On a message board I regularly read, there is a dating advice thread. Sometimes the posts are entertaining, like when posters recount their adventures in online dating, but a lot of times posters genuinely seek advice or share personal stories, both triumphs and failures. Today a female poster wrote that she had finally told a male friend that she liked him, only for him to tell her that not only did he not have those feelings for her, he was also secretly dating a mutual friend. Quiver of arrows, straight to the heart.
The other posters all rallied around this girl, assuring her that she had done a brave thing and that the next time she did so, perhaps the outcome would be different. They then recommended ice cream and booze as remedies. I think it would have been kinder advice to tell her never to confess feelings for a man she wasn’t dating.
In general, feminist dating principles rarely lead to greater happiness for women. Women’s magazines keep trying to encourage women to ask men out on dates and to make it seem chic and just the thing men are all dying for (the reasoning being that you, female reader, are just so bodacious that men tremble and lose their words in your presence), but the reality more often than not tends to be that a woman suffers disappointment and sometimes a severely crushed ego. Usually what happens is that either the man accepts the date, but with no real enthusiasm, or he turns down the woman. If a dating relationship does spring up, the woman will eventually become more and more agitated as she wishes to progress the level of emotional intimacy and commitment, while the man dawdles. Finally, when the woman can take no more, she and the man break up, and the woman flips out when she discovers six months later that her ex-boyfriend just got engaged to his new girlfriend and they are getting married soon and have never been happier.
Similarly, when a woman confesses her attraction to a man when he hasn’t done anything to make her believe her feelings are reciprocated (like, you know, asking her on a date), disaster usually follows. All the feminist orthodoxy in the world can’t change the fact that men are psychologically designed to be initiators. It’s part of what makes them so relentlessly interested in competing and exploring and innovating — and pursuing romantically (although in these feminized times, it often doesn’t feel that way). So when a woman takes matters into her own hands, so to speak, she’s thwarting natural design. She’s taking the chance to initiate away from the man and robbing herself of the pleasure of being singled out. It’s the “he’s just not that into you” principle: if he wanted to date you — really, truly wanted to date you and kiss you and march around in public with your hand in his — then he would find a way to make it happen, especially if you were giving him loud signals to go ahead. Your eager “help” is not necessary. And, really, what do you think is going to happen when you do reveal the feelings that have been turning your insides out for the last however-many weeks?
YOU: I have to tell you something.
HIM: Uh, okay.
YOU: It’s something that’s been on my heart and my mind for a while.
YOU: And I’ve been trying to hold it back, but I just can’t anymore. I have to get it out.
YOU: Sorry, I’m kind of nervous.
HIM: It’s okay, just tell me.
YOU: All right…I have feelings for you.
HIM: OH, PRAISE THE LORD! I HAVE BEEN PRAYING FOR THIS SINCE LAST JULY, YOU DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND! THERE WERE SO MANY TIMES I WANTED TO ASK YOU OUT, BUT GOD HELD ME BACK, TELLING ME THAT YOU WOULD MAKE THE FIRST MOVE IF IT WAS HIS WILL! OH, MAN, THIS IS THE HAPPIEST DAY OF MY LIFE! LET’S GO TO CHIK-FIL-A TO CELEBRATE! I HAVE A COUPON!
Yeah, it usually doesn’t happen like that. I know, the temptation is strong, and it seems so simple and rational, and your situation is going to turn out differently — but! — there is beauty in restraint.