On jumping from lily pad to lily pad, and learning to swim

Today we’re putting Rust aside for a moment. Let’s talk about dating.

There’s a bit of ancient wisdom so common it’s cliché, that goes like this: “The best way to find love is to stop searching for it. The watched pot never boils, and love finds you when you least expect it. Only by accepting yourself for who you are will you find true connection.”

I hate that piece of ancient wisdom. I have hated it for the longest time.

It always felt like victim-blaming of a sort. Like telling a poor person “oh, it’s your fault, you’re looking for money too hard”. The best way to get a job is to accept being unemployed or something.

For a while, especially when I was using online dating, people would tell me to stop looking so hard, stop using online dating, because only the connections you find without looking were meaningful. The people telling me this were, invariably, not single; in fact, they had been partnered for long enough to barely remember what being single felt like, so I distrusted their advice and resented them for giving it to me.

(And, you know, I still kind of do. When someone is struggling with something you don’t need to worry about, try to recognize that their pain is something you’re blind to, and be wary of giving advice about a thing that has been much easier for you than for them. If you’re a software engineer talking to a jobless construction worker, don’t lecture them about how easy it is to get a job.)

I think this “stop trying so hard” ancient wisdom can border on magical thinking sometimes. People would tell me that I would find love if only I got off dating apps, and I would think about how I would have had no dating life for the past five years without apps. Dating when all your friends and friends-of-friends are the same gender as you is tough.

In fact, I had an empirical example, a friend of mine whose situation was roughly similar, with the same interests and the same all-men social circle, except he tried a lot less hard than me to find dates. And indeed, during that same five-year period he had virtually no dating life. Sometimes I envied him for being so serene about it.

And yet, it felt as if people expected the world to be fair. People can get really defensive when you tell them “I’ve had a really hard time getting laid, and I expect I’ll still have a hard time in the near future”. It’s as if your lack of sexual/sentimental success insults them. It’s a sign there’s something wrong with you.

They need to prove that it’s your fault. You’re too shy. You’re not doing it right. You objectify women. You don’t objectify women enough (seriously, pickup artist types are the worst people to complain about your lack of dating success to). You’re trying too hard. It’ll happen on its own if you let it.

Anyway, people really seem to have this belief that if you’re a virtuous, attractive, confident person, then love will naturally find its way to you no matter what you do. The idea that having a set of hobbies (computer science, role-playing games, parkour) which are extremely male-dominated could be a handicap no matter how confident you are seems foreign to them.

And yet…

Despite everything I said, I find myself thinking about the ancient wisdom more often these days, and finding some truth in it.

For one thing, empirically speaking, I did find love by chance at a time I wasn’t looking, and proceeded to utterly waste that chance by trying too hard. So, you know. Score one for ancient wisdom there.

Also, dating apps are absolute garbage, they’re bad for your mental health, and I’m starting to think they might actually be bad for your long-term dating prospects. The worse your mental state at the time, the worse the effect on your health and prospects.

And, you know, this is what bites about the whole thing. Rich people don’t have trouble finding a job. Happy people don’t have trouble getting laid. It’s that awful dynamic, where not having what you want takes away the tools and confidence that you need to find what you want. Having money means you have more opportunities to find a job, which can get you more money. Being happy means you’re pleasant to be around and more willing to let dating opportunities pass you by until you find the right person, which makes you happier. Being desperate makes people want you to go away.

The way I think about that ancient wisdom now… it’s almost a matter of survival.

I still feel bitter about it, because the wisdom feels like going hungry and being told the solution to your problem is to fast.

But maybe you do need to fast. If you’re eating every single apple you get when you should be planting an orchard, then maybe hunger has taken away your ability for rational thoughts, and if a fast is the only way to get them back, then for fuck’s sake you’re going to go on that fast, and let go of your resentment whenever you see other people eating more than their fill. The resentment is a mind-killer too.

(And it goes without saying, but, you know, other people aren’t apples, they’re not here for your consumption, etc. Being able to respect the agency and non-object-ness of your dating prospects is yet another reason it’s important to work on yourself.)

I don’t want to sound like the ancient wisdom is perfectly right, and past-me was an idiot for not listening to it. Past-me was not an idiot.

In fact, I have a lot of respect for past-me. He had it a lot harder than I have, he went through periods where he was essentially persuaded he’d be alone for most of his life, and he still managed to claw some semblance of a dating life into existence without being a total creep about it. He recognized that the long-term problem was his small homogenous social circle, so he went out and made some friends (good friends too!). He managed to become me, despite all the anger and despair that he was feeling, and never once considered becoming, say, a regular on TheRedPill or whatever. That is no small feat.

(Man, talking about your past self like that is a fantastic way to humblebrag! This feels almost therapeutic.)

But now, I think I should let go of some of his anger and resentment. I still recognize their validity, at least as they applied to him, but I should try to stop feeling them so acutely.

Past me felt angry because he felt like he could drop off the face of the earth and barely anybody would notice. I feel angry because I feel like I could disappear and barely anybody would notice, but that’s not accurate anymore. Friends have checked up on me, invited me to things. That used to never happen.

Past me felt angry because he felt no women would ever hit on him and he always had to make the first move. I feel angry because I feel no women will ever hit on me, except that happened last week.

And yeah, to go back to the ancient wisdom, accepting for a while that you’re not going to get laid, and you need to stop chasing after women and objectifying them really helps you notice those things.

(Although, again, I don’t want to be too harsh on past-me here. He was overall very respectful.)

It’s like weaning off alcohol for a few months and realizing that, well, maybe you weren’t an alcoholic, but you sure had woven alcohol into many parts of your life without realizing it. That you needed alcohol to be happy at parties, that when you were happy you drank to push the high, when you got sad you drank to forget the low, and somewhere along the way alcohol stopped being something that made you happy and became a crutch you put all your weight on.

(On an unrelated note, I have also decided to dampen my alcohol consumption after I did some unpleasant things while drunk.)

So I’m not sure how to feel about the ancient wisdom yet. I think past-me got me to where I am by not listening to it. But I am in a position where it makes a lot more sense.

I still feel some resentment towards the people telling me to Just Be Yourself and crap. I know some high-functioning autistic people have this thing where people don’t realize how hard things are for them because they look normal, but it took them a lot of work to get to the starting point of everyone else. It took them a lot of effort and practice to understand things that other people take for granted. I don’t know if I’m autistic, but that mindset is definitely something I feel.

On the other hand, getting to the starting point the hard way helps you understand the subtle things of life better, because you had to actually think about them and work them out, not just coast through on social programming. What Developmental Milestones Are You Missing? comes to mind.

So… I don’t know how to conclude. I hope it gets easier from here on out, because it sure hasn’t been easy so far. I still have a lot of bad habits to kick, resentments to let go of and lessons to learn, but I feel in a better place to do that work than I ever have.

Work on yourself. The dividends are good.

The title is from Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3, where Mantiss tells Starlord life is a pond and he’s been treating women like lily pads, when he needed to learn to swim. Best plotline in the movie.