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How to Find a Long Term Romantic Relationship

Content note: Though I suspect all this would apply to anyone, it’s written by a straight guy.

There’s no good reason to think I am good at establishing long-term romantic relationships. I haven’t done much of it, and I got married nearly ten years ago, so I don’t even have any recent experience with it.

That said, I am pretty sure that I will know even less in subsequent years, so I am going to write this post now before everything fades away into being a dad.

In my estimation, women and men think of long-term relationships as things they need to work to find and maintain. They need to get out there, work through some uncomfortable social interactions, and go out on some awkward dates, so that they can eventually get through to the good stuff of being comfortably in love with someone.

That is the eat-your-vegetables approach to dating, and it is common. People refer to all methods of finding someone this way as a long grind, one that involves disciplining oneself to go through a number of unpleasant experiences before eventually reaching the person one desires.

The payoff is probably worth it. The happiness delivered from being in a happy marriage reportedly worth something like $100,000 of income per year–well worth a bad date or three.

Nevertheless, we know people don’t eat their vegetables. This is a theme I’ve been trumpeting in some recent posts. If the process makes you miserable, you won’t be able execute the process consistently no matter how much you value the end goal.

kissing photoYou have to learn to *like* your vegetables.

Also, you need to get your prospective partner to like vegetables too.

Rather than make the task impossible though, this actually offers some guidance. Namely, you need to ensure that the person you are interested in is always either enjoying themselves or expects to enjoy themselves in the near future.

As far as I can tell, people don’t generally aim for this when dating. For example, their dating profiles describe themselves. But even interesting people can be boring if you try to describe them by listing their hobbies.

In person, when approaching a woman, men will often offer a compliment. I suppose hearing compliments is nice, but it isn’t really fun or promising, particularly since for women they have a tendency to repeat. They do not set up an expectation for something else interesting either. What should she expect? More compliments?

If you’re asking someone to have coffee with you, why would they expect to have fun? They can get coffee themselves. The only good reason for them to go is if you have shown yourself to be interesting enough to deposit a half hour of time with you. If you’ve demonstrated that you are an interesting conversational partner, they will want to spend time with you. If you haven’t, they should find something else to do with that time. The same goes for dinners and other activities that largely involve solely chatting.

If you’re not a stunning conversationalist, there are other draws. I have a friend who has a sailboat that women seldom decline an invitation to. If you can offer unique experiences, you can expect more success.

If someone consistently has fun spending time around you, you are most of the way to a long-term romantic relationship. Just add some consensual smooching, and you’re there.

Correspondingly, if you want to diagnose what went wrong, ask when the person stopped having fun on a moment-by-moment, activity-to-activity basis. That’s probably.closer to the truth than the more abstract diagnoses that people may search for.

Notice the contrast between my explanation and what people might say they want. A person who is nice, respectful, and considerate can also be boring. A person who is abusive can still be a lot of fun. This may explain why being nice doesn’t seem to result in immediate relationship success. The problem isn’t that nice isn’t properly valued. It’s that a person being nice isn’t a sufficient draw to spend time with them.

I feel a chart is in order.

Things that don’t help you be interesting Things that do help you be interesting
Having a good job Having clever jokes
Being good looking Having an intriguing hobby
Being considerate Knowing a really interesting place
Having things in common Having a plan for what to do

The things on the left are probably important. Some may be imperatives regardless of whether they help or hurt your relationship success. It isn’t enough to say they aren’t enough though. They simply aren’t in the ballpark of what people are thinking about when they decide to what to do with their days.

There are many ways you can use to seek to become interesting. I won’t cover all of them since I think this is best left to the individual. Interesting people seldom set out to become interesting, and they rarely achieve it by following others. Personally, I think reading some good books have made me more interesting than I would be otherwise. I can be funny in person and can sustain an engaging conversation with fellow intellectuals. My particular way to keep women engaged may not work for you and the people you want to attract, so you should pursue your interests and think of what things would be fun for you to do with people you are interested in.


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Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1. ...more →

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132 thoughts on “How to Find a Long Term Romantic Relationship

  1. I think having things in common makes you incredibly interesting: not in a general sense, but to the person you have things in common with. My wife and I started out with a hobby in common. That’s how we met. We have since progressed to the point where we always have the kids to talk about, though not always in a happy way. I totally understand the problems of empty nesters: kids give parents an evergreen topic for discussion. Once the kids are out of the house, what do you talk about then?

    In any case, this ties in with the general topic of establishing a long term relationship. The mere fact of living your lives together will give you things in common, but that is the maintenance strategy, not how to get things started. Hence my usual advice to find people you already have something in common with. Going to meat-market bars, or the modern online equivalent, seems a poor way of playing the odds.

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  2. I’m not sure I buy the chart fully because I think different people have different ideas of what interests them. But, ultimately, if you want to attract someone… you need to be attractive to them. This seems painfully obvious yet painfully ignored in many of these conversations.

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    • The reason I included the chart is to get across the idea that the things that a person might think ought to make them a good and compatible partner over the long term may not actually help you continue on in your relationship on a minute-by-minute, date-by-date basis. It’s not meant to be a definitive list. The idea I’m trying to get across is the things on the right-hand-side do something for the other person right now that they can enjoy.

