June 24, 2004

Desperate Gets You Desperate

From my dating days I learned only one hard-and-fast rule:

Don't be desperate.

But of course, when you're dating, you're breaking that rule all the time. Of course you're desperate! You haven't had any in . . . how long, exactly? Who wouldn't be desperate under those circumstances? It's utterly natural to be desperate!

So you can't keep that rule perfectly, or even sometimes at all. So you do the next best thing:

Don't act desperate.

And you probably don't keep that one very well, either--but at least it's possible to keep it some of the time. At least it's achievable.

Really, I wasn't going to blog anything today. I have a million bajillion things to do, and with the boyfriend gone I naturally assumed I'd get most of them done, and instead they're just piling up like crazy.

But someone's always gotta bait me on the battle of the sexes. Thanks, Jim! Love you too!

Jim's linked a piece by BigWig (of Siflay Hraka) on whether men should make any attempt to scrub themselves up in order to ketch a woman. I mean, that's roughly what it's about, anyway. It's actually a sort of cross-blog dialogue amongst BigWig, Andrew Sullivan, and a female friend of Eugene Volokh's. If I'm reading everyone correctly--and as we all know by now there's no guarantee of that around here--the positions are:

Andrew Sullivan: When women demand better appearances from straight men, they'll get them--but not until.

Eugene Volokh's friend: Most single men who can't get a date are dateless for a reason: They aren't willing to do what it takes to get one.

BigWig: Single men who can't get dates can't do so because they lack the confidence to tell women to go hang.

I agree and disagree with every single one of these people, naturally. Why pin myself down if I don't have to?

BigWig takes an amusing, vaguely chest-thumping tone about the whole thing:

Paying [straight men] to watch [Queer Eye for the Straight Guy] would help. Handing out free beer and hot wings would also be a excellent choice. But, once they're assembled, the group's reaction to the typical "Woman brings in fab five to makeover her man" plot on QE might prove edifying, for it will be along the lines of "Bitch. He should f*cking dump her."

And he would too, if he wasn't so damn pussy-whipped.

And that woman might be every bit as much the better for it--but ah, let's not go there just yet, because I agree later on with BigWig here:

Clothes, teeth, physique and symmetrical features are part of what makes a person appealing, but by far the biggest asset when it comes to attracting the opposite sex is one's mental attitude. To the extent that they think about it all, and they don't think about it a lot--it's a woman's issue, like curtains and cellulite--most straight men are confident they're sexy. It doesn't matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. Blame testosterone, or willful blindness if you like, but that mental attitude is why women end up dating men one step up from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It doesn't matter whether gay men or even other women think he's sexy. What matters is whether he thinks he is--a quality that most straight men have in spades.
BigWig is absolutely right on that score: Attitude, particularly an attitude of confidence, is everything when it comes to sexy--at least for most women I know.

Really, I think the same can be said in reverse, too. I have known women who aren't great-looking, who are just sort of hanging out in that limbo between "plain" and "kinda cute when she does her hair like that," but they don't have any trouble at all getting dates. When men approach them, they are courteous, cheerful, and friendly--even if right at that moment they don't feel any of those things. They aren't out to hand the guy his nuts, nor are they simpering doormats. They're right in the sweet spot: Friendly and approachable but not giving it away. In other words, we're right back to the chief rule that applies equally to both sexes:

Don't act desperate.

More BigWig. This is excellent, too:

Men that don't have this innate confidence end up humiliating themselves eventually, either on something like Queer Eye, or in front of a parade of women who discover that they don't really care for men who twist themselves into knots trying to please them.
Incidentally, this is precisely why I was arguing with the South African's position that American men are effeminate because American women want them that way. Because in my experience, American women absolutely do not want a doormat (any more than most American men do).

Have any of you ever dated a truly spineless person? Is it not the saddest thing in the world? I'll tell you a quick story about one (and you guys who know who I'm talking about--shut up, because you know I still think he's one of the most decent human beings on the planet).

