Once, in the distant past, I went on a date with a man.
After a few days of back-and-forth texting, we arranged to meet at a bar near my house; but, alas, he turned up clearly intoxicated, we had nothing to talk about, and we both went our separate ways when it was time to go home after an awkward two drinks.
Our textual communication stopped there – we were clearly incompatible, so I was not heartbroken.
A few weeks later I bumped into him at a party. I gave him a cheery “hello!” He greeted me back awkwardly. Then, later into the night, approached me as if he had something he really needed to get off his chest. He launched into a strange, rambling apology. He was sorry he hadn’t text me. He was sorry, but he was so busy with work, and uni…he hoped I didn’t take it personally…and I looked really well!
The whole situation beguiled me, and I was left reeling…sorry….he didn’t text me? Was I meant to be unhappy? How had I turned out the injured party in this situation in which we were mutually not interested in one another? Why was he “sorry”? I’d been forced into a power dynamic in which I was hurt, wounded, left lusting after him while he disappeared, single and untameable, into the sunset. And because he thought he was being so nice and honest, I couldn’t even ask him what he was on about because it would just make me seem even more hurt and wounded.
“The whole situation beguiled me, and I was left reeling…sorry….he didn’t text me?”
His comments seemed motivated by a belief that in agreeing to meet him for a drink I was out to ensnare or capture him, rather than hang out to see if he was cool. His “apology” at that party belittled my agency in deciding who I date or see or do not see, and completely centred his own.
The complexities of dating men when you have to weigh up their ego and how this might affect their perception of you against your own desires and behaviours are real. Rarely do I talk to my female friends who date men about relationships in a way that totally prioritises the woman’s perspective – more likely, the phrases “I just don’t want him to think…” or “what if I come across as too…” come up. Balancing being an agent in the creation of your own relationships with tiptoeing around how he might interpret you as too keen/not keen enough/too emotional/too cold is a genuine skill, and symptomatic of a culture in which women are perceived as and portrayed as overly emotional and sentimental in relationships.
Instagram meme creator “vaporcult” has a series of memes ridiculing this brand of male ego in casual dating, pasting a message from a certain “Brad” across various unlikely and unrelated scenarios, reading “you seem like a cool chick and I dig your vibes but I’m just not really looking for a relationship right now”. The encapsulation of the uninvited irrelevance of such a phrase is perfect.
gal-dem spoke to vaporcult, a.k.a LA-based Renée Worley via e-mail, who told us she makes these memes “for myself, first and foremost…selfishness is self-care”.
She based the meme on experiences with “every single ex that I’ve never actually dated”.
Specifically, it was inspired by a drunk phone call from a hilarious yet emotionally unavailable comedian she was casually dating. “We’d been seeing each other for three weeks and at the time I thought things were going pretty well. We made plans one Friday night, I got ready and waited for him to pick me up. Hours go by, finally it’s 1.00am. He wasn’t responding to my texts, so being the clingy-yet-terrified-of-being-labelled-crazy girl I am, I sent him a bunch of melodramatic Lauren Conrad gifs to let out my anger in a funny way. Then he called and frantically apologised for his phone dying. He explained that he was really drunk and wasn’t going to make it, and even though I felt really hurt and disappointed I pretended it didn’t bother me and forgave him because the relationship was still new. But then he adds, ‘I probably shouldn’t be talking about this right now but I’ve been picking up on some relationship vibes from you, and you seem like a really cool chick, and I like you but I’m just not looking for a relationship right now.’
Ouch. It’s always painful being disappointed by someone you like, but the leaps in assumption men can make (such as painting you as a “relationship” gal, and them as some kind of escapee) implies an inadequacy on your part, and also, as Worley says, “operates on the assumption that women want relationships by default”.
“Did I like him? Absolutely. Did I immediately want him to be my boyfriend? Absolutely not. I wasn’t ready to define it, but yet I was still emotionally invested enough to be hurt”.
There is a male ego issue in casual dating, from the men who are arrogant enough to apologise for two-way indifference in dating and those who pick up on “relationship vibes” and so run, terrified of ensnarement. Worley calls it being “emotionally unavailable” – “dudes want all of the benefits that come with a relationship without having to take responsibility for their actions or another person’s emotions” – but I’m unsure if its emotional unavailability so much as a willing emotional ineptitude, both in terms of reading someone else’s emotions and in terms of being accountable for them. For the fuckboy who thinks he’s actually a nice guy, “you seem like a cool chick and I dig your vibe but…” is a neat phrase which basically translates as you can’t even be angry with me because I’m just being honest. Hope you’re okay!
I wholeheartedly believe in honesty and boundaries in sexual relationships, but the whole “you’re a cool chick but…” sentiment is kind of like receiving unsolicited advice from a man; he’s assuming a position of superiority and assigning you one of inferiority, and underestimating or at least misjudging your capabilities, capacities and desires.
If you ever are on the giving end of “you seem like a cool chick and I dig your vibes but…” then I implore you to rethink if the person you’re giving this sermon to has asked for it, or indeed is themselves “looking for a relationship right now”. If you’re on the receiving end, consider if this person who is so unsubtly negging you is even worth your “vibe” at all. They probably aren’t.