Monday, July 14, 2008

No Country for Solo Men

An interesting comment thread has cropped up on the LiveJournal polyamory community in response to an advertisement for "poly speed dating." The event (but, strangely enough, not the advertisement) had a caveat that "solo men who are only looking for women" are no longer permitted to register.

I'm of two minds about this sort of thing. On the one hand, while there may be a bit of indignation (since I'd likely be among the excluded group, and that rankles a bit even when it's an event on the other side of the country) I can see the reason for this; it's going to be a bad time for all if there's no attempt to balance the genders among the het-only folks (from what I can tell, the event isn't itself restricted to het dating; if that's the case, I'd love to see their algorithm).

On the other hand, a lot of these sorts of things wind up taking an overtone of commodifying women; the entry fee for men becomes "$12 and a woman." And in addition to being generally squicky, the people this brings in are not necessarily ones who are particularly interested in the exercise; it doesn't solve the problem if the het side of the speed-dating event is full of people who may not actually be interested in dating anyone.

I should acknowledge that closing admission once there's an imbalance is very different from closing admission from the outset. In the latter case, sometimes it may be based in a correct assumption that such an imbalance will occur, but the impression I get a lot of the time is that it's something like the highly patriarchal polygamous communities that routinely cast out men from the group to make sure that those men who remain don't have any "competition."

So what *is* the best way to handle this? In the long run, I think what's needed is to reform attitudes; I have a suspicion (totally unsubstantiated, of course) that if you took away the subset of men who are just looking for any way to get laid, and you added in the subset of women who would be interested except for those men or societal pressure, the numbers would be pretty well-balanced.

In the medium run, what's needed is to foster an attitude within the institution that everyone is an agent rather than a commodity.

In the short run, it's pretty much up to the organization, and it seems to break down into a classic utilitarianism problem - do you do what's immediately best for the most people (i.e., restrict solo het guys for the benefit of everyone else), or adopt an approach that leaves fewer people singled out (so to speak) but negatively impacts the event for a lot more?


Sam said...

Having been to a number of (non-poly, het-only) speed dating events, I can tell you that the logistics of the event -- rotating through people at the sound of a bell -- simply don't work unless there's an even number of men and women. (I would also love to see their algorithm for an event with gay and straight attendees; I can't imagine that would be successful for very many, unless most attendees are bi.) The events I've gone to have been the reverse, in fact: "$12 and a man," because it tends to be way more women who register.

jfpbookworm said...

I'm wondering if they happened to get an influx of guys with the "poly dating=easy lay" attitude.

As for the algorithm, the impression I get is that it's more of a "dance card" - i.e., you get a slate of people you'll interact with, but you don't necessarily meet everyone else eligible there. (The fact that they ask you to identify "friends" so you don't get matched with them tends to support this.)

SunflowerP said...

How solo you actually are is debatable (damn geography), but you're spot-on about the commodification - I'm pretty sure it's unintentional, but that's the effect nevertheless. (Or it could be looked at as infantilization of men - they need to be accompanied by their partners, or possibly a "note from mommywife" would do. Granted that, as you note in your comment, they may be getting a lot of infantile men, but I'm not sure this is the best way to address that.)

Sam's comment about logistics makes sense, but I wonder if what we're poking at are just the symptoms of an underlying dysfunctionality in the concept (which in turn goes back to ::sigh:: the same-old same-old societal screwed-upness about sex/love) - the more I think about it, the more it has a similar feel to the problems of the OSBP, though I can't put my finger on just why they feel like they map to each other.


jfpbookworm said...

The use of "solo" rather than "single" seemed intentional - it's not about being unpartnered so much as being unaccompanied at the event.

By that distinction, I'd probably be "solo" at the moment (damn geography indeed), but I certainly don't consider myself "single" - if that's even a meaningful distinction in a poly context.

SunflowerP said...

Ah - as in "going solo". While that wasn't explicit, I still should have caught it.

And I'd say that "single" is sometimes meaningful in a poly context - certainly someone who is orientationally poly remains so even when s/he has no current relationships, and I think it carries over to those for whom it's more preference than orientation.


Luke said...

Interesting commentary. Thank you for it!

Indeed, the event is open to all sexualities, including the spectrum of trans and genderqueer, and groups. We have an alg that makes sure all arranged dates are with mutually compatible folks.

We were very torn about closing reg when an imbalance started to happen. It is very important that we do not close it at the outset, for the reasons you cite. Logistically, the worse the imbalance the more the overbooked people feel used and the more frustrated the underbooked people get. So we are over a barrel.