[Photo credit: Cristina Souza]
I’m a member of a beach cleanup crew. We meet regularly. There is a cute guy on this crew, and a few weeks ago, we got to talking a little bit. When I got home that day, I saw that he’d friended me on Facebook. He has no girl in his photos and I think he may be single. However, I also think he *may* be dating one of the other girls on the crew, because they left together last week.
I don’t know what to do about it.
Do I assume they’re together, or do I ask him (or her) if they are? Is that weird? Do I just wait for him to reach out to me over Facebook? If he’s interested, he probably will (right)? If I’m the one to make the first move, is that un-sexy? And will that mean that I’m the first one to make the first move in the whole scenario? Would I have to be the first one to kiss him? That doesn’t really make me feel feminine …
And on and on.
I bring this up because it feels like a microcosm for the results I’m about to share with you.
Last year, I conducted a survey of both men and women, with the following questions:
- What are your top 3 problems when it comes to sex?
- What are your top 3 problems when it comes to dating?
- What are your top 3 problems when it comes to relationships?
This piece covers solely the dating results. For sex, go here. The relationships data will come out next week.
To be honest, the dating data was much more challenging to sort than the sex data. In this set, there was less agreement and more paradox. There were more categories and fewer generalizations.
It turns out dating is complicated. Who knew?!
First a few specifics on the population that was surveyed. If you’ve read the other pieces, obviously you can skip this part:
- Each respondent could give three separate responses to each question, so the percentages don’t add up to 100 (they still show the overall trends)
- The exact question was, “What are your top 3 problems when it comes to dating? (If you’re currently in a relationship, think back to when you were dating)” — so as not to exclude those currently in relationships
- Total age range: 16-72, average age 37
- Identified as female: 85%; male: 14%, “other”: ~1%
- In committed relationships: 45%; single: 33%; “it’s complicated” or “other”: 22% (many said they were separated from spouse)
- Identified as heterosexual: 85%; bisexual: 12%; gay: 1%; “other”: 3%
Thus people were mostly in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, mainly hetero, and about half were in relationships, while half were single/single-ish.
The top problems listed by the groups:
WOMEN’S TOP DATING PROBLEMS
Finding the right fit: 7%
Men only being interested in sex: 6%
Where to meet men: 5%
Game-playing (including knowing when to have sex): 4%
MEN’S TOP DATING PROBLEMS
Finding the right fit: 21%
Reading signals: 11%
Now, quickly back to the guy on the beach cleanup crew.
Let’s assume he does like me back. I don’t know him very well, but from the results of this survey, I’m going to go ahead and guess a few things: first, he isn’t sure whether I like him, either (he’s not 100% sure about about the “signs”). Second, he doesn’t want to get rejected, so he’s not sure about asking me out. What if I have a boyfriend? What if I don’t like him back? What if he asks me and I say yes and then he finds out he doesn’t actually like me? What if he hurts me?
And on and on.
I’m going to outline my biggest takeaways from the data now, but the two most overwhelming ones are these:
Humans are complicated.
When it comes to dating, we need to communicate with each other more.
More detailed takeaways (these are mainly hetero-normative, since the vast majority of the responses referred to hetero dating):
1. Nobody knows “the rules”
All actual responses:
- “Lack of labels, always confused!” (woman)
- “What are the current social norms?” (man)
- “Never knowing when it’s okay to have sex without seeming like a slut or a prude.” (woman)
- “Reading the situation, i.e. is she OK for me to kiss her? Etc.” (man)
- “I never know if I should give into my sexual desires, even if it’s on the first date for fear I’ll come off as slutty. And fear that if I hold off for a few dates, and disregard my urges to gain their ‘respect,’ that they’ll actually get bored and lose interest.” (woman)
- “Who pays the damn bill this time? ;)” (man)
- “Sex – if you’re dating more than one person and no one exclusively, what’s the sex etiquette in that situation? Is it OK to assume that you are free to have sex with more than one person until you are dating an individual exclusively?” (woman)
- “Timing. When to ask for sex the first time.” (man)
- “I intend to sleep on the first date, some think I am a whore.” (woman)
- “Reading ‘signs’” (man)
- “Feeling a great connection and afraid to overwhelm the person. I come on pretty strong whenever I read energy that feels sexual. So, if I get that kind of vibe, I’m like, (in my head ~ NOT out loud!) ‘When do we get to the sex already???!!!’” (woman)
- “I’m too old for games, when to text, what to say, don’t seem excited or desperate or interested. Who knows what’s going on?!” (woman)
I’ll tell you: Nobody knows what’s going on. If all these responses were written by a single individual, they’d be schizophrenic.