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  3. You seem to leave out the importance of raw sexual chemistry. In particular, putting “good looking” in the “not interesting” category misses some really important stuff. We’re sexual beings, most of us. Even asexual people, those who are romantically inclined, have a kind of “sexualized” response to their partners. (It’s complicated.) I won’t deny hobbies are interesting. For example, I have a maybe-date today with a potential partner who shares my love of math. That’s interesting (to me). That said, she’s also very attractive, like OMG wow gorgeous. That matters a lot. I know other people into math. I want to date her. I want to do this because, in addition to discussing Galois theory with her, I can also look at her face and feel my heart melt.

    It’s certainly possible to build a relationship without this chemistry. I’ve done it. It can work, but gosh it leaves out some amazing stuff. When I compare those “chemistry-free” relationships with “chemistry-rich” relationships — the difference is huge.

    I can’t speak for everyone. However, for me, when I meet a partner, sure I’ll consider our common interests, but I also care very much about the sexual energy we might share. Hot, uninhibited sex with someone for whom you thirst is a different world from stumbling, perfunctory sex with someone for whom you do not thirst. This matters a lot.

    Be attractive. Be sexy. Also have cool hobbies and interests and fun things to do.

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    • There is a very self-serving quote that I like which says, “Marry someone that knows how to cook. Looks fade, hunger doesn’t.”

      I was recently listening to a podcast where they discussed how marriages are effected by different libidos of the partners. One of the hosts was suggesting that more people should consider opening the marriage so the partner with the stronger libido can be satisfied. The other host suggested marriages can be happy with less sex. I say every marriage is different, but I have found that as I get older, I worry a lot less about the importance of the physical stuff and much more about how happy I am that I chose the right partner for everything else.

      I’ve dated girls that I was attracted to first, girls that I found interesting first and girls that I had no romantic thoughts about until we had a few drinks and things took a turn in an unexpected direction. And I met my wife on a dating site. So I guess that just means we find romance in whatever way we can. It’s the longterm stuff that Vikram discusses in the OP that I find so darn interesting.

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      • @veronica-d

        I think there’s room for both. I think there has to be some chemistry/attraction/interest. I know I’ve dated several women who I was “meh” on for a few dates and when it came around to sex, I just wasn’t that interested. So, at least for me, I’ve got to want to sex them up, or they’ve been very clear that I can “do anything you want” in the sack. What dude’s gonna pass up on that?

        But the long term is also very important. I want to spend time with someone who I enjoy and we can share things. “Everybody’s broken”. Gotta find how someone whose broken pieces connect with your broken pieces.

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        • Yes, there is room for both. I think we are talking about prioritization. Do you marry that person where the sex is amazing, but everything else is meh at best, or that person with OK sex and great everything else. I suspect that happy long-term relationships trend toward the latter. Marry someone and you just got yourself a roommate. Everything that makes for a good or a bad roommate still applies.

          And sure, you could hold out for your soul mate, with whom the sex is perpetually amazingly good, and so is everything else. More power to you if you find this person. More likely, you will find yourself growing old alone.

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          • I have had several relationships where the sex was amazing and the everything else was amazing.

            For me the difference with Jaybird wasn’t really the sex or the everything else, but that I was 100 percent willing to take Rilke’s advice (“You must change your life”) to love him more thoroughly and to do the things that would make *him* happy (not just what would make me happy). That willingness made both the sex and the everything else about … infinity? … more amazing, but neither of them were really the *point*.

            Not that I haven’t changed my life for other people (family, dear friends, etc.), I have and with good reason to do so, but it was always like “UGH GRUMP BAH” dragging myself through the change, whether it be a big or small change. With Jay I was literally terrified by how enthusiastic I was – he actually mattered more to me than I did, and that was long before we started dating (though I was unaware of it. When the rubber hit the road in our relationship, he mattered more. I actually had to learn that I have to use the choke on that instinct, and look out for myself too, for both of our sakes. Because otherwise it was this rush to do everything I could for him, and then another part of my brain freaking out, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO YOURSELF?????” and then sabotaging everything.

            Perhaps the difference is that I was entirely willing to grow old alone before I met him. Pretty sure I’d still enjoy it. Except, now, Jaybird has become necessary and so when he dies (statistically, that’s what will happen), I’ll be missing him for the rest of my life. But I won’t want to give up my autonomy unless someone else so necessary comes along.

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    • I don’t know.

      Obviously you should be in a relationship with mutual sexual attraction but I think that too many people advocate for raw sexual passion. Not everyone is the type of person that elicits feelings of “I wanna rip your clothes off right now.” I’m probably not this kind of person. And my romantic life really didn’t kick off until I found someone who wasn’t really interesting in “dating” (her words).

      My first date with my girlfriend of 2.5-3 years did not go that well. It wasn’t horrible but it was kind of awkward. My girlfriend was generally not a dating person in general and needed a lot of peer pressure from friends to even respond to queries. But dumb luck (and it can only be described as dumb luck) got her to say yes to a second date and I think she only said yes because she needed to go home on a family emergency and we spent a few weeks communicating via e-mail between dates one and two because she was out of the country. We spent a few months largely just hanging out as friends.

      Not everyone gets to be raw sexual chemistry. Some of us succeed by being dependable, plodding workhorses.

