why most dating advice tends to suck ( + an interesting definition of ‘soulmate’)
There’s a story this culture likes to tell about men and women.
It goes something like this: men and women are at war with each other because men are from Mars and women are from Venus.
Women have emotions and men do not.
Women want relationships and men do not.
Men have sexual desire and women not so much.
Therefore, men must manipulate as many women as possible into having sex with them (because that’s what all men want) and women must manipulate men into commitment and marriage (because that’s what all women want).
Which means that dating isn’t about having different experiences in order to learn about yourself, figure out what you want, and develop authentic connections with people (however those connections choose to express themselves).
It’s about playing the game (The Game). It has rules (The Rules) both for men (be as alpha as possible) and women (don’t have sex with him for 90 days, or until he puts a ring on it, or until hell freezes over, or whatever).
It means that women should look a certain way and act a certain way.
It means that men should look a certain way and act a certain way.
And if all goes well – if you follow The Rules, and drive the right car, and have the right body, and aren’t a total slut – then it means that the woman who is looking and acting a certain way and the man who is looking and acting a certain way will have a hugely expensive wedding and live happily ever after even if neither of them knows who the other person truly is, or what they themselves truly want, beneath all that looking and acting.
There’s a story this culture likes to tell about men and women.
It goes something like this: ladies, all that newfound independence is ruining your love life (and so thank God there are men like comedian Steve Harvey here to ‘empower’ you by telling you this! And the fact that the second of his three marriages blew up into such a vitriolic mess doesn’t make him any less qualified to lecture you about relationships, right?)
It’s making men feel cowed and inadequate, and that’s your fault.
Or it’s making men feel like they can treat you like ‘sports fish’ (ie: think that having casual sex with you gives them the right to treat you badly), and that’s also your fault.
Don’t blame the men. They’re just stupid insensitive horndogs with no emotions and no sense of accountability or responsibility, so to actually expect anything of them only enables them to call you needy, desperate, crazy or a golddigger. So blame feminism. Blame yourself. The reason that some guy didn’t call you isn’t because he might be immature, or a user, or married. It’s because of something you did wrong (like sleeping with him too soon, you slut!), or another woman did wrong (like sleeping with him too soon, that slut!) so now you won’t get to marry him and have, like, a hundred of his babies. He’s just not that into you (nevermind if you’re not into him, but just didn’t know it yet).
(According to the dating gurus, I slept with my boyfriend way too soon and for the wrong reason. I slept with him, see, because I wanted to. I had been celibate since the end of my marriage and decided it was time to take a lover, so to speak. He was a friend, he was hot, and I knew he wasn’t an asshole. So I did it. And then, dear reader, I did it again. When he made a commitment to me, it wasn’t to get the cookie. It was because we had forged an authentic connection. It was also because I am fabulous.)
And you do want to get married and have babies — right? — because if you don’t, then what is wrong with you? Calling off that wedding would be selfish, even though you already know it’s a mistake, because your family wants to see you happy and your Aunt Lydia is excited that her little Emma gets to be the flower girl and besides, where else are you going to wear that five thousand dollar dress?
When I was but a wee twentysomething teaching English in Japan, an American woman in her early thirties reflected, “All my single friends want to be married. And all my married friends want to be single.”
She told me, “First you’ll see a wave of weddings. Then a wave of babies. Then a wave of divorces.”
She wasn’t wrong. I turned out to be ahead of the curve – among the first of my circle to get married, get babies, get divorced – but others quickly followed.
Divorce is hell. Which makes me wonder why so many of us skip and run into an institution that has such a high chance of going nuclear. Especially if you don’t yet know what to look for in a mate, because you don’t yet know what would serve you in a mate (and vice versa).
You get to that knowledge through experimentation, trial and error, but we don’t give that process its due; we’re too quick to think that something must be wrong with us.
“But don’t you think,” a married girlfriend said to me recently, “that men in Los Angeles only want to date twenty-five year olds?”
I presented my philosophy: “If a man only dates twenty-five year olds, then let him. Let him go. He is not your intended audience, and how convenient of him to have removed himself from the equation so that you don’t waste your time.”
What’s sad is that this culture presents this as some kind of norm, so women think they have to chase these guys anyway, or that the majority of these men are even capable of providing the kind of intimate, emotional connection women say they want (especially if the men are working all the time, which is how they got to be such successful, desirable alphas in the first place). Underneath the heterosexual fairy tale our culture likes to tell is the tacit, lowest-common-denominator, cynical understanding that men marry youth and beauty (the princess) and women marry wealth and status (the prince).
