Dating advice from non-"PUA"-douchebags?
May 17, 2014 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Seeking recommendations on dating advice for men, unfortunately that entire genre seems to be dominated by "Pick Up Artists" and other assorted misogynist douchebags. Is there any advice to be found out there which comes from a viewpoint which respects women and men? Bonus points if it makes an inspirational case for why one should bother in the first place.

A bit of background if it helps: hetero male, late 20s, never been in a significant romantic relationship. Had one girlfriend a few years ago, only lasted a month. Dated online sporadically over the last 5 years, maybe a dozen dates, but never found a similar spark.

I am particularly looking for solid advice because I'm concerned – my 30s are right around the corner and although I feel like an adult in most areas of my life (I have a well paying job, I pay my bills, I feel confident in most social situations), I feel utterly inexperienced and unprepared in this part of my life. I was raised fundamentalist Christian from the age of 12 until I left the church at 21, and I feel like the years when I should have been learning (by failing) all I learned was how to avoid the opposite sex. I've managed over the years to let go of a lot of the religious baggage around sex and I feel ready to try to engage with this problem head on.

Unfortunately, when I think about this I tend to get pretty discouraged. Dating seems more like work than fun in my experience. I hate writing a dating profile and will often re-write my profile over and over, it never seems to be projecting the right image, either funny but too cynical or pretentious or way too earnest and dry and boring. I think about the terrible dates I've been on and how much of a waste of time they were. With some exceptions, the average date feels like a job interview where you pay for drinks. Add on top of that a generation where nobody shares the same views on gender roles anymore, as well as my own ability to overthink like a bandit, I'm half way convinced to settle for a life of semi-miserable celibacy.

Unfortunately most of the "dating advice" for men out there seems to be to put on a stupid hat, perform a magic trick and insult her shoes. Also these tomes seem to be centred around the idea that sexual conquest is a game / a way to build your ego. I'm looking more for how to go about a search for the person with whom I can share my life, victories and defeats.

If anyone has first hand experience to share, or can recommend some good reads or other media, I would grateful to the nth degree.
posted by linus587 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
This is the problem:

"I'm looking more for how to go about a search for the person with whom I can share my life, victories and defeats."

Even if you were extremely romantically experienced, such a quest would put an enormous load on your social interactions with women....a load that would distort those interactions and turn everything crazy.

People DON'T DO THIS. They don't walk around looking for "The One". They don't cast their life like a movie. Well, wait. Let me qualify that. Tons of people do this all the time....but with miserable results!

You need to get out of Big Picture Drama perspective, and ground yourself. This abstract quest is nothing but weight and baggage.

It's not about women, or romance, or sex, or any of that. It's about human connection. Here's what I'd suggest:

Try for human contact with everyone you meet (men AND women). If you already do that, try harder, try deeper for genuine heartfelt connection in the moment, even fleeting. UPS deliverers and Walgreens clerks! And definitely with anyone you actually talk to. Try to make your interactions a little more meaningful, a little more connective. No romantic agenda....just for enrichment.

Some people will respond in kind, and you'll feel an urge to spend more time with such people. Even if it's an attractive woman, don't project anything forward, don't strategize yourself to some scripted end game. Just settle there and ENJOY. It's rarer than you think!

Languish! Default to staying right there - to having that person be someone you spend time with sometimes. Suck every iota of enjoyment from that. And if it doesn't seem sufficient, then bring them in closer. A real friend! Make it organic. And then hold right there. Suck every iota of enjoyment from that. ENJOY. It's rare!

Eventually, if someone's grown closer and closer to you, in a select few cases, romance will be a natural outgrowth. A natural outgrowth.

A natural outgrowth.

So, in short:

1. Connect with everyone....insofar as is possible.
2. Connect more with some.
3. Let romance sprout where it will, as a natural outgrowth.

But you need to start from the bottom of the social pyramid, rather than searching for The Love of Your Life at Starbucks. You need to deepen your connecting. Not to humans. Romance with women is best when it's simply an outgrowth from connecting to humans. Otherwise, it's every bit as artificial and weird as going with magic tricks and footware disparagement!

