For every date a heterosexual woman goes on there is, for better or worse, a man there. But while women produce a wide and varied literature about this experience, from dating columns to films, there is hardly any personal writing by straight men about their sex, dating and relationship lives at all. There’s Karl Ove Knausgård. But you could list women writing in this genre for hours. Nora Ephron, Anaïs Nin, bell hooks, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dolly Alderton, Candace Bushnell, and so on.
Men date. Men fall in love. So where is the writing from men about these experiences? There are a few basic dating and sex advice columns aimed at straight men. Rhys Thomas writes Hey Man for Vice, Justin Myers wrote one at GQ for a while. Perhaps this is the masculine mode: anonymously ask a question, get a straight answer. Elsewhere, it feels like affairs of the heart are snuck into writing directed at straight men like vegetables into a child’s dinner. A recent New York Times article about the podcaster Scott Galloway noted that he smuggled relationship content into advice about career paths. And of course, as so many young men are doing of late, you can dive headlong into the cesspit of woman hacking, care of professed misogynist Andrew Tate. But that isn’t exactly what I had in mind.
It may be that the only group of people gagging for a dating column by a straight man are the women who date them. I know that men have fascinating thoughts about their romantic lives, and I love talking to my straight male friends about it. Recently I’ve been talking to them about the difference between what a man “settling” and a woman “settling” might look like; someone’s theory that culture has massively overstated the degree to which straight men want to have sex; someone else’s that straight men are talking about a different experience when they use the term “heartbreak” than women are, and so on.
When I asked them why they think the straight man relationship writing genre doesn’t exist, they were unanimously of the view that it just wouldn’t work. “I would see a dating column by a straight dude as undignified,” one said. “If it’s going well, it comes off braggy and vulgar, and if it’s going poorly, stop whinging in print.” So maybe it’s not surprising that a lot of male writers wouldn’t touch this subject with a bargepole. “Paradoxically, the sort of men who have the insight and sensitivity to write well about that experience preclude themselves from doing it exactly because of the sensitivity and awareness that would make their writing insightful,” another friend argued.
There are reasons to do with the history of this particular literary form, as well. It may be that, for a number of fair reasons, women are allowed to denigrate men in print, but not the other way around. “I think some of the things I get away with saying about men would seem a bit gross from guys, because of the obvious power imbalance,” Annie Lord, British Vogue’s dating columnist, told me. Women can write about dating because on a heterosexual date, society generally accepts that women are the underdogs.
Men are, in fact, talking about their sex and dating problems, but they’re not doing it in the media under their names. It’s happening anonymously on places like Reddit. A lot of this stuff is toxic garbage, yes, but plenty of it isn’t. The question may be more why no man has stepped forward to do this under his own name, in public.
Do I think a trailblazing men’s dating column is going to suddenly solve the so-called crisis in male emotional communication? No. And I confess to feeling a bit sorry for straight men in this regard. I love the way women talk freely about this stuff. But not even an imagined – and it seems pretty impossible – golden age of personal writing by men is going to force straight guys into hand-holding, tear-shedding summits with their friends when the truth seems to be that, whether for societal or biological or whatever reasons, they don’t want to.
Would many straight men even read this fabled column? Again, I asked some friends. “I probably wouldn’t be interested in reading a column by some dude cos I’d just think, well, that’s him I guess. I can’t imagine finding it useful or applying it to me in any way.”
Which made me question, what do women get out of reading dating and relationship columns? I like reading dating columns mostly because I’m nosy. But I do also think there’s something about reading other women’s experiences out there in the trenches of dating men that can feel reassuring, like talking in the “no boys allowed” treehouse. And it’s nice to go to the treehouse, so it’s sad to me that boys don’t have one of their own. Maybe some brave man will find a way to build it.