ANNIE FRAZIER HALLADAY
Out of the dozens of first dates I’ve been on in my life, more of those dates have been with masculine people than feminine or nonbinary people. I typically go into a date without expectation of how that person might end up in my life. I like to think that a few hours spent getting to know someone is never a waste, even if they might not be my new life partner or even a person I ever see again.
I would say almost all of the first dates that I’ve been on with feminine or nonbinary people have gone reasonably well. There's usually an easy conversational flow and a reciprocity of asking each other personal questions. I’ve almost always walked away from first dates with feminine and nonbinary folks feeling seen, heard and like there’s a new person in the world who I know and who knows me, too.
I would say almost all of the first dates that I’ve been on with masculine people (specifically, cis men) have gone… not so well. I usually walk away from the date knowing a lot about the person that I’ve just spent time with. I feel like I heard them, saw them and learned a lot about them. But it’s almost never reciprocal.
By the numbers, I leave most dates with men with the realization that in the 1-2 hours we spent together they asked me literally zero questions about myself. I spent time with a perfect stranger, with the mutual intention of getting to know more about each other, and was asked no questions about myself. I walk away feeling unseen, unheard and like the person had no idea who they had just spent time with- and with the impression that they maybe didn’t even want to know more.
I realized that this experience more than any other was causing me to not enjoy my time spent on dates with men, and making me really resent dating. I reevaluated and changed my own behavior before looking outwardly for causes of why the men I had been going on dates with weren't asking me personal questions (it's worth noting that they otherwise seemed like really nice, caring people).
I started by occasionally saying something along the lines of ‘sorry to be asking you so many questions- I don’t mean to put you on the spot’ as a way to check if my behavior was unwelcome or abnormal (that didn’t help).
I started asking simple questions that would be easy for the other person to ask back immediately (that didn’t help).
I started inserting information about myself into the conversation, unprompted- that didn’t help and was usually met with a moment of polite listening and then a redirection to another topic about themselves rather than a follow up question (so, that didn’t help).
I started assuming that perhaps the other person was too nervous to connect and the lack of questions was an anxious sometimes-I-talk-about-myself-too-much reaction, and started going on second dates to give people another chance (that didn’t help).
I started intentionally allowing more space in the conversation. I tried to stop assuming responsibility for the emotional labor it takes to ensure a good conversational flow. When talk would die down, I would sit quietly and fight the strong urge to ask them another question. I hoped that they might send a question back my way if I gave them ample opportunity to do so. (That didn’t help either, and mostly resulted in a lot of awkward silences. I would occasionally get one question, though: ‘are you tired?’).
None of my strategies worked. I was at the end of what I could do on my own to cultivate the kind of connection I was looking for. Most all of my dates with men, I was still walking away feeling unheard, unseen and being asked few to no questions.
So, I started opening up about my experience to my friends. And almost every single one of them would respond that this has also been their experience. Going on a date and being asked zero personal questions is, apparently, a completely normal part of dating men.
Looking around at other aspects of my life, I began to observe this trend across my interactions with men. The lion's share of the deep or personal questions in many of my conversations with masculine friends, family members, partners and acquaintances are asked by me. And we all know the old joke about toxic masculinity: men never stop and ask for directions.
Many of the consent accidents and violations in my life could have been avoided by a man simply asking a question or two to gauge my level of interest and the presence or absence of my consent (and then listening to and respecting my answers).
I feel like this trend of men not asking questions has been true my whole life, but hasn’t always been visible to me. It wasn’t until I started encountering men to whom questions ARE important that I realized how rare it really is.
Having a partner that would regularly ask personal questions like “why is that so important to you?” or “what’s going on for you right now?” and giving me enough time and space to come to an answer.
Or the man who stood out when he expressed “I love asking questions! I don’t think we do enough of that in our culture!”
It took having a male boss who makes a point to first ask ‘what do you already know about this?’ before launching into an explanation, for me to realize that most mansplaining can be easily avoided by the explainer asking just that one simple question (The question above works great! I promise!)
Asking questions of one another is what allows us to see and be seen. Asking a question signals to the other person ‘I want to know more about you!’ It’s a way to learn about the whole person, not just the side of them that you encounter. It’s a way to acknowledge the private world that exists within someone and cultivate the opportunity for them to share it. It can also be a way to offer help someone trying to process through things that might be too difficult to be processed through alone. It's an excellent way to move past your assumptions about someone and instead learn about what is actually true for them.
And I recognize that not all questions are created equal. Some questions are rude, inappropriate, or come attached to a sense of entitlement to other's time and energy. But if we don't practice asking any questions at all, we can't get better at navigating these intricacies.
Asking good, deep questions is how we build genuine relationships and communities.
Because here’s the thing. Another large scale trend right now is isolation. And I suspect it’s especially true for men that struggle to reciprocate question asking- or that may even believe that isolation is an inherent part of masculinity (it doesn't have to be!).
Even in our crowded cities, with dating apps on our phones, and more options for instant communication than ever, so many of us feel deeply isolated. We fuel that isolation with wide streets without sidewalks or public spaces, gated communities and privacy fences, rigid social norms and touch deprivation, border walls and nightly television rituals. And it seems like many of us don’t have the skills to fight back.
And guess what I think a cure is for the big, bad isolation. You got it:
What are you struggling with right now? What is going well for you in life right now?
Why do you think you see the world that way?
What do you believe/think/feel about that? Why?
What does that bring up for you?
How do your experiences affect how you interact with others?
What is important to you?
How are you, really?