Be friendly with everyone. Connect with everyone. Without an agenda (you won't need one; it feels good!). Out of that, all sorts of good things will naturally grow, including romance.

(Also, it's implicit in what I've said, but let me stress it: don't just do this with people already in your life. Expand your circles. That's part of the engagement/connection-building. Do it organically. Say "yes" a lot more. Learn to enjoy being outside your comfort zone).
posted by Quisp Lover at 6:30 PM on May 17, 2014 [51 favorites]

I forgot something.

If, at the preliminary stage of friendly interaction, a women (e.g. maybe that Walgreens clerk) looks at you with inquiring eyes giving the impression that she herself is searching for the person with whom she can share her life, victories and other words if you feel like maybe YOU'RE being cast in HER movie, proceed with great care (if at all).

It's extremely difficult to have a natural relationship with such a person. She is projecting, and hoping you'll match her projection. That's a house of mirrors. Best to find someone whose interest in you derives from real live you, rather than from your first-glance resemblance to whatever mental image she's nurturing.

This is just my feeling, and lots of people disagree, but I think falling in love with someone who really knows you is preferable to getting to know someone who's fallen in love with you (though, yah, beggars/choosers, I know).
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:01 PM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

First, erase all expectations.

Then... be nice. Try to lift the woman up emotionally. Watch what she needs & then give her what she needs without expecting anything in return.

So let's say you're at a group event (not so much at the grocery store or coffee shop because then its obviously hitting on them, which is uncomfortable, unnatural and weird). Say you see a girl you think is kind of cute. Observe her, watch what she says & does and when there is an opportunity to give her a hand, or tell a joke, then do so. So if she has a glass and then some water sploshes over the edge, give her a napkin.

That 'breaks the ice' a little.

Then later on, talk with her more. And see where it goes from there.

Not one single 'nice' gesture guarantees you anything in return from her, but it gets things off on a good foot, in case she thinks you're cute too.

Finally... don't be so desperate that 'any' woman would do. Watch what she says and does, and if anything looks 'off' to you, then there's nothing more to pursue or feel nervous about, is there?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:15 PM on May 17, 2014

I've always liked this Guide to Flirting -- it's almost as if someone were trying to explain human social rituals to an alien anthropologist, and so it's clear and thorough. It is also contains lots of good information on how to be pleasant and sociable in general -- for instance, much of the section on conversation applies to talking with anyone, not just folks you want to flirt with. I think this Guide might be quite helpful in a big-picture mission to build connections with other people (as per Quisp Lover's excellent advice).

I'll also share some helpful advice I was given once: romantic partners are pretty much just really good friends that you also have sex with -- so if you're able to make friends and keep friends, you can transfer those skills to a romantic partnership. If you already have close friends, that should give you some confidence in your social abilities (and if that's the case, you might think about some of the things that work for you when you're making friends and try to use those in your approaches to women). If your friendships are not where you'd like them to be, building up your friend-skills may be a good (and lower-pressure) place to start.
posted by ourobouros at 7:27 PM on May 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

In terms of sources, you can do a looooot worse than Dr. Nerdlove.

As far as a dating profile goes, you don't want something that projects an image that appeals to the largest possible set of women; you want something that appeals to the kind of women you actually want to date and partner with. Highlight the aspects of your personality and life that you get the most enjoyment out of, even if they aren't the sort of thing that "women usually like" -- because I guaran-damn-tee you, in the vast majority of cases, SOME women will like it. But on the other side of that coin, don't seek to define every aspect of the woman you want to be with; just because you love archery or thimble collecting or wine tasting doesn't mean she has to, she just has to be ok with the fact that YOU love it.
posted by KathrynT at 7:40 PM on May 17, 2014 [13 favorites]

The thing is, "dating advice" that respects men and women is just, meet people, be yourself, treat everyone with respect and dignity, and see what happens.

You can see how this would sell zero books. This is why nobody writes that book.

There's nothing that makes this endless maddening awesome dance faster or easier. You just gotta dance it. Meet humans. Some of those humans will be women. Some of those women will be people you want to know better. Some of them will want to know you better, too.

