Bullish Life: Is Dating Dead?


Apparently, dating is dead. Except that I’ve been on hundreds of dates, and so have many of you.

It’s kind of like saying that sushi is dead. I mean, a lot of people don’t eat sushi. But you can still totally get some if you want.

Last week, I wrote Bullish Life: Hanging Out With People In Real Life Is Now Like Herding Cats. Cats That Suck. The in-person meetup is not what it used to be.

And a couple of weeks ago, Bullish Life: When Guys Just Want to Be Friends, I talked about meeting Rebecca Wiegand of WTF is Up With My Love Life? and being horrified at the post-dating world she described (one in which spineless man-boys send you late-night texts and you’re supposed to be grateful for the attention!)

I’ve since followed up with Rebecca and Jessica Massa, author of The Gaggle: How to Find Love in a Post-Dating World, both of whom tell me that my categorization of the post-dating world is unfair. Let’s get right into it.

Rebecca and Jessica, you conducted a funeral for dating. So, you pretty much think it’s dead. But dead for who? Everyone under 30? Urban people under 30? Urban, college-educated people under 30?

Dating is dead for anyone who is trying to find love these days. Whether you’re 18 or 29 or 55, you may go on dates from time to time, but that is now just one very small piece of the puzzle that makes up your love life. So if you’re thinking of your love life only in terms of traditional dating, then you’re shutting your brain and emotions off from the multitude of ambiguous-but-still-exciting romantic possibilities that are actually surrounding you in this post-dating world at all times every day.

Maybe you have a date on Friday night. Great! But we ask, what are you doing the other six days and nights of the week? You’re probably non-dating. And once you stop stressing over dating and start opening your eyes to the post-dating world, you realize that those non-dates are just as rife with romantic possibility as that Friday night “date” is.

People are connecting and failing in love via an extraordinary variety of unexpected and untraditional means these days, all over the country, in every age group.

Okay, so, if dating is kaput, what are people doing instead? What are these “untraditional means”? I’m imagining Harold and Kumar texting you at 10:30pm asking if you want to “hang out,” which at best means an offer of weed in exchange for sex. I think you should ignore those offers (unless you like weed and no-strings-attached sex, in which case, no judgments!) Are you trying to tell me that there are men who don’t want to go on dates (even if you split the expenses) who are actually worth spending time with, or is this as bad as it sounds?

Yes! Absolutely. We as women have to stop judging the quality of men based on whether they’ve asked us on a nice, Rules-approved date or not. In fact, we’ve had the nicest, most wonderful guys tell us that the guy who asks you on the perfect date and wines and dines you like a pro is probably the last guy you actually want to be dating – because, well, he’s a pro.

(Jen here: Okay, I see your point – a guy who’s really, really smooth at dating could be someone to avoid. Or he could just be someone who practices things and improves at them, which I recommend!)

Often that funny guy on your soccer team, or that supportive co-worker, or that friend-of-a-friend who keeps commenting on your Facebook status is at least as good a catch, and at least as “into you,” as that guy who is super forward with his traditional date offers.

Instead of dating, women and men are now exploring the promising connections in their lives by ambiguously cultivating their own gaggle of romantic prospects, crushes and ego boosting entanglements. And yes, guys are living in this same confusing post-dating morass as we girls are, and are experimenting with how to approach and connect with the many types of women who are coming into their lives. When a guy meets a girl who he thinks is out of his league, or forms a solid friendship with the cute girl in his office, or bumps into his old college pal and realizes that she’s gotten really hot, he now has the option of avoiding rejection and testing the waters in any number of ambiguous ways. He might Facebook friend request her, or text her on a Saturday night to see if their groups of friends want to meet up, or send her long, thoughtful emails to establish some common ground. Girls have to realize that these overtures are just as legitimate as dates. Modern men are still great. They’re just a little confused by us modern ladies and are avoiding outright rejection whenever they see that opportunity.

FYI, Harold & Kumar sound like the Super Horny Guys in your gaggle. We recommend NOT hooking up with them – but we think you should enjoy their company and appreciate the fact that they are men who find you attractive!

Ah, here’s a nice place for a link to Bullish Life: Let’s Just All Agree on Some Basic Principles of Sexual Ethics.

