite. Some were nice and others ignored them. Well, I like a high-fiver. You don't believe me, but I spent years around this species and I appreciate them. That said, though, I don't want to follow their meandering bullshit wherever it leads, and I don't want to flirt, and I don’t want to feed their egos. I want to engage in a give and take conversation while occasionally calling them on their shit.

But you know what? It's an accident of fate that I ever hung out with high fivers in my entire life. Because those guys HATE me. Hate. They find me physically repellent. I'm not saying I'm hot, and I'm not saying I'm disgusting, all I know is that to them, I am dipped in shit. Usually, this starts after I open my mouth, but maybe not? Maybe I'm just gross? It's hard to tell.

These particular guys, I couldn't care less about. But that's the soup I've been in, without knowing it, since I was really young and single. Most guys I met preferred my flirty lady friends to me. Now sometimes slightly weird guys, slightly smarter, stranger, maybe more damaged or maybe just more sensitive guys (or both), they were a little intrigued by my not-buying-it face and my assertive here's-what-I-fucking-think fat mouth, or maybe they just liked my ass, which truly was a force of nature for a time. So what was it, my ass or my big personality? My almost-pretty face, or my almost-smart words? I never knew. UNTIL THE BITCHES GOT TEPID. And by then we were already sleeping together, and hanging out around the clock.

But did I say to myself, "Oh. He doesn't like me. He likes my ass. A lot. Enough to put up with my bullshit for a while."? No. I didn't say that. I can look back now and see the truth. "That dude didn't even like me." Or: "That dude didn't even like women all that much." Or: "He liked my personality enough to date me, but he would've liked me a lot (A LOT!) more if I were about half as smart and half as talkative."

And remember about Kanye? Remember your badgering? When you suspect that a guy doesn't like you? YOU TALK TOO GODDAMN MUCH. Instead, you should be saying, "Fuck you AND your Hampton house." Yes, your first priority should be to keep an open mind, to listen, to observe men with a clear, uncluttered perspective. Your second priority should be to never, ever waste a minute of your time on a guy who's tepid.

Because tepid is everywhere. Tepid is the air we breathe. Listen to me: We can't do anything right. We can't say what we mean, we can't be ourselves, we can't age, we can't talk about feelings, we can't fuck up. This is how it feels to be a woman, motherfucker. The world is filled with human beings who want us to shut up and shake our asses, point blank, the end. Can you fucking imagine if we had our own Kanye? For her to have Kanye's power, and get invited on Kimmel, of course she'd have to be a mega-hot, funny as shit woman who walked around looking exactly like the chick in the short skirt who eats giant hamburgers on those Carl Jr. ads, but instead of eating a hamburger she'd be saying FUCK YOU, YOU ARE A SEXIST FUCK. I mean, sure, we have our women who look mortal and say this. Are they on TV? Rachel Maddow, she's on TV. How many people in that bar would even know who the fuck she is? Who listens closely to Lena Dunham, who is gorgeous by the way? No, she's not shaped right to listen to, right? She's too full of herself? She's too annoying?

Let's not fall down that rabbit hole. All I'm saying is, here we are in a fucked up world. And even when you find your species, or at least your genus, you still are sometimes just a piece of ass to the best of them. Not even because they're incredibly sexist—maybe they're just pragmatic, or ambivalent in this case. They don't happen to love you, is all. They don't think you're a math genius or a historian, and they're gonna call bullshit. They think that when you talk, you're wasting their time a little. That doesn't mean that they're bad. Sure, you want those guys and their futons and their best friends Sean to go fuck themselves, but that doesn’t mean they're evil. But once they don't love you, who the fuck cares about them? Were those dudes in the bar sexist, or did they just think I'm sort of bossy and repellent? Who the fuck cares?

You're hunting a very small group, that's all. Your target demographic, it's small. There's more than one of them, but they're not everywhere.

That doesn't mean your odds are bad! You will find love. Believe me. But in order to find it, I think you have to prepare yourself for a life alone, and be at peace with that. It's a real tightrope walk. I get that. But you won't tell tepid to fuck off if you don't believe in your heart that you will rock it out one way or another.

In order to tell tepid to fuck off once and for all, you MUST recognize that life among those who don't appreciate or understand you is bullshit. You don't want to live that way. You don't want to be badgery and lonely while you're with someone. You'd rather be alone.

