Why Do Men Like Me But Never Love Me?

My Boyfriend Has Been Putting Off Talking About Marriage for a Year

Like Meghan Daum, Heather Havrilesky is another author and Facebook friend whom I haven’t met yet. She, too, is a Duke graduate from the 90’s as well as a noted advice columnist, and I’ll be the first to admit that she’s probably better than I am.

Not because she’s spent fifteen years studying dating and relationship dynamics like a I have, but because she’s one helluva writer with a uniquely powerful voice who puts WAY more thought into her blistering columns than I do with mine.

I could pull any one of her Ask Polly diatribes she writes for New York Magazine, but this one, entitled, “Why Don’t Men I Date Ever Truly Love Me?” really struck a chord.

Not only is the question – from a woman who is liked but never loved by her boyfriends – a well-written one, but Havrilesky’s answer gives me goosebumps in its fierce clarity.

“There’s nothing wrong with you… You’re probably attracting a wider swath of men  than is  good for you. They aren’t self-selecting themselves out of contention, because you seem perfectly healthy and reasonable. If you seemed impatient or intolerant, you might slough off some of the wishy-washy slackers in the mix. If you were a little temperamental, you might lose all but the most fervent admirers. Instead, you are healthy and sane and no one will object to being a team, and when you hit month 18 you’ll (very wisely) assess the situation with your therapist: “Welp, he’s either going to pop the question or hit the road, and I need to be fully emotionally prepared for either eventuality.”

This reminds me of my wife – a woman who is so happy and even-tempered that she could always get men to date  her, but was so happy and even-tempered that those same men took it for granted and wasted years of her life without fully committing.

After Havrilesky validates the OP, she gets to work and points out the flaw of being too agreeable and waiting for some guy to choose you.

Because let me tell you the god’s honest truth: A lot of women out there are afraid of being something. The template for us is pretty clear: We are meant to have clean skin, a pleasant demeanor, and a nice rack. I’m not speaking up against nice racks, Lord knows. But there are lots of ladies around me, everywhere I go, who hesitate to say what they’re thinking and feeling. They go with the flow, they never make waves. And eventually, they don’t even seem to know what makes them who they are. They live to serve. They read the books  hat other people are reading. They say the pleasant things that other people are saying. They never put their needs first, unless it indirectly serves someone else – a manicure, some highlights. They make sure everyone around them is 100 percent satisfied. Like grocery-store managers. Like customer service reps. Like masseuses who also give free happy endings.”

A woman needs a nice guy…with balls. A man needs a cool girl…with boundaries.

You may be surprised to hear me say that because I publicly talk about the value of being warm, friendly and easygoing. But I also talk about being the “benevolent CEO” of your love life and treating men like interns who need to perform to earn the full-time tenured job as husband. My point is that these two things complement each other; they don’t contradict each other. A woman needs a nice guy…with balls. A man needs a cool girl…with boundaries. Someone who loves herself and holds out for a man who truly loves her, not tolerates her.

That’s where Havrilesky and I converge:

“You should be cherished, too. Cherish yourself. What kind of work are you doing in therapy? Is it time to stop being so good and start discovering what’s going to transform your life into something big and vibrant and shocking? Do you want to get little pats on the head and control your expectations and quietly hope for more? Or do you want to say, for once and for all, NO MORE KIND, MATURE SLEEPWALKING. NO MORE WISHY-WASHY DUDES WHO LOVE THEMSELVES BUT FIND ME WANTING.”

I’ve given a lot away here, but do yourself a favor and click thru to read the whole ass-kicking piece. If you are not inspired to dump the wishy-washy dude who shows no signs of cherishing you, better get prepared to get strung along and dumped once again.

Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.


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  1. 1

    I fall into this category where there are plenty of guys willing to be “teammates” and date me, but I honestly don’t know that any have been madly in love with me.   It’s almost like they will stay around because they don’t see an obvious reason to end things.   The article definitely gave me some things to think about!

  2. 2

    I liked Havrilesky’s response to the OP – it was clever and insightful.   I’d only add one thing:   The OP feels she has never been loved in a relationship….but has she ever loved her partner?   I don’t mean has she ever loved a man in the confines of her own mind, in her ethereal emotional state.   I mean has she ever expressed love to a partner in a way that made that partner feel as loved as she’d like to be?   Would she even know how to do that? Love….such a confusing word.   Our mouths speak the same language, but our hearts do not.

    I’ve written elsewhere that to me, love is expressed through desire.   To my wife, love is expressed through connection.   It seems that, to the OP, love is expressed through “cherishing.”   I interpret being cherished as having her partner exhibit the feeling that she is indispensable – not in a utilitarian way, but an emotional way.   She is his heart, his soul, and he shows that to her through spending his quality time with her – of all the love languages, nothing shows “cherishing” better than quality time (except maybe gifts, for some).   This particular man did not show her cherishing.   He was willing to spend time with her, but only on his own terms.   He didn’t make space for her in his apartment, and space is time.   But what was HIS love language, and what was his love content?   If his way of receiving love was to feel cherished, did she make him feel cherished?   Does it make one feel cherished to be ambivalent when being dumped, to constantly exhibit cerebral “evolution” without passionate emotion?   If his way of receiving love was through desire, did she desire him?   Or was she lukewarm – as he was to her – did she only mirror him?   How can one expect to be loved when one does not show love in return?

    Of course, I don’t know that she didn’t show him love in a way that was meaningful to him, I only read the same question Havrilesky did.   But so often, in my experience, people say “I love you” with their words and think those words are meaningful to a partner, not realizing that words are only meaningful to people whose love language is words.   If one does not feel loved, one is unlikely to love back.   Perhaps that was the “spark” that her partner was missing.

    1. 2.1

      Useful and thought-provoking commentary, as usual, Jeremy 🙂

      I would add, though, that is perfect advice if she was dealing with a man like yourself. A giver. A kind, generous soul. When dealing with men who are less ’emotionally available’ (I use inverted commas as that phrase is so overused as to have almost lost all meaning!), I don’t think it’s such great advice. People like her (and to some extent, me) who are trying to do everything right and be the perfect girlfriend and not make any mistakes…but with the wrong type of men, the last thing that is needed is to try even harder to be perfect and do everything right and worry even more about him and his feelings and what he needs. Some of us get this weird idea that we have to be perfect to be loved, rather than recognising we need to work on accepting love from the right people who accept our flaws and who give as much as they get. (as per Mrs Happy’s great comment below).

      Now, I think I’m well overdue for a pun/Dad joke from your collection…

      1. 2.1.1

        Interviewer: “What would you consider one of your strengths?”

        Applicant: “I perform under pressure.”

        Interviewer: “Can you give me an example?”

        Applicant: “ (Deep breath)

        Mm ba ba de

        Um bum ba de

        Um bu bu ba de

        PRESSURE, pushing down on me….”

        1. Dana

          Jeremy, thank you. That is all.


        2. Marika


    2. 2.2


      could you explain a bit more about expressing love through desire? Like how does one do that?

      I instantly think of sexual desire when I think of desire. And, to me, sexual desire has absolutely nothing to do with love, or even care. Love is an emotion. Sex is a physical feeling. Both can trigger release of endorphins, but the release is caused by two totally different things.

      And I’ve never had any of the men I’ve been with (whether in relationships or not) mistake the fact that I was totally hot for them and had sex with them multiple times per day as me being in love with them. In lust, yes. But not in love. Some of the best sex I’ve ever had was with men whom I couldn’t spend five minutes with without either a) having sex or b) killing each other because we disliked each other so much. There wasn’t even a hint of compatibility, care, or friendship. But there was great sexual desire.

      Likewise, I’ve had open relationships where I was good friends with my partner, we shared a good bond, and the open part really appealed to my sexual desires. Yet there was no way I would have ever loved any of those men, at least not in the romantic love sense of way. Basically I loved the relationship itself, and the type of relationship, but the partner was exchangeable. If it ends, you just find another.

      The only way I see that someone could display love through desire is by limiting, or at least making an effort to limit their desire to just one person. Desire itself, not just whether they act on the desire or not (monogamy). I think this is what a lot of women associate with love when it comes to desire. The fact that you no longer fantasize about and desire a bunch of other people as well, or at least try to suppress or not obviously display that desire. Otherwise, she’s just one of many he desires, and desire remains something purely related to lust, and has nothing at all to do with love.

      I put this in here, because you stated that to you, love is expressed through desire, not monogamy.

