Are we dating the same guy?
I love stumbling upon a whisper network of women–it’s truly one of my favorite female behaviors (and it’s also why we’re building Diem). So it will probably come as no surprise that over recent months I’ve become slightly obsessed with the proliferation of “Are We Dating the Same Guy” Facebook groups. I had heard a few friends mention these groups, so I actually re-downloaded Facebook to check them out.
The TLDR: The conversations that go down in these closely guarded groups are incredible. They seem to center around the belief that “no good men are left in XYZ city,” so women should warn other women about badly behaved men. Group members share screenshots of men’s individual dating profiles and photos, mostly asking if others have encountered the said man. It’s classic girl group chat relationship advice (but with strangers), and it’s worth noting that these groups tend to center heteronormative dating/relationships. As writer Jamie Kahn put it, “It's the whisper network women have been using for centuries, just amplified.” I can confirm it really does feel like I’m digitally eavesdropping on a group of girlfriends, and as someone who is inexplicably nosey, this is basically my dream come true.
There’s actually a really interesting history behind “dating” that I think presents a relevant lens to explore why these groups are so engaged and often necessary. Historically, changes in dating have been tied to work—the way we date has evolved with the economy (and now technology). This observation is central to the book, Labor of Love by Moira Weigel, in which she guides us through the 20th century, outlining the popular mode of American dating in each decade and how it reflects that era’s economic conditions. She starts in the 1900s when dating began. Weigel defines dating as meeting up with a potential romantic partner in a public space, which started when women moved to big cities seeking work around the turn of the 20th century.
As women moved into cities, newly independent from their fathers, they were courted in public. At the time, politicians and local law enforcement were alarmed (some women were even arrested!). Weigel explains, “In the eyes of the authorities, women who let men buy them food and drinks or gifts and entrance tickets looked like whores, and making a date seemed the same as turning a trick.” After centuries of women’s wealth/autonomy being dictated by the men around them, the notion of women creating their own path confused much of society. When women first entered the workforce, Weigel comments that “the belief remained widespread they were working not to support themselves but only to supplement the earnings of fathers or husbands…employers used this misconception as an excuse to pay women far less than they paid men. In 1900, the average female worker earned less than half of what a man would earn in the same position.” This, of course, influenced a new-age version of courting and is also why it’s still “a thing” that men are expected to pay for their dates. That’s why it can feel somewhat backward that women cling to the idea of the man having to “take them out,” and in turn, judge men harshly when they fail to do so. In addition to this, Wiegel points out that our current era is defined by hook-up culture, or as she calls it, the ‘permalancing’ version of dating – in which our relationships, like our employment status, are never clearly defined. The collision of these two things – the expectation of men paying and hook-up culture – makes for quite a messy reality when it comes to setting expectations…which you can see firsthand spill over into these Facebook groups.
When I lurk in these groups, I get the impression that women posting still feel like they’re waiting to be “picked” off the shelf by these men, subconsciously or not. The general vibe is that there’s a perceived lack of control or autonomy for women who are currently dating. Does this mean men still hold more power within the dynamics of modern dating? Not necessarily. The perceived lack of control that women feel is potentially due to years of social conditioning, in which women tend to blame themselves for failures in relationships. Maybe this is due to a woman’s “worth” correlating closely to their measured “beauty” and relationship status, which I’ve written about many times. So often, so much of this comes back to our lives being defined by male attention, because male attention = power in the way society is currently set up.
So perhaps these Facebook groups actually exist to take back some control. As Kahn stated in their exploration of these groups, “It makes sense that the social element of romance would adapt to the digital age. Instead of chatting with a handful of friends over drinks or venting to coworkers, we are now seeking the counsel of 43,000 women online going through similar—and in some cases, the exact same—experiences.”
From our work building Diem, we know how important (and validating) discovering shared experiences can be in quelling your deepest insecurities and making you feel “normal.” So I can totally see why sharing similar dating experiences with a group of relative strangers might help one comprehend why dating can suck so much. I also wonder if there’s a deeper “safety-in-numbers” mentality at play here—women in my circle will frequently ‘joke’ about sharing their location when they go on a first date, alluding to being attacked in some way. These passing comments are made in the same way we text each other when we get home after a night out, and it’s sad that while we might say these things in jest, it’s rooted in the genuine possibility of harm. And in a world that still perpetuates violence against women at the deepest facets of society, these groups could actually be a lifeline for some—a genuine warning call. If traditional systems won’t protect us then maybe the communities that we build together can? Admittedly, while most of the commentary I’ve come across in these groups is largely centered on someone ghosting vs. being physically/verbally abusive, I wouldn’t be surprised if that information has been shared previously—the groups are really that candid.
Interestingly, when a group of men got wind of this women-only group, they set up their own version using the exact same community guideline. The original women’s group was up in arms when they discovered this and many referred to these men as “incels” for doing the same things they had been doing for months. Of course, men publicly sharing details about other women could comparatively put women in more danger given the reality of stalking/violence against women, so women have more of a right to reject this behavior. Additionally, we do know men feel more entitled to female bodies and attention, so their commentary can feel more righteous or aggressive in comparison to women’s commentary on men. But the irony of labeling these men as “incels” is interesting to me, given that the incel movement was actually started by a woman in the late 1990s as a community for those struggling to find love (we’ve talked about this before). Frankly, these new Facebook groups feel pretty close to that.
I could go on, but I want to know what you think. Are these groups just the next evolution of our personal social networks, now involved in the dating process? Or are they perhaps building crucial power structures that have needed reconstruction for generations? Or are they just another necessary whisper network that women use to navigate a society that wasn’t built for them? Tell us your thoughts here.
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