Questions?

Let’s talk about questions.

Well, first, let’s talk about Bumble. I downloaded Bumble again the other day, and then went on a swiping-binge for like, over an hour. At which point I had like, twenty matches waiting for me to message them (what’s great about Bumble is that women have to message men first. What’s not great about Bumble is that it works on a gender binary which ugh).

Anyway I had a bunch of matches, and I sent them all the same opener (b/c time constraints and b/c you get zero to go on re: profiles, so might as well). I asked them how their holiday is going and what the last movie they saw was and what they thought of it. Their ability to respond to what seems like a simple question will tell me a lot about them right away.

I copy and pasted this message into each Bumble chat box, and waited. As of today, I’ve been chatting with a few people. Some of which started well, but all of which fizzled out pretty fucking fast. And you want to know why they fizzled out so fast? Because the men I was chatting with stopped asking me questions.

You might think it’s that these men lost interest, but I actually don’t think so, or at least, not necessarily. Instead, I think it’s because of a social failing of our culture, one in which men are afraid to ask too many questions. Or just don’t realize that they should be asking questions. I have heard from men, over and over again, that they feel like questions are ‘intrusive’. I take it this is because questions do have the ability to be aggressive, violent, even.

Except, when you are having a conversation with someone, especially someone you are trying to get to know, not asking questions is a big problem. Because, for starters, I don’t want to just give some big monologue about myself. And I certainly don’t want to ask HIM a million questions (hello I’ve been on too many of those dates and justzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz).

Sorry. Dozed off there. Where was I?

Questions can be aggressive, violent even in the right context. When things are one-sided like an interview or an interrogation, questions become pointed, they magnify, they are sometimes designed to make the recipient of the questions uncomfortable.

I love the movie Magnolia in part because it’s about question-asking, and the aggressive ways that fits into human relationships. There are lots of scenes in which we see this kind of questioning play out: a Jeopordy-style gameshow in which a child is being made to ‘perform’ his intelligence on national television, much to his anxiety and discomfort. Tom Cruise plays an egomaniacal pundit who submits to an interview to aggrandize himself and finds himself the vulnerable target of extremely personal questions that he wasn’t expecting. A police officer enters the home of a drug addict to respond to noise-complaints, in which she dances around his questions to avoid him discovering her stash.

But when it comes to conversation, questions can also invite. They can create openings, and connections. They can tell you about the question-asker, what that person wants to know about you, what about you interests them, and what they want to hear about. I have found it really upsetting when boyfriends *haven’t* asked questions, precisely because it subverts intimacy.

I once told the Ex that he didn’t ask me enough questions, and to ask me more questions. His response: “Oh. Ok. Um…… (long pause). So… have you ever been hang-gliding?”

Sigh.

What annoyed me about this question, well, one of the many things that annoys me still about that question was its deliberate subversion of intimacy. This question wasn’t about anything he already knew about me, it wasn’t based on his desire to get to know more intimate things about me, or sparked by something he wanted to have a conversation about. It was simply a question. It was any question.

When I got upset about this bald lack of curiosity about me (on a number of occasions), his reply was that of course he was interested in getting to know me, but that he wanted it to happen ‘organically.’

Right. Well, sorry for asking, but how the hell will you ever get to know someone ‘organically’ unless you ask them some goddamned questions once in a while?

Questions, in this context, are not intrusive, they show me that you care. They show me that you want to hear what I have to say, which is pretty damn important as a woman searching for a man, let me tell you. It shows me that you find me interesting, that you want to make a connection, that you are going to hold up your end of the conversation and not make me do all of the emotional and intellectual labour of pushing it forward. Of moving, ultimately, the relationship itself forward.

And so those Bumble conversations sit there, and I keep looking at them, unmoved.

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Online hunting

Ok Cupid is pretty fucking frustrating.

I recently got rid of my old Ok Cupid (henceforth ‘okc’) profile (which had been up there for years, through several relationships) – I had originally written it in 2009, and had refined and polished it again and again. And my old profile was good, but I just needed a fresh start. Or something.

New profiles also get a boost in terms of how often you see them, so I also figured that couldn’t hurt. I had tried Match.com for five minutes (the horror) and decided that, despite its several flaws, okc was still much better in terms of interface, match questions, and demographic of people you are connected to. In case that sounds too euphemistic, let me put it this way: match.com is full of  mainstream bros, a more traditional crowd. Ok cupid, on the other hand, is full of queer-oriented feminist hipster people. My people.

I’ve been getting the same barrage of underwhelming messages (‘hey’; ‘s’up’; ‘hey, can we chat?’) with the occasional thoughtful message mixed in, though often from someone who I end up not being that interested in responding to for whatever reason. (We all have our preferences.)

