You feel sad when you see couples walking down the street holding hands. You wonder how that unattractive girl found a handsome man like that when you can’t keep a boyfriend longer than two months. At every family gathering, the same questions are asked, “Honey, haven’t you met anybody yet? I just don’t understand why a smart, pretty, sweet girl like you isn’t married?” You know what they’re really saying to you is, “What’s wrong with you that you can’t find a man to love you?” Sometimes you ask yourself the same thing.
Before you give up and declare yourself single forever or settle for that nice neighbor guy Joe who just doesn’t ring your chimes, find out the many reasons women like you can’t find the man of their dreams, and what to do about it.
1. You Choose Unavailable Men
When you meet him, he’s eager to get together with you and there’s no clue he’s an unavailable man. In fact, he can’t seem to get enough of you. Then, it all starts when he doesn’t return a phone call, or he cancels plans with you so he can go out with his buddies, or he doesn’t show up for a date. When you ask him what happened, he doesn’t have a good answer, so you let it go and hope it doesn’t happen again. What you find out later surprises you, i.e. that he has a drinking or drug problem and was on an all night binge; OR he’s not really divorced yet and spent the evening with his ex-wife-to-be; OR now that he feels he’s got you and the pursuit is over, he’s taking you for granted; OR he’s mad about something you did last week he never told you about and is avoiding you. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is because he’s just proven himself and “unavailable man.” Once again this is happening to you again and you don’t understand why.
After Marcy’s divorce, she went through a string of unavailable men who led her to believe the breakup was all her fault. But Rob was the worst. Their relationship was off and on for three years. Just when Marcy felt they were getting really close, Rob would say, “I had a great time this weekend, but remember, we’re just dating and I don’t think of this as a long-term relationship.” Each time, his rejection felt like a knife to her heart. And each time Marcy would try harder to win him over. Like many women, the more he rejected her, the more she wanted him so she could prove to him she was good enough.
What Marcy didn’t understand was that it wasn’t about her not being good enough. Instead, Rob was a commitment phobic man who couldn’t be available to any woman long-term. When she thought about the fact that he was 40 and never married, she realized this and decided to tell him she knew it wasn’t her. I helped her write him a letter that pointed out his flaws, called him cold and insensitive, and told him that she no longer wanted him in her life. She told him to never call her again.
To her surprise, three weeks later, Rob sent her a bouquet of flowers with an invitation to dinner. She reluctantly went, but held onto her attitude with him. He apologized and admitted his fear of intimacy. Then he suggested they move in together, offering the possibility of marriage at a later time. Although this is what she always wanted to hear, she had changed her mind after writing the letter and realizing what was wrong with him. She knew now that without some serious therapy, Rob would probably bail again.
2. You’ll Will Settle for Nothing Less than a 10!
When you meet a man, it’s not long before you’re looking for that fatal flaw – and you usually find it. As you get to know someone, you want him less and less. You think there are good reasons too: the way he handles his ex-wife, his bad table manners, he doesn’t dress the way you want him to, he doesn’t make as much money as you do. You know you’d feel like you were settling if you married any of these men. You pride yourself on being picky, but the truth is that no “real” man can ever measure up to your fantasy.
You may be a perfectionist whose expectations of him are even greater than those for yourself. Give yourself a reality test right now. Stop reading this and make a list of qualities you want in a man. Don’t read any further until you’ve done this or you’ll spoil the test. Now, go back and mark an “X” next to the qualities that you yourself have. Each quality that you don’t have, you can’t expect him to have. [If you do, you’re really looking for someone to take care of you instead of a partner in life.] Women always say to me, “What’s wrong with wanting someone who makes more money than I do or who is a stronger person?” Because you’re looking for an image of a man from the movies, a Superman, not a “real person” if this is what you want. Unrealistic expectations often come from a history of being around unemotional men whom you have perceived as “strong,” such as a father or brother.
