All the oppressive things we already have to deal with in our material world only become amplified in the virtual world.
I quit, y’all. I put in a solid few years on dating apps and I’ve decided that I’m not carrying them with me into 2019. This isn’t to denounce dating apps as being completely useless or frivolous or anything of the sort. Plenty of people enjoy this method of meeting others and have had successful experiences with it. I am not one of those people, and it goes beyond the struggles I wrote about when I covered why dating while on the asexuality spectrum is so complicated and difficult.
I was never in this to seek out romance or a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship. I was also never in this for one-night stands or casual hook-ups. These are positions that I make abundantly clear in my profile, but it still seems to confuse the vast majority of people—that is, the ones who even bother to read it. Dating is not a monolithic experience or set of goals. Some people date with the objective of finding a lifemate, some date because they like starting and ending relationships, others date for consistent access to sexual escapades, others date because they enjoy meeting new people, and the worst people are nothing more than emotional vampires, parasites, and predators who use dating as a way to carry out their abuses on as many people as possible. I want dating for myself to be about genuinely connecting with someone, enjoying their company, and being intentional about cultivating intimacy in an ethical, healthy, reciprocal exchange that is not monogamous or romantic (at least in the rigid, traditional sense), but queerplatonic in nature.
I recognize that this is not the way most people want to date. This is not how we have been socialized to think about dating, and this is why I am always upfront about it and it’s why I always leave room for an open conversation about my wants, needs, and boundaries, as well as theirs. The issue is that, I’d say 98% of the time, we never make it to the point where this conversation can be brought up because a huge percentage of the people I’ve interacted with on dating apps are absolutely abysmal at the art of conversation to begin with. I’m visible to, have interacted with, and sought out people of all genders, sexualities, and orientations, as well as those without gender, who are interested in people of my gender, but the vast majority of the harassment, abusive messages, inconsiderate treatment, and traumatic exchanges I’ve had have been with cis straight men. Surprise, surprise. Sometimes, people just don’t click, and that’s not at all what my complaint is about. Even though things with numerous people who aren’t cis straight men have fizzled out in one way or another, these people have at least been nice to talk to for as long as it lasted.
Who do I talk to about conducting a sociolinguistic study on how gender impacts the way we approach texting and online messaging? I can’t be the only one who recognizes that cis straight men are notoriously bad at it. There have been studies about gender differences in verbal communication, including ones which debunk the myth that women talk more and highlight just how much men interrupt other people. However, these studies and the psychology articles I’ve read on this subjects are cisnormative, heteronormative, and biological essentialist, with most attributing any findings to the differences in how men and women are “hardwired” to interact with the world rather than considering the impact of gender cultivation and environmental factors. A recent study has reinforced what had long been speculated by people of color, that dating apps amplify sexual racism, but as far as I can tell from my own Googling, there isn’t anything that comprehensively analyzes how gendered expectations and permissions play out in online messaging and texting, and particularly how it impacts our experiences on dating apps.
I know my visible identities as well as how I describe myself in my profile impact my experience. I am unambiguously Black, fat, and formally educated with my Masters degree listed, as well as my relevant interests. There are many other things that describe me and that I have included for users to see, but I believe these three things have been the major factors in my experiences because they are usually the things that are focused on in the unsavory messages I’ve received and interactions I’ve had. Allow me to enumerate them for you in an extensive, but far from complete, look at many of the initial messages and brief interactions I’ve had throughout the years.
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There are some experiences that seem to be commonly shared amongst most non-men, as almost all of the people I have talked to about this have had similar experiences. Like the frustration with men who refuse to put any effort into their profiles. Their response to every opportunity to say something interesting about themselves or provide conversation starters is, “Just ask.” Moreover, when they message me, they don’t do any real work to maintain a conversation because they expect that responsibility to fall on me, which is nothing more than yet another form of emotional labor expected of non-men. They sometimes even proactively declare their conversational laziness on their profiles with variations of, “I’m not going to send you a freaking essay. You have a problem if you get upset at me if I just send ‘hey’ or ‘what’s up’ and nothing else.”
