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The Economics of DC Dating:

Julian Sanchez and Heather debate the important question of whether most DC men are "vanilla pansies that are scared to approach a woman in a bar." Some DC men might take offense at the mere mention of the possibility that most of us are "vanilla pansies." I, on the other hand, very much hope that it's true. The higher the percentage of vanilla pansies among my male competitors on the DC dating scene, the better the market outlook for me! I am much more concerned about news items such as the fact that this guy is back on the dating market, since he would be an extremely tough customer to beat out. Fortunately, he doesn't spend much time in DC (I hope). The more general point here is that anything that reduces the real or imagined average quality of men in a dating market actually benefits single men in that area and harms the women.

On a slightly more serious note, I doubt that "vanilla pansies" are really a major problem on the DC dating scene. At least in the middle and upper classes, a high percentage of DC residents are involved in politics. Politics is very much a "people business" that rewards outgoing personalities with strong social skills. Pansies (and also shrinking violets:)) are unlikely to be attracted to politics in disproportionate numbers and if they do enter the field, generally don't survive in it for very long. The women of DC are far more likely to be suffer from the attentions of overly aggressive political types than from an excess of pansies.

tefta2 (mail):
Ilya, pansy is a derogatory term for gay.
12.16.2006 6:58pm
Ilya Somin:
Ilya, pansy is a derogatory term for gay.

That is not the only usage of the term, and certainly not the one intended in this context. "Pansy" is also often used as a derogatory term for men who are wimpy. That is the meaning that Julian Sanchez, Heather, and I had in mind. The context of the post (heterosexual dating) clearly indicates that it refers to heterosexual men, not gay ones.
12.16.2006 7:35pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Someday we won't be able to use any words because they will all be used to mean homosexual. They've already taken some of our better words for happy and unusual. What more do they want?!

Pansy is not a word to mean gay. It's a word to mean wimp, as it the guys are too much wimps to approach women.

Otherwise, the writers wouldn't describe such men as scared to approach women--unless that's a new stereotype for gay guys too.
12.16.2006 7:37pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Pansy actually often refers to "weakling," "coward" and the like, not gay; and its quite clear that pansies afraid to approach women in a bar describes the latter, and is not calling the person in question gay.

More importantly, I had no idea any VC contributors were single!!

:)
12.16.2006 7:37pm
liberty (mail) (www):
wow, we all slammed that one at the same time, didn't we?
12.16.2006 7:38pm
Ilya Somin:
More importantly, I had no idea any VC contributors were single!!

As far as I know, I am the only one, with the exception of Dale Carpenter, who is of course legally barred from marrying in his state, even if he wanted to.
12.16.2006 7:47pm
Reinhold (mail):
And we're assuming that men should do the approaching?
12.16.2006 7:55pm
Perseus (mail):
...with the exception of Dale Carpenter, who is of course legally barred from marrying in his state, even if he wanted to.

Legally barred from marrying a member of the same sex in his state.
12.16.2006 8:02pm
Porkchop (mail):
You shouldn't confuse dating with getting laid, Ilya. In my single days (admittedly a long time ago), I found that DC bars were better for the latter than for developing longterm relationships (not that there was anything wrong with the shortterm ones).

I think that Heather may have overlooked the fact (at least in my day) that the incidence of women who vastly overestimate their personal attractiveness, importance, and intelligence is at least as high as the incidence of "Tiresome Asshole[s], which D.C. seems to excel in corralling into our fine city at extremely high rates." I was always amazed at the egos displayed by 22 year-old congressional aides, for example. It doesn't matter how goodlooking you are, posing as a woman of power when you spend your day looking after unhappy constituents' social security complaints just doesn't cut it.
12.16.2006 8:10pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
As the president of the National Association of Pansy Growers, I am offended by this entire thread.

(I did find it amusing to look in the DC phone book for "association" and "national association" and see how many entries there were).

I was always amazed at the egos displayed by 22 year-old congressional aides, for example.

