No, My Standards Are Not ‘Too High’


This piece is Wagatwe Wanjuki’s second dispatch from the front lines of her romantic life for the #ItsTotallyMe dating series, which follows Establishment writers Wanjuki and Katie Klabusich as they utilize professional matchmakers and the insights of various experts to get to the bottom of their perpetual singledom. You can read the series’ introductory post here, Wanjuki’s first solo dispatch here, and Klabusich’s solo dispatches here and here.

Thanks to everyone who braced themselves and read my first update, ‘Am I Just Not Attractive Enough To Date?,’ which focused on a topic that is really awkward to broach. I will admit that it was mildly embarrassing to publicly muse about how (un)attractive I am considered to be — and I suspect my Facebook friends and followers agreed (considering there was a lower-than-average level of engagement on my Facebook post about it). I guess it’s too weird to “like”?

Unfortunately, this post did attract some of the typical naysayers who obviously did not read the intro — or maybe even the update itself — very closely. They generally fell into the two categories of people I’ve often come across as a single person: (1) the ones who offer unsolicited (and unhelpful) advice — usually something I’ve heard 1000x before; or (2) people who basically gaslight me and tell me that my interpretation of my own life is wrong while they, the random stranger, knows better after reading 1,200 of my words. “You know, men and women differ in what they find attractive. Have you tried using different photos on your profile?” says the annoying-yet-well-meaning stranger (and the answer is yes, yes I have used a whole host of different photos in my 11-year online dating career).

liz lemmon

Anyway . . . during the last update I discussed the skin-deep issues in dating. I wanted to show that the “But you’re so pretty/hot/gorgeous!” retort is not actually helpful or comforting for many people. Now I want to address another common retort I’ve seen more than my fair share of. This one is more nuanced and thoughtful than the average comfort-for-the-single-person platitude — but it can be just as awful: “It’s simply that you have standards! You won’t settle for any old person.”

I’ve heard this more and more as I’ve aged. When I was younger, people told me I went uncoupled because I was “too picky.” Now people are more prone to offer the “positive” twist on it: “It’s just that you’re not like those other women who settle for douchebags.

I hate this for a few reasons: (1) it’s not like all the men who are available are horrible — trust me, I’ve gotten rejected by some of them; (2) it pits women against each other, putting the women who are in relationships with these “douchebags” down; and (3) my current dating mantra is beggars can’t be choosers.

Doesn’t sound terribly picky, right?

The first few times people suggested my standards were too high, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I was instantly dismissive. But as years of celibacy passed, I began to reconsider. After concluding that *shrug* there’s nothing left to lose, I actively became a lot more open to different types of men. Was I too picky before that? I don’t think so. Am I picky now? Abso-fucking-lutely not.

How am I so sure, you ask?

Toward the end of my introductory session with The Dating Ring’s Emma Tessler — designed for her to get a feel for how I come across to other people and what I’m looking for — she asked me whether I had a type. If you look at all the boyfriends I’ve ever had, you would probably see a pattern: an average-to-skinny Black man who is taller than me (usually around 6 feet). But I don’t think three men — the last one being seven years ago — constitute a pattern.

Emma inquired further to get a better sense of my taste, asking me about my celebrity crushes. Oh there are so many gorgeous men out there, but I remember specifically mentioning Idris Elba, Orlando Bloom, and Steven Yeun.

Credit: Wikimedia
Credit: Wikimedia

I really don’t think I have a type.

“OK, so you do have diverse tastes,” agreed Emma.

“What can I say?” I shrugged. “I’m not really picky.”

A Beggar’s Balancing Act

Years ago, in my high school and early college years, I was only attracted to Black men. Or, perhaps, it was that I was only willing to admit my attraction to them. Now, I only really care about who men are inside. Instead of asking myself “Is he cute?” I now ask “Does he repulse me?”

The latter is the question I asked myself when I met up with someone I connected with on OKCupid in my new city. Let’s call him Dan. Physically, he was not my type. Well, he didn’t exactly move me, I guess — average-ish white guy with a beard and hair that was grown out past his ears. I think it was that his photos rang a bit too “emo” for me and I was trying to resist a flashback to my LiveJournal, Hot Topic shopping days.

The content of his message was so good though; he’d clearly read what I’d written on my profile and we had a few nice exchanges. It was clear that he’s smart, we share progressive values, and as he is half-Latino and teaching a course on race and class at a nearby university, there were no racial microagressions. After a few conversations, he asked me out on a date! My third-ever OKCupid date! I was excited. This was like what normal, adult people do!

We met up at a bar in his part of town and the conversation wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t electrified by his presence. Afterwards I walked away thinking he was nice and I’d give it another shot if he contacted me again. He didn’t, but I didn’t notice because I was so busy traveling for work and settling into a new town. Months passed without any communication. Then one day, I randomly saw an article about Philly that reminded me of the conversations he and I had. I texted it to him as a friendly gesture. He replied quickly and we started chatting again. He told me he was going out of the country for a few weeks and when he returned, he’d be moving to a place two blocks away from me.

My interest instantly intensified. Something about his upcoming proximity made him more attractive to me. Maybe because it meant he’d be more accessible? And there were other positive signs. He asked for my Instagram account and wasted no time following it and liking my selfies. In our text exchange, he told me he found me very attractive. I was drawn to his directness; I’m normally turned off when men compliment my appearance, but he did it well — possibly because I know he’s taken time to talk to me about things not related to sex. I flirted back (or tried to), lamenting that we reconnected right before he was leaving on a trip. We planned date #2 upon his return. When he was abroad, he found me on Facebook and I was flattered he took the time to look me up.

Dan texted me when he landed back in the U.S. Another plus for him. I felt like he was making a clear effort to show his interest in me, and I appreciated that he hadn’t attempted to play any “mind games” or the ever-exhausting Hard To Get. I started to think maybe with so many pros going for him, my attraction for him could grow.

I found myself looking forward to the date. I noticed that I was smiling to myself asking, Has my bad dating luck finally ended? I hadn’t had a real second date in almost a year. I had a good feeling; even if we didn’t end up dating, I thought I’d found a friend, at least.

When it finally rolled around, the second date was a lot more fun. Feeling lazy, broke, and being mindful that he’s a grad student on a limited income, I invited him over to watch a scary movie (my favorite!). When he arrived, I moved to turn on the TV right away. He stopped me.

“Wait, why don’t we talk first?”

Whoa. A decent guy who actually wanted to take time to talk and get to know me? Another point for Dan! I think the time lapse between dates gave me the opportunity to let my interest in him grow; we talked for almost two hours. The spark — that attraction — that I thought was missing during the first date was definitely there this time. After dinner arrived, we watched movies in my living room until we were too sleepy to hold our heads up . . .

With things moving on pretty nicely with Dan, I can’t help but think: perhaps the “less picky” move I made a few years ago was the right one after all?

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