Edie Freedman is a student at New York University studying social and cultural analysis, politics and psychology. There she is a writer and editor for The Tab NYU.
There is no question that the dating game for young people has changed dramatically in the last decade or so, thanks to social media and quick, instant-decision dating apps. Imagine saying ten years ago: “He watched my Instagram story but didn’t heart any of my most recent pics — he’s got to be playing hard to get.” People would think you were speaking a different language! But what hasn’t changed — surprisingly — are the stereotypes we still assign to men and women when it comes to straight dating. Here are the 4 most common ones:
MYTH #1: Women usually end up acting “crazy.”
Having gone to an all-girls high school, I eagerly sought out the company of men once I got to college and ingratiated myself into their company. Being considered “just one of the guys,” I’ve been privy to many straight male conversations about women. These discussions are rarely about the healthy relationships they’ve had that ended in amicable splits. Instead, talk revolves around women they’ve dated who acted jealous, were overly affectionate or, most commonly, became “attached” despite the initial casualness of their relationship. This is what they consistently — and flippantly — call “crazy.”
Not only does use of the term “crazy” demean the mentally ill, it dismisses women’s experiences, paints them as abnormal, and absolves men of all relationship guilt and responsibility. What they call “crazy” is, I would argue, more often than not, the result of miscommunication, differing expectations, and/or a lack of respect or concern on the part of men for the humans they’re hooking up with.
MYTH #2: Men just want sex, women just want relationships.
While we tend to think of young men as wanting to avoid having a girlfriend at all costs, a Harvard School of Graduate Education study found that young people want to form healthy relationships but just don’t know how: 84 percent of 3000 18- to 25-year-old respondents preferred things like going on a date over casual sex.
Of course, some men at some times do want to keep their options open and not be tied down — there are plenty of free sexting apps for one to choose and explore a hookup relationship with. But what if I told you that plenty of women are into the same thing too! I’m one of them: as a person who likes to travel and do what she likes without having to constantly check in with one person, a causal relationship is not only acceptable but actually preferred.
Men, while it may be hard to grasp, there are actually women out there who enjoy consistent, no-strings-attached sex and don’t desperately need — or even want — a commitment from you.
MYTH #3: Men are straight-forward about what they want.
I’ve seen it happen a million times: A guy, strictly adhering to myth #2, establishes early on that this is just a casual thing, no strings attached. But whether because he starts to develop serious romantic feelings or he just enjoys the company and comfort of the woman he’s seeing, soon his actions are not consistent with the boundaries of the relationship that were originally established: he asks to see her two or three times a week, takes her on dates, introduces her to friends — all the characteristics of a relationship. The common narrative is that it’s the woman who always waffles likes this — I call bullshit.
MYTH #4: Casual relationships never work.
Casual relationships can and do work, but only when there is a clear articulation and acceptance of set boundaries agreed by both partners from the get-go. There needs to be honest communication throughout and the occasional “checking in” to make sure you’re both on the same page. If feelings start to develop, that should be acknowledged. Additionally, if neither of you want to commit, then be careful about how often you see each other — fondness may make the heart grow fonder, but familiarity sometimes even more so.
The real problem here is that we are all guilty of making these assumptions — men and women alike. We may not do it consciously or spitefully, but we end up lazily leaning into these stereotypes. At a time when the media and Hollywood and politicians are challenging some of the old lame “norms” around consent and sexual politics, surely we can be a little more self-aware about trying to reject these sticky 20th-century myths in our own dating lives.