Does Most Dating Advice Suck?

I was inclined to take offense at this Guardian article by Oliver Burkeman, which begins:

“As a rule, you should be skeptical of anyone offering advice about anything – including me, and including this sentence. But as the annual exercise in twee consumerism formerly known as Valentine’s Day rolls round again, it’s worth issuing a reminder that you should be especially skeptical of anyone offering advice on love, romance or relationships. No other sub-genre of self-help seems so prone to confused reasoning, conflicts of interest or folk wisdom masquerading as science.”

Hey, he’s talking about me! I was immediately on the defensive. Then I read further.

“There’s a good chance that anybody emitting romantic tips…has chosen some path (to marry young, or to wait, to have children, to stay single, etc) and they’re not sure it was right. Their uncertainty manifests itself as a desperate attempt to persuade you that it’s the best choice for you, too.”

Whew. He’s not talking about me. I am very confident in the choices that I made, and feel strongly that I can help others who desire marriage achieve similar outcomes.

When we choose partners who don’t give us what we need, we draw blanket conclusions about the opposite sex, instead of looking inward at why we choose the wrong partners.

“The opposite (but no less irritating) phenomenon occurs when dating advice represents choices the advice-giver didn’t make, but wishes he or she had.”

Nope. I made a lot of poor decisions along the way and talk about them regularly, but ended up in a happy place that I’m confident others can emulate.

“You should also distrust anyone who adopts a jaded tone and speaks of dating as warfare or as a market, and implies that you’re terribly naive if you think it’s anything more than a cynical power game”

Agreed. I am bone-tired of the cynicism of women who mistrust men, men who think there are no good American women left, and people who talk about dating as if it’s a zero-sum game power struggle. No one wants to date you people because you fundamentally misunderstand human nature. Women, in general, want to feel desired and safe. Men, in general, want to feel accepted and appreciated. When we choose partners who don’t give us what we need, we draw blanket conclusions about the opposite sex, instead of looking inward at why we choose the wrong partners.

Dating advice is as terrible as the people who give it, so make sure you consider the source, and whether they are interested in science or advancing an agenda.

Burkeman continues, “There’s little evidence that sharing a lot of interests or traits with someone makes a successful relationship more likely…What really makes a relationship work, as ever, is just a mutual commitment to making it work, and the skills required to do that.”

I have written this every day for nearly a decade. People just don’t seem to want to believe it. Evidently it feels better to think that Catholic skiers who like country music will make for better couples, even though it seems patently obvious that if one of those people has anger issues, insecurities, or the fear of commitment, it doesn’t matter how much they have in common.

So while I was originally going to write something that punctured holes in Burkeman’s article, in fact, I agree with every single word. Dating advice is as terrible as the people who give it, so make sure you consider the source, and whether they are interested in science or advancing an agenda.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Holly

    I agree with everything you said except for one thing: Catholicism isn’t an “interest” in the way you seem to have framed it in your statement about Catholic skiers. For folks like myself, who are devout in their beliefs, it is a core system of values which needs to be shared by their life partner. Otherwise there is often needless conflict and strife that arises if one partner is devout and the other just barely believes in God. I’ve seen this with my own parents; my mother is very devout and my father is just barely Catholic. It can definitely make things much harder in some respects when there is such a big divide in religosity. 

    1. 1.1
      Chaka

      Evan could not have been more obvious in that he was simply naming a religious belief, an activity, and a musical genre.  I find it hard to believe that you did not pick up on that, Holly.  Any characteristic, interest, belief system, etc. could be inserted in place of those and it doesn’t change the basic and very simple message Evan put forth — that just because two people are matchy matchy on some things — even BIG things — doesn’t mean their relationship will succeed.  

      1. 1.1.1
        Emily

        Chaka is quite the rabid EMK fangirl, isn’t she! 

  2. 2
    Holly

    Jeez, honey relax. I said I agreed with him, didn’t I? I was just pointing out that it sounded as if he was grouping religion into a list of unimportant attributes. Some people might not care about that, but it is something that I care about so I thought it was worth saying. 

  3. 3
    Henriette

    I’ve noticed that much dating advice is focused on only that: dating.  Unfortunately, the skills to be an excellent dater don’t necessarily translate into those required to be an excellent spouse.  My goal isn’t to just date well but rather to some day be in a happy, long-term marriage. 
     
    One of the many things I like about Evan’s advice is that he doesn’t just tell us how to improve at meeting and getting to know a guy but also how to develop skills that can make us better long-term partners.  I’d only want to read “dating” advice that also supported my desire to be a successful future-wife.

    1. 3.1
      Brenda

      Henriette – You said “I’ve noticed that much dating advice is focused only that: dating. Unfortunately, the skills to be an excellent dater don’t necessarily translate into those required to be an excellent spouse.  My goal isn’t to just date well but rather to some day be in a happy, long-term marriage.”   Interestingly enough, after reading EMK for some time, I finally figured out that I am a great initial dater and a great relationship person (or spouse), but the skills and behaviors that make a guy go from the initial dating stage to the relationship stage (i.e. that interim period) is what was eluding me.  I was so used to being able to solve all problems using my own effort, I was using the same method here.  When I figured out the part about not being invested in him until he has totally invested in me, I finally got that part too.  

      1. 3.1.1
        Henriette

        @Brenda – wow.  That’s a big break-through to have had!  I know how to be a good partner but once I get back to dating again, I hope I’ll be able to better navigate the from-date-to-steady girlfriend phase. 