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      • There are several reasons people like raw sexual chemistry though that are legitimate. One reason is that its really hard to fake raw sexual chemistry. It either exists or it does not. You can fake a lot of other things but not really that. This gives people both a reason to continue seeing a person and not easy reason not to see a person again that can be semi-articulated. “I didn’t feel any chemistry.”

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          • Absolutely. What seems necessary to start a relationship isn’t really that helpful to maintain a relationship. The foundations of a long helpful relationship are not really that great when trying to establish it. Some people have the raw sexual chemistry necessary to ignite relationships but not the commitment or emotional level-headedness to maintain a relationship. Others have what it takes to maintain a relationship but not start one. A very few lucky people have both the raw physicality that makes starting a relationship easy and the emotional maturity necessary to maintain it.

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    • Seconding my brother. Not everybody has the ability for raw sexual energy. Even if a person has the right looks for it, they might not have the right brain-wiring or personality for it. Any sexual feelings that these people do elicit, and I include myself in the non-chemistry class, is going to be built up after a long time rather than from an instant spark.

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    • I can do the things that Vikram describes, and they make a difference. I’m really not sure that I have the ability to be sexy in the way that you seem to describe. Most of my physical characteristics are kind of the opposite of what people describe in the abstract as “sexy”.

      And yet, there have been people who were interested in having sex with me. It seems a bit of a miracle to me. Other than things like showering, wearing clean clothes, and being generally nice to people, I don’t know what “game” is, let alone having one.

      Nevertheless, I remember one (younger) co-worker (male) whose advice was “Never let ’em tell you you aren’t sexy”.

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        • I don’t know. People of both genders have described me as an entertaining conversationalist and I dance and have been complemented on that to but nobody ever found me sexy. The men who seem to be deemed sexy that I know in real life are sexy in a very physical way.

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          • Perhaps you want to start seeking to meet people more literarily? Like a history readers’ meet-up or something? In my experience of people who dance everything other than trad folk dances, their sexiness criteria tend to be quite a bit more physical than other peoples’….

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to veer into the advice zone. I just think that “dancers” is not a neutral group when it comes to sexiness-criteria. (Neither is, for eg “actors”. Neither is “history readers’ meet up” or “met them through an internet chat list” for that matter; but they’re not-neutral on a different vector.)

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            • That might be a good idea but I guess one problem I have is that I’m attracted to women with a bit of glamour and flash to them without being all that flashy myself. This has been true for me long before I’ve started dancing.

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              • Ah. Well, your choices are your own, but I’d bet the odds of finding a history geek (or adjacent) with glamour and flash, but not requiring glamour and flash, are better than the odds of finding a dancer who doesn’t care that much about glamour and flash when it comes to sexiness.

                Not 100 % in one case and zero in the other, but probably something like 20 percent in one case and 5 in the other. Or if less optimistic, 2 percent in one case and .5 percent in the other …

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        • Thanks, That’s very supportive and thoughtful of you.

          I don’t think it works quite the way you describe though. I think that all the thoughtfulness and consideration and engaging stuff is good, and it serves to make someone feel safe, so that she will be ok with letting her sexual feelings off the chain.

          But if there weren’t sexual feelings there to begin with, all that other stuff doesn’t go anywhere at all. I’ve been there. I spent a year once being all thoughtful and exciting and interesting and it never went anywhere, because there never was anywhere for it to go. She didn’t think of me that way. I wasn’t some creepy stalker, mind you. I was really careful there. There just wasn’t anything there. It would have been better for everyone if I had moved on a lot earlier.

          Mind you, I have had other women think I was attractive. I don’t know how this decision is made. I kind of think it isn’t a decision at all. The decision comes when you decide whether or not to act on it. So while your sympathy is welcome, because this kind of sucks for almost everyone, I want you to know I’m ok.

          The point I want to make is that this is a rare happenstance where I kind of don’t agree with . “Be sexy” has little value to me as dating advice.

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          • Oh. I wasn’t being supportive or thoughtful. It didn’t occur to me that you were in need of support.

            I also didn’t mean to suggest you were seeking sympathy, I was just offering a data point from a (usually/often) female person in contradiction to veronica’s other sole female data point in this conversation. If anything I was somewhat agreeing with your thesis, only for different reasons.

            Like, literally those are the things I find sexy, think “wow that guy is sexy”, have my head turn when they happen etc. Physical looks have pretty much zero to do with whether I find a person of either gender sexy. Once I DO find them sexy, I think their physical looks are hella sexy, whatever those looks may be… but it doesn’t factor in for me at all until afterward. Like, even if we’re talking celebrities I’ve never met in person, I don’t have those reactions unless/until they spark me through their wit and charm and intellect.

            I also didn’t mean to suggest you can create sexual feelings when they aren’t there. I think it generally takes fewer than twenty minutes for my brain to decide if someone is sexy or not (sometimes fewer than 5), and it rarely changes its mind. It will, as you say, delay on whether it wants to do anything based on perceived safety – but safety has almost nothing to do with wit or charm… and sometimes it doesn’t actually *care* about safe and I just have to have a serious talk with it about that. Or I don’t because… wow. Phew! (That’s what happened with Jay, btw. Once I met him in person and I could tell he was that funny and charming all the time and not just in writing, it was basically a freight train.)