While a friend was filming congress critters for a docmentary, he remarked to me that, coming from Hollywood, he was accustomed to dealing with pompous egotists ... but those in DC put Hollywood to shame! My own experience is that the young staffers are far worse than their bosses.

One simple clue at the outset: if they call their boss by his first name ("Hal" for Rep. Harold Volkmer), he and they have their feet on the ground. If he's "the Senator," or "the Congressman" or "the chairman," as if there were no other, they probably don't.
12.16.2006 8:56pm
Corey Rayburn Yung (mail) (www):
From American Heritage Dictionary:

http://www.bartleby.com/61/63/P0046300.html

1. Any of various plants of the genera Achimenes or Viola, especially V. tricolor or its hybrids, having flowers with velvety petals of various colors. 2. A deep to strong violet. 3. Offensive Slang a. Used as a disparaging term for a man or boy who is considered effeminate. b. Used as a disparaging term for a homosexual man.

Given the use of "feminine" slurs against gay men, you might see why the distinction between 3(a) and 3(b) may be one without a difference.
12.16.2006 9:08pm
Le Messurier (mail):
Ilya

I agreed with you when I read you interpretation of the meaning of "pansy". Then Corey Rayburn Young quoted the rather "flexible" and thus not totally authoritative or convincing American Heritage Dictionary. To confirm or reject the AHD definition of pansy I went to my own Websters Third International Dictionary (unabridged and copyright 1968) The definition there is almost identical to the AHD's. Nonetheless, despite these authorities I feel that "pansy", as used in your post, is a synonym of "wimp" or "wuss" and has nothing to do with sexual proclivities. I would say that in growing up that the wuss-wimp usage has always been more common in the spoken language I have been exposed to.
12.16.2006 10:12pm
Nancy:
"Ilya, pansy is a derogatory term for gay."

I think it's terrific that Ilya is using the term to refer to heterosexuals. At one time, effeminacy and homosexuality were synonymous. If you called a man a pansy or a sissy, you were unquestionably suggesting that he was gay. However, as you can see from the linked posts and the comments above, times have changed and it is now possible to call a man a pansy without questioning his sexuality.

As a gay man, I welcome this development because it signals the breakdown of the sissy = gay equation (which has been a real problem over the years). Posts like Ilya's, where it is absolutely clear that the pansies in question are straight, speed along the breakdown. If anything, we should applaud him for casting aspersions in such a responsible manner!
12.16.2006 10:16pm
Lev:

While a friend was filming congress critters for a docmentary, he remarked to me that, coming from Hollywood,


Someone, maybe it was John MeCain, commented on Hollywood and Washington, something like: Washington is Hollywood for the ugly, and Hollywood is Washington for the stupid.
12.16.2006 11:05pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Alright: Bridget Moynahan finally dumped that pansy.
12.16.2006 11:09pm
Lev:

The men here are a bunch of vanilla pansies that are scared to approach a woman in a bar, and basically dream of bi fantasies.


Sounds like a slam on blacks as being unmanly and bisexual.
12.16.2006 11:20pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

As far as I know, I am the only one, with the exception of Dale Carpenter, who is of course legally barred from marrying in his state, even if he wanted to.

Ca-Ching!
As it happens, most of my male friends at school are gay. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or because my Gay Fu is strong. At any rate, having had the "pansy" discussion, we concluded that the "real insult," is to assume that whenever someone says "pansy," (and sissy, and p*ssy), they are talking about homosexuals. Some of my gay buddies are definitely not people I'd want to end up in a fist fight with. By the same token, my best friend, (who is straight), is rather a pansy. (Sorry, dude, you know it's true). But don't get me wrong - if you get your nails done, listen to Streisand and can't pronounce words with the letter "S" - you are damn pansy, gay or not.
12.16.2006 11:25pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
PS I now look forward, Ilya, to the VC's coverage of Britney's divorce and the demise of the Vaughn/Aniston relationship.
12.16.2006 11:35pm
Jacknut (mail):
I am so glad I'm married to a wonderful woman. Dating in DC was like doing a 10 meter dive into the shallow end of the pool.
12.16.2006 11:50pm
triticale (mail) (www):
Pansies are my wee wifey's favorite flower. She even has them tattooed on her ankle (her most visible ink). Maybe I need to be thankful she doesn't frequent DC bars.
12.16.2006 11:54pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
This post is wrong in so many ways.

