Feminism and Dating

Originally posted to MsMcranty Pants Tumblr 03/11/2014 http://msmcrantypants.tumblr.com/

EDIT: I’ve had a few interesting dating adventures since this post, which all ended in me deciding that my single life was way more fun (and way less difficult) than any romantic relationship. At least with anyone I’ve met so far. Also since I posted this I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, come out as genderqueer and pansexual and have ‘come out’ as autistic (honestly, that was just as scary as coming out as queer), so when you add study and kids to all of that, my life is quite complicated enough! I also strongly believe that our society places far too much emphasis on romantic relationships. Since MRA trolls started finding me online, I’m regularly told that I’ll “never find someone if I don’t calm down” and so on. Or that the reason I’m a feminist to start with is because I can’t get a man. Both arguments completely miss the point.

I. Don’t. Care.

I’ve spent the last few years working on my insecurities and unpicking that social messaging to get to where I am now – single, free, and damn happy about it. And no person, anywhere – not even Felicia Day – is worth giving up my feminism for.

*******

I have recently been dipping my toe in the scary, scary world of Tinder. (Wait, that’s three things I swore I’d never do. There’s a pattern emerging here…) Overall, it was less terrifying than I expected. I’ve had some great discussions, with polite and intelligent people, and while they haven’t gone any further than online chatting, it’s certainly been interesting. If I’m honest, I had expected more innuendo and less actual conversation – and a lot more feminist baiting. So far there have only been a couple of those, and it’s easy enough to just ‘unmatch’ someone if they’re being a pain.

I ended up actually meeting with someone the other night (yes, I know, I’m incredibly impressed with my bravery), and it was this meeting that sparked the “someone in my life said…” moment that I absolutely have to blog about. No, it was not the person I met who said the Thing. It was someone close to me I was talking to just before I went on my ‘date’.

In the course of this conversation, where I was confessing my extreme nervousness about meeting a new person (love that social anxiety), I mentioned that I was now friends with this person on Facebook. Seemed like no big deal to me. In fact, it kind of makes sense that you’d want to get a peek into someone’s life before you met them, right? But this information was met with a small level of disbelief.

“Wait, he’s friends with you on Facebook – he sees what you post there – and he’s still going to meet you?”

It took me a second to regain the power of speech. My face must have betrayed my confusion, because they continued.

“You know, all those political posts and things you put up, they’re pretty angry.”

At this point my heart sank a little. Yes, I post a lot about feminism and politics, and yes, I do enjoy a bit of Abbott bashing. Okay, a lot of Abbott bashing. And this attitude isn’t new to me. Plenty of people find my passion for politics and feminism exhausting. They find it hard to believe that I enjoy learning, reading about and discussing these issues, even when I’m finding it frustrating. They confuse that frustration and passion with depression and anger. I’m used to this. What I haven’t come across before was this level of sheer disbelief that a man would actually want to meet a woman like me. Ugh.

But it got better.

I mentioned my blog. The guy I was meeting has read it (or he said he did). Now, I’m perfectly prepared to believe that this was not a selling point, and I’m fine with that. But to the person I was talking to, this was absolutely flabbergasting.

“Wow, really?! And he’s still talking to you?!”

This continued for some minutes, while I struggled to find words through my utter disblief that someone would not only voice these thoughts, but think it was perfectly reasonable to do so. In the end, the only way I could get them to make sense of this truly astonishing circumstance was by telling them he was only interested in being friends.

By this point I was starting to get more than a little annoyed. And they were getting more than a little amused. So I did what any good feminist would do.

I chickened out, laughed it off and changed the subject.

Fortunately, I had a great evening, some great conversation and nobody died of boredom. But the conversation that happened beforehand kept bumping around in my head, and the more it did, the more ridiculous it sounded and the more annoyed I got.

Now, I’m not just annoyed with the person I was talking to. To be honest, I’m not even hugely surprised. I am, however, incredibly frustrated that we still live in a world where that kind of attitude is considered normal and appropriate. I’m frustrated that I felt, at the time, that I couldn’t call them on it, because I would have ended up proving the insinuation that I am, essentially, an angry, bitter, humourless feminist who no one in their right mind would want to meet. Or, more accurately, who no man in his right mind would ever want to meet unless it was just as friends.

I’m not going to say I haven’t wondered, at times, if they were right. And I’m not going to say I haven’t wondered if I should rein in my enthusiasm, so that I don’t end up scaring people away. I’m pretty comfortable with my awesome single self, but I’m not going to say that the idea of a relationship doesn’t appeal. What if I miss out on someone great because they can’t see past my political ranting to the other awesome stuff that adds up to me?

My conclusion, after this weekend, can be best summed up by Sam Vimes, my favourite literary character of all time:

“Arseholes to the lot of them.”

