Separating out the elements on the latest internet dating/sex controversy
Like roughly half the internet the other day, I too read Alyssa Bereznak's piece about her date with Jon Finkel, who is apparently a world champion at the game Magic: The Gathering. The piece both made me laugh and made me uncomfortable, for reasons I'll get to in a bit, but what made me just as uncomfortable was some of the reactions to it. I mean, any story that involves a woman rejecting a man for any reason outside of "he hit me" is going to bring the Nice Guys® out in droves, projecting their own issues with women and their own entitlement onto the situation, claiming that she's shallow and she has some sort of obligatioon not to reject the guy for "shallow" reasons. Since the "shallow" reason in this case was that he's got a geeky hobby, and an all-encompassing one at that, the Nice Guys® were out in force, making the demonstrably false assumption that because a woman isn't into geeky stuff, that means she's rejecting nice guys in favor of jerks. Demonstrably false, because it assumes a correlation between niceness and geekiness that doesn't exist. We internet dweebs especially should have figured that one out after Elevatorgate, when geeky dudes came out in force to be some of the biggest assholes I've ever seen online. And some were nice and feminist. That's the point—the correlation between niceness and "extracurricular" interests is non-existent, which is part of the reason dating is in fact hard.
I'll also add that the Nice Guys® were also making the false assumption that Finkel was suffering some huge humilation by being rejected, again projecting their own issues and fantasies on the situation. It turns out, as you'll soon find, that Finkel was equally uninterested. I don't imagine there will be a full-scale freak-out over that on her behalf, however.
The problem I saw in the reaction in comments on the post and elsewhere was that all the various issues with this post were getting tangled up and people were getting confused about what was okay about this and what was fucked up. So, for clarity's sake, I'm going to list what are the three entirely separate questions that this post brings up, and weigh in on how they're different issues and shouldn't be confused. The questions were:
1) Was Bereznak wrong to reject Finkel on the grounds of dweebiness?
2) Was Bereznak wrong to go onto Gizmodo and tell the story, using Finkel's name?
3) Was Finkel wrong to "forget" to mention that he spends most of his free time playing Magic on his OK Cupid profile?
I will add that #3 modifies #2. I think it's okay to call someone out by name in a public forum and certainly on the gossip vine if that person does something really wrong. Even men should be subject to social accountability, and unfortunately as anyone who has seen a community embrace a rapist or a wife-beater (often while rejecting the victim) can attest, that doesn't happen nearly enough. But you should tread softly and use good judgment. If the bad behavior was only mildly harmful and can easily be corrected, I see no value in shaming a person publicly over it. I hesitate to bring this up in what is a largely unimportant situation, but I just want to be clear that my opinions on #2 are not absolute rules. I mostly err on the side of believing discretion is the better part of valor, but there are exceptions.
Anyway, my answers to these questions are:
1) Absolutely not.
2) Yes, and this is the real cruelty.
3) Yes, but…..
I'll admit I was a little surprised to see Rebecca Watson address her response to this mostly to the first question. I agree with large parts of her post, especially how there's lots of women who wouldn't find the Magic-enthusiasm unattractive at all, but that's all the more reason why I don't think it's appropriate to call some shallow for finding it to be a major league turn-off. Plenty of fish in the sea and all that. I'm a big fan of the belief that you can whatever damn dealbreakers you want and people really shouldn't give you hell for it. Why on earth should anyone clench their teeth and tolerate sex with someone who turns them off to prove they aren't "shallow"? That some women are geeky and would be down with the Magic playing, and some women are indifferent and wouldn't care as long as you had other things to recommend you doesn't mean that these women are in any way superior to women who are like, "Magic, ew." That's because the geeks and the indifferent women probably have their own dealbreakers that, if left to the Nice Guys® to judge, would also demonstrate "shallowness". Some of the women who would be okay with the Magic-playing would, for instance, find it a huge turn-off if a guy was a big sports fan or rushed out to see every single new blockbuster movie, no matter how shitty-looking. Nothing wrong with that. Most of us are dating with an eye towards finding a partner, and thus weeding out the annoying and intolerable is a mercy to everyone up front—better now than 15 years from now when you're fighting because he's taking your kids to Magic tournaments.
I particularly want to quarrel with this:
After all, it’s not easy fighting to destroy the damaging stereotype that women are shallow bitches who not only won’t date nerdy men but also laugh at what dorks they are behind their backs. That stereotype feeds into the Nice Guy syndrome that infects guys who come to the conclusion that all women only want to date stupid jerks.
