Good Guys, Bad Girls

“I need help finding a good one. I tend to chase the bad ones.”

If this had been said by me or any of my girlfriends, it would come as no surprise. As a former member of Dramaholics Anonymous, I was well versed in the bad ones. Potheads, compulsive liars, cheaters — those were my addiction and now, thankfully, part of a very distant past.

But this particular morsel of honesty came via e-mail from a high-school acquaintance who just happened to be one of those most attractive guys at my school and clearly wasn’t having any problems in that department in adulthood.

After joking that we may be two of the last people in our graduating class who haven’t gotten married yet, he told me he’s been having trouble finding a woman who wasn’t married, didn’t already have kids or didn’t come with a sizeable amount of drama.

And he isn’t alone.

Take Brian, a 22-year-old (albeit young but wise-beyond-his-years) friend of mine. In a recent conversation, Brian confessed that all he wants is a girl to take care of. A nice girl. Someone who doesn’t wear clear heels on a Friday night and whose idea of a good time doesn’t involve body shots. “You know, someone I can just curl up next to and make breakfast for in the morning. Someone I don’t have to worry is going to sleep with my roommate tomorrow.”

Or my friend Mike, who at 29 is tired of having to hold a girl’s hair back over the toilet at the conclusion of an otherwise fun evening.

Now, you can say these guys are responsible for the types of women they attract, but after surveying the scene here in Charlotte, I’m going to have to side with the boys. Ladies, before you get all up in arms about this, I’m not saying that there aren’t bad men out there. There are. Everywhere. But I guess I always just assumed that this kind of disappointment was primarily a female problem. And I think we all know what happens when you assume.

As women, we’re raised to believe that we’re the prize. That men are the ones who need to change, who are innately defective in this scenario. But being the fairer gender does not exclude us from common decency and otherwise respectable behavior. Before you head out for another weekend of pantyless bull riding — and later find yourself complaining that there are no good men out there — consider the fact that you may not be a good woman. Because there are good men. They just no longer want your kind of drama.

The Nature of the Beast

Guys are weird. Sure women exhibit some strange behaviors from time to time – mainly involving beauty tools that resemble medieval torture devices – but guys, too, have their own freakishly odd yet charming quirks if you observe them closely. You know, like primates at the zoo. Here are a few of my favorites:

Inside-out underwear
Because you only have to do laundry half as often if you wear ‘em twice as long.

Grunting while lifting weights
We get it: “Big. Strong. Man.” (Grr.) Next time I’m at the salon enduring a 3-hour highlight, I’m going to let out a barbarian-like wail when I bend over to pick up another copy of US Weekly.

Not using a washcloth
You know, for a gender that is terrified of dropping the soap, you’d think they would use a less risky route to cleanliness – although let’s not look the gift horse in the mouth, shall we? Statistical anomaly: Men who prefer the poof.

The handshake hug
Women hug. Men can’t be seen doing such things. The result: The handshake/pull-it-all-in-for-the-good-stuff move. I’ve tried this with some of my guy friends, and it really just ends up with someone inadvertently touching my boobs. Wait a minute…

The every-other movie seat arrangement
It’s true. In the absence of a female, men will leave an extra seat between one another in the theatre. Couples see movies together. Men just happen to be watching the same movie at the same time…in the same theatre. (Bro.)

Refusing to drink out of a straw
Next time you see a man drinking from a straw, please send me a picture. Not only do the men I know not drink out of straws, they are vehemently opposed to it. To the point where spilling a 32 ounce soda all over the floorboards of your car is way better than being seen daintily drinking from the cylinder of doom.

The butt slap
Because after all that effort to ensure and assert his masculinity, nothing says “man” like tapping another dude on the ass after he scores the game-winning point.

Ring a Ding

There are lots of things I notice first about a man: his eyes, his hair, his overall demeanor. His hands.

I know it sounds odd, but I can get an immediate sense about a person just from looking at their hands. Young, old, male, female: doesn’t matter. Strange? Perhaps. But whether you’re kind, hard-working, anxious or romantic, for reasons I’ll never understand, I can tell.

When it comes to men, however, one thing I never looked for while subconsciously surveying the terrain was a wedding ring — until recently. For women in their mid-to-late 20s, the realization that the pool of potential candidates is getting smaller is a sobering one. For most, it’s enough to send hordes of us into the wild in a husband-hunting frenzy. But for those of us who don’t have our eyes on the prize, it’s more an amusing observation.

