“Women always say that someone better will come along, but do you actually think that someone will?” D tells me over the phone as I try to end what felt like a winding and confusing situation for the 16,000th time. I paused momentarily, taking stock of the situation: I’ve been single for just over a year, with some positive dating experiences but many dead-end conversations.
So at that moment, while he insists that his breadcrumbing is the best thing I’ll experience, I think he might be right. Maybe someone better won’t come along. Maybe my slipping standards aren’t slipping fast enough. Maybe I should just settle for the breadcrumbs he gives me. I can’t help it, I feel pretty overwhelmed with negative thoughts about myself and begin to question if I’m good enough. Is something inherently wrong with me to make people treat me like this?
These feelings didn’t start with that phone conversation, far from it. This encouragement to accept the bare minimum has been a reoccurring theme in many of my recent dating experiences, and the same goes for my friends who also date men. We often find that our standards and expectations are always up for negotiation and are told that our unwillingness to bend means we’ll be alone forever.
Loneliness is realistically the only thing that cis-het men can still use against women – even then it is a very weak bargaining chip. Women are beginning to out-earn men, are becoming unwaveringly independent and are living full and fulfilled lives that don’t need to centre romantic love out of desperation. For the first time, men have to be good people to get women to like them – which they’re failing at miserably, hence the growth of dangerous incel movements based on male entitlement to women's bodies and sex.
Personally, I find myself engaging with men that don’t feel the need to try, be consistent or show initiative, so of course, it relies on me to expect less. But I refuse to win this limbo competition of dating standards. I refuse to think less of myself, so I can become attractive to someone who doesn’t want to see the value in me.
“Our standards and expectations are always up for negotiation”
The backhanded compliments or snide remarks from men who feel the need to "check" me when I feel confident has become a regular thing while dating, and this act is called negging. The best way to describe negging is when someone actively goes out of their way to make you feel small or insignificant through insults, belittling or disregarding your interests. The compliments are backhanded – if given at all – and this person withholds praise. When someone has whittled you down and successfully undermined your confidence, you are easily manipulated and controlled by them. Suddenly, seeking their rare validation becomes a top priority, and you lose yourself along the way.
Twitter – as much as it can be a platform for chaos and disinformation – has been revolutionary in terms of helping find a community of women who are self-aware and validating. Oloni, a viral voice on the platform, has gained a massive following because she encourages women to be radically honest about their dating experiences. Oloni’s platform is refreshing because we often feel like we are the only ones going through some of these nightmarish dating stories, however, they are much more common than we think and when we share these we warn others about potentially upsetting scenarios. The honesty shared online is never in an attempt to shame women but instead to show them that the maltreatment they’ve received is not unique to them; how much a person mistreats you is not indicative of your worth.
I recently tweeted my frustrations when reflecting on the call I had with D: “You really have to be obsessed with yourself to the point of delusion because the negging that happens in this dating scene will destroy you if you’re not self-assured.” This resonated with many as the wrong dating experiences can have detrimental effects on how you view yourself. With this in mind, I posted on my Instagram asking people to comment on what they loved about themselves.
I wasn't asking for just regular compliments; I wanted the most extra, over the top and outrageously delusional compliments people could think of. I had just under 150 comments of people being dramatically lovely to themselves, and it felt good to see. Even if people didn’t comment, they gained so much joy from seeing the post and being given permission to be kind to themselves.
So much of the dating scene is about making people feel as small as possible so you feel worn down enough to settle for someone that can't be bothered to make an effort for you – you need to build yourself up in other ways. Don’t let this be confined to the online world, positively affirm yourself and your loved ones in person. Make it a regular thing to remind the people in your life how impactful and special they are. Yes, it may feel very embarrassing to hype yourself up so much but what do you lose? Nothing!
"Yes, it may feel very embarrassing to hype yourself up so much but what do you lose? Nothing!"
There is something about reminding yourself that you are great, your standards are not ridiculous, and loneliness is not a punishment for not accepting less than you deserve, that feels right. When I think about my ideal partner, sure, loads of the superficial things are there: great sense of style, height and no seafood allergies. However, my biggest non-negotiable is someone obsessed with me without having to constantly convince them of how great I am. I want my closest romantic relationship to be somewhere I am truly adored, somewhere I can express my worries and insecurities without it becoming fodder for insults down the line. It is not strange to desire companionship that feels safe, and nowadays it feels incredibly hard to find given the disposable nature of dating. We all deserve to feel validated and accepted by those we hold close so don’t berate yourself for such a human urge.
The fear of being alone can be overwhelming, my friends and I joke about being single forever and underneath the laughs and pantomime cries, there is a feeling that this could be true. If my only options are people who need to push me down to make themselves feel empowered or hold out for someone who won’t, I’ll hold out every time.
Will I be holding out forever? Who knows, but it is better than being with someone whose happiness relies on my suffering. This idea that nobody better will come along really doesn't hold so much weight when you love yourself enough to not settle for somebody’s crumbs.
Image Credits: Amy Shamblen