I (F, straight, cis, 29) am really fucking furious about something and I think I need a guy with lots of male-female insight to talk me off the ledge.
In a therapy session last night with my AMAZING sex therapist (whom I decided to start seeing a few months ago to work out some hangups I had about racial identity, body image, and sexuality), we sort of came to a bummer of a conclusion about a consistent dating hiccup I have.
Basically, I run into this problem where I’ll meet a guy, we’ll be flirty and friendly and I think maybe it could go somewhere, and then as soon as I make any sort of half-move beyond benign flirtation, he backs off with lightning speed. It’s really uncanny. And very disappointing and frustrating.
After recounting my most recent experience with this behavior and explaining how insane it is that this keeps happening and how it’s really starting to weigh on me, I wondered aloud if it could have anything to do with the fact that many of the guys in my social circles are White and I’m Black (biracial, actually), and on top of that, I’m fat (actually the national average, but that’s considered fat by cultural standards). I posited that these guys don’t even see me as a viable romantic option at all, just a “non-threatening” female that they can get something from without putting in any effort themselves–someone they don’t have to try with. Considering some of my male “friends” (I use the term loosely because of what I’m about to explain) are actually in relationships or married and still flirt with me and conveniently omit any mention of their partners when we spend time together (always platonically; I would never start something with a guy in a relationship), this seems like it could definitely be the reason. Their partners, if they did find out how these men talk to me (definitely in a way they wouldn’t interact with male friends), probably wouldn’t like it if I were a conventionally attractive White woman, but because I look the way I look they deem their flirtation harmless and safe.
I should also say that it’s not particularly difficult to find men who want to have sex with me, but as soon as anything more than that is on the table they put their hands up and back away like I might permanently injure them. Anyway, my therapist, who is also a Black woman, agreed that all of the above is totally a realistic possibility. I think hearing that from someone who looks like me, and not just a platitude of “No, you’re amazing, any guy would be lucky to have you, I honestly don’t understand why guys aren’t tripping over themselves and each other to get to you” (which I hear a lot from my female friends who don’t looks like me), was simultaneously refreshing and very depressing.
The thing is, there’s a PERSON on the other end of that flirtation. I think I’m pretty good at discerning the difference between casual flirting and something more pointed, and the times I’ve tried to nudge things in a more romantic direction have been the latter. I don’t think I’m hopeless at reading cues. These guys like getting attention from me and seem to enjoy my company. Until I indicate that I might actually want something from them, and then they WITHOUT FAIL gaslight me into thinking there was absolutely no flirtation or intent on their end. (I should say that the gaslighting happens when I call them out on it, which I don’t do often because every time I have I get the exact same shady-ass response. And, by the way, I have witnesses who attest to these guys’ flirtatious behavior.)
I hope what I’ve outlined so far is comprehensible. I’m clearly a ball of angry, anxious, sad, lonely energy. I don’t even know if I have a question, but I’d love to hear your take on why men do this and whether you think I’m totally crazy for being so fucking over it all. I’m so sick of being treated like my feelings don’t matter, and then being told that the things I’m feeling were based on nothing to begin with. I’m a writer by profession, so maybe I just need to write a book about this or something so people will believe me and maybe even start holding men more accountable. I don’t know. I feel like my anger about this is making me bitter and less open to the men who I’m sure do exist out there who would be open to–or even thrilled!–to date me. I don’t want to close myself off to them, but experiencing this same exciting-then-ultimately-disappointing interaction over and over is really starting to break me.
Thanks in advance,
Black Ladies Have Feelings Too
P.S. My amazing sex therapist also brought up the good point that it would be worth expanding my social circles, and I agree. That said, I’m stuck in my city for work and obviously the pandemic has put a damper on major socializing efforts. I do have a very diverse group of friends, but our industry is pretty overwhelmingly White and image-conscious. (Can you guess which industry I’m talking about?) I also don’t date using apps anymore because I have done that a TON in the past and I’m burnt out; plus, they’re super racist and that makes me feel very icky and I’m allowed to choose to avoid situations that make me feel that way.