As far as "why bother"? If you're not sure why you should bother, well...then don't. There's no law that says you must be married with 2.2 children by age 28. Seriously do not try to date while you're thinking it's some kind of horrible arcane mandatory weirdness.

Add on top of that a generation where nobody shares the same views on gender roles anymore

Honey, nobody ever shared the same views on gender roles. It just used to be that women didn't have any say about it. I'm pretty sure you prefer the current state of affairs to the previous. And if you don't...well, that right there could be your obstacle.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:57 PM on May 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

I once had a suggestion for a dating profile that made enormous sense!

If someone told you that the perfect woman (for you, of course) is in front of you, how would you explain yourself (with all the contradictions!!!). Through *Stories*. Pull together funny, sad, inspired, angry moments of your life and think up a clean story for each. Weave them into your profile and conversations.

Remember, women you are dating want to know if the second or the next date is possible with this guy or should I move on? (Cynical, but we have done this to ourselves as a society). They are also subconsciously searching for someone who they can share their life stories with. So, listening well and asking deep questions is the second thing you must do.

When I say listen, I mean with empathy and sincerity. Regardless of what we hear, most people (especially women) have a pretty good bullshit detector and a lack of genuine connect will turn them off. [I have seen this happen in Sales too].

Take your time, tell stories, listen with empathy and give yourself time to meet many folks before finding the right person.
posted by theobserver at 11:03 PM on May 17, 2014

There's a small set of specific nonverbal communication, flirting, first kiss and so forth skills that are just plain old skills to read up on, practice and get ok at. You can find this stuff by googling it and it is independent of relationship skills, but essential to become competent at in order to date.

Separate from that there's relationship expectations and connecting with potential partners socially, personally. For that, the simplest and most effective approach is to focus on their humanity, in the moment. Don't think about what things mean, your hopes and dreams, their level of attraction to you ... just be human, connect at an immediate, simple, universal sense. The way you would with a stranger you were stuck on a long bus ride with. Be a person and hear who they are as a person.

Then after it's been just a little longer than necessary, see if there's more, get a little close, check on chemistry; any sign of hesitation or disinterest, back off and let it go. Any reciprocation, turn it up a little more. If you really can't tell, be a bit more obvious and direct, and a bit more attentive to response. But be polite about it.

You have to be willing, truly ok with, either backing off / dropping it if it doesn't work out, or making a bit of a fool of yourself in the process of figuring out if there's something there. There are plenty of fish in the sea, but each one is unique and worth treating with humanity.

Good luck.
posted by ead at 11:11 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the SIRC guide to flirting. If you dig around Ask Metafilter, you will find some other threads similar to your question.

My big piece of advice would be to not sweat your inexperience. Every single new partner is a blank slate. You don't have to be good at dating everyone -- you just have to be good at dating the person who's right for you and when you meet that person, it'll click just like it did for you before.

You should probably branch out off of online dating, though. Online dating breeds high expectations and high expectations are a chemistry-killer. The one thing that the d-bag PUAs have correct is that you need to put yourself in situations where you're likely to be able to interact with a lot of women and to build a thick skin with regards to rejection.

Dating is only work if you treat it like work. Go on dates with people who you're interested in. Go on dates with people that you don't think you're interested in. A bad date is a good story. A platonic date is a new friend. Just make your goal to meet people and to learn about their lives by asking open ended questions and by using active listening. If the chemistry is there, it will work itself out.
posted by Skwirl at 11:29 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the collated book form of the savage love column. It's a hoot. And there's a lot of compassionate, thoughtful notes on getting along and getting it on with people. One-night stands and life partners.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:45 PM on May 17, 2014

You sound like me! I'm in a really similar situation to you, not because of a religious upbringing, but I was brought up in a very 'sheltered' household where relationships and sex just weren't topics on the table for discussion. I never had the 'sex talk' or anything like that, for instance, and never felt able to ask my family for advice, or even admit to them (or myself) that I was a human with a (in my case, queer) sexuality and romantic and sexual needs. I'm also in my late 20s.

