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Dating In a Post-Feminist World

Steven Wells

Over the past month, since the Aziz Ansari controversy was launched by an article on the website,  I've grown alarmed by the number of op-eds written by women who increasingly disparage men as dangerous, misogynistic, and irredeemable. Finally, a confusing op-ed in the Washington Post spurred me to write a response. Through sarcasm and humor, I try to point out the uncertainty many men feel about the new rules of dating.  I was not surprised the Washington Post declined to publish it.  Nevertheless, it was fun to write.


Dating In a Post-Feminist World

As a single dad, my days were filled with packed lunches, school drop-offs, and late-night homework, all juggled around a corporate career. Dating was daunting. I longed for intellectual conversation, laughter, and shared physical attraction.

Several women told me they only dated men who practiced total equality with women. One foretold that she wouldn’t sleep with a man until he had some skin in the game. I joked that I had about six inches of skin I was willing to put into the game. She didn’t laugh. After the Aziz Ansari episode, I wondered if I need become a mentalist to fully understand what women wanted.

My on-line dating attempts included swiping left and swiping right, until put off by a request for a full-frontal nude photo. Recently, my company adopted a dating policy, one that stipulated a one-strike rule: you could be turned down only once. A response of “Not tonight,” or “Maybe another time,” counted as “No.” Dating risked unwanted attention from the HR department and flirting was out of the question.

I recently had a date with a single mom, attractive and witty, from my daughter’s school. I used a rideshare to deliver me to an upscale restaurant where a hostess escorted me to a sumptuous, padded leather booth. Elizabeth, it’s not her real name, sat behind a crisp, white tablecloth with a glass of Scotch. I complimented her simple black dress as I slid into my side of the booth and said hello.

I ordered a Scotch, too, and soon enjoyed its warmth sliding down my throat. We discussed our kids, their progress, and our plans for their futures. After ordering our meals, the waiter asked: “Will you be having wine with dinner?” I requested a few minutes.

“What would you like,” I asked Elizabeth, “red or white?”

“You choose.”

“You’re having meat and I’m having fish; we can each order a glass.”

“Go ahead and order a bottle.”

I perused the wine list and decided on a French Pinot Noir. The waiter rewarded me with, “Good choice.”

“I usually drink whites,” Elizabeth said.

“Why didn’t you say so?” I was more curious than irritated.

“I trust your judgement.”

The dinner was excellent, and Elizabeth seemed to enjoy the wine, keeping up with me glass for glass.

After the dishes were cleared and desert menus presented, Elizabeth surprised me and slid around the table toward me. Even more surprising was her foot rubbing against my leg. In response, I briefly placed my hand on top of her arm and told her how much I’d enjoyed our dinner and conversation. Concerned about unwanted touching, I quickly removed it.

After the check arrived, I struggled with who should pay. I was traditional yet unsure of Elizabeth’s expectation. “Should we split it?”

She looked at me with a cocked eye in a subtle expression of disappointment. I placed my credit card on top of the tray.

We lingered over desert and drinks. Elizabeth moved her hand to the top of my leg and gave it a slight squeeze. “You work out?” Her perfect teeth dazzled through a broad smile.

Her hand wasn’t unwanted touching—I enjoyed it. Was she signaling a growing interest in intimacy? How could I know? The HR department had recently presented all employees a module that defined informed consent, a policy stipulating two partners engaging in an amorous relationship must obtain either verbal, or non-verbal consent before any escalation. I felt paralyzed.

After an awkward silence, Elizabeth removed her hand. “I should go.”

“Of course.” I stood, disappointed.

As we waited by the coat check with other diners milling about, Elizabeth turned to face me. She coolly slipped her fingers barely inside the waistband of my pants and pulled me close. “Can I give you some advice?”

“Sure,” I blurted.

“I’m an old-fashioned feminist, and I’ll call out a man for inappropriate behavior. But I also expect he has an ego strong enough to handle feedback. I can compete with men in the workplace, and I bet I could beat you in a 10K. But in romance, I’m looking for something different. I want a man who’s going to order my wine and pay for my diner. Sure, I’m fully capable of both, but when it’s just me without my kids, I love to sit back and let someone do it for me.”

The best response I could muster was, “Women are confusing.”

“Women are intellectually diverse and not all the same. I planned to suggest my house after dinner, but you seemed so tentative, I couldn’t imagine us together in bed.”

“What?” The comment aroused me.

I want a man who will take me into the bedroom and slowly, deliberately, remove my clothes. One who will stroke the expensive fabric of my bra and deftly unfasten it with one hand. One who’s going to show me, with every fiber of passion he possesses, that I’m desired more than anything else in the world at that moment.” She paused and stared into my eyes.

I swallowed hard. “I can do that.”

She released my trousers and turned to take her coat. After buttoning it, and before leaving through a revolving door, she added, “Now that you know what I want, think about what you want. If you’re still interested, give me a call.”

I watched Elizabeth walk out onto the sidewalk and tap on her phone. I assumed she was requesting a ride home. I didn’t need to think about my answer to her question. I was interested. Then I faced the next dating challenge—how long to wait before I call? Marriage seemed far less confusing.

From the Archive

Steven Wells

For this post, I decided to reach into my archive of past writings. As a board trustee of the Microsoft Alumni Network, I've previously written articles about two amazing alumni who have started non-profits with inspiring results. The first is Literacy Bridge, which helps fight illiteracy and improve health outcomes around the world. The second is Pongo Teen Writing, which teaches poetry to help troubled youth who have been incarcerated. I hope the creative and remarkable work of these two individuals will inspire you as much as they have me.

Cliff Schmidt and Literacy Bridge - Full article here

Most mornings at 5:30, when he’s not travelling to Africa, you’ll find Microsoft alumnus Cliff Schmidt working in the Seattle office of Literacy Bridge, the nonprofit organization he founded 10 years ago. By 8 a.m., he’s back home and walking his daughter to the bus stop for her trip to kindergarten.

Richard Gold and Pongo Teen Writing - Full article here

It was San Francisco in 1976. Microsoft alum Richard Gold was pursuing a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. The summer of love would soon give way to news of Patricia Hearst, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. At least the Grateful Dead had resumed touring. But current events didn’t ignite Richard’s passion, volunteer work at a clinic with special-needs kids did.