From puberty onward, I have heard a certain phrase, uttered at me by friends, extended family, classmates, coworkers, strangers. It's said by both men and women. It's said in a range from completely joking, to half-joking, to completely serious, but always as though these people are doing me a favour, imparting incredible wisdom on me. The phrase is this:
"You're never going to find [a man] if you keep being so picky."
The phrase can be triggered by any number of things: from friends, when I said I couldn't seriously date anyone who didn't have at least analagous religious beliefs, or that I didn't want someone who would pressure me to have sex and would break up if they did, or that I couldn't date a smoker; from strangers, while reading books that looked "too intelligent" (yes, honestly), or wearing shirts that said things like "Proud to be single" or "Talk nerdy to me"; from extended family members or colleagues, when responding to their "why aren't you dating?" inquiries with "I'm not interested in dating anyone who gets trashed and pukes all over the floor every night". We won't even get into what happens if I speak my mind on an issue, feminist or no.
Now, I don't think I have an unacceptable list of requirements/prohibitions. I love my God and would get tired of someone who insisted on reminding me my beliefs are "wrong"; I'm not interested in sex — not in being convinced, persuaded, cajoled, not now, not ever — and it would be unfair to date someone for whom sex was important; I'm asthmatic, so being with a smoker would mean daily attacks and a constant migraine; I'm intelligent and want to have conversations with my partner about things that interest me; and I'm allergic to alcohol, so someone with a daily obsession in which I have no interest in — and in fact a medical preclusion to — makes no sense.
Nevertheless, apparently this is so bad that these people — even store clerks in a clothing store or a random woman in the airport — felt the need to inform me that, if I did not change my ways, I would wind up alone, unloved, and surrounded by a million cats who would one day devour my cold, dead flesh before anyone thought to look for me.
Meanwhile, I heard my male friends proclaim their "lists", which contained things like "must be hot", "must have a nice rack", "smart but not too smart", "isn't a gold-digger but makes a little bit less than me". Did their male friends tell them they would never find a woman? No. Did their friends even warn them that it's more important to find someone you love than someone who fits random breast size requirements? No. Their buddies cheered and agreed, whole-heartedly.
It's not just me. We see it every day on television, both in sitcoms and in real life — the average guy and the smokin' wife. I'm not the only woman who's been told she's "too picky" for wanting someone who will share housework, while men are lauded for having "standards" if they refuse to bang anyone over 28.
Why do we do this? We're constantly telling women that it's no good having any preferences in a partner because they're not good enough to warrant choice. They don't deserve someone who matches their life pattern. They should just settle for the first shlub with working genitalia who doesn't hit them, because after that, theyre just being choosy. And if they do insist on waiting for their "prince", this stupid, unreasonable, unrealistic, and just wait, one day they'll realize the truth of the world and it will be too late.
It's incredibly hurtful and unfair, and I do not understand it. Especially since we're programming into women's heads that there's no such thing as a good man — which is patently false! There are millions of them, everywhere, every day! Men who do not beat, abuse, neglect, or disrespect their girlfriends or wives. But women are taught that these men don't exist, that they're an unrealistic fantasy placed into their head by Disney princes (yes, I hear this, all the time), and that settling is what's important. No one bothers to mention that maybe these magical guys aren't going to be hanging around sports bars, looking to get laid.
It's also ridiculous to me — and what eventually made me start lashing out at acquaintances and strangers, giving me labels like "uptight bitch" and "feminazi" — that people think that dating a complete schmuck is better than being alone. I've heard people honestly say that "anyone is better than a Friday night by yourself", and I know it happens. Guys who aren't as handsome stick around until last call at the bar because they know women get more desperate as the night goes on. Women would rather lose their self-respect, go home with a complete jerk, and make the walk of shame in the morning than return home without sexual validation. It's disgusting.
Once, in university, a family friend visited me and casually asked why I wasn't dating. At that very moment, a group of guys ran by, drunk at four in the afternoon, cheering about getting laid that night. I looked at my friend, raised an eyebrow, and said nothing. She paused, then said, "I understand". That's the only time I can remember this happening. One of my favourite family members, whom I love and adore and respect dearly, got angry — actually angry! which she'd never done in my entire remembrance! — and snapped at me that if I was going to be so "unreasonable" as to "judge" a group of boys who got drunk in the parking lot of a restaurant at lunchtime and left their empties on the ground, well, I'd better be prepared to be alone for the rest of my life.
Why? Why are we doing this? This hurts women. It teaches them that being alone is something to be ashamed of — worse, that it's a mark of failure on the part of themselves, for not attracting someone, for being too "picky", for thinking they're "too good" for the regular guys that everyone else settles for. It teaches them that it's better to have a man who sits on the couch watching television and occasionally demanding refills than to be alone. It teaches them that even women who say they're happy being single are lying. It teaches them that the ones who aren't lying are somehow damaged.
The other problem is that this hurts men as well. No, really.
Men are led to believe that the only partners they are allowed to have must be thin (see: the mockery when men date a woman who's overweight), yet buxom (see: the remarks when men date a woman with small breasts), younger (see: the incredulity if a man dates a woman who's older and NOT a cougar just in it for the temporary sex), less successful or financially solvent (see: humiliation and "kept boy" remarks regarding men who date women with better jobs), subservient (see: "hen-pecked" and "whipped" for men whose girlfriends "make" them wait an entire month before having sex for the first time) — on and on and on.
Men who find happy, non-conventionally attractive, successful women willing to take an equal share in the partnership are not encouraged to be happy in society; they're mocked, mercilessly. It doesn't matter if their buddies are secretly jealous, deep down inside; they'll only hear the jibes. The assumption that they could "do better". It's no wonder that so many married men cheat on their wives with someone younger, thinner, blonder, bigger-breasted. They're taught that it's their right, if they settled for less. It's no wonder that capital-N Nice Guys whine about hot girls choosing jerks, while they themselves ignore perfectly awesome, but not conventionally attractive, women who actually are attracted to them. They're told that they deserve better.
This doesn't make it right, and this is not an excuse, but it does shed light on part of the reason this happens.
The subversion to this, bless her, was Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice, with Mr. Darcy. His list — not even of his ideal woman, but his idea of an "accomplished" woman, involving extensive reading, the modern languages, embroidery, musical instruments, etc. — gets shot down by Lizzie, who declares that she can't believe he knows even six such women. The Bollywood version, Bride and Prejudice, manages to miss the point so completely as to become hypocritical in and of itself, with Lalita castigating Will Darcy for wanting a voluptuous, athletic, intelligent woman while having an entire song to herself about her ideal man (not a drinker, humble, intelligent, not a control-freak, romantic, loves to dance, does housework, not obsessed with money, equal opportunity, and it keeps on going!) and not being called on it. Apparently our society's idea of "progress" means flipping it around and putting impossibly high standards on men while insulting them for doing the same. Insert collective sigh here.
Enough is enough. This is not, as people continue to tell me, smugly, if I bring this up, the bitter ravings of an ugly, unloved dyke who couldn't land a man and is now striking back at the world that rejected her. This is a problem that hurts everyone — men and women, adults and teenagers. Moreover, this is completely unnecessary. And it has to stop.