Give your brain a better hobby.
Heather you just performed the Double-Triple Havrilesky Spin Flip---you leapt between decades, genders, personas and landed on you feet at the end. A marvel!
Well, this gave me a visceral flashback to my most painfully single days when I tried it on with many of my (hot, funny, intelligent!) male friends. Hey, we get on great and I'm horny/afraid I'll be alone forever so obviously we should fool around! So casual, no problems, what's the big deal?? Hahaha. Ha.
Thank God they all awkwardly turned me down. We would never have made each other happy long-term or even short-term. Yeesh. That became pretty obvious when I met more suitable dating partners, but it's still a lot of hindsight talking there. Dating sucks!
As an inveterate lover of dudes I don't think it's easy to stop taking every whiff of attraction you feel seriously, but you can definitely stop taking men's opinions of female attractiveness seriously. I'm also reminded of an old Ask Polly where she compares men to a bichon frise instead of zebras but the analogy holds - who cares about the opinions of men you don't actually want to get with? That's like caring about the opinions of zebras/livestock/passing dogs. There will always be more hot men because men are hot and they're all over the place, being hot, doing hot things. Sometimes they just take their shirts off for no fucking reason! How are you supposed take that seriously? I love my collection of hot sexy male friends very much, but if I needed them to find me equally sexy out loud we'd never be able to co-exist in peace.
(Watching every Tina-centric episode of Bob's burgers has been very validating btw)
"Sometimes surrounding yourself with hot men who won’t fuck you is just another way of procrastinating what you really want to do with your life. You’ve created a compelling distraction for yourself. Maybe you’re afraid of the future. There’s something you want much more than a man, but the stakes are too high. Maybe you love the escape of filling your head with hotness at the exact moment in your life when you should be herding your truest desires in some worthwhile direction."
You're wonderful x
I almost screamed when I read the zebra line. I'm 28 and for 2,5 years now i've been working in a group of — mostly married, middle-aged — men. So your wisdom is something I learnt through sitting in a petting zoo daily, bad smell, snacks and all. It really changed the way I think about men and relationships and also makes me feel grateful to be bisexual despite living in a homophobic hellhole (eastern Europe btw but men is the same here). I love your writing here! It's my lunch brake so I'm off to get some cake with the zebras now.
Polly, I have been reading you for literal decades now, and I confess that when I started this particular missive, I felt a brief flash of despair. Not guys giving off mixed signals again! Have we really nurtured yet another generation of smart, sensitive women who want love and sex and therefore have to devote 80 percent of their considerable brainpower trying to figure out how to get them? When are we going to reach the point where our smart, sensitive women are sending you letters like, "I'm the CEO of a major multinational and my ambitious and kind-of-evil CFO is maneuvering to get me dismissed because I referred to him as 'fuckpants' during a board meeting, and Polly, the thing is, he really is a fuckpants and we all know it."
But then you turn around and answer the question so skillfully I simultaneously wish I could transmit that knowledge back to myself two decades ago and realize that this is how you clear the mental bandwidth to be ambitious and accomplished and wildly yourself. So if you're wondering what you did to gain another paying subscriber today, well, it was exactly that.
Love the zoo metaphor. In my journal I wrote about myself as a little bird flying around trying to get attention from giraffe, monkeys, and so forth. It was fun to write and certainly makes me not want take dating so terribly seriously! 🐦
Thank you SO much for writing back to me. It feels sacrilegious to respond to your response but I’ll indulge myself.
The hard part is that all of this relationship stuff actually is my dream. I already went to my dream school and have a close-to dream job, doing very meaningful work. To the commenter below who wishes you got more letters from CEOs, ironically, you just read one. But that part of my life, those questions, always work themselves out, you know? I always feel like I have time and am laid back about it because it’s not the creamy part of the caramel cow tail of life anyway.
My real dream is to have a great relationship; a loving family life with lots of kids. I am obsessed with babies and love -- I almost became a pediatrician. I find life so sweet, fun, and deep when I’m in a romantic relationship, and so joyful when I hold a friend's baby in my arms, that it's all I can think about. So basic and mammalian of me, I know! (PS - unfortunately I also love having sex with men way much to date a woman).
I do want a happy guy who appreciates life but I also want someone who has been through some shit and understands how important an outlook of gratitude and optimism is. Someone who wants to talk and laugh all the time but also help others and be emotional and think deeply with me. I’m stuck on your analysis that the happiest men are simple -- mostly because I think it might be true, and it worries me. When I’m not into a guy, it’s usually because I don’t find him complex or smart or playful enough to keep me challenged and engaged. But maybe I’ll always be the one to carry the conversation.
The size 2 thing is probably a byproduct of other characteristics these men want. When it comes to long conversations, a daily text buddy, a person to share their feelings with, and more, it’s me. But for a partner, they want someone who will run and bike and ski and camp and surf with them; an “adventure buddy” to accompany them on their backpacking trips and never be the cause of missing a weekend on the mountains. My ex (an ultra marathon gold medalist, among other things) told me that I was the woman he wanted to come home to, and it didn’t matter that we were different, until...it did.
Which is to say, I do love myself but it gets hard when it feels like the person I am may be at odds with what men want -- I know I don’t exist in a vacuum.
I wish I knew how to treat my love life like other aspects of my life that *do* always work out, even when the timeline for this one makes me panic. I analyze myself through the eyes of men because it feels like it’s their approval of me that will ultimately determine whether I get the thing I most want in life: them!
Anyway, thank you so much again for everything and I love you to pieces. <3
omg now i have an ignored baby reading nietzsche to zebras! for the love of ...loving myself— life is suddenly making sense.
Heather, I've been reading you for years and this piece made me sign up just so I could write a response.
I've been the woman pleading and negotiating with men most of my life. Please love me, do it like this, let me help you sort yourself out so you can see how wonderful I am and love me. You get the theme.
This is what happens when you grow up with a mother who loves you very intermittently and takes an interest in your company only when downloading her problems. Yes to therapy and lots of it.
Still, why not me? Seems like a relevant question until one peeks inside these men who know so little of themselves. To your point, they don't fucking know.
Something about turning 50 shifted important things in me. I just can't ponder what is happening in them anymore. I don't know, it's not up to me, and all I want is to take them at face value. Isn't life less fraught this way? Accept, sometimes enjoy, and swim on.
You say to make your life bigger and I am mid-stream. My life is so precious now. I dive in each day because I'm selfish and it's all for me. No negotiating or convincing or even being so charming! I can't be denied. They can deny me now and I'm barely paying attention.
I want to tell you I loved this piece and I think I'm there.
Sooo much goodness in this post. Polly, you’ve outdone yourself!
1. Thank you for validating my late 30-ies brain hobby. It’s wildly entertaining for imagination, it sparks creativity.. and it was a tiny bit tinged with shame as I’m married also. Well, not ashamed anymore.
2. Zebra analogy. I LOVE zebras! They are utterly fascinating. Problem is that me jumping headfirst into their pen and doting over their stripes with unbridled enthusiasm (even if it’s innocent) seems to be spooking them a bit. Ooops.😑
I’m deeply curious about proper zebra handling. You’ve given lots of great examples but I must admit - I’d love to read more.
Somewhat devastated by this, since I've been screwing it up for 30 years and as recently as the other day. Just to clarify: this also applies to men you *are* in a relationship with, who love you and respect you and comfort and satisfy you--if in the grip of some emotion incomprehensible to them should you not say, "Could you do [x] to help *me* feel loved and heard?" Or is that OK as long as you skip the step of trying to explain how you feel (make them *actually* hear and understand you), because they'll feel horrible that they can't?