Why is there no middle ground?

I’ve been rather introspective lately. Analysis comes naturally anyway; but I’m at the three-year anniversary of the ending of my marriage, and these things invite even deeper thoughts.

I have had no interest in being a single hero. I make no claims about how happy I am without a partner in my life. My Instagram isn’t filled with girl power memes and lists of the things that make being single awesome. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Don’t misunderstand; being with the wrong person isn’t worth it. I’m confident in who I am and the value I provide, and having a man in my life doesn’t make me feel better about myself. I don’t need to be rescued and I don’t need someone to handle the repairs in my house.

But having a grown up person to share my life with (distinguishing between my child who is the physical embodiment of my heart, outside my body) makes many things better.


My ex husband and I both started dating shortly after our split. So I’ve been dating for three years. What do I have to show for it?

A lot of stories to be shared with friends over wine, that’s for sure. I often say to survive dating, you need to have a sense of humor and a thick skin, and not take yourself too seriously.

I’ve had a few boyfriends, and that’s been nice – until it wasn’t. Unfortunately nothing worked out right, as everyone who reads this blog well knows.

And as the 800,000 odd words on this blog can attest to, I’ve thought a shit ton about relationships, dating, and myself.

But when I think about the relationships and dating experiences I’ve had, I’m hard pressed to think of many that seem even-keeled. There seems to be no middle ground between men who treated me as their ONLY priority, and those for whom I seemed to be at the bottom of the list. Always.

There are exceptions.

Ironically, it hasn’t been true for the men with whom I’ve had a primarily sexual relationship. Jason and I were fairly well matched with our expectations and interests. Lewis, despite occasional lapses in communication, is consistent. There are other examples but you get my point. I’ve felt relatively equal prioritization in each other’s lives. We aren’t obsessively prioritizing each other, nor are we completely ambivalent.

It also wasn’t true with Tony, but that relationship was so fraught with other issues I…well let’s just say, I know I was a priority for him but ultimately at the end, not in the way that mattered.

But the men I considered boyfriends, or on the path to being one, all shared one characteristic. The Giant, Johnny Id, Fox, HWSNBN (aka the man no longer on this blog)… I recoiled under the pressure of feeling like I was their one thing. I felt suffocated. Their focus ultimately seemed a character weakness. I couldn’t live up to it as it was too much for me. There were other things that made those relationships fail, all different, but it was one consistent theme.

I have a decently busy life. I am a single Mom every other week. I often work until dinner time each day. Sometimes I travel for work. I plan play dates with my son and adult dates with my friends. I have seasons tickets for my favorite sports team. I go to the gym with a trainer twice a week.

But I have free time, and even when I don’t, I manage to find time for the men I’m interested in dating. I can send daily texts, I can strategically eke out hours to see someone, I plan ahead to make things work. I do that even for the men I’m simply fucking.

If I’m dating you, you will know I’m interested but I won’t suffocate you. You won’t be my number one priority (that space is reserved for my son and always will be – but I very rarely have to choose between the men I’m dating and my child), but you’ll be a priority, until I decide it’s not working or there’s no potential, and then I will end it or change the parameters – but not without telling you.

And perhaps that’s where the difference is. One friend says to me “you aren’t special until you’re special” whenever I complain about a general lack of proactive communication and courtesy. But I start with the belief it could work and the intention to build something. Because I’m ultimately seeking a relationship, I start down that path with every new person I’m dating. I don’t act as if I’m already in a long-term relationship, I know that intimacy and trust is built over time, but I treat someone like they are important. Because some day they could be.

I don’t get the same in return. My experience with men who didn’t make it to boyfriend has been characterized by the horrible yearning for attention and time from those who treat me with at best, passive interest.

Men who don’t proactively plan. Men who disappear with no warning. Men who can’t find the time to communicate. Men who don’t prioritize me.

It seems a cruel twist that those who have the busiest lives are the most interesting, because on the surface they seem the most like me. I can’t be with someone who has no friends, no life, and who will subsume all of their time and activities to me. But these men, the active and busy men, are also the ones who don’t particularly need a girlfriend, and they act accordingly.

I suppose it’s the rare person who can admit they don’t really want to make space in their lives for someone. Or they can’t. Or don’t know how. I mean, for crying out loud – Tony of all people said he was seeking a relationship and we all know that was a farce when he was still considering getting back together with his ex. There are many men I’ve come across who say they want a relationship, but ultimately don’t want to do what a relationship entails.

