Friday, October 12, 2007

Yahoo has a dating advice file?

Via zuzu, over at feministe, comes this... article, from Evan Marc Katz, about women and dating. From yahoo? I didn't even know that Yahoo gave dating advice.

Conversations about dating and sex are always interesting, because everyone thinks that they've got the ultimate insight into What Makes a Relationship Work. It's not like I'm an exception, there. I'm always giving my friends advice about dating and relationships if they ask. I think that zuzu really nails a lot of the problems with this guy's advice. This notion that people need to lower their expectations or "settle" for someone is pretty harmful.

The problem with settling or lowering your expectations is that it usually ends up hurting the relationship. If you really want a person with quality X, but you try to lower your expectations and settle for someone without X, the odds are good that you're eventually going to want X anyway, and you're going to find yourself frustrated that your partner doesn't have X. You might end up looking for someone else, or resenting your partner or yourself. It's not healthy.

Of course, the assumption there is that X is a deal breaker of some kind. When someone asks you "what are you looking for in a potential partner", you're likely to list off all kinds of things that aren't necessarily deal breakers. You might prefer men with dark hair, or women with green eyes, or aliens with three fingers- whatever. The fact that you've got this idea in your head of a tall man with dark hair and blue eyes who rides a motorcycle and does community theater on the weekends doesn't mean that you expect to find that exact person. We're not the kids in Weird Science (thank gods).

Even if we have some kind of idea for a "if I was building a person from scratch" fantasy, that doesn't mean we're not open to the idea that potential partners might show up in some other form. How many of us actually date the sort of person we think we'd want to date when we're asked "what's your ideal person like?" We have a core set of a deal breakers, but everything else tends towards fantasy- we might hope for X, Y, and Z, but we might find ourselves thoroughly attracted to someone who only has X, or Z, or maybe has M, B, and Q instead.

zuzu also criticized an article by David Zinczenko, who writes for Men's Health. His article is about five ways that women can keep their man from leaving. The problem I have with this article is that it's got some reasonable advice, but it's so obscured by telling women that they need to keep their men from cheating that it's hard to see at first. The article takes some pretty general advice, and tries to twist it into a "you can keep your man happy if" statements.

A few commenters took issue with the article for slightly different reasons than zuzu, though:

All this “advice” basically implies that everyone concerned is stuck in some perpetual state of middle-class narcissistic adolescence with the fiscal resources and leisure time for various fun activities to “maintain excitement” in what is supposed to be a relationship between two reasonably mature adults. Funny that most families I knew growing up lived nearly everything in the “Go to work, come home, scarf down dinner, shuffle kids to practice, watch “Last Comic Standing,” and off to bed.” routine for years except shuffling kids to practice and watching late night TV part. Odd that most of my own and my classmates’ parents were able to maintain stable caring relationships despite not being able to maintain the levels of “excitement” required according to this “expert”.

After working effectively two or more jobs six or more days/week, most of our parents were lucky enough to come home to have a late night dinner with kids before heading to bed for what little sleep they could catch before the next workday started anew. Forget about “activity nights” or “guys night out”.

Now, sure, that happens. I'm not convinced that we should be holding that up as a gold standard, though. My parents lived like that for a long time- get up early, go to work, stay late, come home tired, work on the house, eat dinner, watch an hour of tv and go to bed. Rinse and repeat six times a week. My father routinely worked 60 to 70+ hours a week to earn the overtime pay.

I don't, for a minute, think that they wouldn't have been happier if they'd had more time to spend with each other. I don't think that it's a secret that getting stuck in a routine like that isn't really good for a relationship. I mean, yeah, it's possible to have a stable- even happy- relationship like that, but that doesn't mean that it's ideal, or that you couldn't be happier. The fact that some couples, like our parents or grandparents, were happy in situations like that isn't an argument against the idea that we could have a happier population if people could spend more time with their loved ones.

Now, I don't think that the advice, as presented, is very good, but I think that it's easy to see how we could reframe it in a way that makes it better (if completely unsurprising.


1. Try to have some kind of long term goals: couples who share longterm goals tend to be happier and more excited about their futures than those who don't.

2. Make plans/dates with each other: many people report wanting to spend more time with their partners. It's easy to get stuck in a routine that doesn't leave a lot of time for connecting with your partner (wake up, go to work, eat, watch tv for an hour, go to bed). Making plans to spend time with each other- even if it's as simple as taking a walk, or playing a game together- can help you reconnect.

3. Make personal time: part of being in a healthy relationship means knowing when to spend time alone. This can be especially important if you're living with each other.

I think that those things are probably sound advice for anyone in a relationship- male or female, straight or gay or flexisexual or whatever.


schrödinger's cat said...

You're right, this article is weird. It's essentially saying that a guy needs to be babied and bossed around so he won't stray. "Make sure he lowers his intake of caffeine", "make sure he gets enough excitement", "send him off to a guy's night out", that's too much like parenting advice for my taste. I like your version better.

Roy said...

Yeah, it really does seem to want women to play nursemaid to their male partners.

Also, number 4 was just way too weird. Protect his brain from damage?

As someone in the feministe thread pointed out- any woman following that bit of advice would be denigrated for it- she'd be a "nag".