      I can fully understand that it would make a person feel unloved or unwanted if desire for any form of intimacy (not just sexual) diminishes or disappears in a relationship. Just sex, not so much. Because there are too many factors (like attraction, physical and mental state, etc.) that factor into having a desire for sex.

      What I’m having a hard time with is understanding the correlation between sexual desire and love. And what exactly it is that makes you (or a man/woman who makes that correlation) feel loved if their partner expresses sexual desire for them.

      Let’s say today, she wants you, desires you, and has sex with you. How is that different from the night before, when she desired the hot guy jerking off on a porn site while she masturbated? Does that mean she expressed love to him as well? And if not, why not? She desires him, received sexual pleasure and satisfaction from him, the same she does with you. Why is one love, but not the other?

      Or do you mean more than just sexual desire? Like desire to be around you, desire for intimacy, etc.? If yes, once again, what would be a good way for a woman to express that to someone like you?

      If it is mostly sexual desire, how exactly does a woman express love through that? Honest question, because that’s something I’m definitely struggling with. No one has ever mistaken my lust or sexual desire for love. I have no problem making a man feel desired (you make great money that way). But I cannot manage to express love with desire. I definitely see how it would make my partner feel good if I desired him. But how does it make him feel loved?

      And how (if applicable) is love expressed through sexual desire in your mind (or to people who correlate the two), when there’s a good likelihood your partner feels the same, if not higher sexual desire for other people? This is the part that I, and quite a few other women, are really struggling with. Is it love just because they refrain from having sexual physical contact with the other person? (Which, in case of a lap dance from a naked stripper, goes out the window as well). Is it monogamy? (which is different from desire).

      That refrain seems simple good sense to me. Logic, if you will, not love. You have a good thing going, why ruin it for a few minutes of fun?

      So if I sexually desire another man as much or more than my partner, that desire is an expression of love toward my partner, but not toward the other man? What is it that makes one desire different from the other, especially if the other man causes higher desire in me? And how do I express love to one man with the same exact desire I feel for other men?

      Likewise, for someone who thinks of love being expressed through desire, how do you justify yourself desiring and fantasizing about people other than your partner? Wouldn’t that mean that your making other people just as special as your spouse, since you’re expressing love to them?

      1. 2.2.1

        Hi Sylvana.   I’ll try to answer your question, but I wonder if you’ll understand….because to understand is so contingent on lived experience and personality.


        For me, desire isn’t about the desire to have sex.   To look at an attractive person and feel horny.   That isn’t what I mean by desire, and isn’t what I mean by love.   Consider what it would be like to grow up a person who was not desired.   To look around and wonder why the people you desire don’t desire you back, why their gaze seems to slide off of you as though your image was coated with grease.   To experience this and to come up with a list of your own flaws, the reasons you are undesirable, unlovable.   Psychologists call this “toxic shame.”   Now imagine as you grow older, you find people who are willing to accept you in spite of your flaws.   They want a relationship with you.   Because in addition to your list of flaws, you also have a list of good qualities.   So they are willing to date you, to marry you, to be with you, to have sex with you……but they don’t desire you.   They desire a relationship with you.   They desire things about you.   To me, the desire that equals love is in knowing the person, the good and the bad, and still wanting THEM, not a relationship with them.   Not wanting them in spite of their flaws, but because of them.   It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they find others attractive or get horny watching porn – they don’t want the porn actors, they just want to get off watching them.   They don’t know anything about those actors.    They know you.   They want you.


        Years ago I read an article about the porn fetish of men ejaculating on women’s faces (sorry to be crass, I have a point coming….no pun intended).   The male author wrote that women see this fetish as an attempt by men to degrade women, but that isn’t generally how men see it.   They see it as women “cleansing” men.   Imagine for a moment – the thing the man has been taught his whole life is disgusting, shameful – his partner not only doesn’t find it disgusting, she wants to experience it in every one of her senses.   Because she DESIRES him.   Him, and not others.   Him and all his flaws, which are not flaws to her.


        That’s how I perceive desire to be love, Sylvana, whether it exists in nature or not.   A person who sees desire and love as totally separate things is not likely to fully get it.   Just as I don’t fully get separating the two.

        1. Adrian

          Hi Jeremy,

          You said, “So they are willing to date you, to marry you, to be with you, to have sex with you……but they don’t desire you.   They desire a relationship with you.   They desire things about you.

          I still don’t understand this. Would you mind breaking it down more?

          A lot of guys on here swear they can have sex with a woman they are not attracted to. Or spend weeks courting a woman they have no interest in committing to simply to gain access to her body. But I’ve never been able to separate a desire for a relationship with someone from a desire to be with them sexually. So you saying someone is capable of desiring a relationship with someone without actually desiring the person is really hard for me to understand.

          For the record I understand someone using a person because they are rich, useful in some way, or until someone they really want comes along. I understand settling because they think this is the best they can get.

          BUT I don’t think that is what you meant. I believe you are talking about people who want a genuine relationship with the person. So how can you really want a relationship with someone you don’t desire?

        2. Emily, to

          Hiya Adrian,

          So how can you really want a relationship with someone you don’t desire?

          I’m guessing, but the desire to be in a relationship is the most important thing. Like what Clare and I are discussing about a guy who suddenly decides it’s time to get married. Or a woman who decides she wants to get married and have kids. Her priorities will be to find a marriageable man who can provide a stable life. Her desire for him specifically for who he is regardless of what he can give her is not at the top of the priority list. It may be on the list, but way, way down.

        3. Marika

          I’m trying to remember that everyone has different triggers and different needs. But all the stuff about whether they desire you or the relationship…& the related stuff about being someone’s ‘first choice’ (How does that even work? First choice of everyone on earth? In the room? Online that day?)..

          IDK, but I feel it’s putting too much additional pressure, too much additional stuff to worry about on a relationship. And this is an idealist talking! But why worry so much – unless the relationship is bad – about why you got together and whether they think you’re the most desirable person around. I’ve been very obviously desired by men with terrible relationship skills. I’ve been told I’m the only woman they ever loved by someone who then treated me like crap. Trust me, desire and being a ‘first’ is far less important than being treated well day by day by a loving person. Whatever their initial motivation for getting into the relationship.

        4. Adrian

          HEY! Emily!

          We haven’t talked in forever! (^_^)

          How have you been?

          Your work was stressful and the people were unsociable; is this still the case?

          There was a woman whom you said you became really close to; is she still around?

          Has your health improved?

          What about your dating life? Old church men still trying to convert you before the first date?

          …     …     …

          You said, “I’m guessing, but the desire to be in a relationship is the most important thing…  priorities will be to find a marriageable man who can provide a stable life.

          I understand logically what you are saying but I don’t understand emotionally…

          Didn’t we ALL agree that the reason the majority of us struggled in dating is because finding someone great on paper was easy, finding someone we wanted to be with was hard?

          So I can’t understand marrying someone whom I felt more like a friend than a lover to. What happens when they do get the ring or the kids? What happens when someone they are attracted to comes along? What about the poor sap who married them and does desire them as more than just a friend?

        5. Emily, to

          Hi Adrian,

          How are you? How’s your new job? Any luck meeting people in the meetups you were trying? As for me, work is just as awful as it was before. The people are awful. I’ve actually witnessed a few be really nice to other co-workers to their face and then tear then down when they leave the room. I trust no one there. I’ve started applying for new jobs. Wish me luck.

          “So I can’t understand marrying someone whom I felt more like a friend than a lover to”

          But are you looking for long-term and someone to have kids with? I didn’t say there wasn’t any attraction. But when looking for a LIFETIME partner and co-parent, what’s the FIRST thing you must filter for? Someone who wants that from you. Then you have to think about how you want to live. (Both parties either have to earn enough if incomes are combined or one has to make enough to support everyone.) Then you have to be compatible and like each other. Then you have to have similar values and goals.  Finding all of these things is a tall order. And then, yes, there should be attraction. But just in a purely practical sense, attraction can’t be at the top of the list. I mean, it can be, but you may not get along as well over the long haul.

        6. sylvana

          Hi Jeremy,

          thanks for answering. So you do mean desire you in the broader spectrum, with sexual desire being just part of the whole. That, I can understand.

          In a way, though, I think most people actually want to be desired by their partners in that way. To know that your partner isn’t just with you because you fit their criteria of relationship material, but rather because you’re in some way very special to them (as a person, rather than just a match for relationship criteria).

