Settling for an ‘8’

“And I challenge you, above all, to date yourself.”

– Gemma Rose, Settling for an ‘8’, Together magazine

This is probably one of my favourite articles for Together magazine. I am really into romantic relationships: reading, writing, watching, talking about them as well as experiencing them. In my blog and magazine articles, I refer regularly to the advice from my relationship gurus, Matthew Hussey and Natalie Lue. So when I got the opportunity to write about relationships for last December’s issue, I decided to focus on the idea of settling for second (or third or fourth) best in relationships.

“Don’t settle!” is a phrase I hear a lot, and it’s one that I’ve used all too blindingly on friends. But, I think it can be very misleading because the idea of settling is very subjective. It’s probably quite difficult to know if second best is actually so because we may not have a clue about who is best for us. The more I read on relationships – as well as be in one – I realise that being self-aware plays a key role in finding the right person. Knowing who you are will hopefully help you know what you want and separate “the wheat from the chaff“.

I’ve pasted part of the article below. If it entices you, you can read it in full (p.17 – 18 on pdf) or a shortened online version. The longer version is better! After the excerpt, I’ve also added references to the article, in case you want to read more.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you have time, leave a comment or write to me with your thoughts. What do you think it means to settle in a relationship? Do you think we should? Is there really such thing as The One, or should we just go for the ‘8’?

Settling for an ‘8’: Gemma Rose wonders if we should settle for second best in love

When I recently read an article by Lori Gottlieb for the Atlantic magazine, written in 2008, ‘Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough‘, I was initially saddened by what she had to say: that once a woman is over 30 and is single, she obviously wants to get married and have children. Thus, she should start being less picky because once she gets to 40, the dating pool reduces considerably and she only has the dregs to choose from. Gottlieb was then in her early 40s and a single mum. She yearned for a man in her life and regretted dismissing so easily those men she met in her 20s and 30s. Whether you should hold out for the love of your life or settle, Gottlieb is clear:

“My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theatres. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.”

Following the success – or the controversy – surrounding this article, Gottlieb wrote a book (under the same title) to delve deeper into the issue. Although I have not read the book, subsequent interviews with Gottlieb suggest that the book paints a slightly less depressing picture compared to the original article. She appears to say that the person of our dreams does not exist; that we should give people a chance rather than simply dismiss them because there was no instant chemistry, or because they were called Sheldon. Go for the ‘8’, she says, instead of holding out for the ‘10’, because you’ll be waiting a long time.

Read more… (p.17 – 19 of Pdf).

References:

How we end up marrying the wrong people, The Philosophers’ Mail

What I’m really thinking: the matchmaker, The Guardian

For good advice on emotional unavailability, read Baggage Reclaim by Natalie Lue

Saying Yes

“Take the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. At least it’s done. It’s over. It’s gone. We can all learn from our mistakes and heal and move on. But it’s harder to learn or heal or move on from something that hasn’t happened; something we don’t know and is therefore indefinable; something which could very easily have been the best thing in our lives, if only we’d taken the plunge, if only we’d held our breath and stood up and done it, if only we’d said yes.”

– Danny Wallace, ‘Yes Man’

Something wasn’t right. It was the second weekend of January and at around 6pm on both Saturday and Sunday I got weepy. I had lost my phone earlier that week and had made no plans for the weekend, in an attempt to be spontaneous. However, being without a phone and leaving my weekend social life up to chance had not paid off. I spent the whole weekend in my flat, venturing out only to go to the supermarket.

Spending a weekend in on my own hadn’t really bothered me before. I have enjoyed it – sometimes even relished in it – and I freely admit that I have spent quite a few Saturday nights in. So why had this particular weekend affected me so much?

First, I put it down to the January blues. I soothed myself thinking that everyone gets them. Then I piled the fact that I couldn’t call or text on top of the January blues. I flung another excuse on the pile: I recently got a bit of disappointing news concerning someone I had a crush on. “That’s it!” yelped my eureka moment, “It’s January, I’m phoneless and my crush is unavailable! Yes, three very good reasons for feeling down in the dumps.”

