They’re Not Dating “Horror Stories” Anymore, They’re Just How It F*cking Is

Single women: you know you don’t have to do this, right?

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Heather McMahan’s podcast, Absolutely Not

While chopping kale last night, because I’m exactly the person you think I am, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Absolutely Not with Heather McMahan. If you don’t know who Heather McMahan is, I have no idea how you’ve made it through 2020 intact, but anyway she’s a comedian, podcaster, and Instagram presence keeping us the fuck together during a global pandemic. Heather appreciates and respects the plight of the single woman, but she has been with her partner Jeff for over ten years. That means Heather has never dated in her 30s. That also means she has never dated in her 30s within this current digital dating hellhole of a decade. Envy her later, read on now.

Heather loves to bring her friends on the podcast which I appreciate, because it would be weird for her to be friends with people who aren’t as funny and entertaining as she is. Like friends like. This week’s episode features Heather’s delightful friend and sorority sister Elizabeth Howard, and the two focus on Elizabeth’s experiences with modern dating. Let’s just say I couldn’t eat the kale.

Elizabeth recounted many stories and experiences she’s had as an actively dating early-30s adult in Nashville, TN, though if you listen to the episode, you’ll quickly realize that the experience is globally applicable. I won’t retell the stories because I want you to listen to the podcast but also because I don’t fucking have to. If you’re single and actively dating, you know the stories already, you’re dealing with your own anthology of them, and honestly I’m guessing a guy obsessed with teeth doesn’t even sound that weird by now.

I appreciate Heather’s effort to bring the experiences of single and dating women to her podcast. I am thrilled when a light shines on single women ever, really. But what struck me as I listened to tale after tale was that something has fundamentally changed in the way we talk about dating. In this modern dating landscape, to simply talk about a woman’s experiences is to talk about situations she’s had to go through that are deeply fucked up.

Horror is now the baseline.

The assumption about dating, from a single woman’s perspective, is that it’s awful. The endless stories of strange, rude, forward, offensive behavior that heterosexual women encounter from heterosexual men in the online dating space are no longer the exception. They’re the fucking rule. It is assumed that if a woman is dating online, she’s dealing with all manner of ungodly behavior in her search for someone to split rent with. Her head is on a swivel at all times, her ears are perked up, perpetually in red-flag-identification mode like some kind of husband hunting bot. But somehow our society still shits on single women, labeling them flawed, sad, or desperate when they “can’t find a man.”

Hey asshole, maybe the problem isn’t the woman looking for the needle. Maybe the problem is the whole damned haystack.

I do not believe that single women’s dating “horror stories,” as we charmingly call them, should ever be used as entertainment. These are our lives, our very earnest pursuits of partnership, and we’re not your fucking court jesters. When coupled people enjoy or ask to hear these stories, as some kind of voyeuristic amusement or because they need a reminder what color the grass is on our side of the fence, either way I don’t like it. And when single women are super eager to tell these horror stories again, and again, and again, and again, I wonder how long it’s going to take them to wake the fuck up. I think we tell these stories because we need other people to understand how hard hour lives are. But they’re hard because we’re online dating. That’s a choice. If it’s horror at worst, and “just okay” at best, why are we still doing this?

In the dating space, specifically online dating, women put in the maximum effort, putting forth a profile and an impression both online and in person that they can be proud of. Their effort is an indication that dating matters to them, that there’s intention here. Men can’t be bothered to brush their fucking hair, indicating that this isn’t a big deal to them at all. Or worse, they put in the grossest effort imaginable, viewing women on dating apps as opportunities to indulge the kinks and quirks they can’t get away with in real life, because real life would have consequences. Men on dating apps don’t view women on dating apps as real, as worthy of effort, or as a group of people there will be consequences for fucking with. Because there never are.

