I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview guest: It’s author and journalist Anne-Kathrin Gerstlauer, who just published a brilliant audio book called “The Gender Dating Gap”. Why is it so difficult for smart, independent and – heaven forfend – successful women to find a partner who meets them on eye level? Why do we so often feel shackled to long outdated gender roles when it comes to dating? And what needs to happen in order to bridge the gender dating gap? Anne-Kathrin looked at countless studies to find answers to these gnawing questions and to finally settle the score on many perceived truths. In this interview she talks me through her key findings – Please enjoy!
Anne-Kathrin’s audio book is only available in German so far. German speakers can – and probably should – get it on Audible. You can also find Anne-Kathrin on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Two short notes before we dive in: We talk about dating as a heterosexual person; and when we say “men” we obviously mean #notall, but you’re also welcome to consider it an invitation to reflect on your own internalized beliefs around dating.
What I loved most about your book is that you manage to substantiate many perceived truths. One of them is that a woman’s dating life becomes increasingly difficult as her career advances.
Yes, that was a perceived truth for me for a long time as well. I noticed that all these factors, which are great for single men on the dating market – professional success, money, status – seemed to actively work against single women. So I started looking into actual studies and frankly, I was shocked. For example, one study showed that men feel most stressed when they are the sole breadwinner in the relationship – which makes sense. The men in the study then reported a decline in stress level up to the point where their wives earnings made up 40% of the household income. But as women’s earnings went past that point, their husbands’ stress levels increased again.
That sounds crazy. Men’s mental health is impacted negatively by their partners’ high salary?
You would think that more money coming into the household would be seen as something positive, right? But women out-earning their partners is obviously still a major issue for a lot of men. Another study that I found showed that in Sweden, being promoted to a top job in politics leads to a dramatic increase in the divorce rate for women. Not so for men. And that’s Sweden – a country that is already very far along the road to equality.
Why do these dynamics still persist?
I didn’t find any conclusive scientific explanations, but I have a theory: If women are financially independent, they are free to leave their partner at any point. Most of our mothers and grandmothers never had that option. They simply could not afford to get divorced. So ultimately, money determines how power is distributed in the relationship. Also, men feel the need to have a higher social ranking than their partners – and status has to do with money. They basically don’t want a wife who outshines them in any way. These may not be conscious beliefs or expectations, but they have most certainly been internalized, by both men and women.
How does this manifest in women?
It leads to single women making themselves smaller and diminishing their achievements when they interact with single men. I have noticed this in myself as well. For example, while I worked as vice editor-in-chief, I always tried to avoid bringing up my job title during the first dates. I simply said I was as a journalist. Because when I did bring up my career, I got a lot of weird reactions.
Have you ever actually talked about money on a date?
Yes. Maybe not on the first date, but a little later down the line.
How did that go?
There are two common reactions: Men who are intimidated and men who feel challenged. Of course there’s lots of middle ground, but those are the two types which cause a lot of frustration. Especially the ones who feel challenged, because they started seeing me as competition and tried to compare careers, to belittle my achievements. Friends of mine have had similar experiences. One of them heard that she was “lucky” to be earning this much money, another one was told she might have a good salary, but she was working for an ethically questionable company. It just baffles me that men say these things on a date – a situation where everyone usually tries to be on their best behaviour. Why would you react so negatively or condescendingly ON A DATE, unless you were deeply bothered by what you heard?
By the way, now that I work as a freelancer I often get asked if I can actually make a living off of what I do. Men tend to presume that I don’t make a lot of money and see me as a potential damsel in (financial) distress.
Now, how do we stop making ourselves smaller?
Unfortunately, I have to say: It’s super hard. Because making ourselves smaller is still rewarded. My first step was simply noticing that I was, in fact, making myself smaller. Well, actually it was a man who noticed and called me out on it. So I don’t really have any advice other than being aware of how you tell your story. At the end of the day, diminishing your achievements is a waste of time. If a man has a problem with a successful and independent woman, it’s always better to find out early on.
What role does age play? I feel like my number of matches on dating apps has decreased significantly ever since I turned 30.
Well, I can say that, statistically speaking, men are looking for a woman in her early twenties. Part of this can be explained evolutionarily, it obviously has to do with fertility. But I also believe that this has something to do with power. You see all these older men on dating apps lying about their age – and at first I didn’t understand why they did that, until I realized they were fishing for extremely young women. Why are so many men chasing women that much younger than them? These men want someone who is impressionable and maybe not as confident as women their own age, they don’t want to be challenged and ultimately, they want the upper hand in the relationship.
In your book, you propose an overhaul of our concept of romance. What do you suggest?
I believe that romance is still very idealized, look at the ideal of the meet-cute for example. For some reason, we think meeting someone in the subway or the grocery store is fate and therefore superior to matching with someone on an app. This “new romance” that I have in mind probably looks more like strategizing: Decide what you want and then figure out how to get there. bell hooks, who wrote a very smart book on love, said that we should recognize love as something we have to work towards. Which is an uncomfortable thought for most people, because it seems so desperate. But knowing what you want and articulating it is so important. How often do we struggle with saying “hey, I am actually looking for a committed relationship”? How often do we sit down and consider what kind of person we want to be with, which interests this person would have and where we would meet them? That’s not how we want to meet our future partner, because it feels calculated. We’d rather just wait for it to happen, because that’s what we’ve been taught. Especially as women.