And once that downward spiral started, there was really no stopping it. Pity-party Peter, Johnny no-mates and Sally self-loathing invited themselves round to my flat, parked themselves on my comfy couch and long out-stayed their welcome. Over the next couple of days I told a few friends about my depressing weekend in. I didn’t quite understand it: I love my own company. I have a lovely life here: a lovely flat; a lovely job; lovely friends; a lovely social life. Weekends are supposed to be a light relief to the working week. Why was I longing for the weekend to be over?

I was determined not to repeat the experience, but it wasn’t until I had lunch with a friend did this scary thought finally dawn on me: by spending my weekends in, my life was passing me by. I had my weekdays evenings booked with various activities but my weekend pursuits were a bit meagre. Take for example my knowledge of Brussel’s nightlife: I didn’t really know where the good nightspots were and I had only been clubbing less than a handful of times (I’ve lived here nearly three years). Dude.

I had no excuses: I couldn’t blame the commute to city centre – I live 15 minutes away by metro. I couldn’t blame my finances – I earn a decent salary. There is no language difficulty, there is always some event going on. No, I was being rubbish and hiding behind something.

About seven or eight years ago, my brother lent me Yes Man by the English author Danny Wallace. Danny Wallace was coming out of a long-term relationship and saying no a lot – mostly when it came to socialising. He met a man on the bus one night who simply told him to ‘say yes more’ and he decided from then on to do so. What ensued were wild adventures and finding the love of his life, not to mention getting a book and film deal out of it. Not bad going for saying yes.

I was reminded of this book when I came across the advice of dating guru Matthew Hussey on how to find my ideal man. One of his suggestions was to say yes to every opportunity that presented itself during the month of January.

I didn’t say yes to everything, but I said yes to a lot. I said yes to drinks, to parties, to exhibitions, to brunch, to coffees. I said yes to social events with complete strangers. I said yes to spontaneous adventures and trips, I said yes to going after crazy dreams. Most importantly, I said yes to not being in my flat on a Saturday night. If I only manage to stick to one Yes this year, it will be the last one.

Of course, sometimes by saying no, I am saying yes to myself. For instance, on occasion I do need to just relax, enjoy being idle, and slow down. The key – with everything in life – is balance. But what Danny Wallace makes really clear is that if you don’t say yes, things just stay the same. I think it’s ok for things to stay the same,  until you start feeling stuck.

That weekend was a turning point for me. So far, I’ve been out every Saturday night since. For Danny Wallace, saying yes changed his life: “The fact is saying yes hadn’t been a pointless exercise at all. It had been pointful. It had the power to change lives and set people free… It had the power of adventure. Sometimes the little opportunities that fly at us each day can have the biggest impact.” Matthew Hussey talks about how the smallest shifts in our dating lives can yield the biggest results. Saying yes is a small shift.

I challenge you to say, “Yes”.

Taking a chance on love

The stories of Toni Kurtz and Brian Guest remind us that risk – whether at work or play, at home or abroad – is part of life itself; an enhancement, rather than something to be avoided.”

– Editorial, The Independent, 2010

In the old days when I used to buy the paper, I would often keep clippings of articles that made an impact on me. I’d place them in the back of my journals or in a keepsake box. I take great pleasure in digging them out, re-reading them and reminding myself of the lessons they teach.

Today’s quote is from an Editorial in the Independent entitled, ‘Making life worth living’, which is probably my favourite paper-clipping. It recounts the courage of two individuals: Toni Kurz and Brian Guest, both from different eras, both encountering different challenges. Toni Kurz led a group of climbers to make the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger, Switzerland in 1936. They all perished in the attempt, with Toni, dying of exhaustion, suspended from a rope just 15ft away from rescue. Brian Guest was a campaigner for the protection of sharks, and four years ago he disappeared off the coast of Western Australia, falling victim to what was believed to be a shark attack.

Whenever I feel fear or whenever I feel like life is passing me by, I return to this clipping. Recently, I have been returning to it in the context of love.

