My Personal Response to the NYTimes Article on “The End of Courtship”

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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 ThoughtCatalogTheFrisky, Ricochet, etc.
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11 Responses to “My Personal Response to the NYTimes Article on “The End of Courtship””

  1. Seth Berman (@sbermo)

    Excellent post Cheryl! I’d encourage any singles or couples in the San Francisco area who are interested in getting some formal coaching on dating and relationship skills to check out http://www.erwandavon.com. My wife and I have been coached by Erwan from the beginning of our relationship, and he has made a huge difference in our lives and those of our closest friends as well.

    Reply
  2. Kevin Warnock

    This is one of the most thoughtful, well written, inspiring and provocative blogs posts I have ever read. You must have spent hours writing it, and years preparing to write it. The insight you demonstrate on how men and women behave is astonishing. I am very, very impressed.

    Reply
  3. Michael Lie

    I found this article well-researched, well-informed, socially aware and not, thankfully, shrill or glib. It is refreshing to have frank, straightforward information from an experienced and reasonable female perspective. Dating can be challenging, and clarity is often what I seek in complex human relationships, like Billy Joel’s song “Honesty”. I now wish I had taken that Human Bonding course. Cheryl is not just an Operations Engineer by training; she is also a practicing Social Engineer!

    Reply
  4. Paula

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us Cheryl! It is thoughtful, insightful, and fair. Congratulations on publishing the post and I can’t wait to read your upcoming posts!

    Reply
  5. jocelynchia

    Cheryl, you are really SUCH an entrepreneur – using DATA POINTS to assess your dates hah!!! So funny. I too have a response to your NYT article – it was long enough that I wrote a whole blog post on it too! http://www.thejauntywriter.com

    Reply
  6. johnny doe

    disagree with a few points on your article – women love to be chased – but they do not reciprocate anywhere near in proportion to how much they get asked out – this is why guys do not ask girls out anymore.

    Chasing a girl is retarded – it just boosts the girls ego and lowers the guy’s self esteem, if it never ends up in a date.

    It’s not just about rejection, its all too common for girls to give out their number, never pick it up, or make plans, then flake, and run into the guy, and act like nothing happened. There’s also girls who preach don’t ask a girl out right away, it puts too much pressure on her.

    I just really disagree that guys do not like courtship – women are the ones who killed it by being flaky and not reciprocating.

    You know what the test is to see if a girl likes you? If she has no issue meeting up alone in public. If she does, she’s interested. If she doesn’t, I don’t care what the excuse is, she is not. Trust me, ALOT more guys would ask girls out if they just got a straight yes or no, rather than the crooked line that is dating.

    And don’t get me started on women have zero problem meeting players, but with guys who suggest a formal date, somehow things always come up at the last minute.

    Reply
    • Cheryl

      Dear Johnny Doe,

      If you read my article properly, you’ll find that I am actually asking that women play fair and do their part in reciprocating (see part iii).

      Also, no where in my post did I mention that “guys do not like courtship.” This was a statement by the NYTimes reporter. In fact, if you read carefully, I defied the reporter by saying that men who court women still exists and are out there. The original NYTimes article was clearly biased toward women who didn’t feel like they were courted in traditional ways and was upset about that, and my ending quote served the purpose of stating that this is not true for all women. So I’m not really sure what your point is here.

      I don’t get your statement about girl meeting guy in public alone. That seems like such an unfair and unnecessary prejudgment towards someone. Again, I don’t get all the fuss around making all these rules to judge someone. If you read my post correctly (esp part ii and vi), I do not make “rules” and “lists.” Either way, dating is supposed to be mysterious, fun, and where you get butterflies in your stomach not really knowing if the other person feels the same way. As with everything in life, there’s trial and error… you take risks if you really like something and try to make it work out. If it doesn’t, move on. And if you don’t like that, then don’t date.

      Sincerely,
      Cheryl

      Reply
      • johnny doe

        Cheryl,
        I think some of the points I wrote were better directed at the NY Times article. For that, I owe you a mea culpa.