Before we get started, BLHFT, I want to give my standard disclaimer: I’m a cis, hetero white guy. As a result, I’m not going to have the same perspective or experiences on the intersection of race and gender that a BIPOC woman would, and there’re likely going to be nuances that I wouldn’t immediately think of or recognize. As such, I’d love for my female readers — especially women of color — to share their perspective in the comments.
So with that in mind: I think that you’re right. I think there’s a certain amount of “this person is safe to flirt with because nothing could possibly happen” going on here, and unfortunately, I think that quite a bit of it comes down to race and weight. Now, some of this could sound mystifying; why would dudes — straight, white dudes, specifically — be flirting with you specifically because they assume nothing could happen? Wouldn’t the point of flirting be moving things towards sexytimes?
Well… not always.
There’re two general types of flirting: flirting with and without intent. Flirting with intent is fairly self-evident; the whole point is to build attraction and move things towards a less platonic dimension. Flirting without intent, on the other hand, is a somewhat different beast. The people who flirt without intent (that is, they don’t have any intent to take things further than just flirting) do so for a number of reasons. The most common reason is that flirting is fun, and doesn’t necessarily need to lead anywhere. People can and often do flirt with one another just because they enjoy the banter and the back-and-forth of it, even though there’s a tacit acknowledgement that this is all there is and all there’s likely to be.
However, there’re also folks who flirt without intent because they like the charge they get from knowing others still find them attractive. This behavior knows neither gender nor sexuality; straight, gay, bi and pan folks do it, cis, trans and nonbinary folks do it, and it can often be an incredibly confusing and frustrating experience. There’re straight dudes who will flirt with gay dudes, despite not being interested in them, straight women who’ll flirt with men despite being in a monogamous relationship and so on. The problem here is that the folks who’re flirting without intent… usually aren’t making a point of letting the folks they’re flirting with know what’s up. That, after all, would change the dynamic of the flirting and thus ruin the game. So as a result, you have people who are flirting in good faith, under the assumption that this other person is interested in them… only to make a move and have them pull back like “Woaaaah, who said anything about doing stuff?”
(That being said: I suspect that at least a couple of the dudes flirting with you probably are attracted to you, but haven’t gotten past the social messaging bullshit around dating fat women. They may be down to clown, but only if nobody knows about it. Which is its own ball of dehumanizing bullshit.)
And part of what’s especially frustrating for people on the receiving end of this behavior — people like you, BLHFT — is that folks who flirt like this will often deliberately choose people they’re not attracted to. They might rationalize it to themselves as “look at how open-minded I am,” but part of the point is that because they’re unattracted to their flirting partners, they feel free to be to flirt in ways they might not if the stakes were “real”. After all, if they flirt with someone they wanted to hook up with and it didn’t work… well, they just burned that connection didn’t they? But with someone who’s “safe”? Sky’s the limit because hey, who cares if it doesn’t work out. Paradoxically, that exact attitude is part of why the person being flirted with would assume that this person is flirting with intent and gets frustrated and angry to find out that they were misled.
As an aside: as someone who does recommend that people treat flirting as practice… one of the things to recognize is that there’s a difference between “practice” and “flirting with someone who doesn’t know you’re not interested in them”. It’s the difference between a pair of boxers sparring for practice and arranging a match with someone who isn’t a challenge, purely for hype; one is mutually agreed upon, the other is using another person to boost your own profile and ego. The point of flirting for practice is to not get invested in the outcome, so you can relax instead of analyzing every micro-expression for meaning. If it works out, excellent; if it doesn’t… well, hey, it’s practice, so don’t get bent out of shape about it. Learn from it, try again some other time.
Now, for the bad news: unfortunately, there’s not really much that you can do. Assholes are gonna ass, and as long as they can get what they want — the thrill of someone finding them attractive — then there’s no real incentive for them to stop. The problem, of course, is how many of them play it off like they’re serious right up until you reciprocate. While it’s a curious game and the only way to win is not to play… it can be difficult to tell that it’s a game in the first place. I think in this case, the best option is to assume that your “friends” and colleagues who pull this aren’t serious… unless or until they can actually demonstrate their sincerity. If and only if they do so, would I say that you could start flirting back.