This time last year, I took a chance on love. I crossed the Atlantic to be with someone I came to love. We had been old friends who had met in the Caribbean many years ago. He came to visit me in the autumn of 2012 and our friendship turned into courtship. The downside is of course, he lived in America. But I decided to throw caution to the wind and visit him, because I knew that the regret of taking this chance on love (and it not working out) would never be as great as the regret of not giving it a try in the first place.

A little under ten years ago, someone else took a chance on love. A Dutch man had decided one morning to take the train from the Netherlands to Paris, to surprise a girl whom he had become enchanted with four months before. That girl was me.

By no means do I want to compare my stories to the heroism of Toni Kurz and Brian Guest. But courage comes in many forms and cannot be compared. As the philosopher A.C Grayling in his book ‘The Meaning of Things’ writes:

Ordinary life evokes more extraordinary courage than combat or adventure because both the chances and inevitabilities of life – grief, illness, disappointment, pain, struggle, poverty, loss, terror, heartache: all of them common features of the human condition, and all of them experienced by hundreds of thousands of people every day – demand kinds of endurance of bravery that make clambering up Everest seem an easier alternative.”

Some would say that there is no greater risk than the risk of love. For many of us, romantic love is what gives or adds meaning to our lives; it is the glue that keeps us together, or that binds us to the living. It can take much courage to take a chance on love, especially since the reward can be so great, and yet the loss so devastating.

Taking a chance on love does not need to be as dramatic as flying across the Atlantic, or taking a spontaneous train ride to Paris. It can be as simple as telling someone how you honestly feel about them, even if you are aware of the risk that they will not reciprocate your feelings.

Taking chances, assuming risk is part of what makes life worth living. It takes courage; not only in doing the act itself but also in facing the consequences. But along with courage comes freedom: freedom to follow your heart and – if it all goes horribly wrong – freedom to let go and move on. In this way, the return already far exceeds the investment.

Your love keeps lifting me higher

“When I sing, I am taken out of the mundane world into another place – and it is always a pleasure to return to that place.”

– Michael Bourke (from a case-study in ‘Flourishing’ by Maureen Gaffney)

One of my absolute favourite things to do is sing: I sing when I cook; I sing in the shower; I sing in front of my computer screen at work. I love it.

I was an active singer at school, being part of the school choir and occasionally singing my own songs for music class. If I felt inadequate in other areas of my life or even in music (I always felt a bit rubbish at playing the piano, for example), I knew that I could sing.

During most of my twenties, I did far less singing. I never properly found an outside opportunity to sing. I thought that choral choirs were too stuffy, serious and much better suited to an older generation. What I wanted was a choir that did traditional and modern pieces. I wanted a full range (or near enough to it).

But it wasn’t solely that I found it hard to find a suitable, easy-to-get-to choir in London, I also felt like I could not spend the time being part of one. My working hours were split between work and studying, my free time was spent commuting or preparing for classes. As I have written previously on this blog, London living was hard, and I did not have enough energy to expend it on something I really loved doing.

What a mistake that was! What I have learnt about passion is that I should never forgo, suppress or give up on what gives me great joy in life. I believe that part of the reason why I felt so unhappy at times living in London was because I wasn’t in a choir. And science has shown that singing in a choir is one possible secret to happiness. The author Stacy Horn does a brilliant job of describing the wonderful effects and release singing in a choir has on your brain, body and well-being. She says that it doesn’t matter if you can’t sing well as long as you can carry a tune, which according to the BAFTA and Emmy award winning choirmaster Gareth Malone, anyone can.

Since moving to Brussels, my return to choir-dom has been gradual, first in a choral group at work to now in a choir at one of the music schools in the heart of Brussels. My choir is a mix of students and non-students, young and old(er), Belgian and other nationalities. We sing a range of music, from Bach to the Beatles. Our choir director is charismatic, vivacious, motivational and not to mention funny. The rehearsals are filled with laughter and energy. It is my dream choir.