            The other one is, of course, purely pheromones, thank you biology, knock me over with a feather, no intellectual evaluations of sexiness pertain. But that one can literally happen *before* I see someone, like I get a hunch (aka smelling something below my level of consciousness) and physically move myself until I can figure out who my body is telling me to pay attention to. Nothing, again, to do with physical looks. (I figure that one is mostly the MHC complexes, though it’s not the only thing, obviously.)

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            • — To add a data point, my ex-wife is probably way closer to than me. She really-really-really doesn’t care about the normal indications of “looks.” She’s dated fat people, thin people, hairy people, people with buzzcuts, butches, femmes, men, all kinds of people. “Looks” (in the normal sense) just don’t matter much to her.

              The point I’m trying to make is not “be sexy in the conventional way that Hollywood tells you about.” Instead, it’s about understanding that sexual chemistry is a thing, and you’ll either have it with that person or you will not.

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  4. I think this is a pretty good essay but there are caveats.

    You seem to be advocating for risk taking on the first date. There is probably some merit in this but I think that drink dates are common on first dates because they are relatively safe and also low cost ways for sussing out a first date. I was at a party this weekend and a woman said that all the “serious” people are on multiple dating apps. I find that overwhelming. If I had to come up with an interesting and unique thing for each first date, it would be time consuming and possibly budget draining.

    I’ve certainly had my attempts at doing interesting second dates backfire. Part of this is probably not knowing the person well.

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    • “all the “serious” people are on multiple dating apps. ”

      I can’t speak for “serious”, but I’ve seen the very same people on POF, OK Cupid, and Match for years, so yeah, I’d assume most folks are on multiple dating apps.

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        • I agree.

          I switched from Match (tired of paying) and went to free options. Same the same folks. Went to another free site, same folks. A little variety, but the free apps had different functions for their free sites that differed between the two. Example: POF limits your age search to what they think you should be searching for and doesn’t offer “hookups” as an option. OK Cupid allows both. There are other differences, but those where the ones I recall the most clearly.

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      • I’ve so given up on that. The dating app provides a whole lot of ways for filtering someone out, and provides the feeling that there are a lot of dating partners, but as you don’t acutally go out on any dates the problem must be you.

        And the problem is you. Specifically, your method and impatience.

        I don’t know, I’ve not tried Tinder or its competitors, which offer low-investment, superficial meetups. Maybe that is what it takes — if you’re willing to have a Tinder date, based on nothing more than a “Eh, you’re good enough,” it’s a matter of rolling the dice enough times until, through brute force of chance, you find someone who offers more than superficial good-enough looks.

        “Good-enough looks” is also a standard I try to hold myself to as I go about dating again in middle age, though I confess it’s a whole lot easier to be forgiving of faults in someone who is good looking than someone who is only okay looking.

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        • Well, I had a lot of mixed experiences, some really good ones, and a few bad ones.

          The search criteria was important to me since I’m not attracted to certain ethnic groups of women and wanted to weed them out. And I had no interesting in dating a mom with young kids.

          Highlights:
          I met four women who I still speak to. Two I consider good friends.

          I dated (for like 3 dates) a woman who had dated my ex brother in law. (ex wife’s sister’s ex husband) Surprise!

          I dated a recent immigrant from China who, all through dinner, kept talking with her mouth full of food and ranting about “the jews”.

          I dated a women who sold imported small arms to the US gov’t (You mean you get to demo these full auto weapons to clients at the range?!”) Cool as f.

          Good times. It took me 5 years of stumbling to really get a handle on what I wanted, how to do “adult dating” and figuring out things.

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        • I have a close friend who has found himself in your situation in the last year or so. He’s my age (42) and a good-looking dude. He also seems to have focused on Tinder as his dating tool. The girls he has met seem to fall into these categories:

          1A) Very cute, way too young and just looking to bang an older guy with no commitment

          1B) Very cute, way too young and looking for a relationship

          2) Early 40s, cute and flawed in a red-flag kind of way. Mental instability, still living with parents, unemployed, a little too kinky, etc.

          I kept suggesting he start looking for actual relationship material but realized he likes the no-strings sex and the potential drama. But I also keep thinking about what it would be like if I was out there now. Hearing some of these stories makes me terrified.

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          • @burt-likko FWIW I have a close friend in their 20s, also very good looking, nonbinary and into women and nonbinary people exclusively, who found similar things from Tinder all the way on the other side of the planet. Except substitute “way too old” for about half of the “way too youngs”.

            What they did was switch to a different app for queer people, mostly focused on “people to know” rather than “people to bang,”** and ended up meeting someone in a coffee date on a family visit in England, mostly just to be with someone interesting who wouldn’t add to the family stress, the two of them ended up really being delighted with each other, and now they’re in a long-distance relationship with that person.

            Which is to say, if, heaven forfend, Mike, you ever end up in such a situation, it’s entirely possible that by then there will be a “hang out with likeminded folks” type-of app that suits your niche, and the Tinder effect will go away. It’s a novel market right now. Not a lot of nuance.

            Which sucks for Burt, of course. As he is stuck with what there is right now. Which for straight guys seems kinda meager.