Perhaps they tell themselves that when the right person comes along, suddenly the path will be made clear. I’ve been told this countless times – “I’m not looking for a relationship but that would change for the right person” which is code for, don’t expect me to treat you well until I’m convinced you’re that person. But we all know behaviors don’t change overnight. An intention is just that – to be made real, it’s all about action.

I start with the intention for a relationship, and I act as if the men I’m dating could be that person.

They may start with the same intention, but they won’t act that way until they believe I’m at that person. And how can I possibly build trust and excitement and all the great things at a start of a potential relationship when I’m constantly wondering whether someone actually even likes me?

40 thoughts on “Why is there no middle ground?

  1. A few things, if I may? One, you admit that a guy isn’t gonna be your number one priority but then, a bit later on, kinda whine about guys not prioritizing you as you believe you should be. I don’t know what you’re thinking but you should never ask someone to do something you’re not willing to do yourself.

    Why is there no middle ground? Because the rules we are supposed to live by doesn’t allow a middle ground to exist; you’re either in a relationship or you aren’t; if you are, that’s a different set of issues than when you aren’t and we – humans – are just too jaded to create an environment for ourselves that isn’t going to cause problems at some point.

    The way in which we approach relationships – and find ourselves not being in one – is that “I want what I want and the way I want it” mindset that focuses more on wanting (and all the shit you ain’t gonna do) than giving much thought about what can be done. This alone makes the existence of a middle ground pretty much impossible.

    Even folks who embrace the poly life (and in its interesting forms) wind up wondering why things aren’t as wonderful as they can be and more so since they’re sitting in a middle ground already.

    We just seem to be dead set against making things easier for ourselves in this.

    Consider this, if you will: For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard women proclaim that they don’t need a man to help them do bad – that doesn’t make us look good at all but it’s sadly true. I’ve heard these same women raise all kinds of hell about not being able to find a man. I’ve heard men bitch in similar ways as well and what I’ve seen is that more and more these days, people want all the benefits of a relationship but none of the responsibilities being in a relationship calls for.

    It makes you damned if you do and damned if you don’t; this social “system” just does not lend itself to easily arrived at solutions and more so when our past experiences tend to mandate that there are a lot of things we will not do even though we become aware of the fact that if you wanna be happy being single or in a relationship, the things you’re not gonna do will keep you from doing the things that need to be done.

    Any personal inflexibility makes finding and establishing a middle ground practically impossible; holding a person to a standard that is either unfair or unrealistic has the same effect so the questions to you, at least to me, are kinda simple: What do you need to establish that middle ground and what are you willing to do to make it happen?

    And, importantly if not problematic, can you find someone who is really and truly that open-minded and willing to take some chances that, if done correctly and in concert with each other, yield satisfying results?

    Just as a man, that priority thing you spoke of is a major red flag for most men so you’ve already shot yourself in the foot and are taking aim on the other one. What it says is that you demand and require to be a man’s only focus while you reserve the right to place him lower on your list as is called for.

    And, yes, men can be equally guilty of this as well so I’m not just picking on you and other women, okay?

    The bottom line is that you cannot conceive of a middle ground because, in a way, you are your own worst enemy and the men you’ve come across aren’t helping any either and the debacle between you and Tony is, in my opinion, damned near classic and textbook about what happens when you want more than what the other person is capable of giving. I’ll even piss you off and remind you that I cautioned you about you ramming your agenda down his throat and that you said you weren’t gonna do that… and did it anyway.

    We know how that turned out. Why is there no middle ground? Because, my dear, life ain’t like Burger King and you just cannot have it all your way – none of us can – but we act as if having it our way is the only way things can go.

    It isn’t. Now, how badly do you want this middle ground you seek?

    • My son will always take priority over anything and anyone if I’m forced to choose. That’s all I’m referring to and you took it to a place I certainly didn’t intend.

      I thought I made it clear but perhaps not, that I will take the time and make an effort for anyone I’m dating. People I’m with feel like a priority and I receive nowhere near any of that same consideration in return. You implied I am not giving what I expect and it’s patently false. There’s a difference between prioritizing someone and having them be your #1 priority. I have experienced extremes of behavior and I will argue until I burst that I’m not accountable (as you suggest) for others behavior.

      I think you missed my point or perhaps you simply disagree – because MY WHOLE POINT was that I don’t want to be a mans only focus. I’m looking for someone who is capable of having a full and complete life but able to find space for me in it. To have a good balance. AND that it seems I approach things differently at the start. I’m not willing to file police reports anymore when men get obsessive and criminally harass me, nor am I going to put up with men who treat me as disposable. Don’t suggest to me that I’m somehow unreasonable in my desire to have something between those two extremes.

