I typically hear the phrase “’I miss you” or “I’ll miss you” when saying goodbye. Sometimes I say it if I haven’t seen or spoken to someone in a long time, the implication being that I wished we connected more often. I also say it to significant partners, which can be scary but also exciting because it often signals the deepening of the relationship.
Hugs and saying “I love you” come easily, however, I use the word “miss” quite sparingly. In my mind, it is linked with a groundswell of feelings that are distinct from those associated with love, feelings like longing, relationality, nostalgia, and sometimes a sense of loss or even guilt.
My orientation to “miss” seems to diverge from that of most guys I’ve met or dated, many of whom use it right out of the gate. I’m always surprized when a man I’ve met a couple of times and rarely communicate about anything substantive with says he misses me. How, sir? What does he really mean?
The sad, the bad, and the compelling: Hyper-intimacy unpacked
“Babe” or “babes” and “boo” also pop up soon in dating convos. How can I be “babe” when we JUST matched, haven’t even met yet, and are both talking to a bunch of other people? I think this hyper intimacy may be linked with our accessibility to one another via dating apps and tendency to get right to the sexual chit-chat. There may be some more subterranean forces at work, too.
When asked about their rapid use of such terms, most men say it keeps communication fresh. For some, it’s also a way to depersonalize the dating pool. If we’re all ‘babe’ versus individual women with unique names, it’s easier to ghost, gaslight, and engage in the general douchery that pervades all the platforms (and yes, I know that women do these things too).
Although it might sound sad and/or bad, many men also “babe-ify” their dates to protect themselves from being dumped or cheated on, which they see as inevitable. Keep it light to stay in the game without significant heartbreak, so the story goes. In these instances, “miss” and “babe” are sometimes used to test the waters – does she like me? – and navigate dating risks.
Cultivating dating courage
Beneath these choppy dating waters lie men’s real sexual desires, which they are often uncomfortable to voice. Despite what they say or “like” publicly, guys usually want more than the Cardi B body and red-bottom shoes attitude. I’ve spoken with many guys who lament how money and celebrity-focused some women are, which makes them feel financially inadequate and typically hastens their emotional retreat.
A rather messy Venn diagram of modern romance emerges, with one circle representing women working hard to achieve cookie cutter lives/bodies they’re told that men like and may help them reap success. In another circle, we have men superficially buying into these idealized norms while secretly wanting something closer to reality. Atop these overlapping spheres are the tensions that impact all of us, the social messaging about being our best selves and the harsh reality that our culture isn’t yet ready to receive us in all of our uniqueness.
It’s no wonder men (and others) use intimate terms so quickly to mask vulnerable feels and expedite the dangers, real and perceived, associated with love/lust/romance. The sooner we move through the pile, the sooner we…do what? The sooner we accumulate what…exactly?
Finding ways to resist these homogenizing trends seems vital if we want to experience the gushy, cool, powerful effects that come with showing ourselves more in our love lives, and beyond. Perhaps one of our shared projects during these strange minutes and weeks of social separation is to map out what this will look like.
Do you fear the, “I miss you text,” because of what it can or could symbolize? What’s your texting kryptonite? #HMU with those messages that keep you awake at night.
As a guy, I’m fairly inhibited in real life, so I try not to use such terms very early on. And “babe” is a bit generic and is used by some as a way to disingenuously lovebomb, so I avoid that. But I do like to give a woman I’m dating, seeing or getting to know romantically, a personalized nickname fairly soon, if there has been a good bit of banter and I can come up with something that fits her. (This is generalizing from previous experience, not really a strategy I follow).
For me it comes down to enjoying the cutesy stuff and yes, expressing affection. And I feel that affection quite early on. It’s a way to express my attraction for her. I guess I want her to feel how I feel about her, how interested I am in her. Maybe it’s early, yes, but if a woman makes me feel good and I go without talking to her longer than I’d like to, then I would be inclined to say I “miss her”. It’s a combination of physical attraction + having had pleasurable flirtations or interactions on a personal level with her that make me associate her with good feelings.
It gives me anxiety because I’ve noticed that many women (not all, but many) do take a longer time to warm up. There was a girl I matched with during the lockdown and we got to know each other over several Skype conversations. Once the lockdown was lifted we went on our first date. It was very fun and we held hands. At the end of the date we were sitting on a bench close together and, since we were sitting close and I felt a strong desire to kiss her, I looked at her with a smile and told her I’d like to kiss her. She said she wasn’t ready and that the first date was a bit early for her. That she needs more time to build trust and to build attraction with a guy before she kisses or does other physical stuff. And I understand. But as we’d had several in-depth phone conversation lasting several hours, I felt an intellectual connection, and on the date itself I felt a strong physical attraction/connection to her. I want her to be comfortable every step of the way, but in the past I have worried about how to communicate my feelings and intentions honestly and fully while not scaring off the woman I am seeing for coming on too strong.
It brings to mind the (rhetorical) question: when do you know a person enough for the expressed affection to be legitimate? If some people fall in love (or in lust / infatuation, I guess) faster and some take a longer while, can one party said to be wrong? Of course, both parties need to be on the same wavelength, but people can communicate their “falling in love” / “pacing” patterns to each other and take those into account while getting to know each other, like we did on that first date.
I must say, waking up to your messages initially made me nervous. Uh oh, another incel hater…But no, aside from the one comment about the guy just asking me a question, these have been thoroughly fascinating to go through. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts in a rich, reflexive, and kind way. Much appreciated, xo
Thank you, Treena. I was worried I might come off as too intense or negative. I guess it’s because you are dealing with deeply emotional topics, and they bring up a lot of primal feelings of shame. A lot of people don’t really have the tools to describe or convey where these feelings are coming from. So they go for the jugular, lashing out at the person that made them feel bad (inadvertently or not). They feel misunderstood or antagonized.
It can be hard for me to give my honest opinion to something I strongly disagree with, because I fear the person will dismiss and ‘unperson’ me completely after that for disagreeing on that one point. So I’m glad you were able to look past that. It can be hard to voice strong and visceral disagreement without making the person feel completely dismissed, invalidated or attacked, which is not my intention… even though obviously, strong disagreement can’t help but create a break of rapport and an uncomfortable feeling. But sugarcoating too much would be dishonest as well? I guess we all want to feel like the “winner” sometimes, like some clever debate champion, which is very human, but not always healthy.
Anyway, I hope my comments were useful to you in your capacity as an anthropologist. I give my consent to use them in your research, if you want to (and if not, cool beans lol). Reading your very personal reflections made me think through certain things myself and made me want to convey them to you, if you’d accept it. Have a nice day