Cross-posted from Putanumonit.
I’ve written a lot about approaching dating as a cooperative game: you and your potential partners against the assholes, the algorithm, the politics of skewed ratios, and the sex-negative society. If you’re a straight guy, you have to be rooting for the women you meet to win.
And yet, most of the comments I get treat the idea of cooperation as anathema, a fantasy available only to the GigaChads who monopolize the world’s tiny handful of generous women and are simultaneously deluded by them. They talk about “the research”, which mostly ends up being that one worthless paper on dark triad attractiveness. And when I give advice based not on p-hacked studies but on what worked in my own life, they inform me that I simply cannot fathom what it’s like for the “bottom 80%” of men doomed to eternal lonely suffering:
The issue with Jacob is that, percentage-wise, he’s easily in top 20%. White/Jewish, quite handsome, in his 30s, living in NYC, working in finance, with top 1% IQ, previous military experience, and a small celebrity status. Despite of all of this, the best he could secure is a “poly marriage”.
I never had the patience to argue with these commenters and I’m going to start blocking them for sheer tediousness. Those celibate men who declare themselves beyond redemption deserve their safe spaces, but Putanumonit will not be one. That’s not who I’m writing for.
I’m writing my blog, in large part, for younger me. For Jacob from a couple of weeks ago who hadn’t read some particular book yet, or for teenage Jacob confused about the basics of how people’s minds work. When I write about dating it’s for the Jacob of not-that-long-ago who found dating frustrating and difficult, someone whom only his grandma would assuredly anoint as “easily top 20%”. I wish that younger version of me would have had my current posts to read, sans the humorless losers in the comments posting their dreary screeds.
I want to tell you a bit more about that young man and his early experiences with women. These stories aren’t supposed to prove any particular point, mostly I just find them weird and amusing. But if you recognize yourself in them, perhaps you’ll know you came to the right blog.
I turn my head right and see the back of Neta’s head. We are sitting on chairs back-to-back, turning our heads on a whim at the sound of each clap. If we turn in opposite directions she gets to slap me; same direction means a kiss. It’s the graduation party of my elementary school. At 12 I have yet to kiss a girl though I have been slapped, punched, and kicked by quite a few.
Neta and I turn to our respective left sides. Another slap. Neta is one of the prettiest and most popular girls in our class, with dazzling blond hair that’s rare in a small town in Israel and a gift for recess politics. I don’t like her. But hey, I wouldn’t say no to a kiss. There’s one more round to go, I gotta think this through.
I turn to my left again and catch Neta’s eyes. She looks furious, as if I betrayed an unspoken agreement to shift sides each time and get smacked. The crowd of our classmates is already cheering, two slaps and a kiss! They volunteered the two of us for this round of the kiss/slap game, aware of our mutual hostility. Two slaps and a kiss! My heart starts pounding.
We get off our chairs and face each other. I just stand there, not sure of the protocol. I assume some of my classmates have played this game before at parties, parties I wasn’t invited to. My thoughts are interrupted by a hard slap; Neta is in the same after-school tennis practice I’m in and she’s not holding back. Another slap. My face is stinging but I’m excited — my first kiss with a girl!
Neta looks at me. I pucker my lips. She takes a deep breath. Then she turns around and runs off the stage screaming YOU’RE TOO UGLY I CAN’T KISS YOU! I just stand there stunned for a while until her friend steps forward from the crowd yelling at me, you made Neta cry you stinking Russian nerd! This pierces my daze and as I get off the stage I holler back at Neta’s friend that she’s a dumb cow who should fuck herself.
She’s technically right, though. I am one of two Russian-Israelis in the class, and one of two nerds. And so the three of us, nerdy Shimon, Russian Sergey, and intersectional Jacob, mostly hang together. We’re not really bullied or anything and I get along fine with most boys at least, but we don’t really belong.
That’s OK, though, this is the last time I have to see any of these kids. Next year I’m going to the school in Tel Aviv where all the Russian nerds go, even though it means I’ll have to wake up at 6:30 every day and take the train and walk through the seedy part of town. I need to find my tribe, and this ain’t it.
All girls are bitches, Sergey consoles me as I rejoin him on the bleachers. Fucking dumb bitches, I agree. But in my heart, I know that the girls in the Russian nerd school will be great.
