Warning: this post uses adult language.
A recent post on Samantha Irby’s profane and hilarious blog bitchesgottaeat, begs women to stop settling for sex with jerks instead of dates with decent men. The post was a response, of sorts, to a New York Times article that surveyed the modern dating scene and found it seriously wanting.
In Irby’s world, there are two kinds of guys: dickbags who are reckless with your heart, and nice guys. Irby’s advice is simple, and fairly conventional: Avoid the former; date the latter:
“don’t tolerate dickbags who are reckless with your heart. and seriously stop fucking those guys, no matter how cute they are or how many guitars they can play at the same time or whatever.they will fucking figure it out and fall back in line. meanwhile, the overly-honest, confident, nice guys who actually like real courtship or whatever (or, at least, like actual casual dating thatisn’t just casual fucking) will rise to the top like cream.”
Most women will admit to having some number of dickbags hanging out in the Wayback Machines of our pasts. It’s always in hindsight that we consign some former lover to the dickbag heap. The dude you’re with RIGHT NOW? He’s not a dickbag, of course. He’s a really nice guy, once you get to know him. But he’s super busy these days. He’s not a dickbag just because you only hear from him Thursday night, he comes over Friday night and you have hot, wonderful sex until Saturday morning, and then you don’t hear from him again until the following week. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The Ghosts of Peen Past hover on the edges of our subconscious, ready to be called up when we’re trading sorry motherfucker stories at boozy brunches with our girlfriends. We tell ourselves that we keep those stories within easy recall as cautionary tales, so we can avoid repeating old mistakes. In truth, some of us women hold onto our sorry motherfucker stories like our high school softball trophies. Those dudes may have been irresponsible and crazy and reckless with our hearts — but they represented a time when we were young, carefree, desirable — and FUN.
What we forget, when we don’t (a) have standards; and (b) consistently apply them, is that dick has been free since at least 1982 — the year one of my high school friends spoke those words to me because I was moping around about some guy. I suspect it’s been free a bit longer than that. As a commodity, dick is pretty easy to come by without much effort, as long as you’re indifferent as to quality versus quantity. If you want a quality partner — that’s where standards come in.
But there’s a difference between having standards and being excessively impressed with yourself.
XO Jane recently published a piece called “What’s It Really Like: Dating As a ‘Smart Black Woman.’”
(Dating as a “smart black woman” — as opposed to what? “Hooking Up With Dudes As a Stupid Black Chick”?)
The author takes great pains to establish her “smart black woman” bona fides early in the piece: undergraduate and graduate degrees from a Top 10 ranked school? Check. Speaks a foreign language, preferably French? Check. Knows the jazz standards “Satin Doll” and “A Love Supreme” within the first few bars? Check. Reads philosophy? Check.
After that setup, the writer goes on to describe two “beneath her” dating scenarios. In the first, a man takes her equally cultured and educated friend to IHOP on their first date. In the second, a man she meets at Starbucks, who claims to be a full-time musician and concert organizer, turns out to be an aspiring factory worker.
This is where having standards goes wrong. The dating issues she described had more to do with wookin pa nub in all the wrong places than the burdens of superior intellect. Remember that New York Times piece that said men aren’t springing for meals at all these days — not Per Se, and not even Burger King? The author met her date at Starbucks, a chain restaurant — so why is IHOP, another chain restaurant, an automatic deal-killer for women like her? Don’t people with degrees eat pancakes too? IHOP may not be the best first date choice, but if that’s the only thing wrong with dude, you’re silly to let that stop you.
The thing with standards is — you have to employ them wisely. As my girl Michele Grant (@OneChele) said, you can’t be out here in the dating streets trying to turn Pookie into Preston. If you’ve got advanced degrees and fancy tastes, why are you picking up unemployed “musicians” at Starbucks? Instead of lamenting the fact that your blue collar date isn’t up on Sophocles or Foucault and is not impressed with your themed library in every room of your apartment, don’t date men who don’t share your interests. If you want to date a dude who likes the opera, buy a subscription to the Met. You can’t go out twerking at the club and then complain that the dude you were grinding on texts you six dick pics before noon the next day, instead of inviting you to a quiet cafe to ask you what your interests are and who you be with.
And that leads to the the real problem with the “nice guys versus dickbags” dichotomy.
I mean, dickbags who are reckless with your heart don’t generally advertise themselves that way, do they? Sometimes, they do — like the married man who told me God sent him to me to teach me about good men. (I wish I could say I didn’t fall for it, but he wouldn’t be one of the Ghosts of Peen Past if I’d laughed in his face and kept it moving.) But chances are, that dude you now call a dickbag first showed up in your life as someone you regarded a pretty decent guy; someone you thought would be a good boyfriend and maybe even, someday, a good husband. But over the course of weeks or months or even years of heartache, it became clear that “someone” wasn’t you.
Dudes who are reckless with your heart may not be intentionally reckless. Maybe he really is super busy and he’s not meaning to be inconsiderate when you only see him for once-a-week sex. Maybe he’s giving you the best that he’s got, for now. What matters is whether or not your needs are being met. If you’re cool with it — even if your friends disagree — be cool with it. It doesn’t have to be right for anybody but you.
Some final words on the Nice Guy. The Nice Guy is always seen as the perfect asshole antidote, as if one strong dose of Nice Guy cures all strains of idiot magnetism that remain in your system. When you meet that guy who’s not afraid of commitment, the one who cries at weddings, introduces you to his friends and family within the first month you start dating, celebrates your monthly “anniversaries” and has your mother’s birthdate in his calendar, it feels like you’ve won the Cosmic Lotto.
Except it’s just not that easy. I dated a Nice Guy for about eight years. I’m not here to knock Nice Guys. But just because a guy is nice, doesn’t mean he’s the one.
My Nice Guy fixed my mother’s leaky kitchen sink so well, the repair held for 20 years. He taught me how to drive. I got jewelry for my birthdays, and flowers for any reason and sometimes no reason at all.
But over the course of our relationship — which spanned from the summer after I graduated from high school until the spring of my second year of law school — I found the Nice Guy controlling. He had a very traditional view of marriage and gender roles, and had difficulty adjusting to my increased need for independence. All the Nice Guy things came with a price. In exchange for his Nice Guy niceness, I was supposed to fall in line and submit. He was angry when I applied to law school without consulting with him first. He was even angrier when I chose Harvard Law School over Ohio State, because Ohio State was closer to where he lived. The fact that Harvard offered me the better opportunity was irrelevant. And he fully expected, if we had gotten married, that I would stop working to be a stay-at-home mom, like his mom was. None of that made him a bad guy — just not the right guy for me.
My mother never got over the fact that I broke up with the Nice Guy. My ex-husband was the opposite of nice, so to my mother’s way of thinking, not marrying the Nice Guy was my life’s big mistake. A month before her death, my mother asked me why I never looked up the Nice Guy after my divorce. She never understood I was as happy that I never married the Nice Guy as I was to be divorced from the not-at-all-nice guy I did marry.
In sum – have standards. But don’t be a slave to your standards. Don’t date assholes who are obvious assholes. But don’t reject a guy just because he wants to take you on a date to IHOP or Applebee’s — if he’s otherwise worth your time. That’s not having standards, that’s being stupid. And the whole point of having standards is to avoid being stupid.