Ladies: Don’t use real names when you write about your bad dates online.
I know! I know! The temptation to write about bad dates: It is IRRESISTIBLE! And that is fine. I myself have fallen prey to the temptation of writing about bad dates. It’s fun, it’s easy, it gets the bad taste out of your mouth. (But not literally, HEYOOO.) Sometimes, it is even instructive. But, for Pete’s sake, people deserve a little bit of grace in this world. Human beings are never more vulnerable and irrational and stupid and undignified than when they are trying to love and/or sex up another human being. If the only thing people knew about you was how you behaved on a bad date, or within a bad relationship, guess what? They would probably think you were a Grade-A Douche, or dork, or loser, or just plain mess. Just like all the douches, dorks, losers, and messes that you’ve dated. So: Disguise the identity of your bad dates, when you write about them on the Internet. They have friends and family and co-workers that they have to face in the morning.
And that’s it. I mean, really: That’s the only widely applicable moral lesson I can come up with, out of Alyssa Bereznak’s “I Dated A Guy Twice And Found Our Lifestyles Incompatible” piece for Gizmodo. She used the guy’s real name; that was wrong; that’s all I got. And that’s because I am not The Internet, Ph.D.
Right now, Bereznak is being called a “predator,” a “gigantic bitch,” an “elitist,” a “soulless harpie,” a “narcissist,” and a “dumb woman,” and that’s just on this one post. What did she do? She led a guy on! She fucked with a guy’s head! She broke a guy’s spirits! She… didn’t go out on a third date with a guy, because she didn’t share his interests. CATASTROPHE! ATROCITY! Alert The Internet, Ph.D!
His interests, for the record, are “Magic: The Gathering,” the card game, and he is not just playing it. He is the World Champion. He plays it regularly, and at tournaments, and he told Alyssa Bereznak that it was the foundation of his whole social life: “I’ve met all my best friends through Magic.” In other words, he is not the sort of guy with whom you can side-step or ignore the whole “Magic: The Gathering” thing. Calling this “unusual” or “weird” is almost beside the point; he is quite literally the only person in the world with this particular investment in the game. In her piece, Bereznak expresses the apparently-shocking sentiment that, given that the dude’s social life is based entirely around Magic, she wishes he had mentioned it before they started dating. It would probably be a good thing for someone who doesn’t care much for “Magic: The Gathering” to be able to avoid the guy, given that she doesn’t want a lifestyle based around lots and lots of “Magic: The Gathering.” Right?
NOT SO FAST THERE! The Internet, Ph.D. has found you guilty of OPPRESSION! That most horrible, socially harmful, Internet-comment-generating of all “oppressions:” Thinking stuff is kind of dorky. It’s awful! It’s mean! It’s unfair! And, worst of all, it results in women thinking they have the right not to sleep with men they find unattractive!
Sorry, friends: People get to find your interests unattractive sometimes. That’s the way it works. Your first dates are always judging you. It is never fair, and sometimes there are sad times. But that is what first dates are for: They are for evaluating the sexiness of others, in a variety of purely subjective ways. For these reasons:
- I will never date a guy who tells me on the first date that he loves the Renaissance Faire. I think Renaissance Faires are ridiculous. “Let’s go back to the Renaissance, but also it’s not the Renaissance, it’s the Middle Ages! Where, by the way, you would be my legal chattel! Huzzah! M’lady, wilst thou join with me in celebrating the joys of a world without gender equality, widespread literacy, or indoor toilets?” No thanks. This does not mean that nobody should ever date a guy who is really into Renaissance Faires; if you are into that, you could date this imaginary guy, and fall in love, and maybe have one of those Renaissance Faire weddings. There might be archery. I, on the other hand, would only waste his time. It’s a good thing I will never have a second date with your future husband! But,
- I will also never date a guy who tells me on the first date that he is really into bicycles. Just having a bike would not be a dealbreaker; even being passionate or snobby about bikes might not be a dealbreaker, if I learned about this after a while, and if he understood that his Special Bike Times were for him and him alone. But I have tried to be into the urban-biking thing; I have tried to be into the urban-biking thing specifically to please boyfriends. And in my experience, biking through New York City traffic feels like 45 straight minutes of “I’M GONNA DIE I’M GONNA DIE I’M GONNA DIE,” followed by fatigue and crotch soreness, and at the end of it I am cranky and martyred and I still don’t understand why we couldn’t have taken the goddamn subway. You riding a bike = good for you. Me riding a bike = bad for both of us. So if you spend a lot of time on the first date talking about your fixie, and how much you love your fixie, and how you can’t decide whether to get a new fixie or fix your fixie so you can learn how to fix fixies, I’m going to decide that you probably need a woman who looks at a bicycle and sees “noble, environment-saving warrior steed,” not “messy death on wheels.” Coincidentally,
- I will never date a guy who tells me on the first date that he is passionately into football, especially not if he has “a team.” It’s a personal thing. I grew up in a football town, known for its borderline-cultlike adoration of our college football team, and I just hated it. I hated the subculture; I hated the obligation to “root” for strangers; I hated attending games; I hated the game itself. Football was boring, it was long, and in our house, we weren’t allowed to watch anything else on Sunday. So I grew up promising myself that one day, when I was grown up, I would never have to watch, discuss, or think about football, ever again. You might be an amazing person, Imaginary Football-Loving Date, and perhaps I would be missing out on a great love by dumping you because you talked about the Colts. (Are the Colts a thing? The Colts are probably a thing.) But also, I would not have to hear you talk about football. For me, this is a fair bargain.