I met Lena on the goofy Russian-Israeli dating site whose basic layout hasn’t changed much in 15 years. She looked cute in her tennis skirt photos, I was the rare guy articulate enough to write a paragraph, and that’s all we needed. I suggested a first date on the court. Still in mandatory military service I had zero disposable income available to show a girl a good time, but I knew all the free places to knock a ball around.
On the way over, I tried to talk about what Lena was reading, what she was planning to do after the army, how she found the crazy novel world of online dating. But Lena mostly wanted to talk about abs. Abs were a sign of a serious man, a disciplined man, a man capable of using his body to meet whatever challenge the world throws at him. A guy with no abs was a useless loser, and she had no time for useless losers.
I looked down at my stomach. Three years after boot camp I kept the ravenous appetite but no longer did the 16 hours of physical activity each day that produced it. I was in decent shape and only slightly overweight, but I knew even then that I would never ever have visible abs in my life. I wondered if Lena was being mean or just oblivious. I determined to show off my fitness on the tennis court.
I’m incapable of hitting forehands without my tongue sticking out to this day
After some warm up and banter, Lena suggested playing a set for points. I demurred. She was athletic but her technique was raw, and our date was already accumulating tension of the non-sexual kind. But she insisted, and off we went.
I took the first game easily, then lost the second after a string of undisciplined errors as I was trying to show off my shots. I buckled down to a more defensive style, and it quickly became clear that Lena had no offense that could bother me. As long as I kept hitting the ball back in play, she would eventually make an error as she grew more and more agitated in the hot late-summer afternoon. At 40-0 to me, Lena went for a hard winner that landed a foot wide of the side line. I called it out.
— No fucking way, it was in!
— Sorry, just out. I was right there to see it.
— Why are you lying, Jacob? You think you need to cheat to beat a girl? I saw it land in!
— I thought we would each call our own side of the court, but if you insist we can replay the point.
— We’re not replaying, that was a clean winner! The score was 30-15, so it’s 30-30 now. And if you try to cheat again I’m leaving.
I stared at Lena. Suddenly all the attractiveness I saw in her melted away. Once my hormones subsided around age 20 I realized that a woman’s personality has a massive impact on my very physical perception of her. Girls who are nice to me acquire radiant features in my vision while discovering that a girl is cruel or petulant magnifies every blemish on her face. And I couldn’t imagine a bigger personality flaw than blatantly cheating at tennis.
For the next half hour I casually tortured my date. I hit angles and slices to make her chase the ball endlessly around the court. I would hit several slow lobs in a row to mock her inability to smash. I would bring her to the net with a drop shot and then whack a powerful passing shot within inches of her face not caring if it landed inside. I stopped calling balls in or out, and eventually stopped counting. By the time Lena admitted to a 1-6 loss, her face was bright red from exertion, heat, and barely-contained rage.
And then for some reason I was very cordial and polite as I walked Lena home, spending the few shekels I had on a cold chocolate milkshake for her (I didn’t have one, conscious again of my ab-lessness). I still have the habit of being agreeable to a fault on dates, at least when my passions aren’t inflamed by sports. I think this habit mostly served to extend excruciating dates long past the hour they should have ended. But then again, I had nothing better to do at that age than to walk a couple miles with a sullen chick slurping her milkshake as I expounded on some nonsense topic she couldn’t give less of a fuck about.
living in NYC, working in finance
The night before my 23rd birthday I attempted to bake a chocolate banana cake to bring to work. I was hamstrung equally by the lack of equipment in the kitchen — I split a $500/month run-down apartment with two roommates who never cooked — and lack of experience — my go-to dinner those days was mixing a can of corn with tuna and sliced onion in a bowl. Despite several setbacks, by 2 am I had managed to produce a baking pan containing something that was solid enough and smelled vaguely of the two flagship ingredients.
In the morning I woke up late, frantically texting the colleague who gave me a lift to the office to beg him to wait. I opened the fridge to discover that one of my roommates, the anorexic-looking physics grad student, ate overnight almost half the cake I hoped to feed twenty coworkers with. I ran out into the hot desert air carrying the other half in both hands, bumping into neighbors as I ran to catch my ride.
Our office was at the edge of an industrial park located at the edge of a small town just outside the city at the edge of the Negev desert that covers most of Israel. Outside the windows was nothing but sand and the occasional Bedouin shepherd. Inside, listless men and women in their mid twenties were getting paid minimum wage to day-trade interest rate futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for the world’s most absurd hedge fund.
