Do You Have To Be Coupled To Give Good Dating Advice?

AA046999“Why should I take dating advice from you? You’re single.”

This is a comeback I’ve heard many times for the six years I’ve been writing my advice column, And That’s Why You’re Single.  Apparently, in order for a woman who writes about dating to be taken seriously, she needs to have a man to trot out or cite as evidence that she knows of what she speaks.

My answer to this pointed question is quite succinct. I don’t need a man in my life in order to practice common sense and critical thinking. People throw the fact that I’m single (as far as they know) in my face to try and discredit me.  This one query reveals quite a bit about the person posing it. Namely, that they consider a woman’s ideas and opinions invalid unless she has a man by her side to validate them.

This question isn’t really a question. It’s an attempt to minimize my thoughts. The point of the inquiry is to shame me. Apparently, a woman who isn’t constantly looking for excuses to talk about her relationship is considered suspect. 

What’s funny is that I never hear the same types of criticisms directed at single men who write about dating and sex. In fact, I think single, male relationship writers like Dave Zincenko and Michael Thomsen tend to get more of a pass from their audience. Men aren’t viewed with the same critical eye for being a certain age and still single. They’re supposed to be playing the field and exercising their options, especially if they write about sex. In a case like that, the more experiences the male author deconstructs, the better he is perceived. And not just by his male readership.

I’m not sure whether many women will agree with this, but I tend to believe that a man with an impressive roster of sexual experiences is considered more desirable. His female readers may outwardly act outraged at his admissions, but I think internally they find him more attractive than a man who admits to dating one or two women before marrying his high school sweetheart. What I really think makes the man more sought after is that, because of his “vast” list of lovers, he is seen as a challenge. Men don’t bother to slut shame him. They’re too busy trying to replicate whatever tactics this guy employs to score so easily and often. The women that these writers date don’t see him as a liability. They consider him a catch, if only because of the potential bragging rights that come with “taming” him.

Now imagine a woman using her own Black Book as a source for her writing. If she’s liberal with her sexual admissions and beliefs, many folks see her as a threat. A big portion of her female readership will see her as a traitor because they’re being encouraged to examine their own insecurities that revolve around men and sex.  If she can’t manage to find anybody to settle down, she’s too picky or damaged. The insults and accusations consistently revolve around three things: her looks, her age and her relationship status. Those are considered a woman’s Achilles Heel, and men and women will do whatever they can to sever it. When Candace Bushnell’s marriage dissolved, you could almost hear people running to the Internet to mock her. “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E. L. James repeatedly had to endure comments about her weight and looks, as if she didn’t deserve to be so successful because she wasn’t a size two.

The reason for that, of course, is because most women are expected to wear the fact that they have a boyfriend as though it’s a badge of honor. The act of doing so was ingrained in us as young as our early teens. Being able to say that you had a boyfriend was considered the end all be all. We’d find ways to shoehorn mentions of him into conversations about biology lab or what we ate for dinner. Sharing that you had a boyfriend somehow elevated you over the heads of your peers. It meant that you found a boy that found you attractive.

You’d think that this sort of intra-gender competition would cease after high school. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Read the comments of any article that revolves around dating – specifically the author’s dating woes – and you’ll be treated with numerous stories that start off with, “Well, when I met my boyfriend…” A quick tour of these threads will make you feel like you’ve been transported back to your high school lunchroom. I recently got into it with a commenter over at XOJane. Rather than actually argue the valid points I raised, my opponent snarked back, “You can disagree without being mean. Just sayin’ (oh, and btw, and that’s why I’m NOT SINGLE). hugs.”

In these situations, a woman will trot out her relationship (no matter how new it is) to bolster the validity of her insight. That is what truly makes behavior like this so unfortunate. For years women have struggled to be independent from men. Yet there appears to still be some underlying need to prove to other women that we have male approval. It’s as if some women believe that the ability to utter the words “my boyfriend” grants them access to some kind of higher ground.

I don’t think it’s a conscious action. I think it has been burned into our brains to think that, without a partner, we don’t deserve to have an opinion on certain matters.  Mainstream media, TV and movies don’t help us break out of this thinking, either. I recently bemoaned the cancellation of my guilty pleasure TV show, “Smash,” complaining that all the lead female characters had to be attached to a man, a couple even fighting over one. Olivia Pope from ABC’s “Scandal” has to be tied to the simpering, brooding Fitz in order to make her more interesting. We’ve been conditioned to try and one-up our peers where men are concerned. There’s this subversive need to prove to other people that we are desirable. And the way many of us prove that is by trotting out our partners. Social media feeds are clogged with references to boyfriends and dates. While some of these mentions are expressions of genuine happiness, I think many others are revealed strictly for the benefit of the reading audience. “Look at meeee! Somebody thinks I’m pretty!”

