VOICES: What Internet Dating is Teaching Me About Myself
Maybe I'm not so nice, after all?
“You’re so nice, Ben.”
The women I’ve dated have been telling me this as long as I’ve been dating. And mostly, I’d like to believe they aren’t wrong. I don’t act like Kanye West on Twitter. I’ve never kicked a dog. I tip well. I believe in equality. I say “pillow,” and “milk"––not “pellow,” or “melk.” People say I’m a “good guy.” And I am.
Which is why I would like to think that “being nice” doesn’t carry any negative connotations.
Basically, being designated a "nice guy" can be the not-macho equivalent of a woman being described as “having a sweet personality.” Both are character traits people claim to seek in potential mates; both have seemingly loaded meanings. Is this ambivalence a learned feeling—something society and shitty Green Day songs have delivered unto the fragile male ego—or is this something actually observed and experienced?
"i think there’s also a difference between being nice and being boring...Nice is good. Boring isn’t.”
Ask most friends about a new person they’ve begun seeing, and if the friend is not super into the new person, their response will begin along the lines of: “Well, she/he is super nice and has a great personality, but…”
When I asked some of my women friends their thoughts on dating what pop culture stereotypically defines as “nice guys,” their responses were reflective of a scene where dudes have historically just been the worst in general.
“I just kind of dumped a guy for being too nice to me about Valentine's Day,” says one. “But I think the whole 'nice guy' thing is misconceived. Just because a guy is nice to me, doesn't mean I owe it to him to be interested,” she adds. “And just as much as guys aren't into girls who are too clingy or eager, we aren't into guys who are overly attached.”
“I'm probably more bitter," another friend tells me. "I don't think there is such a thing as a nice guy in his twenties. The few that are 'nice' tend to be the kind who complain that they get mistreated by women, when really they're just doing nice things and expecting some sort of sexual favor in return out of it, as opposed to genuinely being nice.”
While I certainly have never expected a return of investment on any kindness I’ve shown to others, particularly women I’m sexually interested in—those guys do exist, and should be outed as the assholes they are.
what is right and wrong doesn't change just because you've confined it to dating, in a time when the process Is becoming as seamless as summoning a cab.
Another friend responds with what I’m sure many people can relate to, and what feels the most relevant to my current situation: “I definitely think there’s something to the whole evolutionary thing about always wanting something better,” she texts me. “Whatever is new or out of reach is enticing or alluring, especially in L.A.–– where you have so many options.
"But I think there’s also a difference between being nice and being boring,” she continues. “Nice is good. Boring isn’t."
Image via Imthebirdie/VSCO
The thing is: I’m still not nice.
Which is what I’ve only recently learned—or maybe become—after a year of much casual dating and frequent hookups. I can be terrible. My actions have driven well-adjusted, adult women to tears, and inspired lengthy text messages informing me just how shitty I was to them. I’ve lied to women about “feeling sick,” and cancelled dates or plans last minute because I “needed a night to myself.”
Sometimes the need for solitude is totally true—countless weekends have been spent almost entirely alone and locked in my room in Echo Park. I’ll ignore texts, calls, and block out anyone trying to get a hold of me. Depression is real. Other times, it was simply me being a flaky dick; a ruse I’d play in order to free the schedule up to meet a different woman for drinks, more often-than-not someone who had only moments before matched with me on Tinder, Bumble, or any of the other dating apps I downloaded in 2015.
These apps certainly empower both men and women. In my opinion, they also make dating much more approachable for anyone the least bit shy or even extroverted as hell. Meeting people IRL when you’re no longer in school, including in cities such as L.A. where there are millions of people, can sometimes feel like one of the hardest things to do. Oftentimes, you do see someone out in public that you're totally into/DTF/want-to-debate-politics-with, but it would be super awkward or perhaps even inappropriate to ask them on a date. (Or to do whatever body language is the physical equivalent of the heart-eyes emoji.)
I’m not a guy that would leave a bar or party or social function with someone I just met—not that I’m morally opposed to it or anything like that—it just didn’t happen to me. If it did, chances are it was more about satisfying a physical urge (for both of us) than entering into a committed relationship.
Image via akirbs/VSCO
Historically my confidence to approach women in public falls somewhere between not wanting to be another creepy bro at the bar, and a paralyzing fear of stuttering or coming off as way Midwest: Did we just make eye contact? Does she want, let alone need, me to buy her a drink? She is probably out on a Girls' Night. Yep. That is a sequined hat. It's Girls' Night. Do I smell like hot dogs?
On dating apps, though, lots of swipes lead to matches. I felt like Zack Morris for the first time in my life, and I loved it. Not that I’ve never dated women, or not been on the receiving end of their attention—I’ve been in serious relationships and had my first taste of young love in high school.
But the availability and access to so many “fish in the sea” in a space where we both felt comfortable––the Internet, on our iPhones––and the sheer amount of attention from women I was receiving, went to my head.
I ended some of these quasi-relationships over a text message, drunk, or without any notice at all. Feelings were commoditized: If there was one little thing I found unattractive in a woman’s personality, or if it was at all awkward, I'd swipe left on the whole situation. I dated multiple women simultaneously—mostly not to their collective knowledge—rationalizing this womanizing as FOMO.
A sincere fear of commitment isn't entirely unfounded. Most of the people in my life that have married young (or old) now have jaded views on relationships and are paying a lot of money to divorce attorneys. According to the American Psychological Association, nearly one half of all red, white, and blue marriages end in divorce. According to the Pew Research Center, most people my age feel the same way as I do, and are less inclined to get married right now.
Not that I regret any of my past relationships—we learn something new about ourselves each time we love and lose. And this generational feeling of "always wanting more" can certainly be attributed to the stage of life I'm in right now: I’m 26 and also work in a competitive and unstable industry where jobs seem to exist only on two, opposite coasts. The women I see are in similar circumstances. We’re all young and building our respective careers—anything that isn’t entirely convenient is inconvenient.
The aversion to any relationship resembling a long-term or exclusive was mutual with some of the women I've seen recently, and I'm not saying I've never been ghosted. That's totally real too.
“Let’s just keep this fun. No labels,” we’d say, usually after sex, or under dim-bar lighting.
"I don't mind if you sleep with other people, just be honest about it." That rarely worked out.
After experiencing the first tough break-up of my adult life, and again, being a ghostee––I felt entitled to also be an asshole. Telling myself that through my grief, I earned the right to be a jerk—and that what I was doing was just a safeguard to not getting hurt once again. This is a selfish mode of operation and not any way to build a healthy relationship with anyone. Plain and simple, when put into practice: It is manipulation on many levels.
I did it anyway.
Which leaves me at a crossroads of simultaneous self-realization and self-doubt.
To say that I’m going to swear off dating until I can “figure things out” feels like a cop-out and would probably be untrue. And who even has things figured out entirely? Ever?
I can handle being a past-jerk, so long as I’m actively working on not being one.
Mostly, I'm hoping that the happy medium between becoming the fuck-boy-personification of The Weeknd’s “The Hills" and being described as “boring” is found somewhere along the lines of just being myself.
What is right and wrong doesn't change a whole lot just because you've focused the lens on dating in a time when lining one up is becoming as seamless as summoning a cab.