Over the last few decades there has been a surge in the popularity of male dating advice.
Men’s magazines and websites regularly churn out articles offering advice on how to ‘get the girl’ to dissatisfied men confounded by the dating scene. The gist of the advice generally revolves around telling men to develop their confidence, masculinity, to become funnier, to be better storytellers. While touching on some truths — improved social skills will yield better interactions than preoccupied anxiety and awkwardness — these pieces of advice are usually highly generalized and seldom offer real insight beyond asserting that these things supposedly attract women. Much of the difficulty and awkwardness of personal growth is brushed aside, diluted into a few steps that one can learn to employ easily enough.
Socially awkward and sexually unsuccessful men usually come from significantly impaired positions. Most struggle with basic conversations, and many are in terror of even approaching an attractive woman. Some are terrified by the thought of the approach alone. Many simply do not know how or when to ask someone out. In these cases, the articles offer limited advice without much depth. It’s one thing to say “be confident” to a confounded dater, but what does this confidence look like, how is it expressed? What is this masculine presence that romantically successful men apparently exude? How does someone crippled with insecurity and anxiety become confident? The advice often begins to feel more like snake-oil than anything helpful. In other cases, and much like The Rules for women, the advice stumbles into morally questionable suggestions on how to use manipulative strategies to achieve one’s end. Too often dating gurus encourage dishonesty as a means to get what you want.
A major problem with swathes of sexual and dating advice is that women are heavily generalized and stereotyped within it. Gurus, coaches and experts sell incredibly simplified views of what ‘she likes’ and what ‘she wants’. Very rarely is the differing nature of women’s personalities acknowledged. What one person might like, another will dislike. The central problem here is that it tries to teach men on how to ‘get women’ instead of ‘getting to know women’. The complexities of people are dismissed, and women are treated as a monolith: their own lives and individualities dismissed in favour of blueprint guides that can ostensibly be used to win her. This style advice advocates solutions such as putting tremendous effort into saying the ‘right’ opening lines — as funny as possible, as witty as possible — when humour is a very personal thing and whether or not she likes it is going to ultimately rest on how well it connects with her sense of humour. When advocating these ‘correct’ lines or routines, dating advice remains ignorant of much of the research in attachment and human bonding. The people who we attract and have success with are often reflective of our own psychologies. Our values, approaches, personalities, cultures, backgrounds and sense of boundaries will influence who we have any sort of rapport with. Frequently, confirmation bias is the real ‘scientific method’ in the assertions made about dating.
It’s important that men have the social calibration to be able to make good impressions, but dating advice tends to be mixed between feel-good truisms and spurious nonsense. Some advice groups develop these conversational blueprints as a crutch to fall back on, approaching woman after woman with the exact same lines and comments. This way, they teach men to ‘get good’ saying certain lines, but are not helping them to learn how to communicate effectively and openly with another person. With this method men become reliant on those artificial conversation routines. Sometimes, we see that men come to disdain women for either dismissing or “falling for” their routines. The inauthenticity breeds a cynical view of relationships and sex. In truth, the most useful dating tips are that it’s better to interact with and approach a lot of women, be more direct earlier with your interest, and to be respectful of her boundaries. Beyond that, a lot of it becomes highly questionable. And, unfortunately, too many outlets for men’s dating advice reinforce narcissistic values that getting a lot of women is the way to male sexual nirvana rather than engaging properly with women who’re a good match for you.
Likewise, very little is ever written about the daily process of building self-esteem or tackling anxiety. Lines and routines, or ego-boosting self talk, might alleviate some of the symptoms but they seldom work as a full-on fix. It dismisses the important internal work needed to improve interpersonal relationships with people. Some advice throws men with complex unresolved problems with anxiety and depression in at the deep end, trying to fake a certain charisma and personality when they’re still deeply struggling elsewhere in life. Worse, it conflates more dating options with a cure for these issues.
In other cases the full view of male perspectives is often lacking. The sense of loneliness or the struggles to be more successful is never allowed breathing room; it’s mocked or shamed immediately. The dull grind of online dating, swiping through profile after profile, reworking your own profile time and time again, and scarcely getting any results is often not discussed with any seriousness. The sense of stress and fretfulness that men with anxiety feel from the burden of approaching is seldom validated. The depressing process of approaching women, again and again, facing rejection and rejection, as it chips away at your sense of attractiveness, leaving you feeling disappointed and bitter as you continue to see little success is also often unexamined. Many groups chastise men who talk or vent about these things.They are called weak and told to ‘man up’. Others manipulate these frustrations to sell products, promising a total dating reboot if you follow their 12-step program for seduction mastery.
