The Friend Zone
Yesterday, I observed that going headlong in the dating process won’t get you a good match any quicker than going slowly. In fact, there may be an inverse relationship between rushing and finding a quality individual. Let me illustrate with an example.
By the time I met Brad—the guy who’s the “right wrong person” for me (see post titled “Radical Acceptance”)—I had been divorced for almost nine years. In that span of time, I met many men, all but two of whom never made it out of my friend zone, which is where I placed every potential partner until it became clear to me that we shared some critical core values and virtues.
After nine years, I had become used to a pattern: 1) friend-zoned men didn’t believe me when I told them that I was only interested in friendship; 2) friend-zoned men didn’t believe me when I told them that I don’t do “friends with benefits,” so they tried to get me to change my mind; 3) when they realized I meant what I said, they moved on within six months. I like people, so it was hard to see new friends come and go, but I also knew that I simply couldn’t compromise my core values and virtues if I wanted to be available when/if I met my match someday.
Eventually, I got used to the pattern, and accepted it as part of what I would need to go through if I was going to be out there dating; it was a natural consequence of how I needed to live my life if I didn’t want to same mistake twice (attaching to someone just for the sake of being attached).
An Exceptional Need
Over time, it had become clear to me that finding a good match may be impossible for me, given what I knew I needed: uncommon intelligence, remarkable self-awareness, unusual thoughtfulness about relationship. OMG! Guys like that had been happily married for 20 years. They simply weren’t in the dating pool.
I wondered if maybe I should consider funeral crashing. Perhaps widowed men would be more likely to be free of emotional baggage than divorced, embittered players. But then meeting a widow at a funeral would mean that he still had an entire grieving process to go through, and I didn’t want to compete with the ghost of his deceased wife. Hmm. Funeral crashing might not be any better than letting natural processes take their course, even if I never found a compatible mate. Just kidding, folks! I don’t recommend funeral crashing.
Unnerved by the Exceptional
Then I met Brad at a philosophy discussion group. When I introduced myself to the group, Brad learned that I’m a psychotherapist and that I was considering a doctoral program in a Jungian school. After the meeting let out, Brad placed himself in a position where I’d have to pass him on the way to the door, and said, “Hey, I’ll have to read up on Jung so that we can have an intelligent conversation about him.”
“Okay, sounds good,” I replied. “See you soon!” And I swept out the door. Brad tells me that I vanished like a vapor trail, and that he had never had such a brief interaction with a woman. He was intrigued, and he messaged me within an hour through the discussion group site with an invitation to go to the next discussion together.
His interest was clear, as was his uncommon intelligence, but I’d been fooled by that lone quality before. There were other equally exceptional qualities that needed to come in conjunction with large intellectual capacity if I were to be willing to move beyond friendship.
The Unlikelihood of Exceptionality
Besides, I knew the probability of Brad’s all-around exceptionality was slim. I hadn’t found anyone like that in almost nine years, so it wasn’t likely to happen now. However, if Brad were the kind of guy that I needed to be with, he would be looking for an exceptional woman, and the likelihood of him finding one in the three weeks before we would see each other again was also slim; women of large character were happily married, too. So I was in no hurry.
Hence, my vapor trail. Plus, truth be told, Brad’s confidence and clever pick-up line shook my composure a bit, and I needed to get it back before I interacted with this charming stranger again.
Turns out I was right. Brad didn’t meet an exceptional woman in the next three weeks. His experiences with women left him believing that exceptional women didn’t exist.
Maybe you don’t need a unicorn, which may make your search for a compatible mate considerably shorter. But rushing won’t make it happen faster. In fact, desperation will likely get you more of what you don’t want; it’s easy to find someone who’s also in a rush and who has no interest in doing the work of dating wisely.
It’s a jungle out there. Be careful.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about how we regress to a less mature state of development when we find ourselves in the dating pool in mid-life.