Why you can’t find a partner

There is a particular kind of person who is
always – it seems – unlucky in love.

Despite their best intentions and efforts,
they seem to move from one unsatisfying candidate

to another without ever being able to settle.

One lover turned out to be secretly married
to someone else, another – after an initial

period of enthusiasm – never called back,
a third turned out to be alcoholic and violent…

We can only express sympathy for what seems
like so much bad luck.

And yet, if one examines the problem at closer
range, we’re liable to find that bad luck

can only explain so much – and that there
has, in addition, been a process of careful

curation at work. The unfortunate lover has
not simply stumbled upon a succession of frustrating

or mean-minded partners, they have actively
sought these out and invited them in, while

simultaneously ensuring that no kinder candidate
could ever gain a foothold. They still deserve

a lot of sympathy, but not for the problem
they have ostensibly complained about.

It is logical to imagine that what we naturally
want in love is someone who will treat us

with respect and tenderness, with loyalty
and thoughtfulness. But however much these

may sound desirable in theory, in reality,
such qualities are, in some, liable to provoke

huge anxieties and – on occasion – feelings
of revulsion.

It might seem uncomplicatedly beautiful if
someone makes us breakfast in bed, gives us

endearing nicknames, tells us how much they
miss us, cries a little when we go away on

a long trip and offers us a thoughtful-looking
teddy bear to pack in our case. There could

surely be nothing nicer, except that is, if
we are in any way in doubt as to our own value.

For the self-hating ones among us, such attentions
are likely to trigger acute discomfort and

anxiety: why does our lover seem to think
so much better of us than we think of ourselves?

Why do they hold us in such high esteem when
we, for our part, cannot bear our reflection?

How have we come to be so heroic in their
eyes when we are so despicable in our own?

Why do they call us beautiful and kind, intelligent
and thoughtful when we feel as if we are none

of these things? Their attentions end up having
to be met with all the disdain we accord to

false flatterers. We are sickened to receive
gifts that we are, deep down, sure we do not


It’s as an escape from this form of nausea
that we may run into the arms of people who

can be relied upon to be satisfactorily cruel
to us. They aren’t delighted when we walk

into a room, they have no interest in our
childhoods or what happened to us today, they

show no particular enthusiasm for sleeping
with us, they flirt with others and give us

no guarantee that the relationship will survive
until tomorrow. It sounds appalling and in

a sense it is, but it may feel a lot less
appalling than to be showered by a kindness

we are certain in our bones that we have never
earnt. At least the meanness on display accords

perfectly with our assessment of ourselves.

Whatever we may claim, there are almost always
a host of potential romantic partners ready

to treat us very nicely; it is just that – without
any awareness of the process – we have probably

become experts at dismissing them at the first
opportunity, tossing them aside with terms

like ‘boring’ or ‘uninspiring’ – by
which we really mean: uninclined to think

as badly of us as we think of ourselves or
unlikely to make us suffer in the way we need

to suffer in order to feel we are receiving
the sort of attention that befits us.

In truth, these kind people are generally
very far from dull or stupid. They have cleverly

spotted something about us that we have not
yet taken on board: that we are not appalling

and that beneath our defences, we remain kind,
sweet and worthy. These observers just frighten

us because, with their kindness, they challenge
a fundamental pillar of our psychology, the

idea that we are owed punishment.

We will learn to see many such kind lovers
waiting for us in the wings, and will be far

readier to let them into our affections, the
moment we can accept that, for all our many

(yet utterly normal) flaws, we don’t deserve
to be treated badly for the rest of our lives.

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