Ask Polly: I’m an Outspoken Comedian and Men Don’t Want Me!

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Photo: Mark Jones Roving Tortoise Photo

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Dear Polly, 

I’m an outspoken feminist stand-up comedian and I find that this is pretty far outside what most men are looking for. I hang around with smart, funny men all the time as part of my profession, and I noticed that the women they date aren’t like me. They date quiet, hot “fuck dolls” who are good at being supportive. Or preschool teachers who are sweet and have “mom” written all over them. I’ve had sex with a bunch of them, but they could never see me as “girlfriend material.” And I get it. By all measures I’m not a “lady.” Men don’t feel masculine around me.

I’m a pretty direct woman who has wanted to reject “the rules.” I’ve tried to be vulnerable and real with men that I’m interested in, and more often than not, this sends them running for the hills. I’m starting to think that there is something to this whole, like, mysterious being-hard-to-get thing. But it’s just not who I am. Even if I did play this game, I would still have a body of work anyone could easily Google about being a feminist, sex-positive woman. Kinda takes the mystery out.

I go on online dates with guys here in New York, and although I try to be kind and funny and discuss common interests, it rarely turns into a second date. I look fine — I’m not a total babe, but more attractive than many people I see having happy relationships. I know not to ask about kids on a first date, and I brush my hair and wear lipstick and all that stuff. I’ve tried letting them pursue it (they don’t), not having sex with guys quickly (which has turned into not having sex at all). The result is that I’m lonely and horny.

I’m killing it in my career by all measures. I’ve been on TV a few times for stand-up, which is hard to do. I have a ton of great opportunities in front of me. But this ironically only makes it harder. I think a lot of men are intimidated by this.

What’s a heterosexual feminist lady supposed to do? How much of gender norms do you need to conform to in order to find a partner? Do I let them pay for lunch? Do I follow the advice about never texting a guy and letting them be the one to pursue it? Because that stuff sort of makes me barf.

Also, as a not-so-side note, seeing the women that men choose kinda makes me hate men a little. I don’t want to believe that every guy is interested in silent fuck-doll types, but it seems that way to me, and it’s really painful. I had a really misogynist dad and that doesn’t help anything at all.

I feel like between my dysfunctional family and my lack of ability and desire to perform my gender role in a traditional way, there’s like a manual that everyone else got and I haven’t read it yet. I have a feeling you’ll tell me not to try to change myself. And that it’s better to have a life alone rather than being in an unhealthy relationship with someone who isn’t a good fit. And I guess I believe that, but I really want the real thing. I want to have kids, I want to be loved. I want to have the loving family that I never got growing up. I’m turning 34, and I’m starting to believe it’s not gonna happen.

So how do I do this? Do I have to change what I’m doing? How can I not hate men in the process?

Funny Ha-Ha

Dear FHH,

The first thing you have to know is that you’re in an ideal spot. Even though you feel like time is running out, it’s not. Not only is your career on fire, but you built that career by literally standing up and telling the world what you believe (and making it funny). There’s an intense kind of light that shines down on people who make it to the top of their professions by embracing their most passionate convictions publicly. You’ve taken the anger that arose from your dysfunctional family and from your intense distaste for our culture’s ills and you’ve formed it into something that’s not only entertaining but also gives other women the strength and conviction to stand up for their own true desires. When you create room for other people to be stronger and happier in the world, good things come to you. Trust that.

You’re also open to love in ways you maybe haven’t been before. You’re not afraid to say that you want a real partner, you want kids, and you want to be loved. Just being able to do that without being embarrassed about it is important, particularly for someone like you, who’s used to finding ways to make her true emotions sound funnier or tougher than they really are. In my personal experience, when a woman’s whole life is en fuego and she’s also openly stating that she wants love in her life, that tends to be a pretty amazing moment. I know I sound like a creepy old fortune-teller type when I say this, but I’ll bet you’re about to meet someone great.