First of all there is no necessary connection between willingness to approach women randomly in a bar and general aggressiveness. While there is probably some correlation I doubt it is very strong. One's level of aggressiveness in a situation is closely connected to one's confidence about that situation and there are plenty of men who are quite confident about their politics or whatever else and (perhaps rationally) not nearly so confident about approaching women in bars.

Second of all I very much doubt your serious dating competition is from the sort of guys who are good at picking up girls in bars. Smart women who are interested in dating smart, intellectual men tend to be poorly disposed to the bar scene because they so infrequently find that the guy hitting on them is worth their time which conversely diminishes the number of smart academic type guys trying to find dates in bars (they may still be there trying to get laid).

From what I've seen and experienced picking people up in bars is a particular sort of skill that doesn't have much to do with your dating 'value'. I've seen plenty of stupid lame guys who are quite good at bringing the girl home with them from the bar but aren't likely to get her to stay for breakfast much less a relationship. On the other hand I know guys from college who had to beat off the girls with a stick but are unwilling to hit on girls in a bar.

Trying to decide how much dating value someone has by their ability/inclination to pick up girls in a bar is a lot like trying to figure out how good a friend someone would make by watching how they do at public speaking.

Having said this I used to be inclined to believe this sorta thing myself until I decided to hit on more girls in those sorts of situations and discovered I had very good reasons not to do so, I couldn't stand the innane crap that passes for conversation in a bar and couldn't be natural while pretending otherwise. In fact, my problem was probably being too aggressive in some sense. If someone says something like, "Well everyone's faith is true in it's own way," it's damn tough to just nod and pretend they said something that wasn't totally innane. Besides, whats the point I wouldn't want to date them anyway.
12.17.2006 1:41am
Ilya Somin:
PS I now look forward, Ilya, to the VC's coverage of Britney's divorce and the demise of the Vaughn/Aniston relationship.

You may be in for a pretty long wait:).
12.17.2006 2:52am
Ilya Somin:
First of all there is no necessary connection between willingness to approach women randomly in a bar and general aggressiveness. While there is probably some correlation I doubt it is very strong. One's level of aggressiveness in a situation is closely connected to one's confidence about that situation and there are plenty of men who are quite confident about their politics or whatever else and (perhaps rationally) not nearly so confident about approaching women in bars.

I suspect that confidence in your general social skills and being generally outgoing and aggressive increases the odds that you are willing to approach members of the opposite sex.

Trying to decide how much dating value someone has by their ability/inclination to pick up girls in a bar is a lot like trying to figure out how good a friend someone would make by watching how they do at public speaking.

Quite possible that this is true. Nonetheless, both studies and lots of anecdotal evidence show that people often make decisions about who to date based on the first few minutes of interaction. And of course if you don't approach a woman, the likelihood of ever making a good first impression is greatly reduced.

I think this comment and several others focus too much on the bar aspect of the quote and not enough on the more general point of the post.
12.17.2006 2:56am
Nancy:
The more general point here is that anything that reduces the real or imagined average quality of men in a dating market actually benefits single men in that area and harms the women.

Doesn't that assume that everybody stays put? If DC men are perceived as being of inferior quality, won't single women flee to greener pastures? That can't be good for the single men.
12.17.2006 4:13am
Porkchop (mail):
Ilya,

Upon reflection, I suggest that the "DC dating market" is far from monolithic. The DC-area population seems quite able to court, mate, and reproduce in all its segments. We do have high schools, for example, where the kids meet, date, and sometimes get married. The market everyone is discussing is the post-college, immigrant (meaning, came here from somewhere else, not necessarily from another country) professionals' dating market. In some ways, it is quite dynamic, with new entrants every fall. The submarket is the "bar scene." There are other submarkets in which you might look -- the "club scene," for example, but you have to be able to "dance" (or do what passes for dancing these days), or the "church scene," which would require at least superficial acceptance of some set of religious beliefs. (There are also markets that involve the actual payment of money, but I assume you aren't really interested in that.)

