The first time someone faded me, I did not take it well. I sent the male in question untold number of reproachful, schoolmarmish texts. I ranted to my friends until they couldn’t take it anymore. Later the same week, when the brother of a man I’d slept with months before invited me to a games night attended mainly by people who were strangers to me, I went. I drank the better part of a mickey of whiskey and proceeded to make out with my host. After a healthy round of vomiting, I passed out cold on the floor of my workplace, as I had drunkenly locked myself out of my home.
The fader and I had been seeing each other for a couple of months. (Actually seeing, not just scheduling appointments to bang). We texted every day in a fiery and amusing fashion, and shared a similar sense of humour. And yeah, we had a lot of sex. Then, I went home for the holidays. We said we would Facetime. The words “New Year’s” were bandied about.
I left town, a few days went by, and nothing. I received only short, delayed answers where before there had been boisterous banter. When I got back to Toronto, I asked him what the hell was going on. He was just in a holiday coma, he claimed. And work was crazy! Bullshit, I called. Do you want to try again? He said it was anxiety. I told him over tiny $15 chalices of flora-laden water laced with gin that I understand anxiety and would try to support him through it, but that regardless of the reason, I couldn’t be involved with tepid men. He said okay, mewed an apology and insisted we keep seeing each other. The next week, he faded out completely. Cue me lying drunk on the floor.
My distress wasn’t merely about having been rejected, though that was part of it. The shock came from the fact that I had taken such pains to clearly articulate what it was I needed, had invited him to have an open conversation and then ended up being entirely disregarded.
I’m not alone in having experienced this. Alongside the wage gap and the emotional labour gap, the antics of softboys, f-ckboys, fading and ghosting constitute a pronounced communication gap. People of all genders are guilty of bad behaviour, but women are taught from childhood that they need to monitor and be responsible for other people’s feelings. Men have not been socialized in the same way. They are horrified when we tell them what we need. Regardless of whether the circumstances involve just hooking up or the potential for a relationship, men are ignoring what women are asking for. They don’t care if we get off, and they don’t care if our feelings get hurt.
Women are becoming more adept at f-ckboy-spotting, and, increasingly, we are eschewing the idea of “dating” altogether. Many hetero cis women I know have even given up sex. They’re choosing instead the cat n’ vibrator model, which used to be the saddest of tropes. But it exists for a reason: it is more reliable than a man. Cats are assholes, but at least they’re consistent. They don’t, for example, make New Year’s Eve plans with you and then act like you’re the thirstiest bitch alive when you text them about it later. And so, we are reclaiming the cat lady label. Instagram accounts like @beigecardigan, @mytherapistsays, @betches and @bustle are full of memes about how it’s better to stay home than see anyone at all, let alone spending precious hours plucking each errant hair from one’s genitals, smearing one’s face with numerous paints, and going out of doors solely to catch some rogue male’s eye. The ever-growing proclivity for staying housebound and heart intact even led to the launch of an entire apparel company a few years ago: Montreal’s Stay Home Club peddles sweatshirts, tees and patches extolling the simple virtues of “having no life.” Grey hair, granny dressing, Netflix, sassy cats and janky grocery carts are in. Men are out.
When I embraced my own untimely spinsterhood last winter, I called my friend Kristan, whom I’ve known for half my life. She and I had been through similar versions of hell with men. “Get a cat,” she said over the phone from Montreal—at home on a Friday night. “And a good vibrator. I recommend the Hitachi Magic Wand.” We were both unabashedly staying in. I was pouring a glass of wine and burning the shit out of a grilled cheese, prepping for an UnReal marathon. UnReal was a show that gave me life. Rachel and Quinn, the lead characters of the hyper-meta show about producing a reality dating show, embody exactly the ethos I was obsessed with: do you, do your work and don’t give a f-ck about men. This attitude is reflected in so many of the women characters we love right now. Abbi and Ilana, Mindy. Pitch’s Ginny Baker. Even Lorelai and Rory. All of them are about their friends, their goals and their personal priorities first.
