I’m upset that you’re feeling discouraged, so I guess I’ll share my story.
((IN NOVEL FORM – I APOLOGIZE))
For my 30th birthday I was living in a relatively new city where I knew almost noone. I had just gone through a long, drawn-out breakup with the guy I moved to this new city with, and I was still living with him, waiting for our lease to be up in a few months.
Unlike you, I was NOT established in a career and balling out. On the contrary, I had just quit a miserable job that I had taken 10 months previously out of desperation to have ANY independent income when my relationship began to crumble soon after the move.
I have a lot of serving and bartending experience, so I had intended to grab a serving job until I could find another professional job. However, a week after quitting my job, I broke a bone in my ankle and could not place weight on my foot for months. So here I was, jobless, no income, laid up on the couch every single day, forced to live with the guy who had emotionally abandoned me in a new city, feeling like the biggest loser on the planet.
I went to a nearby pub with my ONE friend for my 30th birthday. It was the saddest thing ever. Emotionally, I had hit rock bottom.
However, I refused to let everything get me down. My lease was up soon, and I HAD to have income to support myself on. As soon as my injury allowed, I got a serving job and, soon after that, I added a morning internship at my friend’s office. I worked those 2 jobs for 6 months, and then was offered full-time at the morning office.
(Did I mention my car died while I was working those 2 jobs, and I had no money to even think about fixing it, so I took Uber to and from each job AND starting squeezing in trips to the gym between them when I had time?)
The gym kept me sane. It kept me focused, and got my anxiety out – anxiety that otherwise would have piled up and turned into depression.
With the gym time accumulating, my self esteem got a boost. With the FT job offer, which I negotiated up a considerable amount (because of NEED, not greed) it shot up even more.
On the dating front, it went something like this.
On the eve of my 30th birthday, a guy I had met on a dating app and I were essentially just spending time together out of boredom. I didn’t want anything serious, I wanted distraction from my miserbale life situation.
I called that off, though, after getting to know his personality a bit better. Then I started dating a guy who I got excited about, when I really shouldn’t have. There were so many red flags. He made misogynist comments, said outright that he didn’t like kids, never wanted any. He lived in a pig sty with another gross single guy. I ignored the comments, I cleaned his place whenever I was over, which was a lot. I made a fool of myself, calling him after my shifts to see if I could come over instead of driving home and living my own life.
You see, I was still coming from a place of desperation. The recent breakup had rocked my world and I just wanted SO badly to cocoon myself in another relationship, to not face the reality that I could wind up alone, unwanted. My self esteem had taken a hit, and I wanted external validation that I was likable/lovable.
So I made a fool out of myself and chased this guy, even though he never ever earned that. It was nothing special about him that made me chase him – it was an internal desperation to focus my energy on something other than myself – it was a form of escapism, like binge watching Netflix, or taking drugs. At the root of it, I just wanted to convince him to like me.
Obviously, he sensed the place of desperation I was coming from, and that unravelled within 6 weeks or so, right around New Years, a few months after my birthday.
So here I was, in a New Year, recently turned 30, STILL living with my ex, working two jobs, no car, spending half my money on Uber rides, and newly rejected – yet AGAIN.
So I decided to just stop. I realized I was in some sort of weird spiral and needed to find my way out of it. So I started reading books and meditating. Instead of finding things outside myself to focus my energy on, I redirected it all to myself.
I realized *I* was causing a lot of my own problems because:
A) I was coming across as desperate and
B) I was SO ready to overlook red flags and continue down obviously doomed paths.
So, I read books that focused (sometimes overly so, but that’s what I needed) on being SELFISH in and about relationships. They were about how to create and set expectations and boundaries, how to think about and take care of your SELF first and foremost.
Why Men Marry Bitches: A Woman’s Guide to Winning her Man’s Heart
Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Expanded Edition: What Men Really Think about Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment
The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why we Love People who Hurt Us
The Power of Vulnerability // Daring Greatly
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love
I also started reading an incredibly sexist and problematic series of articles by Renee Wade. She’s basically the female equivalent of PUA, but less manipulative and evil.
