Today’s guest post comes from a lady who wishes to be known only as Christina.
Once upon a time….
Long before Moana spent a whole hour and 53 minutes not giving a hoot about whether she found a husband or not, a horde of sweet princess-types played with kittens and put ribbons in their hair to while away the hours before the arrival of their prince.
Do you think the 1950s Disney princess has been consigned to history, alongside the fax machine and the scrunchie? You’d be wrong. As a 36-year-old singleton, I have just experienced for the second time a short-lived relationship with a man who wanted a ‘perfect’ woman: one who has a great job and ambition and a house worthy of Ideal Home magazine, and who can run a marathon and work a room and yet still maintains the soft and simpering character of the aforementioned royal.
“How?” I hear you cry. Indeed.
The Portuguese Guy
After ending a futile 5-year relationship with a wonderful yet flawed commitment-phobe, I found myself a few years ago being flirted with and flattered by a man I had met a handful of times before through work. He was charming, he was handsome, he was smart and, after years of feeling unvalued, I let myself be swept off my size 6’s. It would seem I have a gift for giving the benefit of the doubt.
He had divorced after his wife cheated on him, the poor guy (what a bitch)! He was extremely affectionate and told me how wonderful I was from the outset – those Latino types are so much more open than us repressed Brits. He told me what a gentleman he was and how all his friends’ wives moaned that their spouses weren’t like him (validation from other women!)
For several months, despite ours being a long-distance relationship, I was over the moon. FINALLY it had been my turn to bagsie myself one of the good ones. And yet, my friends, there are no prizes for guessing how this one turned out. Small observations about my imperfections (poorly packed suitcase, the ‘wrong’ beach attire); not telling his mother, to whom he was very close, that he was seeing me; telling me that I didn’t give enough compliments and that the Brits are so cold-hearted. He also did an excellent line in cool observation and raised eyebrows to my emotional reaction to being treated like a child.
In the end, he dumped me casually, while we were in Barcelona, citing ‘differences’. He’d picked fault with me all weekend and I was no longer worth the effort.
With hindsight, I realise I’d been gaslighted by a narcissist*. And what’s more, I’d been held to impossibly high standards that required me to be both a go-getting modern woman AND a prim, ready-to-meet-the-cherished-mother princess. Though Princess would have had a perfectly-packed suitcase of course.
*am not a doctor, cannot diagnose with medical grade accuracy
The Freak in Sheep’s Clothing
Fast forward to Spring 2019. Oh how those alarm bells should have rung for me like Cinderella’s midnight chimes when an E-Harmony date told me that he was just a nice guy who’d had a run of bad luck with online dating and only seemed to be able to get dates with women who turned out to be really mean. Well, I reasoned, women can be difficult too, and if you run with the logic that late 30s men are single because either there is something about them that puts most women off or because they have just been very unlucky, then perhaps he was the latter. In fact, isn’t that why we’re all still trying?
Date One was a nice surprise; I’d suggested coffee, he suggested lunch. Why not? A pleasant and polite man turned up and we had a lovely lunch in a cosy Italian. We went on to a bar for a couple more glasses of wine. Conversation flowed, we had plenty in common, lived surprisingly close to one another, and he showed no apparent signs of being weird.
Date Two: wanting a sober date so that I could weigh him up in full charge of my judgement, I suggested a nice walk around our local park. “Great,” he said. “Shall we round it off with a glass of wine?” I couldn’t really say no. I stopped by at his house on the way to the park and was invited in. Who could resist? Nice place, tastefully decorated, EXTREMELY tidy. Hmm.
Our walk was nice, although I did note that, sober, conversation was not quite so easy. But we’ve all had that post-work, slightly tired, flat date, so maybe it was just that. Off to the pub we went, a glass of wine for me, a pint for him. He seemed to relax with a drink in hand. Whilst Date One had been good, I didn’t want to waste my time on more dates with someone with no potential. So I gently pushed for a little information.
What he said reassured me on several points (political alignment, confirmation that he’d had relationships in the past, including an engagement that he called off) but did open up a few areas of concern. He described himself as very self-critical and prone to comparing himself negatively to others – he even deleted his Instagram for a while so as not to see other people’s impressive sporting achievements. He also told me that the end of a short-term relationship had been stressful and had put him off dating for the best part of a year.
Brownie points to him for honesty but, as he got through his fourth pint while I finished my single wine, I did observe that he’d asked very little about me.
I suggested a trip to see Avengers End Game. The film was surprisingly good and we went for a couple of drinks after. I’d never understood cinema dates before: what’s the point of sitting in the dark and not talking for two hours? But now I got it: it forces a certain physical proximity on you, and as I leant over to ask him to clarify a point on the relationship between Thor and Black Widow, I observed quite how yummy he smelt. We took a taxi back to our end of town, he walked me to my front door and… a kiss. A good one!