We still want to believe in love, sure (though claims of having found it are met at the brunch table with barely suppressed eyerolls). So, dutifully we Tind while watching said shows, wading through the faux-polyamorous fedora-clad mansplainers, the “Sun’s Out! Guns Out!” tee-shirt-wearers and the tranquilized-tiger-snugglers, hoping to find someone vaguely palatable. Repeatedly, we’re disappointed, and we’re starting to find that holding out for a long-term love is often not a pragmatic choice. We do still cohabitate, or “live apart together.” But we no longer expect (or need) those arrangements to last forever. So we’re deprioritizing love, relegating men to utilitarian side dish and investing in our friends instead.
Judith Taylor, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Women & Gender Studies Institute who researches women and friendship, says women’s renewed focus on community over men is a pragmatic choice. The most commonly told narrative of the (heterosexual) woman, she points out, is this: she spends her life with other women until her mid-twenties, pauses to have a family, then she either divorces or her partner dies, landing her back in the company of women friends til she meets her own demise. “I see a reprioritization around the enjoyment of life or the things that one enjoys doing, rather than the feeling that you’re a social pariah if you don’t marry,” she says. “Now, we’re starting to see real cultural manifestations of people not feeling that pull any longer.”
My dear friend Paola, a 33-year-old Toronto journalist, hasn’t felt this pull for some time. She does want a long-term relationship, but she just doesn’t see it happening. She finds men are failing at baseline tasks like keeping plans, remembering birthdays and adequately acknowledging her existence in public. These men see themselves as allies of feminism, yet they engage in low-level gaslighting when she lays out boundaries about her emotional needs, acting like being half-decent is an imposition.
“Even if a guy treats you poorly,” she says, “they often come back to you wanting you to reassure them that they’re still good people. And that’s another demand that is put on you. So not only do you have to accept that your needs are not being met, you have to then go and make a man feel good about himself.” Now, because men can’t seem to hack interpersonal relationships, Paola identifies her friendships as her primary relationships—and she doesn’t see that changing.
My friend Shana, a 31-year-old graphic designer, had a similar wakeup call in the summer. She was seeing someone who convinced her to get emotionally involved, despite her initial hesitation. When she caught feelings in return and asked him for exclusivity after a few months, he said yes. A month later he bowed out to “focus on his band.” This kind of thing has happened so many times to her and to the women she loves that she no longer trusts men. “I had an awakening that I’m always the one to compromise, and they never are,” Shana says. “I decided I have to just f-ck men, and get money.”
Men’s bad behaviour has ceased to surprise us. Rather, it’s become so predictable that it’s now a punchline. This guy Kristan was hooking up with, for example, told her one night he was sick and staying in. She went out with friends, and saw him at the club. When he saw her, he proceeded to run away in order to avoid being accountable for his lie. Obeying her mother’s sage advice, she called him until he picked up and demanded answers. His excuse? He had “taken a pill” and become confused! We howled over it together.
My friend Jenny, who stresses the importance of needs-based communication (which is exactly what it sounds like: clearly articulating observations, feelings and requests rather than expecting others to figure them out through behavioural cues) went on a date last week. It was raining, so she asked her date whether they could meet closer to her house, since she was walking and he was driving. He said no, and when they met, he explained that regardless of what she might think her needs are, in reality, he couldn’t acquiesce to her wishes because that would defy preset gender norms, and then she wouldn’t be attracted to him. She got angry—and he accused her of unfairly escalating the situation. When she told me the story, I laughed so hard I cried.
These stories are so common that Paola recently created the Aubrey Graham Award for Softest Behaviour in a Romantic Relationship, featuring a tiny 3D-printed Drake sitting atop a trophy. The accolade is periodically bestowed upon the person in her life to most recently experience epic levels of softboy f-ckery. She also created a handy SoftBoy Bingo Card.
While we have built lives we love and found ways to laugh about our circumstances, I’m not suggesting that the single life is perfect. We get lonely. We become exhausted by the grind of living the less-privileged life of a single person. We have days when our self-designed happiness feels like a façade—it’s still a couples world, despite the evidence that traditional coupledom often doesn’t work. But we have our friends. We have our community, we have our cats and our Magic Wands. We have the option for casual sex when we want it. And that sure as hell beats a lifetime of not being heard and picking someone else’s crusty socks up off the floor.
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