The last guy I dated said there wasn’t enough ‘spark’ for him. My response was this:
‘The old spark, eh? To be honest I don’t suppose I felt a huge spark either but it makes me realise that I don’t even look for that anymore – I’ve had it so many times & things have been amazing for a short while then ended pretty badly. So it means little to me now about the capacity for something to turn into a loving relationship, maybe even masks it. But I understand we each need to feel what we need to feel, for whatever reason*. And of course you need to be attracted to someone…’.
I experienced one particularly bad heartbreak – lets call him ‘M’ – that was one of my 2 life relationship ‘game changers’ (so far…). As in – I knew I just couldn’t do that again, I knew I would have to change things up, protect myself better somehow, adapt so as not to be so ruined the next time. The second was my most recent long term relationship. (And well, the changes I have been attempting since then are well documented).
M and I met at work, and after an exciting and intense flirtation had dated for a week. After this he broke it off saying it wasn’t right but I was completely in love, didn’t understand at all the reason for his change of heart, and we continued to be lovers for a year. We worked together and it was torture for me – the nail in the coffin was when he casually referred to his girlfriend, knowing, no doubt, that I had harboured some hope of us one day re-formalising what we had. I remember distinctly what must have been one of so many heart-breaking occasions of being in the work toilets, literally not knowing what to do with myself: what I was going to do? Where was I supposed to place these unbearable feelings of loss, shame & rejection, amplified as they were by having to confront them on a daily basis?
Because of this ‘game changing’ experience I tried to change the types of guys that I went for. I tried to be more open to guys who I didn’t necessarily immediately have chemistry with, but to give them a chance & see what grew (it’s what I have been trying to do ever since then, doing my very best to avoid what it was that M put me through). Often men pursue me, and this is what happened in the case of my last relationship. I felt no spark at first, but gave it a chance. Actually in the end, I fell in love and was very happy for a time.
But it turns out this new strategy hadn’t worked either. Given how much I invested and how much pain I experienced trying to keep this latest relationship alive, unsuccessfully, I realised that I completely give up on being able to understand that there are any rules to game at all – or at least any that I can get my head around.
However, as has happened to me before with the thoughts I write about, I am surprised and delighted to read a version of the theories I have started developing through my own observations, already written down in an inspirational and insightful book. In this case:
‘The Descent of Man’ by Grayson Perry.
It reads at first like most other feminist books out there written by women (particularly second wave (radical) feminists of the 60s) but becomes more of a focus on masculinity and offers ideas for a new masculinity. (As an aside, I had searched out a book like this: it is something I have been wondering about myself, and searching for some commentary on; what do men feel they are supposed to be now? How do they navigate an increasingly gender equal world & the declining ‘sureness’ of traditional masculinity?).
The relevant observation here though is actually one about romantic relationships in general, and the sexual power dynamics at play. I had not myself worked this out or been able to articulate it, but had intuited something like it, wondered what it was that was going on – and reading Perry’s book brought it into sharp focus for me. No doubt what Perry observes below is nothing new, but it was something of a revelation to me, one that I feel may be transformative in my perception of romantic relationships.
‘Often the difficulties we face in relationships with partners is a mismatch between the power relationships that turn us on sexually and the ones that work on a day-to-day emotional basis. Men tend to prioritise the sex component more when choosing a partner, and women tend to prioritise the emotional relationship.’
Grayson Perry, ‘The Descent of Man’
This rings so true to my experience of life, though for me in fact in a way that doesn’t 100% reflect the gender roles described above. It made me realise that for a long time I was ‘like a man’ in the partner choices I made, the people I wanted to be with (as in M and before him), revelling in the sexual excitement, the attraction, living for the ‘spark’. Then, against my nature, having been so hurt by this I made a conscious effort to start trying to choose more on the basis of what my conscious brain tells me the day to day relationship might be like.
I thought I had done quite well at this when I started dating my ex and it was all going well. But to discover that even what seemed to be a ‘proper’, ‘grown up’ relationship with a ‘proper’ boyfriend could be so painful and in the end, disappointing, I immediately thought ‘well what exactly is the point in making an effort to like someone you don’t have a spark with if that all turns to shit too??’.