What makes Nice Guys® wrong is not their assumption that women will reject them for being geeky. This is one of many reasons any of us can get rejected! Sometimes we get rejected for not being geeky. It's not even that someone will laugh at them for being geeky. Again, that probably does happen, but then again, people get laughed at for all sorts of reasons. I can only imagine what kinds of stuff guys I went on one date or another made fun of me for, but I think it's probably just best to learn not to give a shit what they think. (After all, I wasn't so hot into them, either.) Making fun of bad dates after the fact is just one of those things, like gossip. Everyone technically agrees it's a Bad Thing to Do, but everyone does it, because the alternative of high-mindedness about it is just too boring.
The Nice Guy® whine is wrong for two reasons. One, they often equate irrelevant qualities with niceness. In this case, that someone plays Magic is being used as evidence that he's somehow nicer or more stable than men who don't. There's zero evidence of any correlation, and in fact lots of examples of geeky guys who are just assholes that no one should date for their own damn wellbeing. (Not that I'm weighing in on Finkel's character either way. There's simply no way to know, because there's no correlation.) Two, and this is just as important, Nice Guys® believe they are entitled to the women they want because they are "nice". You saw this a lot in the comments at Gizmodo. An example:
Yeah, the last thing a single woman needs is a smart single guy who makes a good living playing a "geeky" game.
The assumption underpinning this is that a woman should take the first stable guy who will have her—no matter how unattractive she finds him—and be grateful to have him. That's what is so irritating about Nice Guys®, who generally do consider things like sexual satisfaction and joy to be important aspects of dating for them, but are unwilling to allow women to have the same desires. No, in their minds women should feel obligated to date a guy just because he's nice and stable, and a woman who holds out for a man that can make her happy is a shallow bitch.
It's important to note that Finkel himself did not agree with the Nice Guys®. He responded to Rebecca's post by pointing out that he was equally uninterested. In other words, it worked out how it should. He didn't work himself up into a lather about how she "should" want to be with him and instead was able to calmly assess that it wasn't a match and move on with his life. Nice Guys® should take note.
Where Bereznak really shit the bed is with #2. There's no reason on god's green earth to name the guy in your post. Now this post is going to be in Google searches for his name. I can't for the life of my understand why she thought using his name was appropriate. It's just as good a story without naming him. In fact, it's a better story, because the moral of her story—be upfront about pertinent information on your dating profile—comes across as a more universal lesson when you're discussing an anonymous date. It's easier for any of us to project ourselves into the situation that way. The only explanation I can come up with for her naming him is that, despite her protestations to the contrary, she was actually impressed at how good Finkel is at Magic, and is in fact bragging that she went on a date with him. Which is just fine if you're telling the story to your friends, but posting it on the internet is just fucked the fuck up.
It disturbs me that #1 got way more attention than #2, when #2 was the truly egregious failing here.
As for #3: I don't think Bereznak is wrong that a guy who doesn't reveal something like a deep interest in Magic and an entire social circle built around Magic on his profile is doing something stupid. Here's the "but", though. Rebecca is right to say that you don't have to put everything up front when you're on the dating market. If you have other interests you explore that are more likely to seem attractive, putting those forward instead of the others is just human nature. I agree with Rebecca on this. Still, you have to balance that with truthfulness and an unwillingness to waste someone's time. If you list a bunch of interests, they really should be important interests to you. It's not cool to portray yourself as a good companion for concerts and weekends at the museum if in fact you spend most of your time playing Magic with your Magic friends. There's probably some mathematical formula that can indicate when it's fair to drop an interest off your profile to juice it up a little, and when you spend enough time on it that you have to disclose. We don't really know if Finkel falls above or below this line, for what it's worth. Maybe Bereznak is exaggerating how much time he spends on Magic, maybe she isn't.
Still, the worst that happens when you conceal such a big part of yourself on a dating profile is that you waste a few hours of someone's time. Not nice, but not the end of the world, and certainly not such a bad thing to do that you deserve to be shamed for it in a public forum. The person you're often hurting the most is yourself if you find that you are routinely making dates with people who, when they find out more about you, are turned off. I haven't got experience in putting an online dating profile up, but I do a lot of social networking, and my feeling is the more upfront you are, the less bullshit and time-wasting you generally have to put up with. My feeling is that if you'd lead with it to find friends, then you should lead with it to find dates. The one exception, of course, is sexual interests. But even then, you're probably better off leading with it. Sure, you'll eliminate people who just aren't into that thing you're big into, but so what? That just means less dates where you're sitting across from someone wondering how quickly you can break it off without being rude.