While online dating, I've received more than 50 unsolicited pictures of the male anatomy.
Recently, I wanted to ask men why they feel compelled to send women such pictures. As I tried to speak to men about this in bars, they'd end up hitting on me. I wondered: How I could take myself out of the equation and get more honest answers? Then it occurred me: I could wear a wedding band.
I rummaged through my jewellery box and found a ring that had belonged to my grandmother. With five diamonds across the front in a platinum setting, it could pass for a wedding band. It was that easy. Without a man in the picture, I put a ring on it myself.
I looked down at my hand and liked the way it looked. I felt like a newly engaged woman staring at the sparkler. I imagined the man who slipped it on my finger and, oddly, I felt special.
As a modern, independent woman, I know that I shouldn't feel validated by a man wanting to marry me.
But having been on as many bad dates as I have, I felt warm and fuzzy thinking there really was a man out there for me. I was surprised to feel comforted by the thought that I could belong to someone.
I stepped out that night, nervously rolling my wedding band around my finger. Walking into a bar, I directly approached the man closest to the door who wasn't a bouncer. I rubbed my hand with the ring across my face to ensure this man saw I was married before launching into my questions. Not only did he answer my questions, but he was thrilled I was paying attention to him and gave me the best answers yet.
After this encounter, I felt more confident. Somehow, this ring made me feel protected. As a single woman, I've often felt the need to be coy or act aloof in dating situations to play hard to get. With the wedding band, this wall disappeared. I could laugh and joke easily with my subjects and they did the same. There was more smiling, eye contact and interest on the part of my subjects.
When I approached two men at once, they were wary at first. When I explained I was writing about modern dating and d-- pics, I said, "I'm married and when I met my husband, there weren't even camera phones. So I'm super curious about it all."
They opened up and shared that they've sent intimate pictures to girlfriends and casual lovers to initiate sex. They wouldn't send these pictures to strangers on dating apps now, they said, although they did at uni. As I absorbed their insight, I felt a renewed sense of faith in men, which was confirmed when these guys offered to help me if any of my interviews went wrong. It touched me that these guys were willing to protect me if I needed it.
At the next bar, I approached two guys and we had a similar exchange. They even helped me find subjects. "That guy in the button-down!" They also gave me more insight than I had gotten before I was wearing the ring. I felt as though we were part of a team simply because I was "off limits" romantically.
When I got home, I felt buoyed by the great answers I'd received as well as how much I'd connected with these guys. Why did a ring have such an effect on my experience? Maybe because looking for love is terrifying for everyone involved.
I have some not-so-nice exes in my past. In the initial mating dance, my heart often closes and hides behind walls. As much as I want love, I also don't want it. Love seems like a fast track to pain. But with the wedding ring, I was unavailable and therefore safe from rejection. I could just be myself.
For these guys, looking for love may be just as terrifying. Maybe we were able to have safe and easy conversations because the option of asking for a phone number was off the table. Without the fear of rejection on all sides, we were able to have genuine conversations.
I've put my grandmother's ring back in the jewellery box. But in the six months since I conducted this experiment, I've kept the feeling of being wanted, loved and chosen. Now I feel less pressure about finding The One and go on twice as many dates with men who treat me well. It's a lot more fun.