Can we please also talk about the trope of the irresistible bad guy?
The classic! Movies and literature have drilled into us that there always needs to be a kind of obstacle, that true love doesn’t come easy. Which is why we still chase after men who treat us badly. We want to be the rom-com heroine who cracks the troubled bad guy.
Toxic relationship models have been so heavily romanticized by pop culture (Twilight and Fifty Shades being just two of a truckload of examples) that many women actually pride themselves by saying, “I’m just not into nice guys”. And that’s so sad, because they deny themselves the chance to be with, well, a nice guy. Sure, nobody should be forced to date a snoozeball, but women also need to unlearn that “nice” equals “boring”.
Now that we have covered some of the issues which contribute to the gender dating gap – what can we as women do to help bridge it? How do we date on eye level?
Well, taking another look at the statistics, women still want a partner who is taller than them, someone who is athletic but not necessarily a bodybuilder, someone who is well educated and has a certain status. To an extent, that’s something we have to let go of if we want a more equal dating playing field – and to be honest this is also where I have turned into a “bad feminist” in the past. I still tend to go for taller men and I date within my bubble. Although I know that looking for a partner with a certain education level is incredibly classist, especially when you know that in Germany, your level of education doesn’t say anything about your intelligence – only about your access to the education system. In the end, don’t we all just want somebody who is genuinely interested in us, who asks questions, who isn’t intimidated by us and challenges us in a constructive way?
Have you changed your approach to dating after doing all this research for your book?
Yes, definitely. I am trying to be more open-minded and have started to reflect on my own dating patterns. Like, am I texting this boring dude only because he’s tall? And why don’t I match with men who may not be 100% my type and see what happens? I want to be clear, I’m not talking about lowering my standards, I believe that standards are women’s new freedom. I’m talking about taking a close look at who I give a chance in the first place. Because we may not be able to decide who we fall in love with, but we can decide who gets a chance.
How do we balance keeping our standards high, while giving a chance to men we may not be initially attracted to?
We can only truly know if someone lives up to our standards once we meet them, which is why I advocate for reflecting on who you match with in the first place – and why. I have certainly made assumptions about a guy’s personality based on his job or style. And I have been on dates with men, who I thought were quite boring from the way they texted and they turned out to be really funny in person. Or the other way around. So it’s really more about keeping an open mind
We’ve all suffered through bad dates with men who explained our jobs to us, who used us as therapists or who we simply didn’t click with. How can we limit disappointment?
The obvious answer is that we simply have to leave a bad date as soon as our gut says “get out”. But that’s easier said than done, because as women we have been raised to please and to politely smile through a boring conversation. Lately, I have started saying up front that I only have an hour. So if the date doesn’t go well, I have an easy out. Friends of mine have a chat on the phone first (also very pandemic friendly). This way you don’t “waste” a whole evening, and after 15-30 minutes on the phone you have a much better idea if you click with this person.
After finishing your book, I have to admit I felt quite pessimistic about my future love life. Is there still hope for our generation of women?
Yes, absolutely! I mean, I’ve been on some great dates with great guys. But sometimes these great guys are not the obvious choice. I, for one, am a little wary of self-proclaimed feminists – these guys have a tendency to think they’re done reflecting their own internalized sexism and such. So, as I said before, I’m trying to date a little more outside of my bubble and be a little more forgiving. It’s not as important to me anymore that a man is already involved in feminism, but rather: Does he listen when I tell him about my experiences as a woman? Is he willing to reflect and learn? For example, if I bring up the gender pay gap on a first date, what’s his reaction? Does he get defensive and dismissive, or is he interested in what I have to say about it? I do think that there are a lot of men out there who are willing to learn.
At the same time, I have started calling guys out on things like mansplaining, and that may not benefit me directly – but there’s a chance that the next woman he dates will profit from it. In the end, we should hold men accountable not only for our own sake, but for all other women out there.
What a great note to end on. Thank you for your time, and mostly, thank you for bringing this book into the world.
That’s all for today. I want to give this interview the space it deserves and will be back with pop culture pleasure in the next issue. If you enjoyed this interview, please consider sharing or forwarding it – that would mean the world to me. If you’d like to support my work, you can also treat me to a cup of coffee or simply come back next time.
Until next time,
Noch ein kurzer Werbeblock in eigener Sache: Am Donnerstag, den 1. Juli erscheint endlich die erste Folge des Podcast “Stadt Land Clan” (eines der Projekte, das mich in den letzten Wochen so unter Strom gesetzt hat). Meine großartigen Reporter-Kollegen Nora Burgard-Arp und Dirk Fisser haben viel Recherchezeit in einen Fall sogenannter Clankriminalität in einem Dorf in Niedersachsen gesteckt.
In unserer vierteiligen Serie sprechen wir aber nicht nur über diesen einen Fall, sondern diskutieren auch über die äußerst problematische Definition von “Clankriminalität”, über Rassismus, gescheiterte Integration und fragwürdige Polizeistatistiken. Auf Spotify könnt ihr schon den Trailer hören – und uns folgen, wenn ihr mögt. Ich freu mich auf jeden Fall, wenn ihr reinhört!