What will make ALONE look good to you? You have to work on that. Because single life needs to look really, really good, you have to believe in it, if you're going to hold out for that rare guy who makes you feel like all of your ideas start rapidly expanding and approaching infinity when you talk to him. You need to have a vision of life alone, stretching into the future, and you need to think about how to make that vision rich and full and pretty. You have to put on an artist's mindset and get creative and paint some portrait of yourself alone that's breathtaking. You have to bring the full force of who you are and what you love to that project.

And then you go out into the world with an open heart, and you let people into your life, and you listen, and you embrace them for who they are. You make new friends. You do new things that make you feel more like the strong single woman who owns the world that's in your vision. And you don't sleep with anyone until things are much warmer than lukewarm. And you accept that, if things are lukewarm AFTER that, you will be forced to kick a motherfucker to the curb, with kindness, with forgiveness.

You have to do a lot. And you have to do it all against a backdrop of indifference that, as you get older, curdles into a kind of disgust. But you know what? We have each other. We have worlds within us, you and me. This mean, mean planet still rewards those who can see the depth and beauty of what they carry around inside of themselves. This indifferent landscape will rise up and give you love if you share what you have inside, if you dare to believe in your potential even as people tell you it's a mirage, if you ignore the ones who are allergic to free-flowing, emotional discourse from YOU. They are everywhere, and they don't matter. God bless them. Come on their Hampton blouse, and move on.


"So long, so long, so long! You cannot survive. And I'm not dying. And I can't lose, I can't lose, no, I can't lose. Cause I can't leave it to you." Write to Polly and let's get too high again.

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Photo of Mr. West by Jason Lander.

47 Comments / Post A Comment

paddlepickle (#8,731)

I could really use some extra, concrete advice on how to get to the "being OK with being alone forever" part. Because I really like my life right now, and I like myself and the people around me, and I've finally gotten to the point where I tell tepid men to fuck off the moment they become tepid. . .but when I think about the possibility that I'll never be in another relationship again, I get really, really depressed. I try to envision the life I'll have in the future without a partner, and I guess it's not terrible but I really, really prefer the version where I have one. How to get from point A to point B with this?

Susannaf (#231,800)

@paddlepickle I guess you just try to do everything you ever wanted to do and held back on because you were waiting for a boyf. Like… go on holiday to such-and-such place (travel solo and survive!), buy an apartment/house, get a dog/cat/horse/antelope…

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@Susannaf I love this advice. I have a single friend in NYC in her 40's whose life I have total envy for because she just packs up and goes to Thailand or Cuba or whatever she feels like doing every year. She is a very happy person. Doesn't even want a cat anymore because it would be too much of a commitment!

skyslang (#11,283)

@paddlepickle For me it was about appreciating the freedom of being single. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. You don't have to compromise. You don't have to share a bed. You don't have to visit someone else's family (the WORST). The advantages might be different for you. What are they?
Also, you have to remind yourself that being in a relationship does not guarantee happiness. I know that's the message our culture puts out there, but it is just not true.

BeenThereDoneThat (#258,177)

Doing that and it truly feels great

Bettytron (#575)

Where do all the comments keep disappearing to?

skyslang (#11,283)

"But in order to find it, I think you have to prepare yourself for a life alone, and be at peace with that."
Best advice ever. That's exactly what I did a few years ago, and it was fucking life changing. Letting go of all relationship expectations was so freeing and so wonderful. Letter writer, listen to Polly. You will not regret it!

alorsenfants (#139)

WOW tough night — anyone check up on what's up with Saturn and Mercury or something?!

Kanye? — I am so overwhelmed by the wisdom, I will shut up now

misspiggy (#250,319)

This is very good and true. But the letter writer shouldn't confuse being pursued with finding love.

There are guys who just won't or can't pursue, and they can be the most loving and into-you of all. These guys may not say very passionate things for a while, but they will call you, they will suggest the next date, they will bring you food when you are ill and overworked. When they do crack their reserve to tell you how much they love you, it will be awesome.

Nothing wrong with doing some pursuing yourself; and nothing wrong with letting them know what losers they are if they don't appreciate your efforts.

