The Drunk Date

A friend of mine just started online dating, and his dates keep cancelling on him. I remember going through a spate of that in Toronto, and it was really frustrating. I make plans, and when those plans get subverted I find it really annoying. I also no longer have the energy to go on dates with people I find boring or annoying, and I also find it exhausting to figure out how to end things early on gracefully. It’s just such a minefield and I just can’t right now.

Which put me in mind of yet another bad date from my past: the drunk date.

I think this date happened back in 2010. It was summer, and we were set to meet at a bar. I can’t even remember his name but let’s call him Drunk Guy. He is so-called because he showed up half cut to our date, which he proceeded to loudly announce. In those days, I had more emotional resources, and was just sort of interested to see where things went and how dates played out and so I went with it. We had a half-decent conversation at the bar over a drink, and then he suggested getting ice cream down the road.

There was a huge line up, it was a popular place, and the staff were a bit run off their feet. I ordered mine, and then he ordered his, but when it came time to pay, he seemed annoyed and inquired into the charge. It turns out he hadn’t realized that you had to pay more for a sugar cone (or something, I don’t even know) and was trying to talk the barista into giving it to him at the base rate. This was … embarrassing. As someone who’s worked in the service industry, this does not impress me. It shows a total lack of respect for the people serving you, when you try to pressure them into giving you stuff for free because…. you deserve it? Because… you’re special. Ugh. As a woman I also find that repulsive because it denotes an entitlement that is gross, and also that the person pressuring you is counting exactly on social norms and people’s inability to deal with uncomfortable situations in order to get what they want.

Barf.

Anyway then we wandered over to his house (I know. I KNOW. WHAT WAS I THINKING. I was so young, and so naive. I would never do this now) to hang out in his yard. It was a decent place to hang out actually, but when we got there, I realized that it was sort of weird and unwise that I’d even agreed to go back to his place with him alone, not knowing him well, not feeling like this guy understands and respects boundaries. (This date was before I became an angry feminist. I will eventually write about the date that literally turned me into an angry feminist. But another time.)

I used his washroom (possibly this was part of the motivation to head to his place?) and then we hung out on a bench in the yard, where he put his arm around me in this gross way in which he didn’t even ask if that was okay and was really not paying attention to me or my body language.

The most hilarious part of this entire evening, however, was when his phone rang. And he took it. He took a phone call from his MOTHER in the middle of our date.

It was not an emergency. He was not expecting her call. She just calls him, apparently. To check in. To say hi.

HE TALKED TO HER FOR TEN GODDAMN MINUTES.

He proceeded to justify this in a very blasé way, telling me about his relationship with his mother (too soon, dude).

Then, to top it all off, he went on to tell me about the ‘affair’ we were going to have that summer. Which… what is that impulse even about. It’s also not the only time a man has done that, by the way. That is a thing I’ve experienced between 5 and 10 times during the years I’ve dated. I’m not sure if they think they can impose their desire? Or maybe it gives them a sense of control? Or they’ve seen too many rom coms? Or they are idealizing how dating works? I don’t even know. I’m not sure there IS an explanation, or a narrative that would make sense of this.

What I do know is that it erases my agency, my say in how this will play out. It doesn’t even acknowledge that I need to agree to it. Where does my interest, my agency, my desire fit into a narrative in which he explains to me how our relationship will play out? Ugh. No thanks.

At this point some voice in my head started saying ‘ok look this date is going to make a good story someday, but maybe it’s time to hightail it?’

Because I mean, dude. That’s not how this works. That’s not how desire works. That’s not how dating works. That’s not how relationships (or ‘affairs’) work. That’s not how consent works. You don’t TELL me how it’s going to be. Things figure themselves out.

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Dating and Rejection, Part Two

About a month ago, I went on a date with a guy from Tinder. I increasingly appreciate OKcupid for helping out my intuition about who is and is not going to be a good date. I just don’t have enough info on Tinder and more and more I’m wary of it as a dating medium. For me at least.

Anyway we met up, and it was okay. He’s an attractive guy, but a bit awkward. I mean, I try to be generous about people’s awkwardness since it’s something that makes a lot of people nervous. I realize that’s just going to influence people’s behaviours, so I try not to let it guide my sense of someone too much. But between the fact that I wasn’t getting a spark/vibe/whatever about him, and the anxiety attack that I spent half our date trying to breathe and smile through, after about an hour and a half I was ready to get out of there.