I have to remind myself, though, that my best experiences with ok cupid mostly comes out of my own research and message-sending. When I first moved to NYC I had SO MUCH TIME and I would spend hours scouring through profiles, based on the match percentage you receive after answering 50, 100, 200, 300 match questions. Okc also suggests people you might like based on the particular profile you’re looking at. I’m not quite sure how this works, since I can be sometimes looking at someone who’s a 85% match, and find that there’s a 93% match listed as well as a 68% match, so how much these people actually have in common is unclear. But anyway you can just go down the rabbit hole of ‘you might also like’ lists for just, well, hours.

What I do is I bookmark something like 15-20 people during these searches (which I’m doing now, intermittently, while also writing this post), to save them to write later. The idea is to write to about 15 people over the course of about 3 days or so. I then delete all these people from my bookmarks, so that I don’t remember who I’ve messaged (and thus cannot fixate on who replies and who doesn’t). Usually a bunch of people will write back, and then out of those exchanges I’ll end up with about 2-3 first dates.

And the thing is, that’s all okc can really get you. A first date. After that it’s all on you. I’m not going to be able to tell if I want to marry someone based on their profile. In his book “Modern Romance,” Aziz Ansari suggest understanding online dating sites as online introductory sites, instead. No actual dating happens on the site. You have to meet people to get a sense of them.

The trouble is, though, sometimes it’s really fucking difficult to even tell if I want to go out on a single date with someone.

It’s hard to write a profile. I think writing in general is hard for a lot of people. Personally, I love writing, and do quite a lot of it, so I’ve developed a kind of online personality that I think makes my profile come across as pretty interesting to a bunch of people.

But I’m tired, so tired, of reading vague and indeterminate – and, most importantly, BORING – statements like ‘I’m just an easygoing guy who is into adventures and enjoying life!’

Like, what the fuck does that mean? Honestly. What is an ‘easy-going’ person, and ARE YOU REALLY? Those are just words, hon. Lots of people like to THINK they are easygoing and are in fact NOT AT ALL.

I also don’t know what ‘adventures’ entails for people. For some people that involves trying out new restaurants (snore). For others it means white water rafting. Other people have no idea what they mean by that and just want to make themselves look interesting while not actually giving me any goddamned information that is, in any way, interesting.

And I swear to god, if I read one more goddamned hipster profile listing not only solely white male authors, but a list that includes Kurt Vonnegut as the pinnacle of the literature of our time, I will fucking barf.

Like, look, I don’t want to knock Vonnegut, he’s a very good writer blah blah, but when you list Vonnegut, you’re listing him to make yourself sound literary but edgy, smart but cool, dark but still lovable. You are trying to represent your personality as dark and unique and interesting except that SO IS EVERY OTHER FUCKING HIPSTER ON THERE. (I know, because I have read all of your profiles).

So yeah, anyway. I will persevere. So far I’ve got 6 bookmarked. None of them list Vonnegut. Or ‘easy going’. Or ‘adventures’.

It’s a start.

Emotional Labour

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional labour, what it is, what it looks like, and what it means.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here is a great post about it: Brute Reason on Emotional Labour

In brief, emotional labour is the kind of work we do to take care of our own feelings, our own state of mind, but also that of others, whether that be in romantic relationships, friendships, familial relationships, and even more broadly in social situations, online, etc. It involves both having a sense of how others might be affected by actions, situations, words. It means putting thought into your words and actions beyond your own perspective: it means imagining how they will be received by others, both concrete and abstract.

Emotional labour is everywhere, basically all of the time. It means checking in with your partner so that they don’t always have to bring something up when they are bothered by something you do. It means thinking ahead about social events you are organizing to make sure that such events are accessible to everyone invited, and if not, what you might to do make it accessible. It means taking turns with inviting friends out to events, sharing housework so that it doesn’t automatically default to the women in relationships, it means speaking up when you have needs so that the other person doesn’t have to guess about what’s going on in your mind.

And so, so much more.

It strikes me that the distribution of emotional labour is gendered, and in a way that is very very difficult to combat. Women are raised to do it, we are raised to feel *responsible* for it, and so in a sense it is invisible to us how much we do. Men are not raised to do it, and so in a sense it is invisible to them in that a) they don’t know what it is or how to do it and b) other people have done it for them their entire lives.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this summer, and I’ve been having some revelations that my past relationships have largely broken up over exactly this. It’s an unsettling revelation and one that has raised a lot of feelings but I hope that in part I can start some conversations about what it is, how it affects dating and relationships, and what kinds of things we can do to make it more equally distributed. There will be many posts about this in the next few months.