      2. 2.2.2

        Hi Sylvana,

        I’m glad you brought this up because there has been something I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while based on an old comment of yours from another post.

        Your comment on the other post, “If a woman feels threatened by him checking out other women or pictures <porn>, it’s a clear sign that he is NOT making her feel desired. If she was feeling desired (or at least desired enough), she would not be feeling threatened. And no, wanting to have sex does not equal making someone feel desired.

        You’re comment on this post, “I instantly think of sexual desire when I think of desire. And, to me, sexual desire has absolutely nothing to do with love, or even care.  Love is an emotion. Sex is a physical feeling...  No one has ever mistaken my lust or sexual desire for love. I have no problem making a man feel desired

        My first question is: based off of what you said, do you feel that if a man makes a woman feel desired that he will never have to worry about jealousy or insecurity from her?

        My second question is: how do you make someone feel sexually desired if you say it’s physical and lust BUT you also say it’s not about having sex?

        1. sylvana

          Hi Adrian,

          No. I wouldn’t say you’d never have to worry about jealousy and insecurity from her. But it can make a huge difference.

          It’s all about the way your react/respond (some of it involuntary) to her/him versus other women/men (including the ones in porn). Let’s say you’re out with your girlfriend. She can tell that you had a strong reaction to three of the women you guys encountered during that time. Obvious desire/they turned you on. Now you get home, decide you’re horny, and she’s pretty enough (otherwise you wouldn’t be with her), and available, so she’ll do. You now want and try to have sex with her. Yet your response to her isn’t anywhere near the same as it was to the other women. She’s not really turning you on. You’re simply still turned on because the other women turned you on, and now you want to sate that itch.

          You now made it pretty darn clear to her that you desire them, but have sex with her because, well – she’s doable and available (heck, you might just be with her because you can’t get them, if you catch my drift). Basically, you made it obvious to her that she isn’t all that desirable to you – at least not sexually.

          Now, if you would have come home after that incident with the three other hotties, and made an effort to let your girlfriend know just what it is about her that turns you on so much, she likely would have dismissed the other women as non-threatening. Because she obviously causes just as strong, if not stronger a response in you (which doesn’t mean she’s hotter than them on a scale).

          The same goes if the genders are reversed. I’ve actually had a couple of early boyfriends tell me when we broke up that I’m now finally free to have sex with blah, blah, blah, type of men who I like so much. I was somewhat dumbfounded by that, because I had never mentioned any type (or similar) that I like. When I asked, I was told I didn’t have to say anything, it was obvious in my response to them whenever I was around them. And that I never had the same response to my boyfriends. I would have lied had I denied it. And all the “but I love you’s” didn’t help one bit.

          When I reflected on it, I totally understood how that made my boyfriends feel inadequate at best, or threatened at worst.

          So if your partner notices other women/men turn you on, but at the same time doesn’t get the same reaction/response out of you, you’ll quickly have a problem. That doesn’t mean he/she has to be the hottest in your eyes. I just means they have to be able to compete at least. Not just be convenient and the logical choice.

          It all comes down to making your partner feel threatened, inadequate, or like he/she doesn’t measure up. And it’s not just limited to desire or sex. Although it’s most easily noticed there.

          Likewise, I’ve had flirtatious boyfriends, even open relationships where I never felt threatened. In case of the open relationships, the other women/men were fun, but it was obvious they didn’t have that same spark/chemistry that my partner and I had. Therefore, easy fun, but non-threatening. But I’ve also had one boyfriend in my life where I ended up slapping a porn in for foreplay and while we had sex. Because it was obvious nothing I could provide or do would ever turn him on as much as those women. And everywhere we went, it was “stare at this, stare at that”. He didn’t like it one bit when I reverted to my old self. Actually had the guts to tell me to quit watching hot guys jerk off on my computer, or showing such obvious sexual attraction to men I meet, because he didn’t look anything like that, and it made him feel bad. I could only shake my head at that. Well, duh, dude.

          Your second question ties into this.

          Wanting to have sex does not equal making someone feel desired.

          I think you might have misunderstood. It IS all about the sex. I should have said:

          Desiring sex (aka being horny for whatever reason) does not equal making someone feel desired. “I want to get laid, you’ll do” is not the same as “you make me so hot.”

          That chick turned me on, now I’m horny, want sex, and you’ll do does not equal “you’re hot (as in turn me on, not the scale hot), I want you.”

          How do you make someone feel desired? It’s easy. What is it about them that turns you on? It could be a body part (I’m a shoulders and hands girl when it comes to men), a thing they do (the way she wiggles her butt when she washes dishes, the way she trails her fingers over your thigh, kisses your neck, looks up at you when she…ok, the rest is censored). Anything about that particular person that actually arouses you. Use it to rev yourself up, and also let them know, tell them. Let them feel that they arouse you. Not just that you want to get laid.

          You might have drooled over blondie earlier, but if you get home, make her feel like it is HER who is really getting you going, she’ll dismiss blondie in no time. On the other hand, if she feels like blondie turned you on, and you’re still horny because of it, and now want to have sex with her (likely while fantasizing about blondie), you might find yourself not getting laid. And have a ticked off girlfriend.

          Oftentimes, we have a bad habit of making our partners feel as if we desire others, but have sex with our partners only because they are our only choice (due to us being in a relationship, or maybe even in general).

          Does that make any sense?



      3. 2.2.3
        Emily, to


          Not wanting them in spite of their flaws, but because of them.   It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they find others attractive or get horny watching porn — they don’t want the porn actors, they just want to get off watching them.   They don’t know anything about those actors.    They know you.   They want you.

        This is exactly what I was trying to explain on the post about wanting your partner to find you hot. It’s not that you actually are hot to the majority of the world, but because they fully know you and have picked you out … they desire you, thus finding you hot. That’s how attraction goes beyond someone’s physical appearance. And I agree about the porn stars. Why is someone jealous about masturbatory material? Your partner doesn’t even know those people, much less desire anything about them once the deed is done. Now, people in real life a partner has access to … that could be a problem.

        1. sylvana


          yes. Hot, as in desirable to you. Not hot, as in on a general scale.

      4. 2.2.4


        Perhaps I can explain Jeremy’s point in a slightly different way. I, too, would not use his word of ‘desire’. I would say “being wanted for the essential me as opposed to that which I provide”.

        I have many times experienced people who ask for my time, my company, for relationship and for sex from me, in a way that doesn’t feel good. It feels like they are filling their own needs, with me as a place holder, who fills a role. As though any other person doing the same action would have equal merit or value for them. Some men have described this as how they feel when women see them as a “walking wallet”.

        For me, when this happens, it seems like the other person could be having this exact same experience with any other person. It’s the role that is significant, not me. I am dispensible, disposible, unimportant, not essential. This leaves me with the feeling that there is nothing about me – my me-ness – that has value or is special. The other person is seeking to make themselves feel good, and I am merely the vehicle for that. They are meeting needs, because they are unable to meet their needs from within, and so seek to meet them from without.

        One of the ways you can distinguish this pattern is when you don’t meet their needs. When you don’t, they will turn to someone else. They will be angry. You will suddenly have no place in their life unless you agree to their terms, do whatever they want and they need. Even when you do, it will be seen as the barest minimum of what you should be doing for them. There is no forgiveness for your having any needs or wants of your own. You only exist to meet their needs, and failure to do so causes you to vanish in their eyes.

        What it looks like in real terms:

        -When your parent tells you to dress nicely…not because they care about taking care of you or how you feel about yourself, but because they see your physical appearance as a reflection of them and their importance, and how others will perceive them.   You hear things like “what will people think when they see you?” and “I’m a mother, I don’t need a reason”. Your only value to them is in their reflection of themselves in the role they seek – a good mother, a father who provides, a sister or brother so they don’t feel alone in the world, to take care of them.

        -When you are having sex with someone, and everything is about how you make him feel: Baby, you make me feel so good, do that thing I like. It’s not a collective experience with you as an individual…it’s like being a faceless prostitute with your significant other.

        -With friends, who ask you to spend time with them because they don’t want to be alone…not because they value your company as different from any other.

        -With family, because if you don’t show up, someone might think the family isn’t perfect, so they need you to show up because of how it looks…but not because you mean anything to them individually.

        -With dates, when they seem to have a script of things they ask that essentially boil down to: what will you do for me? How will you make me feel good or make my life better?

        Of course, there are moments  of this in any relationship. But I (and perhaps Jeremy) am speaking of those in which it is the prevailing experience.

