You would think, for a man recently reentering the dating game in a new city, living with two beautiful D.C residents would be a huge added benefit. My sisters are both attractive, accomplished young professionals in the DMV with goals and ambition and laid back [broadly speaking] demeanor. They must have insight into the befuddling and majestic alien creature that is a beltway woman. In all seriousness, I recognize that all women are individual human beings with their own wants, desires, strengths, quirks and insecurities. Yet, I also know that each region has it norms and regional ways of going about social interactions. I was hoping my sisters, DMV veterans that they are, could enlighten me. Yet let’s examine how these conversations actually play out.
[**Disclaimer the following account is a fictionalized account of true events. Everything in this account happened but the timeline, names, and minute details of the dates were changed for illustrative and entertainment purposes** **Irritable Bowel Disease is a real condition and if you identify with any of the symptoms, please seek out medical attention**]
Sister #1 [we’ll call her…Lindsey.] is currently wearing sweat pants and flowing flowery shirt. She is rubbing her stomach and smiling a satisfied smile.
Lindsey: Hey, have you noticed anything different about me?
Sister #2 [We’ll call her…June] is currently wearing her red dreads wrapped up the Do-Rags Lindsey bought for the community clean up last month. She eyes Lindsey and gives her a patented “really?” look.
June: [looks at me now, one eye brow raised] Don’t say anything…maybe if we ignore her she will go away.
Lindsey: [Has lifted her floral shirt above her belly and is now unabashedly rubbing her stomach that is significantly smaller that it was yesterday] I finally had a bowel movement…I just lost like four pounds.
Me: [In a true testament to how not-at-all-out-of-the-norm this is] Yeah, you look great Linds. [I give her a proud look like she just chugged a beer and smashed it on her forehead.] That’s a lot of shit kid.
June: [Clearly disgusted] Tsk. Don’t encourage her, she needs to go to the doctor.
Lindsey: No, I think one more bowel movement and I’ll be good.
The Conversation continues like this until we wake up. My sister’s bicker back and forth for about 10 minutes.
June: How was your date?
Me: It was great. She was really nice, smart and pretty. We had a really great conversation; I’m hoping to see her again.
Lindsey: Hm, did you pay for dinner. [June gives Lindsey her “WTF?” look] It may be the 21st century but a man should always pay for the first meal. [June’s look now says seriously cuz?]
Me: Well, I…
June: See this is way you should come to me with this. [Pause. Looks at Lindsey and back to me.] Some people [look back at Lindsey and rolls her eyes] No, I’m playin’. But seriously. What was she like?
Me: She was really cool. I had a really great time. I’m starting to really love the life I’m been building for myself in D.C. Being proactive, meeting great new people…it’s nice. I’m not sure if I should write her today or wait…I
June: call her now, it’s not the 90’s
Lindsey: Wait a few days. You’re a grown man, you have shit to do. You don’t have time to be writing her every moment.
Me: Uh…I feel like… I should just be able to…
June: [fainting anger] What kind of shit is that Linds?
Lindsey: What? He shouldn’t appear needy. Just wait a day.
This continues until they get distracted arguing about their exact same opinions of “The Rachel Ray Show.” I have learned nothing from this conversation other than that my sisters are two very different people. I enjoy it because they are hilarious in their sibling bickering. They are polar opposites who have grown eerily similar due to prolonged exposure to each other’s idiosyncrasies. As they continue to argue I turn to Google to solve my dilemma. As I type in “dating advice” into Google I revel in the butterflies flirting through my stomach as I think about the date. It is been a long time since I’ve had butterflies and so they are a welcomed feeling. What is even more welcomed is their background presence in my day. They are a dull echo compared to my college crushes.
The online advice is basically ten different versions of be yourself, don’t do anything borderline rapey or stalkerish. Check. Check and Check. Phew. I’m glad got out of the clear there. It can never hurt to make sure you are not exhibiting rapey or stalkerish tendencies.
[**Disclaimer. For real though, EVERYONE should check themselves for rapey or stalkerish tendencies. Just because I joke about it, doesn’t mean it’s not serious. I’m looking at you “I’ll get few drinks in her before I go for the kiss” Happy Hour Dude**]
While this confirms my hope that I am perhaps not as out of the loop as I thought, it provides little insight into my current situation. Undeterred, I type in “advice for e-mailing after a date,” and I try my best to wade through the sea of rules for dating. I lack the focus to stay on task and end up reading a series of variations of Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus [MFMWFV.] I’m fortunate at least that as writer this is now no longer procrastination but will be referred to as “research.”
I continue my research as I try to find the nuggets of truth in the universally misguided and oft times bigoted glimpses into out dated courting rituals and blindly binary hetero-normative written projections of loneliness. I am slightly encouraged by the fact that these thirty and forty somethings whom deem themselves worthy of bestowing their wisdom to my generation still believe in being yourself. A few young millennial writers note that people are just people, and therefore women are in fact not from Venus but Brooklyn and Hyde Park and Tarrytown. I am heartened by this but am still left thinking, great, but do I write her today or tomorrow? How do you tell if a person [any person really ‘cause it might help with these job application follow ups] values immediate communication or if that seems too eager? Do I tell her she’s beautiful or should I tone it down a bit? How do you know whether someone is a hugger?