Philmosk (#247,649)

@misspiggy Agreed, wholeheartedly. Then, there are some of us guys who used to pursue, but got tired of the beatdowns when we did, and are now stuck admiring from afar.

themnemosyne (#241,230)

Pursuit is a mixed bag. People who pursue me wouldn't know what the fuck to do with me if they caught me. Sometimes pursuit is just bluster, a different sort of mask, till I raise a single eyebrow, give a little smug half-smile, and say, "okay", and just like that, they flee in abject terror.

moderniste (#250,334)

@themnemosyne , One of the unfortunate side effects of 2nd wave feminism is that women no longer allow men the chance to chase them. And men, well at least *most* men need to feel the excitement of the chase to maintain the fascination. I know it's difficult, and after a lifetime of being a bold, fearless woman, feels all wrong. But ladies, at the start of things, you gotta let the man lead. And don't be afraid to make a guy want to step up; i.e. don't become his worshipping slave right off the bat–make him work. He WANTS to work.

Then again, there certainly *are* amazing and very sensitive men who need a little prodding. But, I still don't think it's ever a cool step to start slavering immediately, having done this in the past, if only because that perfect guy may just be a total psycho. As experienced as I like to think I am, it's still difficult to judge someone from the 1st, 2nd or even 5th and 6th encounter.

discombobulated (#239,798)

@moderniste So, let me get this straight: when a woman asks a man on a first date/for sex/whatever, she "become[s] his worshipping slave right off the bat," but when a man asks a woman on a first date/for sex/whatever, he "feel[s] the excitement of the chase to maintain the fascination."

I am pretty okay with 2nd wave feminism having the "unfortunate side effect" of making your dick sad.

moderniste (#250,334)

@discombobulated And then there's that 2nd wave feminism miracle of me having a dick. Oh wait, I don't.

lbf (#2,343)

@moderniste How someone could read your post and think you're a dude BLOWS MY MIND. Like, I totally disagree with you (I'm a not-into-pursuit and I think you've got a recipe to get the most motivated of men, who are a VERY DIFF set from "the best of men") and it still blows my mind.

@themnemosyne Nope. Any dude who feels some ingrained need to pursue is objectively not for me, and I think probably objectively not for a lot of women. Just because he's got some caveman tendencies doesn't mean he can't/shouldn't suppress that shit.

themnemosyne (#241,230)

@moderniste I don't "gotta" do anything. If I'm interested in them, I'll let them know. Pursuit is such a tremendous turnoff.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@moderniste It took me till my mid-twenties to learn that this kind of line is actually nonsense. The reality is that you won't be happy with anyone unless they are totally thrilled with you as a person in all of your glory (and flaws!). I did everything wrong- I Became Damaged, I pursued and pursued, I Slept Around, I Shared Too Much, I Was Too Intense, I didn't wear makeup hardly ever, I slept with people right away- and I met this amazing guy who thought *I* was amazing and now we're married.

moderniste (#250,334)

@lbf Yeah, you're pretty right there about the possibility of attracted motivated a-holes. I like to think that being over 35 gives me the ability to choose wisely when a guy is in hot pursuit.

However, I still stand by not becoming a worshipful slave upon meeting someone you really like. Don't play BS games, but hold back on the I-want-to-be-with-you-every-second-and-I-love-everything-about-you thing, even if that's the way your romantic brain feels.

Koko Goldstein (#234,489)

@themnemosyne "I am pretty okay with 2nd wave feminism having the "unfortunate side effect" of making your dick sad."

I want to have this tattooed on my ass.

lululemming (#409)

*Starts chant* Polly! Polly! Polly!

fb100003627472134 (#250,439)

@lululemming Polly! Polly! Polly!

"Fuck you AND your Hampton house." GOLD.

geekspice (#246,715)

I think you missed the mark on Kanye. A lot of us both think he's a genius *AND* think he's fucking crazy.

Bittersweet (#765)

@geekspice The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As history has shown us.

TheBigBabyP (#246,322)

Speaking for the evil penis having destroyers of women's lives that we all apparently are(yes I am joking mostly). I talk to so many of my guy friends who have an identical story to yours. If the people you find yourself attracted to aren't into you, maybe next time try striking up a conversation with someone who seems interesting but maybe is not the type of guy you usually date, and see where that goes.

Myrtle (#9,838)

Ah, Heather. While I'd like to have tender memories of Salon, it being Where My Eyes Met Your Writng, it is a carbuncle of mediocrity, a Mean Girl eying the tawdry domain that is the Huffington Post, coveting it for her own. Glad you are here cuz baby, my pageviews ain't just given to anybody.

minijen (#234,898)

* also applies to friendships and careers

Madame Psychosis (#81,523)

Oh Polly. I love this so much.

TimK39 (#250,151)

I can relate, only I'm a guy dealing with half-assed women.