About 10 years ago or so--erp, more actually--I made arrangements to meet a fellow I had been corresponding with via BBS. I had an enormous crush on him sight unseen. We got along famously.

In other words, this should have been a "gimme."

We met at a bar by ASU and he said, "You must be Ilyka."

"Yes--hi! Don?"

"Yeah. Wow, it's great to meet you! You're probably thinking, 'Ugh, he doesn't look anywhere near as good as I expected' . . . ."

Men, women, eunuchs, hermaphrodites, friends and neighbors: This is the sentence you should cut off your tongues before uttering, ever.

Seriously. At least if he'd been about to say that, and had instead suddenly flicked open a switchblade and cut his tongue off in front of me, I'd have had to admire his spirit.

Instead I was utterly flummoxed, embarrassed, off-balance--and horrified. Honestly, I have to punt to Chris Rock* to explain it (and apologies to anyone who's offended by the f-word):

A woman knows if she's going to fuck you within the first five minutes of meeting you. Women know right away. Women know on the handshake. As they grip your hand, if they like you, they're thinking, "I'm going to fuck him. I hope he doesn't say anything stupid."
"I hope he doesn't say anything stupid." EXACTLY. Now he's wrong about the first five minutes; it takes me at least 12. But maybe I'm just slow that way. My point is this:

There was nothing wrong with this guy. He was tall, lean, attractively dressed. He smelled good. He had beautiful eyes. Maybe I'm an exception here, but possibly even sexier than any of that, he had a sterling command of the English language. He had good grammar! I enjoyed corresponding with him! We had similar interests and tastes!

This was a gimme. The man went and hosed a gimme. There was nothing wrong with him and if he'd just not--as a friend of mine likes to say--"laid his ass down on the doorstep and invited me to stamp 'WELCOME' on it"--if he'd just not said anything stupid . . .

. . . well, I probably still wouldn't have banged him that night. But eventually? Who knows? My point is, I'll never know because he had to go and say something stupid, and it changed the way I viewed him immediately and irrevocably.

Confidence matters enormously to a woman. Don't act desperate.

So I'm with BigWig on that score. Here's where I think he goes wrong:

So, for those men who, in the words of Volokh's female friend

...don't listen, and won't; they won't get a real job; they're boring but don't want to acknowledge it or do anything about it.

Keep on keeping on, fellas. Don't pay any attention to a woman who wants you to change before she will condescend to accompany you about town.

I'm with the spirit of those remarks, but not in this context. In this context I think BigWig has missed the point of Volokh's unnamed correspondent, which is this:

There is always room for improvement and if you're not getting any romantic action, chances are you could use some.

Again, that goes for both sexes. A woman who doesn't take care of herself, doesn't expand her horizons, doesn't do anything but go to work and go home and eat raw cookie dough in front of the Lifetime channel, has no one to blame for her datelessness but herself.

Women at least sort of get this. I've had periods in my life like that. Had about a six-month stretch where my weekly "hot date" was rushing home Wednesday nights to cook up a box of Stove-Top stuffing and scarfing the entire pot down while watching "Melrose Place."

(Did I say I've never watched soap operas? Oh, well, it doesn't count if they're on at night and star Andrew Shue.)

But here's the thing: I was in the process of ending a TERRIBLE relationship and didn't care if I never dated another creature on earth again. So I didn't exactly sit there on those nights wondering, why doesn't anyone ever ask me out?

I knew damn well why no one was asking me out, and I didn't care. That's not what I'm talking about and that's not what Volokh's female friend is talking about. We're talking about guys who do the male equivalent of this and then whine that they can't get a date and it's so unfair because they're such nice guys.

Hey, I was a nice person, too! I just wasn't very bang-able at the time.

