When I had an ‘In a Relationship’ status on Facebook, I received daily advertisements for engagement rings, because naturally, I should have been pressuring my boyfriend into proposing marriage to me. That relationship ended, without any pressure to engage, as many relationships do. Within a week, I began seeing ads for online dating services, apps and “looking to meet hot single men in your area?” I didn’t know how to tell the algorithms that I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t ready.
Since that relationship, I have had no relationship status listed on any social media network for nearly three years. I still receive ads for dating apps and services, and now, I also constantly receive sponsored articles, blogs, and marketing for services, psychics, coaches, programs, and systems that offer to help me find, get, keep, land, or catch a man, or if I already have a man, how to prevent scaring him away or turning him off. The main take-away — I am doing something terribly wrong.
“How to stop pushing men away.” But he pushed me first.
“Catch him and keep him.” Is he a fish?
“The one thing women do to turn men off.” Have thoughts of our own?
“The 3 words you must NEVER say to a man.”
“Say these 9 words if you want him to love you forever.” What nine words?!
The last one tickled my curiosity. I played around with it in my head for a while, played some mental wheel of fortune, hung a hypothetical hangman. I couldn’t come up with nine magic words. As a personal rule, I do not open what is trending. I avoid clickbait, articles with inflammatory titles and articles with titles that are numbered lists of do’s or don’ts, habits or practices of people who are happy, successful, in love, popular, or any other desirable state. However, my integrity is fluid, and my curiosity is fierce. I opened it. I really needed to know those nine words. Would I try them out? The advertisement/article suggested that it would be irresponsible to say these words to a man who I didn’t want to be with forever. I am irresponsible. For research purposes, of course I would say them. What if the nine words worked their magic, the man I was dating at the time fell hopelessly in love with me…forever? It was a risk (for him) that I was willing to take. Lucky for me, he was off the hook. After reading the entire article, I wasn’t willing to pay $50 to subscribe to magical dating system that included the nine words. My curiosity has financial limits. That relationship ended.
Another article/advertisement for purchasable dating advice was offering how to have the relationship you want. In order to do this, you must never chase him. Sure, we shouldn’t have to chase after men, but this article meant it in a way of playing games, advising to never text him first. Never, ever call. Do not express interest in events or activities, and absolutely never invite him to do anything. Excuse me? Is a relationship where one partner must deny herself participation in the conversation, hide her interests, hide who she is even a relationship? What year is this?
Every time I click out of curiosity, and all the while I am dying to know those nine words, imagining saying them to a man (whether I want to spend my life with him or not), I become more frustrated. Every time I read a blog about what I am doing wrong, how I’m pushing him away, what terrible mistakes I’m making that drive innocent men away from me, what I’m doing to make them ghost me or gaslight me, I think, Well, what am I doing wrong? Being myself? Is living my life to my own standards so incorrect? Is my self that offensive to men?
Men also get ads for dating sites and blogs with suggestions for how to ‘get’ women. Men are also marketed based on their demographics and assumed interests, socioeconomic status, location and whatever other variables the algorithms take into account. However, it is incredibly frustrating that as women (and I recognize that I am writing from a totally heteronormative place), we are constantly being told through marketing that we are not enough, that where we are is not the right place to be. Being in a relationship isn’t enough. We should have rings on our fingers. Being single is not okay. We should be dating. And being single long-term? Absolutely offensive. Women in this category are doing something terribly wrong. We are pushing them away, saying all the wrong things, and turning them off. We are not catching them and definitely not keeping them. We are not using the proper bait. We do not know the right tricks. We are failing at being women.
We receive constant reinforcement that if we are single, it is our fault. Our worth continues to be defined by the relationships we are in, the men in our lives, and by whether or not we are able to keep those men around. This is not new — our worth has always been defined that way, and even as society changes, culture shifts, previously shushed voices gain strength, the ads persist, the beliefs persist.
