Dissecting the Modern American MaleThe Trouble With Dating Today: A Serious TakeYoav Fisher

The past three years of the 2010s have been a trying time for the urban single woman.  All of the old adages that baby boomer parents passed along to their daughters have succumbed to the convoluted realities of dating in the digital age, and single women in the city today are left with more questions than answers regarding what is expected protocol and what are clear signals.

Many theories have been posited to explain the friction between urban upwardly mobile men and women.  Jen Doll, writing in the The Village Voice, claims that the problem is that women have no idea what they want.  Kate Bolick, in her excellent piece in The Atlantic, notes how the successes of the women’s movement have created a gap between the sexes, where modern women really can do it all on their own.  There is no need to marry for reasons of financial stability, and there is significantly less pressure to bear children by “a certain age”.

This theory is complemented by Hanna Rosin’s article, “The End of Men”, which notes how men have disproportionately suffered the brunt of the 2008 economic collapse and have fallen by the wayside as women have continued to succeed.  This has effectively divided the male population into two camps: those who have weathered the economic storm and are thriving in their jobs as software programmers, consultants or whatever, and those who have moved back in with their parents and lackadaisically look for jobs while they continue to cash in their monthly unemployment benefits.

Finally, there is the subject of the “Hook Up Culture”.  As Alex Williams describes in his New York Times piece, traditional dating and courtship, with its clear intent and rules of conduct, has been replaced with ambiguous casual interactions, loaded text messages and frivolous sexual dalliances.

For all of these reasons and undoubtedly many more, single women in the city live in a perpetual grey space on the receiving end of cryptic messages from men, where everything is open-ended.  An excellent example of this questionable behavior is depicted in an article by Heather Robinson called “Can We Talk? (But That’s All)”.  Robinson describes a unique trend, nicknamed the “Pen Pal Complex”, where seemingly “Nice Jewish Boys” reach out to women for intellectual and emotional connections, but these connections never foster full-fledged relationships.  The women cited in Robinson’s article are left confused because all of the initial foundations for a relationship exist – shared interest, witty banter and emotional reciprocity – yet romantic intimacy never manifests.

Robinson attributes this idiosyncratic conduct to the digital age, stating: “In a world where it’s easier than ever to communicate with a dizzying array of people via online dating, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging and texting, it seems that communication is more shallow than ever.”  Therefore the desire to seek out a real-life person, as opposed to a hand-held electronic screen, is understandable and driven by our primal need for human interaction.

But text messages and emails are only the tip of the iceberg, and the roots of the Pen Pal Complex are more than just the unfortunate side-effect of living in an online world. The reality is that dating today has become one long agonizing episode of The Bachelor, where a flock of attractive, educated, articulate women compete for the attention of one choice man.  This gives available men the option to compartmentalize their interests and spread them across the larger quantity of available women.  One woman can share his interest in music, while another can enjoy his penchant for Dim Sum.  One can satisfy his sexual desires, while another can be his go-to gal for emotional support. Nobody is completely perfect, but with so many dating options available for urban men, a guy can find one mate that is perfect for one particular aspect.

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  1. I struggle with this article on many levels. The fact that there are more successful, well-educated, working women at this moment that at any other time in history, coupled with the author’s stance that men have been disproportionately affected by the negative economy, I would think that it would be women, not men, who are at an advantage when it comes to dating. Women now have more freedom to choose whom to date and why, as well as more of a prerogative to “compartmentalize” mates for their specific needs, i.e. sex, companionship, emotional support, etc. I also find this article slightly condescending in its thesis that social media is beneficial for males but detrimental to females. In reality, doesn’t the lack of face-to-face contact put both sexes at an equal advantage/disadvantage? If anything, perhaps the “urban women” of which the author speaks are at a slight disadvantage, only because, with our increased education and success in the workplace, our standards are higher and we’re not simply looking for a “breadwinner”? Thoughts?

  2. huuffht.. i hate men

  3. Funny, I sort of do this with men, compartmentalize them to one aspect of my life, because I haven’t found one that can handle the whole enchilada yet! I see some of them doing the same, so maybe that’s where dating is headed: specialization,, compartmentalization, a modern ” Don’t put all your eggs in one basket .”

  4. This article is sad and some of the comments are too. My parents old adages work just fine. It really depends on what you are looking for. If you aren’t in to commitment then that works for you and if you are… well there are clear signs that will point you in the right direction. I personally like authentic, very genuine friendships and relationships. I am not the type to have a million acquaintances or a rotation of men, but a few very very close friends and 1 man if I am dating someone. This article makes it seem like all women want to do is find a man. I personally have more important things to do. You either like me or you don’t.

  5. i find it interesting that this is an article about a woman’s difficulty dating, but it was written by a man. and while i don’t deny the truth in what he writes or that his perspective can add value, i do wonder what it would look like if a woman had written this article.

    also, i question some of the facts here. if woman are “flourishing” after the economic downfall, why do statistics continue to show that women earn less than men? perhaps this statement relates to the percentage of women who were/are employed before and after the economic crisis.

    and while it may be true that some women don’t know what they want, i most certainly do not fit it into that category. my problem is that i have a hard time finding a man who meets the three basic requirements i’m looking for: christian, educated, employed. and i’m being told that my standards are too high!

    and if life is becoming like “the bachelor” where a man can find a woman to meet a category of his needs, could it not be argued that woman can do the same? there is a series called “the bachelorette,” after all.

  6. This had the strangest quasi-feminist message.

    Are we still seriously of the mindset that single women are victims?

    Romance is complicated and emotionally destabilizing no matter what your gender or relationship status is on Facebook. We can’t modernize the adages of our parents generation if we’re thinking with tired patriarchal standards or the concept that having one perfect man to go steady with will lead to happiness.
    Adaptation is the name of the game, and aren’t we in an age where both men and women have the capability to cultivate their relationships in whatever way they personally find fulfilling? Certainly many are aiming their priorities beyond the roles of husband-and-housewife…

  7. I agree with a gal below. This article could go on for much longer. Hopefully, in a direction that holds women to the same level of accountability as it seems to hold men.

  8. I dunno, I disagree that men are the ones who have multiple people on the go.

    I personally, much like Chloe from don’t trust the B, have a rotation, all the guys know about the rotation and are fine with it, and seemingly impressed that I pulled it off, but none of us want long term commitment, because we’re in school or about to move. I think that it’s changing for better and worse.

  9. Feel this article was cut short? Interesting though