So then I got on Tinder – succumbing to my comfort zone of just going for what I go for – whether I was playing out some kind of deep rooted dysfunction or not. I figured given my experience it didn’t make much difference either way. (And as Men, men, men, men, men (oh my!) (Censored) describes, there was also a positive, excited element to this discovery).
Then I fell for someone I met on Tinder who didn’t want a relationship with me. To be fair to him that was not what we had both signed up for. Though I did shortly after find that he was looking for a relationship – just not with me – and was very hurt by it. I also found out that with Tinder most of the men seemed to be very selfish and just out for what they could get without giving much back.
So…. I gave Tinder up and got on a ‘proper’ dating website, which I am still on and have been for about 5 months.
In this time have had dates on this site with 2 men I really wanted to see again. The first seemed very keen on me, we spent 5 hours together on our first date and I don’t know – I just had a good feeling about it. He messaged me the next day to say – very politely and all lovely (as he was) – that for him it didn’t quite feel right.
The second, is the one that has just ‘let me go’, to whom I wrote the message at the start of this post. I couldn’t quite believe it as we started to approach date 3. I genuinely allowed myself to start cautiously believing that 3 dates might turn into 4, that 4 might turn into 5, that 5 might….Hmm, yeah, nope – no date number 6.
But here’s the thing: what has surprised me with this last guy it that no matter the context, no matter that this is a ‘proper’ dating site with people looking for relationships, I find the same patterns playing out as with something like Tinder – they may be more ‘serious’ and willing to give more if they are on this kind of a site but that doesn’t help when their (when all of our) unconscious power dynamics come into play. But I shouldn’t be surprised – when I look at all of this in light of Perry’s insights it’s all clear as fucking day.
I had naively thought that being attractive and having a decent personality with some interesting shit to say for myself that I would stand a chance at getting a decent long term partner.
But oh, how primitive we all are; alas, this is not how it works at all.
No, how it does work in fact, as it turns out, is that we feel a ‘spark’ with someone based on some deep rooted unconscious childhood experiences that have long ago set out our sexual preferences and preferred power dynamics like some kind of road map. And something called ‘transference’ – where we project past relationships, family or past partners, onto the person in front of us; nothing to do with them!
What hope then, for us internet daters??
This insight, combined with the particular dynamic of internet dating leaves in my opinion, a bleak picture – and in this light it’s no wonder people struggle with it. Arguably, men (in particular) may need another type of situation for the necessary power dynamic to be in play enabling that ‘spark’ to exist or develop. Maybe working together, meeting in another way which changes the power relationship.
For now what we seem to be playing out through quick fire, throw away online dating is the power dynamic being established very quickly where one just rejects the other on this basis.
Online, men know that you want something – you state it on your profile and I believe this makes it less appealing to them (and to women, but, according to Perry’s observation, its likely we accept this and don’t demand the ‘right’ sexual power dynamic as much as men – i.e. the ‘spark’). This can work both ways of course though – women who say no to some men may get to know and like them over time in another setting where an attraction can develop. And again no doubt (as for me), women prefer the sexual power dynamic to feel right to them; its way more fun to feel more attracted to someone even if you don’t know why, than to try to ‘try’ to choose someone because we know logically they would make a good partner.
However, I believe this is a good news story overall in terms of how I feel about these rejections, and that it can enable me to make some sense of them (if not hurt a little less?! Here’s hoping…). The revelation that men not feeling a ‘spark’ with me is not a reflection of my personality or attractiveness, but of deep seated unconscious power dynamics formed in their childhood* over which they have no control, eases the blow. It doesn’t necessarily change anything in a practical sense. I believe currently that there is nothing we can do about this – believe me I’ve tried, my experience shows that the countless hours I’ve spent soul searching, in therapy, self help, CBT, hypnotherapy – you name – it appear to have made little difference to my need for a certain relationship power dynamic. Though in a way, recognising this lack of control over it is of something of a relief.
Who knows, this knowledge may be the thing that eventually allows me to forgive myself for giving up on this search (online at least), until something develops naturally (if that is to happen, and even then…well, you know).
*star just above & in my message at start of post – this is what I was saying (/not saying) when I said ‘for whatever reason’ to him in my message.Follow @singlefemaleblg