            ** They mentioned at one point that one of the differences is that the photos on that app tend to show the subjects doing stuff like playing with a beloved pet, climbing a mountain, in a creative/artistic setting, etc., rather than showing off their physical assets.

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            • Which is to say, if, heaven forfend, Mike, you ever end up in such a situation, it’s entirely possible that by then there will be a “hang out with likeminded folks” type-of app that suits your niche…

              That would be good. If Mike is terrified, I must be terrified squared at least. It’s been… let’s see, carry the one… 38 years and a bit since I’ve worried about anything except growth/maintenance of the relationship I have with my now-wife. Insights? If you both collapse laughing in the middle of sex occasionally, it’s a good sign. If you want to test the strength of your relationship, hang wallpaper together. If you’ve asked the other one to take care of some chore three times and it hasn’t happened, either do it yourself or quietly hire it done.

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            • — What is this queer hang-out app? Is it global?

              For str8, meetup won’t help you find individuals, but it can help you find people. Honestly, things such as Tinder are fine if you’re relatively good looking and find with hookup culture. If you are not both those things, online dating can be depressing. For most of us, meeting folks IRL is still the way to go, in a healthy mixed-gender social context.

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            • ‘Little too kinky’ would be the way I would describe them. As in, sending him pictures after their first date of S&M stuff when they never discussed it on the actual date.

              You’re correct though that he seems onboard. He’s very clear with them up front about what he’s looking for and ends things if they show the slightest sign of wanting a relationship. So I have no problem with it other than me hoping after this phase he finds a keeper. He had enough drama in his marriage and I would like to see him with a partner he can grow old with. In the meantime, he’s having a lot of fun and that heals a broken heart faster than anything.

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              • I’ve never had a women send me nudes (i’ve never asked that I recall). One sent me a pic of her in the shower-she was hidden by the curtain.

                Another sent me a series of texts about showing up at my house and having sex with me in the kitchen. This was before we’d even met. Wish I’d kept that text :)

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              • I can imagine a sowing of wild oats phase, were I to find myself in that situation. This is essentially how I spent my twenties. I thought at the time that it was of a modest scale, but I am surprised to find that those surveys of self-reported number of sexual partners puts me well over the average. On the other hand, I generally assume that self-reported sex data is bullshit. In any case, I am happily monogamous now and expect to remain so until I drop.

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    • Meeting for coffee is also a popular first date for women concerned about safety because its in a public place, in day light, and if things go very badly help is potentially at hand. The thing about taking risks is that you create a more memorable first date than a coffee or drink date. That increases the chance of somebody feeling chemistry or the spark. Another advantage is that they come across less as interviews and more like dates. The disadvantage for the paying party is that they can be expensive and for women is that they might not necessarily be safe if things go very badly.

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        • Dinner and a movie is too much investment. A hour getting coffee or happy hour is about what everyone’s willing to do. I’ve also met women at book stores or areas where “walking and talking in public” is good. Or lunch.

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            • Still,

              That’s what women have told me!

              Ofc some of them also told me that “they would never date a guy again if he accepted their offer to split the cost of the date” so WTF. If you wanna meet for coffee and sound me out because you don’t want to risk enduring a dinner and a movie with a guy you’ve decided, after meeting, you have no interest in, I’m cool with that.

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              • “they would never date a guy again if he accepted their offer to split the cost of the date”

                Well, on the plus side that sounds like a great filtering criteria. I mean, if that sounds reasonable to you, carry on. Or, that may be your first clue that there’s going to be a fundamental disconnect. That’s why I would never agree to a more “interesting date” when first meeting someone. My time is valuable; I’m not spending more than “happy hour” time with someone until I know that they’ve passed the sniff test. That is, does he at first look seem safe, reasonable, have enough in common, I enjoy his company (to Vikram and others’ points, interesting, witty, smart, or a heart throbbing combo of all three) and I haven’t seen any dealbreaking red flags.

                One of which, oddly enough is, did he pick up the whole tab. When I schedule meeting someone new, I say right up front “hey, I don’t think of this as a date as much as I think of it as a interview. So, this time, we split the bill. If we want to have a next time we can consider it a date.”

                If they fuss with me in person and want to pay, I’ll explain again, but won’t think much of it.

                If they pay while I’m in the ladies room, I will explain how that makes me feel — that I expressed a need to split the bill, but that while I was out of the room they decided that they knew what I wanted better than I did. And how I couldn’t possibly start a relationship with someone who behaved that way. That’s a great filter, because I just showed them what being with me is like — you must be THIS emotionally tall for this relationship. I know, you’re probably thinking “this is why she’ll die alone” but one of my partners is a man who did pay, but did hear me, realized what a dick move he’d pulled, and apologized. I don’t need perfect, just willing to work on things together.

                Mind you, there are women who want their partners to take of everything for them and there are men who prefer that — and as long as they’re with each other, it’s fine. But if you want the long-term, it’s true that things like that are more important than whether you like the same music.

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  5. Being in a long-term relationship is not particularly fun or exciting, though. It has particularly fun and exciting *MOMENTS*… but the day to day stuff is like running a small business. We have a mortgage. We have a social obligation on Thursday night. We had one last Saturday night. Sometimes we get in fights. Sometimes I do something stupid or thoughtless that summons one of the ghosts that is still haunting her. Sometimes she does something that accidentally summons one of my ghosts from the back of my head. We then have to spent a few hours hammering stuff out, trying to figure out how to not hurt each other again.

