I’ll be honest. I’m pretty bad at dating — and by that, I mean getting the chutzpah to ask someone out and have them say yes. I struggle with showing my interest in a girl and picking up on flirting. Texting — a skill that can ensure or push away the affection of another — is my Achilles’ heel. I certainly try to set up dinner, dessert or an evening out with those that catch my eye but things don’t work out very often. And I think there are many guys and girls who feel this way about themselves. Dating is hard.
So what do we unsuccessful daters do? We get advice about what to do from friends. We try to compare notes and benchmark our progress against what we consider to be an ideal courtship. We analyze every moment of every interaction with prospective significant others. We send text messages by committee and script phone conversations as a team. Surely two heads must be better than one, we think.
Well, we’re wrong. I’m going to avoid dating advice as much as I can from now on. I’ve realized that almost all of it is poorly informed, not applicable or downright terrible.
In fact, most of the dating advice I receive usually makes things worse. I think it makes the process much more stressful. Getting advice about dating can be paralyzing because it’s so easy to build anxiety by talking about our relationships. Instead of reducing awkwardness, dating advice does the opposite because it adds nervous pressure to the mix and makes me more awkward and self-conscious.
I polled several friends with one question: Have you ever received any good dating advice? They looked at each other and thought about it for a few moments. Then, with surprised looks on their faces, they replied that they hadn’t. I haven’t either, and I don’t think many have. Getting sound dating advice is tremendously difficult because of the level of nuance in the interactions between two people. It’s hard for the periled dater to articulate the proper contextual details, and for the well-intentioned adviser to have enough information to give relevant advice. Intensive conversations don’t happen in everyday dating strategy discussions between friends.
You’d think that if anyone would be able to deliver good dating advice, it would be successful couples. But two friends of mine who are engaged and have a strong relationship noted that people in healthy relationships don’t often know how they got into them in the first place. Relationships rarely are forced or contrived. Rather, they spontaneously emerge within mostly uncontrollable circumstances. If so, how would anyone, regardless of how much of a dating expert they are, be able to give good dating advice?
Take the example of writing to a dating advice columnist. A reader submits a brief letter about their troubles. Then the advice columnist delivers a response which tries to solve what might be a deeply complicated relationship problem — in 750 words or less. Reducing the complexity of human relationships to easily dispensable sound bytes is as pointless in an advice column as it is in a simple conversation.
There are some bits of advice that I consider to be important, like being yourself, not trying too hard, being open to meeting people and being faithful, for example. It doesn’t take a long conversation to discover these truths. They are truisms about dating that are conveyed to people at a young age.
That isn’t to say that abstaining from discussions about dating is the right idea either, even if most dating advice is ill-conceived. Talking about dating brings people closer together and can help build the confidence to keep on trying. Sometimes we need a reminder of dating truisms, and there’s nothing wrong with venting. For every nine pieces of bad advice, there might be one good piece.
When it comes to dating advice, one thing is true — buyer beware. How you act on the advice you get might determine whether or not you have dinner plans next Friday.
Neil Tambe can be reached at email@example.com.