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.

Speed Dating: Part 2

So I don’t think I’m going to go out of my way to do speed dating anymore.

This isn’t to say speed dating is terrible. I think it works for some people. Recently, I went with a friend who’s in town until the fall, and feeling frustrated dating-wise, and it worked out well for her, and so in that sense it was worth it for me to organize this for both of us.

We went to one organized uptown, and because my friend is a year older than me, it means that we ended up doing an event aimed at a slightly older demographic than I’m used to. By which I mean the ladies had to be 35-45, and the men 37-47.

In part, I was interested to see what that would feel like for me, since in the past five years I’ve dated younger (both relationships the other person was four years younger). For lots of reasons I’m now prioritizing maturity, but that doesn’t always track with age, but I was just curious to see if this would feel good or weird or interesting or just different.

And it was… just different, basically. It was slightly better organized than the TPL one, though also slightly less interesting. I’m not able to make genuine comparisons about more than just my two individual experiences, but the older crowd seemed to have their shit together a bit better. They also dressed a bit better. Most of the men I talked to were in insurance, or were headhunters. This is not a super important fact except that it always seems to throw people when I say I’m a grad student? Like, whenever I say this around people who are older, I kind of feel like I’m 20 again or something? I mean, I’m not the oldest grad student ever, by far, but somehow still ‘being in school’ makes me feel like I’m not old enough to be there. Not to mention the fact that I look young, which I’m happy about but at the same time, I think the combination of how I look and the grad student box means that I kind of seem too young for this crowd. At one point, the very handsome gentleman I was talking to leaned forward and said: “So, (my name), how … old … are you?” I think he was maybe just checking that I wasn’t in the wrong place (there was a parallel speed dating event happening next door for a younger crowd) or something but to be honest it felt kind of condescending.

There was a guy I heard about from some of the other ladies who was kind of aggressive and ‘touchy’ and kept offering to bring everyone to an oyster bar/his wine villa (or something), but I am still not sure who that guy was because apparently when I get nervous I just talk about myself a lot to avoid having boring conversations with strangers? I dunno. I’m not sure if that means more work for me, or if it’s a brilliant tactic, but it is what it is.

There was one guy who was pretty verbally aggressive, shouting about how dating is like looking for a job, and you have to know what you want, did I know what I wanted? Was I serious? Did I want marriage? Children? It was pretty near the bell-ring, so I thought I would just fuck with this dude, so I was like, “Lol, yeah I know what I want, I want a feminist.”

He sat way back in his chair and was like, “WELL WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? THAT I THINK WOMEN AND MEN ARE EQUAL? OF COURSE I THINK THAT. I THINK WOMEN ARE EQUAL.”

Mmmmmhmmmm. Sure you do, dude.

Anyway the main reason that I won’t do speed dating again is that I don’t trust my judgement. You see, if I’m presented with a string of people like that, I’ll choose the best ones out of THAT GROUP. (And by ‘best’ here, I just mean, closest to being a match for me/someone I’d maybe be interested in going on a date with.) And so I checked off two lovely gentlemen: a Scotsman living in Toronto and a doctor who talked about how he might be a novelist if he couldn’t be a doctor. Both handsome and interesting, at least from what I could tell from a 4 minute conversation.

And yet. And yet? And yet when the Scotsman contacted me I realized I wasn’t actually interested in going on a date. But I didn’t realize that until days later, when the reality of going out with one of these men sunk in. I mean, he’s not horrible, he’s perfectly lovely, but I just wasn’t interested. It’s like the context of the speed dating event tricks me into thinking I’d go on dates with people that I later realize I don’t, and then I need to say no when I’ve checked them off as a ‘yes’ which feels kind of mean, like I’ve developed buyer’s remorse or something and it’s just too damn stressful.

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.

Opting Out

I have an upcoming post about how I decide who to go out with or not and how that decision is sometimes arbitrary and sometimes very much not. This post is related to that idea, though it is about the kinds of red flags that go up between saying ‘yes’ to a date, and going on the actual date, and how if you decide to cancel, for whatever reason, that is very very okay.

I had decided to go on a date a few weeks ago with a woman who messaged me on a dating site. My reasons were vague and varied – I haven’t dated that many women and I would like to just do that more, and she messaged me, she took the initiative, she seems like she has an interesting job (arts programming) that she is passionate about, and she asked me on a date. So, I said yes. (In retrospect, I don’t think we’d have been much of a match – she was a bit liberal with her use of exclamation points, and she didn’t seem to have much to say in her messages apart from just being ‘very excited’ about her job when I asked for details. Then again, sometimes certain people read much better in ‘real life’ than they do online. I am sometimes one of these people. So I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and err on the side of generous interpretations. Sometimes this means I go on dates with inappropriate people. This is a balance I am still trying to get right.)

Then we started organizing. She suggested the following Saturday. I said okay, and asked for more details (where she’s coming from in the city etc). She never got back to me. I messaged her on the Friday and said that we’d have to postpone, because leaving it so last minute wasn’t working for me. She replied and apologized, said she’s not on the site often, and could we do it the following Saturday. I said sure.

That happened two or three times. Finally, after I returned from a holiday, it seemed like we were nailing something down. We were going to go out the following Wednesday. She suggested walking around a park, which I was less than enthused about (I often prefer the social lubrication of alcohol on first dates. I also prefer facing the person to get a better sense of how I feel about them.) But I said sure (trying to not be too difficult at this point). I asked more details, including her name, which I never actually got from her despite having asked her (the fact that she wasn’t reading my messages for detail was also another bad sign). She got back to me fairly quickly (okay, better) but then sent two or three messages in a row suggesting that we go to an art show instead, where you make your own digital art.

