Online dating. Ugh. From guys who don’t know how to carry on a conversation to message strings that resemble a game of twenty questions, there are plenty of horror stories out there. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had any truly awful experiences, but lately I’ve noticed how our culture’s attitude of entitlement when it comes to women’s time and bodies carries over into the dating world.
For various reasons, I don’t typically become intimate with someone I’m dating for a while. It’s just my personal preference, no judgment on anyone who makes a different choice. Three dates isn’t enough time for me to feel comfortable and safe with someone, which is an important part of enjoying sex. I do my best to make it clear on the first date that I don’t sleep with men until we’re exclusive.
Sometimes the guy ghosts me after that, or just flat out says that all he wants is sex, and if I’m not putting out that night, then forget it. No problem, buddy, don’t let Starbucks’ door hit you on the way out. It’s a pleasant surprise to hear from someone again. The guy who doesn't tap out when sex isn’t immediately on the table makes it one or two dates, and then he makes it clear he wants to come back to my place.
“I know that’s what you said, but, you know…” usually with a cajoling smile or a touch on my arm.
“I know — what?”
“I figured you were just saying that so I wouldn’t think you were a slut.”
At this point, I have several choices — go on my rant against the “s” word, decide whether or not I like him enough to sleep with him even though I’m not entirely sure that I want to, or reiterate what I said initially.
“I don’t think we’re ready for the exclusive conversation yet. So if that’s a deal breaker for you…”
“I'm not really looking for a relationship right now. But we can still have sex!”
Is that my consolation prize? Seriously — dick is easy. Stop offering it to me like it’s a rare, special object. Also, demonstrating that you don’t listen when I tell you something important doesn’t reassure me that you’ll be any good in bed — where listening to your partner matters.
I couldn’t figure out why it had started to bother me so much that men frequently ignored my stated preferences in favor of their own desires. I took a break from online dating for a bit while I tried to come up with why it made me so stabby. It’s not that I see anything inherently wrong with casual sex or hook-ups, it’s just not what I want right now. I don’t think it’s offensive when a man indicates that’s what he wants, and I fully reject the “s” word. So why did this scenario — which has happened on multiple occasions — make me want to scream?
Entitlement. My time is valuable. I can even quantify it at twelve dollars an hour for a baby-sitter. While I agree to spend that time with them on a first date, if I’ve told the man what I want and it’s not what he wants, from that point forward, continuing to see me is essentially an act of entitlement. His desires are more important than mine. He’s entitled to keep wasting my time because he wants to — or he finds me beautiful, sexy, fascinating — whatever excuses disguised as compliments that men have given me when I’ve called them out for their behavior.
He’s not just wasting my time, he’s toying with my emotions. What if I’ve started to think I really like him, or might want to date him seriously? While there are obviously no guarantees in dating if that wasn’t on the table for him from the beginning then he’s been acting with a callous disregard of the feeling I might develop while we spend time together.
This entitlement plays out in other ways, too. I’ve encountered men who’ve changed the location on their profile when in town for work — in fact, this happens to me about once a week. “Oh, I just wanted to go out with someone for a drink,” or, “I thought it would be fun to have a local show me around,” is what they’ve told me when it’s come out that they don’t live in my town.
“My profile says that I’m looking for a long-term relationship,” I’ll point out. Also, not a tour guide.
“Well, I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” Not only are they wasting my time for the price of a drink I could buy myself, they don’t even live near me. No chance of what I want — a relationship — and yet they engaged in deceit to spend time with me.
It’s also deeply disrespectful. Put it this way — imagine you sat down in a restaurant and ordered a veggie burger. When the waiter brings your order over, you’re surprised to see a regular burger on the plate. “Oh,” the waiter says, “I know you said that you wanted a veggie burger but that’s not what I wanted to give you so here, have the meat version.” And then they have the nerve to get upset and act offended when you insist, nope, not eating meat.
My personal favorite is when they’re not only offended but say something along the lines of, “But you’re a feminist, you’re supposed to be sex positive!” I am — very. That doesn’t mean I sleep with just anyone. Particularly men who try to use my feminism to guilt trip me into bed. Why is it so hard for men to grasp that sex positive doesn’t equal willing to sleep with everyone?
If someone has clearly stated what they want out of dating — to find a relationship, or a FWB, or a one night stand — and the other party has listened, nodded, and ignored what they've said, it’s just plain rude. It’s okay to not want the same thing as someone else. It’s okay to want just sex or want just a relationship or to want something in between. But it’s not okay to presume upon someone’s time, attempt to talk them into changing their mind, or gaslight them into bed.
This situation, and its recurrence, hasn’t made me bitter as much as frustrated. Dating is a microcosm for the larger world in which women are already ignored, talked over, and mansplained to on a regular basis. This is what happens when I tell a recruiter I won’t accept a job with less than three weeks' vacation, and he goes on and on about the better benefits and opportunities and tries to push me into taking a job I don’t want. When the man trying to sell me a cable subscription says shit like, “Have you really thought this through? It’s such a good deal!” and then asks to talk to my husband when I hold firm. When what I’ve expressed that I want, or think, is ignored in favor of a man’s agenda. It’s an almost daily occurrence.
While I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that it carries over into dating it’s still frustrating to run into it over and over and over again. Is it so much to ask that men who want access to my body respect the brain that controls it? Or just, you know, listen?
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Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared on xojane.com and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children's Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram or Facebook.