Flowers. Chocolate. Candlelight. Classy restaurants. Dinner and a movie. Phone conversations. Private jets to Vegas (anyone else been watching The Bachelorette?).
These traditional symbols of romance are unmistakable. We've seen them in movies, read about them in Nicholas Sparks novels, watched them on popular dating shows, and heard about them in the courtship tales of our mothers and grandmothers. Yet if you're a single, modern women today (and that category includes young professionals, college co-eds, small-town girls, divorced MILFs and all women in between), then you've probably been wondering...why isn't this happening in my own love life?! Instead of encountering handsome men and hearing, "It was great to meet you - can I take you for dinner on Saturday?", why am I drowning in a dizzying storm of text messages and mixed signals and ambiguous interactions and missed connections?
In short - how can I feel so confident and empowered about my career, my friends, my family, my hobbies, my dreams and my fashion choices...but feel so bewildered and powerless in my love life?
Trust me. I, as a 27-year-old single girl, have been (and sometimes still go) there. I spent years playing by the old rules and listening to the old lessons about what my love life was supposed to look like. I felt frustrated and inadequate when I realized that my love life looked nothing like the romantic comedies that I loved. Hell, it didn't even look like Sex and the City - those girls seemed to be going on dates every night! Don't get me wrong; I was still hanging out with guys and experiencing the highs and lows of love, lust and attraction. But the day-to-day process just didn't seem to make any sense.
And I wasn't alone. I was seeing the confusion and ambiguity every day among my friends and reading about the chaotic shift of the romantic landscape in The New York Times and its Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, and Indiana University studies, among others. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that a change of perspective was in order. How could we make love feel fun and exciting again?
First step: we need to throw away some of the old assumptions that are holding us back. It's high time that we clear out some brain space for the new realities of romance.
Myth #1: Your love life should revolve around dates.
Long story short: dating is dead. Oh sure, we all end up on a date every once in a while. But traditional dating is no longer the primary path to love.
Think about your friends who are in great relationships - did they get there by meeting at a bar or event, exchanging phone numbers, repeatedly going out to dinner, and coupling up? Probably not. More likely, they were co-workers who found themselves talking all day at work and started hanging out after hours. Or soccer teammates who flirted at the post-game bar week after week. Or campaign volunteers who couldn't stop emailing each other op-eds after the election ended. Or two old friends who sketched each other naked for an art class and recognized an attraction there (true story!).
We live in a post-dating world, where "dates" have been replaced by more ambiguous outings and invitations. If we only think about the people who we're "dating," then we're cutting ourselves short. Any social interaction can lead to a budding relationship these days. We just need to be open-minded enough to see the potential right in front of us.
Myth #2: If he doesn't ask you out on a date, then he's just not that into you.
For better or worse, the pressure seems to be off guys to declare their interest and ask women out on dates. There are now so many ways to subtly express interest that most guys are going to try to avoid the rejection and awkwardness of asking you out in a clear, obvious way. So if you're waiting for the official invitation, then you might be missing other signals that he is into you.
What might those signals look like? Maybe he offers to get you coffee on his way back to the office. Maybe he's willing to listen to you whine about your mother over Gchat. Maybe you catch him checking you out all night. These guys may not be 100% sure that they want to marry you yet, but you should let yourself appreciate their potential interest without needing to be asked out to dinner.
Myth #3: Women should never pursue men.
So what if a guy seems into you but hasn't 'made a move?' Should you ask him out? Well, no. Blame it on evolutionary psychology, or testosterone, or some deeply ingrained cultural idea about what it means to be a man, but we've all seen this technique fail time and time again. Our generation of women is empowered and assertive, absolutely. But asking a guy out always seems to end in hurt feelings.
However, in this age of ambiguity, there are a million other ways that you can reach out to a guy until, silly as it may be, he somehow convinces himself that he's pursuing you. You can email him a funny link, or include him on a party invitation, or comment on one of his Facebook photos. Hesitate about asking him out on a date, but certainly don't sit around waiting for him to contact you either.
Myth #4: Being involved with more than one guy at a time makes you a slut/player/Samantha Jones wannabe.
In the absence of traditional dating, how are we as women supposed to figure out who we are, what we want, and which type of guy we want to end up with? By cultivating relationships with several guys at once, that's how! We're not explicitly romantically involved with all these guys, and we're definitely not hooking up with all of them. But they play different roles in our lives, fulfilling different needs and helping us to explore various sides of ourselves in our quests for self-awareness and understanding.
Maybe you still email with your ex, or have a close male friend at work, or flirt shamelessly with a hot bartender, or keep in touch with a guy who has always been supportive of you. If you were dating them all, then sure, that might be dishonest and questionable. But we're simply engaging with these men in various ways, and with varying levels of intensity. What's so bad about that? Since we're no longer learning about ourselves during fancy dinner dates and via long phone conversations with our paramours, then this seems to be the best option we have.
Myth #5: Traditional dating is the best way to build a strong, lasting, loving relationship.
Most of us still want to fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. And ideally not go the way of Al and Tipper. But who says that following tradition is the best way to make that happen? The current divorce rate begs to differ.
It's possible that the new methods of romance could be a better way for us all to get to know our suitors, and ourselves, before committing to lifelong vows. We've always heard that friends make the best lovers anyway, right? Well these days, it seems impossible not to be friends first. Our generation is pretty optimistic about everything. Let's be optimistic about love as well.