Dating as a feminist has been … eye-opening.
When I began dating, I didn’t really think about this being a sticking point. I didn’t see myself as being particularly noteworthy in my opinions about sexism. I was happy to pay for myself or be treated (as long as I could tell what was happening). I didn’t mind having doors held open for me (especially with a sprain, this is actually super helpful). I didn’t even mind having car doors opened for me, even if it does feel a little bit silly. After all, we all still know I am capable of opening the car door myself, right? Right?
But I was wrong. Dating as a feminist has been different. And I have stopped dating more than one person at least partially because of their beliefs, attitudes, and statements about gender.
The first time I stopped dating someone because of this, I cried while delivering the news. I cried partly because I was having trouble believing it was actually happening, that this was a reason that had actually come up in my life. But I felt very strongly that it would be hypocritical of me to date this person, given my own feminist beliefs. I was also concerned it would affect my attitudes about my writing career, that I would internalize these sexists ideas I was hearing and they would make me less ambitious, less capable, and less confident.
I learned to never explicitly state that sexist attitudes were a reason for discontinuing dating. (Yeah, I had to learn this through experience. Oops. Trust me, this mistake wasn’t pretty.)
And I learned that a certain degree of sexism is a deal breaker for me.
Really, dealing with sexism is hard enough as it is. It is so easy to internalize all the messages we are receiving from media, from society, from our peers. And the little things do matter.
For example, I heard a sexist remark over the weekend, and I knew at the time it was sexist. And even still, I found myself revisiting it the next day and feeling anxiety as to how I personally fit into the scheme of the joke. At which point I had to remind myself it was sexist and that if anybody was thinking about me in that way, it was somebody about whose opinion I wouldn’t care anyway.
So much effort, because of one stupid off-hand “joke.” Meanwhile, none of the guys who heard this joke had to think about it the next day and talk themselves out of worrying that it applied to them. And this was actually a better outcome than it would have been if I hadn’t noticed and if I’d unconsciously incorporated it into my opinion of myself. This kind of cognitive load is largely invisible, but it can add up to become quite significant.
Now, imagine you’re dating someone who has a lot of unexamined sexist beliefs and who makes a lot of these kinds of jokes and generalizations and is unable to check routine mansplaining (I know a lot of you hate this word, but I don’t have another one that means what I want to say, so we’ll go with it for now). How much cognitive load would it take to avoid internalizing these self-limiting beliefs? And how many would slip through without notice?
Sometimes people laugh at my post about how I think shared interests don’t matter that much in dating. And it’s true I was supporting a rather extreme point of view. Of course it’s nice to share interests with your partner. Of course it’s nice to have fun stuff to do together.
But the longer I’ve been dating, the more convinced I’ve become about what matters more to me. Kindness, honest and clear communication, respect and compassion for each other as we are, not as we wish we were. And how can someone who sees me as a mystery or thinks women are “crazy” or doesn’t trust my basic competence truly respect me? How can they see who I am?
And why would I want to spend a lot of time with someone who listens to and shares ideas that tear me down, that make who I’m allowed to be smaller and more limited, and thinks they’re an amusing joke?
Once you discover respect for yourself, you begin to demand respect from the people around you. This is an important part of dating. And it is also part of what being a feminist means to me.