Coping: How I learned to stop dating eejits and find the right man
As a fatherless daughter, I sought out the wrong men when I was younger, until the philosopher Spinoza helped me rewire myself
Spinoza thought that sex and romantic relationships got in the way of the real meat and potatoes of life
As fatherless daughters often can, I had bad taste in the opposite sex when I was younger. We tend to seek out the treatment our parents gave us, even if it was bad, because this becomes fixed in our minds very early as being love. No matter how awful a parent might have been, there will still have been moments of tenderness. We will associate that parent’s character traits – even the worst ones – with love, and consequently be drawn to them.
It didn’t take long for me to realise, at about 19, that I had it deeply wrong. After a couple of dalliances with the sort of boys your mother would describe as “undesirable” – eejits, basically, who were not dangerous, but had the sensitivity and selflessness of a rhinoceros – I stepped back from any sort of dating. I was studying philosophy at the time and my favourite philosopher, Spinoza, had some handy recommendations in this area. They can be summarised as follows: don’t have sex or get into relationships. This advice didn’t come from any religious prudery or sense of shame. Rather, Spinoza thought that sex and romantic relationships got in the way of the real meat and potatoes of life: reason and understanding.
I took his advice
At the time, with my tender young heart in shreds and painfully conscious that I needed to rewire my sense of what love looks like, and what a good man is, I took Spinoza’s advice gratefully.
For quite a while, it worked wonderfully. I came to understand the mistakes I had made, and why I had made them. But then I got comfortable. A life free of the excitement and tumult of young love was actually incredibly easy. While many of my university classmates were rocketing pelvis-first through each year, I was in the library reading Spinoza, and eating smelly foods such as tuna paté without worrying about disgusting anyone.
The only problem was, almost seven years passed by, and I had become weird. My careful choice to avoid relationships while I sorted myself out had gone far beyond a rut, and now I couldn’t talk to any man who displayed more than friendly interest in me without blushing and squinting at him in a very unattractive and probably unhinged-looking way.
Online dating was the answer. I would make a profile, meet men who seemed nice and interesting during the day in very public places, and attempt to get comfortable conversing with the opposite sex. It was nerve-racking.
There was the man I met who was quite simply a different person from the man in his photograph, and made my skin crawl. I didn’t even sit down before leaving that meeting. There was the man who told me he “didn’t agree” when I politely said that I didn’t feel that sort of connection but wished him the best. There was the man who was almost certainly gay, but knew a lot about owls, so I stayed out of curiosity. Then there were a few others who were all very nice and not axe-murderers, but one or other of us didn’t see it going anywhere. I was really only in it for the practice anyway, so I kept my distance.
One day, I let my guard down without realising it. I received a message on my online profile from an unusual person. It contained no photos of angry parts of his anatomy, which is, depressingly, a good start. He lived in the UK, so I would never meet him anyway. Sadly, he wasn’t informative about owls, but he knew his philosophy and was incredibly engaging.
Although I had left it far too long to get back on the dating horse, I was relieved to find that I had successfully rewired myself. He was kind and warm, childlike and intelligent and reliable. I managed, somehow, to let him in. More than two years later, he is in the next room of our home making occasional huffing noises because we just had a bit of a fight. In a little while, we will talk about the disagreement and come to a rational compromise because we are lucky to have found one another. Spinoza’s influence hasn’t left me completely.