Men rail against “just be yourself” advice women are stereotyped as giving. I think the ‘be yourself’ type advice runs into two problems: men’s feelings of inferiority and the need to impress. There’s a whole line-up of heroic, rich, attractive, and unfailingly cool male figures being presented to us, all whom reach impossible levels of idealised masculinity. ‘Be yourself’ is tough when it seems that no one is interested in you no matter who you try to be, coupled with the growing feeling that you, yourself, are not good enough to begin with. The second is that it underestimates how much social pressure men can feel to be sexually successful. Being rejected is viewed as shameful, and inexperienced men are mocked as failures. Some men are desperate to cast off the filthy stigma of ‘virginity’ to the point where they don’t care who sex happens with — there’s pressures to go for women you’re not even interested in, simply to get rid off the stigma. “Be yourself” suggests a calmness that many men are simply unable to feel within the cultural pressures.
It’s hard to discuss men’s dating advice without touching upon the Pick-Up Artist scene. The problems of the gendered dating world become grotesquely exemplified within the boundaries of that community. The seduction ‘artists’ teach men to embrace traditional gender roles, to seethe against modern society for ‘betraying’ the natural order of the passive feminine woman and the active masculine man. They point accusatory fingers at modern Western women for being too masculine and at society for raising boys like girls. This, they claim, is the crux of male dating issues. These groups breed anger and bitterness and teach an abhorrently generalized view of men and women, where all men must act in one way or another — the Alpha way or the Beta way — whilst women are characterized as irrational and illogical, ruled entirely by their biology: they do not grow as people or have complexity. Women exist as they are. The scene offers a perverse take on the concepts of gender and confidence.
To the Pick-Up Artists, confidence is unfiltered narcissism: it is about boasting, flaunting, dominating, harming, lacking empathy, and diminishing others. The Alpha brags about his lays and how attractive he is to women — who he uses, abuses and drops. He bullies and belittles ‘weaker’ men to assert his masculine authority and attractiveness. But this philosophy also harms those who follow it. Whether he admits it or not, his worth is externalized; he is only as worthy as he is (seen to be) sexually successful. He must work to shed his ‘beta’ qualities like passiveness and investment in others, as well as consideration, empathy and desire for romantic attachment. His superficial perspective is often a one-way ticket to misery.
Dating advice reinforces rather than challenges many of the cultural expectations of the dating world, however harmful they might be. Advice is often given to help men fulfil their perceived roles as pursuers, chasers and studs, to live up to certain cultural framings of proper manhood. It focuses on alleviating male insecurity about not being well-sexed enough, about not having the ‘hottest’ girlfriend, about not being perceived a certain way by giving men questionable means of attaining them rather than subverting the framings and focusing on healthier metrics. Women and sex are objectified as an attainable commodity; a means of gaining self-worth and fulfillment through externalised barometers. In particular with Pick-Up Artists, these focuses discolour their perspectives, encouraging them to embrace pleasure and ego-boosting as their core sense of meaning. Their deeper issues, issues that affect their values and their perspectives on the world around them, go unchallenged.
Some advice does have its uses, and there is a collective of very social impaired men who will gain some benefit from a step-by-step ‘try this' type program, at least as a starting point. But dating advice seldom challenges the hegemonic understandings of gender and dating, and instead reinforces them. A lot of men go in with specific issues and are then fed cock-and-bull claims about how women work and what they really want. Some buy into it. Too often stereotypes are asserted as being the truth - with no real back-up beyond the advisors own claims. Improving social skills can be hard work and becoming a socially confident person who can hold conversations without relying on a blueprint is often about becoming at ease with yourself and accepting yourself enough to willingly express your personality. It’s about becoming comfortable with rejection and interested in discovering each person as their own individual, each conversation as its own adventure. It’s about wanting to meet the right people rather than trying to impress or win ‘a woman’ over. And getting better at meeting people takes time, discomfort, experience and self discovery. But a lot of dating advice frames itself as cheat codes to avoid these inevitable realities: it reinforces viewing people in broad and generalised ways, selling advice that saying the right things is an art that can be learned and used on any woman. Some of it even frames harassment as an acceptable dating technique. Such advice can lead to some success, sometimes, but it’s a shallow and precariously externalised form of success: its worth will fade eventually, and the deeper problems will remain.
Dating advice can unfortunately forget it’s about meeting the right people, and even that it’s about people at all.