anxiety around dating

It’s 2021…Ladies Make Your Move

I met Jon Birger seven years ago, over lunch in Palo Alto.

A Fortune Magazine writer working on his first book Date-onomics, Jon wanted to talk about Bay Area dating — specifically how the region’s rather unique oversupply of educated men impacted people’s love lives.

Published in 2015, Date-onomics argued that shifting sex ratios among the college educated are behind the rise of the hookup culture and the decline in marriage rates. In nearly every other part of the country, it’s the college-educated women who are in oversupply. Nationally, one-third more women than men have graduated college since 2000.

This might not matter so much if we were more open-minded about whom we date and marry. Thing is, college grads still like to date other college grads, and this preference leads to lopsided sex ratios in the dating pool. And lopsided sex ratios give the scarcer sex the upper hand.

For Jon, San Francisco and Santa Clara County were the exceptions that proved the rule. The Bay Area is the one well-populated region of the country where educated men outnumber educated women. Yes, we’ve still got our share of playboys. But generally speaking, the Bay Area boasts some of the highest marriage rates and lowest divorce rates in the country for college-educated women.

As you can imagine, Date-onomics generated a ton of buzz when it was published. Glamour, Time, Good Morning America, The Washington Post, National Public Radio and countless other media outlets all produced stories or segments about Jon’s first book.

Now he has a new dating book coming out in February — MAKE YOUR MOVE: The New Science of Dating and Why Women Are in Charge. I read an advance review copy of Make Your Move, and it’s terrific. So terrific that I asked Jon if he’d answer a few questions about it for the Linx blog. He obliged.

AMY ANDERSEN: Jon, what inspired you to write another dating book?

JON BIRGER: It had a lot to do with being on book tour with Date-onomics.

The first book was more pop science than self help. Yeah, there was a little bit of advice tucked into the final chapter, but it was only there because my editor demanded it.

My primary goal with Date-onomics was simply to explain why dating had become so hard for young, successful, college-educated women. I wanted to shed light on this strange phenomenon so many of us are familiar with — this plethora of fabulous women in their thirties and forties who cannot seem to find a decent guy.

When the first book came out, I had it in my head that women would be relieved to hear that their dating woes were not their fault. I thought the knowledge-is-power thing would be enough.

Well, you can probably guess what happened when I got out on book tour and started taking questions.

Women still wanted you to tell them how to find a husband.

Yep.

I’d give speeches to mostly female audiences or go on radio shows with mostly female callers, and they wanted advice on their love lives. They wanted me to explain why other women whom they considered no more attractive or successful didn’t have the same problems they did.

I didn’t have great answers, and that’s what prompted me to write Make Your Move. Backed by the latest research on dating, Make Your Move is all about solutions and strategies for hetero, marriage-minded women who are navigating an unfair dating market. There’s a lot of fun storytelling too. I interviewed all these amazing women with romantic stories about how they found their partners by ignoring the traditional dating rules and norms that had been holding them back.

A lot of your advice in Make Your Move involves encouraging women to make the first move, right?

That’s definitely part of it.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I do believe our culture is at an inflection point. Young women are kicking ass in education, sports, business, media, politics and so much else. So why the heck would anyone tell these women that they’ve got to wait for a man to ask them out? 

Do you think men are changing too?

I do. I think the whole culture is changing — which is why this new generation of singles needs a new dating bible!

If you think about it, nearly every best-selling dating guide written over the past forty years — from The Rules to Ignore the Guy, Get the Guy — has told women that in order to bag a man, they must commit to a very complicated game of playing hard to get. The message these books ask women to send to men boils down to “not interested means keep trying.”

I don’t think this was ever a helpful message, but in the post-#MeToo world, it’s really, really unhelpful.

Men have learned important lessons from #MeToo. Maybe we’re not learning as fast as we should, but we are learning. Nowadays if a woman indicates she’s not interested, most men will just take her at her word and move on. 

Do men actually want women to make the first move?

Most do. A woman who makes the first move takes away a man’s fear of rejection. She makes it easier for him to be himself around her. There’s less peacocking. More conversation.

I’ll give you an example from the book. It involves a 29-year-old named Becca — someone I know pretty well because she was our Saturday-night babysitter years ago. Becca is attractive, but key thing to understand about Becca is she has a huge personality. She’s a real cut-up. My kids loved her.

