Dating Scared

Personally, I don’t think I’m picky. The only times I ever turn  a fellow down for further dating is when something about him makes me want to hit him over the head with a mallet.

I should take the moment to explain that I am not a violent person. I do not enjoy watching violence. I do not enjoy taking part in it. Once, in an exercise class, the instructor suggested we imagine someone we hated in front of us to strengthen our punches. Her suggestion froze me completely. I just couldn’t bring myself to punch the person I was imagining. Sit down with her and explain, perhaps, why she was so completely detestable, with constructive aims, but punch her? I couldn’t do it. So when I feel like playing whack-a-mole with my dates, it’s a pretty serious matter. It means that, as a pair, we are definitely not marriage material.

But in the spirit of back-of-the-mag Wired articles, where the idea is more important than its likeliness, I present my take on the “picky single” phenomenon.

Mazlow defined the eternal discontent of mankind in a neat pyramid. At the bottom are basic survival needs, like food, clothing, shelter, safety. If a person doesn’t have these, his need to acquire them will consume his thoughts. He will find it nearly impossible to consider higher, more ephemeral needs when he’s trying to keep his navel from sticking to his spine. And as long as a person is at the base of the pyramid, simple things will bring him great joy: an apple, a sweatshirt, not being chased out of Grand Central during a snowstorm.

But once these basic needs are met with ease, a person is no longer content with his food and shelter. He becomes restless once again. He needs friends, he needs family, he needs people to love and who love him in return. He needs relationships. And once relationships are secured, he is still not satisfied. He needs fulfillment; something that gives his existence a higher purpose. Joy is no longer nested in an apple, and consequently, it is more difficult to procure.

So, one might posit, the more comfortable a person is, the greater his needs, and the more difficult they are to fulfill.

I think this is part of the reason for the alleged “picky single” phenomenon noted by the writer in this post.

Once, marriage was an essential institution for a number of reasons. But now, with men and women fulfilling their more basic needs (eg: for support) independently, marriage has moved up the pyramid.

Women are no longer satisfied with a kind man who will bring home the dough, play with her children, and use his belt strictly for holding up his pants. Men are not interested in a pipe-, slippers-, and child-bearing 1950s housewife. Nor are we satisfied with the contented, role-based marriages that go with these stereotypes. We seek a meeting of the minds—someone who will understand us, not merely sympathize; someone who will be an active partner in all aspects of life; someone we can love forever.

And yes, that’s demanding. And maybe it means we’re not marrying a lot of people with whom we could conceivably be contented. But we think it’s worth it, because we’re at the level of comfort where we can no longer be happy with anything else.

The author of the column presented her theory that singles are afraid of divorce and afraid of their own imperfections. I think that’s a more negative slant on my theory. We worry that we are not good enough to sustain the kind of relationship we want to have, and we worry equally about our partner. It makes dating a nerve-wracking experience. One vacillates between anxiety that the other person is not quite right to anxiety that one is not quite good enough. In between, one grows anxious that this ideal is unachievable, that one is too picky, and that one is doomed forever…

Does that make us commitment-phobic? Maybe. As one commenter said, singles aren’t afraid to commit—we’re just waiting for the right person. In other words, we’re afraid to commit to the wrong person.

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