For some reason, the dating/hook-up world is the one realm where we expect people to behave in ways that are directly in conflict with how they actually feel.
This is why that guy who waited a week to call could either be playing it cool or could be completely disinterested. Or why the girl who "didn't want anything serious" invites you over to have dinner with her parents. Or why your ex appears to avoid you like the plague before sending you a "what's up?" text at 3 a.m., and on and on and on.
Partially, this is because there are few places where social rules are as imperative and as inscrutable as they are in dating. You know the rules I'm talking about: don't sleep with someone on the first date, wait three days to call, don't seem "too available", blah, blah, blah. The rules are arbitrary, but they have power. They're why we have deal breakers, why we hesitate to go home with someone, why we don't text back for two hours, or why we can't be the first one to say "I love you."
Basically, strict compliance with the "rules" of dating is often why we don't get what we want.
Regardless of who you are, the rules dictate that being honest in dating is tricky business, but as a recent Huffington Post piece illuminates, breaking the rules is different for women versus men.
In the piece, published last week, clinical psychologist Rebecca Kennedy discusses the woman who breaks the rules and becomes "That Girl" — you know, the one who acts "crazy" with guys, texts too often, asks to be exclusive right away. She is needy, probably one of the worst possible insults to a young woman.
Though few of us would voluntarily claim to be "That Girl," I'm certain every woman has been dismissed as "needy" at least once, for everything from wanting to talk about something for longer than two minutes to being open about relationship expectations at the onset.
Though men and women both clearly have needs, "needy" women are deemed as such when their needs are more than, or different from, the needs of the men they're dating. (Assuming they date men, of course.) Calling a woman "needy," just like calling her "crazy," is the surest way to de-legitimize everything she says or does.
Dr. Kennedy makes the wild suggestion that rather than being a hot-ass mess, the "needy" woman is one who is in touch with herself. She writes, "When it comes to guys, she texts because she knows what she wants. She asks to be exclusive because she knows what she deserves. She also knows what she needs —and if that is what defines neediness then, yes, she is needy."
Now, there's definitely a difference between being communicative with a partner and requiring constant contact from them, but, like Kennedy, I believe we all have things to learn from "That Girl." The best part of a relationship, even a casual one, is definitely not the part where you see who can go longer pretending not to give a shit.
Mystery and coyness are fun, but you know what's more fun? Grand gestures. Taking risks. Telling someone you want them.
This kind of risk-averse thinking doesn't just apply to women, either. On the flip side of the "needy" coin, men are often characterized as being emotionally closed off and thinking solely with their penises. Thus, when they break the rules of dating aloofness, we tend to describe them as notably sensitive and open. We're endeared by even the slightest performance of emotion.
Think of that scene in Love Actually where the curmudgeonly Mark professes his love for Keira Knightley's character via card-messages. This guy has literally been a dick the whole movie, but suddenly, we can't help but love him.
I have a feeling that were the situation reversed — if Keira Knightley showed up carrying a stack of posters after rudely ignoring the schlubby guy in sweaters — she would have simply gone from "bitch" to "crazy bitch" in our minds. Often in the movies and in real life, an emotionally attune woman is thought of as the norm, and a man who can adequately express how he feels is some sort of glittery unicorn.
It's troubling enough that being honest in dating is so hard. It's even worse that we ascribe gendered labels to emotional expression. In doing so, we teach and perpetuate the idea that women are irrational, emotional freaks, and that men can't talk about their feelings (which they don't have anyway). In reality, we know that sometimes, men are needy, women don't know how to convey what they want, etc. The rules have no meaning except what we choose to give them.
The dating game is clearly evolving, but not as fast as it should be. It's high time for some new rules. Like, do what you want. Be the one to call first if you feel like it. Be open about shit. Be brave.
It always makes for a better story.