This response is purposefully broken down into sections so you can skip around or read in sections.
i) The Viral Dating Article in NY Times
Unbeknownst to me, I was quoted at the end of a pretty sensationalized article in the NYTimes on Jan 11 that has since been forwarded virally, sparked heated debates, and garnered 407 comments on NYTimes itself. Perhaps people came to the disturbing realization that this new social era is encouraging “casual” dating, a “hookup” culture and one that diminishes the need for traditional courtship. I’ve overheard conversations at random office cafes and restaurants where my name would pop up in reference to the article. My linkedin profile views shot up by 2000% that week. My personal blog became the 3rd largest driver to my company website, ReclipIt.com. I received more than a dozen emails from both men and women, giving me the thumbs up for the quote, some even seeking startup advice after reading my blog. My good friend, Dr. Anna Akbari pointed out that this goes to show that people are a) hungry to have these conversations and b) want affirmation on their own behavior. Here are some excerpts:
Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego (by telephone, rejection stings). Not so with texting, e-mail, Twitter or other forms of “asynchronous communication,” as techies call it. In the context of dating, it removes much of the need for charm; it’s more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble. A typical, annoying query is the last-minute: “Is anything fun going on tonight?” More annoying still are the men who simply ping, “Hey” or “ ’sup.”
If you haven’t read it, here’s the NYTimes article by Alex Williams. At the end of this rather depressing 3 pages of rant against (mostly) men, I was quoted with bright lights and appear to have saved some grace for both men and women; that there’s hope for people who believe in the merits of traditional courtship:
Even in an era of ingrained ambivalence about gender roles, however, some women keep the old dating traditions alive by refusing to accept anything less.
Cheryl Yeoh, a tech entrepreneur in San Francisco, said that she has been on many formal dates of late — plays, fancy restaurants. One suitor even presented her with red roses. For her, the old traditions are alive simply because she refuses to put up with anything less. She generally refuses to go on any date that is not set up a week in advance, involving a degree of forethought. ‘
“If he really wants you,” Ms. Yeoh, 29, said, “he has to put in some effort.”
In general, people responded favorably to the quote mostly because 1) it defends men who do put time & effort in pursuing a girl (yes they exist), 2) it stands up for women who exercise a choice for how they allow themselves to be treated. Ultimately, you should figure out the kind of person you want to date, then simply show courtesy and respect for each other’s time and attention. If you’re spontaneous and dislike planning ahead, then look for a girl who doesn’t care for frills or formality. If you enjoy chasing a girl, feel the excitement of picking her up, and then kissing her cheek at the end of the night, similarly, find someone who appreciates that.
ii) 7 days in Advance. Fancy Restaurants. Literally?
I was surprised that a few people took my figurative “1-week” reference literally and thought that my “rule” is too strict. This made me chuckle quite a bit. Journalists sometimes quote their subjects within limited context, resulting in dramatized or exaggerated statements. A close girl Peggy, even got into a yelling debate with her friend, who lamented that I was encouraging women to demand dates at “fancy expensive restaurants” and required more effort than a last minute text invitation.
Firstly, the emphasis is on the “forethought” more than anything else. I actually value spontaneity quite a bit, and have jumped on last-min fun dates before. There really shouldn’t be any hard “rules” to dating or falling in love. I don’t create these rules. People who get heated up over this fact are missing the point Alex was trying to make. Secondly, I think it’s important to clarify that I do not demand “fancy expensive dates” and certainly do not feel entitled to such treatment. One particular gentlemen got it right for me: “I bet she gets taken out to fancy restaurants not because she demands it, but because she attracts the kind of men who treats her well and believe she deserves it.” To Peggy’s point, men should know to how mix it up and alternate pricier dates with thoughtful dates.