A few days later he invited me for dinner at his, which became a sleepover at his, then dinner at mine a couple of nights later. For a month or so, things were pretty great. We even had a couple of running dates (get me, letting him see me un-made up and sweaty). I did notice that he liked a drink. He also let on that past dates had complained he didn’t ask many questions about them, which created the feeling that he wasn’t really interested. I sensed that too and had been planning to bring it up the weekend, but before I could, he dumped me.
After a long time alone, it was so, so good to have someone to spend evenings and weekends with. Those of us who are long-term singles I hope can all appreciate the freedoms and flexibility, but the solitary evenings and weekends with no one-to-one intimacy can bite. Those in the same boat will understand the almost physical discomfort that comes from weeks at a time with no hugs and no kisses, the never being anyone’s priority, anyone’s go-to. Whilst I am a fully paid-up member of the ‘you make your own happiness’ club, it’s agonising at times to have to deal with life’s hurdles alone, and no amount of time with friends or family or “why don’t you join an evening class?” can really scratch the itch.
So did my enjoyment of his company lead to me overlooking some red flags? I think so. But where is the line between overlooking warning signs and accepting that nobody is perfect, we all have faults, and that there is zero chance of establishing any successful long-term relationship if we hold out for someone who has no weaknesses, flaws or foibles? And of course we got on, had plenty in common, and enjoyed spending time together. So why not give him a chance?
Parallels in perfection seeking
Interestingly, there were some parallels between freak/sheep and the Portuguese:
- An extremely tidy house
- Expensive watch, designer wine glasses, a certain materialism
- Being very close to their mother and older sister
- A desire to achieve and excel at everything they do
In themselves, are any of these particularly worrying? Probably not. But perhaps the way they make such men perceive women is the real issue. It sets expectations and skews their idea of what makes a woman ‘good enough’. I directly asked the freak/sheep if it bothered him that my home did not have a shiny new kitchen and bathroom like his and whether my rather slow 5K parkrun time seemed really rubbish. He said no to both. With hindsight, I suspect they were held against me.
Two details that I feel the need to share:
- Those designer wine glasses (a present from his big sis) were unbelievably heavy. They made drinking wine into a power lifting challenge. I very politely asked if I could transfer my wine into a standard wine glass as I was finding the designer one uncomfortably heavy. I even said what a nice-looking glass it was. You could just tell he was insulted.
- I read an amusing article about Jo Brand (one of my fave comedians), and bought a copy of her most recent book. He muttered something about man hating. In other words, a woman who sometimes criticises male behaviour (and who doesn’t dress like a fluffy pink princess) is a man-hater.
So, how exactly did it end? After a great night out, preceded by affectionate texts from him and no sign of trouble brewing, he put me on the spot during sex to do something I had twice (!) told him I wasn’t interested in. I tried to start an adult conversation about why it was so important to him. We’d been drinking, and the conversation did not go well. I was, understandably I think, a bit shirty with him. He stormed off home and dumped me by text message. I asked for an explanation and was told that I had belittled him and been unforgivably rude. “An explanation?” he said. “That’s not very Jo Brand”. He was scathing in his critique of my apparent total lack of manners and finesse. Yep, he ditched me by text message half an hour after we’d been in bed together because I had called him out for trying to get me to try something I had made clear I did not want – possibly also taking advantage of my intoxicated state). And yet he said I was the rude one. Staggering no?
Damn those women and their ideas
So what have we observed here then? That for some men, women should excel and be a token of his worth, and yet must not have any discernible critical thinking ability or independent ideas. And woe betide she who dares to disagree with him.
Both of these man ditched me in a very cold and detached way citing ‘differences’ and my rudeness. I am not perfect, but I am not rude. So was my ‘rudeness’ defined by expressing my thoughts, having my own ideas, daring to disagree, not being that perfect woman?
I doubt I am the only woman out there to have experienced this; it’s the juxtaposition of the ‘perfect modern woman’ (who is seen on his arm by the world) and that Disney cutey who is docile and smiles and only and unquestioningly says nice things to him (who is what he wants in private). Nobody gets to become the former by being the latter; the expectations of these men are totally out of whack.
It does rather appear that women who speak their mind or who dare to disagree get it in the neck, as we see from the Twitter trolls all the time. Should we single 30s and 40s women retain any hope at all of meeting a decent man? The jury’s out on that one today.
And remember, if someone is threatened by a book, throw it at him (hard) and run for the hills.
Do you agree with Christina? Share your comments below!