Who Has The Power in Dating?

I’ve noticed that there’s a topic that comes up repeatedly when it comes to talking about dating issues, whether it’s about the problems with being a Nice Guy, online dating, or even just approaching new people: the idea that women hold all of the power in dating. They are The Choosers, the gatekeepers to the Promised Land1, cruel temptresses who taunt men by being attractive and yet unavailable. Because sex is so much more easily attainable for women – or so the conventional wisdom goes – they have luxury of being able to define the standards which men must meet, wantonly cutting off men who are not rich, tall douchebags with square jaws and fast cars. Men feel helpless; they feel that they are forced to leap through hoops in order to win women’s approval and hope that she will pick him against all odds.

Too bad that it’s bullshit.

In fact, not only is the idea that women somehow control all the power in sex and dating not true, but it’s a case of people asking the wrong question. It’s a cluster of self-limiting beliefs that holds people back from meeting new and exciting potential partners, whether it’s for sex or for relationships.

“Any Woman Could Get Sex Any Time She Wants”

The Belief:

This is one of the most pernicious myths about dating out there. The idea is that because it is supposedly easier for women to find a sexual partner than it is for a man, they are the dominant force, the buyer in a buyer’s market. Because men supposedly can’t wander into the mythical Bar (and it’s always a “a woman can wander into a bar” scenario) and wander out five minutes later with a woman eager to jump his bones, women by default have greater power when it comes to dating. Men have to compete in order to win her approval while a woman gets to pick and choose who she wants based on whatever arbitrary standards she feels like in the moment.

“Ooh! Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”

Why It’s Bullshit

To start with, there are plenty of women out there who aren’t rolling into a bar and rolling out with a bedmate. There are many women who struggle to find dates, whether it’s because they’re too tall, too big, too whatever.

Let’s be honest. This complaint really translates as “the hot woman I want to fuck but won’t give me the time of day can get sex any time she wants.”

Beyond that, the ability to get a sexual partner within a pre-set amount of time or with whatever suitable definition of “ease” might be isn’t exclusive to women. Men have equal ability to find sexual partners as women do… it just involves being willing to lower your standards to being willing to sleep with anyone who offers or shows an interest. Women who aren’t conventionally attractive, whose body types differ from the culturally accepted ideal or otherwise don’t meet one’s personal levels of sexiness are out there, hoping to get laid just as much as everybody else.

The same applies to women. A woman’s supposed ability to get laid easily or quickly doesn’t correspond with the desirability of the available sex partners. A woman could go into a bar and pick up a man for sex, yes, but it doesn’t mean that she’s going to necessarily find someone she’s attracted to.

And to be perfectly frank, if all a woman wants is to get off, vibrators are safer, easier and aren’t going to use the last of the milk in their coffee the morning after.

The problem with asking this question is that it assumes that women and men have the same goals when it comes to sex. Guys frequently get hung up on numbers; how many people have you slept with, how quickly can you get a woman to sleep with you. They have a tendency to fall for the old axiom that sex is like pizza; even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

…and both are best when provided by someone dressed like a giant rat.

Having had a lot of bad pizza and regretful sex… yeah, not so much. The problem is that men are viewing women through the prism of the male experience: the goal of getting sex as quickly as possible, as easily as possible. While exceptions certainly exist, women on the whole don’t approach casual sex the way that men do; they’re not looking for how quickly they can find a pole for the hole, they’re looking for someone who excites them and can provide the sex they want. Johnny Pick-Up Line with the over-greased hair and the Affliction tee may be ready and eager to be the droid she’s looking for, but the fact that he’s willing to bang her doesn’t translate into “yay, I have all the power here”, it’s “great, another asshole who wants to get into my pants.”

There are certain areas where it is in fact, a buyer’s market for women. In online dating, for example,  the number of men on dating sites tends to easily outnumber the women. A woman will find frequently find her profile flooded with emails and winks.

Now ask her just how many of those come from people she’d want to talk to at all, never mind go on a date with.

