Sometimes romantic advice is bad for the soul

I ran into a question on Quora that really caught my eye, not because it was special, but because it’s really common – and the advice for it is cringe-worthy, but really common. Here’s the question:

I am a girl who studies at a world’s top university, plays music, speaks a few languages, cooks well, is friendly and good-looking. Why am I single?

It’s a question that a lot of people ask themselves, maybe not in these terms, but definitely in similar ones. I’m a good guy, why can’t I get a date? I’m a good woman, why can’t I find someone to like me? And people give advice like “Maybe you’re not putting yourself out there”, “Maybe your standards are too high”, “Maybe you’re looking at this in the wrong way”, “Maybe you should lose weight”, “Maybe you should dress in a sexier manner”, “Maybe you should try being nicer/friendlier/more open/more feminine/more masculine”.

If you look at the question above in itself, it says nearly nothing about who the woman is, how she tries to relate to men, how she fails, what she wants from a guy. She got the “standards too high” and “you’re looking at romance in the wrong way” answers anyhow.

It’s our nature, perhaps, to try to find an answer to our problems, clear advice and clear steps to get what we want. Sometimes this is a really good nature to have, because it leads to development, to discoveries, to new machines – even to becoming better people. But sometimes it doesn’t help, something this is just an eternally repeated “What’s wrong with me?” which has no answer, but makes us feel like crap anyway.

“Why am I not dating anyone?” is a very common question with a lot of angst attached to it.

Women’s magazines give crap advice and crap statistics in order to satisfy our need for an answer. It’s crap, but at least we feel that we have something to chew on, even if it’s harmful. I remember reading that men don’t like clever women, funny women, women with small boobs. Men don’t like this, men don’t like that, men don’t like the other. I assume it’s the same for men: they might hear all about how women don’t like non-romantic guys, women don’t like gamers, women don’t like this and that and the other. I don’t know what women aren’t supposed to like because I don’t read men’s magazines. I only hear echoes of this in articles about how to deal with gamers and how to indulge their silly, boyish activities (I usually do it by asking them to play with me, but that’s just me).

Now, the problem is that the stats that magazines print, if they’re not outright invented, still don’t say much. Let’s say they’re real. Somebody might actually be going out there and asking men what they prefer. Then they give percentages and they come up with generalized advice: “Don’t joke. 65% of men don’t like that” (this is an invented statistic on my side). But even if the stats are real, they don’t mean that much. If a majority of men don’t like women who crack jokes, a minority of men must like women who crack jokes – they’re the ones making up the rest of the 100%. If most men want women who wear make-up, a few men don’t. Even in the case of the one answering the question, the answer might be misleading – heck, my guy has a thing for redheads, and guess what color my hair isn’t (hint: it isn’t anywhere near red; and I sure as hell won’t be turning it red any time soon).

So the stats are crap. Why are people single, then? Why can’t they find a date?

Well, the thing about being single is that it can be your fault that you’re so: you might be annoying, stuck-up, your standards might be too high, or whatever. Or it might not be your fault at all: you might be in a group of people who appreciate drastically other qualities than the ones you have; you might not have met too many people of the opposite sex. The ones who like you might be taken – or you might just have really bad luck. You might be in love with someone who doesn’t like you, while someone you don’t like is in love with you – thus, nobody’s happy. (I’ve been there, did that…)

Then think about divorce rates and couples who don’t work well together, but stick with each other anyway for unknown reasons (none of which is love). It’s hard to find someone who’s very suited to you, it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s a rare event.

Actually, there are a helluva lot of single people out there, or people who’d be better off out of their relationship. They’re just less obvious than couples: is someone walking down the street single or in a relationship? You have no way to tell, so you can assume either way. The couple on that bench that’s snogging? It’s kind of clear, it just jumps at you. (Well, I think in Malaysia they’re not allowed to show affection on the street like that, but I can’t be bothered to verify that info – I bet singles feel less single there)

A helluva lot of single people. The problem is, often, that the circle of people you know isn’t that large. You theoretically could date any one of the single people who are around you every single day – but practically you don’t know them. It happens everywhere.

Now, back to the woman with the question above. She was told that she should stop thinking that she’s accomplished, that she shouldn’t think of this stuff that she’s done as being in any way helpful towards a relationship. I kept reading people who said, over and over, “You’re not applying for a job here.”

Interestingly enough, once upon a time a blogger decided to advertise that he wanted a girlfriend and described himself, professional and personal traits together, and asked women to send their own sort of CVs, with an ID-type photo, then meet with him on a date (nothing funny, just to see if they got along). As far as I know, he ended up dating someone. That’s one way to go about it. It was funny, and strange, and it worked.

Because some of us do appreciate accomplishments and romance has been too… romanticized? It’s too much of a mystique? The truth is, relationships tend to be a lot better if you can really respect and appreciate the other person. As a geek, I can confirm that “speaks several languages”, “top university”, “plays music” are pretty damned attractive. Accomplishments are, to me, a part of that person, of who they are and what they stand for. Other people might not give a rat’s ass, or they might say she’s “too much” or “a slave to her success”. It really depends.

We are not statistics, and a question like “Why am I single?” is very hard to answer. You can be a dream to one person and a nightmare to another. You can do a bit of introspection, see if you’re absurd in your demands – but if you don’t seem to be, if people in general don’t hate you, then the answer to the question might be “a bout of bad luck”.

There are ways to increase the chances of meeting someone you can start a relationship with: going to workshops, dance classes, meetings of this or that sort – in a word, going places where you can find people – then being friendly to those you find there. Giving them the benefit of doubt before making harsh judgments, asking them things just so you can discover who they are. Assume that they’re worthwhile until you find clear evidence to the contrary. If they look like morons, ask questions that clarify the matter. It doesn’t mean you won’t meet idiots, it guarantees nothing… but at least your odds better.

And that’s the only advice I’d feel comfortable to give.

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