Even though you don’t believe me, just try that idea on for size and hold it in your heart for a second. This might help you to seize the moment and enjoy where you are right now, and it might also help you to understand the men around you a little better. Because if you knew you were about to meet someone amazing and maybe you only have three or four months of freedom left before you’re tied down to one man forever and ever and ever, what would you do? What if you were surrounded by sweet male schoolteachers and quiet but sexy cowboy types with gorgeous bodies? Let’s just imagine that these adorable guy teachers and male versions of fuck dolls in cowboy hats are hanging onto your every word. You might just fuck a few of these fuck dolls, right? Why the hell not? All those fine, tasty cuts of meat, delivered fresh to your door? (Yes, we’re objectifying real human beings with thoughts and feelings now. Stay with me. Suspend your disbelief. This is how the guys do it!) Who knows? Maybe it would be so fun that you’d want to sample all of the quiet studs at the rodeo. And you might just go out with a few of the sweet schoolteachers, too. Because Jesus, they’re so nice and they care about kids and they’re not out past midnight every night in some mildewy basement yelling about their orgasms onstage like these comedians are. Maybe they don’t grunt at great jokes instead of laughing, like only insanely amazing jokes can even register in their highly refined comedy-meter brains. Maybe they spend their weekends reading interesting books and making homemade pasta instead of chain-smoking and stumbling around in a beery, self-hating fog.

So let’s just forgive these comedian guys for a second. Let’s imagine replacing our scarcity mentality about men with the abundance mentality favored by clever men who tell jokes onstage and get laid for it over and over again. Sometimes believing that you deserve to be surrounded by sexy people who want you bad is half of the battle. And when you actually are surrounded by such people, it’s pretty difficult not to let that feed your needy ego until it’s overfed. Personally, I would’ve been the biggest douche bro in the universe if I were a guy. I am a swaggery human and I have a lot of anger onboard, and Jesus, I’d be a real dick. Also, lots of guys think that the second they’re ready to settle down, they can push the “settle down” button and all of the amazing women they’ve ever dated will reappear and they can pick the best one. That’s not really how it works, but whatever. Let’s just empathize for a second. And let’s remember that men who tell jokes onstage are sometimes pretty insecure underneath the bluster. They’re not the early bloomers. They’re not naturally swaggery. They developed those bells and whistles as compensation. I know that you can relate to that, but when a guy is insecure, it can be even more debilitating than it is for a woman, because guys truly believe that no one will love the true, fragile, broken self that hides behind the swagger (even though they’re fucking stupid because women lap that shit up like gourmet ice cream with salted caramel and chocolate-covered pretzels inside).

But let’s forget the comedian dudes and the fuck dolls and the schoolteachers for second (who are all human beings with feelings, let’s not forget that part!). If you suspected that you were about to stumble on the best guy ever and settle down, you’d probably enjoy yourself more right now, even if you didn’t fuck cowboys or flirt a lot or anything. You’d look around and you’d say, “This is my life. It’s all mine. And I am rocking it out, right here and now.” You wouldn’t be as fixated on this one problem. Fixating on this problem is so understandable and common and real; I’m not chastising you for that. I’m just saying, imagine having this puzzle cleared out of the way. Imagine how much you’d just savor each moment. You’d savor it partially because time is running out! Because before you know it, you’ll be settling down. So why not just breathe in each glorious, independent moment of your life? I wouldn’t go back in time just to be single again, but I do look back fondly on that moment right before I met my husband, when I just felt sure that I was going to get everything I wanted, it just hadn’t happened yet. It felt like the whole world was more colorful than usual. For the first time, I felt like I had zero control over my destiny, and yet I felt like everything good was coming straight to my door.

The real goal is to feel that way all of the time, no matter what your circumstances might be. Even if you never find anyone remotely right for you, you need to savor every minute. You’ve got to step back from the so-called “problem with you” (which doesn’t exist), and savor everything you have, all of these crazy new experiences and new people and new opportunities you have. You have to be present for this. You have to feel this in your bones. Don’t just think, “THIS IS NICE” and say, “THIS IS GOOD,” but feel it, all day long. Feel it and don’t apologize to anyone for feeling it.

Feeling is hard for you. So when you turn that corner from blustery entertainer to vulnerable, open woman, it’s not a smooth turn. You seem conflicted about it. Of course you won’t be rejecting a ton of amazing, ready-for-commitment guys no matter what you do, because there aren’t a ton of those guys out there. But they ARE out there. You can meet 100 guys who are terrible and that means nothing. You only need one. And trust me that the really good men, the men who are right for you, are never, ever going to be turned off by your lack of ability and desire to perform your gender role in a traditional way. The world is packed full of douche bros, sure, but for every five douche bros out there, there’s a guy who lacks the ability and desire to perform his gender role in a traditional way, and what he daydreams about is a woman like you: smart as hell, funny, sexy, fearless, immune to bullshit. You don’t have to make someone feel “more masculine” or “more feminine” to find love. When you’re with someone right, it just feels right, period.

