I do not see myself represented in essays on dating

John Ohno
John Ohno
Nov 21, 2019 · 5 min read

Hi, my name is John. I am a straight man in my early thirties, own my house outright, have a full time job, and I’m in reasonable shape for my age. I also haven’t been on a date in two years and haven’t gotten laid in nearly four.

I spend about an hour a week on dating sites — I have an OKCupid profile and a Bumble one, & only recently got rid of Tinder & PlentyOfFish for security reasons. The last time I got a message on any dating site was more than a year ago. I have never gotten a match on Bumble (after a month of use) & I have gotten a grand total of one match on Tinder (which I used on and off for about three years) — she unmatched without even messaging me.

And, I blame the patriarchy.

I am not particularly undesirable — I’m okay-looking & a little smarter than average, and my friends find me personable and funny. But, I have enough self-awareness to realize that it takes a certain kind of person to want to spend time with me, and that just as any randomly-chosen stranger isn’t likely to be somebody I want to know, some randomly-selected stranger isn’t likely to want to know me. I also have enough self-awareness to recognize that I can’t reliably distinguish between someone who is interested in knowing me better & someone who is politely waiting for me to leave them alone, & enough cultural awareness to recognize that for a lot of women, unwanted attention from a man (especially a socially-oblivious man) is a red flag for an existential threat.

So, I err on the side of caution: if I can detect ‘back off’ vibes, then I assume much subtler signals have been sent at me for a while, & I back off immediately; if I don’t get an extremely clear indication of interest, I try not to show any myself.

This is a problem for me, because while women are taught that attention from a man is potentially dangerous, they are also taught that being unambiguous in your acceptance or rejection of that attention is more dangerous — in other words, the kinds of signals that are explicit enough for me to recognize are the ones many women send only in dire straits.

(I still make this trade-off: it’s better for me to be alone than for someone I like to feel threatened. I just wish that this kind of no-win situation wasn’t thrust upon us. For now, the only ethical choice for mildly socially awkward straight men is to accept that most cases of mutual romantic or sexual interest will never be fulfilled for them.)

Women’s fear of being direct is justified: in western society (and in some eastern ones too), women who directly reject men are subject to male rage & women who seem too enthusiastic are subject to slut-shaming (which can also result in violence). It’s so pervasive that even systems like Bumble, which are explicitly designed to force the onus of showing initial interest onto women, are not particularly effective. In heterosexual relationships, men are expected to make the first move, because when women make the first move it is considered more dangerous than the already-high baseline.

I do not make the first move. (I generally make this clear in dating profiles.) Most of the time (even on Bumble), this means no moves are made at all. When they are, the results are biased — women making the first move is considered risky behavior, & so I end up only in relationships with women who are prone to risky behavior (often due to desperation or lack of boundaries). I do not generally regret these relationships — I am still friends with most of my exes — but they are rocky, and I end up with controlling & emotionally unstable partners more often than the baseline simply because such people are more likely to directly tell me how they feel about me initially.

I read a lot of articles on Medium, and many of them are on dating advice. I almost always regret reading dating advice articles, because the advice therein does not apply to me — it is aimed at people whose problems with dating are totally alien to my experience. Having a hard time finding someone? You must be too picky. Here’s how to best winnow down the thousands of people who are desperate for your gonads. If you’re tired of all that meaningless sex, try taking a week’s vacation from dating! It’s not as though those aren’t real problems, but they are the problems of people who are too successful at the part of dating I have the hardest time with. Where are the essays by people who are worried about rudely imposing their affection? Where are the essays by people who sometimes wonder if they’ll ever get a date again, and wrestle with the urge to flirt with service workers because they know they’re probably just going to make everybody uncomfortable? Where are the essays by men who have a hard time dating because they’re doing at least the absolute minimum to avoid making the women around them feel unsafe?

I’m no catch, but there are probably a half dozen people I know who I would date & who would date me if communication opened up. (I know this empirically: there was a short period in college where I hit on everyone, and while I stopped because I realized I was probably making a lot of people uncomfortable, I ended up having a casual thing going with about ten young women simultaneously — and this was back when I was broke, out of shape, and the special kind of dumb that only college students can afford to be.) And, there must be thousands of people on Medium who are in exactly the same spot. After all, the bell curve is fattest in the middle.

It’s a shame that jerks & narcissists have an edge on us in dating simply because they don’t care enough about other people’s feelings to avoid risking them. It’s a shame that arrogant dickheads have an edge on us simply because of their unearned confidence. The solution is not to become those guys — it’s easy and it works but it’s wrong, and if we give into that we make the whole society worse.

That said, I don’t know what the solution is. For some people, their expansive social network provides a pool of friends whose friendship can grow into romance; this won’t work for me, since I am too exhausted from my day job & side hustles to maintain hundreds of close friendships, and since difficulty reading social cues is associated with difficulty forming large friend groups, this is probably not a rare exception.

My best case scenario might simply be to put up with it — to know that my odds of finding a relationship are low & that my odds of finding a healthy and sustainable one are even lower, but that unless I continue to put in the work, those odds drop to zero. It’s soul-crushing to spend every day of your life making bets you know you’re going to lose, but the alternatives are giving up or becoming a monster.

John Ohno

Written by

John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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