      I’m whining? Really?

      And yeah, I’m frankly pissed off that you think the issue with Tony is that I pushed some agenda on him. It’s unacceptable for me to become the other woman and I fucking as hell did not push him back into his ex wife’s arms.

  2. Oh Ann, I relate to this so much. This dating business is not meant for a soft heart, and I am both grateful and somewhat sad that it has hardened me up a bit. It has most definitely been a learning experience. I have come to many of the same conclusions as you, and I just want you to know that u are not alone in these feelings u go through. ❤️

    • Thank you so much Caroline. I pride myself on being reasonable most of the time – but going through such shoddy male behavior lately (and knowing it’s happening to my friends as well) really has me trying to figure out why it happens, why intentions and actions can be misaligned, and the like. Sometimes people are simply jerks but I tend to think more often it’s more nuanced than that 🙂

  3. Unfortunately I think this is one of the side effects that modern online dating has wrought, especially for men. The paradox of choice has completely changed the landscape of people’s dating behavior, and I think moreso for men than women.

    Even before online dating, the average woman always had an easier time getting laid than the average man if that’s all she wanted. Unless he was extremely attractive or had “game”, the average man had to seek out a relationship if he wanted sex. Also, the pool of potential mates was usually much smaller and limited to those in his immediate social circles. This encouraged more men to focus their attention on one woman at a time, and to be more respectful toward her, because of simple supply and demand.

    Online dating has completely changed that equation, and with it the balance of power has shifted. Thanks to sex and dating sites and apps, the average man can get laid about as often as the average woman, and knowing that there are always seemingly endless other profiles and potential mates just a click or a swipe away has created the paradox of choice. Why focus his attention on just one woman at a time, when he can have a regular stable of women in rotation? And more to the point, why change that and settle down with any one woman when an even more “perfect” or compatible one might be just around the corner if he keeps his options open? Of course, like the old Socrates and Plato story about love, he’ll never find that woman because he’ll always be looking for the next best thing no matter how good of a woman he has in front of him.

    Or there is the most insidious man, the one who lies and says he’s looking for a relationship, but it’s just a ruse to guarantee he gets sex, and then once he gets it he can commence either with the disappearing act or keep the woman dangling on a string to get sex again.

    So what we have now is more and more men essentially being as faithful and respectful as their options allow them to be, which thanks to online dating, is not very faithful or respectful. This is why so many men behave so shoddily with communication, lying, disappearing, and basic markers of decency. Their options now allow them to act like assholes, and many women tolerate or settle for this behavior because that is what the landscape has become.

    This dynamic is also exacerbated by the fact that it is now considered the norm for both men and women to be dating/sleeping with multiple people at the same time. Splitting one’s emotional and sexual energy and attention amongst several people can create a self reinforcing feedback loop, where there is no incentive for any one person to become a primary or exclusive focus, and both the man and woman are devalued as a relationship option, whether consciously or subconsciously.

    When I met the woman I’m currently involved with, I told her that when it got to the point that we were ready to have sex, I wasn’t going to be seeing or sleeping with anyone else, and I didn’t want her to see or sleep with anyone else. Whether we lasted, or we crashed and burned, it would be just us seeing if things could work, and not either of us juggling multiple people. And so far it’s worked well. It’s old fashioned and archaic by modern standards, but I’ve come to believe there is something to the idea of focusing on just one person at a time, which creates a different sense of value.

    The bottom line is that there are good men out there, but they’re out there in a sea of a lot of men who have been enabled through technology to be assholes, and the challenge is finding ones who are the former whilst wading through a sea of shit by the latter.

  4. Hi Ann! Having read most of your 800.000 words by now,I noticed you have just mentioned in most clear terms that you are ultimately seeking a relationship.If this means you are ultimately seeking love,then the old saying that love is the art of (selfishly)giving, should,perhaps, guide your action and expectations.Keep in mind : the art of giving, not the “art”of taking in return!

    • Hi Jules – I’m not sure to say thank you or I’m sorry that you’ve read everything! It’s actually not the first time I’ve said I wanted a boyfriend / relationship… I suppose I’ve started saying it more because in the last few months there’s been some debate about whether it’s okay to actually say it’s what I’d like but is additive, not filling some big gap.
      And I couldn’t agree with you more!!

