Valentine’s Day can be a fraught occasion for couples, but if you’re single, the pressure is even worse. Back in 1995, single women looking for help in navigating the dating landscape could turn to the book “The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right,” which issued straightforward instructions like “Let Him Take the Lead” and “Don’t Rush Into Sex.” “The Rules” was mocked by some women for its seemingly antiquated, anti-feminist messages, but it clearly spoke to the many readers who turned it into a surprise bestseller.
Today, apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge have utterly transformed dating, raising questions about authenticity and honesty that didn’t exist before the internet. But social norms haven’t caught up to the challenge. Instead, an entirely new vocabulary has emerged to describe the often-bewildering experience of finding a romantic partner, from catfishing (creating a false online identity) to breadcrumbing (sending flirtatious, noncommittal messages) to ghosting (going silent to end a relationship).
Yet people still crave rules and norms. Without them, we end up with unsatisfying solutions like Tinder’s recently announced plan to add a “panic button” to its dating app, so that people can alert friends if their date is going poorly or if they feel they’re at risk of being physically (rather than merely emotionally) harmed.
Enter Reddit, the self-described “front page of the internet,” which hosts more than a million discussion forums, including one devoted to Female Dating Strategy (FDS). With some 50,000 members, FDS is billed as “the first and only all-women dating subreddit,” where participants anonymously “discuss effective dating strategies for women who want to take control of their dating lives.”
Today’s Tinderella must swipe through a lot of ugly profiles to find her prince.
Judging by their personal disclosures, FDSers are a diverse lot. Women from around the world, and from different racial, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, take part in the discussions. Contributors talk frankly about their sex lives, their breakups, their divorces and their dates—and some of the conversations are not for the prudish.
Newcomers are encouraged to read the extensive FDS Handbook, which includes principles such as “Be a High-Value Woman,” “Don’t Have Sex Before Commitment” and “We Have the Responsibility to Be Ruthless in Our Evaluation of Men.” Although the last principle sounds harsh, it’s actually practical advice in the age of dating apps. Today’s Tinderella must swipe through a lot of ugly profiles to find her prince. “We do ourselves and humanity no favors allowing men to exhibit subpar behavior and be rewarded with our attention. Thus, be ruthless in cutting off men who add no value to your life,” the FDS Handbook states.
Men in other Reddit forums are often highly critical of FDS women, describing them as man-hating or gold-diggers. It’s true that some of the FDS conversations about men can be severe. For example, the site distinguishes between “low-value men” (LVM) and “high-value men” (HVM). LVMs do things like lie about wanting a serious relationship when they only want sex (“future-faking”), refuse to make an effort to plan proper dates or are simply not financially independent, responsible adults.
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But most of the tough love is directed by women at one another. There might be a lot of LVMs, according to Female Dating Strategy, but there are also far too many women willing to tolerate bad behavior from them. Regular contributors are adept at shutting down newcomers who spend more time complaining about the men in their lives than exploring why they chose them in the first place.
In other words, these women have high expectations for men, but they also set high standards for themselves. As one contributor noted recently, “Part of being a bad b***h is leveling up: professionally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. We don’t ask anything of our potential partners that we haven’t already asked of ourselves ten times over.”
The strategies that FDSers endorse, particularly for online dating, are backed by scientific research. In a 2010 study in the journal Computer Science by the data scientist
and colleagues, women were found to be more selective than men when it comes to assessing potential suitors and more distrustful of men who didn’t respect the preferences that women stated for a match. But choosing wisely based on what someone’s profile says about them isn’t easy. Everyone lies: The Cornell University communications researchers
found that men tend to lie about their height and women about their weight. Everyone is offering only selective disclosures about themselves.
That turns out to be a rational strategy. A 2007 study by
in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology found that when it comes to online dating, “although people believe that learning more about others leads to greater liking, more information about others leads, on average, to less liking.” In other words, the more ambiguous a person’s profile is, the more likely it is that interested potential matches will have to fill in the blanks with their best guesses.
Questioning, debating and sometimes rewriting the rules of dating in real time, as the women on FDS are doing, might seem like a romance-killer. In fact, by questioning the expectations that many men bring to online dating—such as the idea that it’s acceptable to send a woman unsolicited pictures of their genitalia—FDS is exerting a traditional, civilizing influence on a nontraditional and largely uncivilized landscape. If love is a battlefield, communities like Female Dating Strategy are trying to better arm some of the combatants.
—Ms. Rosen is senior writer at Commentary and a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia.
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