Amongst other characteristics, this man wasn’t the best at picking up on my signals, and after I got back from the washroom he had his camera out, as though we were going to go on a fun photography excursion? Or maybe just to show off his camera? I mentioned that I needed to get home to do work (which was sort of true) and he said ‘awww I was hoping we could enjoy some of this weather’. (Uh a first date does not usually involve that much of a burden on someone’s time, dude.) I was a bit nervous as we were leaving, but his awkwardness also translated into being kind of slow to speak so when we got outside I turned and said, ‘okay well it was good to meet you! Have a good day!’ and turned on my heel and walked away. I was super relieved that I got out of there so easily, though felt a bit bad that I’d made it pretty clear I wasn’t interested in a second date.

Or, so I’d thought.

A few days later I got a text, saying: “So, how’s your week been going? … I am curious to hear how you felt about our meeting. I thought it ended a bit abruptly, but I was grateful for the outing. And you?”

I wrote back: “Heya. My week has been good! I don’t think it’s going to a second meeting for me. Good luck with all your projects, they sound really interesting!”

But, that wasn’t the end of it. Next I get:

“What put you off?”

Which like, omg. So, on the one hand, ON THE ONE HAND I do get this question. When dating doesn’t go well it’s frustrating, and he’s looking for feedback.

HOWEVER.

There is just absolutely no good way to answer this question. There just isn’t. And here’s why: there is never (or like, at least, only very rarely) an objective answer to this. Any answer I give will be personal to me, because I’m not looking for ‘the best one’ or whatever, I’m looking for a match. A match for ME.

I replied saying just that: “that’s a hard question to answer, to be honest. In cases like this there isn’t usually something that ‘happened’. Dating is about figuring out who feels like a match and who doesn’t. this just wasn’t a match for me.”

To which I got: “I get that a lot, and it’s really depressing. There’s nothing I can do with it to better myself. I feel completely disempowered by this sort of response. Do you expect to be swept off your feet?”

So, I was feeling compassion for this guy, sort of, up until the last line.

I mean, yeah. Dating feels personal, rejection feels personal. And, in some sense it is – this person isn’t into YOU.

Like I’ve said before, dating isn’t about being objectively ‘good’. It’s not a competition. It’s about finding a match. So with that in mind, what does it mean to ‘better oneself’? It might mean figuring out if you’re doing something wrong consistently, which might be the case for some people. But it’s not as though he was doing something I could point to, like talking over me all the time. (This happened once, and when the guy noticed that I was visibly frustrated, he asked what was wrong and I told him.) That would be a concrete thing that is fixable.

But what worries me is the bit about being swept off my feet. Like, what does that even mean? Like the guy is supposed to swoop in and be impressive and then I, the lady, am impressed and amazed and entranced into a second date? And somehow he’s annoyed because a) I think this and b) that he failed to do it, and please can I just tell him how to do it better?

I just worry that is the wrong way to think about bettering yourself, as a means to an end, to ‘get’ a lady, whose affection will deem you worthy of value?

I am seriously reminded here of Fred from Middlemarch by George Eliot. Fred is from a ‘good’ family, but is kind of self-absorbed and lazy. He is also head over heels in love with Mary, who is deeply unimpressed by his inability to get his shit together. When Fred sends his friend to vouch for his potential (yet again) she gets visibly frustrated:

‘I think Fred ought not to need telling again what I have already said to him,’ Mary answered, with a slight resentment in her manner. ‘I mean that he ought not to put such questions until he has done something worthy, instead of saying that he could do it.’

This is like, one of my favourite lines from literature, ever.

What I love is how Mary is calling bullshit on Fred’s inability to take responsibility for himself. That somehow Fred can think himself worthy of improvement if Mary is his prize for that, and I love how right here she totally eschews the responsibility for that, and throws it back to him.

Like, if you think you need to improve things, IMPROVE THEM. If not, that is also fine. But women are not prizes. I find that attitude somewhere between manipulative and lacking self-possession. Don’t expect a woman to give you a ‘reason’ to improve yourself. Just take some responsibility for yourself and do it.

If, on the other hand, there’s nothing you feel like you should improve, and you are just feeling compelled to because you aren’t finding a match, then it seems like the opposite of what you should be doing? Like, changing yourself to fit what others might want or expect from you is the fastest way to find someone who will like you for who you are not. And that just seems like a bad route to go.

