Why Does Dating Men Make Me Feel Like Shit? I Normally Love Myself
Is your partner's shame being projected onto you?
Maybe this story sounds familiar, you're single and unattached and life just seems to be GOOD, you know?
And even though there might ultimately be something wanting in the love department, you've NEVER felt better about yourself. You're confident, happy, you accept and embrace your own imperfections.
But then, BAM, you start dating again, things get serious with the new guy and suddenly you wake up one morning and realize you're not feeling your normal happy self.
You're feeling things that are hard to pin point ...
One thing's for sure though. You find yourself starring in the mirror and instead of feeling confident, you're starting to notice the little bit of extra fat on your leg where your thigh meets your butt, when this was NEVER even a thought before.
But what has really changed? You're still the same you, so why did you start to feel so different about yourself all of a sudden?
You see, writer Emma Lindsay wrote an op ed piece recently on medium.com and she discussed this very thing,
"And then I was like, oh yeah — this is that feeling from back when I had boyfriends. I haven’t had one in over 5 years, and I kind of assumed that those old weird insecure feelings I used to have were something I just matured out of. For the first time in years, I find myself feeling ugly."
You see, what is most fascinating about Lindsay is her perspective, she has been in several serious relationships with BOTH men AND women.
Given her deviation from only having heteronormal relationships, she has a unique ability to deconstruct and evaluate the experience of being a woman in a heterosexual relationship that other straight women may not have.
She seeks to answer the question a lot of us women feel when we find ourselves starting to feeling insecure in a relationship after being confidently single, which is:
What changed when I started dating men?
She reveals the raw feelings that are often not talked about, almost as if she knew all of our inner monologues:
"What does this feeling feel like? Well, like shame mostly. Like I am not worthy of being loved because of how I look. Like, that any man who is with me is only settling because he can’t get what he really wants. But… yeah, I think shame really covers it."
So Why Does Dating Men Make Me Feel Like Shit?
I think after reading Lindsay's article, I no longer feel quick to wrap my feelings of insecurity into a a neat or overused explanation that we've all heard a million times.
Furthermore, I found it fascinating after reading Lindsay write,
"I had a quick chat with a feminist friend of mine, and she said “ugh, fucking men and porn ruins everything.” And like… I don’t totally disagree with that, but I kind of feel like that’s not the whole story. Because I’ve dated women who looked at porn. In fact, often women seem to be more vocally superficial in the first few dates than men do (presumably, because we punish men more for their outbursts of superficiality) but somehow men leave me feeling worse. And, while I appreciate the feminist research that has gone into things like studying how this commercialist exploitation of hyper-beautiful models impacts women, I feel like we may be getting a little led astray here."
Because when she was dating women, she was still living in this culture. She still saw all the same images, but those images, for some reason, they just didn't bug her as much.
I mean, yes, I will say that it is a reasonable and worthy hypothesis , that women feel like shit about how they look because they see hyper-beauty exaggerated everywhere, but ladies, let's not let that be the end of the story.
The human mind is vast and we are complex creatures. Psychology Today revealed that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.
Lindsay believes that shame is at the root of her feelings but not for the reasons we would all assume. Could we as women be picking up unconscious mixed signals our partners are projecting about their own insecurities?
"Dating men again and talking to them about their sexual feelings has exposed some spooky shit that I never noticed before ... “Creepy” is a word that comes up a lot when I’m having an honest discussion with men about their feelings on their sexualities. In fact, it is so ubiquitous, I think you should just go ahead and assume most men feel like they are creepy for getting turned on, or probably felt that way at some point in their lives. I also think this is why men don’t write about their sex lives.
Writer, Damon Young, editor and chief at VSB, tackles this issue of why men don’t write about sex by saying:
"It just doesn’t feel…right. Writing about sex makes me feel like I’m either humble-bragging or pandering. There’s no in between. I think a man would feel fucking weird to openly talk about how turned on he got. I think he would feel creepy. Because society labels men creepy when they are open about their sexual feelings. And, I think because men are too ashamed to claim ownership of their sexual feelings, they push responsibility for their desire onto the bodies of the (usually) women that they’re with. It’s telling that gay men have body image issues more than lesbians. If the whole “warping female minds with super hot models” theory were true, you’d expect all women (straight and lesbian) to have body image issues, and all men to feel super fab. But, instead what we see, is that people who sleep with men tend to feel worse about how they look than people who sleep with women."
SO, those of us who sleep with men are absorbing the shame they hold about their own sexuality. And that's a BIG source of where all these bad feelings are coming from ...
What is the mechanism through which this happens?
Well. Usually instead of saying “I am turned on by that woman,” a man will say “that woman is hot.” The first phrasing places the focus of control within his own body (aka, in a way, making it “his fault” if he gets turned on), the second phrasing places the focus of control within the woman’s body (making it “her fault” if he gets turned on.)
And, he will be inclined to do the second because it absolves him of responsibility for his sexual feelings. The narrative that is most comfortable for straight men is that some super beautiful woman appeared out of the blue and basically made him get horny, and zomg she was SO HOT it totally wasn’t his fault. This relieves him of the shame, and to some degree, his feelings of creepiness. How can he be blamed for simply being an object that is being acted upon?
However, this comes at a cost.
If a man doesn’t get horny, this is also the fault of his partner for not being hot enough. For the “not my fault” narrative to hold, when a man has a long day at work, if he’s tired, or sick, or whatever and doesn’t get turned on, it can’t be his mood that’s affecting his desire, it must also be the fault of his partner. After all, if beauty is enough to absolve him of responsibility in the positive case, it must also absolve him in the negative case. If factors other than female beauty can prevent him from being turned on, we admit that other factors may also be at play when he does get turned on. And, these other factors may be things he has agency over — things like, his own openness to trying new things, for example, and that’s threatening.
You see this narrative clearly in the gay community (“I was born this way”) but it also happens with straight guys too. I’m wired to find tiny women attractive, when one crosses my path BAM I get turned on. Not my fault.
But being attracted to someone outside of your “type” breaks this identity a bit. I think he brought up skinny girls a few times because getting turned on by a not so skinny girl was giving him feelings of shame/creepiness and he was looking to mitigate those feelings by reinforcing the narrative and identity that had absolved him of those feelings before. And, the “skinny girl” narrative works because it’s conventional; it’s something a “non-creepy” dude might be into.
Perhaps, getting too turned on by an “average” girl kind of implies that you’re a desperate weirdo. If you’re too into normal looking women, that means you’re low status. Low worth. Unlovable. Creepy.
"This leads to a rather paradoxical thing; we assume women feel shame about their appearance because men don’t desire them, but I’ve started to realize I feel shame when men do desire me. When I wasn’t dating anyone for 2 years, looked like a total lezzie, and men never hit on me, I felt great about myself. As I get “prettier” to men, and as men do express desire, I begin to feel worse. Even when they compliment me, I often feel worse, and I think it’s because any compliment that cuts their emotionality out of the loop leads me feeling — bad, objectified, ashamed. Something like that."
I think this is because, if you're JUST hot, there is no connection, no caring. Certainly no love, and not even REAL lust.
“You are so hot,” feels worse than “I am so turned on by you right now.”
So ladies, when it comes to your long term happiness in any relationship with a man, it absolutely requires them to have a willingness to talk about their feelings, especially the difficult feelings, like feelings of shame. And understand that women's feelings of shame within a relationship may not be so easily packaged as just their own insecurities.
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