I alluded to this installment back in December, and I finally have some free time to dig into it. I spent 2014-2016 on the blog delving into my notable past memories of my interactions and feelings revolving around dating, as well as my own feelings about my self worth in relation to it. 2017 was mostly spent on random thoughts and achieving, or attempting to achieve, a period of Zen without as many “hot” periods of depression or self-loathing. This isn’t to say that I suddenly am a model of confidence, especially around women. But I’ve reached a state, at least for now, where it just doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. Unfortunately, it sometimes gets hard to come up with topics, especially topics where I feel I have something to say, or at least something within myself worth exploring in text.
I could always reveal my mysterious “minor fetish” and try to come to terms with burying that angle of myself. But I’m nowhere near ready for that, so instead I’ll delve into a major manifestation of my own esteem issues and woeful romantic confidence. In many ways I alluded to this a year and change ago in “When Imagination Is The Enemy”. But first, an introduction. Isn’t it weird how I am SO long winded that even my introductions have introductions? But I digress.
From 1978 to 1983 across two TV networks, the sitcom “TAXI” entertained audiences and won 18 Emmys, and was co-created by James L. Brooks, who would go on to co-create a little show called “THE SIMPSONS”. By the time I was starting to remember things (call it 1985-1986) the show was in syndication, but at that time my world was all He-Man, Inspector Gadget, Spider-Man, and Smurfs. Many years later when I was a young adult, one of our local channels aired it in syndication again and I watched a bit of it. I could go on about all of the actors who would go on to become bigger stars after, but instead I’ll focus on one episode, and one scene, which basically embodies my own negative self loop in terms of dating. Late in the first season was an episode in which the series’ female lead, Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner), goes on a date with a bumbling politician played by Jeffrey Tambor. His character, Walter Griswald, is a sad sack and walking putz, who gets set up on a date by the rest of the cast practically out of pity. As their first date ends, things have obviously gone bad, which culminates into this exchange:
Congressman Walter Griswald: “I’m sorry, Elaine. It’s just the same old story. A girl goes out with me, I embarrass her. No wonder they never want to see me again. I never want to see me again.”
Elaine Nardo: “I didn’t say I didn’t want to see you again.”
Griswald: “Yeah? You want to go out Saturday night?”
Elaine. “Oh, no. Saturday night I’m baby–”
Griswald: “What about Sunday?”
Elaine: “No, I take the kids–”
Griswald: “Uh-huh. What about Monday?”
Elaine: “Monday’s a bad day.”
Griswald: “Uh-huh. Tuesday!?”
Elaine: “Well…It’s fine.”
Elaine: “I’d love to.”
Griswald: “You want to go out with me AGAIN!?”
Elaine: “Yes, Walter.”
Griswald: “What’s wrong with you!?”
— TAXI, Season 1 episode 17, “Elaine & the Lame Duck”, aired Feb. 1979
That scene always stuck with me. In that one scene Griswald goes from exasperation from yet another “bad date” to being utterly flabbergasted someone actually liked him. I imagine part of it was because it hit close to home. It took me years to realize that while I certainly had poor luck and a mountain of flaws and insecurities heaped on me in the arena of love, that I rarely did myself any favors. More to the point, out of the whopping 3 dates I have ever been on, it could be argued that I undermined myself in two of them — based in large part due to disbelief. I was in utter shock and awe that I was even on a date, that a real life woman who I was attracted to or potentially attracted to had deemed me worthy to date, that I was awestruck on the dates themselves. I kept expecting a shoe to drop, a gag to be revealed, a camera crew from “CANDID CAMERA” or “PUNK’D” to emerge. I acted stunned and startled that I had gotten a date, during the dates themselves.
I alluded to this a little bit in a previous installment, “When Imagination is the Enemy”. It focused on me being literally unable to imagine what it would be like to experience mutual desire, or at least being desired by a woman I was into. Even when I try to imagine a situation in my mind, just for pure mental role playing exercises or to psyche myself up, I never entirely buy it and tear it down. Well, now I’ve given a name to it, and I call it “The Three I’d Monster”.
Pick any of my posts at random, especially from 2014-2015, and you’ll find a lot of self loathing. Essays and essays of how woeful I am, what a lame lover I am or could be, how I am a freak, a sideshow clown, the lowest man on Earth. That I consider romantic rejection an inevitable, foregone conclusion based due to past experiences. And I do think my body of past experiences as listed here are, at best, not optimistic in that regard. A large part of why I haven’t done much dating in the last decade is because I do believe in that equation — if rejection is inevitable, all I am doing is wasting my time. Yet if I am honest with myself and really dig in there, I realize that my initial reaction to the opposite of reaction wouldn’t be healthy either. A lot of this is due to having no positive reaction in that regard — I’ve had practically no romantic success while watching peers and strangers alike achieve it with considerably less effort. It’s hard to trust something that is so rare it may as well be a mirage. However, from a woman’s perspective, it comes off as being very needy and needing endless validation, which isn’t a joyride for her either.