  5. Ann, there are no simple or easy answers here. I will point out that you met all of these men online, right? So if that’s the common denominator, perhaps try a different approach to meeting men and you may be surprised to find a difference.

    • I maintain its not an online dating thing, Maggie. I know you are convinced online dating is the source of my issues but I disagree. I’m not on the dating sites right now and I’m by replacing that with any kind of offline searching. Right now I’m just not going to search at all.

      • But how do you know if it’s related to online dating or not when you haven’t explored the off-line dating scenario? I’m only suggesting a new approach may be part of the solution.

        As for me, yes, I am not a fan of online dating even though my daughter met her husband on Tinder of all places and a girlfriend met her husband (who I don’t like, but whatever) online (I forget which site). To me, they are the rate exception. My experiences with online dating were abysmal, thus my very low opinion of online dating.

  6. I have really enjoyed what I have been reading in your blog.Which,by the way is an outstanding litterrary project.

  7. Sometimes, not looking for a relationship is a good way of getting it. At least it worked for me. I mean, I knew I wanted one, and he was clear he didn’t. This being clear, he encouraged me to go look for others, and I didn’t expect much from him, at least not in the typical relationship ways. I didn’t expect him to text as often as you do, I didn’t feel like I could talk to him about my problems, didn’t use him as a bouncing board.
    What it led me to, 1.5 years later, is a man who basically is planning dates just to see me, not because he wants to do something in particular, but because he wants to be with me.

    It gave us both time to work through our issues and accept the gentle shifts in our relationship.

    I know it goes against everything dating ‘experts’ tell you to do.

    The thing I want to point out though is that I never felt like I was disrespected. I was just always aware of what was not to be expected. And accepted that. I think, for us, it’s that acceptance that gave him time and space to make his way to me.

    I don’t have all the answers Ann, and don’t know why you can’t find a middle ground. I don’t have time to read all the comments either. But there are good men out there, who are willing to respect women. Even if they don’t want to be pushed into any sort of commitment. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    If you feel you’re getting more respect with men whom you’re only having a sexual relationship with… then why not take it from there, see where it leads?

    Whichever way you want to go about it, I’m wishing you all the best!

  8. I don’t really have anything to offer here, except my first thought which is a terrible overgeneralization – that men and women are wired differently. I like what Josh had to say about how men are enabled to behave like assholes in this technological landscape we now live in. It kind of reinforces what I meant about us being wired differently – men’s wants/desires seem superficial and base (traditionally speaking) and women’s tend to be more relationship oriented. Not that there aren’t men out there seeking a relationship, or that there aren’t women out there seeking “just sex.” But it does make me wonder, like you, if there will ever be middle ground.

  9. This was brilliant Ann. You always amaze me with your ability to articulate the most complex of situations. I sympathize 100% with your situation. I’very recently had a tiny taste of that and me no likey.
    The man you do end up with is going to be one lucky bugger.

  10. I’ve waited to comment because I can’t imagine being in the dating scene today. I’d be too needy for most women today. I don’t think I’ve always been, but…

    Now my real comment… That damn Karma Banker must be on vacation! You are owed a great deal if interest on the karma you have banked, just in the time I’ve been following. I know you’ve stopped looking for that “special” partner…but keep an open mind. As some much wiser than I have said, “when you least expect it…” Keep your head up and eyes open while you clear you head of all the gunk that dating in 2016 has thrust upon you.

  11. Being 4 months away from my 3rd anniversary of divorce I can relate to the feelings you are describing but only in the way I have behaved prior to this relationship ending. This time I’ve taken the time out for me and not jumped back in to dating as I feel, for me, this is my mistake.
    I agree in some ways to the comments from other people in that the dating scene has changed and men do have more choice and when it comes to “is this the best I can achieve” most have their eye on the door in case something new/better comes along. I can only apologize for my gender in this regards.
    I also agree with the fact that good men are swallowed in a sea of useless potential because social media has made it possible to interact with many more people than was previously possible. Which, again, does not help the one eye on the door situation at all.
    The bottom line Anne is; you know what you want and you are doing your best to find a suitable “partner”, in ways you feel suit you and, as frustrating as that can be (I to have read most if not all of your writings), the right person is out there.
    If only for your loyal readers, be strong and move on to the next chapter. If faith can move mountains we must be jiggling the right person into the right place at the right time for you.

