Online Dating Taught Me that Healthy Manhood is a Process, Not a Destination

It was not that long ago that I found myself single for the first time in over a decade. I had been involved in two different six-year relationships that spanned my twenties. I was 31-years-old and completely confused about how to move forward. Not only was my heart still mending, I also felt lost as to how to go about meeting women again. I knew that I wanted to find authentic connections and honest relationships. The problem was that I had zero idea how to meet people. I am a very gregarious person, but meeting someone new felt intimidating. So, I did what 88 percent of people under the age of 34 do — I started online dating.

While looking for love, I found out about the darker side of online dating. I tried a number of dating applications, and each one yielded different results, but one theme kept emerging. I found that no matter what app I used, no matter what safeguards were put in place, women were constantly being harassed. I learned this by speaking to countless women who said they liked talking to me because I was one of the few guys that had not blatantly harassed them within the first few exchanges. Without asking or probing further, women would offer their stories of verbal and sexual harassment that they experienced from men on dating apps. Every woman I spoke to had received unsolicited pictures at least one time, and for many women it was a regular occurrence. I think many of these women would tell me their stories of online harassment as a way to make sure I didn’t have the same intentions. Men have created an environment where women are constantly on guard for the next potential boundary violation.

A Call To Men teaches that men are socialized to view women as objects, as property, and as having less value than men. It did not take me long to conclude that these notions were showing up in online dating in amplified ways. I saw some of the problematic messages that women received on a regular basis. In them, I saw men posturing, attempting to dominate and control, and trying to prove their manhood. This all aligned with what I know about the collective socialization of men. The Man Box teaches men to be dominant, powerful, strong, tough, and in charge, so men displayed these characteristics in their profiles. What I couldn’t figure out, though, was why men thought these tactics would be successful? What motivates them to approach women in this way?

My conclusions are mine alone and not based on any literature or research. I believe that online dating has provided a platform for objectification with the swipe system. We swipe right and left, day-in and day-out, without actually thinking about the person at all. This trains our brains to see people as commodities to be pushed to the side (queue the swipe left), or to be used for our own needs (queue the swipe right). It is not purposeful, but it is a byproduct of the constant swiping. In the current online dating culture, we lose touch with humanity. People become an object that we can quickly discard if they do not meet our needs right away. And why not? All you have to do is log back in and start swiping. It’s subconscious, but when you are constantly viewing people from this perspective, it begins to change your behavior.

I found myself going on multiple dates with different women and not being honest with them that I was seeing other people too. It was so easy, and the allure of “having a back-up plan” is strong. Between the available access, the endorphin rush of a match, and the never-ending stream of potential dates, the process can quickly get the best of a man with good intentions. More than once, I found myself opening my app to look for new people, while my date was in the bathroom at a restaurant. That was when I knew things had gotten away from me.

 I am proud to say that I changed the way I approached the online dating process.  Honesty became my first policy. I cleaned up the messes I had made and dealt with the consequences. A few months later, I decided to stay single and learn to be happy without the constant positive reinforcement of meeting someone new online.

As fate would have it, I met someone at a concert, not online. Although my current relationship didn’t start on an app, that doesn’t mean honest relationships can only be discovered in person. If you are a man, I believe you have to take a critical approach to the digital dating process. When I talk to my guy friends about how to promote healthy manhood in online dating culture, I ask them to consider these five things:

1.     Start the process being intentional about how you represent yourself.

2.     Make every effort NOT to objectify women. Don’t make statements or comments about their bodies until you have developed a relationship with them and you know that kind of comment would be welcomed.

3.     Use the tools for connection, and not for commodification.

4.     Take time to reflect on the ways you start conversations with women in these apps. Are you primarily concerned with who they are inside or what they look like?

5.     Ask women about their lives and experiences. Get curious and interested in their lives and desires for meeting someone and don’t assume you know what is best for them.

During my time dating online, I learned that healthy manhood was a process, not a destination.  I’m constantly learning and evolving. I’m not going to get it right every time, but I’m committed to listening and growing. I also learned that healthy manhood is a verb. It’s a choice that is made one action at a time. My hope is that other men learn from my mistakes and that we move forward together creating physical and digital environments for authentic connection as we seek to find love.