Ask Polly: Why Are the Guys I Date So Boring?

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Dear Polly,

Have you seen this, specifically the quote “no no youre not any good at this”?

That is how I feel about boys I’m meeting (most recently, through dating apps). I feel like they are flabbergastingly stupid. They don’t know how to kiss me or hold me, they seem really attached to their tribe of brother-friends, they don’t know how to establish a rapport with a novel stimulus (me). What they are good at is working and earning money. And keeping themselves so busy they don’t have time to think about anything. They take physical risks but seem to ignore emotional ones. This is weirdly attractive; I feel like I have a lot to learn from them about how to chill the fuck out but also get shit done. But they don’t seem to know what they want from me (maybe they want nothing at all from me). They don’t do anything other than poke at me randomly, hoping I will respond. They’ll ride any wave that I create. I literally want to grab all these boys by the shoulders and scream at them, “WHY ARE YOU SO FUCKING DENSE, this is NOT how you make friends/influence people,” but also, “I WANT YOUR D.”

The problem with being confident and thinking that I make the right decisions for myself is that I now assume every guy I actually allow to contact me online is worth the pursuit. Once I’ve deemed a man worthy to receive my attentions, I feel like a lioness on the prowl, a witch brewing up a potion to wickedly entice him to spend time with me. All parallel universes seem to live in my head; it’s up to me to enact the universe in which the boy and I take things to the next level.

Conversely, at night when I turn into a kitten, I feel that perhaps I’M the one woefully ill-equipped to date. I want to ask you if I’m looking for all the wrong things, but I don’t even know what I’m searching for anymore. I thought perhaps my expectations (someone who looks at me and thinks, for even half a second, Oh shit, I’m with this goddess of a girl, I can’t even believe she’s here) were too high because it takes time for such strong emotions to form. I lowered them. But all I learned is that I can talk myself into liking someone. And fuck, the guy I lowered my standards for didn’t even want to make out with me (I asked)! (To be fair, I wouldn’t want to make out with someone who lowered their standards for me, either.) The part of me that is beyond the kitten, that might actually just be a human mind-body complex, wonders, “Is there something wrong with me if no boy has loved me in a primordial, aching sort of way? Am I overlooking something?”

Polly, at this point, I’ve lost faith in my ability to discern the diamonds from the junk; should I go back to trusting my gut or do I need to reevaluate? Am I really getting super-unlucky and meeting all the idiots, or do you think I’m ignoring the ones that are worth keeping around? How do I *quickly* discern if a boy is worth keeping around?

Snark-Kitty Seeks … Something

Dear Snark Kitty,

When it comes to friendship, lowering your standards is very smart, particularly as you get older. People move away, people get busy, and friendships can be harder to come by. Plus, you’ll often discover that people you thought weren’t your type are actually incredibly interesting and they enrich your life in ways you couldn’t have predicted.

When it comes to guys, lowering your standards is often a mistake, because most of the time it’s based on the false belief that you will somehow be MORE worshipped and adored by someone who’s extra lucky to have you. WRONG. Sure, casting off long-held prejudices around looks and race is not just smart but powerful and life-changing. But lowering your overall standards in terms of personality or just general worthiness is a bad idea.

It’s understandable that we women would try, though. We get so goddamn tired of noncommittal dudes that we’re tempted to settle for someone who seems kind of average, because at least he’ll be amazingly devoted to us forever and ever. You know what I’ve found, though? If you think someone is ever so slightly mediocre, chances are he’s simply not your type or he doesn’t have the tools onboard to see you clearly, either. And guys you think are amazing, to the point of almost seeming out of reach, usually do have the tools to see you clearly and connect with who you really are. So aiming lower is not a solution.

These guys you describe are clearly not doing it for you. You just can’t understand these unthinking work-work-work-and-then-chill dudes. That doesn’t mean that they’re shallow or bad or worthless. They are the ideal kind of guy for some ladies. But they have nothing to offer YOU. They don’t see you the way you want to be seen. You probably don’t see them the way they want to be seen, either; you find them dull. You want to have sex with them, but that’s it.