    • Thank you so much, David. Sometimes it’s good to take a bit of a break from the seeking – I’m certainly not bereft of men in my life at the moment, which is just fine as well. I didn’t want to be in the position where I kept putting myself out there and facing such shitty behavior. Yuck.
      I do so appreciate you reading most of my writing… As I said to someone recently I don’t know if I should be flattered or say I’m sorry!!
      I wish you the best too, for whatever you want, whenever you decide you want it.
      Keep on jiggling for me 🙂

  12. Ann, I think you saying to Maggie that you’re not searching online or off is what your head is telling you to do, is correct. Enjoy the break, spend time with Liam and in the other week, spend some time with girlfriends or with yourself reading, watching dvd series, and enjoy the quiet. Quiet is very under-rated and good for the soul. I wish you fun, peace and solitude, all with whomever or whatever you choose.

    • Pam, yes, that’s exactly it. I’m not in searching mode at the moment. I don’t want to keep putting myself out there and facing rejection. It could change next week, but I’m okay right now. I don’t actually have a ton of free time either…there are a few dudes around keeping me busy when I want to be busy. But it’s been refreshing to not have to deal with dating BS for a little while. I couldn’t agree with you more that quiet is good for the soul – I’ve managed to get some, but I think we all have different amounts of quiet we are comfortable with. I’m an extrovert but not an extreme one, so too much time alone and I start to crave social contact!

  13. I struggle with mixed feelings about wanting a relationship and having my freedom. At times I find myself lonely not having someone around, but the times when I do have someone around, I often can’t wait for them to leave.

    • That’s so true, Julie… Sometimes they aren’t the right people or we just get too much of them. I felt that with Fox at times, I just needed some space. I certainly haven’t met anyone I think I could live with – Tony comes the closest, ironically. So my space is also pretty important to me!

  14. I know, I know, I’m terribly late with this comment – but I’ve been struggling to answer it without going off on a rant of my own (not against you!) and so I kept stumbling with what words to say. In the end, though, the gist is this: a relationship doesn’t guarantee priority either. My experience has been that, even when married, the only time I am a priority in a relationship is when I am unavailable or evidently on my way out. The only time I am a priority is when I am disinterested in being one any longer.

    And that, I think, is the crux. it’s the old saw, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. When a person realizes that their partner (regardless of how you label them – lover, spouse, BF/GF, FWB, etc) is safely “available”, it seems the tendency is to stop worrying about meeting that person’s needs. Other things become more important because that aspect is “safe.” The problem here is that *nothing* is “safe.” Some people (and I know you and I are alike in this) need that regular attention, regular affirmation, to maintain a healthy mindset. When we don’t get it, we become starved for it, and eventually, we become distant and resentful.

    I liken it to keeping a plant. When you first get a plant, you are so excited by it – it’s pretty and vibrant and you want to do everything you can to keep it perfect. You set up some nice soil, you water it, you feed it nutrients, you get it lots of sun and attention, you trim off the bad bits and in general tend to it. But then, the “new” wears off. You go from watering it a couple times a day, to maybe once a day. Maybe once every other. Then once a week. The other bits, the nutrients and the pruning all kind of just fade off because, hey, you’re still watering it, right? That’s all it really needs, right? I mean it’s still in the window and getting sun and does it *really* need more than sun and a little water? And then the leaves begin to droop a bit. The colors begin to fade. The soil has a funny smell when it gets wet but you can’t be bothered to change it, so you just water it less. Sure, the soil is bone dry by the time you remember to water, but you are still watering it, so that should be enough, right? And then the plant just nose dives – the leaves suddenly wilt and fall off, the stems shrivel. You remember for a moment that fuck, I really like that plant. You make a sudden effort – you fill a whole sink with water and drop the plant in it…but its too late now. A flood of water at this point just drowns it instead of reviving it.

    And isn’t that exactly what we experience? We don’t want to be drowned. We don’t want to be flooded. We just want regular, thoughtful attention. We don’t have to be a top priority, but we do have to be *a* priority. We need more than an irregular watering; we need to be nurtured and tended to from time to time. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it does need to happen. Because when it doesn’t, we wither. We fade. And soon, no amount of attention can reverse the damage that has been done.

    • I’m sorry I won’t write nearly as much in response. You’re quite right about the consistent attention. Not sure if you read the end of my Tony story, but I once told him even if I was a cactus I’d be dying from a lack of care and watering. It became a recurring joke that he needed to water his cactus.
      The psychology of this is all very interesting to me. And I don’t understand why it’s so elusive.

What do you think?