Originally, my decision to keep the details of my love life out of my writing was one of self-preservation. The personal memoir writing format has birthed a popular subsection that I affectionately refer to as the Oversharing Trainwreck. There’s this misguided belief out there that a woman who writes about sex and dating has to exploit her own experiences in order to be considered “brave” or “real.”  The core of any good relationship is intimacy. Taking to the web to spill my guts made it difficult for any man to trust or feel safe with me. Now I choose to keep my love life status to myself to avoid being defined by my ability to get a man.

No woman should be made to feel as though she needs to prove value or intelligence in this manner. Her work–and her life–should stand on its own, regardless of whether or not she has a man by her side. — Christan Marashio

Christan is an NYC-based writer and columnist. As a 40-something dating in Manhattan she can teach you that sometimes the love of your life is the love of your life. Read more on her blog or on Twitter at @ATWYSingle

 


Comments

  1. fuzzilla says:

    Dan Savage is happily (as far as I can tell) married with a kid: http://www.amazon.com/Kid-Happened-Boyfriend-Decided-Pregnant/dp/0452281768. I don’t really care if an advice columnist is single or coupled, though.

    Generally agree with the overall points. One or two of my more questionable dating decisions were done out of a sense of embarrassment and shame over being single. It was so freeing to think – you know, really, who the hell cares if I’m single. Tolerating that turd is what should embarrass me. A relationship is just one piece in the puzzle of what makes for a happy life; sometimes other pieces are just bigger and more important to focus on.

    • @ATWYSingle says:

      In the piece I should have specified that Savage, when he started his career writing advice, was single. Yes, he did just recently marry his long time partner.

  2. Ken Besig says:

    Frankly I would only expect single men or women to be able to speak intelligently about dating, since they are the one’s actually, well, dating. And I would definitely look askance on a married person or a person in a committed relationship who would try to give me any advice at all about dating since they are not or are supposed to no longer be in the dating game. I do understand what you are saying about those people who question your bona fides because you are single, they are indeed trying to diminish you personally and professionally, but they are contradicting themselves, and making themselves look foolish, after all, if you weren’t single, you probably wouldn’t be dating! I hope! And on a personal note, if you keep dating, you may well find someone to commit to, you remember the old joke, you have to kiss a lot of frogs until you find your prince.

  3. HighlighterHype says:

    People who diminish your opinion simply have a different goal when it comes to dating. Your advice is great for getting responses on dating sites, casual sex and short term dating (aka 3-4 month type “relationships”). For anything more serious, your advice is does not work because you aren’t an LTR girl, clearly never have been one, and never will be one. Of course, women don’t really need help when it comes to getting casual sex, so perhaps that is why you get so much criticism.

    • Tina says:

      Interesting view, well said.

    • LostSailor says:

      Beg to disagree. No matter what you’re goals are–casual dating, short-term relationships, long-term relationships, or eventual marriage–the advice is pretty much the same. With the exception of casual dating or casual sex, all relationships start at the same place. Some of them even start with casual sex on an early date: my 18-year-long marriage started with sex on the first date, and I know my experience is not that unusual.

      Critically thinking about your own strengths and weaknesses, having reasonable expectations, and learning how to filter potential dating partners to better try to reach your relationship goals work whether you want a more casual relationship or something more serious. I’ve found Chris’s advice fits well no matter what your goal is.

      Many of the people who try to minimize her advice based on her presumed relationship status turn out to have an agenda, and usually that’s that they haven’t found success in meeting their goals or are in relationships and think their experience is universal.

      I’d be interested to hear why you think that by being “not an LTR girl” disqualifies her advice for people looking for LTRs or marriage.

  4. @ATWYSingle says:

    The fascinating thing about the detractors is that they often use their failed relationships, marriages and engagements as proof they’re somehow more knowledgeable or on some higher plan of enlightenment.

    If someone gets married and that marriage barely lasted 5 years, then there were some glaring underlying issues in that relationship that were ignored. If you’re in a relationship long enough for someone to propose and you walk away from that, that too indicates some troubling issues with that person or the relationship. Yet these people will still cite these implosions and milestones as evidence of something.

  5. ThatOtherGuy says:

    I think there’s middle line here. It seems to me that relationship gurus are frequently divorced/rarely in LTR. (Dan Savage as noted exception). That does give me pause. If this person is so dialed in to dating and relationships why are they single? By choice? Perhaps, perhaps not.

    If I have an investment adviser I expect they would have their own financial house in order. If I have a mechanic, his car better be in perfect working order. Why would it be any different for a dating/relationship adviser?

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