In this era of meet-up apps, #MeToo and changing gender mores, the dating scene isn't what it used to be.
BUENOS AIRES — The rules of the game have changed. In fact, they're changing even as I write this. The #MeToo movement and more recently, No is No, have impacted the way we relate to one another. The catcall — piropo in Spanish, meaning "compliment" — is illustrative: Society no longer accepts it as gallantry, and it seems headed for fossilization rather than any rebranding.
Seduction is also being reexamined. Where is it headed? It's too soon to say, but based on our research, the traditional roles are broken. There is no longer a classic pickup scenario, not because men have stopped pursuing women, but because it is a two-way game now.
There are also generational changes and technology (and Argentines are regional champions in using dating applications), helping create a new, and extremely dynamic, scenario.
The first step
I start writing "women are also taking the initiative now," then delete. There's nothing new there actually. That was also true back when you could still smoke in the waiting room of the doctor's office.
Weeks ago I contacted the Inter American Open University (UAI), which took a poll in September asking 300 men and 300 women in Buenos Aires about relationships. It showed — like another 2018 poll done by the application Happn — that most people now accept that women are as likely as men to take the first step in seduction.
I see women with more attitude.
Ángel Elgier, head of psychology studies at the UAI, told me relations have been "democratized," and the "control and private property paradigm" is disappearing. Psychoanalyst Virginia Ungar believes "it no longer matters who takes the initiative."
Six out of 10 respondents in the UAI poll cited technology, with applications like Tinder and Happn, as a chief cause of changing dynamics. The UAI poll also showed that few serious relationships had begun online.
Out at night
Technology is also changing people's going-out habits. "People don't go out so much, and don't come face to face like they used to," Gustavo Palmer, a former barman, DJ and now businessman, told me. "People used to meet in a club. Now they get to know each other on social networks."
A veteran of the Buenos Aires night-life for some 40 years now, Palmer says that when he started out, men always took the initiative. "Always," he insists. "Things became equal about 10 to 15 years ago. Now it's the opposite: I see women with more attitude, with the energy to be the one who initiates the social link."
Popular bar in Buenos Aires, Argentina — Photo: Growlers/Facebook
Florencia Mattiazzi, a 24-year-old DJ, says women no longer balk at making "specific proposals — they move with a lot of assurance," but admits that some women have become very assertive in how they protect themselves. She also concurs that most seduction happens online. "I have many more proposals on Instagram than in person," she says. "There is a strong change in codes. Everything passes through the networks first."
Martín Casanova is head of Growlers, a pub chain in Buenos Aires. His brewery-style establishments aid personal interaction, with their large, shared tables and music only loud enough to permit conversation. He says that the idea of "picking up" women or "going out on the prowl" is old-fashioned and anyone who persists "is out of the game."
In the bedroom
Sexologist Alessandra Rampolla observes that women who are proactive in seduction are equally so in bed. This gives men a measure of relief from their "duties," she says, and younger men are already at ease with it.
"This is a big change for the woman who always had a very reduced field in seduction. You could only flirt up to a point. If you said "yes' quickly, you gave a bad impression, you were a "slut"... It is liberating being able to say, "this is what I want"," she concludes.
But at a biweekly men's group meeting at a bar in the Villa Crespo district, participants told me that all the talk of proactive women is a myth. "It's something the media made up," one of the men explains. "It sounds good saying it."
Some of the group's younger members expressed fears of facing harassment charges. I reminded them that situations reported in media are very rare. Harassment in any case, can work both ways. One of the men showed me a woman's insulting messages on WhatsApp. He blocked her, but she continued hounding him with text messages.
This is a big change for the woman who always had a very reduced field in seduction.
The two had had sex one weekend, he said. And when he didn't invite her a few days later to go see the film Joker — saying that he preferred to see it alone — the woman got angry. Whatever the reason, the man was clearly upset.
"We're seeing a change of paradigm, and there are no more fixed places for men and women," says psychologist Juan Eduardo Tesone, a member of the Argentine Psychoanalytical Association (APA). "These tend to change now. There are people who won't even define themselves as men or women anymore. They can fall in love with one or the other, because they fall in love with a person."
There is also a lot of confusion these days between "masculinity and macho attitudes," he adds. Men are uncomfortable, Tesone explains, when they can't find their "hierarchical place, the place society gave them and they thought was theirs."
Do men fear outspoken women? Gender activists? I pose the question to another psychiatrist, Enrique Stola. "Of course," he says, adding that such women are often considered "seductive" but intimidating. The challenge for men, he says, is to abandon the role of the "dominating male," and instead find the freedom to create "democratic, playful spaces marked by deep respect."
Virginia Ungar says that men who refuse to see the new reality become "disoriented" and may find themselves "shut out" of dating.
"It's a complex issue with nuances," she says. "We're talking about transformed women who have broken the orders to silence their own voices. I see men in a process of deconstruction, but this is a process that also involves women."
"The image a passive women has to do with cultural mandates, which are not solely attributable to men," the psychoanalyst goes on to say. "It has been accepted and passed on by many women. We all have to go through a deconstruction process."