I also struggle to see the point of specifically going out to date. If you're anything like me, at this age, your life is super busy. I'm settled, financially solvent, I have a job and a house and family commitments and after a lot of years of struggling, I've got my life into some kind of rhythm. I don't want to fall in love, bring another person into that, upset the balance. A question you need to ask yourself if you have this sort of thought pattern is - are you making excuses? Do you feel guilty? A lot of people brought up in similar circumstances to us have a lot of residual guilt over the fact that they have a sexuality, that they want to meet people, to find some mutual desire, and to fuck them. It's dirty, and wrong, and finding someone attractive is somehow insulting to them. It takes a lot of thinking and talking to get over such deep-seated thought patterns, and you really shouldn't be beating yourself up about not getting over it in seven years.

You're right about online dating. It does seem like a lot of work, because it is a lot of work, especially for men. I'm looking for a new job at present and it's a seemingly endless numbers game of sending out CVs and applications, receiving either nothing or a curt 'thanks but no thanks' in return. For men, online dating is that, multiplied by a hundred. Somehow, in spite of all the progress we've made breaking down binary gender boundaries, we've still got ourselves trapped in the paradigm that men do the chasing, make the 'applications' and women have to sift through hundreds of messages with their finger poised over the delete button.

If I was in your shoes, ready to make steps out into the dating world, I'd dump the online dating (especially OK Cupid). It's a meat market, a numbers game, it's crap for most men, and during my few brief forays into it, I found it joyless and deeply uninspiring. What I'd do, and what I've done, is go out and meet people in your local area without a romantic agenda. Unless you live right out in the sticks, is a fantastic resource. Go and join in with events that take your fancy, join groups, meet men and women and everyone else, make friends, and engage in the joy of connecting socially with others.

Don't panic about your impending 30th birthday. Life doesn't end there. A lot of the most interesting people I know didn't meet their partner and 'settle down' until way into their mid-late 30s - and some still haven't. There's no law that says by the time you cross some arbitrary age barrier, you have to be settled down into a suburban house with a wife, two kids and an SUV. Your life is your life, we're unique beings, we develop at different paces and in different ways. That's what makes us a beautiful, unique, endlessly fascinating humanity, and not robots.

As for inspiration as to why you should bother, talk to your friends who are in relationships. Ask them how they met, ask them how they feel about their partner. If you explain yourself as clearly as you have in your question here, and they're good friends, they will have absolutely no qualms about chatting with you about their relationship. I think you probably already know this, but avoid media portrayals of perfect relationships. Life's never a movie.

> Unfortunately most of the "dating advice" for men out there seems to be to put on a stupid hat, perform a magic trick and insult her shoes.

If it helps, this made me giggle out loud over my morning coffee. You're obviously a funny, witty and perceptive person and that's something a lot of people find really attractive!

Anyway, this has already got way too long. If you need someone in a similar boat to chat with, feel free to send me a MeMail. I really know where you're coming from with this. :) Good luck!
posted by winterhill at 1:37 AM on May 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

like_a_friend upthread there is your friend.
posted by goofyfoot at 1:51 AM on May 18, 2014

Firstly, thank you all for your thoughtful and generous answers so far. There are some great resources you've shared here!

A lot of this advice has gelled with my natural intuitions about this. I also want to clarify a few things:

1) @Quisp Lover – I definitely don't believe in "the one". What I meant by "looking for how to go about a search for the person with whom I can share my life, victories and defeats" is not that is is some mystically selected soulmate, but rather that I'm looking to date with ultimately a long term partner in mind, realising that there will be many unsuitable candidates along the way.

The difficulty is in enjoying "the search". I agree with the sentiment of connecting with everyone, but I definitely have enough friends already, perhaps more friends than I have the capacity to maintain real connections with on a regular basis. In order for me to foster a new friendship it means sacrificing time spent with established friends.

One of the key factors in dating for me has been, do I enjoy (or could I imagine enjoying) spending time with this person as much as I enjoy spending time with my friends? I'm conflicted as to whether this is a good measure. On one hand, it seems like a prerequisite, if one person wishes they were somewhere else whenever they're together that seems like a terrible foundation for a relationship. On the other hand, it seems unfair to compare friendships built over years to a relationship built over a handful of dates.

Any insight or thoughts on this would be much appreciated.