“I agree with Ms.Yeoh. If you set a standard and let men know your expectations up front you won’t be treated like a hook up or flavor of the week. I disagree that it’s a question of finances or socio-economic background. You don’t need any money to plan ahead and set aside time for specific person. The problem is that a lot of young women have gotten into a bad pattern.” ~Chelsea-Lyn Rudder, NYC
I think the article put a bit too much emphasis on money, while it should really be about the effort involved. In general, a sensible woman will prefer a man who is considerate and thoughtful more than a man who thinks he can “buy” his way to her heart. For example, one of my better dates took me to an opera one night. I was supposed to meet him at the opera house but decided to drive at the last minute. He met me at the parking garage and walked me to the opera house. I didn’t even realize this until the end of the night that he’d secretly pre-paid for my $10 parking ticket. The amount wasn’t the point. It was his gentlemanly actions that left a lasting impression and made me see him in a very different light.
iii) Women. Do Your Part.
Of course, women can’t just be takers and have to do their part too. I don’t think it’s fair to expect the men to pay all the time so women should be courteous enough to offer to split or pay on some dates. If he got dinner, you could get drinks or desserts. If a man takes you out on a nice date, thank him and show your appreciation for his effort, even if you’re going to politely decline the next date. Be respectful and do your part in not being flaky and canceling dates at the eleventh hour.
In the comments section, someone mentioned that women are to be equally blamed for being vague and sending mixed signals to men. I’ve seen some of that. I’m personally trying to be better at being more direct quicker when I realize there’s no romantic potential. This is where women should communicate their stance very clearly without being reckless or dismissive, and men should respect that the woman isn’t wasting his time any further. Everyone appreciates honesty and clarity. Just play fair.
A few men have brazenly asked me after a few dates if I was interested in exploring a “romantic relationship” further and I sometimes find this level of forwardness refreshing. Most men just assume and don’t ever ask! Others like to be more discreet and communicate via body language, but then they should expect a similarly weaker cue from the girl. Again, it depends on your personality. In the end, I’ve found that being outright open about how you feel about each other early on is the best policy.
iv) Casual Dates Are Totally Okay! Real Dates within the “Appropriate” Phase.
Making dates formal at the beginning could put a lot of premature pressure, when you’re only supposed to be exploring a potentiality. I almost prefer being friends with someone first for some time so that I have enough data points to decide if this is a person that I will fall in love with without any expectations. Perhaps that’s why I don’t like online dating, which skips the “friend” stage. Contrary to the NYTimes article, most of my online dates have been the most formal; that’s because when you meet someone on a dating site, you’re there for a very explicit purpose, and you’re either going to pass or move on. There’s little room for getting to know each other at a friendlier pace. I no longer have an online dating profile.
Believe it or not, I’d actually encourage more casual interactions at the beginning of the courting phase: coffee dates, group hangouts, drop ins, etc. They’re all totally valid and fine! But once there’s a clear indication that one (or both) parties, wants to explore something more meaningful, then the guy should make the effort to ask the girl out on a real date. This is the phase where I don’t compromise and will almost never accept last minute texts that sound like this “Hey beautiful. Private dance party at my place. No special attire required.” (actual text I received in Oct 2012) I immediately moved him to my “was promising before but has now failed me” list.
v) Is It a Man’s Job to Pursue a Woman?
Likely to be one of the more controversial stances that came out of the article. Some men asked; “So you still think it’s the man’s responsibility to make the first move?” to which I responded yes. I personally believe in this because I’ve observed that while some men like aggressive or confident women who will walk up to them and ask them out (in the process stroking their ego and self esteem), these are not women they tend to end up with long term. They like it because it makes them feel good and takes the pressure off of them.
If the woman chased the men, asked him out on dates, initiated sex, etc… he’s secretly wondering “Wow… she’s really forward. I wonder if she does that to all men. How many men has she asked out?” or variations of the above. There are always exceptions of course; I’m friends with a happily married couple where the girl chased the guy. But it’s rare.
The way I see it… if the guy isn’t putting in some effort, he’s really not that into you. So why waste your energy on him? I’d prefer the men to be ballsy enough to ask a woman out properly to indicate real interest, and then after a certain point, the girl should reciprocate and take turns to plan dates, etc. But I would refrain from making initial moves. I don’t see this as playing games. From an evolutionary perspective, the pursuit of a woman stimulates the reward center in a man’s brains. Many men’s ego thrive off this feeling and since men are innately “hunters,” why go against their natural instincts?
vi) The “Ideal Man” List-Maker. Not.
