I can’t tease you any longer, my friends. It was cruel of me to do so in the first place. The fun little trilogy that started with a dating challenge and moved on to me and a hot guy swapping sex stories is just that: a trilogy. It’s not the first chapter in a brand new erotic romance. Fuck it, though, he and I had a lot of fun, and personally I find it fitting (and deeply satisfying for my overall philosophy) that the guy who restored my faith in dating didn’t do so by being the perfect match, but by embarking on our dates with genuine emotional honesty. When I set out on the initial challenge (‘ask out the hot man who works in my shop’) it wasn’t about whether he said ‘yes’, only about whether I was brave enough to ask him in the first place. Likewise, the success of our dates didn’t come down to whether we kicked off a serious relationship, but whether we met as equals with a genuine desire to find out if we matched. The fact that we don’t match is no more than a footnote. The headline is that we found that answer swiftly, respectfully, and while having a fair bit of fun. Shop Man Part 3. Let’s do this.
We go for a picnic in a park: one of my favourite types of date, and not just because it’s cheap. I love picnic dates because you can lie down on a blanket, spread out, and take up a bit of space. There’s no one listening in to your conversations, and no one watching you and frowning if you want to lean across the table for a quick snog. You can hug, vape, play with each other. You can even take your shoes off if you want to. What’s more, a picnic date is usually one where you sit side by side watching the landscape rather than opposite, as you would in a restaurant or pub.
I think you get more honest chat from someone when you’re side by side. Walking dates, picnic dates, roadtrips… any time you sit side by side is an opportunity for a discussion which meanders into topics that might be harder to tackle when you’re staring each other down. We sit on a picnic blanket sharing a view of my favourite part of London: long stretches of green sliced in two by a river, bordered by tall buildings and bustling with life.
And we talk about the things that really matter.
What is the point of a date?
Before I get to the details, a question: what is the point of a date? Not the dates you have when you’re married and carving out time in your schedules, I mean early-stage dates before you know somebody well.
For some people the answer might be ‘to get laid’ or ‘find a partner.’ Maybe ‘to have company when I go to new restaurants/the theatre/get stoned and watch anime on Netflix’. Some might say the point of a date is to ‘make new memories’ or just ‘have fun’ – all legitimate answers, not everyone has to date the same way that I do, and ‘have fun’ is pretty high up my list of priorities, for sure. The aim of ‘dating’ in general is to find someone with whom I can have a laugh, feel comfortable, and indulge in the bareback fucking that my eager cunt thirsts for so utterly. But on any individual date, the primary goal is always simply ‘to find out whether we match.’
Do I fit with him? Does he fit with me? The answer to both can be ‘no’ and the date will still be a success – answering the question is what matters. It’s why I’m actively turned off (and extremely wary) of dating profiles that are no more than one bland line: if you won’t tell me anything about you, how can I answer the key question of compatibility?! I need to find out if we match: that’s what all this is for.
The scarcity mindset in dating
The reason I care so much about detail in online dating profiles and men not asking me questions is because I believe that this ‘matching’ thing is foundational. So many dudes approach dating with a scarcity mindset, rather than emotional honesty about who they are and what they want. It’s understandable, and I am certainly not telling you off if you’re one of them: dating sites are fucked up and they make it hard for straight guys. Society’s assumptions about gender add layers and layers on top of that too. A scarcity mindset is definitely unhelpful, but it’s not an irrational way to behave given what you’ve got to work with.
If you’re a nerd about dating stuff (which I am), check out this YouTube video which models the likelihood of getting matches in straight dating interactions. My lovely comet dude sent me this about a week after I drafted this blog and I was like OMFG YES that illustrates the imbalance so beautifully. It shows how even a slight gender imbalance on a straight dating app can lead to disproportionately huge difference in matches, so might be some comfort if you’re a dude who is trying to meet someone and struggling to get any response. Sources and info on the modelling here.