Throughout different stages of our dating lives, my girlfriends and I have found ourselves asking common questions about the men we’d meet. Those first few months after college, it was whether or not he had a job. Now, it’s marriage. And in a few years, “Does he have any kids?” “Is he divorced?” or “Does he have a working hip?” will probably be commonplace conversation. But for now, it’s the quick glance of the eye to that ring finger. And if we can’t get a look, we’ll be asking.

This is particularly strange for me, since marriage has never really been top on my list of priorities. Sure, I have over romanticized the idea of it with every guy I’ve dated between the ages of 18 and, well … last year, but the truth is the notion of having to share a bed with, brush my teeth next to, and give up a significant portion of my prized “me” time to another person every day for the rest of my life kind of makes me want to purchase my own private island somewhere. Truth be told, I like my space. A lot. So I’m finding it increasingly humorous that my mind has been drifting toward a different set of digits these days — and wondering just how long I can revel in my independence before I may — just may — have to learn to cohabitate with another human being. Because while I’m not picking out a dress and china patterns quite yet, I’m starting to realize that this “whole life” I have to be married may actually be shorter than I thought.

When Men Were Men

Oh, how I long for the days when men were men: three-piece suits, a firm handshake, that look of gentlemanly awe as a beautiful woman enters the room.

Not ordering fat free salad dressing.

Call me crazy (and I know you will, Brotha Fred, thanks), but I want to be with a man who is a man.

Leave the calorie counting, coordinated socks and manicures to us. I’m all for some gender-bending overlap from time to time, but some roles exist for a reason.

While men are generally commended and encouraged to embrace some of the more typically feminine aspects of life (good communication skills, emotional transparency, showering daily – all of which I agree with), at the end of the day we still want to feel safe, stood up for, even pretty – none of which is possible when your man is one hair product away from being your new girlfriend.

But it’s not all styling goop and high-maintenance tendencies. What is most concerning is this new breed of man that has somehow evolved the capacity to think more than we do. I know. It seems impossible. But believe me when I tell you they do exist. And the outcome, much like some of you may feel about the “LOST” finale, is never good.

A few weeks ago a girlfriend of mine ended a brief relationship with a guy she had been seeing for about a month. Thrown for a loop about her decision, he dramatically told her to get out of his car (where the conversation took place), then obsessively sent her petty email after email relentlessly asking her to explain.

I, too, found myself in a similar situation once, but instead of emails the text messages were flying so fast I literally couldn’t reply in time before another popped up. I eventually gave up, not wanting to add fuel to the fire.

In both cases, these men had previously been known to phone us on occasion to over-analyze miniscule details of the relationship – everything from excessive concern about new-relationship doubts to accusatory questions about who we’d “really” eaten dinner with the night before. And in both cases, my girlfriend and I were left scratching our heads.

Where did these men come from?

Maybe our experiences had more to do with our former partners’ anger management issues than gender role reversal. (After all, I’m not particularly keen on equating borderline insanity with feminine emotion.) But, guys, on the whole, we prefer you to be the emotionally stronger sex. Not to say that we can’t handle it, but it’s bad enough trying to control the flurry of thoughts running through our own heads every five seconds without your worry or irrationality adding to it.

Psychologists call this phenomenon “folie a deux”: A condition in which symptoms of a mental disorder, such as the same delusional beliefs or ideas, occur simultaneously in two individuals who share a close relationship or association.

Now substitute “mental disorder” for emotional temperament. Same result.

In a relationship, one person must think less than the other. It simply won’t work any other way. And given how our minds are intrinsically built, it seems that men are more often – although clearly not always – best suited for this position. Ideally, it would be great if we could all learn to mutually create calm seas rather than catastrophe, but until then, we’d like you to take the helm.

Whoa, Tiger

Guys, I’ll admit it. We women are a fickle breed.

Play too hard to get, and we think you’re rude, insensitive, or flat out disinterested. Too persistent, and you’re as creepy as a mustachioed man in an ice cream truck.

I do not envy you.

If you already have a girlfriend and are in that ooey-gooey “I totally want to marry you” stage, what follows does not apply to you. You’re pretty much home free to do whatever you want. Go ahead. Text her 72 times a day. Call her after every major meal or commercial break during the big game. Odds are she hasn’t stopped thinking about you since the last time you hung up (“No, you hang up first. No, YOU hang up first!”), and your friends have already begun filing missing persons reports since the two of you mysteriously dropped off the face of the planet… and into each other’s arms.