        For me, it is when I cannot offer *anything* that I truly experience what I mean to that person. Does my presence mean something to that person? Does sharing the experience with me mean something different than it would mean with someone else? Does that person enjoy me at a visceral level that they don’t experience with others? Is that person complete, whole and well without me, but would still choose me?

        I hope this helps clarify the experience.

        1. Jeremy

          I think that what you and I want are close but not identical, Nissa.   Which makes sense – what becomes important to each of us depends on our personalities and lived experiences.   For example, I don’t need my partner to be “complete, whole and well without me.” Well, depending on what we mean by that.   I definitely wanted a partner who saw herself as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle – whole and complete as a piece, but more whole and complete when paired.

          Anyway, the reason I use the word “desire” is that for me the culmination of the person wanting me for me is expressed with the love languages of acts of service and physical (and sexual) touch.   Not via other love languages. It is the desire behind the sexual actions, the content of the love language, which would be meaningless without the underlying emotion.   Whereas a person might want the same content in a different language – to be shown that they matter as a person by being cherished with quality time, for example, as per the OP here.   In which case I’d not call it “desire” but rather another word.

        2. Marika

          But how do you get to the place of being truly valued for who you are without offering something? I don’t mean anything financial, but for instance a person demonstrates that they are generous by being generous. Not by hoping another person picks up on their vibe. If a guy said ‘I’m not going to organise dates as I don’t want to be valued for what I offer even though I could and I’m good at it’, would you assume he was a great date organizer?

          Also, how can you truly know how someone perceives you and why they are with you? You can guess but never truly know. So if they treat you well, respect you, love you, prioritise you, try to show love the way you need (and fail at times because they’re human), isn’t that enough? Are we also supposed to obsess about what’s in their head? What motivated them? If they may have married someone similar to us if they met them first? Sounds like fear & anxiety to me.

          Oy, Jeremy, I’m feeling like the you in this conversation!

        3. Jeremy

          Don’t worry about spontaneously breaking out in Yiddish prose, Marika. It happens to some people as we get older and more cantankerous. Did you know that there’s no Yiddish word for “fine”? If you ask someone in Yiddish how they’re doing, there are umpteen idioms for declaring maladies, minor to major, but no way to say “I’m fine.” And if you ask a native Yiddish speaker how they’d say it, they’d legitimately be perplexed that you’d ever want to. There is no better language for expressing complaint 😉

        4. sylvana


          This was so well explained and said! That should be on a website, somewhere 🙂

          That’s somewhat what I was thinking as well. Desired as in “being wanted”. In a non-sexual way, with sexual desire being part of the whole, but not the most important part.

        5. sylvana


          It is the desire behind the sexual actions,

          The desire is to get laid, and reach sexual satisfaction. What does that have to do with love? It doesn’t even guarantee that I sexually desire my partner. He could simply be the logical choice because the rest of the relationship is fine, and I don’t want to risk losing it. And the sex is good enough to hold me until my next masturbation session.

          Or are you saying that love is behind the sexual actions? That the only reason she would want sex is because she is in love and wants to “complete the union”? (I don’t know why the question marks make it look like I’m doubting you. I’m not. Just asking :))

          which would be meaningless without the underlying emotion.

          I guess this is where I get confused. If desire is meaningless without the underlying emotion (love), it means that desire does NOT express love. Since it NEEDS love (aka – an emotion/feeling/
          something in addition to desire) to be meaningful.

          So we agree that desire (in general, not just sexual) has nothing to with love. Overall, I’d have to say that desire is often a rather selfish emotion.

          That is why I had asked the porn question. How do you justify getting off to porn if desire expresses love. And if desire is meaningless then (as you’ve mentioned), then it is also meaningless (purely sexual) when expressed toward your wife/husband. Until something else – aka love – is expressed as well. In ways that have nothing to do with sexual desire, and are, in fact, ADDITIONAL to said desire.

          Likewise, if some woman other than your wife would express that she desired to have sex with you, you would not think it means she’s expressing love.

          Which brings me back to this: You can express love along WITH desire, but not THROUGH desire. So it would not actually be the physical/sexual touch itself (being desired) that makes you feel loved, but something else expressed along with it/the motivation behind it, the REASON for the desire.

          The same goes for acts of service. It’s not the actual act of service, but rather the motivation behind it that makes it special/expresses love. Otherwise, it’s simply a chore/responsibility done.

          Which pretty much brings us back to Nissa’s wonderful post.

          I think by “complete, whole, and well without me” she meant exactly what you said – a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

        6. Jeremy

          No Sylvana,  we don’t agree that “desire has nothing to do with love.”   You wrote, “if desire is meaningless without the underlying emotion (love), it means that desire does NOT express love.   Since it NEEDS love…to be meaningful.”   This is where I’ve lost you.   You’ve mixed up words, and therefore concepts.   SEX (to me) is meaningless without an underlay of desire.   Specifically, the holistic type of desire I mentioned, not generic sexual lust (hands or shoulders or butt wiggling, as you mentioned).   This is where (it sounds like) you and I very much differ, and that’s ok.   That holistic desire is, to me, what makes up romantic love.   Or, at least, the largest piece of the pie in the pie-chart of what makes up romantic love.   Which results in the conclusion that, to me, SEX is meaningless without my concept of love.   Its purpose is not “to get laid, to reach sexual satisfaction” as you wrote, as it is to you.   Meta-goals, Sylvana, they vary from person to person. We’ve had this discussion before.


          Marika,  I realize I never answered your last question, having been caught up in your “Oy.”   There is a difference, I think, between wanting our concept of “love” in a relationship, versus wanting to be our partner’s first choice, or the only person in the world to which they are attracted, or some other such thing.   Let’s not confuse disparate concepts.   To what extent do our partner’s motivations matter in the face of their daily actions?   Only insofar as we hope those daily actions will continue into the future.   They will continue for as long as their motivation remains.   How can you believe their motivation doesn’t matter?   Why be agnostic about it?   The “happily-ever-after fallacy,” the notion that because things are good right now, they will always continue to be.   WHY are they good right now?   Why should they continue?   It’s not that we should obsess about these things, it’s that we should give them their due consideration.   Else the success of our future marriage is as random as a coin toss.

        7. Marika

          Hehe, Jeremy, no worries about the Oy discussion, it was funny! 😉

          Let me ask you this: do you think understanding goals and meta goals and motivations is the only path to a happy, long term marriage? Is anything less as chancical (yes, I made up a new word) as a coin toss?

        8. Nissa

          Thank you so much for your kind words, I had a hard day yesterday and it was a balm to my soul to have appreciation.

          Oy, the worms in this can! I will try to explain, but I’m honestly not sure if other people have this issue. It may be just my personal brand of all jacked up.

          How I personally experience value from someone else without their offering something is usually something simple. It’s when people ask me if they can touch me, knowing that I have a trigger there (because I spent a decade not being allowed to say no…not being allowed to have power over my own body….not being allowed to have an opinion that differed from my caregiver).

          I recently moved unexpectedly, and my friends, came to my home, filled boxes and told me everything would be alright. In addition to that actual offering, they gave me something else: no judgment. They didn’t tell me I had too many books, too many shoes and that my dog’s bed smelled like pee – all of which would have been pretty objectively true.

          Last night, I was seeing a new client, and my eyes filled with tears as I shared a relevant moment of my past. Her eyes also teared up, and she shared how she felt I “got” her, that my explanation helped her have compassion for the man she just threw out of her house, and relief about her worry that she had made the wrong choice.

          These are all instances where I felt valued. In the first example, I felt it through a lack of action. The second, through a lack of a particular emotional state. The third, by the presence of a particular emotional state. None of these are actions, which I’m defining as “without offering something”.

          The answer of “how do you get to that place” is by feeling it. I received it by virtue of the choices and emotional states of others, and I provided it by experiencing an emotional state and being willing to share it with another.

          In your example, the error for me is that the guy is overthinking it. If people offer what they feel they can offer without feeling used or resentful, that’s the proper amount as determined by the giver. It is the giver to makes that determination, not the one who receives. Does offering dates make him feel good? Does it give him something that he wants and needs? Then that’s a good choice for him. If he feels angry and resentful, not so much. But I would posit that it would benefit him to at least reflect on why he feels that way about the action that has a reasonable likelihood of bringing him something he values.
          But you are quite right that some men would say that….and have posted here about that being so.