OK, let’s talk about these guys who don’t want to go on dates. Now, first off, I’m not talking about guys who are broke. They should ask you on a date at their place at which they make spaghetti, or to a free thing helpfully listed in the Free section of Time Out New York; many such free daytime events have food carts that sell food for $5. I’m talking about guys who, despite being able to afford going on dates, refuse to commit to calling something a “date.” (They usually also refuse to plan anything with you more than a day in advance.) If you are looking for an actual boyfriend, or the love of your life, I think you should run away from this as fast as possible. I mean, I need (and have!) a man who will agree NOW to drive me home from chemotherapy in 20 years, should I need it, and who I can trust with a joint checking account; I really have no patience for some dude who texts, “let’s hang sometime, i’ll text u.”

If some guy isn’t treating you the way you wish he would, then kick him out of your life (and your gaggle). Who needs constant disappointment? Don’t waste your time.

That said, whether a guy is willing to take you on a date is NOT a reliable metric of his character or where the connection between you two one day could lead. If you ax every guy out of your life who doesn’t take you on a traditional date right off the bat, then you are severely limiting your options in today’s ambiguous, tech-infused world. And besides, we’ve met tons of couples through this project who didn’t realize that their first “date” was actually a date until long afterwards. Couples who wandered around a park eating ice cream on a whim, or sat together day after day in their corporate cafeteria, or met at a bar and got drunk and made out, and only years later could say “I guess that was our first date!” If someone wants to talk to you and spend time with you, regardless of the exact terms, you should see that as a good thing.

Instead of looking at each guy and asking “has he taken me on a date yet,” the key is to look at him on his own individual terms and think: what role is this guy playing in my life? What do I like and/or appreciate about him? What are his downsides? How can we cultivate and expand on our connection? Taking away the weight of traditional dating expectations and focusing on the core connection can absolutely bring you a guy who will be there through all the chemo and checking account issues down the line.

Is this just a New York thing? Dating-wise, New York is a notoriously bad place for women. The population of college grads who move here is (obviously) self-selecting and contains many more women than men. A lot of ambitious men who move here are concentrated in finance, so if you’re in NYC and employed in an artsy or cultural field (and I’m not even talking about ladyblogs or publishing), you can absolutely live in a world FULL of beautiful, fashionable, successful young women who cannot get a date. But if any one of those women moved to Seattle or Portland or Indianapolis, she’d probably get a lot of dates, right? Or are you arguing that this is a national (nay, global!) phenomenon?

It’s nationwide! We had that same question, so Jess hit the road for a year and traveled all over the country to do interviews for The Gaggle book and find out what was going on in other big cities (e.g. Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Houston, etc.) and smaller areas (Louisville, Baton Rouge, Boulder, Green Bay, etc.). Everywhere we went, we heard the same story – women weren’t going on dates as much as they thought they should be, and blissfully happy couples were connecting and falling in love via untraditional means.

The roots of this post-dating world are much more based in generational changes than in location. We’ve found that, whether you’re living in Maine or Texas or Colorado or Wisconsin, your love life has been fundamentally impacted by technology, shifting gender roles and evolving romantic expectations about how love and connection should look and feel. The sooner you can own that, and not be scared by it, the sooner you can find real love.

As you know, I met my fiance on OKCupid. Online dating kind of demands …. dating. Isn’t that a way to circumvent the “dating is dead” paradigm? If you meet someone on an online dating site, you usually go on a date with them, no? In fact, usually guys put some effort into talking you into going on that first date. Like, you trade 5 or 10 or 20 messages, and the guy says, “Let’s take this offline. Drinks?” or even, “I hope I’ve [by typing so much that my man-fingers tire of this tiny keyboard] earned an in-person meeting with you.” It’s a little bit old-fashioned, even.

A lot of people pursue online dating because they are craving the supposed clarity that comes with overt and more traditionally minded dating culture. They’re confused by the weirdness of the post-dating world, and they’re not sure what to do about it, so…might as well make an online dating profile! So yes, in many ways, online dating is the last bastion of actual dating. It’s actually funny, that online dating has now become one of the most traditional paths you can pursue.

However, even online dating sites are starting to realize that connection often arises from less strategic, algorithm-defined opportunities. More and more of these sites are throwing off-line events that feature a more spontaneous, “who knows who you’ll meet tonight!” feel (as explained in this recent NY Times article). So even the last bastion of dating – the online world – is realizing that traditional dates and expectations and checklists are often not the best way to foster authentic, exciting connection these days.

