One of the bizarre things about being in a relationship: Friends come to you for relationship advice, even when you may not be entirely qualified to give it.
I ended up in a relationship when I did pretty much everything “wrong,” or so I thought at the time. My entire dating experience improved exponentially when I stopped giving a single fuck about being cool, or about being liked. Against the recommendations of friends, I made my Okcupid profile sassy and mean, and was upfront about the things about me that have the potential to be polarizing. When I went on dates, I left halfway through if I decided that the person sucked. I always paid my way if I didn’t want to see the person again. I talked about politics and called out bullshit when it came at me. I stopped having any tolerance for those waffling folks who just can’t imagine being tied down but are really down to hang out.
The reality is: I have what is kindly referred to as a “strong personality” (protip: this is often code for “insufferably exacting asshole”), radical politics, and for a long time, I watered all that down thinking that clearly no one would, or could, like those parts of me. At this point, the cultural socialization that women are subject to tells them the story that the need to be cool or easy to be around or accommodating, and for a long time I was trying to fit my big mouth into the accommodating box. Finally, when I was sick and tired of pretending to be all that, I let it loose, and found myself in a relationship with a man who had previously been so romantically flighty that he was a classic male archetype: The perpetual bachelor; the laughably commitment-phobic dapper gentleman; a nerdy man’s man and woman’s dream man. (Admittedly, I’m a little biased, since I like the guy, but you get the drift.)
During the course of my relationship with him, I have watched my friends slowly go through the dating rigmarole: Dating in excess, taking a break, hooking up with a coworker or a friend, breaking up, dating in excess, and then finally getting sick of it all…then finding themselves on that date that puts them into a serious relationship. And still, even now, I’m watching several friends still go through that process. Some of these friends are revelling in the single life, and fully appreciating their freedom and sowing those sexual oats (as they rightly should!), while others are frustrated with the process, and keep asking me, “Do you think he likes me?” They keep asking me how they should navigate the date who won’t settle down, who won’t even commit to a time to meet up much less more than just hanging out. If they ask for my advice, they say I’m being “too mean” or “too forward” by saying that they should state what they want and not wait around.
Recently I read this article (I linked to it in my introduction, but I’ve read it several times this week and keep going back to it) that fully embodied exactly how I feel about approaching dating and asking for what you want in relationships. As an absolute advice column addict (Dear Sugar, I miss you!), I can’t help but love Ask Polly. In this particular column, the letter writer asks whether they should be “That Girl,” and wondering whether they should approach an indepth conversation about feelingz and such in their current casually romantic situation.
Here’s an excerpt from the answer that embodies a philosophy that I think every person, particularly every woman who is ever worried about seeming “crazy” for asking for what she wants or for expressing her feelings when she knows she wants a relationship, should adopt:
But look, if what you REALLY WANT is a strong, healthy, resilient relationship, you don't get it by playing it cool forever. In fact, when you wait too long to say exactly what you want, it comes out all resentful and needy and weak. I'm not saying you have to lay out a plan for your upcoming wedding. I'm just saying you have to make it clear that you'd like to see him regularly, that you want to be honest and open with him about your feelings and have him do the same, and that you don't see the two of you as “pals” and can't really proceed in a relationship that masquerades as a friendship with benefits. Without these things, you don't feel that you'll get to know him any better, and therefore you'll be frustrated AND you'll be wasting your time, time that could be spent getting to know some OTHER GUY who's looking for the same kind of honest, intellectually stimulating, emotionally rich relationship that you are. YOU ARE NOT THE KIND OF WOMAN WHO WANTS TO WASTE HER TIME BULLSHITTING AROUND WITH SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T GIVE A FUCK. If that makes you “That Girl,” so be it.
If setting terms and saying, “I know what I want, and I like you, but I need to know that we’re on the same page,” is really too forward or too mean, then so fucking be it. None of us want a relationship with someone who doesn’t want us for who we really are, for what we really want and what we are striving for. For the longest time, I went on the most terrible dates and had the most mediocre sexual dalliances because I was so worried about being liked that I didn’t have the mental or emotional space to evaluate whether I actually liked the person I was on a date with! I'm not saying to throw out all of the rules: You still want to be on your best behavior, and be compassionate, and be kind, and as Ask Polly states, leave room for options. Sometimes the option isn't you, and hey, if you are going to get on with dating, you'd better get comfortable with rejection right quick, because we all go through it.
Step one in the path to accepting rejection
Successful relationships have so much to do with uncontrollable variables (luck, timing, and chemistry) that you'd better believe that you need to bring all the brilliance you've got when they all manage to line up, and knowing what you want is part of that brilliance. This philosophy is not a fool-proof solution to singledom, but it is a fool-proof approach to the wishy-washy nonsense that, at a certain point, becomes intolerable, and will stand in your way when looking for what you want. Why waste your time on someone who expects that from you?
At least in my experience, I can say that I didn't end up with the hard-to-pin-down guy because I'm some sort of magical unicorn. I'm not dramatically different or somehow better than any of the women he dated before me (although perhaps a better fit, but that's not inherently a value judgement regarding myself as a person). All of those uncontrollable variables lined up, and I can say with full confidence that I knew what I wanted and wasn't willing to wait around for any date who wasn't sure about me.
We deserve so much better, darlings. Demand it. Oh, and please…stop asking me to read your wishy-washy text exchanges, lest I flip out and tell your date what I really think of him.