The online gender wars can be … a lot. Women are taking to social media to discuss the effects of misogyny on their lives and considering what life looks like outside of the expected. Others are fully dedicated to the idea that the only legitimate roles for women are marriage and motherhood.
On the flip side, many men are waking up and pushing back against toxic masculinity and pointing out its disastrous effects on society, while others are being radicalized by dangerous internet rhetoric. All this while reproductive rights are being rolled back and wages are shrinking.
It’s easy to feel all is lost when it comes to finding healthy relationships. That’s why I hit up a couple of my friends, Leah and Erika—both beautiful, successful, smart, and funny Mexican American women in their 30s—who’ve found love on dating apps.
How many dating apps have each of you been on?
Erika: Bumble, Tinder, and OK Cupid back in the day.
What were your experiences like?
Leah: Nowadays that’s the way you meet people if you're looking to date. I didn't date in high school. My entire dating life has been app based. I asked Paul after we were married, “if you had seen me out in the wild would you have said anything?” And he was like, “No, because that's creepy. Maybe if we're at a friend of a friend's party and came together a little bit more naturally.”
Erika: It just seems like that’s the way you date, but I had friends that felt like they missed that dating trend, so it was kind of interesting. Not only was I trying to navigate [dating], but friends that already settled down or had like long-term partners [treated my attempts on the apps] like an anthropology class. In the beginning, it was very much “let me swipe for you” and let me live vicariously through you, which didn't feel great.
I never approached dating like, “Oh, I'm looking for my husband.” I just wanted to meet people, date, and be a sexual individual. [I had to] come into myself, center myself and what I was looking for and wanted. When I figured that out, dating got more fun for me.
You both are in long term relationships and cohabitate. Do you and your partner subscribe to gender roles? Erika, you've been single and lived alone. Does that also play a role when you are trying to learn how to do this?
Erika: I really enjoyed living alone. … I was a little nervous cohabitating, but it's nice. I think it's helped in our communication. Sometimes I need space for “me time,” so I'll grab a book, go into a different room, and that’s okay. We carve out spaces in ways that make sense. It's a safe space to communicate. I don't have to walk on eggshells.
I don't know if we subscribe to gender roles. In some ways because it's inescapable. Early on we said these are things that have to get done and kind of gravitated towards what works. He does all the laundry—because he likes to do laundry. But I do the grocery shopping and the meal planning.
That's kind of how my mom and stepdad are. He does more of the cooking, laundry, cleaning, and my mom always did finances and bought stuff and made sure we had what we needed. That's kind of the pattern that we fell into. It seems to be working for us.
Leah: It's been escapable in some regards, it's something that both of us are aware of, and maybe me more than him. He’s learning more and trying to build his skills in the kitchen, but I lose that sense of control I have [there]. He's a different person than I am. He's going to interpret, learn, and execute differently than I do. And if we're in an equal environment, then that's not an insult to me or how I've done things in the past.
What role does community play in your relationships?
Erika: My friends and family are super important to me. Everyone gets busy and as you get older it gets harder to schedule hangouts, but it was important to me that Ben and everyone got along. No one needs to be best friends, but he's going to be around. I'm lucky in the sense that everyone likes him.
Leah: [Community] plays an important role in our individual lives as well as our life as a couple. It's healthy to be in a community and have that extra support. I was on the dating apps for a while. It was something I picked up on early. I didn't want to meet a guy who's new to town. I need somebody who has his friend groups situated and has real friends. Especially because I was living with my roommate/best friend, Brittany.
Early when [Paul and I] were dating, he made a comment that was based on his previous baggage: “I think it's important for us to have our own primary support systems. I don't necessarily want us to jump into that for each other right away.”
What would you tell your 20-something self about sex?
Erika: Have more fun with it. It took me a while to get comfortable with my own sexuality because of everything that society throws at you. Growing up Catholic didn't help. I was in my own head about it. Be true to who you are and do what you want. If any guy makes you feel shameful about what you want, then that's him. That's not you. The shame is stupid.
Leah: Make more mistakes. Sex can be what you want it to be. Of course, a willing and respectful partner [is necessary,] but [sex] doesn't have to be anything more than sex. I remember after the first time. I was like, “is that it?” Not in a bad or unsatisfied way, but just, “oh, I did that by myself a couple of nights ago.” What is this thing that people have been obsessed about and protecting me from? I don't think I realized how it could be with a partner who's down and ready for fun too.
How have your insights on relationships changed since your 20s?
Leah: I was too serious about stuff in my 20s. The expectations I was putting on [relationships] would skew me to start [overthinking], feeling suspicious, or insecure, like I had to reach a milestone by a certain time. Remove the expectations of what a relationship has to be. Don’t lower your expectations. If it's just a [sexual] partner who's supportive and respectful, then that's enough.
Erika: Society feeds you the idea of what a relationship needs to be and the qualities you should be looking for. Toward the end of my 20s and [into] my 30s, [I asked myself] what [do I want]? I liked figuring all that out for myself, and that comes with experience. Going on more dates and interacting with more people made me aware of what I liked and what I didn't. Learning the difference between good chemistry and fun. It's okay if he's a f--k boy. You just need to know and approach it that way.
Penn Badgley was on an episode of Vibe Check recently talking about the perception of love, he brought up bell hooks, saying that we associate love with these short dopamine hits. It's not real love. It's a process because you get to know the person and it's not glamorous, or earth shattering, but like a weighted blanket.
Leah: Yeah. There wasn't a moment that I was like, oh, now I'm in love with Paul. It was less of a switch more of a build.
Should women be concerned with what men think?
Leah: Should a woman be more concerned with understanding her own thoughts and motivations? Yes. How to bring a partner into that if that's what you want? Okay, maybe there's more of a discussion to be had.
Erika: [In the] gender wars [way] or whatever, maybe not so much. We're just in an age of polarization on every topic. If you care about a certain man then you probably care what he thinks, but hopefully not in a toxic way. Just in a normal person way.