A young man, at the apparent prime of his dating life, decides to give up on dating
Every now and then, I like to test the people in my life just to see how open they really are. The majority of my friends are intelligent and progressive people who voted for Obama even as they criticized his human rights record, spend hours discussing gender and race bias in pop culture, and legitimately invest themselves in questions of how to make the world a better and more equal place. I have tremendous respect for these friends, who live thoughtfully and intentionally.
However, when I tell them that I’ve considered stopping dating, their responses range from concern (What’s wrong? Did someone break your heart?) to misdirected encouragement (Come on, man, don’t be down on yourself.) to bewilderment (Um…what?). This is especially true for straight male friends, who see the pursuit of romance as one of life’s standards. Liberal men can criticize the lack of women in senior executive positions, disregard musicians with misogyny-laced lyrics, and do any number of things that challenge conventional masculinity without alienating their peers, but heaven forbid they’re not perpetually in the game. Sure, maybe you’re looking for a relationship and don’t want to sleep around, but you’d just stop dating altogether? You’re 23! That’s what young men are supposed to do! How are you going to find a girlfriend if you don’t seek her out? Are you depressed?
To be fair, their concern comes from a good place. I met most of my friends in high school and college when my self-image lived and died on my perceived attractiveness to women. To them, this could just be a defeatist and impulsive move from a guy they knew to beat himself up every time a girl rejected him. Some of you reading this might be inclined to agree. To those criticisms, I’ll say that I completely understand. Trust me, it was hard to write this and feel like I could even make fixed conclusions about dating. But years of soul searching brought me to a decision that young men should know is a legitimate option.
The truth is that we don’t really need to date, and some of us might be better off if we don’t, but you would never know it by looking around. American culture likes to tie a man’s success with women and romance to his worth as a human. The Casanova who brings a girl home every time he hits a bar is lauded for his ability to capitalize off of momentary chemistry. His more bookish, introverted friend receives hearty congrats and admiration for his maturity when he settles down and marries. Their other buddies feel restless and incomplete until they meet a future lover or girlfriend. These archetypes are brought to life in movies, TV shows, and music of all stripes that codify expected behaviors. Whether it’s Seth Rogan finding life purpose after impregnating Katherine Heigl, Kanye West probing existential crises amidst sex-filled escapades, or the latest indie rock sensation wallowing in self-pity over the inability to connect with potential lovers, the message is clear: no matter what you’re going through or what kind of man you are, you’re incomplete without sex and romance.
Such an assumption can be damaging to young men who, for whatever reason, find themselves at a disadvantage in the dating pool. In the year that I spent on OkCupid, I sent countless messages to women with whom I had high compatibility only to get no response or a few terse “How are you?” messages that ceased as soon as I asked them out. A handful of those messages lead to first dates, with a few going further, but were those fleeting connections worth all the time I spent writing and sending messages? I won’t pretend like it’s so hard for men – women on that site have to live with the fear that any man they message might rape or kill them, and young men should keep that in mind any time they head down Self-pity Boulevard – but it’s certainly not encouraging. Six years of making passes at parties yielded little more genuine connection, so I’ve been basically playing a losing game at every turn (and that this is even a game at all is sad as hell). Even when these actions led to relationships, they were plagued by my unresolved confidence issues and worries (always hers, never mine) about us not working well together.
I eventually realized that my own conception of successful relationships was archaic, and that connecting my self-worth to them was inherently problematic. My parents, like many South Asians of their generation, had an arranged marriage facilitated off of only a few dates. I always used their relationship – rock solid at over 35 years – as an ideal, thinking that anybody could conquer their initial misgivings about a person through mutual dedication and an affection that grew over time. Most young American women I’ve met (or at least those who share my educational background and progressive views) don’t feel that way, and date with the hope that they’ll find someone who is a good fit for either that moment or an idealized future.
Romantic ideals in both the West and East are based upon similar patriarchal assumptions that people need to be fulfilling those ideals in order to be worth something to themselves and to society. But as we become more open about hookup culture and casual sex, are we really questioning those assumptions? I don’t think so, because we otherwise wouldn’t pressure people to be sexually or romantically involved at all. Society typically does not celebrate the young adult who puts their career and personal interests ahead of romance, but instead wonders why they’re single and if they use self-reliance as a cover for loneliness.
But hey, isn’t it just biology? Aren’t all young people trying to score anyway? First of all, no, that’s just unreasonable. Second of all, even if that is the case, civilized people can have self-control over certain urges and at least work to put mind over body where it makes sense. Earlier eras of humanity were subject to the whims of “biology”, when men were allowed to rape and pillage to their heart’s content. That worked out really well, right?
Joking aside, I’m sick of wasting my time trying to meet women, only to have the few who express any interest tell me how we’re not compatible, or that they don’t feel the same way they initially did. The young women I’m most attracted to are, inevitably, the most self-assured and driven. Women like them tend not to date insecure guys still trying to figure out their path (unless they like to “fix” guys, which never ends up going smoothly), since it’s exhausting to see somebody unhappy or sabotaging their potential. It’s probably more worth my time to develop some self-reliance, figure out where my life is going, stabilize my income (or at least accept its instability in a weak economy), and learn to be fully happy with myself – if anything, a greater sense of self-worth is more attractive to women, and that’s a lesson any young man should take to heart.
Of course, at some point, I might have to abandon this position. I’d like to think that I’m dogmatic, but circumstances change and I might find someone with whom I’m really compatible. In that instance, I’ll probably kick myself for having made any conclusions about dating and romance at such a young age and go into my next relationship with my tail between my legs (and hoping she never reads this piece). Until then, you can find me on my personal island, where I invite anybody with an open mind to come and hang out.
This piece was generously sent to Guyhood by a contributor who would like to remain anonymous.
Image Via: Flickr/Daquella Manera