20 April 2021

"Are You Talking to Me?": Men in the Dating World

Grigoriy Tumanov

Russian journalist, Grigory Tumanov, discusses how women understand the nature of things better, how men also need compliments, and how to start loving dating again.

I cannot speak to anyone’s experience other than my own, so to understand where I am coming from I'll start with a disclaimer. Yes, this article is about stereotypes centered around men and dating. It is also written by a two-time married man who doesn't use dating apps. At age 33, I've worked in several newsrooms and have a good understanding on how to gather evidence and data points that either corroborate or disprove my hypotheses., So when I speak to the stereotypes of single men in the dating world I speak from my own perspective as a formerly single man with a history of working in journalism. 

Now, I am deliberately assuming a binary relationship model, i.e. dating between a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman, so as to speak from my own experience. I got married for the second time the exact year that dating apps first hit the market. So while I personally have not used dating apps, when I talk to the men I know, it seems to me that digitization hasn't had that much of an impact on the dating environment we grew up in. There is this myth that men need sex more than women. I remember my teenage years when sex seemed unattainable or impossible to have. I felt like I had to bend over backwards to have the kind of experiences I wanted. Sex was portrayed as a prize at the end of an Indiana Jones temple, where you first had to traverse mountain ranges, then navigate winding corridors, solve a whole lot of puzzles, and then outrun the boulder while avoiding Nazi occultists who were after you. 

Why did we think of sex this way? Well, unfortunately, that's just how we were raised to think.

When I say "we," it also includes girls who have been taught by their parents that sex is an element of control you have over a man. Growing up it was like all men needed was one thing and that created a power balance between girls and boys from puberty. Boys were told the same thing, so we grew up in a world that didn’t refute these delusions in any way. We struggled to adjust to this warped reality. Another problem I struggled with growing up and that I see young men still struggling with is accepting that you don't want sex right now and that that's okay - even if you're chatting on an app that was invented for that very purpose.

On the one hand, you've been taught that a man is always ready to have sex. At the same time you’re afraid that you might offend the girl you're talking to by not wanting to have sex right away. You don’t want her to think that you find her unattractive. Even though I have no experience with dating apps, I know how these stereotypes work. You meet a girl and you're expected to want to have sex because what else are you supposed to do? You're not assumed to be at her house to discuss politics. In that moment if you don't feel like it or you're just too tired you might mumble an excuse and feel guilty about it or you might feel like you have to apologize for not wanting to have sex.

I'm thankful I'm not 25 anymore. I'm 33, and I've managed to work on myself enough to understand that's not how the world works. I had many heated discussions with friends about sex and the pressure to have sex when I was 15, but how many men still think that way?

Not long ago, a friend of mine shared a story from one of her colleagues that might shed some light on male awkwardness in dating. Her rather progressive friend complained that when he's alone with a girl in the office, he immediately starts thinking that he should change his behavior to be more flirty. No, it's not about hitting on her or dropping hints. It's almost like he has to immediately "switch" from colleague to man because he's been told since childhood that men take initiative. He does not want to be flirtatious, but he has no idea what to do otherwise. In his head, he fears that his colleague will stop respecting him or will get offended and think he deems her unworthy.

So these ideas just accumulate and then sit in our heads and partly explain our passive approach when it comes to dating. Not so long ago, we held the "Smart Dating" event. The set up was simple: 10 men, 10 women, 5 minutes to talk, after 5 minutes everyone swaps places. Classic speed dating, but with a twist: on each table, there were cards with talking points about life values, so in those 5 minutes you could get a better understanding of whether or not the person beside you was a good match for you. It was supposed to be easy, comfortable, and stress-free, but it didn’t draw in enough male participants, so men from the staff of the bar where the event was held had to replace those who had signed up or bought a ticket and didn't show up.

There could have been several reasons for this: maybe some men felt ashamed, or embarrassed, maybe some were just lazy. I’m sure a number of men that didn’t show felt a certain pressure to take someone home: “If I go there, I will have to leave the event with someone. I'm a man, so I have to initiate sex, but what if I just want to be friends with the women I meet?”

Now that we've discussed all of the above, let's talk about compliments. If I try complimenting someone at the bar they might think I’m one of those sleazy guys who ends up sending a dick pic instead of a "hi". To be fair, most women have certainly met someone like that and have a reason to be suspicious. My question is: is it possible to give a girl a sincere compliment about the cool print on her t-shirt? Do you immediately need to start explaining to her that was all you meant and that there was no hidden meaning behind it? Now you’ll wait for your drink and you’ll leave. 

What if she gets offended? What if she thinks you’re an idiot? And what if...?

I'm sure after reading this there will be men (and women) who will say that I'm expressing my personal fears of being stereotyped, but I'd just like to add that our fears and complexes are not simply imagination, but a reality that many struggle with every day, so the sooner we stop pretending it's nothing, the better. In truth, men need everything women need in a partner: a friend, good conversation, fulfilling sex where each considers the other's wants and needs.

It's just that historically (and very commendably) women have had to consistently work for their emancipation and independence. But what to do with the boys who were told one thing first, but in practice, things have turned out quite differently. It's confusing, to say the least. On top of that, we men find it weird to get compliments and tend not to believe it when we get attention because it's men who are expected to give compliments, we're expected to be the ones who make the first (often awkward) move. For many men, compliments remain exotic, and when - in a bar or on a dating app - someone tries to compliment us, sometimes it makes us just want to turn around and ask, "Are you talking to ME?"

Of course, I'm not speaking for everyone, and I'm intentionally leaving out all the unpleasant toxic cases that each of us encounters, but based on what my friends have told me, and having carefully observed others and myself, I have come to a disappointing conclusion: We, men, have lived in a sort of "two-dimensional paradigm" for so long that it seems we missed the moment when it became three-dimensional. So, ladies, don't take it personally when we stay home to play our Playstation, are clueless about dating, or blurt out nonsense on the first date. It may well be that we really like you.

*Original article was written in Russian