But yeah. I feel sort of bad, like I’m being too hard on this guy? Because I get frustrated and annoyed too, sometimes. And it’s really easy to let that resentment bubble over at people, but it’s also really important to resist. Because no one owes you anything, and people are not prizes for getting your shit together.

And the thing is, dating is frustrating and invalidating a lot of the time. And as I get older I try to combat this the best I can by taking care of myself, and not overdoing the dating thing, and focusing on myself and my projects and self-care, not as a means to an end but because that stuff is just really important for its own sake.

Snap (?) Judgements

I had a conversation a few months ago that I found somewhat frustrating and unsettling, so much so that I feel the need to write a post about it. This is maybe my first explicitly feminist post, the one I’ve been promising for ages.

So. Here we go.

It started when I made a flippant comment that I could never date anyone who is a fan of Lars Von Trier. A couple of men I was with at the time registered their surprise at this. A discussion ensued about why that might be the case. (I don’t want to bore people with my LVT rants, the short version is that even if he thinks he’s a feminist, his films show a lot of graphic violence perpetrated against women, over and over, and I find that at best oblivious on his part and at worst a sinister slight of hand to excuse yet more portrayals of something that will obviously unsettle and perhaps trigger half of his audience. But I digress.)

Finally, I said something like, well if someone was anti-choice, obviously you’d understand why I couldn’t be with them? He considered this, but expressed a worry that such a standpoint might be somewhat ‘intolerant’, wondering if I also wouldn’t be able to be friends with someone who was anti-choice. I didn’t know what to say to this, and so in the moment I replied that romantic relationships are different, and he conceded that point, saying something about how they are allowed to be ‘irrational’ choices.

But I’m not entirely satisfied with my response there, because it’s more complicated than that. And so here I am, writing this post. The guy I was speaking to is a completely thoughtful and kind person, he wasn’t intending to be offensive, and yet if someone like that can be confused about the issue, then we still have a lot to talk about.

Let me rewind a bit. Lately I’ve been thinking about my online dating instincts. Ok Cupid is a site I’ve been on for years, and between the photos, profile prompt questions, other match questions, the match percentage that the site tallies up for you, and the personality tests, there is quite a lot of info to work with. I usually have an excellent sense if someone is at least a viable first date, especially after a few exchanges. I don’t have a formula for this or anything, I just get an intuitive sense. And not always, but usually, my intuition is pretty accurate.

With Tinder and now Bumble and other similar apps, there are a lot more snap judgements you have to make when deciding to swipe right or left. People barely write a blurb sometimes. More often it’s a name, an age, and a series of pics. No picture? Swipe left. Abs only? Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left. Investment banker? Swipe left.

Now, there are times when I do get a kind of existential anxiety that I’m sending potential loves of my life, people with whom I could actually have sailed off happily into the sunset, down the NOPE tube at breakneck speed as I continue to swipe left twenty, thirty, forty times. I worry that, sometimes, I am being too judgemental, or that my judgements are superficial or arbitrary.

Of course, there is a certain amount of personal taste that goes into these sorts of choices. That in itself is a bit anxiety inducing, because there’s such a limited amount of information you get online. I have a distinct physical type, it’s true. I often go for the tall, skinny men. The ‘pointy’ men as they have often been called by a friend of mine. And yet, I’ve gone outside that type frequently enough to know that while it’s a mode in my romantic statistics, it certainly isn’t an inevitability. But who outside that type might appeal to me, and why, and what the pattern is there still eludes me. I just kind of, well, know it when I see it. It’s possible I’ve swiped left on more than one person who could have fit into this category if I’d met them in a context in real life.

And so there is a certain level of contingent, arbitrary preference. And sometimes that does rule out certain people for reasons I cannot justify in a robust sense. Like, either I like them or I don’t. And I don’t have a huge amount of control over that, to be honest. And also? It’s perfectly fucking fine to have these preferences, as we all do.

But there is another level here too. Arbitrary preferences aside, I’m looking for someone who on some level shares my values. I am an intellectual, an academic, a feminist. A lot of what I do on a daily basis situates itself as a critique of mainstream capitalist patriarchal culture. If you are an investment banker, or an insurance agent, or something like that, chances just are that you are probably at least somewhat invested in the status quo in a way that I find kind of unsettling. Our lifestyles, probably, are pretty opposed.

Now, of course, in theory it is possible that I could fall in love with an investment banker. But unless there is something else on your profile that balances out the assumptions I’m going to make about you based on your job, then I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. This is what I like about OK Cupid – maybe you have a bunch of really interesting books and movies, your sense of humour is apparent, maybe you have some nod to the fact that being an investment banker is how you pay the bills but in reality you are a stealth anarchist trying to take down The Man from the inside.

