One of the most gratifying and distressing aspects of my job is being on the receiving end of the unsolicited confessions of you, my readers. Gratifying, because it means you want to share juicily incriminating stories with me. Distressing, because they confirm some of my worst suspicions about human behavior.
One of those suspicions that has been confirmed far too many times for me to ignore is that, when it comes to dating, women in their twenties are exceptionally good at self-sabotage. I cannot tell you the dozens upon hundreds of times a thirtysomething woman has cast her eyes to the floor, bent her head slightly and said sheepishly, “I was so awful to men in my twenties.”
Yeah, no kidding. I dated you in your twenties, and girl were you a handful. You showed up late, cancelled at the last minute, or didn’t show up at all. You got too clingy, too distant, too demanding, too giving, all in the space of a day. You demanded commitment but refused to stay over. You stayed over but wouldn’t take my calls the next day. You showed huge enthusiasm to get together and spend time, proceeded by zero follow-up. You took days to return phone calls and emails, if you ever responded. You got stupid drunk and acted like a complete loser.
I’m not just describing what’s happened to me personally — these are things that have happened to every man out there (after getting thousands of their letters, I should know). And if you see a glimmer of recognition in any of these behaviors, gimme a little nod and silently say, “Yup, that was me.”
So if you’re still in that phase where you’re interested in bad boys who are negligent, abusive, deceptive, self-absorbed losers who just want to get into your pants, this article is not for you — feel free to skip it.
If you’re still reading this, I’m assuming that you’re a smart woman interested in a meaningful relationship with a Good Guy™. Let’s parse who this Good Guy is. He’s the kind of guy who treats you exceptionally well — and himself, too. The two go hand-in-hand. Sure, he likes sex as much as the next guy, but he’s interested in something deeper than that. Mere dessert does not fulfill him — he wants the full meal.
What you need to remember about the Good Guy is that he has pretty good self-respect. He’s been working on himself, he knows his own value, he treats others well — so he does not put up with subpar behavior. Why should he? He’s got options.
Let’s use a metaphor, shall we? Let’s say you own a very popular gourmet restaurant that’s booked months in advance. You see an old friend, and as a gesture of kindness, you invite the friend to come by for a meal at the restaurant. On you. Ahead of the dozens of patrons with reservations.
Your friend does not show up. Now, how hard are you going to try to get that friend back in your restaurant? Who loses out?
Think of the Good Guy as that restaurateur. When he invites you into his full life, treat it like that out-of-turn reservation: a special opportunity extended to you. If it’s not your kind of food, fine — you can always decline politely. But if it is — show up, for godssakes!
Showing up is super-important because the alternative puts you in a really bad bind. When you don’t show up, act erratically or show disrespect — whether intentionally or not — you weed out all the guys who have self-respect. They’re just going to say forget this and move on.
That leaves you two categories of men: those who are too desperate and needy to notice they’re being walked on; and those who are determined to get into your pants at any cost. Rest assured that you don’t want to be with either of them.
So when women ask, “Why am I attracting all these bad boys/losers?”, a lot of the time the answer is — you’re not. Statistically, you’re attracting all kinds of guys, winners and losers, all the time. You’ve just gotten very good at weeding out the good ones and keeping the bad apples.
Often this just means that you’re a little too stuck on your physical type, so you’re filtering out all the great guys out there who don’t fit that type. My friend Nicole — 32, sweet, tall, smart, dazzling — only goes for guys 45+ who are taller than her. It should come as no surprise that these guys, who are either divorcees with kids or confirmed bachelors, have no interest in marrying her, and every one of these relationships tank.
We’re not going to get too much into the etiology of this phenomenon. I just want you to realize that you have a lot more power in your love life than you think. And the more aware you are, the more power you have. So make it a habit to treat guys well all the time. Respond to communication in a timely manner, show up on time, and give everyone the courtesy of closure instead of blowing them off. Don’t do it for him — do it for you. Because you just never know which one of these guys who starts out as a stranger is going to be the love of your life.
Aaaahhh Dr. Ali,
timely words of wisdom! (again!!!!!).
But why is it so difficult to put in practice consistently????
Excellent piece. I started dating again in my late 30’s. Luckily, I finally figured it out, but it would’ve been great to read this when I got back “in the game” 5 years ago (who knew it would be so different!)
When you’re in your 20’s (as I was when I got married (27)), men are much more willing to put up with your (female) crap! But once you’re in your 30’s and beyond…not so much!!
So, thanks again for the excellent words of wisdom. You can bet I will be sending it to my still single friends.
I agree with the excellent advice and comments above. I’m wondering if you see a subtle shift in power between the twenties and the thirties — a shift from women to men — that women have more choices in their twenties and can behave badly, flakily, nastily, but as they grow into their thirties, still single, that they become better mannered as a way to attract marriageable men?
Tom — great observation, and one worthy of a separate article. Men’s value in the dating marketplace, which correlates with power, weath and status, tends to increase with time. Women’s value, which correlates with youth and beauty, tends to decrease with time. And we all know that people with power tend to behave poorly.