On a random note, I don’t believe that there’s a Mr. Right; the romantic notion that someday you’ll meet that one person that will be perfect for you. I for one, do not make lists about my “ideal man” because I don’t think that love should be a tedious check list of demands and prerequisites. On the other hand, it’s important to identify what your deal breakers are (for eg, I can’t go out with someone who “is a drug addict,” “is unemployed,” “do not want kids,” “lacks personal hygiene,” “has cheated in the past,” etc) but I wouldn’t list things like “must be taller than 5’10”,” “must have a 6-figure salary,” “must be athletic ” etc. Even things like “care about health & fitness” and “must have higher education” are not deal breakers but “good to haves.” Then things like “he’s romantic” and “he knows how to cook” are just icing on the cake. The point is to let chemistry drive the initial attraction and romance, and as long as there are no deal breakers, everything else should be a compromise and can be worked out. All relationships take work and there’s no magic to your ‘ideal partner.’ Don’t be a foolish list-maker.
vii) Reactive vs Proactive.
At the end of the day, you get what you put out into the world.
There are two kinds of people: reactive and proactive. Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance. Proactive people carry on their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shine makes no difference to them. They’re value driven, so their ability to produce an outcome isn’t a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not. I noticed this with some friends who complain they can’t find good dates or be in good relationships. Start by being happy with yourself and carry that with you when you go out with others. Your inner strength and positivity will shine through and attract like-minded people. But if all you can do is whine about life and your love life, then you’re probably exuding some bad aura around you and scaring away all the good people anyway. Trust me.
viii) Relationship Psychology.
Besides wanting to clear up a few things and expand on my thoughts about dating, I wrote this response because the article was published in a rather timely fashion. While I’m not superstitious, I listen to my intuition pretty intently. After being quoted, people joked that I should start giving relationship advice on clarity or start a dating site in my next venture. Funnily, these people don’t know that I have a background in relationship psychology and have been studying it for quite some time.
In spite of my engineering degree at Cornell, I actually created my own “minor in psychology,” taking classes in organizational behavior, psychology 101, sleep psychology, child psychology, sociology, etc. One particular class left a permanent impression in my life – Human Bonding – an incredibly fascinating class taught by Professor Hazan on human mating and pair bonding. It touched upon the predisposition of people of all ages to form strong interpersonal bonds; understanding individual differences in the way adults think, feel, and behave in their closest relationships. There’s ample evidence that people who have close social ties are happier, healthier and live longer than those who lack them. So I became really intrigued in the study of the factors that foster the development of social attachements.
I learned the different kinds of love: mother-child love, romantic love, brotherly-sisterly love, friendship love, etc. I learned why people fall in and out of love (is it really chemistry or is it blind?). Why people hook up; how oxytocin make men and women feel differently. I learned about evolutionary behaviors and how that impacts cross-gender interactions. I learned conflict resolution skills and why it’s a bad idea to cohabit before marriage. I learned about the “infatuation curve” and why couples usually break up 1-2 years into their relationship. How people cope with breakups. Why do people cheat? Basically, everything in this course was so pertinent to life and what people experience in relationships. I loved every single minute of it.
After college, I continued reading up on this topic and even ran some interesting “personal experiments.” In a way, this article has prompted me to revive my passion for this topic. Expect to see a few experimental blog posts on this relationship psychology and human bonding in the near future. :)
** Thank you AA, PS, EC, KC, NK, JK, and JC for generously reviewing my response, editing and providing feedback!
Other articles that spun out of this NYTimes piece: "An Encore to Courtship" by Boston.com, "5 Ways Technology Has Allegedly Ruined Dating" by Forbes, "'NY Times' Style Section Has Discovered OK Cupid" by Blackbook, "Why It's Kind of Irrelevant Whether 'Courtship' Has Ended" by Huffington Post, and a dozen others like ThoughtCatalog, TheFrisky, Ricochet, etc.