Photo via Shutterstock
I dress like a tomboy: jeans, T-shirts, hoodies, and work boots. My boyfriend of a year wants me to wear skirts and dresses more often. Nothing trashy. Just not my usual tomboy wear. This weekend, I wore a sundress to brunch. It made him so happy, and he kept telling me how beautiful I looked. I did feel a little uncomfortable because I’m not used to dressing like that. Some women in my circle are like, “He should accept you as you are. Don’t change for a man.” Am I giving up some important source of power?
Your boyfriend’s asking you to sometimes wear a dress for him, not hold out your wrist so he can chain you to the pipe in the basement with the six other sister wives.
There are women out there who still see dressing to please a man as some sort of Stockholm syndrome thing—participating in your own (flouncy, spaghetti-strapped) subjugation. So, it’s possible that those advising you “Don’t change for a man!” are just
trying to help you be a modern and empowered woman. Of course, one could argue that actually being a modern and empowered woman means you don’t have to dress like you’re hoping to get a call to clean out a sewer line.
Maybe those in your advice coven really do believe they’re acting in your best interest. Maybe.
Social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge report that it’s widely believed that men drive the “cultural suppression of female sexuality”—which could include shaming women for how they dress. However, in reviewing the research, they make a persuasive case that it’s primarily women (often without awareness of their motives) who work to “stifle each other’s sexuality.”
This is right in keeping with research on female competition. While men fight openly—“Bring it! I will ruin you!”—women take a sneakier approach. As female competition researcher Tracy Vaillancourt explains it, women fight for their interests using “indirect aggression,” such as gossip, mean looks, disparaging remarks and other underhanded tactics to “reduce the mate value of a rival.”
Underhanded tactics? You know—like suggesting you’re selling out womankind if you wear a skirt or winged eyeliner.
In other words, your best interest and these other women’s may diverge—though they may not consciously intend to hurt you. As for whether you should throw on a dress from time to time, consider that if you love somebody, you do sweet things for them. Sometimes, this requires a bit of a stretch on your part—like from the teen boys’ section of the department store to that rack in the women’s department. A person’s clothes say a lot about them, and a man will be happier if his girlfriend’s don’t scream, “My hobby is crushing beer cans against my forehead.”
I’m a 39-year-old woman dating for the first time since the ’90s. I’m doing the online thing, and none of these guys look like their photos! It’s incredible. When we meet, they always say, “You look just like your pictures.” Isn’t that the point?
Guy, in online dating profile: “I’m 55!” Guy’s neck, when you meet for coffee: “I was a war hero. In the Peloponnesian War.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Peloponnesian Pants On Fire has plenty of company on dating sites. In fact, about a third of the photos people post aren’t true to life, according to research by psychologist Jeffrey T. Hancock. Sometimes, that’s due to Photoshop; sometimes, the photo is less-thancurrent; and sometimes, along the lines of “every picture tells a story,” the story is “This is how I’d look if I were someone else entirely.”
That last kind of lie—posting photos of somebody else—is less common than other photographic deceptions, because, as Hancock notes, people have to balance looking good enough to meet with not making somebody stomp angrily away once they do. The same goes for the other lies people tell. Hancock also finds that 81 percent of people on dating sites are lying about their height, weight, and age—but often just a little.
So, where you go wrong is in your expectations—expecting online daters to be truthful. As with eBay, a big benefit of dating sites is quantity—instant access to countless prospects. But there’s also a big tradeoff: quality. Going forward, assume everyone on a dating site is lying. Meet prospective partners as soon as possible and as casually as possible. If you’re throwing back a $4 latte, as opposed to waiting for the waitress to bring the entree, it’s a little easier to make a quick exit from the guy decades older than his picture: “Wow, will you look at the time?! I didn’t realize 20 years had passed since we set up our date.”