There are the guys who ask me to meet up with them immediately after connecting or ask me on dates to movies that don’t come out until next year after only five minutes of messaging and before they’ve even asked my name. There are the guys who think that “Oh, this app is giving me a hard time. Can we message on Snapchat instead?” as a transparent attempt to send dick pics is actually going to fool me. There are those who ask me questions that have already been explicitly answered in my profile, which lets me know they didn’t read it. There are the condescending, petulant assholes who get upset when I tell them not to call me overly-familiar, infantilizing pet names because they make me uncomfortable and I don’t like them. And, of course, there are the immature, boob-obsessed, walking migraines who are never in short supply. At a certain point, I stopped including photos with cleavage in order avoid getting messages about my breasts. It didn’t work.
Someone once ghosted me because I asked them about their interests after they only wanted to trade “Hey, how’s your day?” messages back and forth for a week. Another person threw a mini-tantrum before ghosting me when I refused to send him a special Just For Him selfie and suggested he take one from Instagram instead. I’ve had predatory jackasses get offended when I wouldn’t immediately give them personal information, like my last name or where I live. Something I refuse to do for obvious safety reasons, but also because I have had multiple guys stalk me on Instagram after not matching with me on Tinder. I stopped using the app after noticing this pattern.
These are all things that any given non-man might experience on any given day, especially those who present as or are assumed to be women. In addition to these things, I also experience harassment based on specific parts of my identity that signify me as a marginalized individual—my Blackness and my fatness—as well as my status as a Black woman with an advanced degree and a career in writing and editing things related to social justice. I’ve had racist fetishists compare me to food items and try to initiate conversations with all possible variations of, “I’ve never fucked a Black girl before.” The tame version of this is: “Please say you like white guys.” The more vulgar version of this is: “Want twelve inches of white cock?”
My brilliant Managing Editor, Lara Witt, told me, “Black women who date online are braver than the troops,” and she’s never steered me wrong. As a neat bonus, I’ve also been inundated with fat fetishists who assume that I will take their overt sexualization of my body type as a compliment rather than the thinly-veiled fatphobia that it is, and that I will not take offense to their denigrating of other women’s bodies. Many also assume that I will be insecure about my weight simply because I state that I am fat and transparently expect me to be grateful for their harassment because they assume I’m starved for attention. My lack of appreciation often results in them insulting me.
And, of course, oftentimes the racial fetishism and fat fetishism go hand in hand. The link between anti-Blackness and fatphobia has deep, historical roots, which puts fat, Black womxn and femmes in a position where both our fatness and our Blackness become the focus for racist fetishists who conceive of these things as markers of our sexual deviance and availability, and as exoticisms to be experienced for their pleasure.
One of my least favorite interactions went low key viral this year, when a guy tried his best to convince me he knew a lot about Astrophysics. Well, maybe not his best, as he failed to Google a single thing before trying to prove his intellectual prowess to me about something I listed as an interest of mine. This is typical, because a lot of people see my education level and have a knee-jerk impulse to challenge my intelligence, either as a way to assert their dominance or to prove how impressively smart they are. There are also those who, after learning of the kind of work I do, expect me to provide them with free intellectual labor or enter into debates and discussions with me so they can “pick [my] brain” (read: steal my ideas) or ask me to prove just how pro-Black I really am.
Like I said before, I don’t think online dating is inherently pointless or frivolous. I’ll even admit that, in the midst of this spectacular shit show, I have also had some conversations that were genuinely fun. I made a friend on Okcupid a few years ago who became a significant part of my life, and it’s a friendship from which I have learned many lessons. I even helped a guy come to terms with his asexuality once, after he saw “Demisexual” on my profile and reached out to me about it. But the reality is that these few and far-between good experiences do not outweigh all the shitty ones. It’s been years of dehumanizing interactions with people who don’t respect me, and the ones I’ve provided here barely even scratch the surface. I’m tired of asking people to treat me like a human being with inherent value and being told “No”, either by their words or their actions.
I’m exasperated. From the anti-Blackness, the misogynoir, the fatphobia, and the fetishization. Frustrated with the sexual harassment, stalking, and vulgarity. I’m tired of the condescension and gaslighting. I’m sick of having both my intelligence and humanity consistently challenged, insulted, and invalidated. And it sucks to know there are so many people who have similar testimonies, largely because the internet provides horrible people a safety net to dump all their shit into, so all the oppressive things we already have to deal with in our material world only become amplified in the virtual world. Every single thing in me is fucking exhausted. So, all things considered, I’m done with this demoralizing bullshit, and I owe it to myself to quit because I deserve better.
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