I was able to mentally throw out the sexist and problematic parts of her (very poorly written) articles and focus on the kernels of helpful truth regarding coming across as High-Value as opposed to Low-Value, thinking of ways to emotionally Give to the relationship instead of Taking from your partner (I had been taking external validation), how to identify and weed out Low-Value men (instead of attracting them and finding them acceptable b/c of low standards and being low-value myself), how to come from a place of Confidence and Self-Love instead of Desperation and Neediness (for acceptance, for validation, for a place holder to not be single, etc.)
I’m also a bit ashamed to admit that I went and read what I could find online of The Rules. While DISGUSTINGLY sexist and archaic, it was educational for me to see the dating “rules” outlined that I had previously been oblivious to. Whether I intended to follow any of them or not, it made sense to know the rules by which a lot of the people I encountered in the dating world might be playing. I’m a firm believer that no rules should be hard and fast or applied blindly, but it WAS incredibly helpful for a girl who wore her heart on her sleeve and consistently gave too much of herself too soon to new guys to read things like “Don’t hunt – men are the hunters!” Do I believe that “men are the hunters?” No. But was I relieved to relax a bit and realize it was OK to not “hunt” for a change? Even if it was because I was experimentally following sexist, archaic rules? Yes. And in the end, reading these “rules” DID help to balance out my previously overeager dating behavior.
ALL of the above came together to completely transform the way I went about dating, but it STILL took me awhile to put everything into practice effectively.
The next guy I dated, I met on Hinge. He was funny and attractive and decent in bed. However, about 4 weeks in, I caught him lying to me about being gone on a business trip when he had REALLY come back to town a few days earlier. I did all the things I had learned from the books – to the extent that I COULD. I SHOULD have broken up with him and moved on immediately. But instead, I gave a big speech about not accepting lying and deceit in my relationships, not accepting excuses, etc. And I continued to date him for another month – a month that was very shaky and hot/cold. Finally, I wised up, as I continued to read articles and think about how to effectively apply what I was reading. I realized I was STILL using this guy for external validation, and wasting my own time with someone who wasn’t showing me what I really wanted to see. So I broke up with him.
The next guy, I met on Tinder. He was a doctor, and had this dark past (recovered alcoholic) that meant that all our meet-ups turned into him basically using me as a therapist. My old self was drawn to this – someone to help and nurture! However, I now knew to have my guard up about the sorts of people I was naturally attracted to. I used everything I had learned from the books to watch his behavior closely. I began to realize that our relationship wasn’t … advancing. This guy was holding me at arm’s length and using me as a therapist. Despite my emotional need to get attached (to feed my need for external validation), I stayed detached (the first time I had ever done this successfully!), and was able to see all the growing red flags clearly. The lack of ability to have small talk. The focus on sexual connection to the exclusion of all else. The seeming lack of urgency to see me. Sure, he was throwing me bones that OLD me would have latched onto and taken hope from – brought me a stuffed animal when he came back from a long overseas trip, sent cute texts randomly, etc. But soemthing was off. So after successfully staying detached and seeing all the red flags clearly, and seeing how the words and actions didn’t align, I broke off that relationship, too.
Old me would have gone into chase mode because I needed something from this guy. But new me had learned to validate mySELF and didn’t need anything other than to find a healthy relationship – or bust.
I dated another guy I met at the gym. Again, I made mistakes. There was a lot of drama with his recent ex that should have sent me running for the hills. But I stayed. There were a lot of low-life friends, but I didn’t want to “judge” him. There was a lot of immaturity that I over-looked. In my own defense, I had already decided this guy wasn’t going to be anyone I was serious about – but then why was I wasting time with him? In the end, it was the things I had learned from the books and articles that saved me from wasting more than about 6 weeks with him. I consistently set expecations and boundaries and stood firm when he didn’t live up to them. He started acting out more and more because he didn’t like that I HAD boundaries and expectations. The more he acted out, the more obvious it became that we weren’t compatible, and I finally ended things.
So you can see how things are a progression. With any new learning, we usually aren’t able to apply it to our lives and change our needs and behaviors all at once. You learn a little, you apply that learning the best you can, and you hopefully learn a little more and go on to apply more and more of your learning until you reach your goal of completely changed needs and behaviors.