After about 30 minutes of distress I decide to call back on my sisters. I try and channel my mother and project the face that always gets them to stop bickering pleasantly. They see the face and, reminded of my mother, are ashamed for a second. June in turn imitates my mother’s “I’m listening intently but also kind of mocking you face.” After listening to my blown-out-of-proportion-because-I’m-really-bored dilemma, June says that older people [read: in their 30’s] call this dating etiquette. I relax a little and peruse those articles before finally settling on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/07/dating-rules-better-than-3-day-rule_n_3403137.html.
I silently thank Arianna Huffington for solving my immediate problems and write a heartfelt message about how much I enjoyed the date and plainly asked for another. I feel much better at this point and am glad that, unlike 18 year old me, I feel confident that I can go about my day without waiting for a response. The more I think about the series of MFMWFV articles though, the more unsettled I become. The feeling of unease creeps up on me like after you get off the 90 in D.C or the Redline in Chicago and aren’t sure what to make of the man selling apples out of a biohazard bag. You know it’s not okay but you are unsure as to the extent to which it’s not okay.
I was concerned with the lack of practical non-patriarchal relationship advice for men. Again, I’m super excited that there is a lot of advice on how not to be a creepy needy slightly rapey date. And, admittedly, dating etiquette was helpful for the more banal questions like what to wear, what to say, where to go. Yet what about the more meaningful concerns. Even though I’ve only gone on first dates my mind inevitably wandered to questions about more serious relationships. What does courting look like without patriarchy?
[**Disclaimer. Mom/Dad/ random other adult figures in my life. I’m going to talk about some adult themes so if this is going to make you slightly uncomfortable or[ worse] make me slightly uncomfortable, please stop reading**]
How do you bring up physical intimacy and sex without offending someone or worse pressuring them? How do you clearly state where you’re at and what you want at the different stages of courtship, dating, and being a couple? What if you’re not sure if you what kind of relationship you want? Is there a way to bring it up without your date being like “dude I’m not even sure if I’m going to peace out on you when my friend calls to see if I need an excuse to leave?”
I tried relationship advice but found that far too broad and again, obvious. Thank you Doctor Phil, now I know that I probably shouldn’t talk about my emotional scars from previous relationships in the first or second date. Really? I probably shouldn’t pretend to be interested in a committed relationship if all I want is sex? I then tried “dating advice for feminist allies.” This advice was only slightly more relevant to me. There were some interesting discussions about not using the word rape to describe things are not rape and how you can show women respect [ http://www.anamardoll.com/2012/11/deconstruction-how-to-be-male-ally.html ]. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the article is awesome. I think everyman should read it and if everyman took it to heart we could end large swaths of rape culture in America.
My concern is, are there really so few men in my position? Most of this discussion is, quite frankly, obvious to me. This would be fine if I were some saint of new age maleness. I would be fine if it meant that I was so far past my Neanderthal-lite contemporaries that I didn’t need this advice. Unfortunately, I struggle with and perpetuate patriarchy every day. I still am not sure how to confidently approach sexual topics with women as equals. How do I make my wants and desires clear and respected while giving her space to do the same? How might I ethically navigate a hypothetical partner’s “sex-positivism” with my odd mix of slightly old fashion views on “common decency” and unique sexual desires? Basically how and when do you create a safe, non-awkward space to talk about physical and emotional intimacy from kissing & sex to commitment issues & mental illness?
To be clear, my concern is less at the practical lack of easily available discussions of these sorts of issues now that I’m dating, it is about the symbolism of the absence in our discussion. Past experience has told me that often these sorts of things resolve themselves organically in my own relationships. I’m fairly confident that if I continue to be the honest, open and caring person I try and often succeed at being it is unlikely that any potential partner will feel uncomfortable pressure or offense. Yet what does it mean that there is no cultural conversation about this. Do people either accept offense and pressure as hazards of dating or possess some sort of brazen honesty on these subjects that risks scarring off potential partners in order to avoid said pressure and offense.
And if I’m perfectly honest with myself [and by myself I of course mean the 20 random people who will read this], it would be practically helpful for me too. What if I’m wrong about things working out organically? What if one of my many unknown unknown’s was that I am doing things in my organically developing relationships to offend women? It’s been known to happen [ “nice guy patriarchy” or back when I used to dance beside girls and pretend like I was dancing with them in college].
So, Facebook friends, random bloggers, fellow allies, womanists, feminist, queer theorists and free thinkers: how do you date ethically in the modern world? I suppose I should also ask, is it reasonable to expect to be able to date, hold true to your needs, wants and beliefs without inadvertently benefiting from or perpetuating patriarchy? I’m not asking about how to date without getting your feelings hurt [mom I know that probably what you’re about to send me a heartfelt message about…send it anyway just in case] I thinking dating, like all human interactions, come with risk and miscommunications. My question is can it come without rape culture, patriarchy, emasculation and WTF moments? Not only would I like to know but I think this conversation (which is undoubtedly taking place somewhere in the interweb) needs to be more main stream. Please, if I’m simply missing out on a great conversation out there, post it in the comment section. Can’t wait to hear from you!
p.s. what’s the deal with :)’s. Is that deal breaker? What if I’m really excited about what I just said?