  4. 4
    Clare

    “No one wants to date you people because you fundamentally misunderstand human nature. Women, in general, want to feel desired and safe. Men, in general, want to feel accepted and appreciated. When we choose partners who don’t give us what we need, we draw blanket conclusions about the opposite sex, instead of looking inward at why we choose the wrong partners.”

    Love this! And I would say, instead of “choose the wrong partners”, look inward to see how we can BE a better partner. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. 

  5. 5
    mommabear

    @religion….y’all need to be really careful about making assumptions based on purported religiosity.  My ex is a devout Catholic who is a narcissist and quite mentally  abusive.  Do the homework on actions not taggable charachteristics.

    1. 5.1
      Holly

      Point taken. It is a mistake to assume that a person is “good” simply because they are affiliated with a certain religion or group, so evaluating their whole character and personality is of the utmost importance. For my part, I was simply pointing out that it is prudent for a deeply religious person to seek out someone who closely shares in their faith first, and then see how else they might match. You may have dozens of similar traits, tastes and desires as a person, but if your ideology and moral view don’t match, you likely could be destined for heartbreak. 

  6. 6
    Kate

    Evan, I just wanted to thank you.  I am maybe not your target demographic because I’m 29 and a teacher- I consider myself intelligent but I decided to choose a career path that would allow for me to spend time with my future family rather than be a high-powered executive so maybe I’m a more  “traditional” woman than your average reader.

    I first found your blog about 2 years ago when I was considering walking away from a 3.5 year relationship because he kept telling me he “didn’t know” if he wanted to marry me- your blog post “How long should I wait for a real commitment” gave me the peace of mind that I was doing the right thing.  I can’t tell you how many times I read that post and how much it meant to me. 

    I was completely miserable for 6 months.  I still went out and dated per your advice but it was more just to get myself out there and to re-enter the world of dating- dating at 28 was COMPLETELY different than dating at 24!  I made some mistakes, but I kept reading your blog and applying what I learned.   I even went a little crazy and quit my job and bummed around China for a couple of months. 

    After that guyatus, I found my current boyfriend literally the day after I returned to the US.  I was unemployed at the time but I felt emotionally ready and your advice  (I also loved Marry Him !) had me prepared and I knew what to look for

    My boyfriend is my first match.com date ever.  He initiated everything, and I just mirrored his actions and was pleasant to be around.  I didn’t even like him very much on our first date- I didn’t feel any chemistry- but he kept calling me and asking me out again, so I kept saying yes.  Now he’s the man of my dreams.   He’s done EVERYTHING right. He asked me to be his girlfriend after 6 weeks, he’s introduced me to his friends and family, and I feel so “safe, heard and understood” with him.  

    I do disagree with some things you say, for example when you say don’t have sex with a man until he commits but you can fool around?  I prefer the Why Men Marry Bitches approach and keep things fairly platonic for about 6 weeks and he’s shown me he’s invested time, money, and energy into me.  I’ve had really good success making dudes wait. I’m still affectionate and make out STANDING UP but I don’t invite them in unless I’m ready to have sex.  

    Also I don’t think I would EVER wait more than a year for a man to make a serious commitment to me.  I’m going to go with Why Men Marry Bitches on that one too.  It was just way too devastating for me to invest 3.5 years with my ex and then have nothing come from it.  That experience was an expensive sunk cost.

    Anyways, sorry for the novel I just wanted to thank you!  I really appreciate the work you do and I tell all my friends about you.  Your advice has brought me a lot of happiness! 

    1. 6.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Thanks for your note, Kate. Glad you’re happy and that you found someone who is consistently good to you. Per your dissent at the end, of course you are entitled to your own opinions, however I’d be remiss if I didn’t reply with a word of caution.

      The things upon which you dissent are things that validate what you already want to believe. And again, if you have a boyfriend who is on board, more power to you. But that doesn’t mean I’m giving bad advice. It means I’m giving you advice on what works for MORE MEN. Your take is what works for YOU.

      a) You won’t fool around with a guy for 6 weeks. Sorry, but most of us ain’t sticking around for kissing for 6 weeks. As such, I would find your advice to be largely ineffective on MOST men. Give a little more, you’ll find more men (who are usually driven by sex/attraction) will want to pursue you and get to know you as a potential partner.

      b) You think you should get a ring in a year. Also, advice that makes you feel good as a woman. But what if I told you that most men don’t want to propose in a year for four reasons: a) The stakes are too high to make a lifetime decision in a year b) He doesn’t always “just know” in a year and needs more time, c) Chemistry wears off in 18-36 months and he’s more likely to make a smarter choice when he is not intoxicated by desire and when the bloom is already off the rose, d) One of the greatest predictors of divorce is when people marry within a year – for the three aforementioned reasons. You don’t really know everything you need to know to forge a life together. You’re just locking it in and hoping you don’t become a statistic.

      The fact that you spent 3.5 years with a guy who didn’t propose only says something about your choice with THAT man. For many other men, we want 2-3 years to make one RIGHT decision that lasts for 40 years. That’s fair, whether you like it or not. Don’t overcorrect from your sunk costs and think that men need to put a ring on it in a year. If anything, you’re setting yourself up for massive failure simply due to your own fears.

      XO

      Evan

      1. 6.1.1
        Kate

        Thank you so much for replying :3 you just made my day!  

        As always you have given me a lot to think about.  You’re so right about my fears I am TERRIFIED my current is going to pull what my ex did.  Shouldn’t make him pay for my ex’s sins.   

        Thanks Evan  

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