Teenage me, probably around 1992, wrote and publicized the following Valentine’s Day poem, and I will bear that shame for all my days:
Roses are red, violets are blue.
Women are evil, and nice guys get screwed.
I wrote you this poem because I wanted to say
I’m not bitter at all on this Valentine’s Day.
It goes on for several more whiny quatrains, but I think you get the idea. I share this now not in service of the belief that “nice guys get screwed,” but in atonement for ever actually thinking that way. I have been out of the dating pool for a few years now, and it has given me the time and perspective I needed to see just what a d-bag I used to be. If I can use this realization to help even just one person live a more fulfilling life, it will be worth it.
I used to fall victim to the notion that there ought to be a standardized set of procedures for dating. The world of the typical American man has changed from what we imagine was a time when men could meet certain standards and expectations in order to qualify for a mate. Most of these standards involved income or social status, with looks thrown in as (at best) a secondary concern. Factors like charm, personality, and compatibility were near the bottom of the list in this mostly-imagined previous era of courtship. Women, as the idea seems to go, picked a suitor from a panel of applicants based on these attributes. The upshot of this is that men had a uniform set of goals and attributes for which they should strive in order to “succeed” at finding a bride (or hookup, or whatever.)
Very, very few of us have debutante balls like in Downton Abbey, where a young woman can announce her availability to the world. Also, most of this imagined past of following dating instructions set forth in a cultural manual is just that: imagined. Life has always been complicated, I believe, and while the specific norms of relations between the genders (all of them) is in flux, they have always been complicated too.
I could write an entire book or more on everything that I have gotten wrong over the course of my life, but (a) I have stuff to do, and (b) it is an ongoing process of realization. I am not saying this in search of forgiveness, or even just to get a cookie. Rather, I have discovered a wondrous world in which people can coexist and interact without undue concern over gender or identity roles, where a relationship with a woman that culminates in friendship rather than sex is not somehow a failure, where a guy can meet a woman and develop a friendship without feeling pressure to at least try to have sex with her, and where one’s ability to share fully in others’ lives potentially extends to everyone, not just their own gender.
It can be a beautiful place, and I want to share it with others who think the way I once thought.
Whether others want to join in this world is up to them, but this world exists, and it is all around us.