Of course, some men find the extrovert thing intimidating. When I mentioned the new book to her, she started telling me the story of how she and her boyfriend first got together. They met at a party. They were talking, having a good time, but it was apparent he was too nervous to do anything about it. So Becca just blurted out, “Hey, are you going to ask for my number?”

That’s how it started for them.

I know there are women out there who will never believe this, but the whole key to understanding men is that men like women who like them. Too many women have been raised on the notion that men love the chase and that a man will become less interested in her the moment she’s too interested in him.

Perhaps that was true once upon a time, but I’ve yet to meet the man who broke up with a woman he liked simply because she was too enthusiastic about him. I’ve also yet to meet a guy who enjoyed guessing which women are playing a game and which just want to be left alone. This is why assertive women willing to make a first move have such an advantage over women who sideline themselves by waiting to be courted.

Is there such a thing as too assertive?

I don’t think the first move has to be anything dramatic.

I know that the rule-followers always conjure up images of women throwing themselves at men any time someone suggests women making the first move. But that’s not at all what I’m talking about. Think about what Becca did. She didn’t grab the guy’s butt. All she did was open the door wide enough to make him feel confident about walking through.

In the book, you urge women to take a break from online dating. Why?

Just to be clear, I’m not opposed to all online dating. There are some niche dating apps that I like a lot, and I do write about them in the book. I also recognize that in COVID times, online dating may be only dating some people are comfortable with.

Still, I think many singles would be happier if they ditched the apps and tried asking out people they actually know instead. Over the past year, the dark side of online dating has really been coming into focus. According to Pew Research, 57% of women report experiencing harassment on dating apps, and 19% say they’ve been threatened with physical violence. Overall, 55% of women believe dating is harder now than it was 10 years ago.

So tell me about the “Make Your Move Offline Dating Challenge.”

It’s one chapter in the book. It’s essentially a step-by-step plan for dating in the real world instead of the digital one — for finding more meaningful connections.

The reason I created the offline dating challenge is there’s too much anxiety surrounding dating right now. Online daters don’t trust each other. The whole purpose of the offline dating challenge is to make people more comfortable about dating. Less jaded. Less fearful.

When I was in my 20s, blind dates with complete strangers were pretty rare. Nowadays, most online first dates are blind dates with complete strangers. What’s so difficult about this is you have no idea what kind of person will walk through the door. Everybody who knows your online first date knows him better than you do, so you really are flying blind.

Now compare the online first date with a stranger to going out on a first date with someone you already know and like — a co-worker or a neighbor or someone from church or maybe a friend of a friend. It’s a much different experience. It’s much easier to fall in like or in love when you share common experiences or common friends — and when you’re not worried the person across the table from you could be an axe murderer.

When I was dating up a storm from online sites in my 20’s, the biggest problem was lack of filtering. Lots of good guys but those guys were looking for only fun in the here and now. Their goal was getting laid over actually finding a compatible partner. 

Hah. That’s obviously a familiar experience for lots of women, though I have seen research showing women use apps for sex as often as men do.

I think a fundamental problem with dating apps is the anonymity fosters miscommunication and mistruths — especially on that all-important question of whether the other person is looking for a hookup or a long-term relationship. It’s just easier to behave badly with strangers than with people connected to your daily life.

A woman I interviewed for the book described online dating to me as “a doubter’s game,” and this struck me as a really interesting turn of phrase. Based on past experiences, she just assumed most men on dating apps were lying to her. She’d spend first dates trying to poke holes in their stories.

Needless to say, that didn’t lead to a lot of second dates.

Well, this woman is now engaged to a man she met through a mutual friend. Before her first date with the now-fiancée, she didn’t even bother googling him. She told me she didn’t have to because she knew her friend would never set her up with a man who was unkind or untrustworthy.

“It’s more of a believer’s game,” she said about old-fashioned dating. “I was just more inclined to find the positive. It was actually the closest thing to love at first sight I’d ever experienced.”

In the book, you cite research showing that couples who meet at work, in college, through friends, in church, etc. stay together longer than those who meet on the apps. Why do you think that is?

Human beings evolved as social animals, and we bond through shared experiences. Those shared experiences — those fun stories we like to tell and re-tell — become building blocks for deeper connections. This is why couples who know each other tend to have lower breakup rates than couples who first meet online.

What’s your opinion of professional matchmaking?