For me, something clicked after Gym Guy. I realized I was nearing my 31st birthday. I had spent the last 7 months reading all the above material, reflecting on it, and trying to put it into use. I saw that I was growing, but too slowly. I was frustrated that things were changing so slowly and that I KEPT winding up in these dead-end flings with low-value men.
I had recently been offered the full time position, I had bought a new car, and my fitness was on POINT. My self esteem was the highest it had ever been, I felt bursting with all the new learning I had acquired and was learning to actually apply to my life. I took a few months off from dating to really focus on myself. I created a list of Must Haves. I created a list of Red Flags to Look For. I created a list of Expectations and Boundaries. I decided I would use these lists going forward. No more taking each guy as he came – that allowed me to overlook things and make excuses for them.
I also set a conscious plan to play the numbers game. I gave myself rules that directly addressed my own weaknesses.
I knew I got attached too quickly, so I made a rule that I would not get emotionally involved for at least 2 months.
I knew that I tended to get too focused on and excited about new guys, so I made a rule that I would date multiple men at once until one naturally became serious enough to warrant exclusivity.
I knew I had a tendency to chase men, so I made a rule that I would sit back and at the very least make sure the guy was initiating as much as – if not more than – I was.
I knew I had a tendency to give guys second and third chances out of a sense of obligation once I met them in person, so I made a rule that I would meet in person ONLY the guys who made it through a very strict vetting process in chat first. This included things like being able and willing to discuss deeper topics, not asking me to meet in person until a connection and commonalities were established, asking me out in a respectful and thoughtful way, etc.
These rules were all specifically targeted to what I had observed to be my OWN weaknesses in the dating world – the things that were causing me to make mistakes and waste time over and over again. It took me a lot of time, even after all the learning I had done, to observe and realize my own weaknesses, and then to create a plan directly addressing them.
But the second I DID, FI fell into my lap.
I met him via Tinder, after having spent a few months ONLY chatting with many many guys. I talked to as many guys at once as I could. I made it into a fun game, screenshotting profiles and discussing them with friends, to keep the pressure off and to keep things upbeat.
FI quickly rose to the top of all the conversations I was having. His conversation was deep and thoughtful. He graciously left me an out when he asked me to something I was specifically interested in – an art gallery opening. Had I been busy going out on dates with all the guys I was talking to, I may have missed his boring first “hi” message entirely.
From the first date, my eyes were wide open for red flags (stubbornness, big ego, defensiveness, argumentativeness, misogyny, racism, classism, superficiality, etc.)
From the first date, I enacted my rules, and communicated them to him once it was clear we were going to continue dating. I let him know I wasn’t going to get emotionally invested until at least 2 months. I told him I was not going to be excusive with him by default – the tempo of our relationship was going to dictate that.
I sat back and waited to ensure he wasn’t going to play games. A few months in, when he started going hot/cold (because of his own insecurities at the time), I immediately recognized it and called him on it. I stated that if he felt the need to be inconsistent and play games, we wouldn’t work out. I said that high on my list of Must Haves was consistency and reliability. Had I not done my soul searching, I wouldn’t have been so clear on this topic, either in my own mind, or in communicating with him my needs and the developing disconnect. He responded with integrity and said he would do better, and he did.
Had I still been acting out of insecurity or desperation, I would have behaved much differently at that point, and at various “growth points” that occurred later in the relationship, and we might not have worked out. It was ONLY because I had gone through the growth I went through, and because I defined my Must Haves, Red Flags, and Boudaries and Expectations for myself that I was able to consistently come from a place of Confidence and High Value with FI when we hit stumbling blocks.
It’s amazing to me that I can look back and see exactly how the learning I did directly contributed to the health and love of the relationship I’m in today.
My takeway, I guess, is that I went from rock-bottom on my 30th birthday, to meeting FI on the eve of my 31st birthday, to engaged at 32 and married at 33.
But it didn’t happen by chance. That turnaround was because I tore myself down and built myself back up and learned through lots of trial and error over a long time and many short relationships and flings that I had to learn to view as valuable experience, not failures.
And, as a PP wisely pointed out, the better you make yourself, and the higher you raise the bar of your own expectations in men, the fewer guys will actually be good enough for you. So it will take more time and more work and more trial and error to find them.