So. I’m not criticising you if you have this attitude – it’s eminently understandable if you’ve swum in the dating pool and not yet met any fish. What I mean by ‘scarcity mindset’ is that you believe there aren’t many women to go round, so when one comes into your orbit you do everything possible to keep her there, without considering whether you really want her to be. Her specifically. You focus so hard on escalating to the next level with any woman that you don’t pay much attention to the actual issue of whether you connect. I think this approach is responsible for a lot of guys’ bland dating profiles. Their awkward conversation on first dates where they perform but rarely listen or ask questions. In fact, in the comments for the video linked above, one guy specifically says ‘Dating for straight women is like shopping. Dating for straight men is like a job interview.’ – explicitly putting the guy in a position of ‘answering questions’ rather than proactively exploring compatibility. These men are often doing their best to try and live up to a generic ‘ideal’ that will get them the girl rather than approaching dates as their genuine, authentic selves.
This is just a theory, I’m not a psychologist or any other expert. But I’ve dated a lot of men who act like this is a test they have to pass: say the right thing and you can move on to the next level. There’s little incentive to ask a woman questions if you won’t step away when she gives answers you don’t like. Why would you step away? You’ve GOT ONE! They’re SO RARE! Hang onto her for dear life! Tiptoe! Be careful! Don’t say anything of note or importance, unless you accidentally scare her away!
The reason I’m angry with myself right now is that I’m coming to realise that a lot of my recent awkward dates have been at least partly my fault. If I’m dating a blog reader, there’s already a scarcity mindset for him (there is only one of me, after all), and although I always work hard to put these men at their ease, I didn’t fully reckon with the impact of agreeing to date someone who has read my blog for years. He’s unlikely to fully hear what I’m saying if it contradicts the picture he’s built inside his head, having already decided that he wants to shag/date/marry the character of ‘Girl on the Net’: an idealised snapshot of a woman who is – at best – less than ten percent of who I truly am. Dating readers, when you have the job that I do, is a force multiplier for the exact dating problem that I find most frustrating. I’m a fool.
This ‘just give me SOMEONE’ attitude isn’t a phenomenon unique to men either: I am guilty of a version of it myself. Telling people, with a petulant pout, that ‘I want a boyfriend’ or ‘I need to find a hot guy to bareback me‘ or what have you. This hankering after ‘generic guy’ is understandable, I hope (guys are GREAT I love them they smell so brilliant and they’ve got such lovely hands and I want them to kiss me), but it’s not actually what I want if I’m truly emotionally honest. I don’t want ‘a guy’, I want a very specific guy: one who understands his needs and desires and is delighted to find that they align with my own.
As I say, I’m not an expert. And the theory in the section above is broad and likely flawed in a number of ways. But at the heart of it there’s a very personal fear that I’ve been trying to articulate for some time: I’m scared of getting with a man who can’t be true to himself, and who doesn’t hear me when I tell him my truth in return. The reason I’m wary of men who can’t approach dating with emotional honesty is because I am terrified of ending up with a dude who figures I’ll do for now, but then grows to resent me later.
I have a potent fear of getting trapped with a guy who’s fallen for a ‘me’ that isn’t real. A man who doesn’t know what he wants, so he convinces us both that he wants me because so far I’m the only woman who’s turned up willing to fuck him. This hypothetical dude couldn’t care less if our politics or senses of humour don’t match up. He’s not trying to establish whether our values or future plans align. He’s so keen to hurry us along on the journey that he’s never stopped to wonder if this is a direction he truly wants to go.
A man who won’t ask me questions isn’t open to hearing the truth about who I am, so how can he possibly know if he genuinely wants me? A guy like this might think my openness about sex is hot when we start dating, but later decide it’s a source of embarrassment and shame. He may delight in my fierceness and feminism when I direct it at those he dislikes, then later tell me that I need to stop arguing back because it makes him feel like the bad guy. I cannot fall for a man who doesn’t want to hear me when I speak, because he’s exactly the kind of man who’ll try to shut me up later.
