Warning: Rant Ahead! You have been warned, and if you don't like personal drama, feel free to ignore this. It's really just my way of working through some thoughts.
In High School, I withdrew from most of my peer groups. I became largely socially independent. I had a large group of people around me but I formed few attachments to them, and that might have been largely due to a trend that started with me in elementary when my family moved frequently and I found myself forming fewer friendships at each school though realistically I have lived in the same area for half a decade by the time I was in high school so that might be a cop-out of an explanation. Still, I felt the pressure to "be normal" and craved social interactions.
By the time I graduated I was often the go-to guy for advice in the groups I did socialize with. Almost every one of my piers had, at one time or another, ranted to me about one problem or another. That environment was true at school, in my church groups, with my scout troop, my home-school group, co-workers and even the older siblings of some of the people I associated with. I would often listen to people for hours, and then I would offer advice. I don't know if it was good advice or not, but it was offered after understanding their situation and by dispassionately observing the outcome of the lives of the people around me. I let others make mistakes that I could learn from. I limited my interactions with people I had low opinions of because of their choices.
Of course, I didn't have anyone I could rant to, and when I did try to vent off some frustration with my "friends" they had a tenancy to refuse their ears. The few times I did vent at someone, they had their attention elsewhere, missed details, forgot things before I was done and I ended up more frustrated at the end than I started out being.
Dating was the one area I felt the most frustrated almost constantly. Because of how I had structured my social interactions, I had few opportunities to meet girls and fewer opportunities to ask them out. My very first date was a favor for a friend so his girlfriend would go to homecoming with him since she refused to go in her BFF didn't have a date. In retrospect I see that I was probably the only guy he knew desperate enough to agree.
I attended every church dance that came along because that was the only time I could meet girls my age and have an opportunity to talk to them. The social pressures often led to panic attacks (I don't realize until only a few years ago that's what they were) and more than once I ended up hiding out until the end by finding a hiding spot I could cry in without being found. (Once, I got kicked out of a spot I found by a girl I had asked to dance 3 times; she claimed it was a spot she frequently used and since no one had danced with her she needed it more than I did. Yeah, teen angst.)
I served a mission after high school. The experience taught me that sometimes people just want some empathy. I started to realize I had a problem identifying with people on an emotional level. I leaned other things, obviously, but that isn't what I talking about now.
I returned from my mission to Fort Wayne, Indiana where I immediately entered the YSA group. (That's "Young Single Adults," a Mormon colloquialism for fresh meat) I was expected to begin dating right away, and in 10 years there, I dated 4 women. 2 of them were single-date-experiences, one was a girl from school that had a crush on me so we hung out a few times before I got dumped because I didn't want to take her in the carnal way, and one was a woman I was serious about for 6 months before she stopped returning my calls after i drove 4 hours after work to give her a valentines gift. So, I'm not sure if one could call such a space history rocky... but it wan't like I was on fire. I still attended all the dances, and I had learned to ask out all the girls and even made a point of dancing the whole time.
Outside of dating I made few friends. I count those as the ones I could hang out with and talk about anything. 3 or 4 depending on how generous I'm feeling towards humanity when I count. I went to the YSA activities and I'm sure most of those people count friends differently than I do, and by that measure I'm sure I could expand my group to a dozen and a half. I never had to pretend I was having fun, but I still had regrets every time I didn't ask someone out. Inevitably, I developed a pattern of asking out women who had just gotten engaged and would say things like, "If you had asked a week/month ago..." But the worst were the ones who would say things like, "If I wanted to date anyone, I'd want to date someone like you."
Yes, I got bitter. Ladies, let me translate that last one for you, because I'm sure, from the frequency I heard it, that you often think it's a compliment. It's not, and most men aren't stupid enough to miss the meaning: "I'm not interested in dating you, and if I was, I'd date someone like you but not you." That's what that means.
I've lived in Houston for over 10 years, and I have been on three dates. I've developed a small handful of close friendships, a few with women I have not tried to date or even harbored crushes on (a huge sign of growth on my part). That is not to say that I don't value the associations I've made, and most people call those kinds of relationships friendships anyway, so I do count my friendships high even in my close friendships remain at or below 3.
I don't mean this to be a pity log, or a dating history, I just feel that all of that is necessary background to understanding my frustration at seeing what I perceive as what I should be and having a clear, unbiased view of what I am. I've never been able to lie to myself about my shortcomings, though I have also tried to avoid using them as crutches. I might lie to others about my self-image, and have succeeded in convincing many that I am a bit narcissistic and unrealistically proud of my own looks (full disclosure: I'm neither of those things) but that is always a ruse to grease the social wheels that I tend to barely understand. Even entering my 40th year, I still don't fully grasp the nuances of conversation, can't comprehend the need for emotional bonding (though that doesn't diminish my desire to achieve it), I see myself as an introvert that has developed social skills as a survival tactic.
I have been accused of flirting with women I barely know and have no interest in, while the women I do have interest in take the revelation as a surprise. I share that in order to illustrate my complete lack of skill in dealing with people.
Recently I discovered that I might be on the autism scale. In fact, I am one point away from Asperger's on an informal test, which is close enough to be concerned because the margin of error is several points. I look around and see people with few redeeming qualities pairing up, many of them in life-long relationships, and here I am in a social group where all the single women I know are divorced with children and I can't identify with their life experiences. Even when someone sets me up with a date, I find that I am socially paralyzed to go through with it. I am frustrated by all of this. The strange part is that I understand my fears, I can identify them clearly even if I can't articulate them so. And so I become frustrated even farther by the fact that I can clearly see where I am and where I want to be, and I think that the frustration might just be that yawning gulf in between.
If you've read this far, you are far more patient than I am. I doubt I wold have if I were in your position.