“Women Only Want Tall, Rich, Handsome Alpha Males”

The Belief:

It stands to reason that since women have all of the power when it comes to dating, they get to pick and choose from ALL THE MENZ… so of course, the only men who get laid are alpha males with lantern jaws and six-pack abs. Everybody else – the beta males, the socially awkward, the chubby, husky dudes, the symetrically challenged – they’re left holding the bag and their dicks, crying impotent, sexless tears. Even goddamn Disney gets in on the act: the unspoken moral of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is “You can have a beautiful soul and sing like an angel, but the cheerleader is still going home with the quarterback.”

THANKS FOR MIXED MESSAGES, DISNEY!

Why It’s Bullshit

Take a stroll through Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon. You’re going to see lots of dudes who aren’t exactly making the cover of People’s Sexiest Man shopping with their girlfriends and wives.

“But look at the women they’re with!” I hear some of you cry, at which point we’re right back to the same issue as before: “the impossibly hot woman I want to date/sleep with won’t date me.”

So straight talk: societally accepted standards of beauty kind of suck. They promote literally impossible standards in myriad ways – both overt and subtle. Beauty standards as we’re taught in western culture are European features and bodies and skin that can only be achieved via money, surgery and lots and LOTS of Photoshop. And to be perfectly honest, people can be pretty damn shallow regardless of gender.

That being said, one common issue I talk about is the overdeveloped-and-undeserved sense of entitlement that a lot of men2 have. They tend to believe that they deserve a smoking hottie, a perfect 10 regardless of their own looks, wealth, lifestyle or personality.  It’s not a real surprise to find out that a Nice Guy who doesn’t take care of his appearance and believes that he’s owed a girlfriend is having a hard time getting that 10 to give him her number. Meanwhile he sees Studly GoodNight go up, slap her on the ass, tell her obscene jokes and takes her home that night to fuck her until her eyes bleed.

QED: all women want are hot assholes, not nice guys who may not be the social ideal. Look around and all you see are beautiful people fucking other beautiful people while wonderful – if less facially gifted – men are stuck home alone.

The problem is that this falls under what’s known as the confirmation bias: the tendency to only believe evidence that validates an already existing belief. In this case: “I am not attractive. Hot women do not want to date me. I only see hot women dating hot men. Ugly men do not get girlfriends or wives.”

And yet somehow Patton Oswalt is happily married with a lovely daughter. As is Alan Moore, for that matter.

“You are now powerless before my Sex Beard.”

For that matter, we can add Dennis Kucinich, Woody Allen, Henry Kissinger… In fact, the “ugly guy pulling hot women” trope is so well known that TVTropes has an entry on it.

Before you start, let me forestall the inevitable “Great, so you don’t have to be hot, you just have to be powerful/rich/more talented than God”. There is far more to attraction than looks – though they help – or being in the rarified 1% of money, talent or fame. I have friends who aren’t conventionally attractive, aren’t especially rich and are certainly not powerful… and yet have amazing girlfriends and wives. Why? Because they have lives. They have passion in their life and know how to convey it. They have the confidence – and more importantly, balls. They can make women laugh, feel special without putting them on a pedestal and yet not come across as needy. And they’re not the only ones out there.

Speaking of balls…

“Men Have To Take All The Risks”

The Belief:

It’s the 21st century, a post-Third Wave Feminist era. Women are closer to true social equality than ever before: wages are growing closer to parity, women outnumber men in college attendance and are achieving leadership positions in corporations and government in ways that previous generations could only dream of.

And yet men have to do all the work when it comes to courtship. Men still have to be the aggressors, men are the ones who have to make the approach, call first, ask her out, pay for the date… all of the heavy lifting when it comes to dating. Women are clearly either lazy, entitled or just get off on having men subjugate themselves.

Why It’s Bullshit:

Let’s be honest: more often than not the men who complain most about this are the men who would prefer not to be approaching women themselves, whether due to approach anxiety, a fear of rejection or even just not being sure whether or not she’s interested. As a general rule, men who are able to approach women aren’t too concerned about why women won’t make the first move because they’re more than happy to make the move themselves.

Now to be sure: there are plenty of women out there who will happily be the aggressor when it comes to relationships. Women who are willing to come over and say “hey” to a guy they find attractive aren’t unicorns or the Loch Ness monster. Hell, they’re not even the okapi. They just tend to be discounted because of confirmation bias; they don’t “count” because they’re approaching other people or because they’re the exception that proves the rule or… or… or…

But for the sake of argument, let’s look at why women may not want to make the first move.

