‘Elle’ Mag’s E. Jean Carroll Will Personally Flog You If You Plan Dinner on a First Date

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There is no escaping E. Jean Carroll. The longtime journalist and doyenne of relationship advice, who’s been called “institutionally incapable of being uninteresting,” is, at 69, still ready to explain precisely what is wrong with your life, your attitude toward marriage, and your shoes. And given that she has been dispensing her singular guidance to Elle readers since 1993, her opinion is not one to dismiss lightly. To say we interviewed her would be pretense — she spoke, we listened, and at the end, we walked away with a sense of wonder.

So tell us: what’s the secret to a fantastic date?

Oh Christ, the secret of dating is not the person you’re dating, it’s the EXPERIENCE – any two idiots can go out to a bar and have wine. But if you’re WALKING somewhere or DOING something or going on a hunt or quest, then it gets interesting. So go do something! As long as it’s not dinner. NEVER dinner. I never ever in the “Ask E. Jean” column advise people to go out to dinner on a first date – it’s death, death, death. Dinner is DEATH. DO NOT go to dinner on a first date. Shall I say it again? I’ll say it again.

No dinner — noted. So what, specifically, SHOULD you do?

Do anything. Anything but dinner. Go to a dog show, go on a scavenger hunt. Go on a quest to find absinthe and then drink it. Do not do dinner. Plus it’s always better to start a date a little hungry because it makes you a little crazy. And you want to be a little crazy on dates! You want to have an experience! Make it unique!

And be sure to walk around – women look so much more beautiful when they’re walking. ALWAYS wear a dress, or at least a skirt, for that exact reason. I walked across New Guinea in 1988 for a Playboy piece. [Ed. note: no really, she did.] That was one hell of a trek. I was looking to talk to real men, who hadn’t ever heard of the “sensitive man” nonsense. When I arrived at the largest village I found (and when I say “largest” I mean “7 or 8 huts”) we were REALLY going back into the primordial times. The SINGLE BIGGEST thing people wanted to see when they saw this white woman in their village was to see immediately whether I was a woman or a man. I was traveling with a male guide, but the people had to be able to see instantaneously that I was a woman. So I wore a dress through the entire hike. And I mean both genders wanted to know. Men and women are born with that yearning to see a woman dressed in a dress, and a man in a great suit. Or a penis gourd, if you’re from New Guinea.

So never pants? A well-fitted pair of jeans can make your legs (and butt) look pretty great.

NO. No pants. It’s not even about showing the body off. It’s about wearing something that can be ripped off, something that moves. If a woman wears a skirt, it presents something a guy instinctively wants to lift. A man can’t lift pants.


Keep a trim figure so guys can pick you up and carry you onto the lawn and ravage you. Make sure the guy can carry you. Or make sure you can carry the guy. Either way, someone should be carried out on the lawn and ravaged.

Don’t believe me? I will BET you. Do an experiment. In the HowAboutWe office, bring a doll to work. Hand it to people – let them hold it. And then watch how many will lift her dress immediately. I can tell you how many: all of them. I have a doll in my office, named Tony Sue. I hand her to everyone who comes in. Every one of them lifts the dress. Men, women, both. They want to see what she has on underneath.

So women, wear a dress. Wear pants on the second date. I don’t care about the second date – if there’s anything between you, it wont matter what you wear. SO much rides on that first impression. Oh My God.

You rarely hear advice like this anymore. Everyone wants to speak to the modern woman, who’s rising the ranks and dominating the workforce and valiantly trying to “have it all.” 

Well the modern woman has a lot of advantages. She’s sexy and she can look 25 when she’s 40 and she can take terrific care of herself. Men are the ones who have it tough. Men in New York are the new women. Women in New York chase the men, It’s unfortunate.

So you don’t think anyone should ever chase a guy?

It depends on the situation. Let’s leave that decision to the women – they can decide. They know their talents. But the guys have it rough. Men, I tell you, they have it rough these days.

Do they? What about all the classic stats that show the contrary – the list of Fortune 500 CEOS where only 19 are women, that sort of thing?

Those aren’t the men I’m talking about. The CEOs are the guys who have been competitive and successful. I’m talking about the young twenties and thirties guys – boy. They’re having to figure out when to have kids and settle down and whether they have to do housework and how much to do. Men are looking for their PURPOSE. Without purpose, we’re unhappy people. Men want to carve the turkey and lift heavy things and take care of you – I LOVE a guy like that. I love a masculine man. When a man comes along and I’m stuck in a snowbank and he pushes me out, I am filled with happiness at the glory of men. A woman isn’t going to do that for me.

Let’s turn to your column in Elle. The questions you answer are often from women suffering from a hefty dose of self-delusion. How do you break it gently to someone when the problem is them? 

I really think that all this boils down to taking different actions. I’m not big on introspection. I’m not a fan of overthinking. Take action. You’re right about the woman who spends her twenties accomplishing – that’s pretty fabulous. Being single in New York or L.A. or Denver or Philly, it’s the best – the world is filled with possibilities. And then around 34 or 35, you think, “Wow, maybe I shouldn’t have spent all that time working and buying those shoes.” That’s when you simply take a different action. It’s not about changing your personality. Or wallowing.

Is dating really a different world now, with technology and shifts in gender dynamics and the new economy?

No, it’s not. It’s no different. It’s still how beautiful the girl is, and how charming and funny the guy is, and it’s Mother Nature ordering you around. It’s about feeling that first click with someone. You know what I’m talking about – have you ever had that click?

Yes. With my husband.

What happened?

We met at a party.

And? What happened the first time you saw him?

I thought he was the handsomest man I’d ever seen.

YES. THAT. That’s Mother Nature. That’s what happens. Your voice changes when you click like that. Your lips get redder. Your eyes start to sparkle, which they literally never did before. Your posture changes. And HE changes too! His voice changes. His gestures and mannerisms. Mother Nature closes down portions of your brain. You stop thinking. She wants that executive part of your brain out of it. She just wants your emotional brain to take over. That’s NOT GONNA CHANGE. That’s brilliant to feel that exhilaration. What is better? NOTHING!

I’ve felt the click, and I ran off and married the guy. It was GREAT. Unfortunately we ended up fighting like dogs and cats. We met at Elaine’s back in the day. We were at dinner, we both pushed our chairs back at the same time and looked at each other, and that was it. He asked for my number, and…

Are you still together?

I’ve been married a couple of times – the normal amount. The first time lasted 13 years, we lived in a ranch in Montana. He was a logger and a fly fisherman. Then I married an anchorman – that marriage was 3 years. The fights were MAGNIFICENT. I would want to write in our house, and he would want to see me, so I would lock the door to my room. And he RIPPED down the door and picked me up and carried me into the living room and made love to me. He turned the door into matchsticks. I mean, splinters!

So is that your advice for keeping things interesting once you’ve settled down?

Yes. Keep a trim figure so guys can pick you up and carry you onto the lawn and ravage you. Make sure the guy can carry you. Or make sure you can carry the guy. Either way, someone should be carried out on the lawn and ravaged.

Fair enough. What about advice for singles looking for love?

You have to get offline. I’ll say it again. You HAVE GOT TO GET OFFLINE. YOU HAVE TO GET FUCKING OFF FUCKING LINE.

And once you’re offline?

Do anything but dinner.