          So how do I know how someone else perceives me? By their choices and their emotional state. Do they choose to interact with me, or not? Do they knowingly harm me, hurt me, blame me, judge me? Do they make choices to own their own emotions and be responsible for their own life…..and recognize when they don’t quite meet the mark?

          Most of us are quite good at recognizing how others perceive us. We know how someone perceives us by how we feel in their presence. We sense that they aren’t into us, are angry with us, or are just plain indifferent to us. Most people have a sense of about 80% accuracy, and I would argue that the remaining 20% matters little. In the main, we are usually right. And it is enough – the reasons behind the behavior don’t always matter. If someone’s nice to me, I don’t wonder why. If they whack me in the nose, I’m going to move to a safe distance before wondering why….and assuming that it may well have nothing to do with me at all.

          My job is to be me, to be responsible for my choices, my emotional states and my actions. Whatever the other person perceives or does…if it’s not working for me, my job isn’t to make them see things differently or to explain it to them or ask them to act differently. It’s to accept that person as equally valid, and move on. That’s the opposite of obsessing or worrying about if they met someone else first. It’s accepting their current choices and emotional states as being the metric.

        9. Jeremy

          Many people who are totally oblivious to motivations and meta-goals have happy marriages, Marika.   Problem is, more people equally oblivious don’t.   They either have divorces or unhappy marriages, the combination of which outnumber happy marriages significantly.   And as far as I can tell, those breakdowns all have something to do with goals.   Goals unmet.   Goals irrevocably met.   Goals that have ceased to exist.   Changes in goals that sparked changes in priorities, which sparked changes in behavior.   Would not the understanding of these goals be the best prevention?


          It’s not that I think understanding motivations is the ONLY way to improve the odds.   Marry a giver…and be one too.   Let that be the primary quality you search for.   Not an “altruistic alpha” who gives when it suits him, a person who gives because giving is his nature.   Cultivate selflessness and insist on it in your partner!   Cease and desist being attracted to selfishness.   Make a list of each others’ priorities (as they actually are) and make a point of meeting the most important ones daily, no matter how tired you are, no matter how unbalanced you perceive the power scales to be.   Cultivate gratitude.   Do these things yourself and for God’s sake marry someone who does the same!….


          ….But honestly, Marika, who does this?   Look at the qualities that so many of the people who write in to Evan want in their dates.   The serial daters who’ve gotten so good at dating, so good at all the qualities that make a good date but not a good partner.   So good at “nexting.”   So good at living alone.   So good at making lists of qualities they want in a partner that include everything except what actually matters.


          Would you believe that, IMHO, understanding motivations and meta-goals may not be the only way to improve the odds, but might just be the easiest way?

        10. Marika

          Thank you, Jeremy

          This reminds me of my last year at high school. Our teachers told us to study more, work harder. “Do you know how many hours of study the girls at (x exclusive private school) are doing??”. And I would freak out. Study more??!! Work harder?? But of course they weren’t talking specifically to me, but to everyone and certainly the flaky girl sitting next to me Who probably wasn’t paying attention.

          The simple points you gave of how to achieve this, day to day. Like some easy- to- follow-study notes…so perfect, thank you. More valuable than you’ll ever know.

        11. sylvana


          I think what Nissa said is true, and we simply have a different understanding of what desire is. It has nothing to do with preferences or meta-goals, but simply the interpretation of the word.

          To me, desire = a much stronger version of “I want to/feel a need to … (you fill in the blank)”. Whether that may be I want to have sex, I want to own that horse, I want to drive that car, I want to succeed, I want to do something for him/her, etc. I DESIRE to do so. For whatever reason.

          The motivation behind WHY I desire/want to is not desire. Desire is the result of the motivation.

          Motivation can be physical, mental, or emotional — all causing desire.

          I desire to have sex with you because I love you (love being the motivation behind the desire, the reason for the desire). This seems to be your idea of holistic desire.


          I desire to have sex with you, because the way you look/move/do something turns me on (visual or mental stimuli leading to physical arousal being the motivation behind the desire). This seems to be what your consider lust, or just arousal.

          I desire to masturbate/reach orgasm while watching a porn star because I’m horny (pure physical arousal being the motivation behind the desire, with visual as an aid).

          When it comes to sex, it seems you look at desire, lust, and arousal as three different things. To me, all three mean the same thing: A desire to have sex/sexual stimulation for WHATEVER reason. Whether that be because I’m in love, because someone/something turned me on, or because I’m just horny.

          To you, it seems the “desire” (what we would call motivation) behind the desire is what makes all the difference.

          SEX (to me) is meaningless without an underlay of desire.

          The way I read that, you just said that you don’t want to have sex with someone who is not aroused/does not want to have sex with you. (Short of rapists, and truly desperate folks, who does?)

          I think what you meant was what Nissa had said. To you, sex is meaningless without an underlay of a holistic/emotional reason (love/wanting you) for their desire/lust/arousal/wanting to have sex.

          In that, I actually fully agree with you. That the REASON they desire me make a huge difference.

          It’s all about the motivation. Not the desire. You might desire to have me around, but if it’s only because I help you move furniture, your desire is pretty much meaningless.

          If I understand this correctly now:

          To you, desire (wanting you in the way Nissa described/desire for the person) leads to “desire” (arousal/horniness/desire to have sex), which then leads to sex itself.

          The confusion for me stemmed from using the same term (desire) for both the motivation (which might be emotional, physical, or mental), and the outcome (arousal/horniness/wanting to have sex).

          I think it’s the same as the term “hot” that tends to cause a lot of confusion. To Emily (I believe) and I, hot means someone who arouses us strongly, regardless of how objectively good-looking they are. To a lot of other people “hot” was reserved for those on top of the attractiveness scale, and not necessarily tied to how much physical arousal they cause in you.

  3. 3

    The theory is fine, but not practical . If you’re middle aged, the ‘good strong committed fish’ aren’t many for you. It’s a numbers game. There aren’t as many eligible men for the available women. Tho I know it only takes one, good luck with that wait. Until then, …

  4. 4
    Mrs Happy

    The OP in the article needs to learn to chose men who can love.
    Generous-with-their-feelings, happy, kind, giving, willing-to-fall-in-love, men. Not men so contained, selfish and insular they never tell her they love her. (Why she stays with partners who don’t show or verbalise their love is a whole other can of worms, and her therapist needs to pick up her game and help the OP understand that. Actually the OP needs a better therapist, but that’s off-topic.)
    If the OP is in her 30’s, has been dating over a decade, is reasonably attractive, kind, healthy and emotionally stable, and no man has ever romantically professed his love for her, she’s just picking the wrong men. The statistical anomaly is her faulty screening process.

    1. 4.1

      Great points, Mrs Happy, wise advice.

      I was surprised and saddened to read that you went through a phase of being with an angry/abusive man in a previous comment. a couple of weeks ago. It sounds like you were able to overcome your attraction to toxic people and get to a place of following your own advice – as per the above. Was this hard to do? If you don’t mind me asking.

      1. 4.1.1
        Mrs Happy

        I concluded, after experience and reading, a person’s temperament, daily mood state and behaviour with the everyday things, are by far the most important characteristics to evaluate for a LTR partner (and so far above looks in importance I roll my eyes at all the SMV/RMV discussions).
        Not hard to do, but it required me to date and be together with many men before I worked it out, and I still kept making mistakes towards the end (i.e. my husband isn’t perfect). I never had a string of toxic partners, but I did prioritise intelligence over nice for too long. It’s also very easy to second guess myself, and wonder, hmm, should I have prioritised x or y more in choosing a life partner – e.g. I usually think something like this when an enormous tax bill comes in, and it’s me who has to work more to pay it, while I’m surrounded by women who don’t earn anything and live the high life. (And then I read an Evan blog telling me to do even more for my relationship. With what spare mind and body and week, I think.) But then I recall they are married to selfish, very family-hands-off men.
        Anyway, I will teach my daughter what is important to prioritise to achieve emotional comfort, when she is older. I wish my mum had taught me.

        1. Jeremy

          I wondered if you were still upset by that.   You craft your silences artfully.   I often wonder whether I read too much in between your lines, whether the messages I read are intended or not. I like to try to include at least a couple of layers in my posts, but I never claimed to be overt.

          At any rate, I understand.   Neither Evan nor I intended it the way it came out – of course husbands should also do exactly what we said wives should, of course wives shouldn’t do more when the husbands don’t.   It’s much like this post, in fact.   You focussed (understandably) on how the OP should improve her picker.   I focussed on what she could do better assuming her picker was working right.   Neither advice set is enough on its own.   They function best together.   Like spouses.