To learn to accept men and their human qualities, choose the most perfect man you know and try to take him off the pedestal. Let’s say it’s a relative. Search for his imperfections. Ask other family members what his issues are. What do you think his employees or boss think of him? Ask his wife, or better yet, ex-wife or ex-girlfriends. Find the chink in his armor. If you have the courage, which I hope you do, confront him with this information and tell him you used to have him on a pedestal, but now realized he’s just a normal guy with flaws like everyone else.
3. You’re a Husband Hunter
Each time Wendy meets a man, she hears wedding bells, pictures herself moving in, and hears the pitter patter of little feet. With each man, her question is, “Is he marriage material?” She looks only at his financial accomplishments, his stability, and his eagerness to be married. Not that these are bad things, but her eagerness and focus on the marriage instead of the man usually scares him away.
Wendy is an attractive, petite, 38-year-old paralegal who has been through more men than most women ever hope to meet. Yet none have ever proposed. What Wendy doesn’t realize is that men feel her desperation and it’s not attractive. It takes time for two people to invest emotionally and connect and Wendy never allows for that to happen.
If you’ve been husband-hunting like Wendy, you need to change your tactics. Don’t put all your eggs in any basket until he has committed to you first. Try dating several men at once, even possibly some men with no real long-term potential. Learn to take the pressure off and have fun with a man. Besides, you need to evaluate each one and instead of trying to convince him that you’re the one for him, ask, “Is he really the man for me?” At some point, you’ll probably find one you actually bond with and will end up married to the “right” guy.
4. You’ve Become Too Complacent
On the weekend, you’d rather get a bottle of wine and curl up on the couch with your cat and videos than go out and look for Mr. Right one more time. You’ve accepted the fact that you’ll probably never marry. You’re certainly not happy about it, but like 27-year-old business owner Maureen, you’re tired of trying. Maureen gave in to food as a replacement for nurturing and sex, and gradually just let herself go. She gets disgusted when she looks at herself in the mirror, but sighs, “What’s the point?”
Maybe you’re more like Kelly, the workaholic, who at forty-one was recently promoted to hospital administrator and puts all of her energy into her career. Whether you relate to Maureen or Kelly, you can’t remember what’s it’s like to go out and meet someone and have him take you out on a date. And you’re not even sure you care anymore whether it ever happens again.
This is an easy trap to fall into. But after a few months of prodding in therapy, Kathleen and Peggy both decided that their future husbands weren’t going to knock their doors down to find them, so they began to take some action. Kathleen is taking charge of her life by signing up for a yoga class, and Peggy decided to stop giving all of her time and energy to her job. Both reached out to old friends and began meeting new people.
If you’ve become too complacent about the whole dating situation, you also need to take some action. To break out of this rut (and it is a rut), make a pact with yourself to call some old friends (and some new acquaintances as well) and set up at least one outing per week that will get you back into circulation.
5. You’ve Started Acting Like a Man
When you meet a man you’re attracted to, he never knows it. Your cool, aloof attitude may look like confidence to your friends, but to men, it simply looks like coldness. You’ve been hurt so many times that you’ve developed a wall built on fear, so you act like you don’t care.
Samantha is an attractive, albeit large 32-year-old interior designer. She intimidates almost every man she meets. On some level she enjoys it, but deep inside she feels lonely and unloved. Early on she learned it wasn’t safe to be vulnerable or feminine with a man. Every time she tried to let her guard down, she heard, “You’re not the strong woman I thought you were!” So she began to act as tough as the men around her. Now if she does meet a man, Samantha attracts only two kinds—those who want her to take care of them (because she’s so strong), and those who want to compete with her (like men do). Both types of men expect her to be strong, and she seldom disappoints them. But she’s tired of dating men she has to take care of or men who want to fight with her. She desperately wants a man who would let her fall into his arms and he would take care of her. However, when she shows this side of her, she comes across as needy because her emotional needs haven’t been met in so long, that she scares them away.
Acting like a man at work probably works well for you, but you’re carrying it into your personal life and it doesn’t work there. When you go out with friends, you need to switch into your feminine personality. If you go out after work, take a sexy blouse or pair of chandelier earrings and higher heels to change into. Make a deal with your girlfriends that there will be no talk about work. Have a ritual with yourself such as, “With my first glass of wine, I am no longer a business person and will let my feminine personality out. You’ll attract a different type of man because you are no longer intimidating. And you’ll also be more likely to bond with him because you’ll have more fun!
