Playing with Matches

by Jennifer Garstrang July 2, 2014


“Wait three days after a date before calling!” “Don’t ruin a good friendship with romance!” “Your significant other should be your best friend!”

There’s a lot of dating advice going around, but is it really worth listening to? As a dating advice columnist, I am obliged to say “YES! And you should read my column every month, and follow my every sentence so this magazine will continue to publish me!” End of article.

But seriously, is dating advice actually helpful? After all, relationships are very personal, whereas advice is usually…well, not. Most advice I hear attempts to apply a grand, generalized “always” kind of statement to a situation. (“Honey, all men only want one thing!”) Still, part of being human is living in a collaborative society, and sharing advice is a way that we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.

So how can you get value from dating advice in a way that benefits you personally? Well, first off, consider the source. Take a step back and consider who is giving you this advice, and the metaphorical life-lens through which she or he views the world. Is this advice coming from your dad? Your Bubbe? Does this person have the same sensibilities as you? Is this person looking for the same things in a relationship? Is this advice something that comes from personal experiences, or a statistic? Unlike Lot’s wife, salt is your friend, and you should take all dating advice with a grain of it.

Now, since this article has, up to this point, been quite abstract (much like dating advice), I will make it personal with a specific example: Me. This particular dating-advice-giver is a 20-something secular Jew, who has been successfully cohabitating with my significant other for some time. Religious observance isn’t a central part of my relationship (though I still go to temple! I promise!), and I’m fine with living together before marriage. You should take this perspective into account when applying my advice to your own life.

Keep in mind, a person doesn’t have to be your age/culture/religion and share every single life-value to be able to give helpful advice. After all, the most useful advice gives you insight from a perspective you hadn’t yet considered. That said, by being aware of the advice-giver’s lens, and how it both overlaps with and differs from your own, you take that big-picture advice, and make it personal.

Lastly, to really start getting value from dating advice, think about the reasons behind that advice. Dating advice does not exist in a bubble. There is usually a purpose to it. “The man should always get the check on the first date,” is, to many people, an outdated suggestion, but it has a purpose: to smooth a potentially awkward interaction and pave the way for a fun and relaxed date. While you may not agree with that exact advice, you still might want to tackle the underlying issue – perhaps by divvying up the cost of the date, or agreeing in advance to dine-and-dash (that’s a joke. Don’t do that!).

So, to get personal again, let me share the deepest underlying goal behind my own advice: I want for you to be happy, fulfilled, and whole, whatever your current romantic situation may be.

…And don’t wait three days before calling someone after a date. If you like ‘em, call ‘em!

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