An Inconvenient Truth

A strange phenomenon occurs whenever a group of single people in their 30s and 40s gather. If the gathering has any potential for socializing– a dinner party, an informal networking event or even a work-related meeting at a casual spot – the conversation turns to dating. It happens unintentionally. It can be triggered by any number of factors. I would imagine this diversion into the complications of dating in the 21st century happens in much the same way that partnered people who assemble for other purposes eventually end up swapping stories of crazy in-laws, challenging children and clueless companions who simultaneously make their lives more difficult and more manageable.

The discussions can get heated. I have come to realize that the main reason why they often get so intense and go well into the night is because there is often an inbalance of hormones at these gatherings. Usually the room in which the “the dating game” debate takes place is permeated with 83% of estrogen. The faint whiff of testosterone is often fading away into a mere memory by the time the debate has waged into its third or fourth round.

I’ve noticed recurring complaints at these impromptu town hall meetings.

Men: Women expect too damn much. They want the world and the blueprints for the galaxy you plan to build them by the third month of dating or they thrust an eye rolled “I can’t be wasting my time on you” right into the tenderest part of your heart, twist it around and sink it in deeper, just before strutting out the door.

Women: Men judge them too harshly. And on the wrong things. They are “blinded by the booty.” Particularly, in a city like New York where biscuit-needing models roam the city’s streets with their perfectly toned frames and freakishly flat stomachs as if their physical superiority is the norm. If a woman is smart, funny, strong, independent and even low maintenance, a man will STILL choose the pretty girl with the nice boobs who reads at a 7th grade level.

The topics sometimes change, but the respective complaints that the defense and the prosecution present…well, those remain stagnant for the most part.

Once, at a barbecue that was SUPPOSED to be a leisurely day of cueing, drinking and talking about nonsense, a Y chromosome picked a fight with the X chromosomes who for once, were too disinterested or too drunk to hurl “Why men act like they do” questions at the poor helpless Y chromosomes who stare ahead into nothingness like 8th graders being presented with a test they never knew they were going to have in a subject that had never made any sense to them.  His complaint: Women who base their decision to go out with a man again on how much money he spent on the first date.  “You should be going out with me because you dig me,” he asserted with such fervor it made me wonder just how recently some woman had strung him along just for a series of free meals.  “It shouldn’t matter if I spend money or not; you should accept the date because you are interested in me.”

An X-Chromosome told him he was out of his friggin’ mind if he really believed merely gracing a woman with his company for a few hours was enough to make said woman want more of his presence.  “I’m grown,” several women reminded the Y-chromosome.  “I am not in high school or college anymore.  Sitting on your futon and eating your leftovers while watching your favorite DVD is not cute.  Neither is it quant.  Take me to a movie.  Buy me a meal.  Or don’t call me.  Ever again.”

The Y-Chromosome grumbled.  Sought back up from his brethren.  His brethren recognized the abundance of estrogen in the backyard that afternoon as potential dates on whom they could spend money.  They looked on silently, allowing their short-sighted brother to continue hanging himself since he seemed hell bent on doing so, anyway.

Another time, I tagged along with a friend to have a few cocktails with her co-workers. Four women.  One guy.  The prosectuion presented its case: Working women have too much going on to worry about looking and behaving like the primitive male fantasy of women.  The lead attorney on the case was in the early stages of breaking up with a long term boyfriend and was ruminating on the daunting endeavor of “putting myself back out on the market.”  She was timidly knocking on  40’s door  and hadn’t put on a push up bra and a tastefully low cut blouse and sat across from a man in whom she was mildly interested in half a decade.  The idea of having to do it now irritated her. 

The defense spoke bluntly: “Here’s the deal: Whether you are a size 6 or a size 16.  If you are 23 or 43.  Fact is: you have to keep yourself up.  You have to look good, put together.  At least give us something to fantasize about when we first start going out.”  The defense went on to explain that whether or not women liked it, a man’s eyes didn’t linger on a woman at first meeting because she could engage in a great conversation or because he could envision her reading to their kids every night.  His interest was piqued by HOW SHE LOOKED.   How attracitve he found her.  And it was an attraction that had nothing to do with her charm, her intelligence, her open heartedness and all that other deep stuff women factored into whether or not they found a  man attractive.

