Within minutes of meeting my Bumble date at a bike race, he demanded that I take off my sunglasses so he could see my eyes. I obliged. In the two hours we were together, he proceeded to put his hand firmly on my butt, pretending to usher me through a crowd. He also did not ask before reaching over to rub my shoulders, as though he had a right to touch my body.
As a feminist writer, I understand that these behaviors denote male entitlement and indicate that he might not respect women. And yet, I was turned on. I have always been attracted to dominant men.
I have intermittently been dating online for over two years, and I have dated all kinds of men: those in white-collar jobs and blue-collar ones; white men; dark men; young men; older men; tall men; short men; men who lie about their relationship status. But what hasn’t wavered, is that, as a “traditionally feminine” woman, I end up being attracted to the men who come off as “traditionally masculine.”
From what I’ve glimpsed in dating these 30- to 45-year-old men, most of them seemed to be just as confused as I am. They try to be progressive when it comes to gender roles but don’t have a clear blueprint of how to proceed.
I find myself being charmed by the brash and often oafish inappropriateness of some men — the way they clumsily flirt by making crude penis jokes, the way they eagerly want to fix things around my house, and in my life, by offering up unsolicited advice. At the same time, these feel like betrayals of feminist views I have come to hold. I now see how inappropriate sexual jokes are part and parcel of an objectifying culture; I know that “mansplaining” indicates a guy might underestimate my capabilities and intelligence; and I can see that a man suffering from White Knight Syndrome has a keen lack of self-worth. Yes, I know.
But any man who can confidently fix my plumbing or my computer has my attention. Just as I am prone to contradiction, my intuition tells me these men are, too.
I know many woman who would be incredulous if a man displayed such machismo as to put his hands on her body — as if he were owed access to it — within minutes of meeting. And I don’t blame them. Women are becoming more rigid in the behaviors they’ll accept in a mate, which is leaving a lot of men confused.
I also know that such oafish behavior from men will get annoying soon enough, that the unsolicited advice will soon manifest into resentment, and whatever desire my younger self had to impress a man with my body and domesticity is as dead as my first marriage. Which often leaves me wanting to move on.
But slowly, something is happening. Many “manly” men are becoming wise to the ways in which patriarchy has diminished their lives as well. Just as women have been sold a bill of sour goods about our worth, men have been sold a similar lot. Like me, they are coming to fresh insights: that emotions have purpose, that machismo often isn’t the answer, and perhaps, women have far more value to offer their lives than they ever imagined. Maybe this comes from spending a fair amount of time swiping right and realizing that snagging a quality catch requires more than what they have been doing in the past; that their conventional ideas of manliness, and furthermore, their entitlement, have led them toward their ruin, just as my need for their attention has led me to mine.
In the past two-plus years of dating in the middle-aged bracket, I have felt this disconnect. While we’re all still responding to conditioned stereotypes — the shallow beauty, the brazen man — in the end, no one is committing to the long haul. Both sexes are confused about what they really want. There is a good chance this is part of the reason that — as an intelligent, capable woman — I am still very single.
I can say that the guy from the bike race, who showed up puffed and ready to show off, ended up being a sensitive man, a doting and caring father to two girls. Had I dismissed his hand on my butt as entitlement, I might not have seen this bigger picture. He still mansplains more than any guy I’ve ever met. But after a few months of knowing him, I am certain he doesn’t underestimate my intelligence.