“You have to put yourself out there,” Cheryl said. “You’re not going to meet a guy unless you go out and make it happen.”
“You need to stop trying to meet someone,” Danielle said. “The right guy always comes along when you’re not looking.”
As a woman in America, I’m used to mixed signals. You should wear makeup, but not too much. You should like sex, but not too much. You should be successful, but not so successful that it scares off a man. And dating advice is full of well-intentioned but confusing tips that often make me more bewildered than I was when I started. Let your friends set you up, because they know you the best. Go online, because strangers don’t come with preconceived ideas about you. Find someone in the same career as you, because they’ll understand. Find someone in a completely different career field, because then they can be a neutral presence when you talk about work. Marry someone older. Marry someone younger. Marry the first person who gives you the time of day. Never marry anyone at all.
Although many of the people I’ve gone to for dating advice are in happy, functional relationships that indicate they know what they’re doing in the love department, I just can’t take dating advice anymore. There are plenty of books that advise treating relationships like business deals, and bringing the same approach to landing a husband that you’d use to win a case or hook a client. But there’s one problem with that approach – they fail to take actual human beings, with all their emotions and quirks, into account. Even if you treat dating like a math problem, you can’t assume that the person you’re with will respond the way that you thought they were “supposed” to.
And some of the advice, no matter how well-intentioned, failed spectacularly. I agreed that I would go to a party and try to talk to every single guy there, even if I wasn’t attracted to him. While I did meet some very nice people and had some spirited chats about whether the 2/3 train does in fact suck more than the F train (truth: nothing sucks more than the F train), almost every guy there was with his wife or girlfriend, so “putting myself out there” didn’t get me anywhere.
The supermodel Claudia Schiffer was famously “discovered” while dancing at a disco in Dusseldorf. After she became one of the most famous and well-paid models in the world, young women began flocking to the same nightclub, all hoping for their own chance at celebrity. But here’s the thing about Claudia Schiffer in the German nightclub: it wasn’t about her being at the right nightclub, it was about her being Claudia Schiffer. Ideally, if there really is a person out there for me, he’s a person who likes me, not whether I went to the right nightclub, or wore the right proportions of lipstick and eyeshadow, or put myself out there enough (whatever that means). And hopefully, to him, I’ll be Claudia Schiffer.
This doesn’t mean I am completely flying blind and letting fate have its way with me, or that I am refusing to play an active role in my own life. There are a few rules – let’s maybe call them guidelines – that seem to have worked pretty effectively over thousands of years. Be nice. Be honest. Be fair. I may not be a lithe blonde supermodel. I may not be the x in someone’s math-relationship equation. But I’m also not crushed under the sound of dozens of voices all saying different things.