          Oh, and one last thing.   I know you already know all of this.   So why am I writing it? 🙂

        2. Marika

          Thank you, Mrs Happy.

          I’m sorry you had to learn that lesson the hard way, but I’m glad you learned it. I know it intellectually, I know what matters long term and what doesn’t make me happy, but I still struggle to put it into action. It’s very frustrating.

    2. 4.2

      You are right, of course.   I liked the part of the article where Havrilesky talks about her history of choosing men based on their passion for some purpose in life, not necessarily because she wanted those men, but because she wanted to BE them.   She wanted that passion.   This is such a lousy heuristic for choosing men.   You won’t imbibe his passion by osmosis.   And if his passion is for other things, it isn’t necessarily going to be for you.   You need to pick a man who will be passionate about YOU.   As Mrs Happy wrote.   And when you do that, you have to show him that you’re passionate about him, else he will lose his passion for you (unless he is anxiously attached, in which case he’ll only try harder).

      1. 4.2.1
        Mrs Happy

        To reply to your above but one, you don’t read too much into my lines. I feel like you are me, aside from being male, a diff religion, and, you know, on the other side of the planet which means we can’t easily intersect and become friends. Actually I think I met a colleague of yours months ago and I was very tempted to send a verbal message via him, but restrained myself. Now I think I should’ve gone with my first instinct. We all usually should, really. I was at a Xmas concert last year and heard someone talking to a Marika and so I eavesdropped, watching, wondering, somewhat excited, before realising, it’s unlikely she’d use her real name here, and sadly walking away.
        Me feeling so same to you is probably because we’ve had very similar upbringings (in the essentials, mostly the lack thereof) and adult moulding, upon identical baseline abilities, in similar societies, so our minds have turned out eerily close.
        I wasn’t upset with you. I am the opposite of a passive aggressive silent character, and the older I get, the more frankly blunt I become. I do get tired of being told how much more I ‘should’ do – that’s not directed at you or anyone, just society at large, but aspects of the theme arise reading this blog so I leave the blog for a while. I just want to be. It’s a very American concept to have to keep “working” at a relationship, and people who live in North America take it as read, like your backwards dates, not realising the rest of the world aren’t necessarily the same. I don’t want to continually work at relationships, and nor I suspect do most people in this country. I just want to be myself and have a calm life. Not always adding more tasks.
        My kids have been sick and hospitalised and I’m exhausted. So I’m a bit over it all. A bad few weeks. I don’t want sympathy, I’m just explaining. My life is generally very very good, and I am so lucky.

        1. Marika

          Mrs Happy

          I would go with your first instinct! That said, I don’t remember going to a Christmas concert last year… I often think I probably have seen the kids of at least one of the women in your social circle. Likely many more. We see the kids from most of the most prestigious schools. East and North. Other schools too (thank goodness), of course.

          I agree that we have different dating cultures here. So much of what’s written here is so foreign (pun intended!) to me. Have you ever dated someone who paid for everything for weeks or months on end? Would you even feel comfortable with that??

          That said, I’ve always found relationships take work and patience and giving…but I think you’re just way less of a people pleaser than me (which is a good way to be). If your marriage is good and you’re happy in general, I think disregard the advice that doesn’t fit. Eg I’d go crazy and the Australian birth rate would plummet if we women ‘did nothing’ 🙂

          I’m so sorry about your kids. Hospital?…Gosh. Are they okay now?

        2. Adrian

          Hi Mrs. Happy,

          I know you said you don’t want sympathy but is it okay if I send positive thoughts and hope your kids get better as well as your weeks?

        3. Jeremy

          I hope the kids are home and well, or at least on their way to a speedy recovery.   And I hope that you and your husband have also had some down time since then – what a stressful time it must have been for all of you.   I vividly recall rushing my (then) 2 year old daughter to the hospital for an acute asthma attack, listening to her gasp for air, lying beside her in the hospital at night as she slept. The terror. Gives perspective about how little other things matter, things that seem so important when life is good.


          I spend so much mental energy throughout the year being anxious that the kids will bring home a stomach virus, for example – it’s one of those anxieties I can’t seem to shake when things are good.   Then last week my 6 year old crawled into my lap, said “Daddy, I love you and I need to go to bed,” and then yakked all over me.   We were up all night with her, then 2 days later with my 3 year old, then my wife, then my 9 year old, then me, and though my 11 year old hasn’t yet had it, he’s watching it all like a slow-motion avalanche coming at him that he can’t avoid.   And yet, in spite of this being the thing that causes me anxiety, as I go through it it isn’t all that terrible.   It’s messy and tiring, but not terrifying.   And funnily, it becomes one of those memories that, in retrospect, bring families closer together.   Funny how that works.   I wonder now, as my own stomach pain and fever slowly fade, whether I’ll remember this, or whether the anxiety will re-assert itself one all is again well.   When all is well, it is so easy to take for granted what one has – one’s health, the love of one’s spouse (however that spouse chooses to express that love), one’s family….and so easy to focus on the things that one does not have.

  5. 5

    I think it’s terribly sad that a lot of women personalise this (and I certainly have, in the past) and think that they’re somehow not worthy of the man’s love in some way, or not able to attract it, or whatever.

    I think it’s really important for women to understand, not only their own worth and what they should require from a relationship, but also the fact that there are many men out there who are not truly available for love and for an intimate relationship. In many ways it’s a maturity thing. If a man is fairly young and has not properly “awoken” to the concept of romantic love and the value of a relationship, then he is going to want to continue to “play around” until that does happen for him. That means he may date women, may even get into relationships, but he won’t be fully present and he won’t commit. He doesn’t yet know that the sweetness of partnership and love is what he wants yet.

    Likewise, men who are recovering from a divorce or major heartbreak may also not be available to love for quite some time afterwards. They’ve been badly hurt by investing their all into a relationship, and they’re reluctant to do it again. They need time to heal from that.

    I make these comments about men because, obviously, I date men and not women, and this is what I have observed time and time again. Also, I have noticed that, for women (in general) the ability to love romantically and to want a relationship is a lot more innate and comes a lot earlier, whereas for men it has to bloom or “awaken” in them or they have to be ready for it. This is in no way disparaging towards men because I think that once men mature or awaken to love, they can be devoted and fantastically committed and loyal partners – possibly even more so than many women. I’m also not trying to generalise – obviously people are all slightly different and their situations and characteristics are unique. But this is definitely something I have overwhelmingly observed.

    So if the OP is dating men who are not ready for love, relationship and commitment, it really wouldn’t matter how wonderful she was or how amazing her connection with the man – he is not going to be able to fully “see” her and value the relationship the way that he should. That’s why it’s so important, no matter how much you like the guy, to screen for men who are actually looking earnestly for relationship and commitment.

    1. 5.1
      Emily, to


      I think it’s really important for women to understand, not only their own worth and what they should require from a relationship, but also the fact that there are many men out there who are not truly available for love and for an intimate relationship. In many ways it’s a maturity thing.  

      It’s exactly the way the “Sex in the City ” episode described it … when they have their “light on,” like an available taxi, they’re ready. Before that, as they drive around with the light off, they’re not ready. And once their light is turned on, they usually very quickly find someone and make it very obvious they want a real relationship. It’s not the woman. Its the timing. You can sense when a man is ready to settle down. You can read it in his energy and non-verbal cuing. Especially if he opens with, “I have my own house and a good job.”     🙂

      1. 5.1.1


        “Before that, as they drive around with the light off, they’re not ready. And once their light is turned on, they usually very quickly find someone and make it very obvious they want a real relationship. It’s not the woman. Its the timing. You can sense when a man is ready to settle down.”

        Yes yes yes!!

        I love that scene from SATC about men being like taxis with their lights on or off. It explains so succinctly and in a few seconds what I have observed for years and years.

        It really annoys me when a woman comes forth with her dating dilemma, and all the people around her pipe up that tired old line, “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Whereas to me, it’s perfectly obvious that the guy was never ready for a relationship to begin with. It had nothing to do with her. So so so much of the time it has nothing at all to do with the woman in question.

        And it’s absolutely true what you (and Miranda from that SATC episode) say about, when their light comes on, men commit quickly. They become single-focused and often marry the next great girl who comes along. So much about dating men is about timing and about meeting a guy who is in a mindset and place where he wants a serious relationship. If he’s not, you could be a young Claudia Schiffer, an MBA graduate, a stand-up comedienne, and a Martha Stewart cook all rolled into one and he will not appreciate you the way he should.

