When the dude’s a dud

My friends and I are smart and assertive, so why do we end up dating unreliable guys?

Illustration by Gracia Lam

OFFICIALLY, I’VE NEVER HAD TO NEGOTIATE ANYTHING. I’ve never owned a car, the price of my condo was set in stone, and I was so eager for health insurance that I jumped at my first boss’s first salary offer. (Note to readers: Don’t do this.)

Unofficially? It’s my entire love life.

I can’t be the only one who feels as if dating is a series of protracted negotiations with increasingly ridiculous demands. I seem to spend my nights and weekends in metaphorical boardrooms, arching an eyebrow as I slide a folded piece of paper across a shiny conference table. (Picture Julianna Margulies and some guy who really, really does not deserve her.)


It doesn’t start out that way. In the beginning, when you first sit down together, you assume you’re both bargaining in good faith. He telephones in a timely fashion, you call right back. He invites you to dinner, you accept. You offer to split the bill, he pretends not to be picturing you naked.

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But quickly the talks break down. You start to feel that he wants to get as much as he can while conceding as little as possible. Instead of the regular phone calls and witty e-mails he had led you to believe would be part of the bargain, new versions of the changing contract proffer only biweekly text messages, real words optional. At the same time, his demands escalate. Instead of taking you to that little French restaurant, he will provide Cheerios on his couch. You are to appear on said couch no later than 10 minutes after he summons you with one of his increasingly sporadic texts (“R U free 2nite?”). And somehow his unspoken terms imply you should be beautifully dressed and groomed, while he is free to wear a Celtics jersey and gym socks.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that the men my friends and I date are probably not actually rubbing their hands together and saying, “I wonder how much bull the women of Boston are willing to put up with?” At least, not out loud. But it sure feels that way sometimes.

Take the guy who really, really liked me — every two weeks. (During the intervening fortnights, he apparently suffered from amnesia.) Or my friend’s ex who borrowed $20 from her — every week for six months. Or the guy I’d been dating for two months who kissed me goodbye as I went off to find out if the bump on my neck was cancer — and then never bothered to find out that it was nothing.

Why even deal with these people? Why do I, unlike the US government, negotiate with terrorists? Well, let’s just say that they have leverage. Usually dimples.


Look, I don’t understand it any better than you do — my friends and I are smart, assertive women. But love and logic are only close together in the dictionary — the heart wants what it wants, and sometimes it wants a chain-smoking high school graduate who lives with his ex-girlfriend and tells you himself that he’s “unreliable.”

You know what happens when you’ve lost a negotiation? You settle. You settle, and the loser pays. I don’t want to settle. I’d much rather walk away. And that’s what I’m determined to do.

Fortunately, I have hazy memories of a different type of relationship. I remember guys who’ve cooked me dinner, moved my furniture, and waited for me all night at the airport. Guys who told me they loved me — and proved it, by giving without expecting anything in return.

That’s what I want, because that’s what I bring to the table. And I’m not settling for anything less.

Carrie English is a writer in Somerville. Send comments to

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