When I sing in the choir, I experience flow. ‘Flow’ is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the experience of deep engagement in an activity, in other words, losing yourself in what you are doing. The psychologist Maureen Gaffney describes in her book ‘Flourishing’ that when someone is in flow, their mind is “completely and effortlessly focused on the next move. The experience is poised at the sweet spot between conscious (but not effortful) concentration and being on automatic”.

“Singing reflects the innermost of your soul,” my Dad said to me most recently. In fact, his words provided me with inspiration for this week’s post. Gareth Malone says that the choir is an expression of something that is deeply personal and that is deeply human. When I sing, I often reach a state of ecstasy: my mind is empty; I am wholly and completely lost in the moment; my sense of time has altered. I feel like my true self has come out to shine. In the choir, I sense that I am part of something bigger than myself. We breathe together, we work together, we play together, our hearts may even beat in synchrony. It is said that singing in a choir is likened to a spiritual experience. Amen to that.

I may have convinced you to join a choir. But even if singing is not for you, here is my hope for you: that whatever interest, hobby or work that reflects the innermost of your soul; that lifts you higher and higher (as the song goes) – you keep doing it.*

*Lawfully and the “highs” are natural, of course.

Finding the highest expression of ourselves

Passion is your greatest love. Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent.

– Larry Smith

Last week, I gave a careers talk to my former secondary school. I had been tracked down via LinkedIn and was contacted because my career path looked interesting.  I decided that I would use this opportunity not just to talk about my professional life but also to provide some tips about what I’ve learnt over the years about careers. I know that when I was 17 and making decisions about University,  I would have liked to have heard similar advice.  For your interest, I’ve provided my top ten career tips at the end of this post.

I chose my University course predominantly according to what was most likely to get me a job. I had seen the long hours, sacrifices and hard work my Dad had put in throughout his working life to provide his children with a comfortable upbringing. Both my parents endured hardship that is unimaginable in our society today. My Dad in particular rose out of poverty by winning scholarships to prestigious schools and Universities. I thought that I would have to do right by my children, in the same way that my parents had done right by me. At 17, the only way I felt I could do this was to choose a job which may not give me particular enjoyment, but paid well and gave me security.

When I was lately confronted with failure, I decided to become honest with who I was. I realised that life is indeed short and I can no longer spend it doing the things I ought to do instead of what I would love to do. I made a list of my personal qualities, what I enjoyed doing, what brought me pleasure and what came natural to me. And guess what? Being a lawyer did not make it on the list! It was then that I turned to the book ‘What Color Is Your Parachute: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers’ by Richard N Bolles.

The section of this book that I found really enlightening was the epilogue at the back, entitled ‘How to Find Your Mission in Life’.  I take two profound insights from it that I can benefit from. First, that my mission/calling/dream job takes time. I have to take things one step at a time, and I have to understand that I won’t necessarily know where each step will take me. This ties in quite nicely with what Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement speech about joining the dots: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” He continues, “Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path.

The second insight is that my mission in life may not be grand or life-altering, and I may never reap the rewards that following it brings. That in fact, my “mission” may just be to deal with the daily trials and tribulations with more kindness, fairness and grace.

So having a purpose in life can be very simple one. Yet, I do believe that one of the sources of my happiness is to do the things that I love. Larry Smith argues that we will fail to have a great career if we do not act on that which we are most passionate about. Steve Jobs agrees that the only great work is to love what we do. But there are costs involved in pursuing our passion. First, we need to know what it is. Secondly, realising what our passion actually is, added on top of the fact that we are not actually realising it, is really scary. Doubts about our ability invade our minds. Then there’s feasibility. Even if we find our passion, can we make a living out of it? If we are already quite experienced in one career field and have a family, can we really just recklessly up sticks and pursue our passion? And what about the hand that life has dealt us – that some of us may not have the luxury of doing what we love because of economic or social circumstances?

Larry Smith and Steve Jobs take no prisoners when they affirm that we must do what we love. But, their message is so powerful because they each use a weapon to stun and shock us into reality: Smith uses regret; Jobs uses death. They are connected. Being on the brink of death and regretting the fact that I didn’t at least try doing something I loved is a terrifying thought.

