Sunday, 16 September 2012

Internet Dating Blues

This piece over at Raw Story really resonated with me. I'm sure many people who don't look like men are subjected to demands for their attention, and sulking when that attention is refused. It's not always a big deal, of course. If you have attention to spare, if you're in the mood for it, if you feel like engaging. But the problem is that you don't always have attention to spare, and you don't always feel like engaging. That's when it becomes apparent that you don't actually have a choice in these matters: if you withhold or withdraw your attention, things can get ugly fast.

Sometimes they don't even get particularly ugly, just banally irritating - like this exchange with a sweet looking fellow on OKCupid:

His profile suggested he was going to have time to kill in London and was looking to meet some new people. I thought we might get on. But then I forgot to reply to him - you know, life happened, like it does. For a start, I thought his reply, although keen, was brief enough that I shouldn't push it. Surely, I thought, if he wanted to meet up he might have said something more than that? Something encouraging, like "are you free later in the week?" or "I'd really love to check out this picnic spot!". Something which gave me something to reply to. OKCupid is not like trying to set up a job interview, you know? I'd like there to be mutual enthusiasm. It's not like I'm thinking "ok, I'm no catch on paper, but just a foot in the door: just agree to meet me and I'll blow your mind!" I'm thinking, "this guy wants to meet people, I like meeting people: let's see how it goes." I'm not doing him a favour, and he's not doing me a favour.

So time passed; I thought nothing more of it. But then I got another message from him, and not one which inspired good feelings. It sounded whiny and self-pitying. But I did feel bad about not replying, and when I checked his profile again, I discovered that he'd been the victim of a crime. He's in a strange city, he doesn't know anyone, and he's been robbed. And then this chick on the internet totally didn't reply to his message! After all, I had initiated contact with him. I owed him, right? So I responded, and prompted the charming little exchange where, somehow, I have started trying to persuade him to see me. Here's the times I'm free: pick one! I have no money. I'll pay! I'm too busy.

I didn't really do anything wrong in not responding to him. It's a dating website, right? That's how it works. But now I feel like he's doing me a favour if he agrees to meet with me. His first message back to me states that it's ok that he never heard back from me, except for how his life is a mess and his trip to London has been a fail, and now there's no time for anything good to happen ever. Now, I can see he's upset, but am I alone in also seeing this as a little manipulative? A little bit cheap? "I'm really sad and it's partly your fault. Placate me." It worked. My reply is conciliatory; rather pathetically so. I want to make things better. He is seeming to imply that meeting me would make it better, so I suggest that we meet.

It's a clever little trick, no matter how unintentional. I have apologised when there's really nothing I should be sorry for, and I've tried to fit myself to his requirements for meeting despite the fact that I'm not that desperate to meet him. I wonder now if regaining the power in this particular situation made him feel better. I really would have met up with him - I'd even have bought him a drink. But there are some little red flags going up in my mind, and they're to do with that demand for attention that Marcotte anatomises so well.

If someone doesn't respond to your attentions - be they internet dating messages, 'hello' on the tube, 'can I buy you a drink' etc - they've got reasons. You should trust them. You're not owed any response at all, and you're certainly not owed any positive response. By putting yourself out there, that's the risk you take. You might get a smile, a reply, a cup of coffee; you might not. Move on. If you make a polite request for attention, and get refused, nobody is going to think worse of you. It's when you graduate from polite requests to hammering on the metaphorical door with your fists, or resorting to underhanded methods to gain admittance that people are going to think worse of you. I don't take kindly to being manipulated into reopening contact with someone. It has made me exponentially less likely to meet this guy. Even if he'd just followed up with something like "hey, are you still up for that drink?" I would have likely replied with enthusiasm. It's the suggestion that I owe him something that has rubbed me the wrong way. My lack of response seems to be on the list of "wrongs that the world has done me". And while being a pain in the arse on a dating website is universal behaviour, treating a person as if they are an object that the world owes you is definitely gendered behaviour.

Let me be totally clear: I'm not accusing random OKCupid guy of that. I'm not labelling him a misogynist or demanding his head on a silver platter. I'm simply pointing out that there is a continuum of behaviours in which women are treated as objects on a list of things that the guy gets if he plays the game well - a good job, a nice car, a pretty wife - and that his behaviour plays into those tropes all too well. The saddest thing is that it worked on me. I played along, until I came to my senses and remembered that I don't owe anyone anything. That it's not my fault that things have gone wrong, and that I'm not merely a sweet reward in the game of life.

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