Dating — it’s exhausting.
At first I thought it was fun (being new to the dating scene, and never having really done the dating thing in my younger years), but as time has gone on, I’ve discovered that it can be really, really exhausting.
I’m a pretty open and honest person. I’ve put a lot of myself out into the ether of the internet (from discovering myself to be polyamorous to the health repercussions of my breakup and consequent brief personal meltdown). So when I’m dating, I’ve got no qualms about being honest about my intentions, my feelings, and my desires. And because I’m such an honest person, an open book really, I often expect that others will be the same. I’ve discovered that this is just me projecting my own qualities onto others; they are not always coming from the same place of transparency as I am.
How much easier would dating be if we could all just be honest about our intentions? I’ve met a few men who were pretty upfront about exactly what they were looking for – whether it was to settle down into a relationship or strictly a relationship of a sexual nature – and it made knowing how to proceed so much easier. What I want keeps changing, it seems, but I articulate it as I go to ensure that any man I am seeing knows that. I’m a work in progress, and I can understand that what someone else wants might also change, so I like to keep the conversation open and evolving to accommodate that.
But what I’ve found to most often be the case is that men are reticent to admit to wanting to have sexual relations, as though admitting that is somehow going to result in some catastrophic implosion of the dating universe. At first, I found this baffling.
“Do you want to cuddle?” a guy would say.
And if I didn’t, I would say no. But some nights, I really did want to cuddle and would accept the offer. Little did I know, “cuddle” is apparently a code word for sex. Because every single time a guy would come over to “cuddle”, he would start making sexual advances.
And every single time I was confused about what signals I was putting out there that suggested I wanted anything more than what I said I wanted – which was simply a warm body to cuddle up to. So finally, one night I said yes to the “cuddle” invitation, and when he started making advances, I stopped him (as I always did, because when I say I want to cuddle, that is not code for “I want to sleep with you”; it really does mean cuddle) and I asked “Is ‘cuddle’ some kind of subtle code for ‘let’s have sex’?” I don’t recollect if he answered me verbally, but his actions certainly spoke clearly – when it was clear that I wasn’t going to have sex with him, he left in a hurry. I never did hear from him again.
Now, I rely on my lovely Old English Sheepdog, Miss Bella Paddington, for cuddles (because I never can tell anymore whether proffered cuddles are a veracious and legitimate offer or a covert attempt to bed me). But it also made me think a great deal about why so many men were reticent to be open about their desire to simply have a sexual relationship.
It always seems to come back to this sexual double-standard – where men are culturally constructed as insatiable sexual beings, the “hunter” in a game of sexual conquest, while women are supposed to be (selectively) sexually permissive but not agents of their sexuality (because if they are, then they’re slut-shamed), the “prey”.
So many euphemisms for sex play into the hunter/hunted trope of sexuality. I feel like I’m being baited, now, when a man says to me that he wants to cuddle; I feel like he’s attempting to reel me, his prey, in with a facade of cuddles that really means he wants to get frisky beneath the sheets. And it’s not only irksome, it’s insulting. I am an agent of my sexuality. I’m perfectly capable of deciding whether or not I want to have casual, ongoing, or no sexual relations with another human being, and I would appreciate being given the opportunity to wilfully accept or decline such offers.
I understand, perhaps, why men feel the need to be covert about their desires, in a culture that shames women for their sexuality, and tells men that sex is some sort of game (as Drew Bowling talks about in his article at The Good Men Project), but it’s time to move away from these tired old stereotypes of gender roles in regards to our sexuality.
I’m not prey, and I know when I want to cuddle and when I want a little more. There’s no need to be disingenuous; give me the courtesy of being honest and allowing me to respond in kind.
(photo in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)