Four years ago, I went back to my secondary school to help out at a careers evening. That time, I sat in the politics and law section speaking to students eager to know more about these fields. I remember one girl who came to me. She told me that she was worried about her future as she really wanted to study art but felt pressured to do law instead. As if from nowhere, I gave her this piece of advice: “Do what you love and your career will come to you. It will lead you to the right path.”

I know that this may not be easy, but I think we have to at least try.

Here are my top ten tips on career that I recently gave to the sixth form of my secondary school:

Gemma’s top ten tips

1. Please, please, please, please do what you love

Whether this is in your studies, in your working life or in your hobbies, please do not forgo what gives you great enjoyment, pleasure, fulfilment and satisfaction for the sake of what society/parents/teachers expect of you, or, what you think you should be doing. If you forgo what you love or try to suppress it, in the long run you will be unhappy. If you only take away one tip from this list, please let it be this one.

 2. Find outlets to channel your loves and passions

We all have passions and loves, we just find them in different things and express them in different ways. If you are studying a subject (or doing a job) which is suppressing your passion then try to find ways to let it out (like with extra-curricular activities).

3. Be open to trying new things

You can and should have at least a few passions (or many). If you are struggling to find your passion(s) then one way to start is to say yes more and try out new things. Saying yes more does not mean you can’t say no (and there are definitely times when you can and should). If you are in tune with your passions you will start figuring out which ones you can make a living out of and which should just stay as hobbies. Also, by trying new things you never know where they may lead.

4. What you thought you wanted to do at 18 may not necessarily be what you end up doing

I’ve known many people (including myself) that started out doing one thing and ended up doing something completely different. Sometimes your career changes because of circumstances beyond your control or because you realise that what you are doing is not right for you. It’s ok to change your mind and change your direction. So because you don’t know what life brings, it is far better to study what you really enjoy now than choose something because it will give you job security in the future.

5. It takes time to get your dream job

Unless you just happen to be in the right place at the right time (with all the hard work you have put in), it is unlikely that you will get your dream job tomorrow. So in the meantime, enjoy the ride! Try not to force it, go with the flow, create space for things to flourish and for ideas to flower. Also, if you do have a big dream, try breaking it down into little steps, taking it one step at a time – it is known that some of the big shifts in society came about through small victories. Focus on the small victories.

6. You will face failure and uncertainty in your life

There’s no running away from it. You will just fail at something. You will also face uncertainty. I know that times are hard for young people, I know that jobs for life are very few on the ground. But it’s also a time which is ripe for opportunity – to be creative, innovative, think out of the box. If you have to get a stop-gap job to tie things over whilst you think about the next step or to allow yourself to do the things you love then do it! If you can afford to take a break from work or study to really think about where you want to go next, then do it! If you fail, who cares? You gave it a shot and it just means something better is out there for you, just keep going!

 7. Create networks and get creative

If there are people you know of or heard about who are doing the job you would love to do, seek them out either through social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (or google them – you never know how easy it could be to contact them) or if you know them through friends of friends of friends. Exploit weak ties, looks for gaps or niches in the job market . Use the internet to publicise/showcase your work and skills or create your own job!

 8. There are more jobs out there than being a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc

At career fairs we only see these type of professions because a lot of the time they sponsor the fairs and they are looking for young blood. According to research, there are at least 12,860 different occupations or careers that you might choose from! Hurrah for diversity!

 9. Your primary reason for choosing a course should not be because it will give you job security

Job security is a factor and it is an important one. But, it should not be the overwhelming reason for choosing a University course. Also, due to the rapid changing nature of the economy, jobs that are considered secure now may not be in ten years time.

 10. Please watch these great TED TALKS

The first is ‘Why you will fail to have a great career’ by Larry Smith – http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career.html

and the second is ‘Why 30 is not the new 20’ by Megan Jay – – http://www.ted.com/talks/meg_jay_why_30_is_not_the_new_20.html

They both give fantastic advice on careers and on life.

Humanity always wins

Among humanity love is the natural force that defies the natural law of entropy.”