If a woman rejects me, whether directly or just with polite disinterest, while it stings, it’s what I am used to. It’s all I have ever known. If anything, I’d agree with her. My initial, Id reaction is, “I don’t blame you,” or words to that effect. But what would my initial, subconscious Id reactions be to the opposite? To a woman on a date reacting positively, eagerly, even setting up that second date herself? In a normal, healthy person, it would be something akin to joy, or even relief. It would be the beginning of some fun. But not for me. My Id reaction, that inner “Three I’d Reaction”, would (irrationally) think or assume one of three things. Each one begins with an “i”, hence the name. And I apologize in advance, as one of them may be offensive. But, in the name of honesty I am keeping it there.
The (irrational) initial reactions of the Three I’d Monster to any potential positive reinforcement, if I am brutally honest with myself, would be:
1). “She must be Ignorant.” One reaction would be to assume it a fluke of ignorance on her part. She simply doesn’t know me well enough. Via random happenstance, the law of averages, good lighting, or a momentary lapse in optical function, she hasn’t quite realized what she’s gotten herself into. As someone who isn’t a user or a leach, the idea of taking advantage of someone’s ignorance for my own benefit feels wrong. After all, I’m “inside” myself all the time. Nobody knows me better than myself, and I know I’m not all that. I’ve seen myself naked, after all. Sooner or later she’ll come to her senses and realize she’s got a dud, and then she’ll be disappointed (if not angry) and I will feel guilty and dishonest. If taken to an extreme, I’m probably more likely to talk a woman out of kissing me than I am to ask her for one. Ignorance is fleeting, although it’s easy to see how this reaction becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
2). “She must be an Idiot.” This is the offensive one, because I don’t think of women in this way very often. If anything, I’m harder on men and eagerly acknowledge my opinion that most are morons (or jerks). The cruelest “i” of the monster, it’s basically an extreme version of the first. Ignorance is fleeting, but a perceived “lack of intelligence” is more permanent. I haven’t capitalized on a lucky streak or a fluke of fate; I’ve merely run into a real life Kelly Bundy who is genuinely not smart enough to see me for the loser I am. Much like the first, I would feel like I was “taking advantage” of someone who couldn’t help themselves, and that’s not a healthy thing to think either. Part of this perhaps born from an inner smugness I sometimes have. People have told me I was smart since I was a kid, even if I rarely believed them and have spent most of my life thinking I was a moron. But then I out-think someone in front of me on a fast food lane or master some task at work in record time, and wonder if they weren’t wrong. And obviously as “Wile E. Coyote, SUPER-Genius,” nobody could know more than me about myself.
3). “She must be Insane.” The last of the three “i’s”, it’s the Id conclusion that there’s a perfectly valid reason why she is expressing interest — she’s just nuts! Reality is optional for her, or she’s so traumatized by other men or in life in general that by sheer comparison I come off better. But regardless, since no sane woman could consider me sexy, that clearly means she’s not so. The irony is that out of the three, this one “feels” more workable to me even when it isn’t. I see myself as having a few bolts or two loose myself, so meeting a fellow crazy person at least means our conversations won’t be dull. And while my Id can be a monster, my Super-Ego just wants to help everyone deep down, so if I thought a woman had some sort of genuine mental trauma she had to work through, I’d eagerly (maybe too eagerly) jump in to try to “save” her. It’s a consequence of never having a real father and only having TV dudes like He-Man or Spider-Man to look up to as male role models. However, it’s ethically impossible to be someone’s therapist and lover simultaneously. There’s even a hint of pity to this one — “You want to go on a second date? You poor dear, what terrible things have men done to you that you honestly think I’m appealing?” Or, on the dark side, I’ve found a Harley Quinn looking for her Joker, and I’m nowhere near that nuts.
Now, I am nowhere near uncouth enough to admit or actually SAY any of this in real time to a woman I am on a date with or view as a potential romantic interest. Nor am I so deluded that I don’t realize these are Id reactions, and therefore made up more of manifestations of my own inner doubts more than anything I am experiencing. But it becomes background radiation in my demeanor, yet another thing (in addition to my inexperience, my lack of confidence, etc.) that I have to bottle up and suppress in real time. One bit of advice that EVERYONE under the sun gives to people is to “be yourself” (or “be your genuine self”, which is the New Agey version). Well, it gets hard to do or be that when I am busy bottling not only all of my faults in fear of rejection, but a Three I’d Monster in fear of acceptance. As a result it becomes a No-Win situation…more so for a potential date than myself.