Since the company failed to provide us with any training that could give us an edge on the market, we were all equally unprofitable and interchangeable. The main incentive structure was that every two weeks one of us would get voted off the island, to be replaced by another fresh university graduate willing to stare at flashing numbers on a screen for 11 hours a day. To this day I’m not sure if the company was an overoptimistic bet by the millionaire founder who made his trading fortune in the pre-algo days, or a convoluted money laundering scheme.
Tradition dictated that getting fired was the other occasion apart from birthdays on which one was expected to feed their colleagues cake. I stumbled into the office to find the team finishing up the crumbs from a delicious cream cake made by Hagit, the most popular girl in the company, who seemed more relieved than upset to be leaving. When I produced my cake someone asked if I had been fired as well. They seemed quite disappointed to hear that it was only my birthday.
The cake sat uneaten for a week in the office fridge, before I brought it back home and told my roommate to go wild.
So there I was on my 23rd birthday, working a dead-end job for little money in a remote city in the desert with colleagues who at best just tolerated me. My time after work was spent walking aimlessly through the streets of Be’er Sheva, watching porn, and playing Civilization IV. I flirted with girls only rarely and never successfully, undermined as much by the desperation I felt about women as by the lack of money, muscles, friends, car, and social graces.
Less than three months later I met the beautiful and brilliant woman I would date for four years and move to the US with.
top 1% IQ
In December 2014 I bought two tickets to the Gogol Bordello concert in NYC, hoping to make it my third date with an elegant computer science grad student who towered above me in both height and analytical intelligence. When I texted to ask about her plans for the weekend, she informed me that she had just been accepted to a new AI research program and was going to focus on research to the exclusion of dating. I went to the concert alone.
previous military experience
I was 17 when I scored my first date from blogging. I wrote in Hebrew on a platform that has hopefully been scrubbed from the internet since then. I struck a conversation with Anat, a fellow blogger. She was 19 and in her first year of military service. We met at a Sbarro in the shopping mall in Tel Aviv overlooking the IDF HQ.
Anat was sweet, articulate, and quite ugly — a fact I didn’t know because her blog, unlike mine, contained no photos. She also suffered from Nystagmus, a medical condition that made her eyes jerk around rapidly in disturbing pattern. Unable to look comfortably at either Anat’s face or her eyes, I stared at my calzone and bravely tried to make pleasant conversation.
A few tables away from us sat a family arguing loudly in Romanian, the dad swinging his arms wildly over the head of their 3-year-old son. As Anat and I talked about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Romanian boy slid off his chair, rolled horizontally on the floor until he came to a stop against the foot of our table, and then proceeded to scream at full volume for more than a minute while his parents pretended not to notice anything was amiss.
best he could is a “poly marriage”
Shay and Raya met at my 20th birthday party. He was in the next room from mine in the barracks, one of my few real friends in our military unit. She was my most serious girlfriend to that point, an on-again-off-again affair that lasted several years and was then in an uneasy off stage. Two days later, back at the base, Shay asked me if I was ok with him asking Raya on a date.
I took a full day to think about it. I felt a strong pang of jealousy, and in fact I had invited Raya to my party in the latest attempt to re-seduce her. The jealousy churned my stomach, struggling against my higher impulse and desire not to be the villain in the movie. Eventually I realized another reason for my resistance — I didn’t want to admit that Raya broke up with me for good reason, and was smart not to want me back. I was a mediocre boyfriend, distracted and flaky and inattentive, dating her out of familiarity more than out of genuine admiration. She deserved a dedicated lover, the sort of gentleman who would ask his friend before texting the friend’s ex.
I returned to Shay to tell him Raya’s favorite music and dinner spot near the beach, the one I kept promising to take her to and never did. They fell madly in love, and are today happily married. Observing them, I reflected on the fact that my petty jealousy almost stood in the way of that. I resolved to be more skeptical of this emotion going forward in my life, and to avoid confusing the strength of jealous feeling with an objective judgment of what is good.
Around the same time on the other side of the planet a young woman was experimenting with her first open relationship. She would eventually move to New York and meet an Israeli guy with a love of spreadsheets, a guy who never let his weird dating experiences shake his optimism and appreciation of women…