6. You Suffer from, “I have to wait until …
I have to wait until …… I lose some weight, finish this project, get that promotion, get in shape ……then I’ll start looking for a relationship. You don’t think you’re good enough to join in the dating game the way you are now. From time to time you’ll go out with a man you wouldn’t consider marrying because you feel comfortable with him. Your low self-esteem keeps you from spending time with men who are real potentials. You tell your friends and co-workers who try to fix you up that you’ll soon be ready to date again, but that day never comes.
Anne, who loves to give her friends advice on THEIR dating problems, always plays the “I’ll have to wait until…” game. When I first met her, she was working 80 hours a week as an attorney and was too tired to date. She also used the excuses of “ten more pounds to lose,” “after this class is over,” and “when this project is finished at work.” Her latest one was she’d have to wait until she got back from her month-long trip to Europe, “After all, you don’t want to meet someone and then be gone,” she reminds me. In the meantime, she spends time with a married male “friend” of hers, knowing the relationship can’t go anywhere. The truth is that Anne doesn’t really believe she deserves to have a man of her own.
If you’re like Anne, you need to stop procrastinating, and give yourself a deadline. If you haven’t lost the weight or the project isn’t finished by that date, you promise yourself that you have to go out to meet men anyway. Start by going out with friends, or join a singles club, or call someone you’re interested in and ask him out for coffee. And – stop believing your own excuses.
7. You’re Still in Love with An Ex
You may still be hung up on an ex and not even know it – especially if he broke up with you (you may still feel rejected). Because of this, you may be an “unavailable woman.”
Sarah is an excellent example. She couldn’t get past three months dating any man, and didn’t know why. One day she was talking about an old boyfriend from six years ago and burst into tears. Her pain was incredible – as if it happened last week. She detailed how she had given up her career and friends in Denver to move to D.C. to be with him. After she was there living with him, he insinuated that she would never be good enough to be his wife, only his girlfriend. She finally got the courage to leave after he had insulted her again and again, but she couldn’t get over it. It was keeping her in limbo emotionally. To work through this unfinished business, I asked her to prepare a “Goodbye – it wasn’t my fault letter.” She expressed her anger, criticizing the way he handled everything, reminding him that he was wrong about her, and telling him she was now glad the relationship had ended. Even though she didn’t totally believe her letter at first, she wrote it and read it again and again until she did. She finally believed it so much she mailed it and was able to move on in her life.
8. You’re Jaded
When a man tells you you’re beautiful, you ask him what he wants. If he says he loves you, you laugh and ask, “For how long? Tonight?” You assume love never lasts, so you break all the rules and have sex too soon, choose inappropriate men, and often reject a man before he gets a chance to reject you. Marilyn’s jaded attitude is always there the morning after she has sex with a new man. She’s so tired of men making promises they don’t keep that she has no expectations and acts like their intimate time together meant nothing to her. Unknowingly, the way she sets the situation up is what keeps men from ever coming through for her.
Changing this attitude requires taking responsibility for one’s own behavior. Marilyn didn’t see what she was doing until a man she was throwing out the door the morning after sex pleaded to her, “Couldn’t we have some breakfast together and just talk for awhile? I really like you.” Though it’s what she wanted to hear, she couldn’t trust it. But it did make her think about what she was doing.
Because Marilyn’s attitude is so jaded and negative, she doesn’t allow anything good to happen in her relationships. She thinks she’s protecting herself from pain, but she’s lying to herself. She still longs for love and intimacy, but never lets a guy close enough to her for her to get it.
What Marilyn needs to learn is how to hold men accountable by setting boundaries with them. She needs to start by making rules for herself about dating, such as: no sex until the fifth date, no “hanging out” with guys, they have to date me, and no “waiting’ for phone calls, just make other plans. With good boundaries, men are less likely to hurt her.