I understand how online marketing works. I also get ads for yoga pants, bikinis, and other typical things for middle class, middle-aged white women, like yoni eggs and resistance bands. Should I try harder to ‘grow my booty’? Will that help me get a man? I also understand that now that I’ve clicked on a few of these, I have increased the demand, flagged some algorithms somewhere. I am on every marketer’s list. A mid-thirties single woman who practices yoga, would like a firmer booty, is curious about yoni eggs, and must know those nine magic words — but just can’t afford them.
Men are taught to be ambitious, to pursue their dreams, career goals and passions, and they see men doing it. Women and girls are told these things too, but we also constantly see and hear that if we don’t find, get, catch, and keep a man, we are doing something wrong. We are told to follow our dreams, but we are shown that we must prioritize our relationships with men. We are told that we can be anything we want, but we are shown that what we should want is a husband. We are encouraged to study hard and pursue a good career, but as we get older, we see that success as a woman is a bit more complex, a little less desirable than how it was sold to us as children. A successful man doesn’t have to worry if he will intimidate women, if he shouldn’t be quite so successful. He doesn’t have to find the perfect amount of assertiveness. He doesn’t have to worry about speaking up too much or too little in meetings. A successful man won’t be asked how he will juggle the career and the family. A successful man expects that a woman will naturally fit into his busy life, will adapt to his demanding career. If he is attractive and single, people around him assume that he just can’t meet a good woman. If a woman is attractive and single, she must be doing something wrong, something offensive, something that is a huge turn off to men. It’s unimaginable that we may not be seeking a relationship, or even that we may ultimately desire partnership, but haven’t made it our top priority. Regardless of how many other indicators of success we are hitting, whether they be socially or individually defined, we are failing.
Relationships are important. They are challenging. We can all get better at them. It’s not the idea that there is potentially valuable information about building healthy partnerships that is frustrating. It’s that these suggestions aren’t healthy. Or current. These little tricks and schemes and gimmicks are outdated and toxic, and even if they work, even if they help those of us who do want relationships to ‘catch’ and then ‘keep’ men, then we are perpetuating toxic patriarchal relationship standards.
It’s not that we shouldn’t desire or seek to build relationships. It’s the language that is used in this style of marketing and writing. It’s the ideas that are reinforced by this language, the insecurities that are poked, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways they tell us that we are not good enough the way we are. We must rearrange ourselves — our faces, our bodies, our interests and desires, our personalities, in order to be with men. Even the most secure among us will at some point begin to doubt ourselves and wonder as I have, well, what am I doing wrong? Is my self really that offensive?
So listen up, algorithms. Yes, I clicked, and yes, I fit into your demographic, but I’m not looking to catch him and keep him. I don’t need nine magic words.
Perhaps it is because I focused all of my energy on my career and am wildly successful. Perhaps it is because I spent my twenties traveling and living abroad, a sense of restlessness leading me into a variety of multicultural situations and relationships, none of them calling me to settle. Perhaps I don’t want to settle. Perhaps I’m not interested in long-term partnership. Or perhaps I do want a partner, just not now. Perhaps I have had a series of narcissistic and abusive partners and am scared to enter in another relationship, feeling safer alone. Or perhaps, I have had a couple of long term relationships, a few shorter but significant ones, dated casually, had one man love me unconditionally until the day when he recently died, have spent plenty of time single, and am exhausted by the whole process, now finding delight in creating the exact life I want, surrounded by friends and love in different forms, and have decided to be content with myself whether I am dating someone or not. Perhaps the reason is something I can’t even imagine. It doesn’t matter.
I don’t see this type of advertising going away anytime soon — especially if curious people like me keep clicking them open. So, then what? What can we do to stop being influenced by it? We can start by thinking analytically about how and why we are marketed to. Know that these types of ads are meant to make us curious. Be intentional about what we click on. Conscious consumerism applies to media as well. Don’t let someone’s attempt to capitalize from your choices convince you that you are doing something wrong. There aren’t nine magic words to get him to love you forever, and you didn’t scare him off by saying three wrong words. There isn’t a system to purchase or a trick to finding love. If you have to trick someone into loving you, then that person is not for you. You don’t have to find love. You create love. You build partnerships. And the best way to start a healthy partnership is by defining your needs, communicating clearly, knowing what you want in life and going after it, by being just the way you are. And the way you are is just fine.