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Feminist Dating (Or, Woman Feeling Pressure to Commit)

Being freshly (two and a half months) single, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dating and asking myself a lot of questions. Am I ready to date again, do I even want to, what will my “stop signs” be, etc. Being in a long-term relationship has a way of making you forget how scary and emotionally treacherous dating can be.

People always say that honesty is the best policy, but it gets really tricky. I don’t usually turn down invitations to dates. I’m happy to give it a try. If, after that chance, I don’t like you or want you that way, I’m going to tell you–but I really hate to hurt people’s feelings, so I try to be gentle at the start and get harsher the longer it takes for the message to get through. I’m also really paranoid about acting bitchy. I hate to set up situations in which I could become or be perceived as bitchy, or in which I would end up hurting someone no matter how clear I try to be about what it is that I want, and what it is that I don’t want. Sometimes, you can be perfectly honest, and the other person is just going to hear what they want. So what do you do in that situation? Is it your fault? Could you somehow have been clearer? Used stronger language? It’s bullshit. Honesty only works when both people are honest with themselves and each other.

I am ready to date again. I am not, however, ready for commitment again. I’m not ready to get into a relationship, official or otherwise, and I won’t be for awhile yet. I want to get out and have a good time, get to know new people or get to know old friends better. I want a little flirting and a little kissing and a little romance, but nothing serious. Even if it “just happens” or “feels right”–I say no. Because there’s more to it than just “what your heart tells you.” I am ready to be smitten, to love; I am not ready to commit. More than that, I don’t want to commit. And that’s my right as an autonomous adult human being.

This is surprisingly difficult to convey. At least, it has been with the couple of guys I’ve dated since my ex and I broke up. Some understood me easily, but with others I wasn’t so sure. They’d nod and say they understood and even repeat what I said back to me, but I wasn’t entirely sure that they…got it. There was this strange sense of possession and expectation in our interactions that quite honestly freaked me out. It was as if they felt, consciously or not, that because I was no longer his, I was now theirs. That because we went on a date or two, or kissed, that we were somehow a couple, no matter how I stressed that I didn’t want anything serious or exclusive. There was also an expectation with each date or hangout that there would be a progression in our level of intimacy. It was reminiscent of the “bases” metaphor in middle and high school. First date, first base. Second date, second base. I didn’t–and don’t–want that. The pressure makes me uncomfortable. Why should we have to go to another level? I definitely didn’t feel inclined to, and if one person doesn’t feel it, then guess what: the level shouldn’t change.

In discussing this with my boss, the Doc, we ended up talking about how the parameters of dating have changed drastically since he was young, back in the 60’s and 70’s. Back then, people dated to get to know one another. You went on eight or ten dates before anything changed, before you started talking about relationships. These dates could be weeks apart. People dated for months sometimes, and not necessarily exclusively. You dated because you enjoyed a person’s company, because you wanted to see them and get to know them, not because you were trying to reach some kind of emotional or physical benchmark. These days, things happen so quickly. Sex is expected on the third date. Relationships begin after a handful of dates.

Why? When did that change happen? When did the dating phase become part of the relationship phase? The way I see it, you date someone to get to know them and decide if you want to be with them and only them. The relationship doesn’t start until that commitment is made–and so it follows that the exclusivity, the heightened intimacy, should also wait until that point. Obviously those are also personal choices that everyone can and will make differently, but if one person’s not feeling it, you can’t force them to like you better. You can’t get them to be interested by the sheer force of your interest. It doesn’t work that way, and it may have the exact opposite effect.

Our generation (what do they call us? Millennials?) has a lot more sexual freedom than generations past, but it seems that it’s made us a little frantic. Dating doesn’t have to be a race to the bedroom. It doesn’t have to be about snatching someone up, or laying claim to them. Honestly, it pissed me off, whether the guys were doing it knowingly or not. I’m not some rare quarry. I’m not a tract of land (where you at, colonialism?). I’m a human with a say in the matter. Swooping down on me or trying to scoop me up is the exact opposite of what I want you to do, especially since I’m only two and a half months out of my last serious relationship.

Moral of the story: relax, people. Take it easy, take it slow, have fun and be really, truly honest with all parties.