These things are commonplace after you’ve established some kind of legitimate relationship - especially in those first couple months. But until you get there, tread lightly. Very lightly. (But not too lightly…) We want you to step up to the plate - not overrun the bases.

So, how much is too much?

Unfortunately, your creep factor is going to be dependent on the woman - and her level of interest - but there are still a few major no-nos that will take any woman from swoon to too-much-too-soon before you tell her you’ve named your unborn children.

1. The “I miss you” text
Also related: The premature “I love you.” How long have you known each other? Three days? I know it feels like love, but so does eating the perfect cheesesteak.

2. In case of amnesia
True story: Girlfriend of mine meets divinely handsome guy. Guy asks girl out. Girl says yes. Guy requests a picture of her in case he forgets what she looks like between now and date. Girlfriend asks me if this sounds weird. I’m sorry, what will he be doing with that picture, again?

3. Gifts galore
Small (read again: small) tokens of affection are cute. A single flower or a funny card (minus the hand-written love poem) shows that you are thoughtful and have a sense of humor. A dozen roses or one of those large, egg-shaped balloons with a stuffed bear inside? … Will only make her want to trade places with the bear.

4. “Random” sightings
“Wow! Funny seeing you here!” Is it? Is it funny? You know what’s not funny? A restraining order.

5. Calling her at work
Whether she’s serving French fries or mingling with the suits and ties, if you can’t cool it for a few hours without hearing from her, congratulations: You’ve earned yourself Stage Five Clinger status.

6. Meet the parents
It is quite unfortunate you two just happened to have met the week of Thanksgiving/Earth Day/(fill in obscure holiday here) and your mom, dad and great aunt Millie will be arriving in town this afternoon. One spot at the dinner table that won’t be filled: hers.

7. Annoying alternatives
She had to cancel your date Monday night and was somewhat vague as to why. You offer up Thursday or Friday instead. She says she has to check her calendar. You say Wednesday or Saturday lunch could work, too. She says she’ll call you later this week. You say maybe beers by the pool on Sunday? She’s… exhausted.

8. Liking her too much
OK, OK. I realize this is the big Catch 22. The one that twists your brain into Rubik’s cube-like confusion until you give up all hope and swear off women altogether. What I’m talking about here are the freakishly excited exclamations of affection to your peers that leave us feeling more like a prized piece of arm candy than an actual prospective mate. Examples: “Hey guys, look! It’s my girlfriend!” and “Yes! I’m really dating her! Can you believe it?”

Funny. We just asked ourselves the same thing.

Unwifeable

In honor of the new book “Undateable: 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won’t Be Dating or Having Sex,” I decided to poll various members of the male species to see what they consider female deal-breaker behavior. After reading their responses, and getting a few “Save me!” glances lately from men on the street, I’m thinking this may be long overdue.

Don’t worry – “Sex and the City” marathons didn’t make the list.

Here are the top 10 that did:

1. Smoking
Ladies, men don’t like it when you smoke. Quite frankly, no one does. Truth is, you smell. Yes, you. All of you. And it’s not just you that literally stinks – so does your lack of reverence for your overall health.

2. Drugs/Excessive Drinking
See above. Add a splash of embarrassing and irresponsible behavior, lack of motivation and a total disconnection from reality, and you’d have to be on drugs to not see they’re major turn-off. Men want to be your boyfriend, not your babysitter or bail bondsman. The only commitments you should be making are to each other – not the rehabilitation clinic.

3. Jealousy
See Also: Disproportionate Irrationality. Listen, women are emotional. We get it. Men, however, often do not. But that does not relieve you of the responsibility of keeping your emotions in check. You want to challenge your boyfriend – not make his life challenging. For the betterment of your relationship and the perception of our entire gender, it would behoove you to get a grip every once in a while.

4. Excessive Vanity/Makeup
NEWS FLASH! Guys actually want you to look like yourself – a version of yourself that doesn’t require weekly trips to the spa for peels, pedicures and whatever-the-heck else you’re doing. Also related: Speaking like a Valley girl (Ohhhh my GAH!) and designer purses (It’s real! Look at the lining!)