After all, the Three I’d Monster represents ugly, hurtful and mutually destructive things to ever think about someone I “like”. It’s projecting my own baggage onto another person for the “crime” of proving it wrong. Not all dysfunctional men who leave a lot of hurt, bitter, or traumatized women in their wake are just typical alpha-males, but a lot of them have issues similar to mine and reactions akin to the Monster. Even if they’re actually successful in real life, they can never outrun that beast within. I mean, objectively, I am a guy with a job and a college degree who takes care of his disabled mother, doesn’t have any kids, ex-wives, credit card debt, a criminal record, or any addiction to drugs or alcohol. I’m reasonably intelligent, can make almost anyone laugh, and literally fantasize about cuddling. At times I imagine a woman around my age or older reading my posts and going, “And THIS is the guy who thinks he’s untouchable”, especially after spending an hour fending off crude advances on OkCupid. Intellectually I know I am not the literal worst — I’ve met the worst and I’m not him. But once emotions become involved — once romance is on the table — the Three I’d Monster is there, making sure to remind me why I can’t trust my lying eyes, unless it’s a rejection.
The terrible irony is that the “Three I’d Monster” actually represents a case of internal cognitive dissonance. A great deal of my lack of confidence with women, as well as my belief in my own inefficient qualities, it due to my inexperience. How can a virgin be seductive without being full of crap? How can a man who’s never had anyone convince someone to have him? Logically, that means that the dilemma could be improved with experience — “Once he gets a few lays or a relationship or two into him, he’ll sort himself out”. Yet if the first HINT of positive reactions from a woman in a romantic situation can bring nothing but active and passionate internal disbelief, then doesn’t it show that experience isn’t that important? It logically gets harder to devote so much weight to inexperience if it can’t even be lessened by actual experience, right? Unfortunately, like a lot of things, figuring something out analytically doesn’t always much to resolve it emotionally or spiritually. All it feels like sometimes is being an animal that sees the gates of the farm, or a puppet that is aware of the tug of every string.
The world of dating involves a lot of numbers and a lot of false-positives. It involves a lot of fortitude and a thick skin. The romance gurus are quick to note how nobody, even those with peak physical looks and confidence, never gets rejected. I’d argue it’s all a matter of odds and perspective — someone who is rejected 20% of the time can have an easier time shrugging it off than one rejected 98% of the time — but that’s another digression. But dating, or anything, isn’t just about learning how not to lose, it’s also learning how to succeed. Were I to try dating again and get a string of rejections, it would be a bit crushing, to say the least. My depression might return in earnest. Yet as much as I would hate that, I would hate it more to self-sabotage any glimmer of success. As my histories reveal, what few romantic opportunities I had, especially ones which even hinted at being positive, and rare, fleeting, and finite. It’s taken me at least a decade to even try to so much as tolerate myself for botching my one or two chances in high school, and that aforementioned date in college. I simply don’t have the time to get over screwing up an even rarer opportunity were I to try now. It’s not high school or college now; the world of adults is crueler and more unforgiving, in part because adults have less time to waste. Lord knows I have little time in a day or week to spare, and I don’t have as tough a job or a bunch of kids as some people do. To enter any endeavor where failure is acceptable but success is unbelievable is doomed, as well as a colossal waste of finite time, for both me and potential dates. Until I can overcome this Three I’d Monster, it seems ludicrous to date again.
The one disadvantage of the Zen is that without the urgency, my will or desire to bother has diminished greatly in this regard — and it was hardly peaking before. And all the Three I’d Monster has to do is outlast me. Before I knew it my 20’s were over and the end of my 30’s gets closer with every year. And while this time of year (October thru March) used to bring about great depression, I’ve been able to breeze past it for the past year, and I am just enjoying being able to do that.
But if the Three I’d Monster reveals anything, it’s that the task of convincing myself that I am worthy of a woman is probably more of a challenge than doing so for actual women I were to encounter. And dating past 30 isn’t easy even for veteran daters! The question which becomes obvious is, “What would a woman have to do to make you genuinely believe that she liked you?” And my obvious, honest answer is that I have utterly no idea. Few things in life make me more suspicious than a woman liking me. And that’s not a good answer, because no one has time to waste trying to win an argument with a dude who’s trying to talk anyone out of dating him. Trying to gut through it on the fly in mid-motion could lead to dysfunctional relationships and many hurt feelings, and people. Yet doing nothing like a monk, while a valid choice, can sometimes be a lonely one.
Incidentally, in that episode of “TAXI”, Elaine and Griswald do date briefly, and it boosts his confidence. Yet while Elaine likes Griswald as a person, she’s not passionate about him enough to make any long term plans. So while she does sleep with him (against her better judgment), they do split up. Yet Griswald leaves the relationship stronger than when he entered it. And while it’s only a silly fictional comedy from ages ago, I wonder if that path could be possible for me. Could it just be a matter of finding one or two very patient women? Or one randy enough to literally sleep the issues out of me? I have no idea. What I do know is that considering the litany of faults and disadvantages I would have to flawlessly overcome and act in spite of, it’s merely one more boulder atop the pile. Yet no one said the path to Zen would be easy.
Whew, this was a long one! Thanks to everyone who made it this long. I’ve had this buried in me for a bit and I will have to digest what it means to finally get it into another medium. The act of that alone can sometimes bring some clarity. And clarity can sometimes be the most important thing of all.