Super-duper fucking smart men with careers outside of entertainment: That’s your target demographic. Professors and writers and doctors without borders (see also: culturally aware, well-read, balanced doctors, mostly hunted to extinction, to be fair). Maybe someone who’s been married before. Maybe someone who’s been through some hard times but who pulled himself out of it. The problem is, you’re surrounded by the world’s most charismatic (and also arguably broken and ego-driven) men. Great comedians are like brilliant masochistic artists. They’re incredibly charming but they’re also gluttons for punishment. Maybe at some level they crave rejection because that’s what they feel they deserve, deep down inside. So when you’re a woman who’s smart and weird and also open, and you accept them but you want to talk about what’s really there, they’re actually repelled by that. They know that they can’t hide from you. You see them clearly. They are not interested in being seen clearly. They want women who just think they’re hilariously funny and sexy, the end, women who aren’t going to pick-ax their way through the mountain until they get to the fragile core. They want “mystery.”

Mystery is fucking stupid if you ask me. It’s just not to my taste. It feels like hiding. I don’t want to find out who my spouse is ten years into my marriage. A million and one things in this world are romantic already. I don’t need some dance of the seven fucking veils happening in my love life. Take off all the stupid veils and let’s see what we’re working with, dummy!

But let’s go back to that crucial turn, from toughness to vulnerability. I want to challenge you to bring some of the vulnerability and mix it into the toughness, so you feel more integrated and complete on the OUTSIDE. My guess is that you’re not doing anything wrong, but you are surprising men. They think they’re going to get a tough, “I can hang” type of guy’s girl and instead they discover someone who has emotions and ideas and blood flowing through her veins. What if you tried to integrate vulnerability into your stand-up material? Maybe you already have. But maybe there’s another layer of real risk and danger that you haven’t mined yet, another layer of truth and raw sadness and rage. I know that sounds heavy, but even if it comes out in a joke about minibars or pine nuts or beards or handbag dogs, the emotional core is always palpable to an audience. They know who’s deep-diving and who’s just skimming the surface and staying safe.

My feeling is that integrating (even) more passionate emotions and scary embarrassing feelings into your work will help you to integrate vulnerability into your tough, outer shell — the “fuck that!” feminist self you show the world. Even if you DON’T USE any of that stuff, you’ll be exploring ways of making your most embarrassing, softest, most vulnerable self public. It will feel unsafe. That’s how you’ll know that you’re onto something.

Please be clear, I’m not saying that women need to lead with vulnerability in order to get laid or find love. No way! I’m saying that when you feel conflicted about who you are, that garbles the signals you’re sending out. It also makes you seem wobbly and insecure, because the “you” that you’re presenting doesn’t feel pure and right to you, either. You have to work to bring all of the things that YOU value (and also fear!) about yourself into the open, integrating them into a self that feels comfortable and alive and strong and real.

Now, you say on dates you try to be kind and funny and discuss common interests. What if you just show up and see where it goes without trying anything at all? Try to be a blank slate and observe. Entertainers sometimes work too hard at small talk. What would happen if you dared to ENJOY the weird, curious, terrible experience of online dating without trying to steer the ship? Like someone who knows that the right guy will show up at any second, but she’s just doing this online thing for kicks, to observe the male populace, to learn more, for material, for fun? What if you were to volunteer at a soup kitchen or join an activist network or speak at some local colleges? You should try to meet some regular, very intelligent men and women who do not crack jokes in mildewy basements around the clock.

If you stay in those mildewy basements — and in those shiny, white TV studios, which have their own kind of airless toxicity to them – you won’t grow enough. And you have more opening up to do. You can’t live your whole life around extremely ego-driven people, even if they’re all a lot like you. Writers can’t spend ALL of their time around other writers for the same reason. Writers are sometimes well-advised NOT to marry other writers, in fact. You take up a lot of space, I’ll bet, and that’s totally okay. But right now you’re angry at a very particular breed of brilliant masochists for being brilliant masochists, when you need to empathize, forgive, and back up.

Let these comedian guys do what they do. They don’t represent all of mankind. Lift your eyes away from the problem, and look around you. You’re in paradise and you didn’t even notice. You are A LADY. You’re a lady who loves what she does, and other people love what you do, too. Someone great is going to love you like crazy. Trust that. Trust that you deserve it. You’ve worked so fucking hard to get here. Now it’s time to loosen your grip on the wheel and enjoy the ride.

Polly

Order the new Ask Polly book, How To Be A Person in the World, here. Got a question for Polly? Email askpolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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