Are you starting to get the picture? Here's a hint: Economics. Supply and demand. There is simply very little demand for men who:

. . . don't listen, and won't; they won't get a real job; they're boring but don't want to acknowlege it or do anything about it.
Anymore than you could expect there to be much demand for women who shuffle indifferently through life and only perk up at the mention of Melrose Place.

Now here's why I think BigWig went wrong: BigWig is assuming the men this woman is talking about are just like he and his single friends were.

Dude, I guarantee you they aren't.

Perhaps it's only my experience, but I've found this general rule of thumb applicable in most situations:

A guy who says he is or was "hideous," usually isn't.

A guy who says he is or was "nice," usually isn't.

BigWig's saying, "Hey, me and my friends weren't any great shakes and look how well we did! And we didn't do it by changing to please women, either! So don't none of y'all change a thing!"

That's great advice if you want a bunch of sad-sack losers to feel better about themselves, but it's shitty advice if you want them to score.

You don't get self-esteem by looking at your fat ass in the mirror and thinking, "Some lucky woman's gonna be all over this someday."

You get self-esteem through self-improvement. You start with an innate belief in yourself--and yes, you must have this even if you really are a fat, dateless loser at the moment; personally the only way I've found to acquire it if you haven't got it is to fake it and act as if you have it already, but your mileage may vary.

But you start with your innate belief in yourself and then you EXERCISE it, same way you'd exercise anything else you wanted to develop. In other words, you build confidence the same way you build muscles. You start with what you've got and you deliberately apply stress to it to make it grow.

That means you get out of the house. That means you read some books you mightn't ordinarily read. That means maybe once in awhile you pass up watching the game with your buds in order to do something to improve yourself. If you wanted to develop a six-pack, you'd take game night off to work at the gym. If you wanted to improve your speaking ability, you'd take game night off to take a speech class. If you wanted to improve your ability at anything else in your life, you would make a few sacrifices in order to get it done.

And I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but dating is exactly the same way. You want to improve your chances, you got to do a little work.

Or you could just keep doing the same things that aren't and haven't been working, and complain about it.

What a rather . . . bitchy thing to do.

UPDATE: ALTERNATE CHICK-SCORING METHODS: Or, if you still insist that things like working out, broadening your interests, and trying to match your shirt to your trousers are such a hassle and such pussy things to do, you could always just do what the gent described in this post does. I'm not saying that'll score you a quality chick, and odds are good you'll have to get a restraining order against her eventually, but if spineless headcases are your thing, why not go on and give it a whirl? Beats trying to get the hot wing sauce out of your neckties, right? Lemme know how the court case comes out in the end!

*Incidentally, possibly the best dating advice I could give to single men out there is, buy this book. Buy it, read it, live it. Because everything the man says about relations between the sexes is true. Except for the five-minute thing. I'm telling you--12. At least 12.

Posted by Ilyka at June 24, 2004 10:17 PM in hell is other people


Thank you, Ilyka. I was hoping somebody would grab this and take it where it needed to go. After hanging on to it for a week the best I could do was just give it a link (too much crapola on the brain to do proper thoughtful posts at the moment). Glad to see it got the knobbing off it deserved.

Posted by: Jim at June 24, 2004 11:40 PM

Ilyka, you had me at "Why pin myself down if I don't have to?"

But then I decided to give you my first born child with the quote from Chris Rock that included: "I'm going to fuck him. I hope he doesn't say anything stupid."

Sign me up.

Posted by: Helen at June 25, 2004 01:37 PM

Way to nail that one! I had a profile on Match for awhile, and I met one guy who was a professional musician- as in an orchestra- who was fairly cute, didn't pass the 5 or the 12-minute tests, because his opening line was something like- "Y'know, you should post a better picture- I wouldn't have bothered you." Aaarrrg!!

Posted by: Allison at June 25, 2004 04:42 PM

"Don" smelled good? How could you tell through the waves of cologne -- Oh! You *mean* the cologne!

Gotcha. ;)

Fun read, Ilyka.

Posted by: Brent at June 25, 2004 04:50 PM