But in all likelihood, you aren’t.And the more time you spend online, the more you date, the older you get, the pickier you get. Or maybe I should speak for myself. The pickier I get. I’d like to end up on dates with people who might actually be potential life partners. Or at least compatible enough to end up on a second date with. That would be nice. And if I’m on Tinder, where there is very little else I know about you, if this is combined with a bunch of pics of you drinking beers with your buddies, some ab shots, and a fuzzy selfie, well… swipe left. I don’t have time to meet everyone, nor do I owe that to strangers on the internet. I’ve only got so much time, and I have shit to do.

And there is still yet another level. There is a difference between arbitrary preferences, judgements about values matching up, and what we might think of as ‘dealbreakers’. These are a bit different from arbitrary preferences and values, as they are qualities or conditions that I might more consciously impose on a relationship or dating situation. Like, ‘I won’t put up with x.’

Which brings me back to this idea about ‘tolerance’. Now look, of course whoever I end up dating next will have some qualities, some preferences or whatever that I might not get, or even always like very much. People have different takes on things, and I might not always agree. So sure, this is inevitable and it’s part of what it is to have relationships and a certain amount of disagreement should be tolerated. Life is a rich tapestry, etcetera.

But this is not just about abstract political values and political structures. I am a woman. And I’m not just looking for what would be a good match. In fact, the match stuff is even somewhat secondary to something else: a basic fucking level of respect.

On Ok Cupid, when I think I like someone, I’ll head right to the questions section, and look up ‘unacceptable answers’. Sure, I care if you think the Earth is bigger than the Sun (yikes), but also: do you think women are obligated to shave their legs? Do you think that No is sometimes a Yes in disguise? (Uh there is a disturbingly high percentage of men who think this.) Do you think it’s okay to be gay? Do you think that abortion is an option in the case of unwanted pregnancy?

Beliefs are not atomic, they often come clumped with other beliefs, and, sometimes, an entire world view. Someone who thinks that abortion should be illegal is not just someone who has a particular stance on the metaphysical personhood of the fetus, not someone who happens to have ‘a religious belief’ – this is also someone who believes on at least one level that I do not have complete autonomy over my own body.

If someone doesn’t think that I have autonomy over my own body, what does that entail for other sorts of situations? Sexual situations? His sense of jealousy or possession over me and my body? How will he act towards my male friends?

And in a relationship – in a situation in which I’m trusting this person with my most intimate self – with my BODY – this is not acceptable. And this isn’t intolerant. And it’s not arbitrary, or ‘just’ emotional. It is perfectly, entirely, completely fucking rational.

Are we on the same page yet?

Of course, there will also be levels. So I’m not willing to date someone who isn’t on board with my right to make choices about my body, but would I be willing to date someone who considered themselves a feminist but was kind of stuck in second-wave feminism? Well, maybe. But maybe not. And guess what, that’s my decision, regardless of whether it is arbitrary. Because maybe bodily autonomy is a kind of baseline, but it’s also okay if my baseline is higher. Like, for example, if I want the kind of dude who can take my point about Lars Von Trier.

Thus I also want to get a sense of how open-minded you are. Of how often you think of things from other perspectives. Got a list of only white male authors on your ‘faves’ list? Yeah that seems unlikely then. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are sexist, but it does mean that when called upon to list books/movies/whatever the things that first come to mind are things that only reflect the perspective of one demographic and also that this very fact – that you are only listing white, male, cis dudes – doesn’t occur to you as even a problem. In other words, when you make your profile you should be trying to represent yourself, but maybe consider the perspective of the person LOOKING at the profile too. It might be important to us that we know whether you try to branch out, if you are able to find interest in a wide range of perspectives. If you aren’t, that’s a bad sign already for your powers of imagination, conversation, etc. I need my partner to have a robust imagination, and be generous to my perspective when I might suggest things that don’t strike him as ‘true’ in his (quite narrow) experience. (File under: I don’t want to have to teach my partner all about feminism. Again.)

And to be honest, the qualities I look for in my good friends are basically the same qualities I look for in romantic partners. I might have a slightly higher standard for a partner, but not by much. And a lot of those standards are going to include the value of open-mindedness and tolerance, sure, but not tolerance at the expense of someone’s humanity. No one should tolerate that.