2) @like_a_friend – of course I prefer the current state of affairs. I strongly believe in gender equality. Unfortunately it seems like dating is an area where so much of the narrative, the rituals and the expectations are set up around traditional gender roles that it becomes a mine-field to navigate. @winterhill provided a great example, when it comes to online dating the traditional gender roles of men as the "active initiators" and women as "passive receivers" still indisputably dominates. However when it comes to dating etiquette, acts of "chivalry" like opening a door or pulling out a chair could be interpreted as respectful and romantic or infantilizing and insulting.

I'm quite envious of a future where these issues have been resolved for the better, where true equality is the norm and everyone can benefit. Unfortunately we live in a period of transition where people are all across the spectrum and often unaware of their own contradictory expectations.

Obviously the way to work this out is through open an frank discussion, but how and when do you have that conversation (without recreating all the romance and atmosphere of a gender studies class)? Any thoughts on this would also be welcome.


I don't mean to nit-pick, I really appreciate the time and effort people have put into their answers. I just want to dig a bit deeper into some of these ideas.

Overall these replies have been encouraging and comforting. Thank you all once again and have a wonderful weekend.
posted by linus587 at 5:56 AM on May 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

The rules of flirting are the same for men and women and there are 3: Smile, eye contact, compliment.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:23 AM on May 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I didn't think you meant what you thought I thought you meant.

My point was the same point some others made: you can't go out and search for a spouse. It just doesn't work that way. Such quest will distort and sabotage all that happens. All you can do is connect with humans, and grow things (many things, not just romance) from that new habit of deeper connection. Good luck.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:06 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think about the terrible dates I've been on and how much of a waste of time they were.

This is akin to the "learning by failing" you mentioned. Persevere.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:21 AM on May 18, 2014

I think it's easy to fall into the pattern of sort of over-thinking dating, like feeling you have to do some mysterious X, Y and Z to get it right and fall in love. People are attracted to all range of personality types and body types, so it's not like you have to crack some code because there's literally a pool of millions who like different things. People are generally attracted to people who are fun/interesting to be around, warm and seem interested in them. So basically, I think the best dating advice boils down to, be a nice person who is fun to be around and flirt a bit (and also take baths and smell good). And probably the best route to doing that is to essentially be comfortable with who you are and be aware of what your real upsides are.
posted by mermily at 7:27 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the key factors in dating for me has been, do I enjoy (or could I imagine enjoying) spending time with this person as much as I enjoy spending time with my friends? I'm conflicted as to whether this is a good measure [...]Any insight or thoughts on this would be much appreciated.

In an ideal world, you'd answer this question in whatever way you'd answer it if you were considering a new friend rather than a potential romantic partner - most likely you wouldn't even be asking the question and acting as if spending time with this new person only had merit if you were pretty sure they'd eventually end up in your inner circle, you'd just let it happen if it was going to happen ... I think that's part of why relationships that organically grow out of solid friendships are so great. But I realize that in a date-driven situation, this doesn't quite work out the same way - at some point a decision needs to be made.

Your metrics can still be pretty simple ones, if instead of thinking about the abstract, "deep" feeling that only arise over time, you focus on the feelings that must be present for those deeper feelings to grow: do you look forward to seeing this person? Is it easy for you to be around her and talk with her? Do you have fun together? When you're apart, do you still feel good about the "us" you two are creating? I'm basing these questions off of how I still feel about the DingoWife - for me, at least, these are the types of feelings I'd want to have about someone I wanted to be with for the long haul, so checking all these boxes would at least tell me I wanted to continue getting to know her better.

You know what, I'm excited for you. You sound like a forward-thinking, thoughtful person, and even if that may be causing you to overthink things a bit, on the whole it sounds like you're on the right track here and it will pay off for you in the long run. Good luck!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:13 AM on May 18, 2014

The difficulty is in enjoying "the search".

Yup. I hated dating with a passion until I figured out how to make it work for me: lower expectations and match it with a more general personal goal. In my case, the goal was learning to be more at ease chatting with people, so my expectation was that I would do my very best to have no awkward lapses in the conversation while on a date. If I did that, the date counted as "successful" whether it led to another date or not. So where I was experiencing pressure was ultimately in an area where I was building useful skills, not in areas that trip my insecurities and anxieties.

