Why Does Dating Men Make Me Feel Like Shit?
Emma Lindsay

Hi Emma, I saw this yesterday when a Swedish friend liked it. Then this morning, another friend posted it to my wall, claiming that it reminded them of conversations we’d had. I created a Medium account just to comment.

I relate to much of what you wrote, particularly noticing that you don’t end up feeling negatively about yourself when you’re either not dating at all or dating other women. I’m non-monogamous, which means that even though I have a male partner who does not criticize my body, I can still expect to wade through the same old bogs when I put myself out there to meet new people. I should note that my partner has a stigmatized visible disability: he is a dwarf, and as an average height woman I am a foot and a half taller than him. The fact that he himself lacks social capital/privilege goes a long way to explain why he has been able to discern his own attractions from what society has told him he is supposed to want. He is handsome, so in his community of people of profoundly small stature he has always enjoyed attention from the ladies. Finding someone with common interests in such a small cross-section of the population is hard, though. We were a good match in that regard: two reasonably good-looking people who were seen as less desirable because we didn’t fit gender or societal norms. The first few months of dating someone who no one on the street approved of, and who certainly didn’t elevate my social status, were challenging, but I asked myself if I wanted to be the kind of person who let others’ perceptions prevent me from a connection that felt promising. I ultimately decided that I didn’t. That said, I was 36 when we met. I don’t know that I could have made the same decision even 5 years prior. At that point, I was invested in proving that despite having a gender presentation that didn’t appeal to most men, I could date one who was completely my type physically. For two years, I did, and endured incredulous stares from conventionally attractive women who wondered how a freak like _me_ had landed a hot boyfriend…but as it turns out, that kind of validation isn’t enough to build a life on. (I’m oversimplifying things, of course, but once I’d checked the “date someone who is totally your type that accepts you” box, I was over it.)

Digressing slightly, I shared my life and home with an amazing, brilliant, beautiful woman for five years, and during that time I was lucky enough to know almost unconditional appreciation of my appearance. Sure, if I wore a doofy outfit, she would comment on it — but a few pounds lost or gained were never fodder for discussion. I always felt stunning while I was with her and she let me know often and eloquently how beautiful she found me. Unfortunately, the relationship ended (not my decision) because it was apparent that I was more oriented towards men sexually. I would have preferred and still prefer that this were not the case, as I’m not interested in the rituals that signal me as desirable in heteronormative culture and enjoy my apparently androgynous appearance. I like my face without makeup; I like my body without depilation. I like wearing clothes I can move in, and am not interested in Spanx, push-up bras. high heels, or ruthless weight loss regimens. By society’s standards, these factors taken collectively make me somehow manly, and it’s generally assumed I’m a lesbian — because any woman who enjoys male attention wouldn’t make choices to guarantee they’ll get very little, right? (It’s a rhetorical question; I obviously don’t agree with it.) This is not to say that any woman who has consciously questioned their own preferences and actively enjoys those things cannot be feminist, but I don’t and I never have or will — forcing them upon myself means that anyone who would date me in some dolled-up, Rapunzel-tresssed incarnation would be dating a completely different person. Something I appreciate about queer women’s culture is the fact that there is an appreciation for women across the spectrum in terms of gender presentation — butch, femme, and androgynous women are all deemed desirable and worthy of respect, if by different people. With men, the universal script for what is “hot” feels incredibly narrow, and I don’t buy that this is a result of some sort of genetic drive.

At 41 I’m a size 8 for the first time — I used to be a size 6, but aging happens. I’m healthy and I commute to work by bike and — I have a soft tummy, not a six pack, but I likewise don’t need the men I date to be Crossfit spokespeople or yoga video models. The fact of the matter is, when I *was* a size 6 — hell, a size 4, even — I encountered the same bizarre phenomenon of men telling me, while in bed with me, that they liked really skinny girls. “Heroin chic,” they’d say. Was I supposed to be ashamed? I wasn’t, but I was definitely confused. Why is this guy telling me this while we’re on a date? Why did he even agree to go out with me in the first place? If I’m not someone’s type, I can accept that, but a little transparency is appreciated. I’m not attracted to most men myself, but I’m honest and kind to those who are interested but not my cup of tea.

One commenter wrote that these jerks you’re meeting are the exception to the rule. I want to tell you that they’re not. I have been on dates with dozens, probably hundreds of men over the last 20 years. They have been students, professors, nurses, craftsmen, techies, and untethered vagabonds. I have had relationships on several continents, with men of different ages and cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, much of the ridiculousness you’ve encountered has been evident across the board, and it’s not because you or I are doing something wrong. I have always been clear about both my expectations and my limits. (One guy told me that I was responsible for his premature ejaculation because I was too aware of what I wanted — sorry, nope.) I finally deactivated my dating profiles several years ago, choosing to focus on platonic friendship and my domestic partnership rather than seeking out new dates. Sometimes I do miss the excitement of new connections, but I don’t miss being told that I’m less-than, or being encouraged to infer it from interactions that don’t respect me as a holistic human being. I sometimes find myself thinking of cultivating a romantic relationship with an asexual woman, because I often miss the degree of emotional intimacy I had in my queer relationships — I love my boyfriend, but weekend-long cuddle marathons are not his thing — but know that it’s not fair to put anyone else through what my ex endured. In the meantime, I’m trying to look at love and acceptance as something I feel for myself, not something someone else gives me. It’s a big ask, but at the end of the day I’ve been happier when not navigating the murky waters of OK Cupid. That said, I just moved to a new city. Maybe I’ll try again. Maybe a few months of insipid message exchanges will be enough to cure me of my delusion that there must be a generous handful of men willing to engage with women in their age range in a holistic manner.

I’m not holding my breath, though. Good luck out there.

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