I put matchmaking into the “met through friends” category.

I have no doubt that your best clients view you as confidante and friend more than as a paid advisor. The only difference between being set up by a close friend and being set up by a good matchmaker is the matchmaker has a much longer list of single men and women to choose from. (I’m always reminded of that scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” when Carrie Fisher pulls out her rolodex during lunch and tries unsuccessfully to come up with men she can set up Meg Ryan with.)

That being said, not everybody who’ll read Make Your Move can afford to spend five figures on a high-end matchmaker like Linx. Most can’t. But I still want them to know that there are other, better ways to date than swiping on Tinder.

2020 was a challenging year for everybody, but finding your dream partner can make even the darkest times seem brighter. Have you seen anything that should give people hope in 2021, at least when it comes to love and romance?

Absolutely. Maybe it’s all those “How it began … how it’s going” memes floating around social media, but I see plenty of reasons for optimism. I love all the videos of women proposing to their boyfriends, for instance. I love the then-and-now photos of couples who started out as friends — and not as Tinder matches! — and are now celebrating anniversaries.

Those are the kind of things that gives me hope.

When does Make Your Move go on sale? Where can people buy it?

Make Your Move comes out Feb. 2, but it’s available for pre-order now from all the major retailers and independent booksellers — AmazonBarnes & NobleWal-MartBooks-a-MillionIndieboundIndigo. There’s an audiobook version too.

FYI, I’m usually willing to meet virtually with book clubs that buy and read one of my books. For info on the book-club Q&A’s — or on anything else related to Make Your Move or Date-onomics — folks can reach out to me via my author website, jonbirger.com.

Putting the CON in Confidence… Part III

March_4_10_Couple_LaughsIt’s great to have a toolkit for getting through a first date with a veneer of healthy self-esteem, but what happens after that? If you’re lucky, a first date leads to a second. And a second leads to a third. But if you aren’t feeling good about yourself, you probably won’t make it very far beyond a couple of dates. That’s fine if you never really had an initial spark, or it’s becoming clear that that two of you are very different people who might not easily connect, but it’s not so fine if the fire fizzles simply because you’re too trapped in your own head to focus on the person right in front of you.

In order to capitalize on early chemistry and attraction, it’s important that you a) actually believe that you deserve to be dating this particular person, and b) let your date see and appreciate that. Try to remember that in order for any healthy relationship to survive, both parties have to be invested, and both of you actually have to think that it’s a good idea. So let’s assume you really did feel sparks, and that the early interest in mutual… if you aren’t the world’s most confident person, what can you do to bolster your ego just a little bit? After all, there has to be more to successful dating than just asking a waiter for suggestions and walking a woman to her car, right?

Here are a few ways you can develop some dating confidence. And if you don’t think you need additional confidence when it comes to dating, try to keep in mind that having added confidence can be useful in almost every aspect of our lives.


Make a list, and check it twice…

I recently spoke with a client who was nervous about an upcoming first date. She was concerned that her date might not like her for a dozen different reasons, and had already started rationalizing a case for rejection from a man she hadn’t even met. While it’s healthy to be prepared for any possible outcome, she was really only focused on one. If you find yourself doing this – particularly when it comes to anticipating rejection, you need to slow down, and make a list of all of your positive qualities and attributes. Yes, all of them. Go ahead and start now; it might take awhile. Be as detailed as possible. Oh, you like your earlobes and pinky toes? Turns out you’re one of those rare people who never has morning breath? You rarely move while sleeping? You can make a gourmet meal out of almost anything? You’re incredibly good at your job, and your patients/clients/colleagues love you? You never forget a birthday? You actually have the time and desire to invest in a relationship? Your most recent ex said that you had “incredibly good hands”?

Take some time to really study this list. These are all of the things about you that are great. These are all of the reasons someone should want to date you. These are all of the reasons that would make someone LUCKY to be your significant other. Some of it, of course, is going to seem very silly. But the rest of this should feel very true and very real. Don’t focus on the possible perceived negatives. Don’t highlight your weaknesses; showcase your strengths. You may still not end up on a second date, but it will be because your date doesn’t appreciate your positive qualities, which is his or her loss. If you go into an evening expecting that your date is going to reject you based on your own insecurities, you’re creating a situation in which one of the worst possible outcomes simply lives up to your expectations. No one wants to experience that.