Becky here – I also met my boyfriend on an online dating site. He messaged me. I took one look at his message and profile and decided not to write him back because there were “dealbreakers.” Then I thought about the rest of my gaggle, which was at its height at the time, and I realized that a lot of guys I connected with in real life actually had a lot of similar qualities to this man. I decided I should at least write him back. A year of blissful, unbelievable happiness later, it drives me crazy thinking that if I hadn’t had the gaggle mindset I NEVER would have met this man who is so wonderful for me. That’s why we support online dating, but say that it has to be just one PART of your ongoing, 24/7, online and offline love life.

As you were talking about all these great younger guys who avoid rejection by making contact on Facebook, I’m kind of thinking — well, they might be great people. The kinds of guys I’d like as friends. But as a romantic partner? I, personally, want someone who is part of the same system of rules and expectations that I am a part of. And obviously that doesn’t work for everyone (most obviously, for same-sex couples, for instance). I feel like a guy who asks you on a traditional first date is also a guy who’s just going to understand (without being painfully told) that, after a year and a half or two years, he should be thinking about proposing, or he can expect that you will extricate yourself from a relationship that’s going nowhere. Obviously, plenty of women do NOT want that and would find such a man’s traditionalism trite, oppressive, etc. But I’m feeling like the form of dating/non-dating you first engage in will likely set the tone for the rest of the relationship.

If you start (non)dating someone in a sort of free-form, casual way, you really can’t expect that guy to transform into a man who performs too many other of the traditional gender roles, right? I’m not for or against this for other people — just an observation.

Totally understand your point! That said, we believe that even if you want the traditional romantic endgoals – the suitably-timed proposal, the marriage, the kids, the growing old together – then you are hurting your chances of finding them by limiting your prospects to only men who ask you out on a “date” in a traditional way, with a particular plan in mind. This is because, increasingly in our crazy post-dating world, both men and women seem to not really KNOW what they want, until it’s right in front of them. We blame this on the confusing societal messages that men and women are constantly receiving about all these romantic traditions and expectations. But just because a guy might not immediately approach you like he wants to marry you, doesn’t mean your connection won’t eventually move in that direction and he’ll be just as present and committed as that guy who’s been picturing his kids’ faces for the past five years. He might just be taking a different path to get there, and for the moment, he might just be more focused on connection than on some sort of later goal.

For example, let’s take marriage. This is Jess – I met many married men during my interviews who, at some point, hadn’t thought they’d ever want to get married. Maybe their parents had a horrible relationship, or they’d watched all the sitcoms that made marriage look like boredom and drudgery, or they just couldn’t imagine wanting to spend their lives (and let’s be honest, have sex) with only one other person.

But then, they would meet their future wife and think she was really great. That doesn’t mean they would suddenly become traditional suitors, asking her out on dates and preparing timelines of marriage and kids. Usually, they would just focus on their connection and enjoy their relationship, in whatever ambiguous ways made sense. Often while still declaring “I don’t believe in marriage!”

[Jen here: OMG! If you want to get married, do not get to the taking-off-clothes point with someone who declares he doesn’t believe in marriage! This makes it look like you don’t know what you want at all and can’t stand up for yourself. This is classic self-destructive wishful thinking. See Bullish Life: 3 Romantic Mistakes That Young Women Make That Cause Weeping Among The Angels And Kittens.]

And then, eventually, they would realize that marriage could be shaped to look however made sense for them as a couple, and that it was really about lifelong love and commitment, as opposed to fulfilling a set of expectations or rules. And they would propose, and get married, and that woman would get the guy of her dreams. But if she’d dismissed him at first for not being super excited to travel the traditional path ASAP, then she would’ve missed out.

[Jen here: For every lady with that happy love story there have to be a dozen other women for whom that guy never changed his mind. Reporting bias alert! Reporting bias alert! And you’d have only yourself to blame if your boyfriend who said he didn’t believe in marriage continued to not believe in it.]

Romantic norms are changing, both in and out of relationships, and we would all benefit from realizing that we might not be exactly sure what type of connection, relationship and LIFE we really want. The more we’re open to all the possibilities – and all the guys we’re meeting – the more we can find the right fit for us. That still might end up looking very traditional. Or it might not. We think it’s best to open up those options and just see what happens.