5. Massively Low Self-Esteem
Plain and simple: Your boyfriend is not your therapist. Period. If you need one, get one. Men do not exist simply to fulfill an unacknowledged void in your life, and complaining about yourself is, in fact, not an actual form of conversation (not to mention, extremely unattractive).

6. Intelligence (or lack thereof)
Time to hit the books! Men want a woman who can actually hold a conversation and (gasp!) know what she is talking about. And we’re not just talking about who’s getting paid most on Jersey Shore.

7. Sense of Entitlement
Also known as: Daddy’s Little Girl Syndrome. Symptoms include insatiability, whining, stubbornness, aggressive demands and pouting. Behaviors no girl over the age of four should exhibit – ever.

8. Debt
You, big spender, are a sham. You’re living so far outside your means, you’re not even in the same zip code. Unless you plan on moving back sometime soon, the only long-term relationship you’ll be having is the one with your bill collector.

9. Messiness
Think your habits will never be as disgusting as a man’s? Think again. Sure we’ve all seen barbaric beer cans in the shower and skid-marked boxers strewn about a bathroom floor, but any woman who has lived with other women knows of the filth we, too, are capable. Grab the Clorox and get to work.

10. Pet Obsession
Fi Fi and Schmoopy do not look so cutsey-wootsey in their wittle matching booties. Dogs are good for running and jumping and sniffing each other’s butts. They also, thankfully, make great companions. They are not, however, glorified Barbie dolls. And if you must have a cat, keep it to one. Your man only has room for one high-maintenance animal in his life – and it’s (barely) you.

Calling It Quits

I’ve been in a lot of relationships. Some short-term, some long-term and some simply way too long, one of the benefits of dating is not just learning the ins and outs of being in a relationship - but also how to get out of one gracefully. I’d like to tell you that there’s a secret formula for calling it quits, like taking the square root of the number of relationships you’ve been in, divided by your age, minus the number of bridesmaids you will have at your future wedding - but it’s not that simple. Trust me. If it was based anything on numbers, I would have written the book on this a long time ago.

What it does seem to be based on, however, is a willingness to learn about yourself from those past experiences. Acquiring the self-awareness that breeds a certain kind of wisdom and trust in yourself required to know when to let go. And through this strengthening of self, and the careful refinement of your standards that inevitably results, saying goodbye doesn’t have to be the roller coaster it once was.

Let’s assume you’re the bearer of this bad news. Telling someone you don’t like them anymore is one of the trickier aspects of dating - right up there with telling someone how much you do. Any kind of candid disclosure that involves the expression of feelings - or lack thereof - isn’t exactly the type of thing that rolls easily off the tongue for some people. But in either case - if not more so in this one - it is always best to be honest.

But there’s no need to be harsh.

For example, “Honey, I don’t love you anymore - but I love your dog/cat/fish/uncle/car/sister/mom” may not be the most tactful way to go about this. But to each his own.

Effectively and compassionately communicating your disinterest in someone is not only necessary out of fairness for yourself and the person involved, it is a sign of emotional maturity.

As is gracefully receiving such news.

The easiest way to deal with receiving love’s harsh realities is simply to re-frame it in your head. This person isn’t condemning you to a lifetime of lovesick hurt, anger, bitterness, jealousy and rage, he is freeing you to be with someone else who actually will love you. So when you’re done feeling all of the above - which, by the way, is best expressed to your dog/cat/fish/uncle/car/sister/mom rather than the person himself - find it in yourself to forgive him. Heck, even thank him. (But again, I recommend probably also keeping this one to yourself, lest look like a passive aggressive maniac.) Then, move on.

Whether you’re nearing the end of a casual encounter or something long-term, just remember it’s not supposed to be easy. With a little re-framing, self-assessment and faith in the future, you’ll see you’re just one step closer to the one who’s meant to be.

Making Arrangements

I think I’m done with dating. No, really, check this out: 40 to 50 percent of all first marriages in America end in divorce. Compare that to anywhere from 2 to 10 to 20 percent for arranged marriages, and suddenly I’m thinking more matchmaker, less Maggiano’s.

In my opinion, a major cause for this commitment catastrophe is that people fail to realize that love is a choice. Not the kind of choice that would lead one to, say, pluck a random, unassuming person off the street to marry, but the kind that acknowledges that the whole business of falling in love can sometimes lead us to have unreasonable expectations and face epic disappointment once we’ve landed back on our feet. And all too often we’re too shell-shocked from the fall to put in the real work necessary to make true love last.