Women professionals are at a disadvantage in the "bar scene," vis-a-vis their male age cohort, because there is another market element there, the "college/grad-school girl," younger and more likely to be impressed by "I'm a lawyer -- an associate at Dewey Cheatham &Howe" -- at least in the short term. In market terms, they cost less; in competitive terms, they out-compete the women professionals by being more likely to provide the desired product earlier and at less cost. Most likely result: young male associate takes college girl back to his apartment for a short term relationship, and female associate bemoans the "dating scene." Her frustration comes from the her misunderstanding of the market -- guys don't go to bars for longterm relationships. The complaint that "men don't approach women" is really, "Men don't approach me or my friends."
12.17.2006 8:27am
AC:
I've always been curious why wimpy or effeminate men are called pansies. They are quite hardy plants (their ability to compete with grass should put them in the noxious weed category), so calling wimpy men pansies seems inapt.
12.17.2006 9:38am
Anon. E. Mouse (mail):
Am I the only one to enjoy the irony of "Nancy" defending the use of "pansy" to refer to effeminate straight males?

She probably wants her name back, too.
12.17.2006 10:00am
spider:
Prof. Somin writes: "anything that reduces the real or imagined average quality of men in a dating market actually benefits single men in that area and harms the women."

Well, there are two factors here. First, single women will be less willing to explore the dating market across the board (they'll instead spend their time pursuing their career or running marathons or gardening with their pansies or whatever). Second, an individual single man will be better off if his competitors become weaker, or if women's perception of the competitors becomes weaker. But this is assuming that said individual single man is not becoming weaker, as would be consistent with the general trend.
12.17.2006 10:31am
Xyz:
Quite timely, the NYT has an article today in which they mention the usage of "pansy", "Nancy", "fairy", and "fruit" as anti-gay slurs.
12.17.2006 11:20am
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
Ilya, I'm a bit surprised that you've taken this assertion about DC men at face value. "The men around here are all losers" is pretty much a universal complaint of single women everywhere, and most people discount it accordingly. In economic terms, think of the dating scene as a classic "market for lemons", and the single girl's standard lament as meaning, "I may not have been snapped up yet, but that doesn't mean I'm a lemon--I'm actually a good catch who's just a lot more selective than most."
12.17.2006 12:05pm
James Fulford (mail):
The "vanilla pansies" locution was that of an anonymous poster on Craigslist. Heather and Julian Sanchez repeated it without commenting on it, so please don't blame Professor Somin for it.

Ann Coulter made the same observation in George Magazine,[June, 1999] which provoked a truly evil response from a guy named Thor Hesla, answered here by Noemie Emery.

The various bloggers who've reprinted Coulter's 1999 piece all agree with her observation that "Boys in Washington don't know how to ask for a date," even if they don't agree with her otherwise.
12.17.2006 12:58pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"Boys in Washington don't know how to ask for a date,"

But a bit of a pansy who has trouble asking for a date is cute (if you like him otherwise) while a more conceited or arrogant male that asks easily and without hesitation is not likely to be a successful long-term match. He clearly considers himself a catch and probably has noticed little about you, other than your good looks.

Females that respond to such men usually desire the compliment of being chosen by such a man - a man that exudes confidence and testosterone - because out of all women (and clearly he believes that he has his choice) he has chosen her. What she is forgetting is that she too has a choice, and he may be a poor one.
12.17.2006 1:50pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I lived in DC for 12 years, and while there is certainly something to the "incredibly self-important 20-something hill staffer" problem among the city's white/transient/professional population, you can't put any stock in these sorts of critiques of any city's "bar scene."