Do you think this has something to do with how many people of our generation have divorced parents? Like, our parents couldn’t commit, so we won’t even commit to dating? My parents have been married since 1976, my fiance’s parents have been married much longer, and I feel like there’s a shared cultural capital that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Of course, there are also many people who suffered through their parents’ painful divorce and are determined to do better. Thoughts?

Yes! And even more than that – we think it has a lot to do with how people feel about their parents’ relationships even when they’re still married. On the interview tour, we were shocked by how many people with “happily married” parents STILL didn’t want those relationships, and were unimpressed with marriage on the basis of what they’d seen from their parents. Very few people who we interviewed said that they wanted to replicate their parents’ marriages, still together or not.

But again, that doesn’t have to equal a romantic doomsday. We met many married couples where one or both people came from very negative family situations – divorces, cheating, multiple spouses, bitterness, etc. They often thought they “didn’t want to get married” because of what they’d seen. They didn’t believe in the institution. But then that often changed when they finally found someone who they wanted to build a life with – and instead, they’d just set out to not repeat their parents’ patterns, and to build something new entirely.

But, these people were never setting out to “date” at first, with the purpose of finding a partner and eventually getting married. Because they didn’t think they wanted that! But by opening themselves up to people and to possibilities that they hadn’t expected, their lives took a different path and they actually ended up married. That’s why we say that we can’t all set out assuming that we know exactly who and what we want. We need to experiment a bit – with our gaggles, and on non-dates, as well as in more traditional settings – and find out.

Thanks, Jessica and Rebecca!

You know, Jessica and Rebecca and I have been going back and forth about this topic for a couple of weeks, and I was thinking about why I care so much. Part of it is that I hate to think that women in my age group nabbed the very last crop of men who know how to go on a goddamn date, which really isn’t that complicated. I hate to think of options closing off for young women.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that last month in the Atlantic, Hanna Rosin wrote that hookup culture was actually good for young women. Clearly, it serves a purpose for many ambitious twentysomethings. In Bullish Life: Should You Slow Down Your Career for a Guy?, I answered a question from a young woman wanting to put her needy boyfriend on a bit of a back burner. Most of us have different dating priorities in our twenties than in our thirties.

But also, I hate to think of a world in which making an effort, romantically, is no longer a thing. Making an effort is my favorite quality in a man. If you’ve ever rejected a man for “trying too hard,” well, you really should have introduced him to me. I love men who try hard. (I find it hilarious that “tryhard” is a hipster insult. Why did the hipster burn his mouth on his coffee? He drank it way before it was cool. Ba-dump-bump.)

Why am I such a staunch defender of The Date? I believe that good behavior and concerted effort are much more important than “being real.” As I have often expressed (here and here, for instance), I’m okay with fakeness. No one was born knowing how to shake hands at a job interview and send a thank-you email later. That’s totally fake behavior, and it’s also correct and basically mandatory.

You know what happens when everybody’s “real”? We don’t say please and thank you. We forget people’s birthdays and then get angry at other people for forgetting ours, because selfishness is actually pretty “real.” If you’d been being “real” since birth — instead of being taught by your parents to act appropriately, in ways that were totally not genuine to three-year-old you — you’d just be a monkey flinging shit at other monkeys. Men who rub their dick against you on the subway are acting authentically. I assure you that that’s how they really feel.

I’d prefer we all behave ourselves.

Personally, I’ve found that it’s easy to end up on proper dates because I don’t “hang out” at all. If I want to spend time with a friend, I want 100% of the friend’s attention. I think the depth and quality of a conversation are generally inversely proportional to the number of people participating in it. (Exhibit A: Panel discussions.) So, if a guy wanted to get to know me, he’d really have to get on my schedule. He’s not going to run into me around town. I am never “around town.”

Here in Bullish-land, I try not to tell people what they should want. I just want to make it really clear which things will lead to the things you want and which things won’t.

As dating (or non-dating) goes, I think you set the precedent -–if a guy is used to enjoying your company without having to make an effort, why’s he going to want to suddenly start acting all different? If you don’t like tryhards, then that’s for you! If you want a guy to try hard, well … the way it starts is probably the way it will keep going. So however you want it to end up, you should make sure it starts that way.

Originally published on The Gloss.