    Sure, sometimes it’s all fun and games. Sometimes, though, you have to do maintenance. Sometimes that maintenance is fun. Sometimes it’s drudgery. Sometimes it hurts.

    If you want a long-term romantic relationship, you need to get good at maintenance.

    And pheromones. You need good pheromones.

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      • It can. It depends.

        The five languages of love theory mentions the five languages as being:
        1. Quality Time
        2. Acts of Service
        3. Gifts
        4. Talking
        5. Touch

        And if you’ve both got “Quality Time” as either your primary or secondary love language, there is nothing more important than shared interests.

        If you both don’t… well, you can get together, cuddle (or whatever) like bunnies. You can give him or her a little something you happened to see while out running around. You can sit together and listen to their day.

        And then get back to what you were doing.

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    • “If you want a long-term romantic relationship, you need to get good at maintenance.”

      Another quote I like references that a marriage is like a house. You don’t just build it and hope it will stand for decades. You have to put in the work.

      With that said, my dad told me that shared interests are important. So even though I jump excitedly from interest to interest, I try to always ping them off the wife. If she is tepid about them, I’m probably not going to invest much time. Not that I think it’s bad to have your own things, but I also want stuff I can at least talk to her about or even involve her. That makes it so much more enjoyable.

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      • Shared interests are important but Maribou and I have figured out the movie date night thing.

        We go to the movies. She watches something with a plot. I watch something with kicky punchy splodey special effects. We go out to dinner afterwards. We talk about our movies. This way, we don’t have to share each others’ interests. We can just enjoy what we enjoy and then, afterwards, enjoy that the other person enjoyed it.

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        • With all love humanly possible, I think you underestimate the shared interests thing because I’ve adopted so many of your interests.

          You tend to see that as, “Well of course you have because my interests are objectively better!”

          But you miss all the points of agreement that are there not because they’re just there, but because I’ve worked to appreciate and enjoy your things.

          And I say that even though I ALSO appreciate how much space there is in our relationship for me to enjoy my own things and you to enjoy yours.

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  6. I seem to have wound up with a girlfriend without really trying recently. I was looking for a roommate and place to live and a friend said “Oh I know a girl who needs a roommate to move with her. You’d like her. I was planning to set you two up together because you two would be a great match. But you both need a roommate, so just do that instead.”

    I think we lasted a week together without hooking up.

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  7. I think the shared interest thing is important, but in a different way than many people think about it – you don’t have to be looking for your exact twin when it comes to your interests, but you have to find somebody who at worst, doesn’t think less of you for your interests.

    For instance, I don’t need to date somebody who wants to go to Wrestlemania, spends a couple of hundred bucks at ComicCon yearly, and spends time reading about old Swedish elections, but I also couldn’t really date somebody long term who thinks both parties on the same, thinks comics are for children, and think pro wrestling is only for inbred yokels.

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  8. I’ve been thinking about this since I proofed it and I think (probably because you are nice) that you underestimate the effect that nice has on people.

    Not, “Is the person nice to me?” (can be compensated for in the healthy and unhealthy ways you mention, plus could be a put-on anyway), but “Is the person nice to the people with whom we interact?”

    I wouldn’t just not want to date someone who was stingy or querulous with waitstaff, rude to people in queues, an abrasive asshole to random small children, etc., I would not want to be around them. Intensely so. Like, make an excuse to get out of the date. Like, avoid socializing with people who wanted to include them. Etc. I can’t imagine having fun with such a person even if everything else met your criteria and I found them otherwise super-interesting. (Well. I have one friend who can be like that sometimes. But I told him, “If you’re like that around me, I’m going to leave.” And I would never *date* him.)

    So *that* aspect of niceness has a huge effect. Not sufficient, but definitely necessary.

    I mean, maybe not statistically, who knows about statistically, but the people who don’t care about that stuff? Probably aren’t people you or most of our readers want to be in an LTR with, ever. I’ve occasionally brushed up against it with people who are in an LTR and one or both are like that, and the levels of drama and misery they inflict upon each other are … appalling. (And that’s just what I’m privy to.) I mean, obviously they must be having fun with one another, but not most of the time.

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      • Like what? Romantic?

        I’m honestly baffled by the idea of there being a different “nice” than “kind”. This may be a cultural difference rather than a dating-context one….

        Or it may just be that despite all my romantical and sexual experiences I’ve not really *dated* in a traditional sense.

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          • Hm. Well, I know a number of nice people – like, *kind*, lovely people – who really struggle at dating. I think Vikram is right about what their particular struggle is, in many cases. (The worst part is a lot of them really *are* fun, it’s just hard for them to let their fun side show in a dating situation.)

            One of my best friends was like that in our 20s. To give him credit, I could see the point where he decided to approach things differently, AND I could see him practicing on every woman he got near (including me, my friends, my sister, etc) – not trying to hit on them, just trying to let himself “sparkle” more in that dating way. After a couple years of that he started dating online and the next thing we knew he was married. To someone awesome, kind, and interesting. I think they’re coming up on 10 years now?

