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Unhinged, A Dating Series: Ask Me Anything

If you feel like all of your dating app convos are one-sided, science has an explanation: Men and women are taught to approach conversations differently

Earlier this week, my friend Mackenzie told me a story about a recent dating experience that is all too real these days. She met Alex (not his real name—though she wouldn’t be upset if we did call him out) on Bumble. During their first date, she assumed he wasn’t interested because he barely asked her any questions. 

But, after walking her to her car, he turned, grabbed her face, and kissed her. He was cute, so when he asked her out again, she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. They met up at Fiesta Island with their dogs and chatted during a walk.

“I was asking him questions and he was giving me one-word answers,” says Mackenzie, 37. “So I decided that I was going to not ask him any more questions and just see how much effort he would put in. But he just basically interacted with his own dog.”

After lots of silence, Alex decided to leave. The date lasted 30 minutes.

“I was like, ‘Okay, he obviously feels like this is a bad date. He’s obviously not interested,’” Mackenzie says. “And then he texted me [two hours later] as if that was a normal date. [I’d thought] I was never going to hear from him again.” 

She was confused and understandably over his hot-and-cold approach. Two days later, she said goodbye to all dating apps. I don’t blame her. She’s not alone in feeling that sometimes men lack either the desire or the skills to meaningfully engage, especially when chatting on the apps.

In her column It’s a Pleasure, which focuses on sex, dating, and relationships, author Sophia Benoit offers advice to a reader who hopes to stop having dates with one-sided conversations.

“Not asking questions is, to me, a deal-breaker. Not because it’s impossible for someone to change their behavior, but because you shouldn’t have to walk a fellow adult through basic conversation tips,” she writes.

Finally, someone said it. I’ve struggled with this for years on dating apps, and I never understood it. I thought things might change when I started seeing men in their 40s, but  they have not. And the issue isn’t just anecdotal.

“Research shows that this lack-of-men-asking-questions problem is real, and it’s common, and frankly, it’s embarrassing for them!” Benoit says. “(To all of the 13 men who date women and who do ask questions on dates: This isn’t about you, but please send this article to any man friends you have.)”

On r/Bumble, one Redditor shares screenshots of a recent Bumble interaction

So what’s going on here? Turns out there are tons of articles and forums dedicated to this very topic. Women on subreddits like r/Bumble, r/dating_advice, and r/OnlineDating have launched threads asking for an explanation. 

Quartz contributor Elizabeth Weingarten might have one: Social scripts for communication differ by gender, which can lead to confusion and conflict in heterosexual pairings. “In my experience, men who ask questions—the kind that show they’re actually interested in the answers—are rare and wonderful unicorns,” Weingarten writes.

Her sources, including dating experts, psychologists, couples, consultants, and entrepreneurs, confirmed that men have been taught to dominate the conversation as a way to “negotiate for status in the social hierarchy or to preserve independence,” she explains. Women, on the other hand, have learned to use conversations to determine if there’s a connection: “Do we have similar tastes, interests, values?” 

So, sure, sometimes a guy is just not that into you, or he’s distracted by other in-app convos. But it’s just as likely that he’s trying to impress. A man might reason that his date will want to get to know him only after he’s proved that he has the resources or experience to be a great boyfriend. Meanwhile, she’s dying for him to be inquisitive so she can tell if their personalities are even compatible.

In other words: Dudes, skip the peacocking. Relationships will progress faster and farther with genuine conversation. 

“Being curious about your partner helps you know more about them, which leads to the desire to know even more, which creates conversational interactions that lead to enduring intimacy,” writes Dr. Erin Leyba for Psychology Today, drawing from a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

And that’s intimacy in all forms. Asking questions doesn’t just lead to deep, serious talks. It can also help dates relax and laugh together. You’ll have more fun and, well, better sex.

For what it’s worth, several men replied to the aforementioned Reddit threads pointing out that they’ve faced the same lack of questions from women on apps. Perhaps we’re all fatigued from the difficulties of the modern dating scene (and still getting our social sea legs after Covid). Maybe we could all use a little conversational practice.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help us talk to each other. Weingarten finishes her article with five tips for communicating more effectively. You can read them here

After all, it seems that the more questions you ask, the more likely you may find yourself enjoying a cold one in front of your potential soulmate.

If you came to the column this week to find out how it’s going with Ryan and Connor, updates are coming! I also worked with my matchmaker to refine my preferences for the kind of man I’d like to meet, so perhaps some more first dates are in my future. As always, happy dating and see you next week!

If you’re new to Unhinged, catch up on all the dating chats you’ve missed here and follow along at @monicles and @sandiegomag on Instagram to know when a new article drops each week.

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By Nicolle Monico

Nicolle Monico is an award-winning writer and the managing digital editor for San Diego Magazine with more than 15 years of experience in media including Outside Run, JustLuxe and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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