        You did comment on women doing their fair part, and maybe this is a different topic of a different day, but I think flaking has really screwed up dating and courtship. And maybe I am basing this on experience of my friends and others, but seriously, the amount of girls you have to ask out and get their number and think they are interested and never meet up with them, I really wonder how often this happens. Most of my friends openly tell me until the girl shows up in person, they don’t assume there’s a date, even if plans have been made. I don’t believe dating was always like this. Google ‘flaking’ and see how many articles pop up. So yeah, no real disagreement with your article, just real frustration on how particular aspect was so overlooked by the NY Times article. And that’s not to say men do not flake out on women, but clearly, because men ask women out in far greater numbers, men experience this alot more. I really do not understand why there are not more articles about how rude it is to flirt with someone, let them think you are interested in meeting up, only to bail at the last minute. The reason I also bring it up is because from the perspective of a guy who does love the idea of getting to take a nice girl out on a date, a girl is guaranteeing she’s going to attract players by flaking – because a guy who wants to do traditional courtship is more interested in courtship, i.e. the date, and won’t try to re-initiate contact after a flake due to a bruised ego. A guy who is only after sex will be completely unfazed after a flake, because he’s after sex, and if he gets it after a few missed contacts, he’s cool. Of course, if this is what a girl wants, people are free to do what they want, but I strongly believe the rampant flakiness I’ve seen in some girls is directly contributing to hook-up culture, and it deserves more attention. And when I mean flake, I specifically mean girls who flirt with guys, put out signals they are interested, and either cancels at the last minute or can never make time to hang out with a guy, though she constantly tells him via text or in person that they will as soon as she gets the chance. Not reciprocating in this day and age to genuine, sincere efforts by guys does alot more damage than a girl may realize. Never underestimate the effect you can have on someone else.

        I’m glad you said that some men are about courtship. Thanks for making us known. You certainly did a better job of that than the NY Times article. I am really sick of guys getting such a bad rap when I firmly believe most guys who do traditional courtship aren’t dating anywhere near on the level players and the types described in the NY article.

        On your last comment, my ‘rule’ came from advice I got from a friend’s gf. Me and some friends would always talk about some girl who maybe we met at bar, club, or any place, got her number after some positive interactions, and about how to ask her out in the most appropriate way. My friend’s gf told me, I promise you, if a girl likes you, she will absolutely make time to meet up with you, you won’t get missed texts, unreturned calls, and you’ll never think ‘if’ we meet up, its just when, and where. My point was that a girl will not insist on going out as a group, or make excuses why she is busy, or anything like that, if she is in fact interested in you, it’s going to be ‘when and where’ not ‘if’. It was really about a girl who can make plans with you, versus a girl who can’t, if that makes sense.

        I took that advice as a way not to waste my time – I’ll put in effort, but to a point – and no more. I personally don’t feel a girl even deserves to be asked out more than one time. If she declines, she can reschedule and name a time and place. If not, i’m sorry, I’m just not putting any more effort in. Not out of selfishness, but because its stupid to put all this effort into going out with someone who doesn’t make it easy to meet up.

        I guess ultimately, I disliked the NY Times article intensely because I felt its not the behavior of guys that is shaping courtship – women are the ones who get to say yes or no to date, they dictate whats acceptable and what isn’t. The amount of rejections and string-alongs that most good guys experience is one of the most hidden parts of dating that’s never really fleshed out in any of these articles, and how its perpetuated by flaky behavior from women who are asked out on a date. You have a very powerful assumption in your last statement, saying if I do not like the way things are, then I shouldn’t date, as if its a choice for me the way it is for you, probably because you’ve never had a problem getting dates, or understand how much more power you hold in just being able to go out on a date, just by being a charming woman.

        Guys don’t do courtship because they get a ‘no’ or a ‘maybe’ that later turns into a no, and thus, the don’t get dates. You clearly acknowledge that there are guys who do it, but the fact is, there’s no incentive for it anymore. If you did some actual field research on how low of a success rate this is for guys, you’d understand why so few guys do it. All I read is in dating articles how guys use women for sex, but it seems that if all the articles focus on them, they are the ones being considered by females. And if females said yes more often to the traditional type guy and no to the more spontaneous guy, then there wouldn’t articles like the NY Times article. If there are lots of female who really wanted to be courted, I’d love to see a dating website that focuses on proper courtship, or just someway to facilitate such interactions. Because in the world of many guys, who make good money, pay taxes, and aren’t assholes, girls who can make plans to meet up for dinner don’t exist.

  7. Another Dude.

    Johnny Doe: You are not alone. Modern American Women broke off the Marriage Social Contract somewhere during the Baby Boomer’s assent. Younger Men still trying to carry out traditional courtship are at a loss since their efforts go so unrewarded. Try looking for International Women who were not acculturated by “American exceptionalsim” during their formative years if you are looking for what we in America call “Traditional Courtship”

    Better to be alone than pretend a relationship with a girl you don’t love simply because no others make themselves available. When some women ask “Where are all the good guys?” I remind them that they already met many during their 20’s that they completely ignored or flaked on.

    Also 80% of Women hook up with about 20% of the guys. Guys are not just competing with other guys at the bar for a girl. They are now competing against HER wildest dreams. Men can adapt to loneliness pretty well with hobbies, sports, video-games, auto repair, carpentry and Man Caves, so I’d recommend not dwelling on the negative aspects of the Dating Game today, and be ready to be happy with a special girl if she happen to actually show up in your life, just don’t treat her like a princess.

    Reply
  8. Don Juan

    Hi Cheryl, this was an insightful post. Can you recommend any books/textbooks on Human Bonding related to the course you took. Much appreciated.

    Reply

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