First, these things are written by people who think a good way to meet potential long-term relationship material is to hang out in bars and try to pick people up. So let's start with the fact that these people are somewhere on the scale of not-sufficiently-imaginative to full-scale-idiot.

Second, these things are written by people who are still interested in the bar scene precisely because they haven't yet found Mr. or Ms. Wonderful. So they're still in the bar scene, looking, and are likely to think the bar scene stinks since it hasn't produced much for them.

Think: have you ever read an article from an "alternative" newspaper or similar source that says, "wow, the bar scene here is great -- guys and gals often and easily find true love in bars in this city"?
12.17.2006 2:11pm
OrinKerr:
As far as I know, I am the only one,

Not true, but you may be the only one who would blog about it on a Saturday night.
12.17.2006 3:11pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"Not true, but you may be the only one who would blog about it on a Saturday night."

Blogging about being single on a Saturday night isn't considered sexy?
12.17.2006 3:18pm
Duke Martin (mail) (www):
Haven't been to DC in about ten years but I can't believe it's any different now. Men out numbered women by at least five to one and it was a happy hunting ground for sex as far as I was concerned. One of the reasons a guy like me made out so well is the "competition" was composed of mostly pansies, meaning limp wristed feminized males. As I matured I realized that the chances of meeting an alcoholic in a bar were exponentially higher than meeting one anywhere else, so I changed by prowling area. I met my Miss Right at an investment seminar which is OK because I knew I was richer than she.
12.17.2006 5:59pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I think Duke Martin kind of demonstrated my point for me about why "pansies" are better. But I wouldn't worry about the competition, if you're looking for an intelligent women, Ilya. Probably most of the competition are just jerks, or excessively boring.
12.17.2006 8:39pm
Ilya Somin:
As far as I know, I am the only one,

Not true, but you may be the only one who would blog about it on a Saturday night.


I stand corrected. Though those commenting about being single on a Sunday are not in a much better position than those blogging about it on Saturday:).
12.17.2006 9:10pm
gr (www):
I'd say the problem with DC dating is people try to gauge it by approaches at the bar.
12.17.2006 11:47pm
Randy R. (mail):
You also have to compound the issue by realizing that Washington has one of the largest populations of gays in the country. Then double that by realizing that so many Hill staffers are gay but haven't gotten around to admiting it to themselves, let alone anyone they might date. It's the old "I'm work too many hours for the senator have a social life" excuse to avoid dating in any fashion.

Pity the poor women: they have a limited pool of self-important men who might very well be gay. Run for cover!
12.18.2006 12:26am
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
This is a pathetic excuse for a story.

1) If you are looking for a mate in a bar, you are an idiot. You may get lucky. More likely, all you will get is genital warts.

2) Anybody with any common sense can tell you that good things rarely happen in bars, and nothing good ever happens in bars after 10:00 PM. You go to a bar strictly for booze, conversation, and perhaps chicken wings. If something good happens you should be careful crossing the street thereafter, because your karmic bank account is overdrawn.

3) You wouldn't buy a house drunk, or select a law school drunk, or buy a car drunk... so why would you try to start a relationship under the influence? "A 2 at 10:00 is a 10 by 2:00"... ever heard that one? What makes anybody think they are a better judge of character when they, and everybody around, have been drinking?

4) Many men in D.C. are alpha males, career wise. In my experience, most of the single women in the area are trying to be focused hunters of alpha males. But you don't land a trophy elk by sitting around the same old watering hole with 50 other hunters bitching that the really big elks never show up here. That's because even if the big elks visit the watering hole, the didn't get to be big elks by getting nailed by dumb hunters.

5) A lot of terminally single women in our society have watched wayyy too much TV and read too much Cosmo. Life ain't Sex in the City, you aren't going to find a guy who looks close to perfect, has a great job, great career prospects, wonderful character, and is also happens to hang around a lot in bars where he can meet lots of slightly desperate women who hang out in bars and bitch about how the guys they meet aren't good enough. Dear God, didn't these women have mothers to tell them this? Do I have to spell this out?