I think there’s also a benefit to taking a break and deciding that you’re closed for business (as it were) for a while. Dating can be frustrating enough; it’s that much worse when folks are actively fucking with you and then gaslighting you when you call them out on it. Taking a break gives you a chance to recoup your energy, let your frustrations fade and keep you from developing a callus on your soul. Prioritizing yourself for a bit can be helpful, both as self-care and also giving yourself the emotional space to recalibrate your Spidey-sense to better detect the games-players out there.
I also think that your therapist is correct: it’s well worth expanding your social circle, especially if your industry “friends” are playing games like this. While the ongoing pandemic does make it trickier, it’s still possible to socialize and find groups and organizations that are not only your speed, but have folks who don’t treat their single friends like dopamine dispensers. It also means you’re more likely to find folks who do want to date someone awesome like you, instead of just faking it for shits and giggles. You deserve better than that and you know what you’re worth. So give yourself time, find a better class of friend and when you’re ready, go out and get what you’re worth.
So I just finished reading your recent post debunking the idea that women only want to date rich buff alpha bros. I completely agreed with the point you made, but it reminded me of a semi-related, more nuanced question I have had about my own dating life that I’d like your take on: do women mostly go for guys with certain personality types when seeking casual sex/friends-with-benefits?
I want more sexual variety and sexual relationships in my life. I’d be thrilled to have a few friends-with-benefits or casual relationships where, yes, we’re actually friends, but also sex is a major component of the relationship. The thing is, the last time I tried meeting women for these purposes, it didn’t lead to much — few messages, even fewer dates, and nothing that went beyond the second date. This was despite me putting a lot of effort into my profile, reading through your archives, etc.
I worry that my personality held me back. I hate parties and clubs, and at bars I prefer to find a quiet corner to chat rather than be in the middle of things. My idea of a fun Saturday night is playing board games with friends or discussing science and politics over cocktails. And while I have a few close friends (most long-distance at this point due to moves), I don’t have much of a IRL social circle where I live.
I’m simply not the kind of guy who radiates charisma, organically meets a ton of varied and interesting people, or will take dates on fun adventures and wild nights through the city.
I’m confident I have attractive qualities, like kindness, financial stability, and intelligence, but they’re more “boyfriend material” traits than “sexy friends-with-benefits” traits. I’m not saying women want their friends-with-benefits to be stupid assholes, obviously, but just that merely being kind on its own isn’t going to do much to attract a woman looking for something more casual and sexual rather than a long-term partner.
I posted my online dating profile in multiple mixed-gendered communities to get feedback, and I was told that sweet, introverted, nerdy guys looking for FWB are a dime a dozen and that women want adventures and excitement from casual relationships.
The thing is, I’m pretty content with who I am. I’d be unhappy having to maintain a giant social circle or going out clubbing every weekend, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Sometimes I wish I was more charming or charismatic, but again I don’t see anything wrong with being a bit on the awkward and quiet side. But does this mean it will be difficult for me to be attractive to women seeking more casual relationships? To be a bit hyperbolic, am I doomed to a life of sexual boredom and frustration because I’m not “exciting” and “fun” enough?
(I guess I should add that I’m polyamorous, which does making meeting people a bit harder, but I had similar experiences even when I was single so I don’t think it’s a major factor)
Looking For More
There’re a couple things going on here, LFM. First and foremost: yes, being poly means that you’re going to have a more restricted pool of potential partners. Lots of folks, even people looking for friends with benefits, just don’t want to do the poly thing. They may not trust that the supposedly poly person isn’t cheating, they may feel like being in a poly relationship means they’re not as special, or it just may be more of a logistical nightmare than they’re willing to deal with.
So that, in and of itself, is something that you’re gonna have to just accept as part and parcel of the poly experience.
However, the bigger issue at hand is the assumption that folks who are looking for casual sex or an FWB arrangement are all wild and crazy party people who want to go on amazing adventures. There’re plenty of low-key, introverted folks who like to bang, but don’t necessarily want commitment or to party all the time. It’s easier to find the more outgoing club types, but that’s mostly because they’re more visible and more in alignment with the stereotype of who supposedly goes for casual sex or FWB relationships. The quiet, board-game types are out there, but they aren’t as noticeable because… well, because everyone keeps looking for the stereotype.