The X-chromosomes were not happy.  And unlike the Y-chromosomes from the barbecue, they joined forces even before the defense attorney had a chance to present his closing argument.  Phrases such as sexist pig, think with the right head, men are dumb/simple/a pain in the ass were thrown around both playfully and with a little bit of malice.

After sitting through dozens of these town halls, I have ascertained that there is an undertone to these redundant complaints.  The beef that the Y-chromosome from the barbecue has with dating has little to do with women occasionally taking advantage of the expectation that he impress them with a date that shows off his financial success.  He fully expects to pay for her meal and movie ticket, can afford to pay and is eager to treat a woman to a nice evening out. The beef that the soon-to-be single woman has with dating isn’t about the expectation that women must use their outer beauty to obtain a man’s interest.  She has the beauty, anyway.  When and if she does put herself back on the market, she will have no problems catching the eyes of available men.

The real beef lies in what I once heard a man say when he complained that back when he was struggling financially, women didn’t give him the time of day.  They would tell him that they wanted a man who could bring something to the table and to give them a call when he was able to do so.  “I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

God bless his delusional heart, I remember thinking.  He actually expects dating to be fair.

I think many singles expect the same thing. This illusion of a progressive, modern society where men and women are completely equal has led many of us to convince ourselves that what is expected of men and women in romantic encounters has also evolved with the times.  Unlike generations before us, we find it diffcult to accept that who we are, our wonderful uniqueness, is really not enough to get a mate.  That there are a host of biased judgments that a potential partner makes about us before he or she decides to date us, let alone commit to us in a meaningful way.  Men really want to believe that since women are now financially independent, we are not nearly as concerned with their ability to support and provide for us as women from previous generations.  She wants me just for me.  Women want to believe that how they look doesn’t matter.   That it is really our wit, our intellect, our vivacious personality that prompts men to ask for our phone number. These 21st century men are different, we tell ourselves.  They want depth.  They want me just for me.   

Oh, if only it were that simple. 

There are some unfortunate truths about dating.  Truths that our parents and grandparents accepted without much thought.  Truths that ordered their lives and normally resulted in less town hall meetings about the unfairness of dating.  Perhaps they didn’t have to call these meetings like we do because they were too busy marrying; not dating.

Truth: If you are a heterosexual woman who seeks the company of a heterosexual male, it would benefit you to watch your weight.  It would benefit you to pay attention to your appearance when you leave the house.  While most men don’t expect you to have Tyra’s boobs and Halle’s face, they will base their decision to go out with you on how you look.  It is not fair.  It is truth.  An inconvenient one if you are a woman who is not naturally inclined to think about such frivolous matters as your hair, your dress size, make up and what not.  Here’s another truth: the woman who does devote some brain space to these silly matters will spend more Saturday nights in the company of hetereosexual males than you.  Not fair.  Just truth.

Truth: If you are male, your charm and “niceness” aren’t enough.  Yes, women want men who are kind.  They will give you their time and attention even if you are not making six figures.  But, simply being in your presence and basking in the glow of your “good man” status is not enough.  You will have to plan dates.  You will have to pay for them.  You will have to make effort.  She will take your decision to open up your wallet on a date as a sign that you are vested in her.  If you go the other way, so will she.  It is terribly unfair.  Particularly, if you are one of those nice, sensitive guys with so much to offer a woman.  The thing about truth is: While it does set you free, it is also indifferent to fairness.  This is inconvenient if you are a good guy who happens to be taking longer than most to live up to your potential.  Here’s some more truth: Until you live up to that potential, there is a good chance that you will be dateless most weekends.

No, dating is not fair.  One final truth: If dating were fair, the word lonely would not be in the dictionary.

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