The list goes on. Because I have “preferences.” Which all people have. We could talk about what a total bitch I am for hating nerds. We could also talk about what a bitch I am for hating hipsters, or bros, or environmentalists. Or we could just acknowledge that I don’t hate any of these people, and that I might just find big parts of your lifestyle unappealing. And since the end goal of dating (for me) is to find someone to build and share a life with, I have every right, and every responsibility, to screen out people whose lifestyles I personally wouldn’t enjoy sharing, before things get serious. And other people have the right to do the same. With me, or with anyone else that they date.
When someone has preferences about their partners’ interests, those preferences are not changing because someone else thinks they’re “incorrect,” and yelling about them will not change a goddamn thing. Women, particularly, have to fight for the right to have those preferences, against the constant message that men are entitled to sex and/or love, and should be able to do all the choosing. I learned about the validity of my preferences by acting as if I didn’t have them: Dating the guy who collected swords, dating the guy who drew mandalas and talked about cosmic love, dating the guy who liked techno music, dating the guy who went everywhere on a bicycle. Guess how those relationships ended? Wait: You don’t have to guess. They ended. And a lot of them entailed a lot of time spent feeling guilty for not enjoying myself. Some of those relationships made me less healthy. All of them made me less happy. And, crucially, they also made the men less happy; those guys could have enjoyed their bicycles or musical tastes or New Age beliefs a lot more if I weren’t passive-aggressively rolling my eyes at them throughout. That’s a lot of unhappy people in the world, because I thought “not liking the way a guy chooses to live his life” was not a valid reason for refusing to get involved.
In fact, as far as our culture is concerned, it isn’t a valid reason. We get a lot of sexist narratives about love, but none of them are more pernicious and subtle than this: The Frog Prince story. You could call it “Beauty and the Beast,” too. Or you could call it “Twilight,” or “Knocked Up,” or “Rory Williams Won’t Stop Whining;” it’s always the same story, anyway. Girl meets guy. On the surface, this guy is unappealing! Because he’s a frog! Or he’s not sexually attractive to her, or he treats her badly, or he’s immature, or he’s Rory Williams and he won’t stop whining; all of these are frog-like states, generally considered unkissable. But only a bitch would think that frogs don’t deserve our sweet, sweet kisses, so the woman doesn’t leave. Instead, she looks for the guy’s good qualities. She lowers her standards; she changes her expectations. She gives up on her silly little “ideas” about “attractiveness” or “compatible lifestyles” or “having fun with her partner.” Finally, she loses touch with her own desires to the point that she winds up making out with a fucking frog. At which point he becomes a prince. Or a loving husband, or a responsible person, or a whiny little Roman Centurion; the point is, in these stories, once you give up on wanting things from men, men magically become what you want.
Here’s the secret, though, if you are the girl in this particular story: That guy never became a prince. At all. He’s still the same guy; he still possesses all those qualities you initially found unappealing, for all sorts of valid reasons. People don’t go from frog to mammal overnight, and they particularly don’t do so because you ask less of them; you are still making out with a frog, in the long run. The only reason he looks like a prince nowadays is that you lowered your standards to the point that you literally could not tell the difference between frog and mammal. It’s not that you got what you wanted; it’s that you settled for wanting what you got. And that is the precise opposite of a happy ending.
Alyssa Bereznak did not kiss her frog. She did not pretend to find something sexy or impressive, just because the man she dated briefly was into it. For this reason, she is being punished. Women are pitching in; men are pitching in. But it’s all about denying women sexual agency and the right to make their own judgments. Yeah: She laughed, inadvertently, when a guy told her he was the World Champion of playing an obscure game. Because she found it funny. Which she had every right to do. If you’re part of an interest-based subculture that some people find unattractive — which is to say, any interest-based subculture on Earth — then, as someone who is a voluntary part of that subculture, you have choices. You can (a) participate in the sometimes-seen-as-unattractive thing, and deal with the fact that lots of people think it’s unattractive, because it’s very important to you, or (b) spend less time doing the sometimes-unattractive stuff, and cultivate more popular and mainstream interests, to broaden your pool of potential dates. Either choice is fine. Either choice is valid. Each choice has different results. I myself am part of a widely thought to be unsexy interest-based subculture, known as “feminist blogging.” It limits my pool of dates. I accept it. I do it anyway, I’m very up front about that (in the five minutes I had an OK Cupid profile, before I started dating a friend who read my feminist blog, I listed “writing about feminism” as an interest), and I find partners who aren’t repelled by what I do.
What you CANNOT do, however, is participate in a subculture, build a lifestyle around the subculture, become WORLD CHAMPION of the subculture, and then scream bloody murder because someone finds your participation in the subculture unattractive. That’s not you being “bullied;” that’s just you exercising a massive and unrealistic sense of entitlement. And when you shriek that some woman is a “bitch” and a “cunt” and a “narcissist” and a “predator” and whatever else, just because she didn’t want to fuck some dude, just because she detailed her reasons why and didn’t bother to pretend she found the guy’s interests attractive, and just because that makes you worry that there might be people in the world who don’t want to fuck you or who don’t find you attractive (SURPRISE, there are, this is also true for everyone else in existence), well: guess who’s actually the bully in this situation? Guess who’s actually siding with the crowd to try and hurt someone else’s feelings? And guess who’s actually reinforcing oppression by doing so? Hint: It’s not the girl who turned down a date.
Of course, you could also argue that “finding Magic: The Gathering unattractive” is an unattractive quality, if you are a guy who plays a lot of Magic: The Gathering. And that is certainly true. Men have every right not to date people who find their interests weird and unappealing. But if your end goal is to make sure that men who are really into Magic: The Gathering don’t have to go out on dates with women who dislike Magic: The Gathering… well. Don’t look now, but I have some really good news.