Yes, while there’re party animals out there who want to rock and roll all night and party every day, who hit the clubs looking for threesomes, foursomes and moresomes… those aren’t the only folks who like casual sex. They’re not even the majority. Hell, some of the most sex-getting-est dudes I know — who have a lot of casual sex (or who have multiple relationships, or both, for that matter) tend to be introverts who prefer nights at home or low-key dates. Some of the women I know who had the wildest, craziest sexual adventures were quiet and sweet — folks you would assume were natural kindergarten teachers who would be into crafts and cottagecore, and yet had strings of partners that would make your head spin.
The same goes with being “fun” or “exciting”. This doesn’t automatically mean being wild or outgoing. Sometimes what makes you exciting is the fact that you’re the person who really gets somebody or who sees the world from a different perspective than they do and you have amazing conversations. There’re lots of different ways of being attractive or charming. Being charismatic doesn’t mean you’re the loudest or most visible person in the room. An amazing date isn’t necessarily going bar hopping, doing shots, riding mechanical bulls and running from the cops; sometimes an amazing date is going to a museum and an Oddities and Curiosities expo to look at all the preserved bugs and nifty animal skulls. Or it might be making pizza and cocktails at home and having a bad movie marathon while you cuddle on the couch.
Being someone who likes quiet nights and doesn’t go clubbing doesn’t mean that you’re not going to find FWBs or casual relationships; it just means that you should be looking for someone who aligns with your interests and lifestyle.
I suspect that you — like the forums you were consulting — may be falling into the trap of looking for the wrong folks because they align with what you think the FWB-havers are like. The problem inherent to this approach is that you’re advertising yourself to the wrong market. To paraphrase the sage, you can be the sweetest, juiciest peach in the world, but some folks just don’t like peaches and you’re not gonna change their minds. You want to be looking for the folks who actually like peaches.
Are there women who want adventures and excitement from their casual relationships? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t women who are sweet, introverted and nerdy who also want casual or no-strings relationships. Those should be the folks you’re looking for… and to do that, you should be making sure that those are the ones who your profile appeals to.
Now part of the problem may well be how you’re going about trying to find a FWB. If you’re advertising on dating apps as looking for something casual or no strings, then you’re more likely to find folks who are looking for wild-and-crazy-swing-from-the chandeliers type of flings without strings. Those are fuckbuddy relationships, where sex is the main — or possibly only — reason for the relationship. But the key to FWB relationships is that they’re friendships… it’s right there in the name. So you may be better off looking for friends who are in line with what you want. That means that yes, you will need to actually improve your social circle and start working on finding friends who aren’t long distance. If you want friends with benefits, then to get the benefits, you need to find friends. There’s not really a way of skipping that step.
One of the things I always suggest to folks looking to build out their social circle is to find their people first; look for other folks who like many of the things you do, make connections and even start hosting events that would bring them all to you. There’s a lot to be said for having a board game night and getting people together to play Betrayal at House on the Hill or Pandemic Legacy. That makes it that much easier to find the folks who might also be into something low-key with you.
Another thing you may want to consider is to focus on the overlap in your particular Venn diagram and start making connections with the local poly community in your area. While poly get togethers aren’t meat markets, they are a great place to network and mingle with like-minded folks who have similar relationship styles and similar interests. You’re more likely to meet people who not only get the whole poly thing (they opted in already, obviously) but who might be more receptive to a FWB relationship with you. And, of course, there’re plenty of sweet, introverted nerds in the poly community as well.
Just remember: people are wide and varied, and not easily sorted into clean and convenient categories. The quiet homebody can be an unexpected tigress in the sack if you give her half a chance; the wild party girl can be incredibly sweet, considerate and thoughtful and looking for something committed with a special guy. Instead of focusing on the stereotype, look for the folks you’d be compatible with and work from there. People can and often do surprise you if you give them a chance. But first you have to give them that chance.