Ask me what I do
Hi, I’m Lauren. I’m 32, I’m single, and this is a post about dating. Mostly.
I’ve wanted to write something about my current go-round on the single scene for a while, now, but I’ve been reluctant to commit words to the screen. As a long-time user of twitter dot com, I know the internet hates a woman with a gripe — and even more so, a feminist gripe. But hear me out. I promise to keep it light.
Here’s the tl;dr. If you go on a date with me: I would like you to please ask me what I do.
That’s really it. You don’t even have to focus on my job, necessarily, though it’s one of those newfangled tech gigs that some people might find interesting. I do lots of things! Last year, I mapped all the decent hikes in the Philly area. For my fellow introverts and post-breakup buddies, I maintain a weekly list of local events to get you out of the house. Each Sunday, I post an Instagram story where I break down a new recipe (this week it’s spicy lamb meatballs). Some of my projects have been written about — on Slate, Be Well Philly, the New Scientist…hell, this one time I even got a few lines in the Washington Post.
Oh, and I’ve been fixing up an old rowhouse that I bought in 2008. Back then, I was a newly-minted adult who had a couple of power tools and a nagging paranoia that this thing I’d allowed to consume my life savings might randomly go up in smoke due to [insert home ownership pitfall here — improper drier lint management?]. But it didn’t. These days the house looks really nice, actually.
If I’m recapping my entire life’s resumé right now, I’m sorry. It feels a little icky to me, too.
But here’s the thing: I’m proud I did all those things. And I want a partner who’s proud of me, too. I want what most of today’s young people claim to want (recent reports to the contrary be damned): an equal, mutually supportive relationship, where each person values and encourages the other’s ambitions.
Ostensibly, step one of that process would involve figuring out what your potential partner wants out of life, and what they’re doing to get there. So why don’t my dates ask?
Sure, it’s not everyone; there have been notable exceptions. But in the last year or so of dating, I’ve started picking up on a depressing pattern: if I kick off a conversation with the person seated across from me by asking a question about his life — if I pass him the conch shell, to borrow a literary symbol — he will simply run with it and never give it back.
The next couple of hours will go something like this: my date will tell me about the app he’s building, or his job in the public school system, or what it was like to lose a parent young — and I’ll take little sips of my beer and nod understandingly as I attempt to interject that I, too, have informed opinions about the tech industry. I, too, was once a student teacher. I, too, worked for nonprofits, ran races, made art, tried that weird meditation app with the British narrator, paid off student loans, lost a parent young.
Often, though, I’ll get cut off shortly after “oh yeah, me too.” It’s a fascinating, if not maddening, thing to experience. It’s as though my fellow internet dater absorbs my efforts to empathize with what he’s saying, and instead of returning the favor, he doubles down on the saying part. He just keeps saying.
Because I’m a woman on the internet, I’m now slightly worried that you’re mad at me and so I’m going to take this moment to check back in. Maybe you’re thinking that I sound like a whiner. Maybe you’re itching to fire off that “not all men” comment. It’s possible that this post is making you angry. I get that. But hold on just a sec, because I’m angry, and I think I deserve to be.
I once sat through a science lecture and then two full beers with man who was building a mobile website and somehow never figured out that literally, that is my job. How would you feel in that moment, if you were me? Would you feel appreciated? Understood? In that person, would you see the makings of a partner who’d really go to bat for you? Who might, in certain hypothetical circumstances where it made financial and logistical sense — and hold on to your butts now, because I’m about to say something crazy — consider putting your career ambitions in front of his own?
Or would you think back on all the years it took you to learn how to do your job, all those hours of hard work, the pride you felt in having achieved something you weren’t sure you could pull off, and think to yourself man, I don’t know why this person doesn’t seem to care, but it’s a fucking bummer.
“You look sad,” one of my dates said to me recently, after explaining his entire master’s curriculum over the course of two hours without pausing to ask what I had studied. And I was.
I don’t really like the fact that I do this, but I confess: sometimes I post about these dates (without supplying names or identifying details) in the semi-private corners of my social media accounts. Because honestly, singing harmony to my dates’ melody all the time is driving me goddamn nuts. In response, I see a lot of well-meaning comments along these lines: “maybe these guys are just nervous. Maybe give them another chance, but be more aggressive in bringing up your own accomplishments next time.”
But it’s not just me who’s going nuts, and it’s not just dates where this is happening. We have plenty of studies to pull from that put my current frustrations in a larger context. For example, we know that in mixed-gender meetings, men talk more than women — a lot more. Women are interrupted more often than men (even by other women). At the office, women are still being asked to do unpaid support work like taking notes and organizing social outings — and if they don’t pitch in to help the team, we dislike them more than men who behave the same way. Women are paid less, promoted less, asked to speak publicly less, interviewed as authority figures less.
There’s a social construct at work, here, and I suspect the interactions I’m having with these friendly male strangers are playing out accordingly. He feels empowered to talk, and so I’m relegated to listening. He achieves, while I cheerlead. He hurts, I empathize. He reads me his resumé, I am duly impressed.
Is that what I want my actual relationship to be like, though? No. Fuck no.
So where do we go from here?
Truthfully, I don’t think the men of Bumble or the WidgetCorp Executive Team intend to be sucking up all the available oxygen in the room. I’m willing to accept that they don’t notice it’s happening at all; they’re simply accustomed to having the microphone. It feels natural. And it feels good! After particularly one-sided dates I’ll sometimes get that “I had a great time” text, and as frustrated as I am, I get it. Who doesn’t enjoy talking about themselves? Some people pay by the hour for that privilege, and it costs them far more than a few beers. It’s lovely to be heard. It’s important to feel cared for. We all want that.
I want that, too.
So I am here to demand (oh god, The Internet is listening, scratch that) politely yet firmly suggest that it’s time we do better. It’s time to pay closer attention to our interactions with working women — in these dating situations, yes, but in lots of other places too — and consider what our default actions might be saying about how we value women’s achievements and ambitions.
Phew. I feel better now that I’ve been able to actually talk about something I consider to be important. Maybe let’s wrap this up with some concrete, positive suggestions.
If you’re nervous on your date, men of swipey apps everywhere, take heart: this is going to be easy. Your default nervous tick is now to ask your date a question. Lull in the conversation? Awkward eye contact? Ask your date what’s exciting about her career. Don’t just get a job title and move on; ask her what she’s learning, or what she’s proud of, or what she’s been saving up to do. You will look like a goddamn wizard because no one else is doing this, I promise you.
And then take this strategy everywhere. Make it a habit to take note of who gets to talk, everywhere you go. Ask why those people are the ones talking. Ask for the opinions of people who haven’t been voicing them. You might hear something amazing; something that’s been cooking for a long time, just waiting for a listening ear.
You‘ll never know unless you ask.