What came across more than anything was this: modern dating is confusing. It is. The social norms have changed. Everyone is fumblefucking their way through it, there are casualties along the way, and one of the biggest casualties seems to be clarity. Nothing is clear, which brings us to our next point:
2. More honest communication is needed
As you can see from the data, women listed their top problem as dis/honesty. Of course men want honesty, too, of course, but this was a big issue for women in particular. They said things like:
- “Wondering how genuine [men] are. What their real intentions are.”
- “Men who are not upfront about their intentions or desires. You want to be my fuckbuddy, cool, I’m human and we all have sexual needs. You want to date and get to know me and try to have a future together, awesome! But please, out of courtesy or respect, do not say one and mean the other.”
- “Men are not clear in the communication. They say, ‘I’ll call you’ when they really mean ‘You are nice, but I don’t see us as a match.’”
- “Men lying about what kind of relationship they really want just to have sex.”
A friend of mine hooked up with a guy she knew at a house party a few weeks ago, and it fell into that really confusing category of: what happens now? Is he going to text me? Are we going to date? Does he actually like me? What’s going on?
Then he did something classy. He sent her a long email (I know that doesn’t sound romantic, but bear with me). He was courteous and straightforward, saying he’d really enjoyed their time together and wanted to let her know what was going on on his end. He had just gotten out of something serious and was looking for a strictly physical relationship. He wasn’t sure that was a match for her. Was it?
It wasn’t. She told him, and that was that. She could stop wandering about in limbo, not knowing what was happening. It was also obvious from the email that he really did respect and care about her, and wanted her to know that.
This kind of straightforward communication is the exception right now, not the rule. And the lack of it is creating a lot of chaos, resentment, and bewilderment for both sides. To me, the overall lesson is this:
Be brave. Tell the truth.
3. Humans are complicated
One of my guy friends helped me with the data, and his interpretation of it all was both poetic and accurate:
“It was validating seeing all the contradictory responses, because it made the social matrix I’ve been navigating all my life visible. One woman says, ‘I hate that men want sex on the first date.’ Another says, ‘I want to have sex on the first date without feeling like a slut.’ One says, ‘I’m scared of feeling used.’ Another says, ‘I’m sick of guys being worried I’ll feel used. I can take care of my own feelings.’
We’re all walking around wanting and needing, fearing and feeling frustrated with different things, and we won’t necessarily know until we ask and have a conversation about it.”
He’s right. The data was full of paradoxes. Women said both:
“Men want sex right away. If they don’t get it, they move on.”
“Keeping my pants on.”
“Men telling you I love you too soon.”
“Picking ass clowns.”
“Being smothered and me having to pace the relationship.”
“Men do not want to take me anywhere but the bedroom.”
And men said:
“Wanting to get serious when they don’t.”
“Fear of hurting the one I’m dating emotionally in case I realize that she’s not for me.”
“Falling real hard for them when we did connect sexually.”
“Knowing if she is really into me.”
And on and on.
As with the last piece, I have much more to say about all this but I wanted to get this out. If you have any thoughts on all this, please do get me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an ongoing project and I can use all the feedback I can get. Especially: if this is helping, I would love to know how.
I leave you with more prize responses:
- “I’m just going to say it: I HATE dates. They feel way too artificial. I can’t help but feel that, on a date, both parties’ mindsets are, ‘OK, I’m running you and everything you say through a giant filter where if you slip up and say something wrong then the rest of this evening becomes me just being polite while I bide my time until I can leave and ghost on you.’” (man)
- “Hard to find the right combo of “real man” and being emotionally available.” (woman)
- “Dating apps that perpetuate a Candy Crush style of dating.” (man)?
- “The fear of my body not being beautiful enough once we get intimate physically.” (woman)
- “I’m quite sensitive and caring so women see me as weak but I am really passionate and am not afraid to get rough/dominate her once we are a little comfortable together.” (man)
- “It was hard to find someone strong enough to handle me… Who didn’t want to conquer me.” (woman)
- “Breaking the modern dating culture ‘act like you don’t care’ barrier.” (woman)
- “Being judged for being nice. Fuck you, I’m a nice fucking guy, I’m opening your car door all the time, and buying you dinner, not because feel like I have to, or am trying to get you into bed. I’m doing these things because it’s nice to be nice to someone and I like treating human beings with kindness.” (man)
- “How do I trust another man… ever? (After my heart has been so shredded)” (woman)
- “Being presumed to be the sum of all previous boyfriends.” (man)
- “Holding in a fart.” (woman)