It’s 2016 not 1950. So why is dating still so sexist?

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The Stylist web team
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We’re confident, successful and intelligent… so why do we still allow dating to be so sexist?

Words: Dolly Alderton

It’s 11pm on a Wednesday and I’m meant to be asleep ahead of an important meeting the next morning. But I’m not. Why? A man. Well, talk of a man. On our Whatsapp group, my friends and I – all successful, intelligent, powerful feminists – are talking down one of our friends from the edge of recklessness. A guy she’s been dating for three months hasn’t replied to her text from four days ago, he hasn’t called. She’s being ghosted, and the group is divided. 

“Don’t get in touch, you don’t want to look keen,” are the replies from one side. On the other, “He might be dead/dying. You like him, don’t you? Just text him!”

It’s a timeless debate – yet, it’s also 2016. Women are sexually liberated, we’re astronauts, CEOs, politicians. So shouldn’t we be over the idea that only men should make the first move? In our day-to-day lives, we’re outspoken, ambitious, won’t-stand-for-that women, yet throw a Tinder match on the cards and things begin to blur. Stereotypes coyly masked as traditions mean my friends and I regularly shrivel into dating-handbook-bots: we refuse to text twice in a row (lest we worry for days about being unfairly labelled “needy”); we won’t call first during the first six months; we definitely won’t text first. We accept (despite how it might jar with, you know, our right to make decisions about our own lives) that it’s normal for a woman to wait four years for the one day – next week, on 29 February – they’re “allowed” to propose. We’re reinforcing these myths too – not convinced? Then consider this – do you expect a man to pick up the bill or hold a door open? Well quite.

Surely it’s time to recognise how ridiculous it is? We wouldn’t withhold our needs or worry about how much we’re texting if it was a friend. So why, instead of having confidence in our ability to sustain a man’s interest, do we cower in the passenger seat – being coolly unavailable, letting him pick the venue – when it comes to dating? 

Do men expect us to behave like this? I’m not sure they do. I can’t speak for everyone but these stereotypes – however silently and unknowingly we play into them – sadly still exist in many circles and it’s not even clear who’s perpetuating them: men or women. The only thing that’s obvious is they’re not helping any of us. I for one have had enough. Sexist dating? I’m not that into you. Here are the dating myths we should all be swiping left on.

I’ve been known to put a timer on my phone for one hour 13 minutes (one hour is too precise; you could give the game away) before I reply to a guy. After feeling the sting of silence and waiting days for a reply, I now ensure I am never, ever the one who texts first to say I had a lovely time. I never double text. I’ve gone 300 photos deep into a man’s Instagram account and seriously contemplated emigration when I accidentally liked one. Occasionally, I recognise how bizarrely I’m acting (whatever happened to just admitting you like someone?) until I see friends doing it too. Yet, guys text frequently or unintentionally, if they follow you on Twitter it’s only a positive sign. Of course it is. 

Women feel the pressure to act emotionally uncomplicated in fear of being sidelined as “too much”, while men who open up are applauded for being The Beta Male Golden Boy; a man of both heart and mind. Neither stereotype is either universally true, or helpful. 

A friend once fell in love with a guy on a first date because of the misty-eyed sentimentality with which he told the story of the funeral for his family’s labrador. If on a first date I cried about the slow decline of my late cat, I am pretty sure I would be escorted from the premises by security. Instead, I – and plenty of other girls I know – ‘cool-girl’, or practise the refined art of never getting too excited or upset about anything. Except we all know that faking it is dissatisfying and, pretty boring. Let’s drop the act.

Surely you can have sex when you want, with who you want, and I truly believe any good man would never judge a woman for sleeping with him on the first day. Yet we still think by doing so we’re slipping up. Is it because we’re still advised to “make him wait” like we’re offering a gold star for good behaviour? 

When my friends call, panicked that they’ve “ruined” a great date by staying over, I ask them if they want someone who judges them on how long they can withstand sexual frustration. And then I tell them to stop being that guy by judging themselves. We’ve got more important things to worry about – like what to have for lunch. 

Seventy per cent of men still believe they should pay for dinner. Which can be lovely on a first date, if handled gracefully – and more so if women get dinner number two, or at least go Dutch. Friends have said that if a guy doesn’t even offer to pay in full, it’s a sign he doesn’t fancy them – yet guys often disagree. Maybe it’s better – for our own peace of mind and for, well, equality – to always split the bill. That way you also avoid the feeling that you’ve entered an unsaid fillet-steak-for-sex contract, like the time I was taken out for an expensive dinner by a date. When I wouldn’t go home with him he said he’d wish he’d taken me to a chain restaurant. I didn’t see him again. 

We can – and do – initiate important conversations, like being exclusive or moving in together. We do say “I love you” first. Yet often there’s a feeling that we shouldn’t; that it’s a risk. So we hold it in. But not being able to express our feelings for fear of losing a man’s attention is incredibly disempowering.

The one time I uttered those words to a man first, his response was, “Oh, shut up”. The next morning I went into work and slumped in a chair in my boss’s office. “I ruined it,” I told her. “Now he thinks I’m mental and he’ll never call me again.” 

“For God’s sake, you haven’t ruined it,” she replied. “You just said a lovely thing.” 

Maybe I did – and maybe that’s the key to finally creating an equal dating scene: speaking up. They say all’s fair in love and war – let’s hope someday soon for the former it’ll be true.

Photography: Allstar/Disney