Susannaf (#231,800)

@TimK39 Half-assery is an equal opportunities state. Sadly.

diestadteinhorn (#250,360)

This title lifted me up. I need to feel not alone just now. Now to read it.

callmeprufrock (#250,367)

(Long-time reader, first-time commenter)

Thank you. I needed to hear this. I have found it to be true that good relationships come the moment I stop looking for them, but there is this purgatory between 'desperate craving validation through men' and 'empowered badass solo life-living' where I am not looking for a relationship, but I really really wouldn't mind if one came along. Am I still desperate somewhere deep inside? Am I too cool/confident/aloof and unconsciously turning people away? Am I recovered enough from my last heartbreak to start something new? It sucks. It throws off my single-power groove. I feel weak for being trapped here.

skyslang (#11,283)

@callmeprufrock You're not too anything. You're enjoying yourself, right? Having fun? Being nice? That's all that matters. You can't be too anything. Don't worry about it! But if you do worry about it…that's ok too. It's not going to destroy your life / chances for finding love.

callmeprufrock (#250,367)

@skyslang *hug* Thank you. What an empathetic comment. I love everyone in this post.

Elle_Mariachi (#250,368)

Honestly, this? "And you don't sleep with anyone until things are much warmer than lukewarm. And you accept that, if things are lukewarm AFTER that, you will be forced to kick a motherfucker to the curb, with kindness, with forgiveness."

Sums it up. Wasn't until I started doing this that I found love, or it found me, or we found each other, or we found love in a hopeless place. Whatever it was, this, and the willingness to accept that finding That One Person, might take more time than you want or expect.

TATAbox (#249,918)

All the advice out there about "finding love" is so contradictory. Some say that you only find it when you're not looking for it, others are of the "Be proactive! Get out there and take chances!" camp. Which is it??

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@TATAbox Haha- both and neither?

I am really happy with my husband now, but I still feel the same way I did when I was single. Like, if he left me tomorrow for someone else, my heart would break and I would mourn because I love him more than I've ever loved anyone, but also I'd put the pieces together and move to a new city and try new activities and cry 10000 times during all the tragic Gong Li movies and eventually I would get over him. *GASP*!!!! Yes, I am a heartless wench.

So maybe the truth is that you just need to be ok with who you are as a single person, and maybe with being single for the rest of your life as not-the-worst-thing-ever, and then maybe you'll end up with someone and maybe you won't, and instead you'll travel 6 months out of the year or have 2 dogs you love more than life or write a novel or whatever it is you want to do?

wuwuwu (#287,247)

@Xenu01 your second paragraph made me tear up. this is what I wanted to hear right now. thank you!

18000449@twitter (#247,007)

I agree with everything here. But I also have to admit that there are times when I date men not looking for anything serious, and typically they don't strike me as a potential life partner, and I have to balance the idea in my head of walking away or, to put it not-so-nicely, use the opportunity for sex. I mean, that's what men do and I get why they do it. It can be fun! And I don't see anything wrong with women doing it. So I guess both sides can be shallow and tepid.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@18000449@twitter Sometimes you just want some sex! On your team with this one- go get it!

not a professional (#244,325)

"You're hunting a very small group, that's all. Your target demographic, it's small. There's more than one of them, but they're not everywhere." I like the way this is phrased. I used to tell people that almost everyone they meet will be a complete waste of their time. "Learn to say the word Next." The way Polly says it is so much nicer.

not a professional (#244,325)

Heather, I'm absolutely in love with you after reading all of that. Let me know if your SO is hit by a bus. You never know, maybe my madly in love husband will suffer an amnesia attack at the same time and wander away from the house. And also, I'll become a lesbian.

jguilfy (#250,683)

Hey commenters! I'm a graduate student doing a project on advice columns. Would anyone be willing to talk to me? Your anonymity would be 100% protected!!

1186134325@twitter (#254,105)

I recently got dumped, and reading this brought tears to my eyes.

In a good way.

BeenThereDoneThat (#258,177)

OMG this is so perfect. I really needed to read this. Absolutely brilliant, you are a genious. I like the comparison to Kanye who I honestly can't stomach but understand a little better when looking at the backdrop of a racist society. Now I gotta read through everything else you've written I will not only be smart academically but maybe also a relationship genius.

eclexic (#277,782)

FUCK. YEAH. FUCK YEAH!!! Polly, you nailed it. So, so, so right on. thank you. kudos.

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