Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Don't let your defenses blot out opportunities at interaction
D.C.: I am a 35-year-old single woman with lots of loving friends, 99 percent of whom are married. I have had a few long-term relationships, one of which I might have wasted too much time on, and I am struggling now to meet someone special. Part of it is that I find online dating tedious and false, which rules out a giant avenue for meeting men, I realize. But I prefer connecting the old-fashioned way (I'm not on Facebook, either), and my experience has taught me you can't identify a potential match based on a two-dimensional photo and a self-description that tells little about how two people might relate.
Another part may be that I am rather self-contained, okay doing things on my own and in some ways enjoying the freedom that brings. It could be that I appear aloof when I'm by myself in public, but often when I become aware of men noticing me, they seem to be the guys who are interested in the way I look, not in ME.
My well-meaning friends offer little in the way of advice beyond suggesting every single guy in the vicinity or suggesting I wear tighter pants. But I'm tired of playing the hoochie mama and I don't want to go on a thousand first dates, I just want to meet someone who I can relate to, who GETS me. And the only man who has ever really gotten me is married (a whole other story).
I'm not sure if I'm looking for advice here or someone to just commiserate. Part of me really rebels against the societal validation a woman gets by "having a man."
Carolyn: The various parts of you need to have a long talk to figure out what you want, why, and how to heave your anger into a Dumpster.
Yes, you're right that photos and profiles are no way to grasp the entirety and subtleties of someone. But when you dismiss the men who notice you as "the guys who are interested in the way I look, not in ME," then you betray yourself as having your defenses up so high they're blocking out all the light.
When men are meeting you for the first time, they don't have anything to go on but the way you look.
And hotness is hardly the only quality men notice. Plenty take a second look at someone interesting, unique, luminous, confident, creative, gutsy, refreshingly un-made-up, or whatever other qualities pass the "real me" sniff test. Appearances aren't meaningless information; the information is just incomplete.
So if someone finds your surface attractive, maybe instead of deploring their eyes and hormones — which, I could argue is just as much a shallow, surface-based prejudice as the one you're condemning them for — try giving them the benefit of the doubt and finding out more about them.
If talking up strangers feels forced, then find communal activities that suit your strengths, and start joining. Not only does it beat dwelling on what hasn't worked — your ex, online socializing, men, your friends, the married guy — but it also pretty well defines "connecting the old-fashioned way." And it has the advantage of being the recipe for a life well lived, versus a plan for getting a man.