I'm in a cutthroat dating scene

All the women I meet are attached. Should I ignore that and start pursuing them?


Cary Tennis
November 13, 2006 5:00PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am a 27-year-old single male living in a city in New England with a large number of other highly educated young professionals. Strangely, after living here for over two years I have yet to find myself in any situations with the potential for a relationship.

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I have a wide social network, with many friends (both male and female), and get out often enough, but without fail every woman I meet is already in a long-term, committed relationship. What is even more frustrating is that many of them are in long-distance relationships, lasting for years, with men they almost never even see. In the rare instances when one does become single, it seems they are instantly reattached to another boyfriend, with almost no "down time" in which I can make any advances.

I have always assumed it was inappropriate to pursue a woman who was already attached. Yet, given these observations, that seems to be the only possible way that people are ever hooking up (otherwise they'd be single for much longer between relationships). In fact, I have heard many women say that they hate the idea of being single so much that they would never break up with anyone unless they had another man waiting in the wings.

My question is, should I just get over it and participate in this cutthroat social norm? I'm not sure I would even want to date somebody that viewed relationships this way (or loathed being single so much), but sometimes it seems like there is just no alternative.

Always in the Batter's Box

Dear Always in the Box,

You are in a slump. That's what this is, pure and simple. I admire your ethics and high-mindedness. But these people aren't unethical. They're just in the game. If you were in the game, you'd be doing the same thing. Only it wouldn't look like slimy unethical double-dealing; instead, it would look like complexity and ambiguity and difficult moral choices.

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If you weren't in a slump, some of these women with boyfriends out of town would be hitting on you. They would be forgetting to tell you about their boyfriends out of town. And if you had heard some vague mention of a purported boyfriend out of town, it would become a hazy notion in the newly bright and fluid consciousness that would flood your psyche because you would be getting some. If one of these women wanted you, she would let you know.

So I think what happened is this: You were rejected a few times. It was painful. It did not seem fair.

Naturally, being human, you want to minimize your hurt, so you frame the situation a certain way. It is humiliating to admit that we actually crave acceptance from people who will not give it to us. You want to minimize that humiliation; so rather than admit that you envy them and want their approval, it gives you some relief to examine their ethical failings and find them wanting; so you say to yourself that all this wanton screwing around is sordid and unseemly and unethical, and you would never do that, and you wouldn't even want a woman who would behave like that anyway.

But look at her. You don't want her? Of course you want her!

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The truth is: You can't have her! And that hurts!

You're not getting what you want! And they are! She's giving it to other people, not you! And that hurts!

The ethical stuff is secondary. What she decides to do in her personal life is her business, not yours. If you can take a minute to be honest with yourself, I think you will be able to admit that you are just having a hard time, you are getting rejected, you don't know why, things aren't going your way, you're down, and you're somewhat afraid now, too, afraid that this could keep on forever.

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Slumps are awful. But they end. I'm guessing if you're a young guy with a modicum of experience with women that you have been on the other end of this scenario at least once. Have you ever gone out with a woman who said at first that she had an out-of-town boyfriend, or that she had just broken up, or was "in the process" of breaking up?

Richie Ashburn says, "To cure a batting slump, I took my bat to bed with me. I wanted to know my bat a little better." Now, I'm not sure I understand really why that would work, but it gets at what I'm getting at. Now, in the figurative sense, guy-wise, you're always taking your bat to bed with you. But maybe not. Maybe you're not taking care of the bat. Or maybe you're not really loving the bat enough. Maybe you're not honoring what the bat wants when it sees the ball coming. Because the bat doesn't care what's fair. It doesn't care if the ball has another bat in St. Louis or Cleveland. It only cares about the one ball that's coming down that's however many feet it is from the pitcher's mound. That's the only thing the bat cares about.

Honor the bat. Honor the instinct. These women are just being honest. Don't look down at a woman for not wanting to be alone. You don't want to be alone either, you're just too hurt to admit it, too caught up in legalistic value-judging, as if it were more important to you to be right than to be loved. Well, let yourself be loved, right or wrong. Let yourself be wrong, and let yourself be loved, and love yourself a little too. Take that bat to bed with you and love it. And let other people love it too. You'll be back in the swing of things before you know it.

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