6) Contrary to television portrayals, men aren't finished products in their young adulthood. It doesn't mean that they have to act like babies, just that most guys take a lot of time to really hit their stride in terms of career and character growth, and for a lot of us, it takes marriage to a good woman to bring out our better side. That means that most 25 year-old men are going to be idiots, more or less. "All the great guys my age are married" is the inept way of stating "a lot of women got after those 25 year-old idiots, and convinced them to live up to their potential, and now that I'm 35, I can't find a great guy like that." I'm not saying "lower your standards," I'm saying "look for different things" like good character, decent education, a good work ethic, and probably kindness. Kindness goes a really long way in a relationship.

I know a little bit about this. Most women in D.C. wouldn't have dated me when I was 25. Some woman lowered herself to marry me, a real no-hoper, and we're very happy with our family, and doing really well career-wise and financially. It started with a happy marriage though, all the other stuff came after that as a result of working hard for each other. She didn't marry me because I had my act together, but because she liked me and thought I had good character, and this in turn inspired me to get my act together a little better.

The comment I've heard from single female colleagues that I try to talk out of the same complaint, is "I'd like to meet somebody like you, or ____ or ____ (a couple other successful married male colleagues). I tell them they want a guy like that, they'd better go make one, because they aren't going to find him on the top shelf at The Lucky Bar or the 4 P's.

The dating scene in D.C. isn't that bad. It's the bar scene that sucks. But then, the bar scene sucks anywhere if you are looking for a quality relationship.
12.18.2006 9:07am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Randy R.-

You also have to compound the issue by realizing that Washington has one of the largest populations of gays in the country. Then double that by realizing that so many Hill staffers are gay but haven't gotten around to admiting it to themselves, let alone anyone they might date.

Do you have something to tell the board?
12.18.2006 9:40am
Randy R. (mail):
Hey, Al, great post! Love it. Many women tell me that any guy in Washington who is over 30 and unmarried has something seriously wrong with him, or he's gay. (sorry for being obsessed by this, but as a gay man, I hear a lot of crap from single women about the men in this town!).

And it's true -- most of the straight men over 30 are pretty much hopelessly screwed up.
12.18.2006 12:01pm
Twill00 (mail):
Did everyone miss the word "vanilla"? There's racism involved in the original quote also - that word's not a food additive.
12.18.2006 7:56pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Al Maviva-

You make a lot of good points. Especially the one about some women setting their expectations by "Sex and the City" and "Friends" - hint: Most customer service reps don't have million or half-million dollar apartments in NYC.

But I have a problem with the buy-in that women can "mold" or "make" the kind of guys they want. If they are the type-a or alpha men that these women supposedly want they aren't going to put up with the manipulative garbage. Which is part of the reason we have a 50%+ divorce rate.

Randy R-

Hey, Al, great post! Love it. Many women tell me that any guy in Washington who is over 30 and unmarried has something seriously wrong with him, or he's gay. (sorry for being obsessed by this, but as a gay man, I hear a lot of crap from single women about the men in this town!).

This spoken by the late 20s and over 30 women that are single. Yep - quite an unbiased sample. Not bitter at all.
12.19.2006 1:37am
Randy R. (mail):
Ha! I didn't think about that! True, some of these women are no doubt bitter; and believe ME, many of these women who are single have something seriously wrong with them too! I'm just too polite to notice that.

(Well, that's not entirely true. My friend Julie asked me once if I thought she was a jewish princess. I almost gagged and wanted to shout that she defines the phrase! But I said no, not really, but... there are some aspects that one might take as a the behavior of a princess and....well, she practically bit my head off. so much for honesty. And she's still single and hasn't a clue as to why.)

And Julie refuses to date any man who is not good looking AND rich AND an important somebody. (So she doesn't date, of course.) She's holding out for that perfect man who will sweep her off her feet and marry her. I've tried telling her that that isn't likely to happen as you approach the age of 50, but she won't listen....Bitter? you bet. Something wrong with her? Stay the hell away. I finally dropped her as a friend.
12.21.2006 1:09am