I sagged inwardly. Digital art is not something I know much about. If a friend had asked me then maybe it would be the sort of thing I’d go for, but not a first date. First dates, for me, are about actually chatting with the person you’re on a date with. I said that I would prefer just that, talking, and maybe we could grab a coffee and walk around Trinity Bellwoods since I also have a party to attend later that evening (giving myself a serious exit strategy at this point).

She wrote back, saying that was totally cool, maybe we could meet at Queen and Bathurst? Then she wrote another message saying how great this art show is, and how a cool artist would be there, and wouldn’t that be fun though?

At this point I realized this was no longer worth my time. I cancelled our date, and she immediately started backpedalling, but it was too late.

Because she’d not only wasted my time for three weeks by bailing constantly at the last minute, but she was now not respecting my boundaries, nor actually treating her proposal as a proposal but as a directive. I may not have known enough to judge at first, but now I did.

The process of dating is, as I’ve said in previous posts, partly an exercise in exhibiting good judgement. And this is a precarious thing, especially at first, because the other person does not have a large sample size of your behaviour which means that an error in judgement can sometimes be given too much weight. I try to take that into account and interpret generously, but I have limits.

I felt really bad about cancelling at first, but since I did, I’ve felt so, so much better. And the thing is, anyone can decide to opt out of dating someone else at any point, for any reason, and that is really really okay. That’s part of what dating IS. And I think it’s especially hard as a woman to not feel guilty, or like you should give someone another chance, or that you are somehow being a ‘jerk’ by doing this, but it isn’t. Sometimes it’s an excellent act of self-care.

Sorry, what was that?

When I first started online dating, I was interested in how my intuition about the person from their profile would match up with what they were like in real life.

One unexpectedly hot Sunday in November, I found myself nervously walking towards the Cake Shop on the Lower East Side. I was overdressed, since I had expected it to be cooler, and dehydrated, and hungover. I was heading to meet Matt, a nice but slightly boring-seeming guy I’d been chatting with online. Our online chat hadn’t been scintillating, but he asked me out and back then I had just moved to NYC and I had a lot of time on my hands, so I figured why not.

I got there, and ordered the only thing I could consider imbibing, which was a ginger tea. Matt arrived, and we sat down at a table.

Me: So, Matt, what is it that you do?

Matt: *mumbles incoherently*

Me: Sorry?

Matt: (almost inaudible) I work as a paralegal at a law firm on Wall Street.

Me: Ah.

I felt like I was on an episode of Seinfeld with Matt, The Low Talker. He didn’t speak much, and when he did, I could barely hear him. My heart sunk into my stomach, and I just thought, how the hell am I going to get through this?

So I did what only seemed sensible: I performed a one hour long, improvised, one-woman show for this man. Anything he said that reminded me of ANYTHING I’d use that as a jumping off point and I told stories, made jokes, gave him my take on being in graduate school and living in NYC and online dating, and really just ANYTHING ELSE THAT CAME TO MIND.

At the end of what seemed like hours (it was only one) I said: okay well, I have some errands to run now, so I should head out! He replied that he’d had a really great time, and could we do it again? (Uh, of course YOU had a good time, dude.) I said I’d be in touch, and got out of there as fast as I could.

I was drained and angry and frustrated, but I also took something significant away from that experience. I had, I realized, essentially just gone on a date with myself. I had just gone on a date with someone who gave me next to nothing to work with, and I made it work. I could do almost anything. I could go on a date with anyone. No more need to be nervous about dates, I thought. I got this.

Negging

It is news to nobody that women receive a lot of online messages. From ‘hey’ to guys sending lewd messages, to unwanted cock shots, to men who send messages ‘arguing’ for why they should get to date you (‘we’re a 75% match! the algorithm is telling us to date!’), to messages that are just outright hostile.

I received a message yesterday that falls into that last category. I think it was a ‘neg’ though to be honest sometimes I’m at a loss to determine what might have motivated someone to send a particular message.

In the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ Meg Ryan’s character Kate despairs that whenever she’s confronted with a jerk, she freezes, and it’s not until much later that she realizes what she should have said. There’s a point in the movie when she is actually finally able to do that, when she gives Tom Hanks a piece of her mind: it just bubbles up fully formed from her psyche, and she just lets him have it. It’s like in that moment, she connects with a part of herself that she never had before.

I’ve had a similar experience. Often in the moment I freeze from the shock that someone has been mean, and it isn’t until later that a good response occurs to me. Until recently anyway. Lately the snarky part of my personality has been bubbling back up to the surface. It’s been dormant for a while – in my last relationship, my boyfriend hadn’t really understood my sense of humour, and when I was snarky he often thought I was being mean and moralized about it, or he didn’t understand it, or he just didn’t think it was funny. So I think that I didn’t live in that place in my personality for a long time, and my snark just sort of atrophied. Post break-up it came roaring back and I’m just kind of going with it at the moment because I’ve really missed this side of myself (which to be honest I didn’t realize I was gone until recently) and also it’s just so cathartic. Especially when someone is a jerk.

So anyway yesterday a guy sent me a message on ok cupid, presumably negging me, and I was suddenly reminded of this xkcd comic:

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 6.08.48 PM

So here’s my version. I could still make it more my own, but I’m pretty proud of it:

 

okc neg

 

I’m not even upset about the initial message, because it gave me the opportunity to respond, and also to post about it. And it feels great. Honestly the most upsetting thing about the whole exchange is that this guy is an 85% match with me. I don’t know how the fuck that happened, but I think I might need to go answer some more match questions now…