Why Online Dating Sucks for Men
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I tell all my single girlfriends to give online dating a try. Why not? I say, what’s the worst that could happen? You set up a profile, pick some cute photos, write something witty about the things that you love (Beyonce, Hillary Clinton, Battlestar Galactica), list some books you like, and then sit back, kick your feet up, and wait for the messages to roll in. Your inbox will fill with notes from 19-year-olds in the ‘burbs, 40-somethings who find your taste in music “refreshing,” addled idiots writing “id fck u,” and a handful of age-appropriate, nice-looking guys who can string some sentences together and like to cook. With those, you will send a few messages back and forth before he invites you for a drink. You will put on some mascara, plunge out into the snow, meet a stranger, and after an hour of slightly stilted conversation, he will grab the check. You will try to split it, but he will pay, and you will stand to re-wrap yourself against the frigid wind. You will part ways, and you will probably, almost certainly, begin again the next day with another “Hey there…” message from the next contender.
I tell all my single guy friends to watch out for online dating. It is a sad, soul-crushing place where good guys go to die a slow death by way of ignored messages and empty inboxes. You will peruse profiles and find a few women who aren’t posing in a bathroom with their stomachs exposed. You will look for things in common in their profile (they like Scrabble too!). You will send them a note, carefully crafted to show interest and attention to detail. The first seven will not respond. The next one will, but she spells “you” as “u” and you will let the conversation stall. Finally, one of the cool girls writes back, and you will banter a bit, swapping favorite restaurants or concert venues. You will ask her to meet up “in real life.” At the bar, you will chat nervously for an hour (she is not as pretty or as funny as you had hoped she’d be), and then you will be saddled with the $27 check even though she ate most of the sweet potato fries. She will offer to split, but you think she doesn’t mean it and you don’t want to be a jerk. You will march home to an empty inbox and the desire to spend another hour browsing and writing will start to fade.
You might think online dating would create some much-needed “fairness” between the sexes. In the realm of hetero courtship, tradition still reigns supreme. The Internet could be the great democratizer, the great playing field-leveler. After all, we each have only the 500-word text boxes and crappy jpegs and clever (not so clever) user names to show for ourselves. Anyone can message anyone about anything. Maybe in this environment where we are safely sequestered behind screens, we can get past some of the lingering gender-based “rules” that dominate the “How to Catch a Man” playbooks of yore. Maybe instead we can learn to treat each other as equal players of a very silly game that we all secretly take quite seriously. Wouldn’t that be nice?
But it seems quite clear to me that we’re not there yet. I’m partly to blame, and you probably are too. I’m a feminist, sex-positive 21st century lady whose photos include me posing in a Rosie the Riveter Halloween costume. I write about gender on the Internet for crying out loud! But every day, when I log into the dating site of my choice, I play the passive role, the receiver of attention, the awaiter of messages. I go to my inbox and see who wants to talk to me and then I choose to whom I’ll respond. Sometimes I send a “thanks but no thanks” to particularly sweet messages, but usually I’m so overwhelmed by the new things to read and the new choices in front of me that I ignore those nice guys too. Basically, I act like an entitled jerk who can pull puppet strings and make OkCupid dance for me however I please.
This is not the behavior I would expect of a feminist, sex-positive 21st century lady. It’s not behavior I’m particularly proud of either. Why don’t I write messages first? Why don’t I reach out to the dudes with the funny handles and good taste in books, the ones who post pictures with goofy faces and like tacos almost as much as I like tacos? Why do I not respond politely to every message, even the ones I’m not interested in? Why do I alternate between playing the damsel and the playing the demanding entitled a**hole? Because it’s just so easy.
Ugh. I’m embarrassed to have written that. I wish the evidence pointed to something else, something egalitarian and modern, but when I get real with my own online dating M.O., it’s the truth. I’ve sent messages to guys before, sure, but the ratio is small. Ten to one? Twenty to one? Once in a blue moon? I don’t have to, and so I don’t make myself go through the scary exercise of asking for consideration and possibly being rejected or ignored. Why would I put myself through the rollercoaster of the drafting, the editing, the sending, the waiting, the hoping, the checking, and the sighing in disappointment when the fact of my gender (and let’s be real; that’s really all it is) means the attention comes to me? This is not how I want this work, but I condone it with my inaction.
Once we make it out of the safe cocoon of the Internet and into the real world I’m better about aligning my actions with my values. Out here, at a bar or restaurant, I work really hard to make sure that you know we are equals participating in a traditionally unequal transaction. You don’t order my wine and we split the check because we are peers. Why should you buy my food? I have a job, you have a job, we’re all on a budget, and I did eat most of the sweet potato fries! Down the line, we can trade off and treat each other and enjoy the security in knowing there will be a “next time,” but for now, we both walked blindly into the same bar, so let’s walk out having equally invested in the last hour. Why can’t I apply this “equal investment” attitude to the getting of dates and not just the paying for dates?
It’s a little too far past January 1st to call this a New Year’s Resolution, but I’ve decided to make a change. I do not want to be a passive participant in my romantic life. I do not want my dating choices to be limited to the guys who are still optimistic enough to send a message; I might miss some good ones who are just tired of being ignored and I can’t blame them. I’d get tired of that too.
I asked above why I should bother to get on the rollercoaster ride of being the asker instead of the askee, and I think the reason it’s worth trying is the reason it’s worth trying many things that make you uncomfortable; empathy. Many times in my writing I ask men to try to understand how women feel out in the world, to take a walk in their shoes, to try on a different perspective to understand their own privilege. I believe exercising those empathy muscles is what helps us be better, kinder human beings, but it’s not fair of me to ask without trying to reciprocate.
There is plenty of privilege to go around, and while I spend a lot of time thinking about the big things I’m afforded due to my lucky draw, the little things I get are worth considering too. I hypothesize that it will feel shitty to spend time on a nice note and to be ignored, but I don’t know, because I haven’t really tried. I think it’s about time I try to understand my digital privilege. Are you with me?
Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.