(Biology, people! It’s the nature of evolution! Get that into your head!)
This belief system may conveniently feed our insecurities in a way that serves our consumer culture (buy those breasts, that car, that designer outfit, that Botox, that house in Malibu)– but up to you whether you buy into it or sell your soul to it. Our beliefs act as a filter for the world: if that’s what you expect of human nature, that’s the reality your unconscious will co-create for you by pointing your perceptions to what supports those beliefs and screening out what doesn’t.
The myth that all men are more or less the same – they don’t have feelings, they don’t care about relationships – keeps women off balance, insecure, doubting themselves, and in constant competition with other women. It cuts them off from their inner, intuitive voice that would alert them to red flags. It robs them of the sense of choice that comes with the belief in abundance. It makes many women feel that they are fully responsible for the success of their romantic relationships and makes some men feel that so long as they’re paying the bills, they’re not required to do anything else.
It makes way too many women believe that any relationship is better than no relationship – since eligible single men are as elusive as unicorns – so they better stay in the relationship they’re in, even if it’s emotionally or physically abusive.
It also ranks and evaluates men according to how much money they have — as if that has anything to do with how well they do or don’t treat women.
There’s an episode of MILLIONAIRE MATCHMAKER where Patti Stanger, the matchmaker in question, instructs the female millionaire client on how to present herself to a group of potential mates. Patti tells the woman – already drop-dead gorgeous, and the CEO and founder of a successful clothing line – to blow-out her long, wavy blonde hair and wear a body-fitting dress that shows off her legs. “None of this hippie-dippy stuff,” Patti says, gesturing to the woman’s boho-chic outfit.
Then Patti directly addresses the camera. Yes, she admits, viewers will criticize her for always giving women the same advice about how to look and what to wear (blow out your hair, wear a tight sexy dress). “It’s not what I want,” she says defensively, “it’s what the men want. They all tell me that’s how they want a woman to look.”
But that reminds me of something Henry Ford said, about how if he had asked the customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.
Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see it right in front of you.
I define ‘style’ as the story you tell the world about yourself, and so what happens when that story is a little…off? Maybe you’re a boho chick in a tight-minidress world, and somewhere there’s a guy who might or might not know he’s looking for exactly that. A guy (or girl) whom you would adore. What if you were to lock eyes with that person across a crowded room…and then completely fail to recognize each other because of the story your outfit isn’t telling?
What if, instead of trying to appeal to the masses, you developed a very polished and particular point of view? That point of view, that style, that story, could act as an excellent filtering system, pulling in the people who resonate with it — and with you.
What if, instead of trying to please the people who might not like your natural style, you simply let them go? Let them go. They are not your intended audience.
I heard Caroline Myss give this definition of a soulmate:
A soulmate is the person who makes your soul grow the most.
A soulmate, she added, could be anyone. Anyone. A lover, a spouse, a friend, a family member…or even an adversary.
This is different from the popular conception of ‘soulmate’ as someone who will always understand you, never cause you trouble, love you deeply and passionately and forever, never bother you with inconvenient needs of their own, always remember to put out the cat, and so on. Scratch a cynic, find a romantic: maybe because we can’t find that idealized version of a partner, we swing so quickly to statements like men only want to date twenty-five year olds or women don’t like nice guys.
(By the way, if you do something or pay for something only to expect sex in exchange, you do not qualify as ‘nice’.
And straight women do want nice guys. As a sex therapist recently said, and please excuse the blunt language, “Women want nice guys who fuck like jerks. And it’s easier to take a nice guy and teach him how to fuck like a jerk, then to take a jerk and teach him how to be a nice guy.” Amen.)
We have gotten it into our collective head that love is supposed to look a certain way and arrive in a highly specific kind of package. But what if it doesn’t work like that? What if we opened ourselves up to the possibility that love will surprise us? It will blow in from unexpected directions and push us to new places?
What if we accepted this idea that a ‘soulmate’ isn’t someone who completes us, but anyone who helps us figure out how to complete ourselves?
Maybe that would take some of the pressure off.
Maybe then the search for sex, companionship and love wouldn’t be a game, or a hunt, or a battle of conflicting agendas. It could be, instead, a daily practice of self-knowledge, authenticity, and communication (without going all woo-woo or breaking out the chants and beads or anything, unless of course you’re into that).
What if we opened up the fairy tale and shifted the dialogue a little bit?
What would happen?
* With thanks to Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s excellent book OUTDATED: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life. Check it out.