05 December 2008

On being an unsuitable mate

Perhaps with another milestone approaching, I am given to bouts of self-reflection. And today's question is age-old. Why is it that I am so unlucky in love? And not so much unlucky in love as unlucky in finding love? This one has been ongoing for some time. Decades, in fact. This sort of self-analysis is difficult, for it is sometimes hard 1) to see one's self clearly and objectively, and 2) to face the hard realities of what is seen. Loads of things have changed from when I first became interested in men, but one stark reality has characterized the continuum: I have never felt more incompetent in any facet of my life than I have in attracting members of the opposite sex, nor have I so consistently failed at anything in my life. And I often wonder if there is anything I have sought more urgently or ardently.

From the moment I noticed boys, I noticed they noticed girls unlike me. As a teenager, I was: athletic, tomboyish, and, in one of life's truly memorable ironies, flat-chested. I was, in fact, voted the flattest girl in the 7th grade. In any event, boys liked girls who weren't like me. And this was back in the day when I wasn't at all outspoken. In fact, I don't think I spoke until I was in the 10th grade. If I was smart then, I didn't know it.

And yet, I have heard people say that so-and-so was interested in me but I was just so smart. There must have been something they saw that I didn't that made even attempting a relationship seem futile. But I have heard some variation of that intelligence theme enough to have it nag at me as a problem I can't really fix. It's not like I walk around trying to lord my intelligence over people. I just like to talk about stuff. I thought almost everyone did. I thought other people liked to think about things and knock around ideas.

Take Guv for instance. Just today I was talking to him. I was no doubt droning on about something in the news or something I'd been thinking about or how my day was going and he stopped me and said, "what is your IQ?" I mean, who asks that? I don't think I've ever asked anyone that. Ever. Because really folks, let's be honest. I'm not that smart. Guv is a college graduate. He has a masters degree. I used to think I was kinda smart. You know, I could clear a Jeopardy board as long as they didn't have some lame-ass categories like Mythology or Parts of a Diesel Engine or something. Yes, I thought I was smart enough. Right up until the day I got a job at the Field Museum and I found out what smart really is.

When I was a kid, being independent was a sign of maturity, and I wanted more than anything to be seen as mature. Couple that with the fact that my father liked to think he was teaching us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and I'd have to say, he raised some pretty independent girls. But apparently, independence ain't sexy. The big complaint my husband had about me was that I didn't need him. I mean, I was single a long time before he came along and I had to learn to do a lot of guy things myself. Like fix things around the house and deal with car repairs. You get the picture. I have realized that I did need my husband. I needed him emotionally. Unfortunately, he couldn't provide. It was a lonely time. I'll leave it at that.

Despite never having dates, I never felt I wasn't worthy of dates. I don't think I suffered, ever, from a lack of self-confidence. In fact, I think I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I'm really straddling the fence whether sliced bread is all that and change back from a buck, comparatively speaking.

I don't think I have been all that accomplished in my life. I've never risen above lower middle-management and I have changed jobs and professions a lot. I'm in graduate school in middle-age for Pete's sake. I haven't exactly made my mark on any one industry. So I doubt that my accomplishments are intimidating anyone.

That leaves me with looks. Now, this is where things get cloudy. I always thought I was pretty enough, but it seems virtually impossible to be objective about one's own looks. I was able, in my youth, to attract one or two that I also found attractive, so I felt lucky that my attractiveness equaled my attraction. But with my youth slipping away (ok, humor me already), I am left to ponder the realities. If I was unable to attract a suitable mate when I had youth on my side, what chance do I have now of meeting Mr. Wonderful? In the face of such logic, it becomes increasingly difficult to concern myself with my looks. I do try. I haven't given up. But it is hard to stay motivated.

I will give you that I am outspoken. Whatever shell I lived under as a child, I crawled out of with one fist in the air as an adult. Maybe it was always having to scrape for my place in this world. Maybe it was the realization that no one was going to stick up for me. Maybe it was a refusal to be marginalized. In any event, I am perfectly capable of taking up for myself. Granted, not everyone thinks it is ladylike to hold your own in a political, scientific, or religious debate. I exhibit sound logic. Perhaps this is what is so wrong. I don't just allow the men to win.

It would seem that being self-confident, independent, self-reliant, smart, and average to slightly-better-than-average looking aren't enough to get you by in this world, romantically speaking. And if that's so, then what?

Do I resign myself to spending all my time alone? Do I go invest in some cats?

Guv says I'm just upset because I think that men should find brains and education sexy and they don't. No, Guv. It's not that. It's that brains and education are about all I've got these days and no one is buying.

I couldn't walk in a pair of 4" heels if my life depended on it. I'm not ever going to enjoy going dancing. Without medical intervention, I'm never going to have a thin waist. I never had one when I was 20. As things stretch and gravity works, you simply have to accept what you are.

I am alone as I have always been. And this is the great failure of my life.

1 comment:

  1. It sucks watching someone you care for hurt. (Having been there, I do realize that it also does suck more to hurt.)

    I'm sure exceptions can be named, but I have to say, it seems like your biggest "problem" is your self-possession. Normatively, men have problems with women who are smarter or more self-confident than them. It's especially disconcerting to meet a woman truly comfortable with herself; I find it disconcerting in a good way (because it's exceptional to find *anyone* truly comfortable with themselves), many men do not. I realized I was a bit different here when years ago I was excited because I was dating a woman quite a bit smarter than me, and since then, when I say how sexy I found it, other guys usually look askance.

    Also, having been in chemical engineering with a lot of women, my completely unfair rapid-generalization is that a number of them who did have long-term boyfriends had ones that were outside of ChemE -- because (in my soooo uninformed opinion) I think it was easier for them to deal with men who simply didn't expect to be as smart as them, or at least not as smart as them within the same field. And if I recall, research shows a huge predictor of marital problems is if the woman makes more money (which only approximately would correlate to if they were smarter).

    Being bookish -- "smart" -- set me apart from my peers as well, and indeed I was wholly left out of the "someone likes you" game but for 2 or 3 occasions (there may have been more, but I was at least left out of the part of game where people told you/gossiped about you in front of you about it). I think being the "smart guy" AND nice AND a black guy in white suburbia made dating life quite tough for me. Sounds like being the smart, self-possessed no-BS woman isn't much kinder.

    All the more reason to stay in academia, perhaps? Although many academics are full of themselves and feel challenged by rival intellects, I gotta also think that there are a higher number of guys into smart, hilarious, insightful, incisive broads here than on average.

    Anyway. I won't give you any of the platitudes that I'm sure you know by heart. But you know, you're pretty awesome, so sooner or later, I am 100% sure you'll find a pretty awesome dude worthy of you, for what it's worth (which I realize may not be much).