A Treatise On the Art of Romance, Seduction, and Not Dying Alone.
A few years ago, a colleague told me about a proverbial set of rules that women are supposed to follow during the courtship process. While the psychology of seduction is a fascinating study, the rules of which she spoke were in a book which claims to be the key to “capturing the heart of Mr. Right.” I recently read it. A better title would have been: Rules for dating if you are a woman living in the 1950s and have no other personal or professional ambitions.
Then I researched popular books with male perspectives. I read through a few. An appropriate title would be: Rules for dating if you are a vapid sociopath.
In one fell swoop, these pages managed to set women back half a century and degrade both genders alike.
The overarching themes in some of these dating books and rules for women seem to be: Play coy, don’t be yourself, don’t pursue what you want— if you do, you will be acting like a man, nobody will want you, and you will eventually die alone, and your 15 cats will devour your corpse.
Much of the research for this content genre is based on the idea that, biologically, the man is the aggressor and the woman should be his prey, but I just couldn’t get past the fact that we have evolved as a species and, more importantly, as a society. My instinct, like I suspect that of any enlightened person, was to fling these books out the window after a few sentences; instead I decided to consult one of the nation’s leading experts in relationship psychology and couples’ therapy to get his take. Dr. Sean Davis is a professor of Couples and Family Therapy for the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University and was gracious enough to provide some insight.
Question 1: Hard to get—to play or not to play?
The first question to address when discussing the psychological dynamics of seduction is the philosophy of the chase. In an era of sexual liberation and easy access to swiping for a date, it is true that many women make it a bit too easy for their courters. But ‘The Rules’ forbid women from showing anything but the most nominal of interests, and instead play coy.
Q: Everyone knows that the thrill of the chase is one of the most enthralling episodes of courting, but is it truly effective to not show your hand?
A: It turns out that this is one of the most surefire ways to begin an unhealthy relationship.
Just like the Principle of Least Interest— in which whoever has the least invested in the relationship has the most power— these dating games are for those who wish to pursue an imbalanced relationship.
“If you play coy in order to establish a relationship and it works, your partner has fallen in love with a character— not the real you, and you’ve painted yourself into a corner where you are perpetually insecure in this relationship…It’s very shortsighted.”
Follow-up question: What about making it too easy?
Poignant Answer: “You’ll get the love that you’re looking for— if all you’re looking for is a hook up on tinder, don’t expect to find anything further than that; if you’re making yourself too easy — don’t expect to find the respect and love and meaning that you’re looking for…Don’t expect to go to McDonalds and get a 5-star meal.“
Question 2: Is the man really a predator and woman the prey?
Haven’t we evolved, both emotionally as individuals and morally as a society?
Q: Are men really just savage predators who we must manipulate at all times?
A: As it turns out—men are human, too.
“A lot of times men get the label of cold or aloof and it is assumed that they can take the lead, they are the ones in charge, and they don’t need the women to be involved in the initial process.
Usually, men are just as afraid of the relationship and of being rejected as the women are, and are showing it in very similar ways.
Chances are most relationships are starting off with two people really liking each other, but both are EQUALLY afraid of rejection.”
Question 3: Overabundance of options and FOMO…What effect is that having?
We can’t examine modern dating without mention of FOMO.
With the myriad of online dating apps, our generation lives in constant Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). We often think “yeah this guy/gal is great BUT there’s got to be someone better out there…SWIPE! NEXT!”
Q: How has the overabundance of options through digital dating changed our dating culture?
A: FOMO is kind of ruining our chances at love.
“Let’s look at the Cheesecake factory vs In- N-Out Burger.
When you go to the cheesecake factory and see all of the flavor options of cheesecake, you weigh your many options and choose the one you think will best satisfy your craving. Then once you take that first bite, you will often find some fault with it and wonder if you should have chosen another flavor. Whereas when you go to In-N-Out, you have just a few burgers from which to choose, you know what you’re getting and you make it work.
It’s best to have an In-N-Out mindset. We must have a dialogue of ‘If after I’ve tried my very best to make it work and it’s not working, then I can go somewhere else.’