        I know this comment is getting long, but I love to use the example of my ex because he is such a classic example of this. He and I dated for years – I was head over heels in love with him, and my “light” was definitely on. I wanted to commit. He, on the other hand, was utterly ambivalent about anything more serious. For years I packed my bag back and forth between his house feeling like the quintessential “weekend” girlfriend. Everything about his life screamed bachelor and not wanting to let someone else into his life. He would throw up every excuse in the book for why our relationship could not progress.

        Then, when he turned 39, it was like an internal alarm went off in him. As he was nearing closer to 40, I could actually visibly see the panic in his face. We had been broken up for 3 years by this point but he asked me, out of the blue, if I wanted to get back together and MOVE IN with him simultaneously (this was fairly recently). After a bit of thought, I declined (my unhappiness with the relationship went deeper than just the lack of commitment), but he got into a relationship with a girl quickly after that and I can see he is far more serious with her than I have seen him for a long time – and there’s nothing particularly special about this girl. She’s just caught him at the right time. Whereas the string of girls who dated him before that, all wishing and hoping for something more, all waited in vain and eventually moved on. And they would have been wrong to personalise it and think there was something unlovable about them – he just didn’t want that at that time in his life.

        1. Emily, to

          Hi Miss Clare,

          Then, when he turned 39, it was like an internal alarm went off in him. As he was nearing closer to 40, I could actually visibly see the panic in his face.   … but he got into a relationship with a girl quickly after that and I can see he is far more serious with her than I have seen him for a long time — and there’s nothing particularly special about this girl.  

          I find this very disconcerting. I’m not looking right now, but if someone I was really into suddenly showed up at my door (not at all likely, of course) I’d become ready. It should be more about the woman than the timing (although of course timing always plays a part). How many great chances does one person get?

          I mentioned those two guys I worked with … one I had a very awkward dinner with. I declined a second date. He asked out and then married the only other single woman in the building.  I’m of course projecting but, like flim flam, this is another one of my triggers. Being picked out because I’m convenient instead of because I’m me. It creeps me out to the very core.

        2. Clare


          “Being picked out because I’m convenient instead of because I’m me. It creeps me out to the very core.”

          I don’t like it either. It was a major reason why I couldn’t get back together with my ex when he asked, despite how much I had loved him and wanted that for all those years. If he could not appreciate me all those years when I was making myself available to him and loving him and making so much effort for him, I did not want to get into a relationship simply because his biological clock was going off.

          Unfortunately I’ve gone on many dates through the years with guys who were “ready” and who took one look at me and realised I would fit the bill of a wife they could take home to meet their parents. I could sense this right away and I could never bring myself to continue seeing them. It’s like a strange combination of clingyness and not fully “seeing” you. To me, in a case like this, you may have a husband, but you do not have a partner or a soulmate.

          I would never settle for someone who wanted me *just* because he had decided he was not ready. If that were the case I could have been married several times over by now. But I did realise that, when it comes to men, timing and their readiness is a huge consideration which you have to take into the mix. It’s just one of many factors you have to consider. It’s just that I realised you could have met the perfect guy, have the greatest connection in the world, and if he was not ready or not at the right time in his life, the relationship would not last, no matter what you did.

        3. Emily, to

          Hi Miss Clare,
          “Unfortunately I’ve gone on many dates through the years with guys who were “ready” and who took one look at me and realised I would fit the bill of a wife they could take home to meet their parents. I could sense this right away and I could never bring myself to continue seeing them. It’s like a strange combination of clingyness and not fully “seeing” you.”

          I’ve felt that vibe, too, and when I did, I did what the song by A Flock of Seagulls said … “And I ran, I ran so far away … ” 🙂 Their energy actually repelled me. I was watching the TV series “Mad Men” the other day and the Jon Hamm character says to a woman he likes (who’s a bit hippiesque and a free spirit), “I want you. Doesn’t that mean anything to someone like you?” And of course it did.This may sound corny, but I think, in order to really pick someone out for who she is, you can’t be needy. You have to be, on a certain level, ok being on your own and a bit self-contained.
          The problem is that, when I’ve really liked someone, I’m too busy feeling my feelings. It takes a while to come down off that and really see the guy for who he is and how he sees me. Often, he’s experiencing something very different.

        4. anon

          I have to agree with the other posters, that SATC episode is truthful.   Men that are ready get proactive about commitment suddenly, and act fast.   When American men finally have all of their finances/careers/emotions   lined up they are ‘ready’ for marriage, want a legacy, and get with the next girl quickly. Baby rabies- men get them too! Sometimes more than women.   I worked with women from other countries who had arranged marriages and I mentioned I found this very curious and unnatural.   They pointed out the the US culture is just ‘as weird’ because, although not pre-arranged, the US men choose women based on THE MANS circumstances and timing, not on the desirability or quality of the woman. So, to outsiders, it is just as ‘artificial’ in terms of ‘true love’ because it is not ‘love against the odds’ but rather, love because he was getting older, had his finances in order, and was finally in a position to commit.     Hardly a ‘love marriage’ when it is more about the mans timing than any thing   else.   This is just as impersonal -as an arranged marriage. I had to concede, they had a point!

        5. Clare

          anon & Emily,

          Yeah it’s endlessly frustrating to date different guys and to have a great connection with some of them, which they can also appreciate and feel, and for it ultimately not to work out because the guy “isn’t ready” or doesn’t have his ducks lined up in a row for some reason.

          Similarly, for the guy who suddenly gets a bee in his bonnet about getting serious and settling down, it can feel as if they’re not “seeing” you but just want a relationship and partner so badly. It’s definitely not just women that do this.

          Anon, you raise such an interesting point about this being likened to arranged marriages. I think so, so, so many marriages happen because the person is ready for that and someone comes along who fits the bill, rather than it being about extraordinary love. From this point of view, while the person may “choose” their partner, they are not being overly discerning or holding out for something amazing. It kind of turns the idea of choosing a partner on its head. Should you wait till you become ready and then choose another, good-enough partner who is also ready? Or should you hold out for the partner who is that rare combination of ready and someone with whom you can build delicious and deeply compatible love? (I know which one I would choose.)

        6. Emily, to


          I think so, so, so many marriages happen because the person is ready for that and someone comes along who fits the bill, rather than it being about extraordinary love.

          I agree in that this is the way most people get married. They decide it’s time to find a partner and then meet someone who has similar values and goals and with whom they are compatible. It’s not a “big love thing.” And it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Surely if you build a life with someone and have children, love is there. I think a “big thing” is pretty rare. Even rarer if it’s mutual and both people move on it to experience it.

        7. Jeremy

          There is this odd modern notion that “big love” happens before marriage.   That people meet, experience some sort of spark that leads to big love and then they marry.   Big love comes AFTER you marry.   It comes after you build a family and a life, and you look at your spouse and can’t imagine your life without them.   Losing them would literally be like losing half of yourself.   The love we feel during courtship is the little sister of big love, the immature form.   The form that is noisy and insistent, like an infant, and lacks the depth and poise of an adult.   We have it so backwards in the way we think of it today, I think.   This is not to say we should not love the one we marry, but rather that so many people have this notion of what they should feel that isn’t based on reality.


          When I was a young, religious, idealistic kid, I went on a trip to Israel with my family.   I imagined that as I set my feet down on the streets of Jerusalem that I’d feel a tingle, a sense of holiness, serenity.   I looked forward to it.   Problem was, when I got there that wasn’t at all how I felt.   It was just a place – a place different than where I came from, but a place nevertheless.   Full of people bad and good.   No tingle, no holiness, no serenity.   I contemplated this lack of feeling, both then and years from then.   At first I thought something must have been wrong with me that I couldn’t feel what I should have.   Then later I felt there was something wrong with the place – if I didn’t feel the feeling, maybe the place wasn’t functioning as it should.   As I reached intellectual maturity I realized that the problem was neither with me nor with the place, it was with the assumption.   The assumption that being in a certain place should make me feel a certain way, as opposed to being curious as to what thoughts and feelings I would actually experience.   Moses’ burning bush was a miracle in his mind, but other onlookers would have only seen shrubbery, no fire, no angel, no message.   His telling others that that’s what they’d see would be misdirection.   Their disappointment in not seeing it would be misplaced….because it was never there.   But that doesn’t mean we won’t find meaning in something else, transcendence in another way.   It just won’t necessarily be what we expect based on what others have told us.


