How have we evolved to a point where physical contact is a “nice to have” and not a must if you are attracted to someone?
If you’ve spent any amount of time on dating apps, you’ve probably encountered a pen pal or two.
For those who haven’t, a pen pal is a serial texter – someone who chats with you endlessly but never actually commits to a date. This had me wondering: how have we evolved to a point where physical contact is a “nice to have” and not a must if you are attracted to someone? My conclusion is these men never wanted to date in the first place – they’re just looking for someone to stroke their egos.
I’ve been in this situation more times than I’d care to admit. Each time it happened, I’d think something would be different, but then reality hits. While I’ve been tempted to give these serial texters an ultimatum – “So I’m here to date, not chat. What about you?” – I usually just send the loudest message: silence. To console myself, I liken my silence to watching a bad movie: I know it’s bad, but I watch it anyway. And there goes two hours (or days or weeks…) of my life that I’m never getting back.
I should mention that I’ve had success in landing dates off of various apps (Hinge is my main squeeze at the moment). And they work for plenty of other people too. According to eharmony.ca, 20 per cent of current, committed relationships began online and seven percent of marriages in 2015 were between couples that met on a dating site.
Despite this, my experiences and those of my friends speak to the other side of those stats. When you’re looking to actually use dating apps for, umm… dating (call me crazy), hookups or friends-with-benefits, an encounter with a serial texter that turns into the novel you never wanted to write is frustrating to say the least.
There are many examples I could give but one that sticks out is a guy I was talking to back and forth for a week or so. We covered off all the usual things, like what we did for a living, what we like to do for fun on the weekend and what our favourite positions are. He hinted that he’d never dated a woman 10 years older than him before, and then finally asked me if I’d like to meet up, (I’m often the first one to ask a guy out for a drink so found his confidence refreshing.)
He lived out of town but said he didn’t mind driving in to the city to meet up with me. We agreed to meet for a coffee on a Sunday morning instead of a drink. Not being a morning person but willing to give it a shot, I dragged myself out of the house. After waiting at the coffee shop for 10 minutes, I decided to text him (in hindsight, I wish I’d done that BEFORE I left my house… or got out of bed). He replied, “Oh yeah, that was this morning… whoops. I totally forgot.”
I’m usually a pretty forgiving person but getting stood up was bad enough – getting stood up in the MORNING was a new low. Needless to say, I put that pen pal to rest. Fast forward a few months and who do I see likes me on Hinge? The same dude. I quickly tapped ‘x’ to shut that one down. There will be no pen pal volume two with him.
I’ve heard countless similar stories from my hetero female friends and gay male friends. One of my girlfriends went on a date and then hooked up with the guy on another evening. In the weeks that followed, he strung her along with back-and -forth texts before eventually revealing the reason they couldn’t meet again. He sent her a picture of himself, apparently battered and bruised by his ex-girlfriend, with whom he was fighting in court over a domestic dispute.
Why was he a) meeting up with her in the first place, and b) continuing to talk to her during such a stressful situation? Initially she thought he was going through a difficult times and perhaps wasn’t ready for dating. But that theory was soon dispelled when he popped up on my Bumble deck. Clearly my friend was only a virtual shoulder to cry on.
After telling her that he needed some time to think, she never heard from him again.
In another case, one of my gay friends was chatting on Grindr about the usual stuff, like where they liked to hang out in the city and what they like to do for fun. Thinking it was leading to a date, my friend was instead bombarded with thirst pics – shirtless bathroom selfies. My friend soon realized the guy was looking for an ego boost, not a date.
With a lot of my pen pals, there has been one big commonality: sexting. I never thought anything of it until I started to ask guys about the pen pal phenomenon and if they’d experienced it with women. While pretty much all the men I asked said they hadn’t encountered serial texters, one guy told me that by sexting, I was taking away the chase. He said that it leaves men with no reason to meet up in real life because they got what they wanted already. And, besides, sex in real life rarely matches the fantasy spewing from the screen. He could have a point, but are men’s egos really this fragile? And don’t they want the real thing, not just some cyber fantasy?
Maybe dating apps are really just a means to stroke egos – particularly male egos. In a world where women post endless selfies and videos of Saturday-night antics, we’re constantly being complimented and validated for the way we look and it boosts our confidence. Some men are definitely guilty of this, but it isn’t as common (at least among the straight men I know) for their friends to compliment the way they look, so perhaps they seek out flattery on dating apps.
In the past, men could chat up women in a bar just to get a dose of flattery, but now they can chat with multiple women without ever leaving their bedrooms.
I haven’t given up on dating apps yet, but I’m saving my words for someone who actually wants to hear them in person.