– M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled

“WILL HUMANITY GET ITS ACT TOGETHER?” cries a discussion group on LinkedIn’s Philosophy Network. The author is dismayed at the world we live in: we are a mediocre species – he bellows – our leaders are corrupt, we have no goals and we are killing the environment.

The last couple of weeks have not been great on the humanity front. The terrorist attacks in Kenya, sectarian violence in Pakistan and Iraq, the shootings in Washington D.C. One could argue that devastating news has not just been pervading our consciousness for the past few weeks, but rather months, or even years.

The world does seem to be a scarier place, doesn’t it? Acts of terror have mutated to such forms that there are no depths to which fundamentalists will not go to to achieve their goals. States and corporations have us under constant surveillance, increasingly invading our privacy. The economic crises leave us in a precarious state of anxiety: pensions being eroded; high youth unemployment; the end of jobs-for-life. Our planet is dying: we are heating it up; killing eco-systems; and endangering habitats and species for our own greed.

It’s a very natural response to ask ourselves, “What is the world coming to?” and to think that it’s all downhill from here. Yet, as depressing as it all seems, I believe that the world is getting better.

In his book The Science of Fear, Dan Gardner makes a strong case for the fact that we are living in a much safer world than we used to. He claims that since we tend to act more immediately from our gut instincts, we perceive risk more highly, and unrealistically. He gives the following example of terrorism:

The safety gap is so large, in fact, that planes would still be safer than cars even if the threat of terrorism were unimaginably worse than it actually is: An American professor calculated that even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one passenger jet a week in the United States, a person who took one flight a month for a year would have only a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a hijacking–a trivial risk compared to the annual 1-in-6,000 odds of being killed in a car crash.”

He doesn’t dismiss gut instinct, but he does call on us to use our heads, to think rationally and to remember the bigger picture. He writes, “Put all these numbers together and what do they add up to? In a sentence: We are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time.”

In The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck argues that whereas natural law should determine that we go into decline, we are going against such law and we continue to evolve as better people. He writes back in 1978:

The notion that the plane of mankind’s spiritual development is in a process of ascension may hardly seem realistic to a generation disillusioned with progress. Everywhere is war, corruption and pollution. How could one reasonably suggest that the human race is spiritually progressing? Yet that is exactly what I suggest. Our very sense of disillusionment arises from the fact that we expect more of ourselves than our forebears did of themselves. Human behaviour that we find repugnant and outrageous today was accepted as a matter of course yesteryear.”

If we look deeper, we can see that things are getting better. Bobby Ghosh at Time Magazine claims that 9/11 was the beginning of the end of islamist terror. Al Shabaab’s barbarity was one of desperation, not of dominance. The Prism scandal has the European community calling on the US to be held to account. We are becoming more concerned about our carbon footprint, about where our food and our clothes come from. The economic crises are forcing us to be more creative, to become entrepreneurs, and become less greedy. We realise that our planet is precious and that we do not have a blank cheque to do with it as we please.

When the world seems a terrible, dark place, we have to look for the light on our doorstep. We have to remain committed and faithful to all the good that happens in this world, which the media doesn’t have the time to portray: the young woman who suffered from depression writing letters of love to strangers, the Malay man who runs a shelter for stray and abused dogs (dogs are considered filthy in Malay-muslim culture), the rickshaw driver who donated all his earnings to fund the studies of poor students.

As I returned to my flat last night, a book entitled ‘All You Need is Love’ was perched on my doorstep. It was left by my neighbour, as a parting gift. We did not get a chance to say goodbye. This act of kindness touched me.

When we feel that sometimes all seems lost, we must never forget the humble, loving, everyday acts around us. They are the living proof that humanity is getting its act together.

When he’s just not that into you

Menthey say they’ll call; they never do.

Grace, ‘Grace Under Fire’

We walked together along the bank of the river, the sky an indigo-orange hue as the sun was setting. What had turned out to be an introductory cup of coffee turned into a leisurely three, followed by a stroll along London’s Southbank. We mused over interests (we both loved musicals and valiant causes); he laughed at my jokes. We marvelled at the vibrancy of the riverside: the bars brimming with rambunctious laughter; live music ringing out over the Thames; interactive art displays inviting Londoners to recklessly abandon inhibition.