            __________

            There are some nice people who have a different problem and that is that they don’t *actually* want to be in a relationship wholeheartedly and so they end up with really complicated long-term situations where they are fixated on someone who doesn’t want them back – or occasionally wants to be wanted by them but not to be in a relationship with them – at least 50 percent *because* that person is unattainable (sometimes, to my read, this unattainable person is asexual/aromantic either/or/both, sometimes not yet able to come out to themselves, sometimes they’re just… being complicated irrespective of their sexuality).

            Most, not all, of the people I know like that are somewhere feminine-of-center. But they don’t really struggle with “but aren’t I nice?” they struggle with “aren’t I sexy? aren’t I compelling? aren’t I worthwhile? aren’t I *INTERESTING*?” to which the answer is something like, “YES, which is why I don’t understand why you keep picking people to fall in love with who *are oblivious to all that* or have some damage that means all those things lead them to keep you at arm’s length.”

            I actually … yeah, I don’t think I know a single person in off-line life who has ever told me that nice guys (or other genders) finish last.

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            • I actually … yeah, I don’t think I know a single person in off-line life who has ever told me that nice guys (or other genders) finish last.

              Right. Honestly, I seldom do, although I certainly have. That said, selection bias is selection bias.

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          • Hmm, you know, I think you’re on to something, but so is The way in which you advance your interests, when they are in conflict with the interests of others, is really important.

            For instance, the waiter brings your order, and it’s wrong. What do you do? Do you berate them and demand that it be fixed? Do you refuse to pay your bill? That’s not-nice

            Do you ignore the error and drive on, and don’t bother to eat anything because you hate it? That’s “nice”, but it doesn’t impress people.

            Or do you flag the waiter and explain the mistake with a patient smile and wait for their offer to solve the problem, and thank them for the correct thing when it happens? This is nice without being “nice”. And it’s also standing up for yourself, and that’s actually kind of sexy.

            Nice/not-nice is kind of a false dichotomy.

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            • Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, see I think you’ve just explained the cultural difference to me.

              In Canada (at least the East Coast and Quebec, the parts of it where I’ve lived), we generally call the “nice” people … well, unkind names I don’t really feel like repeating in public, to be honest, or else “really shy” if that’s what it is. Otherwise, “sulks” (pronounced “sooks”) is about the kindest of the unkind names that would apply. So I would never have thought of calling them “nice”. (This is a total aside, but if it was your great grandmother who served up the awful dish, or even an amazing waiter you’ve known forever who is having the worst day ever… it’s a totally different scenario – hospitality culture and all that. I’m just talking about random one-offs like a date.)

              NOW I get it.

              Thank you.

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              • — Well, that’s not what the word “nice” actually means in American English. However, when it’s used in the dating context, it’s the mismatch between women saying “Where are all the nice guys” and men saying “Nice guys finish last.” It’s missing the point of what women mean and what men have to offer.

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                • As a guy, I think being called “nice” is about the equivalent of being named Miss Congeniality. I think “kind” or “thoughtful” or “considerate” or “compassionate” are all so, so much better than “nice”.

                  My wife has a similar thing about being called “cute”. She detests it.

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                  • I think that cute is better than nice because Cute Girls isn’t used as fighting words or an insult on the Internet while Nice Guy is. Dating a cute girl or woman is generally seen as a good thing and desirable because it refers to particular type of youthful good looks.

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                    • Cute doesn’t have to be used as fighting words or an insult on the internet because it’s been used to dismiss and trivialise women in the guise of a back-handed compliment for decades.

                      It’s definitely heavily heavily weighted.

                      (I personally call people cute all the time if I’m not careful, so I’m super-aware of the fraughtness of the term. Have been yelled at. Have been politely and frostily told off. Etc.)

                      This post I just googled doesn’t clear anything up but it was entertaining to read: http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2015/02/27/cute_etymology_and_history_from_sharp_keen_or_shrewd_to_charming_and_attractive.html

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                      • I’ve used “cute” to describe petite women. Back when I was attempting to get into the pants of my actress (now) friend, I used that term, mainly because the’s a good 2 feet shorter than I am. She’s attractive and diminutive. Ergo cute.

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                        • Hey, I use it all the time too – I actually have my own weird idiosyncratic definition having to do with someone being oh-so-very-themselves in a way that pleases me, and that definition is pretty embedded in my brain and pops out any time I’m not specifically trying to contain it – so I’m not *blaming* you. I’m just saying, in my personal direct experience of other women being pissed off at me, it pisses off a lot of women. And in my experience of media, it is often the topic of how frustrating and demeaning women find being called it. At least as much as the nice guy thing pisses off guys, though my personal experience suggests “cute” is actually rather worse. Like, I know people who literally won’t date men who call women “cute”. They’re not otherwise flaming ctrl-lefties, these women, and in fact one of them normally votes Republican (though not this last election).

                          My point to Lee was that it’s Russian roulette to use it with someone you’re trying to get into the pants of, about her or about any other woman. At *best* she won’t find it objectionable and rate it with any other terms of endearment. At worst you’ll find yourself wondering why she’s yelling at you and or why she’s politely stopped taking your calls.

