The Armchair Guide to Dating

 These days there is a great deal of dating advice on the internet. But what is going on in our society that affects the 'culture of dating'? How do single people find someone to marry? Why does it seem more difficult now.

Not Advice as Such

I'm not here to give dating advice. Well, not exactly. If you look around the web you'll find plenty of it, (including people who put themselves forward as 'dating coaches'). You can find "5 Things Not To Do on a Date", the "3 Things Women are Looking for in a Man", "10 Great Date Ideas", and much, much more.

Although I don't propose to give much 'advice' as such, I am going to try and throw some light on some of the issues related to dating.

Perhaps you will gain some insight from it. But what I mainly want to do is add some further perspectives that situate ‘dating advice’ in a bigger context.

1. “It’s not you … it’s society!”

OK, sometimes it’s you. (Maybe a lot.) But let’s not dwell on that for the moment. When feeling down or frustrated it is important to hear the message that our society is messed up in a lot of ways. The world has become more ridiculous and inhumane, and it is too big for any one individual to solve.

This might not be much immediate consolation or help, but it does have implications for our lives and choices beyond the quest for that special person. I think a big part of the solution is for groups of people to start cooperating to create a culture more friendly and humane and encouraging to ‘searching singles’.

2. The pivotal role of understanding

These articles on dating will be primarily about understanding. It is not mainly about support, or a shoulder to cry on, or counselling. It is about insights that might help you gain greater clarity about the other sex. In the process these insights are meant to lead to action for change, either in yourself or the situation.

Yet of course, understanding isn’t everything, and indeed, reading this, or indeed dozens of such things might not make a blind bit of difference to your chances of success. After all, “It’s better to be lucky than good looking.” (Or something like that.)

Understanding still needs to be put into practice, and needs to lead to the development of skills and growth in capacities. These things take time, even if they are diligently pursued, which they often aren’t.

And, being human, simply blundering through is a time-honoured and respectable option.

And it is possible to over-think things, especially when it comes to this topic. Maybe a kick up the backside would work better, or just a lucky break, or something that changes in another person or the situation.

After all, you don’t necessarily need to understand anything about it – if you’re lucky enough – which many (other) people are. You don’t really need to understand men or women in general – you just have to get one of them to marry you!

Nevertheless, after all that, it is still better to know more than less. And especially since it is not only your own heart at stake, but others’ too.

3. What ‘genre’ is dating advice?

Notwithstanding all the caveats about the limits of understanding, there is still a very good reason to pursue a deeper understanding of the other sex. It has to do with another ‘bigger context’ question.

Here’s the key – ‘dating advice’ is actually a sub-set of the larger category ‘marriage advice’. What do I mean by that?

It’s true that many people fluke it and find a spouse without learning much about anything. If you think of dating advice as redundant once you get married, the value in the understanding will be much less apparent.

So, you finally get engaged and heave a huge sigh of relief – “Thank God all that dating stuff is over!”

It’s true that the basic precariousness should be over. You should have your answer to the question – “Will anybody ever love me?”

But the effort to find out what makes the other sex tick is just getting serious. This is disguised for a while. The excitement of planning the wedding, and the (hopefully) long honeymoon effect, can hide the underlying differences that usually begin to cause more friction as the relationship goes on.

Interestingly, ‘dating’ type questions start to come back to the fore. They had not gone away – only been postponed. Of course, we don’t think of them as ‘dating’ questions. But if you do start to get that perspective while you are dating, you can look at it more self consciously as a learning experience with valuable lessons for marriage.

If you only worried about the mystifying traits of the opposite sex as obstacles to be negotiated in the dating minefield, what about when you’re trying to figure them out in the day to day pressure of married life?

Even the practical difficulties of scheduling a date, coming up with creative ideas your partner will enjoy, and so on remain difficulties for married couples. Ask married couples with children how easy it is to organise a ‘date night’!

So one of the underlying perspectives in "Man+Woman" is to approach ‘dating advice’ as being for the married as well as the single.

For singles, it’s good to develop the mentality that the things you learn and the skills and habits you develop while dating are primarily a preparation for marriage itself. Your ‘dating skills’ will have to go up a notch once you are married.

This is why I think it is worth dwelling on trying to understand men in general better, and women in general better, not just the minimum that seems necessary to understand the particular person you are dating, or hoping to date. In any case, there might be many of them before you find ‘the one’.

One of the frustrating things about the human condition is our propensity only ever to learn things too late.

So a lot of good dating advice falls on deaf ears because we just aren’t able to really hear it at the time it might have been helpful. We can’t assimilate it.

On the bright side, if you think of marriage as a lifetime of dating opportunities, on the law of averages, you will eventually learn some of this stuff! It won’t be too late after all. Maybe you’ll only become a really good date in your 50’s – who knows?

4. Cluelessness

The fourth perspective underlying what I want to say about dating is the recognition that many people are completely clueless about the opposite sex – especially when young and dating.

It seems to me that much of the literature in the area of dating advice doesn’t take this adequately into account. So if I seem at times to be spelling out really basic things in plodding detail it is because it is hard for those who are clueless to ever find the kind of guidance they need. It is over their heads before it even begins.

For example, most advice simply jumps to the assumption that men will know it is their role to take a certain kind of initiative in dating and romantic relationships. Many men don’t know that. Most will be aware that there is a cultural convention that, on a formal date, the man will ask the woman out. But since formal dates comprise a small part of the overall romantic and quasi-romantic environment many men don’t have any clear idea of any ‘crossover’ of that convention into less formal contexts. That is, if it is not a formal date, he has the sense that he has no more or different responsibility than she has. Yet a whole genre of advice to young women can develop that makes strong assumptions in this area, not realising that many of the men they are meeting are unaware of that. This is one topic that will be addressed in (perhaps plodding) detail in future posts.

It is important to realise that ‘romantic cluelessness’ is specific, and can coexist in people who are otherwise quite competent, not particularly shy, or slow, or even awkward in other social contexts.

In short, ordinary people find themselves floundering. This is disguised by the fact that many bumble through by good luck and reasonably helpful circumstances.

The shortcomings become apparent though when the more spontaneous approach doesn’t work and circumstances are unhelpful. If we have to rely then on our own existing understanding and developed capacities we tend to be quite lacking.

So it’s just as well I’m sitting comfortably on the sidelines in my armchair. Good luck!