Suddenly we were across the road from Waterloo train station where he had to depart. He told me had a great afternoon and that he would see me soon. He gave me three sweet pecks on the cheek.

That was three years ago and I am yet to hear from him.

This is a hard post to write. It’s hard because I try to keep my blog quite gender neutral – as in I think the lessons I’ve learnt have universal appeal and application. But this post – and I’m sorry male readers – is about men who are just not that into the women they date. Now, I know there are women who are just not that into the men they date as well, and blow them off in similarly spectacular fashion, but I think the effect on the rejected party is different. I believe this is true from experience: my own and that of my friends; from reading Dear Mariella, Private Lives, Baggage Reclaim; from watching talk shows; films and Oprah. Unlike men (and I know there are exceptions), women tend not to take these rejections easily. In fact, sometimes they take them quite badly.

When I was 25, I told myself that things had to change. I had just fallen for another guy who was just not that into me. He gave me scraps of his time. He was always too busy to call. When I called (and it was almost always invariably me who did the calling) I tried to be cool: “So what if he’s not calling me, nor making a solid arrangement to see me?” I’d assure myself, “He’s really busy: he’s just started a new course, he’s in a different city. He’s a guy – they can’t multi-task. Besides, I’ll be that cool girl that doesn’t bother him. I’m breeeeeezy!”

The truth is, I wasn’t that cool girl. I couldn’t be breezy. Because deep down, I was hurt. I was hurt that the person I liked didn’t really like me that much. So instead of walking away and letting him be, I tried to make him like me more. And guess what? That didn’t work.

It was shortly after this episode that a friend lent me the book, ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. I decided that if I had any decent chance of finding a great relationship, I would have to start separating the wheat from the chaff (figuratively speaking) and figure out pretty quickly how to do this.

The book made me laugh and cry because it was so true. Every man I dated who was just not that into me was an example in it: the guy that was just too busy to call; the guy that I asked out first and then he went cold on me; the guy who couldn’t do long distance; the guy who didn’t want to call me his girlfriend; the guy who was still into his ex-girlfriend. They were all in there (sometimes they were the same person). I made excuses for them all: they’re scared; they’ve been hurt before; they are going through a difficult time at the moment; they are intimidated by me, blah blah blah.

No. They just weren’t that into me. Or they may have been. But either way, the outcome was the same.

I want to return to what I said above about how women tend to take this type of rejection hard. Blame evolution; blame living in a patriarchal society; blame our body clocks; blame absent fathers. There could be a whole host of reasons as to why we take it badly. But, whatever social or scientific reason may be the cause, the sole consequence of it all is this: we don’t love or respect ourselves enough. It’s because of this deficient self-worth that we are made hostage to accepting very little.

What I’ve learnt from both this book and experience is how to read the signs, accept them and move on. Most importantly, I know that it’s not personal. That these men are human. They are somebody’s friend, brother or son. They are not evil, nor arseholes. They are just trying to get on in this world just as much as I am. And once I realise that it is not a reflection on me, I am able to let go.

In the big, bad world of dating, it can be exhausting not to feel upset when another guy is just not that into you…again. Yet, I must strike the balance of following dating etiquette and putting myself out there. So yes, sometimes I’ll ask the guy out, sometimes I will buy the drink, sometimes I will make him a French mix tape. And I don’t regret it! But as soon as I get that feeling: that sinking pang of disappointment when I am waiting for his call because he said he would, or when I don’t hear from him after three days and I end up texting him, or when he says he really cares about me but does not love me; then I know. I always knew but now I’m braver at admitting it, and faster at moving on.

So here I am, just me and my standards. Of course, the better person for me may not come regardless of me and my standards. But, perhaps by breaking the status quo, by expecting more and not accepting less, I am at least nearer to finding him than I was before.

And surely, I cannot ask for more than that?