Dating is hard. It’s scary and awful and makes me want to become an old maid with nothing but cats and dachshunds to keep me company. And yet my biological self, not to mention plenty of well-meaning friends and family, keeps urging me to ‘get out there’. And so every once in awhile I make an attempt to meet new people; sometimes this pays off and I meet nice and interesting guys that I enjoy spending time with for awhile, but usually it scares me back into a reclusive singledom for a few months.
This process has always been difficult, and it became increasingly challenging as my confidence in my feminist identity grew. I’ve never been one to take shit from some douche who feels entitled to comment on me or my body, but I have definitely become more aware of some of the larger systems at play when it comes to dating, and how they are rooted in misogyny and male entitlement.
While I am by no means an expert, dating as a feminist is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Obviously I need to be honest and authentic, but at the same time, you kind of have to put your best self forward when dating. I wonder how I can put myself out there online, like an object put up for auction, picking my best photos so as to draw men in. I think about how to behave on dates: do I flirt it up like a girly girl, so as not to come across as a hardened, no-fun feminist? How can I show a date that I respect myself but am also sex and body positive? Of course the answer to all of these is to just be myself and do what feels right for me in the moment. But actually doing that, and navigating the dating world as a feminist, is really hard.
In my limited experience with this, I have come up with a few guidelines. This list is not exhaustive, and it might not be the right fit for everyone. But for me, keeping these points in mind helps me to stay sane and positive as I try to find someone to spend my life with. Here are a few pieces of advice for the rest of you fiercely feminist singles out there.
It’s Okay to Be Alone
In fact it’s more than okay, it’s pretty damn awesome. I share my bed with no one but a 10 pound dachshund and a 12 pound cat, which means I get to starfish every night. I also get to put leftovers in my fridge, and know without a doubt that they will be there when I go back to eat them. I make decisions about my life – where to live and travel, how I want to spend my time and money – without having to consider the feelings or goals of anyone else. If that sounds selfish to you, well, it is, and I am okay with that. I spent years making decisions based on another person’s plans, and I’m sure in the future I will have a partner that I make these decisions with again. But right now I get to think about just me, and that has led to some pretty wonderful opportunities and experiences.
Since I’ve realized how awesome it is to be on my own, I know without a doubt that I won’t give it up for just anyone. Sure, I could be married with a minivan full of kids by now, if I had lowered my standards and jumped into a relationship with the first guy that looked my way. But that doesn’t appeal to me. The benefits of shitty relationship simply do not outweigh the downsides of being single. And so for now, I am completely content and happy with the solo life. I hope the day will come when I meet the right person for me, but until then, I am going to keep on being my badass, world travelling, starfish-sleeping single self.
Be Upfront About Being a Feminist
My current online dating profiles explicitly state that I am an ardent feminist, and it’s something I discuss on a first date. At first I was worried that this might scare guys off, and I’m sure that it does. But you know what? That’s a good thing! Anyone who doesn’t love the fact that I am outspoken about my beliefs isn’t going to be a good fit for me anyways. It’s a key part of who I am, and I need a partner who is supportive of that. So really, I am weeding out the guys that I maybe would have wasted time and tears on, and getting straight to the ones that are on the same page.
The downside of this is that bluntly stating I am a feminist has also led to some immature harassment and comments online, and some blank stares and uncomfortable silences in person. But I can handle that. If nothing else, it gives me a chance to educate the uninformed, or at least practice my responses to common insults.
The Opinions of Some Asshat Do Not Define You
For some reason, the minute some men get behind their computer screens, they turn into terrible trolls, saying things they would never dream of saying to a woman in person. Being a woman in an online space gives some men the idea that they can say whatever they please. And sometimes the things they say are cruel and offensive. If unsolicited dick pics weren’t enough, most women I know that have tried online dating have also been subject to some pretty nasty verbal abuse, whether it’s about their physical appearance, or the fact that they don’t want to sleep with the guy. Below is just one example of an exchange I had with this kind of guy. His opening line is in response to the fact that I state in my profile that I am a feminist.
*I purposely don’t bother blurring out profile info; if you speak to people like this, you should be prepared to be recognized.
As you can see, I am not one to take an insult lying down. I refuse to let someone get away with trying to hurt my feelings or make me feel small. I have also gotten to a place where I no longer let comments like this hurt me. Calling me obese is not going to make me love my body less, and calling a lesbian isn’t going to make me doubt my feminist beliefs. It’s hard, I know, but it is so important not to let these kinds of interactions get to you. This guy knows nothing about me: he doesn’t know that I am fun and clever and the opposite of bitter, nor does he know how gosh darn sexy I am (and he will never get the chance to learn that, poor guy). If I curled up into a little ball every time I was called fat, I wouldn’t have time to be out in the world, being a badass bitch. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent, as Eleanor Roosevelt told us. So refuse to give internet trolls consent to make you feel bad about yourself. They know nothing about you, their opinions are meaningless, and you know your true worth, not them.
There are some women who choose to just avoid this whole process, opting instead to be on their own in perpetuity, and that’s okay. If that feels like the right choice for you, hurray! You get to do you all the time, and not worry about this stuff. However that’s not my path, and it’s not the right choice for lots of other feminist women out there. For those of us trying to navigate this process as feminists, combatting digital misogyny and virtual harassment while trying to balance our desire for a partner with our steadfast independence, is no easy thing. But by being open and honest with ourselves and potential dates, refusing to let the petty words of other wound us, and by remembering that the right relationship is worth waiting for, we can date without compromising our feminist values. And because of this, I will keep ‘putting myself out there’ until I find a partner that is my equal, that appreciates my brain and my body and my passion, and that has been looking for a girl like me to help him crush the patriarchy.