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                          • I’d agree that it can be a touchy word to use. In my case, I called this woman cute AFTER she had made it clear I wasn’t getting into her pants. She wasn’t pleased by my use of the word. (I actually used it in describing her while helping her with her online dating profile)

                            Perhaps cute is disliked because it’s a “below” attractive? on the looks scale…at least I’d say it is.

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                  • Oh sure. I’ve heard the term in that application. I just never understood what *claim* the “nice” guy was making until now. Like, he obviously wasn’t claiming to be *kind*. So I was perpetually puzzled.

                    The reason I called it a cultural difference is because I am pretty sure I heard “nice” sarcastically (often pronounced more like NOICE!) more often than I did used to hear it describing bland/milquetoast/theoretically unobjectionable (which was about never, although I suppose “nice enough I guess” has that meaning but we never shortened it to nice alone), growing up. And also more often used to abbreviate, “HOLY FRIGGIN SHIT THAT WAS FUCKING FANTASTIC” after, for eg, a hockey goal – pardon the swearing ppl who don’t like that, but that’s how my people talk in the rink. (Pronounced “NOICE” also.)

                    But most often used to describe Dr. Jay’s nice-but-not-“nice” example.

                    Did you hear it used in the milquetoast or whiny red-piller ways before you came to the US? Curious if that set of definitions was more a PEI thing than I realized. (Though it’s def. also a Montreal anglophone thing.)

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                    • There has been a cultural shift in the usage of “nice guy.” This caught me by surprise when I first encountered it and the antipathy toward “nice guys.” It took me a while to figure out that this was directed against a specific cultural phenomenon: that “nice guy” was a self-descriptor used by a certain sort of misogynist jerk.

                      Also, fedoras, and full-brimmed hats in general. (Full disclosure: I routinely wear such a hat: not technically a fedora but close.) I am of an age such that I associate a fedora with Clark Gable or Frank Sinatra. I was surprised to learn that they are now associated with “nice guys.” Sure, Sinatra had his issues, but he certainly wasn’t a “nice guy.” To me the issue with wearing a fedora is to avoid the appearance that I am trying to be as cool as Gable or Sinatra, because that would clearly be hopeless and pathetic.

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                      • I think the cultural shift came with the Internet or at least the Internet helped it. Since people have a bigger broadcast ability, they can complain more about what they don’t like and find like minded people to talk to. Heterosexual women were under at least some pressure to ignore their more physical requirements in the past and at least consider men they might not have been attracted to because he had a steady career and an inoffensive personality.

                        Another way to put it was that since men had more wealth and economic independence than women in the not so distant past, they were freer to look for superficial qualities or even date the female equivalents of bad boys than women. Women’s economic dependence forced them to sacrifice this. With increasing economic independence, women are more free to look for more physical qualities. I think the entire nice guy thing can be explained by this.

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                        • My sense of the nice guy phenomenon is that the issue is more personality-driven than physical. I am thinking of the stereotypical complaint that he bought dinner and she didn’t therefore put out. Maybe she didn’t put out because of his physical qualities. We don’t know. But the complaint is the complaint of an asshole. That part is certain, and sufficient to explain why she didn’t put out, even stipulating that she might have at that stage in their relationship.

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                          • Even if the nice guy phenomenon is personality based, it can still be explained by women’s increasing economic independence. From my understanding, milquetoast men were promoted in the past because they were stable providers. There is a long standing trope in fiction of a woman having to choose between a man she feels passionately for but can’t provide for her economically and a steady, decent but kind of dull or not attractive economic provider that a woman feels no passion for. This trope predates the nice guy phenomenon by decades and obviously reflects the concern of many women when it came to selecting a mate in the past.

                            Women’s increased ability to earn money and live independently increases their romantic choices. You can marry your handsome poor poet because you can be a doctor and earn the money yourself. You no longer have to marry the dull but prosperous man. I think the nice guy phenomenon is at least partially reflective of this.

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                      • — The word is slippery tho. The opposite of “nice guy” is not “anti-social douchebag with zero social calibration.” Nor is it “insecure try-hard who wishes he was ‘alpha’.”

                        A few of my partners have told me I make them feel “safe,” which I’m pretty happy about.

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        • I think it has to go along with the raw sexual chemistry comment Veronica made earlier. When people refer to themselves or other people in dating context, it means that they are without exciting qualities subjectively defined. In a dating system based on mutual attraction exciting qualities subjectively defined are important. Or as Veronica would put it milquetoast. Getting somebody recommended to you as being nice is a warning that they are kind of bland or maybe even boring.

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  9. I suppose the “here’s how to maintain a house after you have bought it” conversation is significantly (like significantly significantly) different from the “here’s how to find a house that you’ll like enough to want to maintain it” conversation and I need to shift my brain.

    Of course, after that, you have to have the “here’s how to get a mortgage and buy a house” conversation.

    Part of the problem is that if you want a long-term relationship with a long-term lifepartner, there aren’t that many good places for these people to meet.

    If you want to meet someone who wants to date, have some fun, maybe it’ll turn into something else… sure. There are thousands of places for that.

    If you’re not interested in having some fun dates, having fun on the dates, maybe turning the fun dates into something more… well, unfortunately, you’ve got to learn to crawl before you learn to fly.

    But part of the problem seems to be that there are quite a few folks out there who would be very, very good at the long-term relationship thing who totally suck at the having fun dates and having fun on the dates thing.

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