          I’m rambling.   Sorry.   It’s a topic I like to muse about. “Big Love” was the subject.   The assumption of what we “should” feel.   Perhaps my rambling applies after all.

        8. anon

          Jeremy- it’s funny you mention the ‘notion of big love’ that you believe happens AFTER building the life together- mortgage, marriage, kids, etc., and usually not before. So, this is assuming we are talking about younger people and first time marriages. Because, your notion is this is what secretly scares me away from divorced dads (who are 99% of the dating market in your forties). They have already done the ‘most important thing in life” with some one else and now have little mini-me humans walking around as constant examples of that. They already had their big first time thrills and nostalgia with some one else, and now their kids are the apple of their eye. Those spots are now gone and taken. I feel like I would be an interloper, outsider, or Mary Poppins convenience nanny because
          of all the aforementioned. Evan, it scares me when the women in your ads say “Gosh, I’m so in love! He treats me super, he has THREE KIDS”…. That is not the life I envisioned for myself. It is someone else’s script, and movie. Is it better to be alone and living your own life, lonely, or blending into another women’s family? I guess do one as long as you can stand it, and then try the other?

        9. sylvana


          Big love comes AFTER you marry.   It comes after you build a family and a life, and you look at your spouse and can’t imagine your life without them.

          I have to agree that that type of big love comes after spending years together, not in the beginning.  That being said, I also agree with Emily, that “big love” is pretty rare. Even rarer if it’s mutual.

          And I think in order for it to grow into something very special, there has to be something special in the beginning. Something that sets that partner apart from all the others ones with equal looks, chemistry, relationship potential.

          Sadly, building a family and life together is in no way a guarantee that “big love” will ever develop. In reality, it often doesn’t. At best, you grow used to your partner and having them around.

          I think that’s what people are afraid of. Betting on the relatively low possibility that you might finally feel that way so many years down the road when you’re not feeling that way in the first couple of years. Especially, given that they likely don’t see much evidence for it around them.

          Personally, I have to say that I’ve never seen evidence of big love growing over time. A deep fondness, mutual comfort with the relationship, yes. But not what you described. The few couples I know that display what I would consider big love have said that they felt that way right from the start, and have simply managed to maintain it. Yes, it grew even stronger over the years. But it was extremely special shortly into the relationship.

        10. Evan Marc Katz

          Sylvana, I, for one, am an example of the Big Love that grew over time and wasn’t based on initial intense feelings. 12 years in, we get better and better. My job is to help other people achieve the same.

        11. Emily, to


          Personally, I have to say that I’ve never seen evidence of big love growing over time.  

          I think, also, that some people aren’t looking for it, don’t care about feeling it, have never felt it. They don’t think like that. They don’t feel like that. I have a guy friend who’s been marred twice and had countless girlfriends. He has has never felt that way about any woman. He’s in his 60s. Now… he’s also never been alone. He’s gone from woman to woman. He’s top priority is to be in a relationship.

        12. Jeremy

          Anon, I tend to look at the issue a bit differently.   The divorced dads you mention – they were obviously unable to build “big love” with the mother of their children.   Else they wouldn’t be divorced dads.   They are looking to find it, to build it.


          My mother-in-law remarried about 15 years ago after an acrimonious divorce.   The man she married had been a family friend for decades.   In fact, my wife’s best friend in the whole world while growing up was the daughter of the man who eventually married her mother.   The two girls used to fantasize about being sisters, and then one day they were.   Anyway, my point is that both my mother-in-law and her husband had built families with their former spouses – the one ending in divorce, the other in death.   That did not prevent them from building big love together over the years.   My wife’s step-father is more of a father figure to my wife than her dad ever was, more of a grandfather to my kids by far.   My mother-in-law fulfils a similar role to her husband’s family.   Neither is an imposter, as you suggest, a bookmark filling in for big love that has been had and lost.   They have built new big love….because both were open to doing so.   That openness was the key, I think.

  6. 6

    Damn that was P O W E R F U L !    Thanks for sharing the article, Evan.

    Both men and women need authenticity to fall in love, and that means owning all the messy and imperfect parts of who we are (and sometimes that means acting out a bit and feeling a bit crazy). Finding love requires taking those kind of chances from time to time… It sounds like the questioner was always on her best behavior, playing it safe and “mature” rather than embracing and expressing the depth of longing and despair she felt.  

  7. 7
    Emily, to

    If a woman wants a serious relationship and/or marriage, she needs to pick from the relationship-minded men who want her.

    1. 7.1

      Very true. But this woman doesn’t seem to have a problem finding serious relationships. It’s love that she can’t find.

      1. 7.1.1
        Emily, to


        Here’s what she herself wrote: —   I  also know that he was always a little bit on the fence about letting me fully into his life. (Literally and metaphorically: Whenever I would go to his apartment there would never be a place for me to sit. He would have clothes and books and projects piled on every single one of his chairs and his sofa.)

        So she knew he wasn’t “all in,” but she was hoping he would change. He wasn’t fully invested, which is what she wanted. She needed to “next” him and move on.

        You can tell when a man is on the market for something serious. I watched it with two divorced guys I used to work with   … they both married the next woman they dated.

  8. 8




    That article may have just shifted the course of my life:

    “The lack of spark within you comes from the conflict between WHO YOU TRY TO BE and WHAT YOU REALLY WANT FOR YOURSELF. You want more. You act like you don’t want more, you act like you’re satisfied, but in fact, you want a lot more.”

  9. 9

    It’s time to forget about being lovable. And in fact, it’s time to forsake someone else’s idea of what gives you a spark or no spark. Block the “other” from this picture. No more audience. You are the cherished and the cherisher. You are the eminently lovable and the lover. You are a million brilliant sparks, flashing against a midnight sky. Stop making room for someone else to sit down. Fuck “good” partners. Fuck waiting to be let in. You are already in. You are in. Cherish yourself.

    This is exactly what I wanted to read in this blog.   Full stop.

  10. 10

    I had never heard of Heather Havrilevski before reading this post and it has now become my binge read du jour. Thanks Evan, i really needed this!

    The part of the blog post that most appealed was wherein she suggested we stop being cookie cutter versions for ourselves, in order to appeal to the outside world. I notice that this is holding me back in the world of work and in my self expression. I am only beginning to address it now, it’s a very bad habit to overcome, this might be a harder habit to quit than smoking!

  11. 11

    oh these sorts of columns. Polly isn’t a terrible person, just a normal one. Normal people write for normal people. Shocker! What gets me is this whole “embrace your uniqueness ” bit. Most people aren’t unique. If you are, you’ll know. You will be made to suffer for it, I assure you. My misfortune is my uniqueness.   I’d trade it in any day.

    1. 11.1

      I had to check the article out again to figure out who Polly is. As for uniqueness if we talk about genetics it’s technically true but yes, uniqueness is distinction from a majority so yes, the article talks about normal people. My uniqueness brought me a lot of misfortune as well, I know perfectly well that how it is like to be ostracized for reasons that are completely outside of your control and rather subtle. I am on autistic spectrum too so at least I have an idea where that comes from. There was a time I would do anything to trade it in too, but I’ve come to a point where I don’t care and use the plus points that it brings about. It also made me cherish those around me who accept me for what I am and not give a damn about what the others say. Most of complaints about social interactions are rather pointless to me. Uniqueness can be both a curse and blessing depending on how you handle it, I guess. By the way, is there any news about your son? Hope he’s doing alright and you’re enjoying yourselves together.

      1. 11.1.1

        He’s doing well 🙂 thanks for thinking of him. Life is decent. I’ve been focusing in letting go of the desire for certain things in life. I’ve successfully killed the need for a romantic relationship, so that’s a plus.

        My irritation with advice columns is how steeped in the toxic optimism culture they seem to be. We aren’t looking at reality. People are encouraged to see the positive in everything and deny the very real negative in their life. If I wrote to the author of ask polly and discussed my plan to have blonde hair, get more fillers to smooth out my acne scars, wear colored contacts, and lose weight in order to move ahead in my career, she’d likely think I was nuts. But it’s all very calculated. The numbers indicate that’s what I should do. That’s reality, optimism and positivity be damned. I’ve thought about changing my name as well since it’s three syllables and fairly uncommon (it’s also associated with Hispanics). The whole column struck me as banal. It’s like you average Nashville luxury condo resident telling me how they are nerdy because they love Game of Thrones. I just sigh and smile. They can call me when they really have issues lol.

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