One of the reasons arranged marriages (read: not “forced marriages”) seem to succeed, however, is because they eliminate this seemingly inevitable curse of courtship. They are based on sheer compatibility and mutual agreement. Sure there are other reasons for the lower separation rate, such as sometimes associated cultural beliefs against divorce that prevent women from speaking up when locked in troubled marriages - which I absolutely do not condone nor do I consider by any means “successful.” But, as I recently read somewhere, you still can’t deny that sometimes “individuals can too easily be influenced by the effects of love to make a logical choice.”

Guilty as charged.

So, if this whole dating thing is based on delusion anyway, maybe it’s time to blow right past it and cut to the chase. I mean, if it worked for our grandparents’ generation, why not ours?

Ante Up

In the immortal words of pop-culture writer, genius and personal savior Chuck Klosterman, relationships are essentially one big power struggle. Whoever likes the other person less is the one with all the power.

“The problem is that the situation is almost always tragically unbalanced. Inevitably, one of the people has been in love with the other since the day they met, while the other person is either (a) wracked with guilt and pressure, or (b) completely oblivious to the espoused attraction.”

My problem is, I can’t disagree with him. This is, indeed, how the world works. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s right. Sure, you want to be the one holding all the cards – if you’re a complete coward.

Games are rarely won on a safe bet, and relationships aren’t about sleight of hand or stacking the deck in your favor. It’s about looking at your meager two pair against his straight flush and laying it all on the line. And if he likes you back, odds are, he’ll fold.

But if he doesn’t, then it could be that he’s more interested in winning than winning you. And you have to ask yourself if you really want to be with someone like that anyway. If I had a dollar for every time I professed my love for someone who was more interested in hoarding his chances than actually taking one, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But at least I played the game.

Of course, sometimes you end up acquiring all the cards by less strategic means. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of possessing lesser feelings than my partner – but definitely not by choice or as a result of any kind of conscious manipulation. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw.

In the end, I suppose the best we can hope for is finding someone removed from the game entirely. Or maybe just move to another table.

Standard Treatment

I’ve recently encountered a problem in my pre-marital bliss. One of the benefits of being single for an extended period of time means that I have finally acquired the self-worth necessary to actually adhere to my standards. (Yes, I suppose there are worse problems to have.) And it turns out they are quite… specific.

To cut myself a little bit of slack, I prefer to call them “carefully cultivated criteria.” This doesn’t mean I’m inflexible; I’m just saying I’m finally respecting and honoring my choosiness. Because after a decade of dating and doing no such thing – with little success – I definitely owe it to myself to do just that.

For example, this ideal man should sport effortless scruff, possess an adequate degree of grocery shopping goofiness, be artistic but ambitious, be secretly slightly introverted when necessary, doesn’t need me to tell him that those pants look bad on him, doesn’t yell, is really patient, doesn’t partake in excessive forms of inebriation, takes initiative and has integrity, is hopelessly romantic but not cheesy or clingy, may also enjoy being slightly pretentious about bands and/or movies and/or craft beers no one else has heard of yet (or at least have a genuine curiosity about such things), is kind of a geek, enjoys playing with girls’ hair until said girl falls asleep, will let me win at Mario Kart – but in a way that leaves me convinced I actually won, doesn’t do the “thumb thing” or the “finger point” when he dances, etc., etc.

*Men, feel free to apply.*

I am, of course, bringing these up in jest, as I realize some - if not most - aren’t exactly the building blocks of a legitimate, long-term relationship. But there are some new major qualities of substance in addition to these that I have decided I absolutely refuse to enter a relationship without.

One is the simple act of being appreciated, and being with someone willing to find the way to best make you feel that way. For years I’ve been saying it’s important to be with someone you admire, which is true, but who is admiring you? Everyone needs to feel valued; it’s an indispensable part of your emotional health. And when you’re not getting that basic need from your significant other, it should throw up some immediate red flags. It took the experience of being friends with someone who makes me feel appreciated every time I talk to him to realize just how much I wasn’t being appreciated in the past. And now that I know what it feels like, I can’t fathom how I could possibly settle for anything less.

So while I may have quite a long, inarguably picky list, I’m still a firm believer that the best way to find the person who is right for you is by being honest about who you are, and what you want and need. There is no greater power than taking control of your own happiness. Even if it does have some unusual requirements.