After digging out my journal from my first year out of college for a column a few weeks ago, I’ve been rereading it here and there, and boy, have I learned a lot about my depressing life back then. I lived with my college boyfriend and spent all of my time with his friends, and let me tell you what, those people were perfectly smart and interesting, but they were not my people. Every single page of that journal is a testament to how out of place I was. I was a radish tossed into a sack of potatoes, trying hard to imitate a potato. “Why do these potatoes act like my bitterness and zing are a pain in the ass?” I’d wonder. “Who doesn’t love the almost-too-sharp taste of a Raphanus sativus? Am I going crazy? Why do they turn their eyes away from my bright-red color, and flinch like I’m not nearly potato-y enough? Why do they roll their eyes and look at each other whenever I get a little radishy?”

Now to be fair, in some ways, I saw potatoes as the rulers of the universe back then. They could just power-down their wild brains and focus on the concrete. They kept things simple. I thought maybe they were stupid or shallow at times, but really they were making a choice, the choice of reasonably happy people with reasonably happy, privileged childhoods who were destined to lead reasonably happy lives — lives that had very little in common with the life I wanted to live. They would simply amble optimistically forward with their careers and continue to do their low-key, easygoing, Grateful Dead–loving, Teva-wearing upper-middle-class professional dude and dudette thing.

And frankly, I myself was a little allergic to radishes! I was a radish with a radish allergy! Radishes were much harder to get along with than potatoes. Even though radishes said “Yes, yes!” when I talked instead of averting their eyes at my non-potato-y ways, they also had so many radishy words coming out of their mouths that they weren’t very good listeners. And they were so oversensitive! It was so easy to piss them off, and they’d TELL you when they got pissed, unlike the potatoes! Radishes wore their hearts on their sleeves, like I did when I was feeling weak, so as a result, they seemed weak to me. I thought I was better than them! I thought it was cooler not to be myself!

But mark my words: A radish cannot pretend among the potatoes forever. As a wise man once said, a radish who chases potatoes around and moves in with potatoes is an unhappy radish.

Learn to get along with men who are very smart and weird and sensitive like you are. And if you’re not already friends with radishy women, you’d better find some of them, too. Maybe do that first. Because what the fuck are you doing with all of these spuds? Why don’t you have a radish friend to tell you, “Dude, he’s a potato. What did you expect?”

It’s true that radishes can be inconvenient, with their complicated feelings and demands. Especially when you’re young. Young radishes are, nine times out of ten, super-taxing and dysfunctional. They see complications everywhere. They will get weird or talk too long about their artistic pursuits or disappear suddenly or advocate for open relationships (which is great if you also love open relationships, but personally, I prefer comfort and predictability over almost everything).

But when a radish meets another radish and they see each other clearly and support and love each other for their sharpness and their bitterness and their incomparable zing (yes, I am beating this metaphor into the ground. That’s what we radishes do!), it’s a beautiful thing. The very best of everything springs forth from that kind of primordial, aching radishy love.

Hold out for that. Don’t have sex so fast, either. Dig a motherfucker up and wipe the dirt off him and then LOOK AT HIM FOR A WHILE. Observe closely before you make plans to get into his twice-baked boxer briefs. If he’s a hardworkin’, simple, brother-friend-loving spud, shove him back into the ground with his brother-friend spuddies, and take your bright-red zing somewhere else.

Raise your standards and honor that zing. Honor it in your friendships, in your work, in your recreational time, in your love life. Honor it and pay attention to those who honor it. Once you do this, instead of learning to tolerate indifference, you will have to learn to tolerate attention — someone who looks you right in the eye and listens to you closely. (What’s he doing? Is he crazy? Is he a loser? Why does he care so much?) But don’t reject a radish just because his devotion feels weird, after your long potato famine. Remember, primordial aching feels weird at first, too. Surrender to the zing!


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All letters to become the property of Ask Polly and New York Media LLC and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

Ask Polly: Why Are the Guys I Date So Boring?