“Wait, you already added him on Facebook?” my friend asked me while we were FaceTiming one day, doing a post-first date debrief. “Yeah,” I said, “Is that weird?” She looked at me for a second through her screen and said. “I mean, it’s a little aggressive, no?”. I quickly explained (read: justified), “I mean, we did meet in person, and we’ve been texting, like, all week, and we had an actual first date last night, AND Facebook came up in our conversation like totally naturally, so it didn’t really feel that weird to me. Right?”
I was suddenly worried I had done something wrong. Yes, it's totally normal to angst a little about adding a new guy on all forms of social media. Which one do you add first? Do you add him on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat all at once? Is doing so totally… extra? But then my friend said something that made me realize what we were actually talking about. “I guess… you just don’t want to come off as clingy,” she said. And there it is. God forbid you ever be branded as “the clingy girl.”
The idea of being clingy has become such a damaging stereotype for women, partly because it's been immortalized in pop culture. Think back, for example, to Wedding Crashers, where Isla Fisher’s character "loses" her virginity to Vince Vaughn’s, promptly tells him she loves him, and then he bolts. When he runs into Owen Wilson’s character he says, “I’ve got a stage five clinger,” giving men all over the world a lexicon to disparage women who might actually have feelings for someone they slept with. Remember when Kate Hudson starred in an entire movie where the premise was how unbearable the "clingy girlfriend" trope is? Or, for your consideration, that scene in The Social Network when Brenda Song’s character is mad at her boyfriend—the literal C.F.O. of Facebook—for not changing his relationship status on Facebook. Her reaction is to light a scarf on fire in his apartment. Yes, I too have considered committing arson when I didn’t get my way. Realistic!
The thing all these women have in common is that they weren’t being all that ridiculous, but the hyperbole of the way they were portrayed was.
It's normal to want an emotional connection as well as a physical one, relatable to want to meet your partner's family, and understandable to be enraged if your boyfriend is publicly hiding his commitment to you.
In reality, most women likely don't make these "demands" as soon as they do in the movies, but decades of pop culture have taught us that feelings and desires are a sign of dreaded clinginess either way.
And that's a huge problem. I’m the type of person that, once I decide I actually care about someone, I actually care. I want to text you and ask how your day was because I genuinely want to know. I want to hang out more than one time a week because I actually enjoy spending time with you. I'll ask you how that presentation you were stressed about went because I’m interested. All of these things, however, can be construed as “too much” by men who are panic-stricken that basic interest means things are moving too fast.
So I have trained myself not to ask them anymore. In all my recent encounters with men, I have done everything I can to act like I want nothing in return for my time and energy. And how sad is it that I’ve bent over backwards to appear as if I don’t care when I definitely, 100 percent do? Since when did caring about someone turn into something you could hurl as an insult?
If you haven’t been called clingy per se, maybe you’ve heard this fun variation: being too girlfriend-y. It’s the idea that too early in a relationship with a guy you start acting like you’re committed. You start asking to do couple-y activities like going out to dinner in a public place (how dare she!), or expecting him to actually text you back in a timely fashion (the horror!) before you’re actually “exclusive.” Not only have I had guys say this to me, but my girlfriends, too. “Emma, calm down, you’re not his girlfriend,” is a constructive criticism I’ve earned on more than one occasion. It’s meant to bring you back to reality and make you realize you have NO RIGHT to ask for anything because you’re not officially dating. The issue, though, is that this sets young women up to believe their wants and needs don't matter, which is absolute, patently-false garbage. The best couples have a foundation of equal say from the get-go, and this societal standard sets women up for the exact opposite.
What are we really asking for when we're being "clingy"? Men's attention, respect, and the courtesy of honest communication in return.
Even so, I get it. No one wants a relationship that feels too intense right away. I don't want that either. But I do want someone who respects me enough to tell me how they feel. Thankfully, I'm starting to learn that how much I care about other people, and how loyal I am are (in my opinion) some of my biggest strengths. Even if it feels contrary to what I "should" do to get the guy, I'm going to try and quit the habit of dulling down who I am just to appease a societal standard. So, guys, instead of complaining to your friends about how I’m being “a lot” because I dared to double text, maybe realize that all I want is to get to know you. Not interested? Then tell me! I’ll respect that so much more than being labeled and ignored.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.