To start with: even in this day and age, women are socialized to be passive and submissive towards men. They’re taught to be accommodating, to not cause offense… and to not be aggressive or forward. And in fact, many men actively dislike women who are agressive sexually or romantically; they prefer the standard gender roles and find women who make the first move to be intimidating.

Another reason why she may not be making the first move? Because you can tell a lot about a guy by if and how he makes his approach. Does he have the confidence to walk up and make his interest known? Confidence after all is sexy indeed; the guy who can’t quite work up the guts to walk over and introduce himself isn’t winning any favors by trying to call her over by sheer willpower. At the same time, she can generally be assure that someone who makes the point of coming over to talk to her is interested in her; if she goes up to a guy to talk to him… well, is it that he’s genuinely interested, or is it that he’s willing to run with the fact that someone came to him and any warm body will do?

For that matter: she may not be coming up to talk to you because… well, she just isn’t that into you. Sorry. You might be able to spark her interest if you were to go over and show that you actually do bring a lot to the table, but since you didn’t, she certainly isn’t going to be able to read your mind.

But the biggest, most likely reason that she’s not making the first move? The odds are good that she’s just as nervous as you are.

I know, it goes against all those beliefs about how women are the choosers and have their pick of men but the fact of the matter is, women suffer from the same insecurities, fears and imagined worst-case-scenarios men do. Think of how many times you’ve looked over at a woman standing with all of her friends and wishing you could catch her alone so you wouldn’t have to deal with the entire group? Guess what? She’s feeling the same nervousness. Is she going to get mocked and shut down by your bros? Is that girl you’re standing with your girlfriend or just someone you happen to know? Is she going to have to fight them for your attention? Are you going to just make fun of her when you consider yourself out of her league?

Every single awkward moment you’ve imagined, every single way things could go wrong that you’ve war-gamed in advance that freezes you in your tracks?

She’s felt them too.

So Who Really Has The Power?

Well… nobody. And everybody.

To quote a wise man who knows a lot about the dynamics of relationships:

“Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.”

“Also, it’s a very bad idea to tell the queen you’re going to snitch to the king BEFORE you do it.”

The point being is that the reason why so many people think that women have all of the power in dating is because they see themselves as powerless. They cling to self-limiting beliefs that confirm all of their worst fears and insecurities and validate their decision not to risk being rejected. In fact, they’ve been rejected in advance and that their only hope is that you somehow struggle hard enough to “win” her approval.

It originates from a scarcity mentality, the idea that there are so few women out there that each time you get rejected, you are that much closer to being shut out of dating and relationships entirely. Instead of seeing every encounter with a woman as a chance to meet someone new and find out whether or not she’s someone you should be interested in, each potential approach is a last ditch effort to ward off loneliness and being emotionally bereft.

Men have just as much power in the dating scene as women do, if they only would reframe the interaction in their minds. Don’t see approaching a woman as supplicating or auditioning for the role of “suitor”, see it as evaluating whether she’s someone worth your getting to know. You don’t want to spend time desperately trying to make something happen in order to make her choose you, go out with the idea that you’re trying to decide whether you want to choose them.

Instead of clinging to the idea that women are “in charge” because of bullshit ideas about how easily they can get laid or what “all women” are attracted to, spend more time thinking about whether their interests match up with yours. Talk to her with the aim of finding out whether or not she’s as cool as she seems to be. Is she someone who has something going for her besides her looks? Does she live a life that you would like to be a part of? It’s easy enough to decide off the bat whether or not you’d want to be balls deep in her by the end of the night, but is she someone you could have an engaging conversation with after you’ve blown your load?

When you change the mental frame from “supplicant” to “chooser”, you go flip the script. You adopt an abundance mentality. You’re no longer going in with an unattractive aura of neediness, you’re someone with an attractive life and value to offer and you’re looking for a partner in crime to share it with. If she doesn’t like you, well, so the hell what? There are plenty of other women out there and you’re just one step closer to finding one who fits you.

And that attitude, my friends, is real power.

  1. which is to say, vaginas []
  2. and to be fair, there are plenty of women who suffer from this too. []