I n 2005, self-professed “pickup artist” Neil Strauss published his first book, The Game: a how-to manual of dating advice that promised to transform men from skinny, clueless geeks into saucy, sex-having Lotharios. One of Strauss’ methods, the “neg” (originally coined a year or so before Strauss’ book was published by another pickup artist named Erik von Markovik), encouraged men to stoke a woman’s interest by, essentially, demonstrating their own lack of it.
“It’s the same as if you pulled out a tissue and blew your nose,” says von Markovik, who goes by the stage name Mystery and sports a fuzzy black top hat and giant, cartoon goggles, “she will feel that you aren’t even trying to impress her. This makes her curious as to why and makes you a challenge.”
If ever there was a place to observe the application of the neg in real time, it’s Tinder (and apps like it). Men on Tinder don’t want to waste their efforts engaging with a woman who lacks potential for successful matching; they’re busy — what with all the hiking and gym selfies — and they don’t have time, outside of the bare minimum that courting a woman already calls for, to deal with any bullshit.
“Think yoga counts as working out?” writes Brad from Texas in his profile, “Keep swiping!”
“Fluid in sarcasm? How unique of you!” exclaims Mike from Milwaukee.
“Fakes and flakes go left,” instructs Brian from Minnesota.
While the neg is a useful tool for expressing blunt disdain for a broad group of people (yogis, the noncommittal), other men utilize its power to showcase their own good taste by highlighting my (probable) lack of it.
Tinder men inform me all the time that they have better taste in music than I do, can achieve higher scores in trivia than I can, know better taco spots around the city than I do, have pets that are cuter than my pets, have traveled to more countries in South America than I have, and, due to the level of personal dynamism they possess, have a better ability to “go hard” at a lifestyle and they are concerned I may not be able to “keep up.”
I call these men the Aggressive Antis: men who not only state their romantic stipulations before speaking with me (so that I know exactly who I will need to be if I am to get their attention), but who further suggest, by couching their requests in a neg, that I have already failed to meet their expectations.
How goddamn liberating it must be to be able to pronounce, without self-consciousness or trepidation, what you want to find in another person. Lord, how I fantasize about emulating this approach.
The neg is not new — though named and introduced to the wider public in the early 2000s, it has been in circulation for at least as long as I have been dating. My first love, a skateboarder who was suspended from my eighth-grade class for snorting crushed Altoids up his nose, got my initial attention with a neg.
“Why do you have orange hair,” he shouted, pinging spitballs at my head from a few rows behind me on the gymnasium bleachers, “it’s weird.”
I’ve had a long time to adjust to the baseline degradation of the heterosexual dating game. I know that men will pay more attention to me if I am below a certain weight and dress in a feminine way, that they prefer I avoid controversial topics of conversation or placing an order of substitutions with our server on the first date. I have been negged about everything from my tattooed skin, to my dyed hair, to my small breasts, to my enjoyment of chicken eggs.
Just when I thought I’d seen it all, a new version of the neg emerged, right around the time of the 2016 election. Along with physical appearance, dedication to fitness, and Mexican food restaurant suggestions, I can now expect Aggressive Antis to preemptively critique my value and belief system as well.
“Not religious and not republican,” mentions Dan from Tallahassee, “you shouldn’t be either.”
“If you like Donald Trump, I probably won’t like you,” writes Evan from Indiana.
“Taking applications for position of girlfriend,” writes Amit from Deerfield, “racists and bigots need not apply.”
“Male Feminists of Tinder,” a site that has been recognized by Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, and New York Magazine, documents this updated-for-the-times version of the neg by blogging screenshots of the offending profiles.
“I went to Oberlin,” writes Danny, whose location is listed as Oberlin, “if you haven’t heard of it that means my turn-ons are feminism … consent … and sex positivity.”
Shawn from London impressively slips two negs into his profile.
“Feminist, (relax, I’ll still pay for dinner),” he writes up top, then adds a postscript later to remind his audience not to feel concerned. “Not a rad, card-carrying feminist,” he explains, “just tryna [SP] filter out undateables.”
“Bro, do you even feminist?” asks Keenan from Harvard University.
Though I am offended that men introduce themselves to me with their criteria for how I need and need not be, that they demand I take a good, hard look at myself before I decide I’m worthy of their time, I also envy their profiles. How goddamn liberating it must be to be able to pronounce, without self-consciousness or trepidation, what you want to find in another person. Lord, how I fantasize about emulating this approach.
I am a woman who has lived in big cities her entire adult life and who has been treated by the men I met and dated like a stop on the sex assembly line.
“If you have ever committed gray-area rape,” I might write, “if you don’t actually believe a woman should have agency over her own body, if you think that poor people can rehabilitate their lives simply by getting a job, we probably won’t get along.”
I have been gray-area raped, been lectured by male doctor friends that even though they’re socially liberal they won’t perform abortions because “it just doesn’t seem right,” and have learned — through my work with a population that is 90 percent homeless and severely, persistently mentally ill — that the implications of chronic poverty and marginalization disallow even baseline functioning in many of my patients.
I am a woman who has lived in big cities her entire adult life and who has been treated by the men I met and dated like a stop on the sex assembly line: a stranger who may not have grabbed my pussy but who did come up behind me in a bar to lift my shirt and assess my lower back tattoo; a fellow who asked me out and then spent our date responding to messages from other women on the same dating app that had matched us together; a man who chastised me for wearing a mismatched bra and panty set and then claimed, as I bent over to pick my clothes up off the floor, that I was a tease; a hairy guy from J-Date who congratulated me for being the fiftieth Jewish girl he had slept with.
“It’s all for research,” he had explained, as my mouth hung agape, “You see, I’m writing a book about sexual mysticism.”
I don’t doubt that some, maybe most, of the men who use the neg in their Tinder profiles do so as a cautionary mechanism to protect themselves from re-traumatization. It’s likely that Brian from Minnesota was discarded or misled by someone he really cared about, that Amit from Deerfield embarrassed himself by introducing a close-minded woman to his group of friends, that Shawn from London engaged with a woman who shamed him for his identification with feminism.
I can understand that because I, too, am bitter about my romantic past. But I am not so bitter that I feel it appropriate to use my biases to punish strangers perusing my profile. Donald Trump has made America a dangerous place for me, my friends, and my patients, and I am certain I despise him infinitely more than the white men on Tinder claim to. I would never date a Trump supporter, but if they are out there, browsing my profile, I wish them no harm. If someone wants to know whether they are a good match for me, they can read through the listed interests I do support — women’s rights, mental health advocacy, medical marijuana — and make their own judgment on the matter.
I do not want to be tried as guilty before having gone through due process, and I should not have to be punished for someone else’s emotional baggage. Save the pictures of nephews, the golfing freeze-frames, and the bicep flexes for yourself; if you want to get my attention, try filling your profile with a message that is original and inviting, rather than rattling off a statement that penalizes me for the disappointments of your past.