Dating in the modern era: Are women pressured into playing hard to get?
A (sort of) deep dive into expectations for women in the dating world, and their links to the patriarchy and, possibly, evolution.
Picture this: you’re anxiously sitting on your bed, hunched over, staring daggers at your phone. Your heart has been in your stomach all day, waiting for a text back from you know who. You love talking to them and are so excited to talk to someone new. Ding! You hear the sound that makes your heart sink even lower—a new notification. It’s you know who. But instead of replying, you think, “If I reply too soon, it will look like I’m too excited and I was waiting for a text.” So instead, you nervously scroll through Instagram or TikTok or pace around until the time is right. After 10 to 15 minutes, you finally reply, breathing a sigh of relief, but not for long. Before you know it, you will be waiting again, nervous.
Where did this phenomenon of being too excited, too needy, too vulnerable, or too attracted to someone arise from? It’s one thing to be overzealous and extremely engaged with someone who isn’t reciprocating, but when the mutual attraction is apparent, what exactly makes us scared to show it? This may be a stretch to some, but I believe this has to do with traditional ideas rooted in the patriarchy… and evolution. Just hear me out.
My point-of-view is that of a heterosexual woman’s—and resultingly, this piece will mostly reference heterosexual relationships; however, it seems like this avoidant behaviour is something many experience, no matter their sexual orientation. I finally got to thinking about the roots of the elusiveness after taking a class in feminist philosophy.
Historically, a woman could not just approach someone she found interest in. If the marriage was not arranged by the involved families, marriage was often preceded by a courtship, where the man had to approach the woman and show interest. There was a lot on the line, and it was important for the woman in the relationship to maintain her honour, both prior to and after marriage. This honour meant no actions that could suggest any attraction beyond what was expected of a woman. A young man could be seen with a different woman every week, but a woman would face reputational consequences for displaying the same behaviour.
Now, if we take a trip to the Amazon rainforest, we would see that many species of birds often display courtship behaviours, where the male bird has to prove its evolutionary worth to the female bird it courts. This is also known as sexual selection, a natural phenomenon innate in birds, which scientists noticed.
Seemingly, there is a trend that transcended species, where the female organism is proposed to, but never does the proposing. I believe that historical ideas of relationships, along with human observation of courtships in nature, pushed women into a tight shell when it came to romantic attraction. The idea of playing hard to get was crucial to being of interest. Any deviation from that could have led to ideas, perhaps unconsciously, of straying not only from societal norms, but from animal nature. This is merely a theory based on my connections between evolution and women’s history, and of course it requires much more research into both the historical and evolutionary role of female organisms, but still, it is interesting.
And all of that is (perhaps) what leads us here today—where we have to show that we are not interested in an effort to show that we are nonchalant. Over-interest is unattractive and symbolizes having too much time on your hands. Fair enough, this essentially means, “Don’t be weird and do too much too soon.” But, in the age of social media, where every move we make is more than just a tap on a screen, these ideas have innervated communication between people, especially in romantic contexts. Actions like waiting to view someone’s story on Instagram to not seem “obsessed,” not replying back for hours to not seem “desperate,” and intentionally showing the most minimal signs of interest possible are now what romantic communication often is. This seems to be a lot more than not showing over-interest. It seems like a constant effort to never show any interest!
This opinion, however, is not meant to blame anyone involved, especially women. Ideas of purity that are associated with relationships, chastity, and even science arise directly from patriarchy and misogyny. Thankfully, social media trends show that things may be changing for the better, and people are being encouraged to show their interest instead of expecting people to be mind readers. This is a step in the right direction. Dismantling gender norms is, unfortunately, a lot like building Rome, in that it will not happen in a day. Until then, however, let’s hope that dating gets easier, and crushes get sillier.