I have spent my life trying to temper my passion for politics and feminism because the people around me find it difficult to deal with. And I can respect that not everyone wants to talk about those things all the time. Heck, I don’t want to talk about them all the time. But they are important to me, and I’m not going to change that in order to get a partner. One, because if I have to change something that important for someone, then it’s not worth it. Two, because I’m willing to give people in general more credit than that. Shocking as some people seem to find this, it is possible for ‘normal people’ to give a shit about politics and feminism. And it is possible for ‘normal people’ to be attracted to people who give a shit about these things. Three, if no one is talking about these things, then this attitude will never, ever change. And that’s not something I want to contemplate.

Being a passionate feminist in my world isn’t always simple. Obviously, there are places where it is much harder. No one threatens to stone me if I speak out, for example. But I still run the risk of not only verbal abuse and social consequences, but actual physical violence. There are some subjects it’s easier not to discuss. Dating and relationships are complicated. I’ve had some truly ridiculous opinions thrown my way, especially since I started the Tinder experiment.

“You’re on Tinder? How does that work, if you’re a feminist”
“Oh, so you’re gay?”
“I guess you’ll be ordering the crazy cat lady starter kit any day now.”
“It’s a good thing you had kids early. Being single can be pretty hard when you get older.”

*epic facepalm*

This is just a small sample – from people in my real life, and people online. Apparently I’m not allowed to want a relationship beyond friendship any more. Or kids, for that matter. Some people still seem to think my future wants (or not wants) are open for examination. And often they’re people I don’t know very well, or people I’ve come across online.

“You’re not a proper single mum if you don’t have them all the time.”
“If you want a relationship, you’ll have to have more kids, that’s just the way it works.”
“If you don’t want any more of your own, you’ll have to accept someone who already has them.”
“Oh, you definitely shouldn’t have more kids. You need some independence now.”

It’s lucky I already know what I want – and that I’m not afraid to stand by that – because it’s easier to avoid the discussion than deal with the ridiculous ideas that we still have as a society about what (usually hetero) relationships have to include. And yes, all these people assumed that I’ll be getting involved with men, even the person who jokingly asked if I’m gay.**

So this is what I’ve learned from my first experiment with the idea of dating. While I was still in the ‘sorting out my issues’ phase, people were perfectly happy to accept that I was too messed up to worry about relationships or what they include. In fact, if they offered advice, it was strictly along the lines of “take your time, don’t rush into anything”, which, to be fair, was very good advice.

But now that I’m putting myself out there, albeit very tentatively, this part of my personal life is apparently up for assessment. By everyone. People close to me mean well, I know. They don’t want to see me hurt again, and I love them for caring, but I absolutely don’t love the way they express it. And as for the others, it seems to be socially acceptable to offer opinions on the personal lives of people you hardly know. Why?

As far as I can figure – and I’m no expert – it seems to be linked to our obsession with a ‘traditional’ type of relationship. Never mind that more and more people are standing up and saying, “no, actually, that’s not the way I relate to people”. In my world, at least, people are still heavily invested in the white picket fence, the wedding, in Mummy staying home with the babies while Daddy earns a wage and pays the mortgage. This kind of relationship might suit many people, and that’s fine, but it becomes a problem when people assume it is the only real option. The people giving me advice seem to think there are only two options here: stay single and feminist away, or get over my ‘obsession’ and find a nice fella to settle down with.

I’m pretty sure there’s not just a third option, but a hundred others as well. Fortunately for me, I have a few people in my life who understand that, and who don’t feel the need to change me (or anyone else, for that matter) ‘for my own good’. And unfortunately for those poor souls whose advice has prompted this post, I have no intention of giving up on the feminism (or the Abbott bashing…). The fact that it is still considered okay to have these conversations only encourages me to keep feministing.

One good thing has come out of all this. Following this conversation, I realised just how much I am still trying to conform to other people’s ideas of how a ‘normal’ person should act, even when there’s nobody around to witness it. I am still trying to fit into places I don’t feel comfortable in. I know, I know, some of you will find that hard to believe. But there are plenty of times – more than I care to admit – when I choose the ‘safe’ option, instead of the fun option, or instead of the ‘me’ option. And if I’m going to cop this kind of criticism anyway, I might as well be enjoying myself. So I am going to take Sam Vimes’s advice.

Well, here we are. One blog post, three things I told myself I wouldn’t do. I’m hoping, next time, to get back to more general issues rather than ranting about my personal life, but it’s clear I can’t make any promises.

Rant over xo

**This assumption was super awkward at the time I wrote this blog, since I wasn’t yet ‘out’ as queer…

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2014. Acknowledge sources when sharing.

Image from http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/feminism-is-a-verb/ – check out Everyday Feminism, they’re a great intersectional website.

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