Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a couple of failed relationships over the last year, I’m back to online dating, but not having much luck. I don’t have trouble getting first dates, but subsequent dates seem to be the problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told after the first date “I think we should just be friends.” And I think I know why.
I’m not like a lot of guys. I don’t watch sports, I’m not much of a beer drinker, and violent movies upset me. I like shopping, getting dressed up, treating myself to a facial, and even occasionally painting my nails. Several friends have called me “metrosexual” and others have even questioned my sexuality. I assure them, and can assure you, that I am heterosexual. I’m definitely into women, I’m just also into typically feminine things. This doesn’t bother me, but I suspect it’s bothering the women I go out with.
So my question to you is: Am I too girly to get a girlfriend?
Too Much/Not Enough
Dear Too Much/Not Enough,
In describing yourself, you also described about 30 dudes I know, including a few in my own family. My father was so uninterested in sports that I didn’t know that Thanksgiving was associated with football until I was a grown woman. You aren’t unusual in not preferring these typical masculine activities. Despite what Budweiser would have you believe, beer is not liquid masculinity.
But dressing nicely is hot. Having smooth and well-exfoliated facial skin is hot. A dude with painted nails is hottttttttttt. And, yes, I was drawn in by the sexual magnetism of Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a young age, but I also know I’m not alone. Lots of ladies like men who play with gender. There’s something deeply subversive and punk as fuck about a guy who mixes masculinity with femininity without apology or shame.
I’ve never been particularly girly. I don’t like pink. I don’t like to spend more than five minutes on my hair. I’m loud. I’m aggressive. I like scotch. I don’t wear makeup every day, I don’t like romantic comedies, I shop like a Navy Seal (get in, get out), I’m constantly trying to solve everyone’s problems, and when I’m upset with someone I really don’t want to talk about it. Is it because I’m the oldest child? Because my ring finger is longer than my index finger, which indicates that I was exposed to more testosterone in the womb? Because when I was younger I coveted the privilege of the boys around me so I deliberately shaped my personality in their image? Or is it because gender is nothing more than a bag of random symbols that we’ve assigned to half of the total population based on nothing more than the shape of their genitals?
Gender norms cut both ways. Feminism is a quest for women to escape the prison of femininity, and many men are on a similar quest. Masculinity brings with it a long list of rules of how one should or shouldn’t behave—don’t be sensitive, don’t care about your appearance, don’t show vulnerability, take pleasure in violence. You don’t behave by those rules and you worry that the price for your non-conformance will be loneliness.
In the movie Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a man who’s obsessed with finding a feminine ideal—a “10”, someone who demonstrates the essence of female perfection. He’s obsessed with porn and believes that if he finds the perfect woman his addiction to porn will finally fade. And he finds her, in the guise of Scarlett Johansen, and the two begin to date. They talk about moving in together. They’re out at a big box store and he mentions that he’s looking for new cleaning supplies. He likes to keep his apartment clean and he loves to clean it himself. Doing so relaxes him. Scarlett’s character responds that when they live together they’ll hire a cleaning lady, like normal people. She tells him that he won’t be allowed to clean anymore. She’s not going to be with a man who actively demonstrates such feminine behavior. She sits in the middle of her overly feminine gender box and orders him to stuff himself into the masculinity box. She orders him to perform masculinity in every aspect of his life, to the point that he is no longer permitted to clean his apartment.
Gender is a construction. It’s a pile of random attributes that our culture has decided to assign one half of the population or the other, based on nothing more than genitals. Girls are quiet, polite, shy, pretty, with long hair, long nails, high heels. Boys are loud, brash, assertive, handsome, with short hair and short nails. And of course shy men with long hair exist just as brash women with short hair clearly exist.
Gender isn’t real. Individuals are transcendent and rich and endless and our personal likes and dislikes run far deeper than the shallow box of gender.
Truth: Your penchant for shopping and facials and other “female” behaviors may be a turn off for some women. Or, more likely, they went out on one date with you and know that they don’t want to pursue a relationship with you for secret reasons you will never know. You have to understand that most women that you meet through online dating aren’t going to want to be your girlfriend. And not for any reason of you getting your nails done or not watching sports. They, as individuals, do not like you, as an individual.
This is a hard fact to accept and our unwillingness to accept it has lead to an entire “how to date” industry. But it’s the case for every single human who dates online that most people you go out with aren’t going to want to start a relationship with you. This is not unique to you. The vast majority of first online dates do not go on to become second dates. Like, pretty much all of them. I ran my own statistics once and found that only 25% of my first dates went on to become second dates and only a scant 5% resulted in a third date.
You keep hearing “I think we should just be friends,” which means that you are asking people out on second dates, which means that you’re trying to go on second dates with a lot of ladies. Why do you want to go out with all of these women again? Are they all awesome amazing ladies who rock your world that you want to get into your life ASAP? Or are you just really thirsty?
You can tell when someone is looking for a body, any body, to press against themselves in an attempt to stop that unstoppable hole in their heart. You are asking women to date you again and they’re turning you down. And it may be due to your gender nonconformity, or it may be because they can tell that you’re desperate to be in a relationship again and are willing to go out with any female at all because you want a girlfriend so much, you crave one so deeply that anyone will do. And that’s the opposite of flattering. No one wants to be the finger in the dyke of your self-disgust. They want to be in your life because you want them to be there, not because you need someone, anyone, to be there.
Who are you going out with? What criteria do you use to choose the women that you date? Are you sending out blanket messages to dozens of women at a time? Are you agreeing to go out with everyone who messages you? Are you tying to date as many women as possible as fast as possible until one of them agrees to be your girlfriend and saves you from this online dating hell?
I’m not concerned with how girly you are or not. Do the things you like to do without shame or concern for the comfort of others. But do make sure that you are only dating women who interest you. Make sure that you’re only asking women out for a second date because you felt a tangible connection when you were with them. Make sure that when you’re going out with them you’re asking questions and listening to the answers. Make sure that your online profile is crafted to attract women who want you, not any dude, but you. Make sure your painted nails are visible in your picture, make sure that you talk about what you like, your favorite shops, your favorite drinks, your favorite movies.
There’s nothing wrong with being girly and liking girls and that combination will in no way prevent you from having a happy relationship. But you’re still going to have to do the work of finding that relationship. Let women know who you are, what you like, and then turn it around. Look at them and make sure that you’re pursuing people who you like, who turn you on physically, who turn you on mentally, and who know where you can go get a kick ass facial.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.