Love categories

Going out with handsome heartbreakers always ends in disaster. But I usually find some reason to reject the geeky, adoring guys. What to do?

By Cary Tennis
Published December 17, 2002 8:34PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm in my early 30s, and until recently, my dating life has mostly consisted of brief relationships with handsome, social, confident, charismatic men. These men are fabulous for about three weeks (three months if I'm lucky), and then they decide I'm lacking in some way and they move on, leaving me devastated. I've also had my share of kind and adoring admirers who aren't quite so handsome and charming, and are perhaps a bit geeky -- I've dated them too, but after about three weeks, I've generally felt an uncontrollable urge to move on. I've always suspected I should give the nice guys more of a chance, if I ever want to have a real relationship (and I very much want that).

Several months ago, I met a man in Category 2 -- adoring, thoughtful, nice -- but his social skills aren't stellar, and he doesn't exactly ooze sex appeal, like all those Category 1 guys. I gave him (and us) a chance, stifled the urge to flee, and now we've been in a serious relationship for six months. It would be great if I could say that I've learned to love being with a guy who thinks I'm terrific, who wants to work on the relationship, who tells me all the time how much he loves me, and who wants a future with me. And I definitely appreciate all that, but most of the time, my head is swarming with thoughts of all the ways that my boyfriend just doesn't measure up. It's awful. I pick on him and nag him, and obviously he gets upset because I'm so critical. I hate being like that. About 90 percent of the traits that drive me so nuts are little things -- he's too skinny, or he has poor table manners (which are improving, after all my nagging!). Ten percent could be something to worry about -- he is cold and unsmiling with people he doesn't know (which, of course, is a lot of people), he's driven and intense and he's argumentative and kind of a jerk after he's had a few drinks.

Or, it could be that I'm just desperately looking for a whole bunch of reasons to break up with him, because this is my pattern, and I'm sabotaging any chance of ever being in a healthy relationship. People who know both of us think that we're a great couple, and that he's a catch. But I can't tell you that I'm madly in love with this man. I feel like I should be by now, and that worries me. I do feel a strong bond with him, and he seems like family. I miss him when he's not around. But it's hard to fall in love with him when I've got this constant voice in my head, saying he's just not as "cool" as all those Category 1 men.

Do you think there's any way I can stop criticizing and start seeing the good? Or is this a sign that he's not right for me? Is it possible to fall in love with him, after all of this? I really don't think I have the stamina to go back to a life of thrilling and short flings with every sexy and exciting guy who crosses my path. I'm ready for something more mature.

Picky, Picky, Picky

Dear Picky,

I don't feel optimistic about your lukewarm relationship; if you've got to talk yourself into it, that's just sad. Don't even pretend. You sound like the kind of woman who won't be satisfied until you capture a Category 1 man. So instead of giving up and compromising, why not try to change your mating habits?

First of all, the next time you meet a Category 1 man you're attracted to, don't go to bed with him. Instead, have dinner. Over dinner, ask him questions like, "Where did you grow up? What school did you go to? What kind of car did your parents drive? Did you ever break a bone? Chip a tooth? Have a third-grade crush?" Grill him. Let him drink as much as he likes, but you yourself, don't you have more than two drinks. After dinner, tell him that you're interested in him and you're attracted to him but you want to go slow. To prove it, give him a long, slow kiss.

Don't pursue him. Don't call. Put him out of your mind. If you see another Category 1 man, have dinner with him. Ask him questions about his brothers and sisters, and where they lived when they were 6. Don't sleep with him. Just have dinner, two drinks, twirl a spit of hair with your finger, ask questions. Look into his eyes while he's talking.

While he's talking, ask yourself if you like anything at all about this man other than his bone structure. Ask yourself how you feel. Keep doing this, the long, slow kisses, the probing questions about elementary school, the two-drink maximum. Don't sleep with any Category 1 men. If one does call back, ask yourself if you really enjoyed being with him the last time. If you enjoyed it, make another date. If you didn't enjoy being with him in a vertical posture, do not proceed to the horizontal. If you did enjoy being with him, repeat the dinner, the elementary school questions, the two-drink maximum until you know the first names of his parents, what he minored in at college and whether he ever broke a bone falling out of a tree. Ask yourself if you laugh when you're with him. Ask yourself if he treats you well. Ask yourself if your dad would like him.

If none of the Category 1's call back, it might indicate that you have been unwittingly providing to the men of your community, absolutely free, the kind of service that they usually have to pay for. There ought to be civic awards for such altruism but there aren't. They ought to take up a collection for you but they won't. Because nobody has really spoken out loud the terms of the agreement.

That could be what's going on, or I could be totally off base in my assumptions. You might not even be sleeping with these Category 1 men. (There's always so much guessing involved in this job!) It could be that men are leaving you over and over again because, after a few weeks or a few months, they feel as though neither of you knows the other, that there is some strange, fundamental emptiness between you because neither of you has learned anything about the other because neither of you is uncool enough to admit that you still tear up when you hear your high school fight song, or that you ran for treasurer of the debate club and lost.

I think that you can have the hot physical attraction, but it alone will not support a relationship. Rather than discard it, though, what you need to do is learn to have an actual relationship with a Category 1 man. The above steps are intended to aid you in that goal.

Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

Cary Tennis

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