If you are jaded and/or don’t set good boundaries with men, try this exercise to put you ahead of the game: Make a list of men who’ve hurt you. Write down what boundary you should have set with each one to possibly change the outcome of each situation (but don’t blame yourself). These boundaries might include: Not letting the relationship move so quickly, not giving up your own friends, standing up to him about his parents’ interference, continuing to date other men until he committed. Make a plan to set boundaries about how you want to be treated with the next man, and start immediately next time. Try changing your own behavior and you may discover a different outcome with men – and that jaded attitude may just go away.
9. You Have the “Princess” Syndrome
You see beautiful women with diamonds on their fingers who are wined and dined, and that’s what you want. Forget the “average” relationship most people settle for. Like my grandmother said, “It’s as easy to marry a millionaire as it is a poor man.” But you’re still waiting for yours. You’ve met some rich guys along the way, but none of them have really panned out. You sure have enjoyed the ride though – the trips, the exciting people, the lifestyle!
That’s exactly how 33-year-old Bonnie feels. A gorgeous blonde who has already had a face-lift and liposuction, Bonnie always has some rich man chasing her. That’s just the way she wants it. If a man isn’t putting more energy and money into the relationship than she is, she doesn’t think he really cares. Then she met Max – a self-made millionaire who wined and dined her and bought her a new car – and she almost married him. However, the longer they were together, the scarier the situation became. Max began to boss her around, show up late for dates, and verbally abuse her – until she finally broke it off. This was the story of her life: she met a rich man who wined and dined her, she fell for him, then he started treating her badly and the relationship ended. She’s been engaged three times in the last two years.
Bonnie doesn’t understand that she is setting up her own crying game by insisting on a man richer than herself who will treat her like a Princess. She becomes the prize he has won and now owns. And once he owns her, the game is over.
She forgets that whoever has the money has the control, and that nothing is free. When a man gives more than you do, he resents you the same way you resent a man you pick up after. My client Cynthia married her rich lawyer and had his baby only to have him cheat on her during their first year of marriage when she was out of town. She brought Sam into my office and he finally admitted how much he resents her for not working, being able to get her nails done, and her expensive shopping trips while he’s working 60 hours a week. In therapy, I of course told him that that didn’t justify his cheating. But when I asked Cynthia if she understood why he resented her so much, she said, “No, not really. All our friends do the same thing and their husbands don’t resent them, what’s wrong with Sam that he resents me? She believed she deserved this “Princess” lifestyle, even if it made her husband unhappy and that if he really loved her, he wouldn’t feel that way.
What Cynthia didn’t understand is that the only healthy, happy relationship is one of give and take, one that’s equal and where the deal between them meets both their needs. After a few more sessions, Cynthia and Sam made a deal that seemed fair to both.
10. You Fear Marriage as Much as You Want it
You want to be in a long-term relationship, but your ambivalence about marriage keeps you from getting close to a man. Like Jane, you watched your father control your mother and it seems like most men want to control you. You’ve made a pact with yourself that no man will ever be in a position to run your life.
As soon as a man gets close enough to Jane to assume they’re a couple, she manages to sabotage the relationship. Jane lost her last relationship because of her fear of marriage. She’d been widowed three years and was enjoying her single life when she met John. She vacillated between pursuing him and pushing him away. When feeling frightened by his controlling ways, she pulled away from him instead of telling him she didn’t like it. He finally got fed up and walked, met someone new, and is now married.
Jane has a right to be concerned about marriage since her parents were not happy and she lost her first husband when he died of cancer two years ago. Her mistake is not her fear, it’s not talking about her fears to the men she dates. She needs to be able to tell a man what she wants or even what she doesn’t want rather than reacting by pulling away.
If you’re like Jane, you need to first figure out what you want. Create a fantasy of your idea of a perfect relationship. Keep this in your mind and then give him a clue by telling him what you want. See if he’s able to negotiate with you and so you can both move forward.
Finding a man you can hold hands and walk down the street with isn’t impossible as long you’re willing to change some of your own behavior. To get more information on how to change your own destructive behavior, click here to go to Carolyn Bushong’s three books on relationships.