FOMO gets in a lot of peoples’ way because they are waiting for the absolute perfect person to come along but they also tend to make that judgment on pretty superficial things, and that is part of the tinder culture. People tend to give 30 seconds to make a judgment or 1 or 2 dates to get to know each other, then they will move on because of the fear of missing out. You can’t really get to know someone after two dates…”
Question 4: Should we just settle?
When perpetually single, or perhaps experiencing a dry spell, many of us begin to think “nobody is perfect and neither am I, should I just settle for the next best thing?”
Q: Should we be settling for good enough?
A: A Paradoxical yes.
“In any strong and healthy relationship, you are going to be settling for things. If you are looking for a relationship where you don’t have to settle for anything —good luck—you are going to be single until you die.
Dating expectations provide us with a complex paradox. If your bar is too high, you’re going to be single forever and you’re probably holding the bar higher than you actually are yourself. But if it is too low, then you are likely to end up with someone who will never truly fulfill your needs.”
Follow-up question: Do you think these ever-increasing standards play a role in the fact that people are getting married much older these days?
Answer: Yes, and that is a good sign.
“It is good that people are single longer- if the reason is that they have higher standards of what they expect for a partner— provided they are realistic.
In the past people would settle for the sake of being married and end up with problems. It is good, to a degree, that people are waiting with higher standards. But it also causes a lot of social angst because the social norms haven’t caught up with that yet.” (she types enthusiastically with the anticipation of sending this to her parents who have wanted grandchildren for about half a decade now)
Question 5: How has the evolution of gender roles changed relationship dynamics?
One of the rules I read for women was to dress for men, always be feminine, wear heels and lots of red. I don’t recall any of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In chapters recommending going to work dressed like a street walker…and I don’t think that would advance women in the workplace, or do anything but decrease male productivity in the office. But it does speak to the changing role of the woman: today, more woman than men are graduating from college, taking on senior roles in the office, and focusing on their careers; like it or not, this has a marked impact on our love lives.
Q: The gender power imbalance is slowly equalizing; how does this affect romantic relationships?
A: Even in a society that values gender equality, the effects are tenable.
“Women are pretty quickly coming into a position where they don’t really need a man, so to speak, and there is a real disconnect and incompatibility where the pendulum has swung. In some ways, women have more social capital than the men.
I think that men are socialized to find their value in being needed – in solving a problem, building something, etc. From early on boys are taught that their worth depends largely on how well they can address problems, address needs, etc. At the same time women are being socialized to be more independent, strong, career-focused, etc — though they also still get the message of being relational as well – something the boys don’t. So what you have are men that are in a pool of women that don’t need them for anything other than emotional connection – something they haven’t been taught to do. What they have been taught to do— solve problems, provide isn’t something the woman particularly needs from them. So, they’re lost. We really do men a
disservice in how we socialize them regarding relationships. In a perfect world, the movements to empower women career-wise would have been hand in hand with a movement to make men more relationally intelligent.
In short, there’s no easy solution to this – it’s something they have to communicate about openly and work something out unique to them. And it’ll involve the man learning how to be emotionally intelligent in ways he likely wasn’t previously.”
Soooo…this was supposed to be a short but fun and informative blog about the rigors of modern dating. Instead, it wound up a treatise about 21st-century romance and courtship. But if it has made one thing clear, it is that dating is hard and there is a reason so many of us are struggling through it and waiting to settle down.
The study of modern dating and romance and the psychology of seduction is a tangled web of paradoxes and headaches. But there are answers out there, and if we look to establishing our romantic relationships, as anyone in academia would advocate, with a bit of science and informed philosophies— we might be able to navigate the waters without drowning. And as long as we keep an In-N-Out mindset, stay true to ourselves, have reasonable standards and expectations, and keep FOMO at bay — we might just end up doing it right.
Cielo is Network Radio’s Contributing Author and, as we’re sure you could tell, is extremely single.
Author: Cielo Villaseñor
Cielo has an eclectic background which includes politics, media relations, academia, and lots of writing.
From Capitol Hill to the university halls, she has kept constant her penchant for the art of authorship and engaging communication.
In her spare time, she likes to paint with acrylic, watch sci-fi series, and is currently struggling through the first stages of mastering the cello.