Being lonely is so hard. So, so hard. I know, because I used to live in it like amniotic fluid. It permeated my life, it circumscribed my every interaction, it smothered my vision of my future—I was the Titanic and loneliness was the north Atlantic and the iceberg was...my fat ass and my loud mouth, I assumed. I was just going to sink forever and then some day James Cameron would come poke around my moldering corpse in his dandy millionaire submarine and be like, "Well, the chandeliers were pretty nice, I guess." He probably wouldn't even bother to shoo away scavenging eels. And that would be it. Blergh.
So I get the appeal of self-helpy dating advice. I totally get it, and if it worked for you personally—if The Rules or some shit radically revolutionized your love life—I am happy for you and I would not take that away for one million dollars. (Well, okay, maybe I would. If some kooky billionaire offered me one million dollars to eradicate The Rules...I might consider it. Because THINK OF HOW MUCH CHEESE THAT WOULD BUY.) No one should feel stupid or gullible or ashamed for trying to get proactive about seeking happiness. I totally get it.
But, that said, the idea that you can tell people, definitively, "how" to "find" "love" is a transparent fraud. Millionaire Matchmaker is a charlatan. The Rules are bullshit. And this article in the New York Times—detailing the new guard of relationship sages—is, for the most part, the same old hokum.
Their advice: Embrace all of the men in your orbit, whether they text or G-Chat, whether they're hunky or grungy. Savor every connection - the drunken conversation at the bar, the casual sexual fling and the impassioned philosophical debate over pumpkin lattes - without worrying whether any of it will lead to love. And in the midst of this confusing, messy muddle, the young women argued, romance can (sometimes) bloom.
Yes. Of course. Not to be indelicate, but FUCKINGDUH. Spend time with friends. Talk to people like they're human beings. Have interests. See if anyone shares those interests! It's called BEING A PERSON. And if you don't know how to be a person yet (no problem—I certainly didn't when I was 20, 23, 26...), that's a process you're going to have to go through, slowly and painfully. And there's no book on earth that can speed that process up, no matter what the press releases tell you.
As professional women accustomed to forging their own way, many have been struck by how hard it has been to navigate their love lives, which seem so different from the ones described by their mothers or depicted in movies.
Um, if anything, I'd say depictions of romance in movies have only become more nuanced and realistic in recent years. If anything our susceptibility is waning. Do you really want a relationship like the ones in classic movies, where they do that weird closed-mouth smoosh-kissing, and it's totally normal for your dude to smack you in the face at any moment and yell, "GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF, SUSAN" loud enough to make the souffle fall? Are we really craving that dynamic now more than we ever have in the past? I sincerely doubt it.
My main issue with strategery like this is that it completely disregards variations in personality and emotional stamina. So we live in a "hook-up culture" now. Great. Some women are fine with that. Some women really aren't. But that doesn't seem to matter to the relationship gurus—if you're not cool with hook-up culture, well, just fake it till you make it:
They urged the young women gathered at the happy hour in TriBeCa to embrace their sexuality. If you want to hook up, hook up, they said. And afterward, they advised, be natural. Crack a joke. Have some food. Act as if fun, casual sex is just that: fun, casual sex - nothing more.
What!?!!? No. There should be no "acting" when it comes to our sexual comfort level. That's like saying, "You know what will really help you feel comfortable on your vacation? If you speak French. But if you don't speak French, just fake it!" NOTHING works like that. The idea isn't to act like casual sex feels okay for you, the idea is to get to a place where it actually IS okay. (Or not! Not everyone has to bang the closest barista every Friday night. You do YOU, little lambs.) The last thing we need to be telling women is that they're wrong to not enjoy something that they honestly don't enjoy. How far away is that from, "If [the rape] is inevitable, just lie back and enjoy it"? How much does that set women up as victims waiting to be blamed? It's CRAAAAAAZY. We're trying to get women to have more active authority over their sexual experiences—not less.
The fact is, in our culture, there's a ton of shame and fear and anxiety tied up in sex. I'm no fan of puritanical guilt, but when something is that deeply ingrained, we can't just ignore it. We can't play games with our self-esteem. Because you know who people really don't want to date? Emotional basketcases. Sure, people should cast a wider net and be more open to different types of people. But that doesn't mean that you don't need to watch over your own emotional well being. And that doesn't mean you have to lower your basic standards and start accepting every entitled "nice guy" into your vestibule.
Of course, romance has resisted such rules since the days of the Montagues and the Capulets. But that has yet to stop the lonely from seeking romantic advice or the commercially minded from selling it.
This whole thing should have begun and ended there. The commercially minded are selling a fantasy. There's no one weird trick to a less lonely you—except for shedding your fixation on finding that one weird trick.
You don't need written timetables for when to text him back. You don't need lists of pick-up lines and grooming directives and remedial body language classes. You just need to shake off your bullshit. And that's free. Not to get all anecdotal and ridiculous on you, but I remember the exact moment I managed to shake off my bullshit and stopped trying to transform myself into the imaginary "right" kind of girl I carried around in my head. (I built her when I was 13 or so, which means that she was kind of half Delia's model and half Lesley Ann Warren in Clue.) Nobody wants to be in a relationship with one Delia's model trapped in the body of two Delia's models with the weird brain of a child who watched Clue 347 times. But the moment all that pretense was gone, I fell in love literally that week, out of the blue, and we're still together.
I had to get there in my own time. Because here's the thing: You can't tell people anything. There certainly are things that can help people find love/sex/companionship/mutual nighttime butt-touching. Minimizing desperation, for one. Abandoning the idea that you have "a type," for another. Being a human being who doesn't give a shit about this game, most of all. But you're never going to truly stop giving a shit about this game if you keep fixating on books and "experts" who treat it like a game. There's no instruction manual. You can't just trick people into thinking you're all easy-breezy-beautiful-cover-girl ready to give NSA BJs in the stairwell—any more than pick-up artist douchebags can trick women into thinking they're Tom Selleck (Tom Selleck—UNDERRATED HUNK, BTW). You can smell it on other people and other people can smell it on you. Come on. You know you can.
Photo via Christian Jung/Shutterstock.