I know I can be annoying. I know I am loud and horny and chatty and ‘too much.’ I have strong opinions that I want to make the case for and huge, painful, beautiful, awkward feelings that I need to pour out on a regular basis. I’m irrational and panicky and anxious. I overthink things, and obsess over people I love. I am both insecure and fiercely independent. I am broke and spiky about money. I treasure my friendships and I love my life and I crave solitude and I’m greedy for sex and I never ever ever want children. I don’t expect any individual man to desire the whole of this mess, and I certainly don’t want him to ‘accept’ it. I am not dating so I can convince a man he wants this, or trick him into falling for me before he understand what ‘this’ looks like. I date because I’m open to finding the rare dudes who might truly enjoy it. If I never find any, so be it. I will die alone live forever in blissful solitude before I build a relationship with anyone who doesn’t properly see (and hear, and actively welcome) the dramatic, independent, opinionated emotional firehose that is my clusterfuck self.
With that in mind, I try not to go out on dates hoping to impress the man I’m dating. Instead I focus on trying to be as ‘me’ as I possibly can, so that if he isn’t into women like me he’ll realise it swiftly and take himself out of the running. And what I’m hoping for, on a date, is a man who adopts the same approach.
Emotional honesty, spirituality and dreams
We sit on the picnic blanket together, me and Shop Man, and we talk about stuff that matters. In the process of that conversation, we run into interesting snags. Spirituality’s the first one: he’s a very spiritual guy, whereas I’m the sort of bellend who’ll write two thousand word rants about dodgy claims made by crystal dildo sellers. Monogamy turns out to be a bit of a snag too – the detail of it, at any rate. I’m broadly agnostic on relationship styles, but he’s got fixed ideas on what will work for him. Dating him would mean exclusivity, and that word means different things to each of us: to him, ‘monogamy’ means that you do not share each other, ever, even as a pair. But ‘monogamy’ to me still leaves room for the odd collaborative threesome, maybe occasionally lending each other out, or embarking on a friendly groupfuck with your closest mates.
The fact that we disagree on these things makes me wistful and sad: I genuinely am pretty into this guy. But the way he actively seeks out these points of difference, exploring my questions and answering with emotional honesty? That more than makes up for the disappointment that we aren’t well-suited after all. I’m not going to judge him for his outlook on monogamy any more than he’ll judge me for my take on religion and woo. These points aren’t problems, because we discovered them early. They’re just facts. And I suspect that both of us have decided we’re a ‘no’ before we even get to the biggest mismatch: kids. This guy’s pretty keen to have them. Not so keen that he’d be trying to knock me up on date ten, but keen enough that even a brief fling would be wasting time he could spend on someone else. And for me, a brief fling with him would waste time I could otherwise spend looking for a childfree dilettante with whom I can have all the grown-up fun I crave.
We discuss all this with openness and understanding and warmth and I fucking love that. It’s rare to meet a guy who both knows what he wants and is willing to express it so early, especially when he knows it’ll likely mean that we don’t end up having sex. We both want to fuck today, but we also both want relationships. And although the fucks would be kickass (THEY REALLY WOULD), they’d come at the expense of the bigger things that both of us know are important.
So we pack up our picnic blanket and M&S food (note the ‘M&S’: I know how to make a guy feel special), and head to the nearest pub for a pee and a pint. In honour of the fact that we will not fuck tonight, we allow ourselves to get inappropriately drunk. Giggling and chatting and being playful with each other before stumbling to the station and sharing a lovely kiss goodbye.
From a storytelling perspective, I’m delighted that we didn’t get together. The emotional honesty at the heart of this post would be overshadowed by romance if I framed it as the beginning of an epic love story. I don’t want to imply that your faith in dating will be restored if (and only if) you happen to meet the right man.
But from a personal perspective, I am – of course – gutted. This guy is beautiful, warm, friendly, kind. He listens to my stories and cares about my opinions. He gets his round in, cooks for me and laughs at my brilliant jokes. He’s casual and playful and incredibly free with his compliments. If there were a suitable font to denote a wistful sigh, please imagine me typing in it now as I tell you how this story ends:
Shop Man really is awesome. He just isn’t awesome for me.