In my many, many, (ugh) many years as a bartender, I was called upon frequently to dispense dating advice. Considering all those films where the lonely heart anchors down on a bar stool and pours out his sorry tale to the whiskey dispenser who miraculously always seems to have no other customers, I felt it was my duty to honor the tradition. I always carefully considered the advice that I gave, and declined on numerous occasions to give any at all.
The act of careful consideration, however, is not the norm for most bloggers who often feel free to dispense hopelessly generic assertions. Oh, I know, blogs, blogs, and more blogs, there is all that damn space to fill. True. Also true is that most of those people I gave advice to probably didn't remember it the next morning. But that does not mean that we -- the advice givers -- don't have a responsibility.
Aye, an imperative to not confuse all those poor men out there. I am not being condescending. It is difficult these days for many a man to understand what is expected of him in the wild and often contradictory world of dating women. Especially when there are bloggers out there saying things like this: "Do: Move her to the inside of the sidewalk. Every woman likes to think that you'd rather she not be run over by an Escalade. Make this move and she'll know it's the truth. Plus, it's a perfect way to show her your protective side without coming off like a controlling jerk," says Robin Hilmantel in Modern Man.
Everyone enjoys simple instruction. It makes confusing situations seem clear and workable. But the truth, however annoying, is that there are no hard and fast rules. Hilmantel likes the inside of the street. I don't. I have even been known to end a date because the man in question pulled that move. I have been elegantly navigating the art of sidewalk walking for years now and have managed to not get run over by an Escalade. I am not interested in a man showing his interest through protective gestures. Simple respect will do. Hilmantel also says that the opening of doors is a chivalrous activity that is still appreciated. I agree. Of course, I think door opening is one of those marks of civilized behavior that everyone should do. Even the Pirate House punk kids I knew in high school opened doors for people. Sure, they also shit on cop cars, but that was a political statement.
After reading Hilmantel's advice, I am sure a number of men said, "Oh, that's what women want! Okay, I'll do that" and then subjected countless women to the inside sidewalk tactic only to discover that it is not successful. This makes me sad. They thought they were doing the right thing. Dating is hard enough without adding bad advice to the process.
Dating is also partly an act of evidence gathering. Through small gestures and acts, we can glean information about our date to see if they are interested and, more importantly, to discover if they are a good fit for us. It is not that I have a profound feminist issue with a man walking on the outside of the sidewalk, it is that this behavior conveys a certain traditionalist -- and to me, unappealing -- aspect to his character. Or at least it did before the advent of bloggers. Nowadays we are often not exploring the person but instead reacting to the words of some writer. This defeats the entire purpose.
As an anecdote, here is some good advice; there is no one thing that every woman wants. There is no surefire date practice. We are not robots, after all. We are an odd and heady concoction of complexity.
My boyfriend says that pursuing a woman is a process of creating an echo. A call and response. If your shouted "Hullooo" doesn't come back to you, you change your "Hullooo." An echo occurs through awareness and enjoying the experience of the moment. If you pay attention you can respond to the subtleties of the person and begin to form a connection that honors each other's individuality.
Well, it worked on me at least.
He also invoked Sartre.
In Being and Nothingness, Sartre writes, "Take the example of a woman who has consented to go out with a particular man for the first time. She knows very well the intentions which the man who is speaking to her cherishes regarding her." (By that he means sex.) "She knows also that it will be necessary sooner or later for her to make a decision. But she does not want to realize the urgency; she concerns herself only with what is respectful and discreet in the attitude of her companion .... She restricts this behavior to what is in the present; she does not wish to read in the phrases which he addresses to her anything other than their explicit meaning. If he says to her, "I find you so attractive!" she disarms this phrase of its sexual background; she attaches to the conversation and to the behavior of the speaker, the immediate meanings, which she imagines as objective qualities. The man who is speaking to her appears to her sincere and respectful as the table is round or square, as the wall coloring is blue or gray."
I have my issues with Sartre, but I quote him to point out that even one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century threw in his two cents about the complicated issue of dating. Venturing into the world of erotic, romantic, and intimate exploration is one of the most profound things that we do as humans and it is insulting to reduce the process to absolutes.
So back to my bartending days. The most common advice that I gave to both men and women, either gay or straight or anything else, was to not have an agenda. Don't make every date about finding your potential marriage partner or about getting laid. Let it go. If you are not having a good time, make your excuses and beg off. But if you are, enjoy it, be aware and act with honesty. Honesty does not necessarily mean, however, to use the erstwhile phrase, "Nice shoes, want to fuck?" This does work for some, but a little finesse is usually appreciated. By honesty, I mean existing without agendas, manipulation, criticism, or goal-oriented behavior. Just be cool, man, and enjoy the riff.
That said, my favorite bit of advice I dispensed over the bar was to a young man who was obviously going to score with a sexy, 40-something woman. While she was in the bathroom, he turned to me with desperation on his face (I need to add here that they had both been at a circus party and so were not only wearing clown makeup, but that it had begun to drip and smear). He asked, "What do I do?" He confessed that he was intimidated, excited certainly, but also nervous. Bless him, He was giving me such a gift.
"What do you do? Go enjoy yourself, try to give her an orgasm, and don't be a dick."
I had to explain of course. Not being a dick translates to not assuming that every woman is looking for a relationship. A 40-something woman in clown face taking home a 22 year old is most likely not. Respect her. Treat her like a person. Romp. The next morning, give her a nice hug and thank her for a good time. That is, of course, assuming that you had a good time and you weren't attacked by her pet iguana while she got into a brawl with her roommate. But barring any unusual craziness, the best approach is always one of simple appreciation.
In honor of this particular column, I would be more than happy over the next week to offer any advice to those who have specific dating questions.
The Sweet Spot is a blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.