"I'm 34, and I've never been in love"Meet Jeff Wilser, writer, former Marine and all-around normal guy. Except for this: In 10 years, he hasn't had a relationship that's lasted longer than three months. On behalf of every woman who's ever dated a can't-commit guy, we sent Jeff on a mission to man up and figure himself out.
I've dated a lot; slept around plenty. But I've never been in love. That's pretty weird for any 34-year-old and very weird for a 34-year-old relationship expert. On my website, theplunge.com, I give dating tips to single guys. I even do marriage advice. (Mostly, I tell men to - duh - listen to their partner. Amazingly, it works!) But you know that thump-thump-thump in your chest when you really like someone? I don't. I've never thought, Maybe she's The One, never had my heart broken, never - in the last decade, anyway - had a relationship that lasted more than three months. I can write about love, but I just can't seem to feel it.
First, a little background: When I was 13, right after my parents' divorce, I swore I'd never get married. As the years passed, I conflated "love" with "marriage," thinking, If I'm never going to get married, then there's no reason to fall in love. I've actually said "I love you" to three women, but I did it because it was expected. Once they figured that out, breakups ensued. I'm always hurting women, and I'm always a jerk.
The thing is, I really hate being a jerk. And as I've run the Groomsmen Gauntlet and watched my friends get married, I can't help but think: That could be awesome. That could be for me. I want to laugh in a playful snowball fight. I want to think of a girl and dance a goofy jig. I want to be that guy I hate in every romantic comedy.
I've dated amazing women, like Karen, a razor-smart blond; and Alice, with the bubbly laugh; and Cat, the fashion maven. After every breakup, my baffled friends ask, "What was wrong with her?" My answer: "Nothing." So I have to wonder, Am I physically incapable of love? Cavemen loved. Romans loved. Even Stalin loved. I call Diana Kirschner, Ph.D., author of Sealing the Deal: The Love Mentor's Guide to Lasting Love. "Between 2 and 3 percent of adults have never experienced love," she says. "But all those people can get over the problem if they are willing to work on it."
I think about this logically. If you can't play the guitar, you get better by practicing. If you want to lose weight, you get thinner by dieting. Maybe I just need a little love practice. So I consulted the experts and coaches. I gave them a mission: Help me find love. Here's what they prescribed. Cupid, I'm calling you out. Bring it.
I Play a Little Mood Music
My journey started - as all journeys should - with music. Andrea Syrtash, author of He's Just Not Your Type (And That's a Good Thing), advises me, "When I coach women who want to enter a new phase of dating, I tell them to make a soundtrack of their life. If you have a theme song, you might feel more positive." The soundtrack to my life is usually melancholy fare like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. For inspiration from a band that embodies capital-L Love, I round up 27 Beatles albums. I listen to "All You Need Is Love," "And I Love Her," "Love Me Do," "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" (OK, not every song fits.)
My lesson learned? It comes so easy to these guys! They're always falling in love. "Lovely Rita," "Lucy in the Sky," "Maggie Mae." On Sgt. Pepper the Beatles ask, "Would you believe in a love at first sight? Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time!" Oh, it does, eh? Fine. I decide to try to fall in love with a woman I see on the street.
A few days later, I'm at a downtown subway station, standing next to a stunningly sexy woman. A train slowly arrives. I look at her awkwardly, look away, look back.
C'mon, Jeff, love is at stake! Love! "So … " I stammer, "we could probably walk faster than that train, huh?" My body floods with shame. She puts in her iPod headphones.
Two takeaways: (1) This doesn't work. (2) This is creepy. But I keep the Beatles on my playlist and soak in their optimism.
I Do a Puppy Love Workshop
I'm not a dog person. But in my love research, I came across some studies that say dogs increase owners' empathy and lower stress. Surely a more empathetic, happier me is more likely to fall in love. So, fine, I'll learn to like dogs. Time to find some puppies.
I bring a date, a woman I'll call Sarah, whom I met through a friend. She's game to hit a pet shelter with me - just to look. I stare at the puppies and don't know what to do. Sarah laughs. "Look into their eyes," she says, then baby-talks to a terrier. They're instant best friends, and I'm impressed.
I cuddle up with Gracie, a sand-colored mutt with a cataract in her left eye. I, too, once had a cataract! "Gracie, I've been there," I say to her. I tell her that my cataract surgery worked, and now I'm 20/20, but then I realize that Gracie doesn't have my health insurance. Gracie will never get cataract surgery. I feel something odd, a pinprick in my belly. Could this be … empathy? I try to memorize this strange new sensation. Unlike my usual dating activities (bars and drinks), this is out of my comfort zone, which, oddly, feels good. And maybe it's a coincidence, but I start to really like Sarah.
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