As for negotiating gendered expectations, in my experience, it can be effectively handled by negotiating things as they arise. Things like opening doors and pulling out chairs are part of a bigger picture for me - are they done in a context where I feel respected as a person? Someone who pulls out a chair for me then goes on to treat me like I'm weak or have nothing of interest to say is going to get the boot because of the behavior, not the gesture. And the gestures can add up, too: I probably would not feel respected if a man refused to let me open a door for him, so if that's part of your personal etiquette, that probably does need a conversation.

A model for having a conversation like that that I found worked well for me was a guy who told me when we set up a date that he kind of needed to be the one to pay, framing it as: "I'm kind of old-fashioned this way, and I have no expectations that paying entitles me to anything from you, but it makes me uncomfortable not being allowed to pay for the date. Are you okay with that?" Which was fine - it acknowledged that this was a potential pitfall, and that he understood why, and lightly put the onus on him as having this particular personal quirk that could be out-of-step with someone else's expectations.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:40 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

On gender roles
I open doors and carry bags because I was raised to. It feels like the right thing. I do not do it because I think my date is weak or incapable. In fact, I do not date weak or incapable women. I date women with admirable strength and independence. But where I come from, it would be down right disrespectful of me to walk down the street while my female friend or date has her hands full and my hands are empty.

On dates
Go on fun dates. Do something you are excited to do. Dinner/drinks DOES feel like an interview. How about rock climbing? Volunteering? Visiting an aquarium? What is that thing you have been wanting to do that would be fun with a new friend?

On dating the right people
Eventually you start filtering faster. You won't go on dates where the interest isn't there because you will get better at reading people AND you will get better at presenting your real self. That means the right people say yes and the right people say no to meeting with you (and you them). Leading to dates with people who you are now likely to click with. That may mean fewer dates.

On pua
I think (hope?) some of that is misunderstood. A lot of it seems to be: talk to more people, present your best self, and understand that members of the opposite sex are not mysterious, inaccessible dieties. They are people with desires just like you. Though there are certainly people who are focused on the wrong thing! There's a sort of activity book / month challenge called Rules of the Game, and while I haven't done it, flipping through reveals activities like "project your voice so people can hear you clearly" "improve your posture to give the impression of comfort" "make polite conversation with strangers".
posted by jander03 at 9:06 AM on May 18, 2014

2) @like_a_friend – of course I prefer the current state of affairs. I strongly believe in gender equality. Unfortunately it seems like dating is an area where so much of the narrative, the rituals and the expectations are set up around traditional gender roles that it becomes a mine-field to navigate. @winterhill provided a great example, when it comes to online dating the traditional gender roles of men as the "active initiators" and women as "passive receivers" still indisputably dominates. However when it comes to dating etiquette, acts of "chivalry" like opening a door or pulling out a chair could be interpreted as respectful and romantic or infantilizing and insulting.

My statement was meant more to keep you from romanticizing some past where everything was easy; every era has had its own courting minefields, as a lifetime of watching period dramas and reading Edith Wharton has taught me. ;)

What you're experiencing is real but not universal. And again, the solution is the super-boring, not-at-all-shortcut, "treat people the way you like to be treated, treat people all the same; those who do not respond in kind are not the ones for you."

Someone holding a door for me is only insulting when they hold it for me but let it slam on an old lady, another man, a kid... Either you're polite to people you want to impress or "protect," or you're a polite person who's polite to everyone. I only wanna date the second person. I initiated my current relationship and the one before it. I've also dated men who made the first move. I've initiated and the man has been insulted by that; I've been insulted by the way in which men have asked me out. The relationships that haven't happened aren't because someone didn't follow a gender role; they didn't happen because that person and I reaaaaaallllllyyyy didn't need to date each other.

It's just case by case, person by person. And it becomes less frustrating when you stop thinking of women, or romantic partners, as some separate track of life that operates according to its own rules. To get more comfortable with that, maybe ditch the OKC for awhile and just meet people in the world, not in the predetermined guidelines of a date.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:56 AM on May 18, 2014

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