Everything about the ways we date has changed, but the societal views of single women are remarkably archaic and refuse to catch up. The societal assumption is that single women who want to get married are pretty damn dedicated to that goal, so they’ll put up with anything in order to achieve it. The societal assumption of single men is that they’re playboys with plenty of time and nothing “wrong” with them if they’re not married yet at 38. A woman not married at 38 is looked upon with pity if not disgust. Don’t believe me? Read the comments. And if women view online dating as a valid path to partnership, while men just wanna see if they can get away with asking a woman they’ve never met to spit in their eye, sure they’ll show up to a date in swim trunks and flip flops, why the fuck wouldn’t they? (True story, of course.)

This grotesque imbalance between straight men and women in the online dating space that results in these “horror stories” taking center stage, with success stories becoming akin to urban legends at this point, results in women learning a dangerous thing: I don’t have any other choice. This is where the guys are. This is dating now. This is all that’s left. It results in us lowering our standards to match what we perceive to be available options. If we think that online dating is “how people meet now,” and agree to participate in this American Horror Story circus, we keep reiterating to ourselves over and over and over that there’s nothing else available. That we have to settle for this, because what choice do we have?

We have a fucking choice. We can chose to stop making ourselves available to these men to deposit horror stories upon us. We don’t have to participate in online dating. We can simply quit. I did, two years ago. And I haven’t had a horror story since. Did I meet a partner in those two years? No, but I didn’t meet one in the ten years I online dated either. The difference now is that I don’t hate my life. Imagine that.

But…but…if we don’t online date, how will we meet someone?? We’ll never meet someone if we don’t online date!

My question for single women is, are you meeting people now? People you’d actually want relationships with? No? Then honestly what the fuck are you losing? Apart from the endless uncomfortable, unfair situations you’ve been living through that result in all your little horror stories.

I’d really like single women to shed the notion that they have to put up with hell in order to earn a husband. You don’t. Think of all the married and partnered people you know. Did they have to crawl on broken glass first? Or did they just meet during the normal course of living life?

You don’t have to aim for the bare minimum just because that’s what online dating has taught you is the only thing available to you. You’re allowed to remove yourself from the situation and remember what you actually want, and what you actually deserve. It’s okay to acknowledge that you might not find either via online dating, and it’s certainly okay to acknowledge that your future partnership doesn’t have be endlessly suffered for. Online dating is really good at wiping away a single woman’s self worth. The day you decide to stop letting it get away with that shit is a proud one, I promise you.

You are worth more than horror stories. You are worth more than a full digital dating culture of men who honestly don’t give a shit at best, and at worst make you feel revolted or afraid. You are allowed to stop participating, and remember that since the beginning of time, people have been meeting each other in an endless variety of ways. We don’t have to depend on a dating space that punishes us. And maybe if we leave such a space, the men left in it will have to be better. Maybe instead of lowering our standards to meet them, they’ll have to improve their behavior to meet us.

At one point in the podcast, Heather made a request for single women’s “war stories.” Her motivation wasn’t entertainment, though by default that’s kind of what they become when they’re played from her hotline, because honestly it’s the funniest thing in the world. Her motivation was to be more of a den mother to all of the single women in her audience. Which is very heartwarming honestly, it’s nice to know that there are partnered women on our team. But the request for “war stories” is hollow, unless there’s also going to be some action in place too.

Those of us who are single and dating, and all the people who care about us, we have to demand more, and demand better, of the online dating community. And I think the way to demand a change from online dating is to stop using it. We can’t just tell “war stories,” as further evidence how fucked up dating has become. We already know it’s fucked up. Now, what are we going to do about it?

I say quit. I say leave. We don’t have to do this. We don’t have to put up with endless situations that feel like we have to survive them. We deserve dating experiences we get to enjoy. If online dating won’t give us a better experience, we should stop giving it our attention, and most certainly our money. If men see online dating as buffet to sneeze into and women see it as a grocery store of sanitarily packaged items, we have a fundamental problem here, and buffets were always gross. Removing ourselves from an unproductive, punishing space isn’t “lowering our chances.” It’s reminding us of our worth. I’m worth more than online dating mistreatment, we all are. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough horror stories for one lifetime.

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Shani Silver is a writer and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, frequently. She is also the host of A Single Serving Podcast.

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NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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