Dress the part…

I’m sure you’re getting tired of hearing that you need to dress up for a date, but I really can’t stress this enough. What you wear and how you present yourself really does matter. After all, you wouldn’t wear a bathrobe to a job interview, and yet you’re probably not hoping that you and your next job are going to have a relationship that involves the phrase “’til death do us part.” We get confidence from our clothing choices; color tends to make us feel more youthful and alive, flattering cuts make us feel better about our bodies, and high quality garments are often an indicator that we see value in investing in ourselves.

You want to signal that you believe yourself to be desirable, attractive, and worthy of investment. And you want your date to agree. When you really dress for a date, you’re telling the man or woman across the table that he or she matters, that you respect their time and value their attention, and that you value yourself. Highly. If you’ve ever had the experience of overdressing on a day that you feel awful in the hope that you’ll get some sort of compliment, you already understand the role that attire can play in dictating your mood. Putting some effort into your wardrobe pays dividends at all times. It also gives you practice being comfortable attracting attention and accepting compliments. If you have one of “those jobs” where you’ll actually be frowned upon for wearing anything more than a t-shirt and jeans, start making an effort on just one day of every weekend. Your friends will tell you that you look great, and you’ll start to feel even better.

Talk to Strangers…

One of the hardest things about building dating confidence can be overcoming stranger anxiety… you know, the stuff that sets in when we’re about 18 months old, and (for most of us) never really goes away? There is a lot of inherent risk in approaching someone you don’t know, and we spend the first part of our lives being told to never do it. As we age, involvements with strangers tend to be managed through classroom, professional, or social environments where an instructor/boss/friend provides a framework and context for initial interactions. Relationships of all forms tend to blossom from these meetings, but early expectations (and hopes) are typically low. This, of course, doesn’t provide much of a foundation for creating a relationship with someone you meet online or through Linx; we might say that the two of you should meet each other, but it’s still up to you to do the heavy lifting.

There is a way to get better at managing stranger anxiety, and that’s to actually approach strangers. Yes, do exactly what your parents told you to never do. Your goal should only be to have small, simple interactions… asking for the time, making chitchat while waiting in a grocery store line, etc. Do this initially with people you simply don’t find attractive. Start with people of the same sex, or with men and women who are significantly older or younger. Once you get comfortable striking up conversations with strangers you don’t find attractive, then start doing it with people you DO find attractive, but who aren’t available. In other words, look for wedding rings. This allows you to get over the anxiety of approaching someone you find desirable while keeping the stakes very low. And finally, when that becomes easy, you can start talking to strangers who appear to be attractive AND available. It will give you the confidence you need to approach people when dating in the wild. It will also provide a nice boast to your self-esteem when you meet someone exceptional through Linx.

Find a Coach…

Increasingly, people are more and more willing to turn to coaches to help them gain or develop missing and weak skills; we do it with fitness and nutrition, with sports, with job interviews, with grad school applications, and even with childbirth. So it shouldn’t seem odd to think that when it comes to dating and confidence, it might be a good idea to have a coach. Much like you might with a gym routine, see if one of your close friends can help you develop some skills and confidence. Give each other positive feedback, encourage more outgoing behavior, and remind each other of your positive qualities. Sharing your goals with other people in your life is usually a great first step to making them happen.

If you’re doing this on your own, consider using a book like Ten Days to Self-Esteem by David Burns. The noted Stanford psychiatrist walks you through several steps that help in gaining confidence, improving your sense of self-worth, and developing a positive outlook. The skills are applied broadly, but can definitely have romantic benefits. If your goal is really to just focus on skills that are dating specific, however, and to do so in person, you may want to consider working with Linx. We provide private, customized coaching sessions for clients on a regular basis, and would be happy to work with you in whatever way you might need.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, your entire life can benefit when you decide to work on your confidence and self-esteem. Even if you think you’re “doing fine” on issues of self worth, there isn’t much of a downside to developing more confidence, and learning that it’s ok to feel truly good about yourself. We all have things about our bodies, our lives, and our personalities that we’d probably like to change, but we want the people in our lives to accept us for the qualities and attributes that won’t. You can’t have what you don’t ask for, and you’ll never convincingly ask for a great relationship if it’s not something you believe you deserve. So learn to like yourself just as you are; learning to appreciate all that you have to offer is a key first step in finding a relationship that is real, deep, and everlasting.